I wrote an article earlier this month for Maine Winter Sports Center about my preparation for the season and yesterday’s Mixed Relay was the first day to test it out. I actually wanted to post the article to my blog earlier as a way to put it out there for myself but I got distracted watching all the cross-country skiing on TV on sunday and dropped the ball.
Here it is:
“These last few weeks in Utah have been really nice and really productive for training and shooting. Almost the entire staff was here with all three national team coaches, the team director, our sport psychologist, our ski grinder, and our intern who helps with all the nitty-gritty biathlon details. There is only one American in the bunch so it feels like this hilarious international family with a lot of dad’s.
Last year, I had my biggest jump in ski speed and had some breakthrough results, which were super motivating for the start of training this year. But it is difficult to keep making such big jumps in ski speed, especially as you get closer and closer in percentage back behind the leaders. My biggest weakness last year was definitely the shooting and it is incredibly painful to have a great shooting race, except for one stage where you mess things up. That happened too many times. In my best race of the year, I was in 2nd place until the last shooting when I missed 3 and moved into 14th. I was pretty ecstatic to get my first top 15, but in biathlon you can always say- “oh man, what if”… and it would have been unbelievable to be on the podium.
I really had to change the way that I approached shooting. For a long time, it was more important to me to have the fitness and the ski speed because that is the only way I could even hope to have a good race. Working on ski technique has always been my favorite thing to do and it is a goal of mine to have some of the best technique on the world cup. After sitting down with my coach and sport psychologist, we were talking through everything for the upcoming training season and our psychologist asked me, “why wouldn’t you want to try to have the best shooting on the world cup”. I had never even thought of it that way.
I started to look at shooting as a really kinesthetic process so that I could work on it the same way that I work on ski technique. That has been a huge mental and physical breakthrough for me. Pulling apart every little piece in the set-up and approach has helped me to get a lot faster. And when you think about the simple math of shooting from 37 seconds to 27 seconds then you can gain a lot of time in each race. That is enormous. Last year, I was in 18th place and shared the same place with three people. That is how close the races are now. If I had been ten seconds faster, I would have had my first top 10.
Finding all the little places in a race where you can make up 1-2 seconds every loop has been a really motivating approach, especially once you start to add up all these sneaky little seconds you can steal. Having so many different pieces in the puzzle is a really cool way that biathlon is unique.
Utah has been the last chance to work on all these pieces: the ski shape, the shooting percentages, the range approach and exit, and the mental pressure. Working on the mental aspect is the last segment of shooting that I have been focusing on. For example, I’ll pretend in my mind that I am really racing and that I am coming into the range in 7th place behind Soukalova and if I clean, then I will make my first top ten. And it’s crazy how once you think that kind of thought it becomes immediately more difficult to hit all of your targets. Working with our sports psychologist has definitely been the most important and useful tool for approaching shooting and he has helped me the most in this entire process. I am so thankful that I get to work with someone as good as him.
One of the things I am the most nervous about in starting the racing season, is finding out how I can handle the pressure of shooting well. I so hope that all of the work I have done will pay off and stick. It can be so easy to hit all of your targets when you are skiing around and shooting with just the coaches watching and nothing on the line, but as soon as the stakes are raised, it can be so much more difficult. I really hope that I have better prepared myself for this in the upcoming season. “
Photo from US Biathlon Website and IBU Website
That’s what my mind-set was a few weeks ago – excitement and high expectations. It’s interesting how confidence can really play such a vital role in how you perform. This last Tuesday we did a hard interval workout and I felt like I was skiing with brakes on. On top of that, it has been really windy here and my shooting this week has been the worst it has been in a long time. It totally freaked me out.
I got really nervous about letting myself down. So doing this mixed relay became something more than it should have. This big test. One of my coaches noticed how I was getting tense and frustrated with standing shooting. He told me that sometimes when he is watching he just wishes he could race too, reminding me about the privilege we have to race. I tried to keep that in mind and make that my approach for the day. But I think that deep down (or maybe not even that deep down) I was still super nervous.
Standing on the start line for the Mixed relay felt totally surreal. Almost like I wasn’t even there. The first loop of skiing felt like being in a fuzzy dream with a big line of skiers. I tried to stay as relaxed as possible and when I came into shooting for prone, it was perfect and I skied the second lap exactly where I would have wanted to be.
When I came back in for standing it was just bad. I wish I could have said there was a hurricane blowing me around on my mat, but it wasn’t too bad. But I still had 3 misses and even with the extra rounds of the relay, I had 3 penalties. Ouch. That’s a lot of extra time.
Nothing prepares you for racing like racing does. It hurts so much more than intervals and there is nowhere to hide. You just have to remember that the pain is okay and that it is just going to hurt, but still it surprised me. After the race I was really sad – it is not a good feeling to tag off to your teammates and hope they can make the best of what you gave them. But that is biathlon sometimes.
So now I am sitting here two few days later and I feel so much more relaxed. My body feels better and so does my head. I remembered that even though this is hard work and we have to be focused to do our job, it is still so fun to ski around and shoot at targets. It has been challenging to find a good rhythm in standing shooting with these difficult wind conditions, but I still have a really good summer of progress behind me and it still feels better than it would have last year. The pieces will come together and I am lucky I get to practice getting it right so many times. I can’t wait to race tomorrow.