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.





Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bernie and other inspiring things

Sometimes I start to get a bit negative, and I have trouble seeing all of the great things about what I'm doing, and about the world around me.  This can be a bit of a negative cycle.  And the negativity can be about my biathlon experiences, my surroundings, or other things like American politics or global warming.  These negative feelings definitely make me less inspired to paint, race biathlon, or try to make the world a better place.  So I'm trying to focus more on the positives.

But here are some of the things that have inspired me lately in a few paintings and a few photos!

1.  First of all...Bernie!  I made this painting a little while ago.  I hadn't painted in a long time.  I think I was bored of landscapes and feeling uninspired, until I realized that I just had to look for inspiration in other places!  The Bernie painting is also the start of my revived interest in portraits.

Bernie gives me hope for American politics, and the enthusiasm for Bernie gives me hope for Americans.

2.  Great teammates!  I've decided to start a series of portraits of my biathlon teammates.  I am surrounded by really great, beautiful teammates who make my life on the road fun and rewarding.  I also want to get better at painting likenesses.  Its hard!
This is Maddie Phaneuf, the youngest member of our US Biathlon Women's team.  Maddie is one of the most mature and level-headed 20-year olds I know.  This isn't quite Maddie...but its close!  I will have to keep practicing. 

Me, Em, and Maddie.  I am on the same team as my sister, Emily!!!  This is the first time that this has happened since high school.  Em started doing biathlon this spring and has picked up shooting so fast, its really cool to see.   


3.  Beauty everywhere!  I just spent a week in Žďár nad Sázavou, in the Czech Republic.  It was foggy for most of the time we were there and Žďár is a bit of an industrial town with smokestacks and lots of concrete apartment buildings.  Not the most beautiful place in the world.  But it is also home to the Zelena Hora pilgrimage church, which is a UNESCO heritage site, and an absolutely beautiful building.  This is the third year I've been to Žďár and I make sure to make a pilgrimage to the church each time.



4.  Being in Ridnaun, Italy!  Ridnaun is definitely in my top 5 favorite biathlon venues. And we arrived to freshly falling snow!



The buildings here are all so beautiful and well-built.  Even the barns. 

I found a cool old outdoor wood-fired oven near our hotel.  I wish I could see it in use!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Imperfection

When I started this blog, I meant it to be something that would encourage me to do more art.  I figured I'd post often and that it would inspire me to keep making art, even quick little experimental, "imperfect" things.  Since then I've gone through phases of doing more and less art, more and less blogging of the art, and also more and less blogging about biathlon.  But I also started to be too much of a perfectionist about both art and blogging.  And as anyone who was trying to follow my blog over the last year could see...that became paralyzing!

But since I've made a New Years resolution to do more art, this seems like a good time to try to start posting more to my blog.  I did a little art experiment today, and it didn't go very well...at least, not as I'd planned.  I'm not that happy with the outcome, but it was still fun and also quite fitting since so far my biathlon season hasn't gone as planned.  After an up and down but good year last year, with three different personal bests throughout the season, I had high hopes going into this season.
But then I dislocated my kneecap in our preseason training camp.  I got back into racing quickly, but my knee hurt and I shot badly and struggled to get my body into race gear.  In the last two races before Christmas I finally shot better, but still struggled to go fast on the skis.  Then I got a cold over Christmas and now I'm still feeling behind on the intensity training and just sort of slow...not how I wanted to be feeling right now!  But in the end I have to just enjoy the process and keep on trying.  I know I am still capable of better.  I will have to make another attempt at this painting-print idea too.  Today I tried painting on rubber with acrylic paint and then using that to print on paper.  But the acrylic dried too quickly and that made for lots of holes in the color on the print and also made me rush more than I'd like to to try to paint it before it dried, to no avail.  You get a better idea of the image from the rubber block itself.  I was trying to capture in some way the color and action of all the hundreds of skiers I saw today in Craftsbury, especially the kids.  I will have to keep trying to find a good way to capture that, its a cool scene.




Monday, February 23, 2015

Heißluftballons



I made this painting a while ago, during a week off of racing that we spent in Inzell, Germany.  We happened to be in Inzell at the same time as a Heißluftballon festival, and combined with fresh snow and sunny days it made for some very picturesque skiing.  I promise a more substantial and biathlon-related blog post soon!  



