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November 29, 2009: A Slightly Better Race

Hochfugen Europa Cup Nov 29, 2009

Fugen, Austria – There were even more people for the second race, a Europa Cup, and my start got bumped back four spots to 73rd. Starting so far back in the pack just really sucks. The course gets cut up making a smooth run difficult and a slower run more likely. But excuses aside.

Yesterday I waited at the top of the course for my number to be called for what seemed like forever. So today I decided to distract myself and keep warm by continually taking freeruns which I rarely do because I used to think it tires me out for the race run. But I wanted to avoid nervous anticipation and standing in the cold wind so I took about four and even went into the lodge to warm up. For my freeruns I focused on bending the nose of the board into the turn and then moving through the turn (using the back foot). Overall it felt pretty good and comfortable. By the time I got back to the start they were already in the 30s and I didn’t have to wait so long. Perfect. Coach Mark saw some of my freeruns and commented that it looked like I was moving better than yesterday. I think for future races, taking as many warmup runs as possible benefits me by keeping me loose and getting me comfortable.

For the run I didn’t want to think about anything except going for it and redirecting my toesides so I can set up better for my heelsides. I was also pretty pissed about the whole situation yesterday. I mean I’m tired of not racing as best as I can, and coming out of each race knowing I’m a better rider than how I performed. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am to not just blow it by not performing my best. I know I can race well and it makes me angry when I don’t put it together and let others, who I know I’m stronger than, beat me. Ahhh!

But selfish tirade aside, I felt good coming out of the start and set up for the first heelside the way I wanted to. I even think I was moving through the turn the way I had been freeriding. Unfortunately I don’t remember the next few gates except I scrubbed on one heelside and got behind the girl I was racing. But I regained some speed in the flats and caught up but took one of the gates too straight (got static for a second and went too straight at a gate and had to scrub) then had to play catch up again. I was looking ahead and set up for a slightly turny heelside gate, but set up too much and didn’t realize that I was two gates from the finish and went really wide and looped into the finish.

Relative to the fastest time, I was two seconds faster than yesterday’s run. So that’s positive. I also know where I lost speed. Another positive. But I think when I race my mind goes into panic mode and can’t process efficiently what is going on around me. I can’t slow things down and think step by step what needs to be done (like when I was freeriding in the ‘zone’ in Colorado before I came out here). Instead it just yells ‘Gate! Gate!’ and my body just reacts to the panic stimulus without any thought as to how to react; that initial reaction is to put on the brakes. I need to find a way to slow things down in my head and not put my body into that panicked phase. Or I just need to shut my mind off completely and let my body do its thing.

I still didn’t get a second run but Coach Mark said that the run was better than yesterday and I need to work on really getting that high platform and edge angle and slicing that heelside. Now all I want to do is freeride and work on putting that board as high on edge angle as possible. I was thinking about it at the gym and when I go into a heelside turn I just sink my hips down but I don’t drive the downhill hip forward to really get direction out of the board. So I’m not making the board turn at the top of the turn. As a result, I realize that the board isn’t turning so I push my legs out to get the direction change but it’s too late since I’m past the stubby and then I bottom turn. I think if I were to keep my downhill hip in a vertical plane with the edge of the board I’d be in a better position to form the top of the turn and not be McSlidey. Hmm… Something to work on freeriding.

We just found out that the World Cup set for this weekend is cancelled due to lack of proper snow conditions, so at least that buys me a little bit more time to work on the things I need to work out. Plus I’ll get an extra race start since we’ll be going to two Europa Cups in lieu of the World Cup, so that’s always good.

November 8, 2009: Flipping the Switch

Copper Mountain, Colorado – Today I woke up ready to ‘flip the switch’. I had great sleep and was ready to take on the race course. I was really looking forward to jumping into the gates with the mindset to run the ‘car’ at 220 mph, instead of 160 mph, with the primary focus being get down as fast as possible.

I might have been too amped up for the first few runs, but I was really aggressive and going for it with the thought of going fast, while having high pressure and looking ahead. After my first run I immediately found out just how important looking ahead is, even if it’s just one gate. I found that I wouldn’t hang on to the old edge too long since I knew exactly where I needed to be. Before, I would look only a few feet ahead of me and get thrown laterally, instead of down the hill, and sometimes into the fence. But now that I looked ahead I didn’t have that problem, and my wide turns were minimized.

Here’s a rundown of my runs:

• First Run: Really went for it but wasn’t prepared for the speed and got in the backseat and cut a turn too tight and DQ’ed.

• Second Run: Still really went for it and had a solid run.

• Third Run: Went too straight on a toeside turn and fell after getting bounced in a rut

• Fourth Run: Here’s a doozy: Cut a toeside even worse than last run and while my feet when in between the stubby and the panel/flag (DQ), I took the tallpole directly to the chest. While these poles are just PVC plastic, hitting one that’s upright deep into the snow at maybe 25mph was pretty excruciating. Even now, 11 hours after it happened, it hurts to breath deeply or make any type of arm movement on my left side. Even laughing is uncomfortable.

• Fifth & Sixth Runs: I had to dial it back to make sure I could actually finish a run. I finished but it didn’t feel too fast. Coach Mark reiterated the fact that I need to carve right from the get-go, and even pointed out on a few gates where I need to be to pressure the board. He said that it’s better to carve the turns a few feet off the stubbies than to pin each stubby but scrubbing speed to do so.

