Easterns marks the halfway point of the race season. The older I get the faster time seems to move. The hours of heavy training between May and the first snowflakes have past by like [rain on the mountains, like wind in the meadow] a blur, and weeks of racing have been ticked off, from our first SuperTour in West Yellowstone, to Canmore, Sovereign, US Nationals, and Trials in Thunder Bay.
So far I've managed to accomplish everything I've set out to do, balancing hard racing with aggressive training. The past few months have been the best I've ever had, encompassing everything from an epic early snowfall, to training, racing, and travelling with teammates. I'm in a really positive headspace, and that is keeping me fresh and poised to pursue my ultimate goal this season. The idiom, “Time flies when you’re having fun” is resonating with me this season.
My summer of training carried the same intensity and focus as previous years, but this new season also brought change. Chris Jeffries took over as head coach of the Alberta World Cup Academy and subsequently began working with me directly. Pavlina Sudrich also came on board this year as the team’s new assistant coach. Between Chris, Pav and I we developed a plan that would target my weaknesses and hone my strengths. I attacked my generally weak upper body and subsequent weak double poling ability with new strength specific workouts. I returned to the nutritional and sleep habits from back in my Under-23 days. Summer rollerski workouts to develop a high explosive speed had me motor-pacing behind Coach Pav on her e-bike, pushing both of us to go really, really fast.
A photo wouldn't really the motor-pacing workouts justice, but how about a drawing? (Credit Coach Pav's drawing skills)
Adding volume to my training came easily to me. The most noteworthy training blocks I put in over the past eight months took place up in Kananaskis Country. Some of these blocks, or mini camps, were with my teammates and some were solo endeavors. With the sense of adventure, it was those 40km runs to the tops of peaks or the 6-hour solitary roller skis out in the wilderness that really put things into perspective. First and foremost, and I love being outdoors.
Teammate Jack Carlyle at the top of North Over Ridge in Kananaskis Country during one of our mini-camps.
A week later we were still looking for mountain tops to climb, this time out near Elbow Pass and with a fresh helping of snow. Note: Even if a mountain ridge looks like it SHOULD have a suitable descent route from afar, that is not always the case.
Cruising out and about on Highwood Pass.
Selfie overlooking the Kananaskis Lakes and my training grounds for the long summer workouts.
A good start to the early season races has left me undefeated in Canadian distance races and my sprinting ability continues to show improvement. It’s that sort of affirmation that shows me that I’m on the right track. Four weeks remain until the Ski Tour Canada. That is, and always has been my end game, my opus magnum this season. Back in May when I struggled with a reason to return, the pull of this epic event was the big motivator to continue. In my nine years as a high performance athlete, I’ve raced three domestic World Cups, all of which were in Canmore. The chance to race eight races over thirteen days across the country is an opportunity I couldn't turn down.
Keeping the NorAm Leader's bib moving into the second half of the season. (credit Martin Kaiser)
With the early season success came the opportunity to race some selected World Cups in Europe. I declined the offer. It was a controversial choice, but one I ultimately had to make in order to honor my goals for the season. As tempting as the World Cups in the Czech Republic, Norway, and Sweden would be, the races didn't align with my focus for the season. Back in May my coaches and I came up with a plan we felt could give me my best chance at International success. That focus purely came down to qualifying for, and racing my guts out at the Tour.
‘Don’t waiver, have confidence, stick to the plan.’
This has been the mantra.
I have to believe everything that happened this season has prepared me for my best chance at getting back on the horse. Call it the need for vindication, but World Cups are a touchy subject for me. At this point in my career I know home field advantage with a carefully planned and deliberate lead in will give me my best chance at World Cup redemption. There's no nice way to put it; these are do or die races for me, so everything is on the line.