Friday, January 23, 2015

25 Crazy Things that Happen to you on the Biathlon World Cup

My very first experience on the Biathlon World Cup was exactly 2 years ago here in Antholz, Italy.  Back then, everything was new and exciting and I was not taking any of it for granted.  I was SO excited about the nice hotel we stayed at close to the stadium, the awesome breakfast buffet and salad bar, the massages we got to help us prepare for and recover from races, the fans lining the course, the famous biathletes skiing around next to me at practice...I could go on and on and on!  And back then I never thought that it would happen...but I've realized this winter that I've pretty much gotten used to it all.  Maybe too much.  I want to be able to keep seeing the excitement and fun of it all, as well as the absurdity and sometimes the downsides too.  Basically, I don't want to start taking myself too seriously and in the process take this whole crazy experience for granted.  And so for the past week or so, I've been trying to make a mental list of all of the awesome, wacky, abnormal things that happen when you travel around with the Biathlon Circus.

1. You get to go to places that look like THIS as part of your job!!!




2.  People don't even know your name, but they want your "autograph".  Yesterday I got to autograph one guy's 10-kilo, huge, wooden, spinning noise-maker.  I hope he doesn't spin that thing while he's in the stands, or he would probably kill someone.



3. Even crazier is that some fans DO know your name and yell at you even while you're just out training.

4. You get fan mail from people in places like Poland and Russia who want you to send autographed cards.
this is a real letter

5. 15,000 Germans stand outside in the rain and snow for hours to watch your race, wearing ridiculous things and drinking lots and lots of beer.



6.  You now have a made-for-tv video clip "Hannah" who turns to look at the camera and smiles...if you ever do well and they show you on TV, that will show up along with your name to show who you are.  (sorry, I don't have a copy of it...)

7.  You walk by a wax truck that looks like this.  The text on the truck says (no joke): "From the forests of the north comes a new breed.  Harder. Faster. Stronger.  Let the battle begin."




8.  Girls race with hairdo's like this and lots of makeup, and it starts to look normal to you.


9.  You get free food and beer right at the venue, in every place you go, in what they call a "family club".
Hansa, Gara, and Toni (from L to R), three of our wax techs, enjoying the family club fare. 

10.  Your team (USA) includes staff from Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic and Canada...and occasionally the USA.

11.  Words from many languages become a part of your everyday vocabulary.  "Ahoj!" (Czech), "Moi" (Finnish), "grüss dich", "servus", and "habe die ehre" (all Bavarian/German) are all common greetings, "malzeit!" starts most of your meals, and "Ciao!" is a common goodbye.

12.  Need new ski boots?  Just go ask your sponsor rep and you get some for free. (Thanks Salomon!)

13.  You have about 10 pairs of skate skis.  Actually, you might have a lot more than that.  Most of them you don't even touch except to test every now and then, and then to race on them.  (We have awesome wax techs who are constantly testing and waxing and make our skis as fast as possible)

14.  Its totally normal for you to be skiing behind two heterosexual men in full spandex and watch them hold hands as they go down the hill.  (many wax techs do this to get themselves going the same speed, before letting go to see whose skis go faster).

15.  In an average day, you change clothing 7-8 times.

16. Getting massages becomes normal for you.  (we are so spoiled!)  But they really do help a lot with recovery and injury prevention.

17.  A funny result of getting a massage is "massage face."  Its common for you to show up at dinner with your face all covered with lines and dents from lying with your face in the hole of the massage table.  They can take a long time to go away!



18.  When you say "I cleaned today!!", its a really good thing, not just something to check off of your chore to-do list.

19.  You spend one week in each of about 12 different places all over Europe...mostly places where other people go for vacation.

