Canadian World Cup Tour

by Jennie

Round two of National Nordic Foundation blogs, here is my most recent recap of the Canadian World Cup Tour. Instead of hashing out each race and so on, I decided to take a bit different of a writing route.

Let me know your thoughts! Cheers

See NNF article HERE or down below:

YOUR GHOSTS OF SUCCESS: JENNIE BENDER

Posted: April 30, 2016

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It’s a few hours after the last race of the Canadian World Cup Ski Tour. I’m sitting on my bed staring at the accumulation of World Cup bibs from the week piled on the floor. A token of accomplishment for a moment in time, that means so much to so few people. Some labeled in the 50s, one in the 70s after an unfortunate fall in the first race of the Tour, and one 29th that was a wild card seeded 10k skate. During that race, I had the…lets say luxury of being passed by both Heidi Weng and Therese Johaug, who were battling times for the Overall World Cup bib. Did I say bib? I meant for 100,000 chf (Swiss franc), which is about $103,528 usd. Anyway, I can now say that the true difference in our athletic abilities is their tempo on the uphill compared to mine. On the section where Therese passed me, I stayed with her on the flat and downhill, but going up the next hill was like comparing a Chihuahua to a Great Dane. Not gonna happen. But well, if it came down to…like a fistfight in a dark alley…I’ve got her there. Woof.

A final racer count of 49 out of the starting 72 women, and 51 out of 86 starting men completed 8 races in 12 days, at 4 different venues across Canada. Looking back to sitting on the gigantic charter plane flying from Montreal to Calgary half way through the Tour, full of only elite international nordic ski racers, the accumulative VO2 max and baggage weight was probably some of the highest ever housed in a metal tube. By this point, athletes were dropping out left and right, some due to being lapped or not making the time cut, and others due to sickness. Since each start spot is based off your previous result; that meant the end of the Tour for many.

As I hunch over my unpacked bag, eyes glazed, as much as I tried, very few thoughts rolled through my brain. It had turned off a few races ago. Repetition, routine, and exertion had stolen my ability to think critically. By day 12, I felt too tired to sleep, and too nauseous to eat. After I disappointed myself with my lack of sprint results, my desire for impressive placement faded, and turned to survival mode. Even… simplified enjoyment? I learned, that when the body needs to perform day after day, your luxury to analyze and overthink a scenario is stripped, and you resort to what you know. That saying in fact, was what I started my World Cup racing with two months prior. After watching ski jumpers in Oslo takeoff into a foggy abyss, I realized that they really needed to trust in what they knew. The vision was so limited, that the TV newscasters “lost” the athletes when trying to cover the event. It’s a powerful step in personal growth when you allow yourself to believe in your own knowledge and experience.

As I qualified to race the World Cups as the US Super Tour Sprint Leader, the three sprints in the Tour were my main focus. However, after I got in my own way during two of them, and just didn’t have the pop for the other, my goal was to just make it through the Tour. What does this mean? This means taking my sprinter dominant physique, and surviving three final distance races, at altitude, on some of the hardest terrain in the world, with the current fastest cross country ski racers in the world. As an athlete, you never tell yourself that you aren’t racing for that Gold medal possibility. Usually going into a race, I tell myself, “It’s a new day, it’s a new race, I believe that I can be one of the best.” However, in this scene, on this Tour, I wasn’t racing for first. I was racing to not be last. I was racing to stay in the game, and my survival game is strong.

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It’s the eve of the last race, and the USA racers are sitting scattered in a small conference room. This race night prompt is also part of the routine, where Grover leads us through the coaches meeting notes, and we talk schedule and strategy. Even though it’s another race, like any other; every race is a fresh start for unknown possibility. These talks are comforting, even if it’s telling us stuff we already know. The discussion is on tomorrow’s last race; the classic pursuit. For the women, it’s a 10k, made up of three 3.3k loops. Due to the wide accumulative time spread, only 10 people start in actual pursuit format, and then the rest of the field goes mass start 6 minutes and 30 seconds later. As this is explained, the room goes noticeably quiet. This means, that the leaders are already more than one third of the way through the small loop by the time the rest of the field starts, and have two more loops to go. If you get caught by the leaders; you’re out. The lingering possibility of not finishing the tour after such a long journey sits heavy. Basically, for many of us, this is going to be a mass start 6k race to make it into the safe final lap. Already being in the reverse podium, I felt my odds were not in my favor. Luckily, I thrive in head to head races, and neither my mind nor body was accepting fatigue just yet. To ease tension, I resort to humor, and that morning sent out around a video of the scene from Flash Dance, “Man Hunt” with Karen Kamon. No one else really appreciated my attempt to lift the mood, as I was seemingly the only one nervously giggling about the battle about to ensue. A sense of calm, then overwhelming wave of nausea greeted me with 30 min to go before start. Only until clicking into my skis in the start lane did I find an emotion I wasn’t expecting: intrigue. As if I was looking from the outside, seeing myself and thinking, “Well this will be interesting, let’s see what she can do.” All I could do was grin like it was my first circus.

I’m a fighter. This isn’t something new. It’s why I like sprints. It turned out, I raced one of my better classic races of the season, altitude, slush, fatigue and all. I crossed the line in 45th, beating a small handful of girls I hadn’t beaten all week. Not only finishing, but racing the last race. I slowly threw my hands up in crossing the line, because, why not. Today, my victory was conclusion.

Let me add a disclaimer to this next part. Bringing up the rear is not where I want to be, nor where I feel like I’m destined to stay. But there is never talk about what it takes to fight from the back. The World Cup Tour scene is no, “Ski it in and get last because I am here for fun.” It’s more like “Ski for your life, because you will be hunted down (we were skiing 3.3k loops mind you).” The back of the pack was just as full of fighters as the front of the pack.

So why did I call this story, “Your ghosts of success?” Because sometimes your success is not picture worthy. It’s not standing on top of a podium, or within a group with a smile on your face. It’s throwing your hands up in victory at the finish line when you finish in the back five. It’s a kind of success that’s invisible to the outsiders, and if you’re lucky, visible to a few people who know you well. Just as finishing top 10 in the world is a failure to some; it’s all perspective. My ghost of success was completing something where the odds were not in my favor, and I am mentally and physically stronger from doing so.

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2 Comments

  1. Dan Gustavsson
    02 May 16, 4:23am

    Jennie

    Thank you for the blog of April 30th. Really good writing about what is going on in ones mind and between the races. I appreciate this format.
    Being a badminton coach for junior players at a small club in Sweden I often refer to hints and tips from the ski circuit to encourage young players when they at times may feel low. The sports are different but peoples minds work surprisingly similar, even though professional athletes are perhaps better trained to focus and follow up on plans and strategies.

    Good luck and success for coming seasons
    Regards
    Dan

  2. 02 May 16, 1:45pm

    Jennie, this is a fantastic piece. You write as well as you ski. You’re definitely a fighter, and having one of your better races at the end of a tour speaks volumes to your mental game. I love being your fan :).

    Keep fighting, and good luck next year!

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