Despite the smog and the rocky trails, Kazakhstan was an amazing experience for me, an experience I won't soon forget. I had some of the best races of my life and I accomplished some major goals during the Championships. I was just riding this wave of stoke. I still can't believe I had such good races, and what those results meant for the rest of my season.
As much as I try to have a positive mind-set going into a race, I'm typically pretty anxious. That's why one the best aspects of the Championships was how good my attitude was on race day. I didn't feel like I'd consciously changed my thinking. When I got to the start line for that very first race, the sprint qualifier, I just felt this genuine happiness inside me and an excitement to race. I was smiling on the start line, it was a great feeling. I was so happy to be there, and so excited to race in this field. I felt thankful for the opportunity, and I wanted to make the most of it.
I had a terrific qualifier, posting the 12th fastest time! Wooo!
I had the same fired up feeling before my quarter final, but, unfortunately, my quarter final was not an example of my best racing and I failed to move onto the semis. Despite being angry and wanting more immediately after crossing the line, I left the race site with a lot of positives. In my mind, the day was still a success.
On Thursday we raced the 10km skate interval start. Because of my poor FIS points, I was an early starter. I hoped I would be able to ski my second lap with some of the fast later starters, who would be starting as I lapped through the stadium. This race was unlike any race I'd done this year. I have a habit of starting fast and fading and losing time in the later stages of the race. This day in Kazakhstan, however, was different. I started out with a controlled pace, telling myself to be light and relaxed up the steep pitches so that I could catch a ride with someone as I lapped through. After 5km, as I headed out of the stadium for the second lap of my race, I was pumped when I realized my legs felt great and I was ready for a hard second lap. I started pushing the pace and my body was keeping up, feeling awesome. I was passed by a Norwegian whose pace was too much for me, but when a Slovenian caught me with about 2.5km to go, I worked my butt off to stick with her. From that point on I pushed as hard as I could until the finish line and made up a lot of time.
I didn't really have any expectations going into this Championship. Besides "giving my all and having the best races possible", I don't really set goals for myself. I prefer to go into races imagining I'm the underdog, because I race better when I have no perceived pressure.
When I realized I'd finished 17th I was ecstatic! It was my best result by a long shot, I was sooo happy. I had a fall near the end of the race on the last downhill and lost some precious seconds. When my coach told me I would have been top 15 had I not fallen, I couldn't really bring myself to care. All I could say was "I know I should probably be way more disappointed by that, but I don't even care! I just came seventeenth!" Seriously, how could you not be pleased with that?!
12th place at U23s is quite a meaningful and elusive result for Canadians. It is written in our National team selection criteria that a 12th place earns you a spot on the senior National Team. 12th is this big number we all strive for, but I didn't know how realistic the result was for me. I can honestly tell you I didn't think I was capable of it. Of course, nothing is confirmed until the spring, so I will post an update when the news comes!
Racing aside, we had an amazing team in Kazakhstan. We were a very cohesive group. Everyone wanted the best for each other, everyone celebrated each other's victories or empathized with each other's defeats. We were proud to be representing Canada, as well one another. We worked together to develop the best race strategies, and we had some amazingly motivating team mates (if anyone needs a pep talk, pay a visit to Julian Smith - wise beyond his years.) It was also really cool to have a certain kinship with the Americans, I think that seeing ourselves as "team North America" and wanting success for each other was a great attitude to have.
The next time I would hop on a plane, it would be taking me to SWEDEN!!