Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hard Times in Hochfilzen

Another title for this blog could have been "slow times in Hochfilzen".

I thought I had a great race last Friday in the 7.5 Sprint in Hochfilzen, Austria. Out of the starting gate I went "full gas" around the course, only backing off briefly before the shooting stages to slow my breathing. After missing one in prone, I came into standing knowing that in order to qualify for the pursuit, I would need to shoot well. I only missed one and left the range feeling thrilled. I thought maybe I could finish in the top 40 and score World Cup points. It wasn't until well after the race that I saw the results: 83rd. I couldn't believe it! Based on my 88th rank ski time, I would have had to hit all ten targets to finish in the top 60 to make the pursuit. And just one week earlier I skied the 40th rank time! 

Sun setting on the mountains in Hochfilzen
Not natural snow in the valley by the venue, but the mountaintops are covered.

I think a combination of factors led to this slow skiing. One, my body was not at 100% because I was recovering from a minor cold and a major calorie deficit after the intense week of racing in Ostersund, Sweden. Two, the course played to all my weaknesses; it was very technical (icy with lots of transitions) and predominantly flat, so strong people with finesse on skis glided powerfully around the trail while I flailed without actually moving quickly over the ground. And three, because the course was so flat and the conditions so fast, the time gaps were tiny; feeling even slightly off or taking just one corner wrong meant I lost seconds that translated into places.

For Sunday's relay, in hopes of skiing faster, I made the mistake of trying to push harder, rather than changing the way I was skiing. In fact I was already going full gas in the Sprint, so the only difference on relay day was that I didn't back off at all before the range, and then I missed four standing targets in a row, and ended up with two penalty laps after using all three spare rounds. This was a real bummer considering that I wasn't just messing up my own race, but the whole relay effort. 

Where's all the snow? This is a man-made ribbon of white.
My teammates organized this photo in support of
international agreement at the Paris climate conference.
At least I learned a lot after last weekend. Sometimes after bad biathlon performances I look back and think, "well, that was awful," and there is not much more I can take away. In this instance, however, several things were clear:
  • It is certain that I need to back off a little bit before the range.
  • "Going harder" is not a good strategy.
  • It is not necessarily appropriate to make changes to my race approach based on one result.

What I was doing before was working well, so in the coming weekend's races in Pokljuka, Slovenia, I will go back to those basics. 

Trying to smile after a relay that took it all out of me, mentally and physically!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"Meet the Newest Member of the US Biathlon Team"

Thanks Team for this great article!

"Biathlete Clare Egan has taken a slower, somewhat unorthodox route to where she is now — almost like a cross-country skier who decided to take a detour off the conventional path, stop for a bit, and shoot at something." Read more here.

Thanks to German fan Harald for this photo!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

World Cup Top-20!

After my 44th place finish in last Thursday's 15k Individual, I was optimistic about the possibility of finishing in the top-60 of Saturday's Sprint in order to qualify for the Sunday's Pursuit. That being said, I did not expect what happened next...

After resting all day Friday because of a minor sore throat, I woke up Saturday feeling better and decided to race the Sprint. I was a late starter, wearing bib 90, and enjoyed great conditions and very fast skis on course. It was a clear evening with light wind- perfect for biathlon racing. I shot clean in prone and skied a faster second loop than my first loop.

On course in the Sprint
When I came in for standing, my goal was to be diligent about staying calm and taking my time to hit the targets. After hitting the first two, I nearly took a bad third shot as my mind wandered away from the task at hand and into the danger zone: "I wonder if I will hit all five??!!" Checking my focus, I remember thinking "you have all day to take a good shot." While this is not exactly true-- the fastest shooter in the race completed her standing stage in 22 seconds compared to my 38-- it was a crucial reminder not to rush. When you are shooting in a race, what feels like "all day" is actually only one or two very worthwhile seconds. Then I hit the next three targets to complete my first clean World Cup race! I am putting a check mark on my goal list!

