Where’s the easy button?

The first half of the season is officially over. It’s hard to sum it up in one word, but if I had to it would be…challenging. Or disappointing, or frustrating. Take your pick.

My last blog entry left off at the first Calgary selection race. The following week came the second selection race on my, um, favorite track—Whistler. For those of you who have been reading my blog for the past few year’s it’s safe to say I have a love/hate relationship with that track, weighted ever so slightly on the latter.

This year was no exception. I failed to find the speed and drivelines necessary to win the selection race, and finished 4th. But on the bright side, I pushed two personal bests, had a personal best down time, and managed to avoid any major disaster. For the selection series overall I placed 3rd, but with one athlete pre-qualified for World Cup, I ended up 4th and on the Intercontinental Cup Circuit (ICC).

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The first ICC race was in, drum-roll please, Whistler. After coming back to Calgary, and  going to Vegas for a conference for a week, I u-turned back to Whistler for a week of extra training. Over the past few years I have systematically been working my way down the track. At the time of selections, I had made it down to corner 14/15, with only 15/16 left to figure out. That’s the thing with Whistler—it takes time and experience. Most tracks in the world can be slid relatively proficiently with the 6 runs granted to you before each race. There are of course exceptions, and in my opinion, Whistler is the biggest one.

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Fast forward three weeks (one week of training, one forerunning World Cup, and one Official Training for ICC races #1 and 2). Training went well. I figured out what I needed to, finally, and actually began to get some serious speeds. By the end of official training I was consistently in the top 3 sliders. I was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming races. Would these be the races I could finally dial it in on Whistler? Would I podium? Could I even win and get an Olympic qualifier?

Unfortunately, two days before the race I developed a viral illness. It didn’t seem too significant at first, a little runny nose here, a little fever there, and some generalized fatigue but that was about it. However, as time passed I got worse and not better. The fatigue became overwhelming and I spent most of the two days leading up to the races conserving energy by laying in bed all day. For the first time in years, I skipped the gym, and didn’t do all of the official training runs allotted.

The races were at 6pm, and on the first race day as the sun went down and just as I should have been getting amped up for the race I simply felt like going to bed. However, I mustered up whatever energy I could and did a thorough warmup. I used all the tricks in my repertoire to get as activated as possible. My first run I pushed of the block with power and speed, but loaded much too early as I couldn’t sustain the high impact activity for more than a few seconds. The run started out nice, but I made an error in corner 11, hit into 12 and as a result almost lost my sled out of 13. It was a rookie move, something I hadn’t done in a couple of years. I crossed the line with an 8th place time and a heavy heart.

The second run I vowed not to make the same mistake. I managed to pull together a clean run, and finished 2nd that heat, placing me in 5th overall and only a few hundredths of a second out of bronze. Certainly, not what I had hoped for, but not terrible.

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Race #2 was a different story. My illness continued to worsen. I had little energy for a warm-up, and then at the start of my warm up a bona fide blizzard started. Flashbacks to the Calgary selection race flooded my mind, along with the selection race the previous year in Whistler where similar conditions prevented me from getting a downtime. But, I pushed all negative thoughts aside and focused on what had to be done.

I was late off in the first heat, and the track had accumulated a fair bit of snow. I usually can push relatively well in snow, so I gave it all I could when the 30 second timer went off. I loaded my sled and got into racing form. Then, as soon as I entered corner 1, I knew I had a serious problem. My head got sucked down onto the ice and I couldn’t hold it up. This continued the entire way down the track. It was disorienting and frankly terrifying. I couldn’t see well nor feel the pressures the way I needed to. I did the best I could, but had a sloppy and guarded run, finishing just inside the top ten. Between heats I rested and even considered not doing the second run. But it was a race, and maybe that first run was a one off. Certainly nothing like that had happened to me ever before. The second run fast approached, and I decided to give it another go. But the same thing happened. My body was simply so fatigued from the illness I didn’t have the strength to hold my head off the ice on this fast and high pressured track. It was a disaster. Instead of improving the second run, I actually dropped two spots and finished a personal worst of 11th.

The disappointment was palpable. The one track where I perceived I had an advantage, a real chance of getting an Olympic qualifier, a “home track” with hundreds of runs, and I blew it…again. This sport is like a roller coaster ride, figuratively and literally. I can look back and honestly say I was prepared, confident and ready. There wasn’t much I could have done differently, and that is reassuring. Hopefully, it’s another notch in the learning tree and I will take the good with the bad and move forward onto the next two races in Park City.

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