A bump in the road

Biathlon: Skiing, Shooting, and Existential Crisis

I am currently in beautiful Antholz, Italy, where I am feeling so lucky and happy to just be. The snow is beautiful, our hotel feels like a magical Narnia castle in the mountains, and family and friends flock to come and watch us race. It is such a good feeling to be here.

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But this great feeling comes after some weeks of feeling mentally down. I have to admit that I have been asking a lot of questions about what I am doing in biathlon. I think that every athlete goes through phases like this. In fact, it seems like my teammates have also been going through this from reading their blogs!  I sat down to think about what I was feeling sad about and how I have worked to turn it around with the help of others. I would characterize myself as a positive person so it feels good to be back to a more normal state of being.

To start off with, I have been frustrated about race performances for myself. This gets compounded by wanting to have good performances for others as well. For example, the wax technicians who ski 40 k trying to get you the best skis, coaches who stand out in the rain for hours, and parents who feel sad if you feel sad. Then on top of that, having very             uninspiring biathlon conditions like cold rain, fog, dirty manmade snow, and wet heavy slushy, snow, which makes biathlon in and of itself, a bit less enjoyable (imagine laying down on a slushy mat, holding metal rifles that are wet and cold in your hands and trying to feel the trigger, and then skiing up big steep uphills in concrete snow and not moving very fast).

These thoughts then morphed into missing home, family, and friends. Add to this the feeling that a clock is ticking and the world is moving on without you. This starts questions about what the future holds like what do I do with myself when I retire? And how do I know when it is time to retire?

This was all SUPER NEGATIVE!!! Not my normal style. But when these thoughts all converge at the same time and snowball, it is so detrimental to performance, which is exactly the thing that started the negative spiral to begin with.

So, I did what I always do when I am having a hard time. I start talking. I reach out to people for advice. This is what I got.

First, I wrote my sports psychologist to ask for some strategies to work on my performances, and also whether or not it was time to retire. He said, “You are not ready to retire if you still care so much when things don’t go well”. That was a good piece of advice. Then I talked to my mom, and she thought I should “make a plan” so that I don’t feel as stressed about my future and can focus on where I am are right now. And then she handed the phone over to my dad who told me “You think too much! Don’t think so much! You can’t do this for the rest of your life, so enjoy it now. You will be fine in whatever you do once you finish biathlon, so don’t worry so much. Plus if you were home all the time, you might get bored.” Then I went to dinner with my boyfriend and over a glass of wine he told me, “It’s all in your head. You can’t think, I don’t want to be slow. You have to think that you are going to be fast. It’s all mental and what you believe yourself to be capable of. Plus, what have we to complain about in our lives?” And then I wrote a message to a fellow athlete that I respect incredibly because she achieved her goal of placing in the top 5 of the Tour de ski. She asked how I was doing and I told her that I was feeling frustrated and her reply back to me was, “It will come around, just keep believing! That has been the biggest thing for me, going after a race with no holding back, no other thoughts, just being selfish and channeling what you need to do to perform your best”. And lastly, I was talking to the sister of one of my teammates and telling her about the blog I was busy writing up and she replied, “Isn’t that what biathlon is all about? Skiing, shooting, and existential crisis!” I guess she has had this same conversation before…

So that is what got me to where I am today. All of these nice gems really helped shape my thinking process. PLUS- I got a few gifts from the Universe too. TA DA!!!!

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The first gift was that I decided to go and cheer for the Mass Start in Ruhpolding. It was incredible. I forgot how thrilling exciting biathlon was. And the FANS! Being on the other side of the fence was a great reminder of how much I would rather be on the inside of the fence.

And the second gift was a snowstorm that was so beautiful it made me want to ski just for the pure pleasure of skiing again.

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So here I am, in Antholz, Italy. I love the beautiful snow. I am excited that I get to be on the inside of the fence this time and be part of this crazy circus show. And I am motivated to race and it all out there again.

 

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2 Responses to A bump in the road

  1. Bud says:

    Hi Annelies. I have been following you and the rest of the US team for two seasons now, (especially since I can stream the races live via Eurovision) and have been thrilled to finally get to know & watch a sport that I have been interested in for over thirty years. It was a blast watching you guys in the relay last week. Awesome job.
    I appreciate your posts. Especially this one. They provide an inside view of the reality of competing at your level.
    Keep your head up. You’re a great athlete. Your Dad is very right. Enjoy this time of your life. Trust me, it goes by really fast.

  2. Harald says:

    Hey Annelies,

    I’m not a pro athlete so I can’t truly know what struggles you are going through trying to decide if it’s still worth it (I used to compete until about college age, mostly in track). Yet I’ve been watching biathlon for about 20 years now since it became an Olympic sport, always cheering both for some of the stars but also the underdogs, and in the last years really started to pay attention to the up-and-coming US and Canadian athletes.

    Don’t let something external like bad weather and poor snow conditions in one location or a random bad shooting ruin your overall enjoyment of your sport!
    It’s nice that you now have 4 women together again to compete in the relays. That always seems to be important and get team morale up. Great job in Antholz. It surely was a wild and windy day, but on your legs you e.g. had a better performance than Tiril Eckhoff (an Olympic medalist), or later Fanny Horn (a world cup winner this season) closing out for Norway. Cherish the little steps and remember those positive experiences.

    I think it’s really good that you reached out to your teammates, coaches, other staff, relatives, and athlete friends you truly admire for support and perspective.
    Maybe for some additional one, you should talk to Tim Burke’s wife Andrea some time during or after the season. She has made an incredible 15 year world cup career out of her hard work, and also had to recently finde out what she wanted to do after she retired and had to open a new chapter in life. I’d say that while very skilled, she never was the most naturally talented on some very competitive German teams over the years, and she might be the first to admit that in the media she always stood in the shadow of other more popular athletes (Katie Wilhelm, Magdalena Neuner, Magdalena Forsberg, Liv Grete Poiree, etc.), but she persevered.

    From the posts of Susan I gather that you also did some training early in the season with some of the current German athletes. Not sure how willing they are to share their personal struggles, but you can be sure they have to go through them as well despite having a much bigger and well-funded team. And they get publicly questioned about those struggles by the local media on every step. Miri Gössner almost got paralyzed in a bike accident, and still has to fight very hard to make it back into the team after being absolutely world class in biathlon and cross-country before. It’s an up-hill battle with bad setbacks (missing the Olympics, inconsistent shooting, …), but from the outside she still seems to be a positive enthusiastic person and driven to make it. Or Franziska Hildebrand was in danger of being kicked off the team two summers ago because she was a really good shooter but just was not fast enough, then had to refine her skiing technique and strength a lot. Now she’s consistently back on a high level, but still gets visibly frustrated by not being able to finish on the podium so far. As you are all well aware, at the top it’s just so very competitive and so many tiny details matter in this sport. Often it comes down to dumb luck the closer athletes are in performance.

    You girls are real ambassadors for cross-country skiing and biathlon in the US as the sport is getting more and more established. Keep it up, and good luck at the next world cup stations and especially the world champs!

    Greetings from Germany and Norway to you and your teammates,
    Harald

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