Tucking and gasping for air on my way tot he finish line!
I saw on the big screen that I was around 10th place as I left the range. Unfortunately what followed was a brutal last lap during which even my best effort left me sliding down the results. Our Team USA staff members were spread out around the course excitedly screaming at me, and the first coach I encountered yelled, "only two seconds to top 10!", the next coach "only two seconds to top 12!" and so on, until I finished in 15th. A late starter from the French team, who was the fastest skier in the race, finished a few moments after me in 8th and bumped me back to my final result of 16th.

Surprised look on my face as I check the results screen!
Happy and tired at the finish line
In Sunday's pursuit race, I started 16th but moved back to 46th as I missed 5 targets (1,2,1,1) and skied the 51st-ranked time. I think the first three races took a lot out of me both physically and mentally, so I did not have the same energy on course. I was also running on empty, quite literally, because I struggled to eat enough during the week due to the odd training and racing times. So my skiing was not as sharp as it can be, and I had three shots awry in prone, but I was very proud of how I overcame first-shot misses in both standing stages to hit the next four. It wasn't my best race, but I'm still satisfied with my performance.

Cresting a hill with three others in the very tightly-contested Pursuit
I am still getting used to the World Cup racing schedule and learned a lot last week. Part of the challenge at this level is figuring out how to push your body and mind through four races in one week-- and then do it again the next week. 

I am thrilled with the results from the Ostersund World Cup, not only because of their intrinsic value but also because I am coming off a very challenging summer training season during which I only narrowly qualified for this World Cup team. It is a great relief to have out-performed my summer self, and I now have the confidence to look forward to my upcoming competitions with high performance hopes rather than self-preservation fears. We have a few days off now before racing again on Friday in Hochfilzen, Austria. My minor cold lingers, but that is no match for the hotel's Spa and Wellness center... :-)

Friday, December 4, 2015

15k Individual News Coverage

Fasterskier's coverage of the 15k Individual:
"Crawford Keeps Her Cool for 13th in Ă–stersund 15 k; Egan Leads U.S. in 44th"

US Biathlon's press release:
"Egan Tops U.S. Effort In 15k"

Waving to the TV in the finish area!

Celebrating a new best for World Cup shooting!

Yesterday was the first individual competition of the World Cup season. I was confident after my performance in the single-mixed relay last Sunday that I could ski and shoot my way to a good result in the 15k Individual.

Great action shot of Susan in the Ostersund stadium.
Susan had the 7th-fastest ski time of the day.
Because it is a longer race, the 15k Individual requires more endurance fitness than top-end speed on skis, which suits me well right now since I am just starting to get into racing shape. Many European teams hold their World Cup team trials one week before the opening races, so those athletes must already be in peak form in order to qualify. Our team has an earlier team selection process which allows us to focus on peaking later in the season for World Championships (and also to buy plane tickets to Europe more than one week in advance). It means that sometimes we start slow relative to other teams but get progressively faster over the course of the season. Susan, pictured above, starts fast and gets even faster!

Crossing the finish line of the 15k Individual on Thursday in Ostersund.
I skied a smart race yesterday and did my best shooting so far at the World Cup level. I cleaned both my prone stages, missed one in the first standing and two in the second for a total of hitting 17/20 targets or 85%. In the Individual, there is no penalty lap but rather a 1-minute time penalty added for each miss. With three misses I ended up in 44th place, +4:52 from the race winner, Dorothea Wierer of Italy. That means she skied and shot 1:52 faster than I did. Get it? 

Hannah leads a pack of skiers on course. 
It was a great way to start the season because I know I will get much faster on skis, so I am excited to do even better. Yesterday I had the 59th fastest ski time and last year when I was in great shape at World Championships I was in the top 40 for ski time. I consider this my best World Cup result so far, because although I did get 40th in one race last year, I had a lot of luck that day in the form of avoiding wind gusts on the range and starting with a late bib number after a blizzard slowed down all the early racers.

Our next race is the 7.5k Sprint on Saturday. My goal is to finish in the top 60 so I qualify for Sunday's 10k Pursuit race.

15 Individual Results

L-R: Susan Dunklee, me, Hannah Dressigacker, and Annelies Cook