20.  You don't go home for 3 months straight.   (alright, so a few of these are not particularly positive...)



21.  You share a bed with your teammate/roommate for more nights out of the year than your boyfriend.

22.  After one or two races, your tights have big sticky patches that don't wash out from the leg stickers you race in, and they stick to themselves and look like this:

23.  You regularly get to fill your afternoons with watching your teammates race on TV

24.  No snow? No problem.  Its now become totally normal to do all of our training and racing on a 2.5k loop of manmade snow, surrounded by brown.  (this is sad)

25.  0.1 seconds can decide whether you get to race again the next day or not.  But today, I came out on the right side of that one!  Tomorrow I'll be the last starter in the pursuit...but I am just psyched to be starting another race in my favorite of all the world cup venues.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Catch-up Photo Collage

Sjusjøen, Norway


 


Well, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to correctly format and move pictures around in this blogger form.  Argh!  But like other frustrations in life, I am trying to just adapt--its not working to start typing in front of the first picture, so I'll start typing here!  So this will be a real haphazard collage of pictures and writing.   First, we were in Sjusjøen, Norway for a training camp before the season started.  I was sick at first, and there wasn't too much snow either.  But then I got better, and it snowed a bunch and then it got sunny!!  The best ski I've had all year is still the long classic ski we did from Sjusjøen up towards the Birkebeiner trail.  There wasn't much daylight but our cabins were cozy and ate lots of smoked salmon and brown cheese (not together though).


Östersund, Sweden


Highlights of Östersund included the awesome sunsets, the excitement of starting the first race of the season, and going to the Christmas Market which was full of little booths of cheese, hand-knit things, and everything in between.   Low points included having two really terrible races, not much daylight, and not particularly inspiring food.


Hochfilzen, Austria
 


 

Highlights of Hochfilzen included the great food, seeing the SUN and feeling its warmth, a cool run/hike up to an Alm (hut) that Susan and I did when on our first day there, comforters folded like hearts, an awesome sauna with a cold pool outside to jump into, and seeing all the crazy biathlon fans again.  Low points:  Another bad sprint race...and no relay team for us, so I only raced once.



Pokljuka, Slovenia (we stayed in Bled)
 




 

As you can see, I took a lot of pictures in Slovenia.  As you can also see, there wasn't much snow, especially down by Lake Bled where our hotel was.  But it was beautiful as usual...like a fairy-tale land with castles and mountains.  In fact...Slovenia was almost all highlights...cool old hotel, awesome gourmet food (I am SO spoiled), nice weather, and I had my best race ever!!!  I achieved two of my goals for the season:  to clean a sprint race, and to get a top-20 (I was 17th).  Man, hitting all of the targets in a biathlon race is a GOOD feeling.  Then I got to race the pursuit (my second world cup pursuit ever), and well...I guess that was the one low point of Slovenia.  I shot badly, but also somehow forgot to ski enough penalty loops...which is a TERRIBLE feeling.  I didn't realize until the coaches told me after the race.  Ugg.  That was a real rollercoaster of a few days.


Somewhere in Bavaria
Then before we flew home we had a team Bavarian Christmas dinner.  I borrowed a dirndl so that I could match Annelies and Susan.  



Home in VT!!
 




It was great to get to be home for two whole weeks, and to have some of the best snow of the winter (except for maybe the last few days in Norway...)  I got to spend time with my family, eat lots of yummy Christmas food, do some great long skis all over the trails in Craftsbury with my friends, and see the new Touring Center building in action.  I got to help some with the process of designing the building and modeling the energy use, and so it was really cool to see the building filled with hundreds of happy people.  There were SO many people skiing in Craftsbury in the week after Christmas...it was a truly heartwarming sight.  

Oberhof, Germany
 
And then the break was over and I was back on plane across the Atlantic.  I had never been to the Oberhof World Cup before, so it was exciting to be in a new place.  When we first got to Oberhof, it was snowy and wintery and even slightly sunny.  But then it promptly started raining and blowing and generally "Oberhof-ing".  The races were windy and rainy and wild.  But really huge crowds of German fans come to watch, and they line the course all the way up the biggest hill.  Its a great festive atmosphere.  I had a decent sprint race--cleaning prone, and then two misses in standing which I was happy with given the wind.  I was 37th, so I scored some world cup points!  But there wasn't a pursuit in Oberhof, and after a few more days of heavy rain I had to train in the ski tunnel there.  I don't like ski tunnels even in the summer, and skiing in one in January was just downright depressing.  So I was happy that this morning we left Oberhof and drove to Ruhpolding, Germany--back in Bavaria!  The food here is great, and we will have a relay team this week, so things are looking up!  And now I'm all caught up.  Hopefully now I will be better about blogging more regularly and about more recent or specific things.  There's still not much snow here either though...so if you're reading this somewhere that is snowy, go enjoy a nice long ski for me on trails that aren't a 2.5-k loop!