This past spring I was kicked off the National Ski Team. After finding out I was cut from the team, I really wanted to quit. I could not see any future for me in the sport I’ve loved forever, even though I knew I had made big improvements that previous season. Cross Country Canada wasn’t filling quota spots, I kept hearing excuses about this or that, and after all was said and done, they fired Tor Arne Hetland as the Head Coach and swept all of last season’s problems under the rug with him. While skiers were starting the new training season, I was going back and forth on what I really wanted to do. At the end of May I met with my old coach Mike Cavaliere to talk things through, and I guess I sort of knew prior to sitting down for coffee with him that he was going to convince me not to throw in the towel just yet. And he did, and I’m thankful for that. I should really also thank my teammates, coaches and everyone else that reached out to me with their support in the spring to keep charging. I’ve had a great and productive summer of training, and this year is all about racing my best at the 2016 Ski Tour Canada - seven World Cup races across Canada in March competing against all of the worlds best. As simple as that. No politics. No Bullshit.
The National Ski Team was like family to me, and I am grateful for the five years spent on the team representing Canada. It was a huge goal of mine to earn a spot on that team when I first moved to Canmore almost a decade ago and a big benchmark for me when I finally earned a spot in 2010. I loved repping red, white and often times a bit too much neon green on the international stage, working with the staff within Cross Country Canada and having the cool opportunity of trying to get Klister the Jackrabbit to Sochi (spoilers: he didn’t). So after all that, it was a bit unsettling to not be told I didn’t make the 2015/2016 National Ski Team directly from the NST head coach, nor the High Performance Director, or I guess anyone within CCC. Instead the news came from an Academy coach whom I had never worked directly with in the past and who should not have had to carry that responsibility. So yeah, that stung.
Last season I started to see an unsettling path Cross Country Canada was guiding our sport towards. With their new focus on supporting the “next generation” of skiers, they have also begun to ignore and even deliberately push out older skiers. I witnessed this firsthand in March at the World Cups in Lahti, Finland, where CCC tried to deny Andrea Dupont from her NorAm start spot because she was too old to fit within their mystical International Performance Benchmark curve. Ironically after having to fight tooth and nail to remain in Europe to race the spot she had earned, Andrea went on to finish as the top Canadian in the sprint. There was a definite feeling of animosity in the air that evening from the coaches.
I won’t deny that the younger round of skiers are inevitably the future of our sport, and that will always be the case, but our veteran skiers are the mentors, role models and competition they need to get there. Growing up as an Under-23 skier, I had guys like Gordon Jewett, Dan Roycroft, and etcetera to train and race against. While older and faster than me, these guys helped me expand my knowledge and limits of the sport. They were the brains I would always be picking; asking about their international racing experiences, what worked and didn’t work for them over the years, stuff I just didn’t know. I don’t think I could have ever gotten to where I am now without having these guys to look up to. Had the majority of these racers quit years earlier like what is happening now, I would not have had that competitive drive and probably would have become stagnant in my drive to be better. And that’s ultimately what I think is the best thing for us here in Canada: competition. From all levels and all ages.
I really want to get an open conversation going. Free speech in our sport by athletes and coaches is far too often suppressed in fear of retribution. With more and more use of discretion in selection criteria’s, athletes really can’t speak out. Perhaps there are some within CCC that have become too comfortable at the top, and it’s time for a fresh vision. I’m hopeful to see where our new Executive Director takes us and I hope he is more of a leader than our last. CCC has been constantly saying that “Now is our time”, but the way things are headed I think that is too narrow of a vision. Our women’s depth is dwindling, we have just one woman racing World Cups this weekend, and Alex Harvey can’t keep carrying us on his shoulders season after season. We can’t be a top-8 nation if we don’t fill quota spots. We won’t have skiers to fill those quota spots if we cap success and support at 25 years or younger. And we won’t have many skiers skiing past their early twenties if the message they receive from Cross Country Canada is, if you’re not the best every year, there isn’t room for you. Our sport is still relatively small compared to the rest of the world; let’s not start making it even smaller.
P.S. Along with my fresh new website, I made a video to go along with it's launch detailing a brief summary of my summer. Enjoy.
Heidi Widmer has departed Canada for a new adventure of training and competing for Switzerland. To Heidi I say farewell.
