Friday, February 19, 2016

Racing and painting (and having fun doing it!)

Well, I'm a bit late again with the update, but better late than never, right?  This time I'll stick with mostly pictures.  Its been a really fun last few weeks of biathlon racing.  I've been sticking with my goal of getting "excited" before races instead of "nervous".  So far it has been working well for both my my enjoyment and my performance.  It's sort of a chicken and the egg thing though...what comes first, racing well or having fun doing it?  

In Canmore I gained a lot of confidence when I got 28th in the sprint despite 2 misses.  It was a windy crazy day and I got a bit lucky, but it gave me a lot of hope that I could still be good at biathlon.
photo: NordicFocus
The mixed relay in Canmore was one of the more fun biathlon races I've ever done.  Susan handed off to me in 5th place, right with Norway.  I had a perfect person to ski behind!  I always ski better and more efficiently behind people.  I felt in control, and came into the race both times knowing that I could hit the targets.  I cleaned prone and left the range in 3rd!  I tagged off to Tim in 4th, right behind 3rd.  Tim kept us in 4th, and Lowell came from behind to come within seconds of catching Norway, who took third.  It was our best mixed relay result ever!  And it was such a fun race, both skiing and cheering afterwards.  

Smiles and sunshine after the race!
photo: Susan Dunklee 

In Presque Isle I went into the races with more confidence than I'd had all season, and I had my two best individual results of the year, improving upon my sprint in Canmore.  Biathlon is fun when you hit targets!  Its also fun when you have home-crowd fans cheering for you the whole way, especially when they're your friends and family!  The atmosphere reminded me of racing Dartmouth Carnival during college skiing.
photo: NordicFocus

My face is a bit frozen but I'm SO happy to have my best friend Courtney at the races cheering me on along with her husband Warren and her nephew and inlaws.  

My parents and aunt Carlie came to cheer and watch too!  

During these last few weeks I've been painting too!  My friend Corinne (Rin) and I have started an art challenge.  Each week we have a theme and we have to make a painting that fits the theme.  We're calling it the RinHan Art Challenge.  Its been really fun and motivating for me.  For week #1 the theme was to paint a picture from last summer.  This is one of the pigs that my sister raised last summer.  

For week #2, the theme was a self-portrait.  This is a painting of the selfie that I took on top of Heaven Hill in Lake Placid. 

For week three the theme was to make a bright and colorful painting.  I broke out my ink (since I was at home with all of my art supplies available) because ink makes for the most vibrant colors!  This is the view from Craftsbury looking toward the wind farm on the Lowell Range.  I swear the real sunset was this vibrant!

Now I'm finishing up my week at home in Vermont and getting ready to head back across the atlantic to Norway.  I officially managed to turn my season around in time to go to World Champs in Oslo, and I am ecstatic about that!  We'll have a one week training camp in Sjusjoen, Norway before heading to Oslo where the real excitement will begin!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Cheesy Blog about Believing in Myself

Disclaimer: This blog post has lots of writing. I just have lots of things to write about and some of them feel a bit cheesy or dramatic, but too bad--its going to be good for me to write about them so you can always just look at the pictures if you want to. 

Since my last blog, I've had some lows and some highs.  I always like to describe biathlon as a rollercoaster ride, with great highs and crushing lows that often seem to alternate randomly.  But that analogy really falls apart in one key way; on a rollercoaster, whether you're going up or down, you're having fun the whole time.  In my experience it isn't the same in biathlon.  When you put so much of your time and effort into a sport and then feel like its not paying off--when you know what you are capable of and then don't live up to those expectations--it can be really hard to enjoy it.  Even if you know you're really lucky to be racing in beautiful places all around Europe with an excellent support staff and great teammates.  This year I felt like instead of the usual biathlon ups and downs, my rollercoaster just never got going, no matter how hard I was pushing it.  It was an uphill battle and I
wasn't winning.

This is a small painting of a really cool old wood-fired bread oven that I found near the bed and breakfast we were staying at in Ridnaun.

This is the barn next to our bed and breakfast in Ridnaun.  Sudtirol has the most beautiful buildings in the world. (In my opinion).

