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.





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