Widmer leaves Canada for Switzerland - Rocky Mountain Outlook Article: http://bit.ly/1Fjm9ut
I was in Madona for what felt like a very short time. After leaving Cesis on Monday, team Canada and I made the short trip over to Madona, Latvia for the first set of Scandinavian Cup races in what would be the start of a very busy week. Four races -
Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. I'm choosing not to race the sprints (as Patrick S-J's kindly put it today, "Single Speed Sandau") just to take advantage of a few more prep days in between the distance events.
I finished up in 20th spot in yesterday's 15km skate race, which was a six dizzying laps around the ribbon of man made snow. With ~150 racers in the men's field, the course got pretty busy out there and had some good opportunities for rides out. Even with being a bit more of a rolling course, it skied pretty hard and I haven't really been able to push the body that hard to the finish line in a race this year... hoping it's a sign of good things ahead.
Fresh snow the morning of made Latvia feel a bit more "winter wonderland", which is sort of a nice change from the October/November vibe we'd been getting since our arrival into Europe.
The Norwegians brought their number two to Madona.
First climb just outside our cabins (great for watching the races and Olympics simultaneously) - thanks to Somppi for snapping the photo
I'm now back in Otepää, Estonia tonight for the first time since racing here at the Under-23 Champs in 2011. Skiing on the trails today was a heavy handed dosage of déjà-vu and next race for me is the 20km mass start on Sunday.
First week of Europe is pretty much capped off and so far it's been a fairly good week of skiing and racing all while doing my best to stay healthy [insert anti-jinx here]. The team and I used this weekends Latvian National Championships as primer races before digging into next weeks bigger Scandinavian Cup races in Madona and Otepää. While still fighting off the final remnants of jet lag, I was able to grab a spot on the podium in Saturday's 10km classic race being beat out by Alar Johannes Alev from Estonia. While it was nice to have some good feeling yesterday, I struggled a bit in today's 10km skate with ski selection and a flat body, and was kicked off the pace about halfway through.
Saturday's classic podium
The Priekuli Nordic Centre had a pretty new roller ski track in and around the ski trails. Feels pretty secluded tangled in the woods compared to Canmore and would have been nice to try them out.
And the food in Latvia? Surprisingly fresh and tasty!
I’m now on what I’m considering the second half of my season, but before it starts I need to sort of fill-in the blanks on my racing in the New Year to avoid an overly confusing story line for those keeping track.
Coming as no surprise, Olympic trials were the main focus for me leading into this season. There was no Plan B leading into that weekend. No backup plan and no alterative in the back of my mind to make compromises. Make the Olympics or nothing sort of thing. With the trial races in Canmore, I was comfortable and confidant leading up to the distance days and my training and fitness was on point. Come go time though, things just didn’t line up the way I was hoping they would in both the 15km and 30km, whether from a mishap in execution of just some plain bad luck.
Live and learn.
This has been challenging for me to write up for a month as the emotions over the past four weeks have been challenging to say the least. If last season has taught me anything it’s that while some things may not go as well as you had hoped, it’s still a long season.
That being said, I’m finally in Europe (Latvia to be precise) after a long two-days of travel. Planned for the weeks ahead are some Scando Cups here and in Estonia and then finishing the trip off with the World Cups in Lahti at the beginning of March.
This weekend I’m racing the Latvian National Championships on the ribbon of man made snow they have, which is surprisingly good. So far it’s really only been the Canadian contingent that I’ve seen on the trails in the morning and afternoons, so not quite sure how big these races will be.
It’s too bad there isn’t any natural snow in Latvia as the trails here seem like they’d quite good. Think Frozen Thunder-ish.
The 2013 races are wrapped up and I'm back home ready to enjoy a bit of the holidays and some cabin time out in Kananaskis Country. After a cold weekend in Sovereign, it was nice to warm up a bit in Rossland with these final races before the holiday break. While the skate sprint could have admittedly gone better on Saturday (especially after hitting some sprinting PB's in previous years) I was a bit more excited about Sunday's 15km classic race on the new course the local folk dubbed "The Bone Breaker".