I wrote my last blog post when I was in Ridnaun, Italy and shortly after that I hit what felt like the emotional rock bottom of my biathlon career.  I hadn't had a good race all year, and I kept trying to psych myself up for the next one, but it was getting harder and harder.  I had hoped to only race one weekend on the IBU cup and then be back on the World Cup, but for two weekends in a row, I hadn't put together a single race that would give anyone a reason to move me back up, and I knew that.  I was missing the World Cup in Antholz, which was where I went to my very first world cup race, and also my favorite of all the places that we go in Europe.  When I found out that I definitely wasn't going to Antholz, I was also told that I was not going to the Canmore world cup and that therefore it was best to not go visit my boyfriend in Colorado for the off week before Canmore, which had been the one thing I was really looking forward to.  At this point, I will be honest with you, I almost decided to quit biathlon then and there.  Well, I probably would have done the IBU cup races in Arbor as my last races.  But I really came very close to just throwing in the towel and giving up on all of the trying and failing.  I figured that I could just fly to Colorado like I was planning on and then stay there indefinitely.  (Note to my blog readers: I am planning to retire from biathlon after this season.  This is something I decided last spring, and I will discuss it more in a later blog post.  But since it sort of got made public last weekend, I figured I'd make it public here too).

My sister Emily.  Its not the best likeness, but working on his painting helped to distract me and keep me happier when I was really struggling.  And being with Em also really helped distract me and keep me happy.
I'm smiling but really I feel like crying, and I'm debating whether or not to quit biathlon immediately.
But after sleeping on it, I realized that I had to keep trying.  Not for my coaches or my team or my family or my pride, but just for me.  I had put way too much into this sport to just give up if there was a chance that I could turn my season around and end on a good note.  But most of all I wanted to believe in myself again.  I felt that I owed that to myself.

Because as coach Jean Paquet had told me, "it was clear that I just didn't believe that I could do it, and that was my only problem".  It was true, I didn't believe that I was fast at skiing, and I would come in to standing shooting and just not believe that I could hit the targets.  So then of course I wouldn't hit them.  Confidence is a very cyclical thing in biathlon.  When you do well, you have confidence.  But you also need confidence to do well.  So when you have a bad race--or a lot of bad races--you need to try not to lose confidence (which is really hard) so that you can get back to having good races.  So I set about trying to fake some confidence.  I decided that I would fake it until I could make it.

And miraculously, that worked.  I faked confidence at first, but pretty quickly it started to turn into small pieces of real confidence.  I started to shoot better in practice, and had more confidence going into the sprint races that weekend, and lo and behold I shot clean, and skied pretty well too!  I was really happy after a biathlon race for the first time all year!  My other two races that weekend had some good parts and some bad parts, but I felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders--I hadn't gotten super nervous before the races. I hadn't felt pressure and expectation dragging me down like an anchor.  I had raced for myself. This was a turning point for me.

Em and I were both very happy after the sprint race in Arber.  I was 10th and she qualified for her first international pursuit race!  

Arber was beautiful and wintery.
After the racing in Arber I found out that I was going to the Canmore world cup after all!  But alas, I was not going to visit my Nils in Colorado for a week.  I went straight to the OTC in Lake Placid for a week of focused biathlon training and good recovery.  This is not really my idea of a good time, but I decided to make the most of it.  I worked hard, relaxed, and did lots of laundry.  And then at the end of the week I went on a few of my best skis of the year.  I went for a long adventure ski up to Avalanche Lake with Annelies and Clare and a couple other friends.  It felt so nice to just ski through the woods for hours, to cruise down narrow twisting hiking trails dodging rocks, on the edge of control, and to chat with friends.  It reminded me that I love to ski.  The next day I was supposed to take the day off but I couldn't resist the chance to ski out the door of the OTC up to the top of Heaven Hill, one of my favorite places in Lake Placid.  It felt like spring, and the hill is covered with maple trees, so it felt like sugaring season at home and it made me happy. 

Girls ski to Avalanche Lake.

Happy on Heaven Hill.

And then I went to Canmore and it was beautiful and I felt happy.  During both of the races in Canmore I told myself "I can do this.  I don't even need to do anything special, I just need to do what I know how to do."  And the craziest thing happened--it worked!!  I had two of the best races of my year to date, including being part of our 4th place mixed-relay team. It felt like a dream, and I was very very glad that I didn't quit.

I think this blog post is long enough now, so I'll have to write more later.

The course in Canmore has a pretty decent view.