Hi everyone! I’m currently sitting in a tiny airbnb in Italy for a training camp prior to IBU Cups 8 and 9 (and when I say tiny, I mean that this host should only rent to people 5’5” and below). I’ve had a tab open on my laptop since January 3rd titled “On the backside of Olympic Qualification.” I would love to have had time since then to consolidate my thoughts to share with you here, but my reality right now is chaotic, busy, and just as disorganized as the fragments on that page. Instead, I’m going to share with you an excerpt from my “Race Updates.” This is an email list I put together with my close family and friends to keep them up to date on where in the world I am, and what in the world I am up to. This one got a lot of positive comments back, so hopefully you enjoy it as well!
Context: January 15th, IBU Cup #5, Osrblie, Slovakia.
Buckle up (or scroll down to the “too long, didn’t read”) because you’re in for a long haul here. I thought about sending a message with the subject line "I CLEANED!!!” (Non biathletes see note 1) immediately after the finish on Friday, but my race brain promptly forgot about it. These emails take awhile to write, longer when your brain is severely deprived of oxygen, you used up most of your motivation to race, and still had to work and pack after, then finally get around to finishing it in the van when you don't have wifi to send anything. I understand that they take awhile to read, so I won’t be offended if you skip to the TLDR if you have better things to do than read my race day rambles.
Photo "me and Joanne at the finish"
Friday's sprint race (note 2):
Please don't laugh too loud when you read this, but my goal for the sprint was to ski faster. When I think about saying it outloud, I immediately face palm... really Amanda? Do you really have skiing faster as a goal? However, the race before was an individual. Even as a short individual (12.5k instead of the usual 15k) there were a lot of really big hills, and a huge penalty for misses, so my biggest goal was to shoot well, even if my skiing took a bit of a hit. I accomplished that goal, so going into the sprint I wanted to maintain that level of shooting while speeding up the ski speed. I also knew that I only had 6 big hills to go up instead of 10, which is still a lot of climbing, but much more manageable.
Sprints are really important in biathlon; you have to finish in the top 60 in a sprint to race the following day in the pursuit. I knew this going in, and it put some extra pressure on the result. When I started, I was surprised at how good my legs were feeling. I came in for prone, tuned out the rest of the world, focused on my process, and shot clean. I couldn't tell you what the wind was like now, even though I know I looked at the little range flags, double checked the big flag, and made the appropriate corrections. In the middle lap I know that Joanne was on the second climb and was yelling her head off for me, which was SO COOL and SOOOO motivating. Approaching the range for standing I remember thinking to myself, "enjoy this moment, because it's the last time you're going to be able to breathe and feel your legs for the next 2.5K."
After cleaning standing, I was so excited that I threw my rifle on my back with such enthusiasm that I ripped my glasses off my head and had to leave them in the range. I had never cleaned a race before, and was so excited! Unfortunately that excitement and adrenaline didn't reach my legs, because they were screaming. Thankfully, I had an awesome cheering squad helping me around the course between my teammates that finished earlier, coaches, and even the wax techs. For the most part, in the race I was trying to focus on moving my arms to keep my body moving (a trick I picked up from Mr. Wander, my high school track coach, who told us to think about swinging the baton in relays), but I distinctly remember a narrow part of just my left quad absolutely screaming on the last climb. After that, on the rolling downhill back to the finish I was just thinking "ok don't crash, don't crash." I also had the thought that maybe I should just alternate between double pole and free skate because I could do either of those, but coordinating my arms and legs together was simply not going well.
I ended up finishing 44th, solidly qualifying for the pursuit, and a bursting bubble of excitement for cleaning my first ever race. There's something about hitting 9 (or 19) shots in a row that makes that last shot infinitely harder.
Photo "picture of the 4 women"
I didn't know what to expect for my first IBU pursuit, or even what a realistic goal would be (I straight up asked Joanne what she thought on our way up to the venue, and we concluded that moving up would be a good goal). For process goals, I wanted to do my own race, and not get caught up in the excitement of the pursuit (going out too hard, blasting through my shots without thinking, coming into the range too hot, etc.). I also knew that to hold my place I was going to have to shoot really well again.
Standing in the start I was the most excited and giddy I’ve been before a race in a long time. Standing there with 43 other biathletes lined up in front of me in four start gates, all to go out in 2 minutes and 10 seconds was so cool. I remember looking back at Danika, our coach, smiling and thinking “eeek there’s so many people to catch! All right there in front of me.” This is a mindset switch I’ve been working on. As a newcomer to the IBU, or in my younger days as a mid level junior, it can be really easy to get caught up in who might catch me from behind. Thinking about the opportunities ahead of me is not only much better for my race brain, but also wayyy more fun.
I did get excited at the start and V2ed up the first climb, but quickly settled in with the two Norwegian girls that started right in front of me. Coming into the range I slid into mat 14 (note 3). The wind was up slightly higher, so I took two more clicks into it, then focused on taking smooth shots. I think I shot with a 1 breath cadence, but I have serious goldfish brain during the race so I’m not entirely sure. Leaving the range clean and skiing straight by everyone in the penalty lap felt great. I felt even better when Danika showed me the board of my shots and it was a super tight group in the X ring (note 4). I might have even let a “Heck yea!” burst out when I saw the board. I made sure to dial in my focus before shooting again, and was telling myself, “just do what you’ve already done, you’ve got this.”