Ok I made that last part up. But there's no doubt that this new section of trail for the 5km race course could end up getting some sort of ominous nickname among the skiers much like the aptly named "Wall" on the world cup trails here in Canmore. This new section in Rossland is like that M.C. Escher drawing of the never ending staircase. It start's off climbing, climbing, climbing. And when you think you're almost at the top, it climbs a little more. It finally levels off just before a brief downhill scoop, and then begins the second part of climbing. There's a reason the local folk call it, the "Soul Destroyer". No? I'll show myself out...
Starting off the 15km - credit Peachell Photography
The 15km was a good race for me. While I felt a bit groggy the morning off, come race time I was able to hold a good pace from the start, taking the early lead and holding onto it by the finish. While I thought I started off on a pretty conservative pace, the last time up what the local folk name "The Tormenter of Wills"... ok seriously I'm done for real this time...
A good way to cap off 2013! Credit Peachell Photography
The next set of races are here at home in early January and are the big focus of the season: Olympic trials. Lot's of nervous excitement for that weekend, but until then I'll be enjoying some long skis, time with the family and lots of holiday music.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays and I'll cya out on the trails!
Getting in the holiday spirit with some gingerbread baking. Some turned out OK, other's needed surgery for lost limbs and heads.
P.S. Brent McMurtry has announced his return to Calgary/Canmore and has reiterated the challenging of me to a pizza bake off, including fancy shmancy judges, criteria's and rules. I really wish this would be documented like an episode of "Chopped" but alas, photos of the night and my sweet victory will have to do. Oh and hey Brent, my secret weapon arrived in the mail today.
The moment has finally arrived. Dim the lights, crank the bass, hit the 1080p and get ready to witness a jackrabbit's rise to fame.
From the deepest corners of the universe, to the Battle of the Black Gate, this year's Mo took me places. Another year of Movember has come and (sadly) gone, and while I had planned a few more moustache shots to accompany this year's montage, the burden of traveling to remote shooting locations and wardrobe problems finishing up Part 3 of the "The Chronicles of Klister" took a bit of precedence. Oh well, next year's another moustache to add to my "Mo Montage".
A big thanks to Mark Thomas, Scott Edmunds, Ken Hewitt, teammate Philly Widmer and Robin McKeever for donating to this years mo - your limited edition "Mo's of Kevin" calendar is in the mail. Despite a bit of a smaller team this year, the SnoMos were able to raise $915, not too shabby SnoMos.
Kirk probably would have gained a bit more respect on the bridge if he sported a look like this.
Sons of mothers! Of fathers! My mo-bros.
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the mo of me.
A day may come when the courage of mos fail,
when we forsake our upper lips and break all bonds of hairiness, but it is not this day.
An hour of razors and straight blades when the Age of Mos comes crashing down, but it is not this day!
This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Mos of the West!
So, as mentioned above, while I wanted to take a few snapshots of moustache chaos theory and drinking martinis, the "Chronicles of Klister" was on an expedited work order for completion. It's been a long time coming, but Russell [Kennedy] and I are in the final stretch and are looking to release the epic conclusion early next week (for real this time). And it's worth the wait, guaranteed, or your Internet time back*. Because I know you've been sitting at home for the past three weeks refreshing YouTube, right? The whole Klister thing has been a fun experience; filming, editing, compositing, more filming to fill in the gaps and getting to hang out with the super star himself. There is probably enough B-roll footage to put together an unofficial Part 4 blooper's video. If you haven't watched them, or need a recap on the journey of our hero, below are parts one and two.
Lastly, I just finished the first weekend of NorAm racing here at Sovereign Lakes, which was experiencing quite the bit of chilly weather and was colder than a witch's teat. Nonetheless the volunteers were troopers and pulled off a great event considering the temperature and delays. For me, Saturday's 15km skate race was a decent start, finishing 5th (3rd Canadian). I gotta say the courses here are some of my favourites, with some nice long climbs and some really good flow. Yesterday's classic sprint, well, let's just say it's still a work in progress.
The start to the 15km - credit Julie Melanson
I'm now off to Rossland, BC, for one last weekend of racing before the Christmas break, which are two things I'm really looking forward to.
Thanks for checking in,