The next lap I came in on mat 10, a few places up. The wind had completely died, so I took four clicks right, and two down. Unfortunately my goldfish brain forgot about the 2 clicks I took in the first stage, and made the correction based on the wind during my zero. Frustrating, but that same goldfish brain acknowledged my first miss, accepted it, and dismissed it so I could go on to hit the rest of my shots. A month ago missing the first shot would have rattled me quite a bit, but this time each shot only existed in the space in which I took that shot. There was no judgment or stress, just focus on taking good shots. No, not even good shots, my focus was solely on the singular shot in my barrel, my exhale lifting my sight onto the target, and the pressure on the trigger pulling the shot off in the hold in that moment (note 5). This was huge for me! I’ve finally trained my autopilot monkey to be calm and collected.
After skiing my penalty, I saw my teammate, roommate, and friend Kelsey up ahead of me and thought “oh boy let’s go get her,” mostly because I wanted to ski with my friend and someone I know won’t push me off the course :). I tried, but didn’t catch her. I was really struggling with the ice on the climbs, she’s a fantastic skier, and frankly there’s only so much you can do with 2k of race course!
I don’t remember much of the third shooting except that there was some wind. After shooting at Crosscut, my home range in Bozeman, this wind was nothing, and I had the memory of Danika helping me through wind dry fire drills just a few days earlier. This drills helped me discover how much stronger my new standing position is against wind disturbances (fellow nerds/engineers, yes, I did think about wind as an input to my shooting block diagram block diagram Third shooting, clean!
Something probably happened during that lap, but the only thing I can remember thinking is that I only had to ski this loop one more time before I could go lay down somewhere. Coming into the range the last time my inner monologue was grumbling “ok now don’t mess this up” while my conscious brain was working its tail off to override it with “you’ve got this, do what you do, you deserve to be here.” I turned the corner into the range and saw a handful of athletes skiing. As I skied in and towards point 1, most of the skiers merged right and went out on course instead of filing in with me, and I thought “oh boy! Eeek! Here we go!” I had moved up way more than I thought from cleaning standing, and settled in on point 2! (I’m pretty sure it was 2, could have been 3… darn goldfish). As I got into position, thinking about my cues, I heard the girl on my right miss, and the girl on my left slide onto the mat. I took a deep breath, and took the targets down one at a time. I threw my rifle on my back and double checked. Did I really just clean my second standing??? Woooo!!! I just had one big hill to go, and after that just had to stay on my feet; staying vertical is easier said than done with wobbly race legs and an icy course, but I did it. The Norwegian I started with nearly out lunged me at the finish, but I kicked out my foot at the last second and held my place, finishing 28th, a career best for me.
Photo: "Picture of A Target"
The picture above is from my second prone shooting. While the group isn’t great for a precision shooter, considering my heartrate was around 175, the group was really good, and just a few more clicks would have meant another clean race for me. I’m super grateful for the coaches we had this week, Mike and Danika. They are both wonderful humans who gave up countless hours of sleep to make sure I could know that I didn’t mess up my shooting process, just my clicks, and spent exorbitant amounts of energy trying to get skating technique through my brain to my gangly limbs so I look less like my dad trying to dance and more like a professional skier when climbing up hills. The latter part of that run-on sentence has been a work in progress for more than a decade now, so I’ll take any little win that I can at this point.
I have to admit, going into a pursuit after cleaning a sprint was intimidating. There were definitely thoughts of “gosh do I really deserve to be here? What if I just got lucky with the wind? Everyone else shot worse and skied faster than me, and if cleaning was a fluke I’m going to get passed by so many people.” Obviously, these aren’t great thoughts, and I’m really proud of how well I went through the process of recognizing and acknowledging the thoughts, then packing them up into neat little boxes and putting them on the useless-stuff-that-I-don’t-really-need-but-can’t-get-myself-to-throw-away shelf in the far back of my brain, while I let positive thoughts sit out on the sun deck in the front of my brain and soak up the radiant rays of my attention.
TLDR: My thoughts in this email are much more scattered than my shooting was: I cleaned my first race, qualified for the pursuit, and nearly cleaned again to move up into my best ever finish at an international competition.
Note 1) Cleaning in biathlon means hitting all your targets, turning your point a nice sparkly clean white.
Note 2) A sprint in biathlon is an individual race with only 2 shooting stages, 1 prone and 1 standing. Athletes start at 30 second intervals and have to complete a penalty lap for each missed target. Women ski 3x2.5K for a total of 7.5K. Men ski 3x3.3K for a total of 10K.
Note 3) In pursuit races you have to file in starting at point 1: the person currently in 1 and 31 will shoot on point 1, and 30 and 60 on point 30, and so on, making it easy to know where you are in the race, for better or worse.
Note 4) When shooting on paper, biathlon targets typically have more than just the prone and standing rings. The X ring is a smaller concentric circle inside of the prone ring.
Note 5) In prone, breath is absolutely critical. As you breathe in, your chest expands, lifting the butt of the rifle, which drops the sights below the target. As you exhale the sights come up onto the target. A big focus of mine this week has been making sure my natural point of aim, or the consistent place my sights land at full exhale, is perfectly in line with the targets.