• Seventh Run: I really made the effort to carve the second gate (it was painful to pull out of the start so I just glided by the first one), and I found the feel of the carve and was able to hold it for the first half of the course. I didn’t feel like I was going at 220, but afterwards Coach Mark said it was good riding, model riding, and if he wanted to show others how to ride, he would’ve used that run as an example. Unfortunately I got late at the end of the course and scrubbed a lot of speed, so while I wasn’t super agro, it was a lot cleaner which equals faster.

• Eighth and Ninth Runs: I had the same focus as the seventh run with trying to find the carve, and they both felt solid.

At the end of the morning, Coach Mark said he was happy with my riding, and it was really good with a lot of potential to get faster. After we saw video, he pointed out that I had good body positioning and was starting to get the line down (high pressure). Yay! And to my surprise, my fastest time (second run) was less than a second off the fastest girl’s time for the day. So I know I have it in me. This just gave me the confidence to let it out.

So now I just have to keep finding the carve at every gate, and incorporate the aggressiveness and desire for going as fast as possible. Conceptually it’ll be tough because finding the carve to me kind of means slowing things down and making it smooth which goes against being aggressive and all out. But I’ll have to change my thinking and find a happy – and super fast – medium.

August 27, 2009: Shut Down… Again

Methven, New Zealand – We’ve been shut down for three days now due to wind and the forecast for the rest of the week is also looking bad. Ai-yai-yai. The weather is so unpredictable and changes moment to moment so hopefully the bad forecast will change. Definitely getting ansy, but trying to stay mentally and emotionally relaxed and just roll with it. One of the key points in the book I’m reading is to not worry about the stuff you can’t control. Man, is that a great lessson for now.

Here’s a few pictures of the trip so far:

Waterfall in New Zealand

Waterfall in New Zealand

Mt. Hutt, New Zealand - With Canadian Racer Marianne Leeson

Mt. Hutt, New Zealand - With Canadian Racer Marianne Leeson

Surfing New Zealand

Surfing New Zealand

August 24, 2009: In the Moment

Mt. Hutt, New Zealand – I didn’t sleep very well last night, and neither did my roommates. It could have been the late afternoon nap we took yesterday or just restlessness from our much needed three days off. So when the alarm woke me up at 5:40am I was less than excited to get out of bed.

We had a pretty leisure three day break. It was welcomed because my body was fatigued and my focus was waning. The highlight of the break was our trip to Christchurch where we surfed 55 degree water at Sumner Beach. The waves weren’t the cleanest, but just being in the water again (even with booties, gloves, kidney belt, full wetsuit and hoodie) was wonderful. Really cleared my head and refreshed my spirit. Definitely felt renewed after.

But this morning was a bit of a struggle. I was groggy and basically on autopilot, but miraculously when I got on the lift my tiredness went away and I felt amazingly relaxed. Insanely relaxed. And I know I’ve said I’ve been relaxed before, but this was eerie. I wasn’t stressed about how my times would compare to others, I felt no fear or apprehension, absolutely no negativity. I was confident and in the moment. I was having fun (even though I hadn’t taken a run yet) and I was happy. And I have no idea how it happened or what I did differently, but it was incredible.

I’ve been reading this book entitled “Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life” by Michael Lardon, MD, and it’s making a world of difference even though I’m just a quarter way through it. The gist of what I’m getting from it is that I need to have fun and trust myself and my body that they know what they’re doing. Of course I’m still going to focus and work on certain things, but some of the lessons of the book are to keep things simple, not get frustrated or negative, and have fun. I think that’s been the difference.

So being super relaxed I had my first run off the middle section of the mountain where the course goes from flat and then over a knoll to a steepish section. We’ve trained here before and I felt really good on the steeps. Same focus as before: get forward, forward, forward. The flat section felt sooooo good! As soon as I felt I could trust the snow (which was awesome and not too soft), I just put it in the fall line and let the board run. I felt I pressured at the right time and not too long so I had time in between gates to collect myself, stand and get forward before initiating the next turn (the ‘float-whoosh-float’ feeling that I see the guys do). It was solid and easy. But I was going too fast and straight over the knoll and got in the backseat on my heelside and washed out on my heelside and missed a gate. But up until then it was a good run. Coach Mark said he liked that I was going for it, and Ekat later told me it looked fast.

Unfortunately I did the same thing for the next run: Good top section but I made it one more gate down the steep section before DQing. By the third run I finally got my act together and made it through the course. My strategy coming over the knoll was to bring my line really wide then dive forward and slide out the beginning of the turn and get horizontal distance. After getting the one trick gate, the rest was fine.

I did 8 runs: I DQed three of them, almost hit Coach Mark on one of them (thankfully he hopped out of the way – bad thing to hit your coach), and the rest were pretty solid. I didn’t check my times during the day; I just wanted to focus on riding and not get consumed by comparing times, and I was pleasantly surprised when I looked long after we got off snow. Overall my average top three runs were 4% off the average top three runs of the fastest girl, about a second and a half out. A few days ago my percentage was 2% so that’s what I’m striving for, but I’m happy with less than 5%. And my consistency was 0.58%, meaning the difference between my fastest run and third fastest run was less than 1%, the lowest of the girls. That’s important when you have to put several runs together in a race. Coach Mark said that’s good since I’ve been focusing on one thing and it’s working. The crazy thing is that my fastest runs came at the end of the day when the course is usually more difficult and I’m tired. An even more crazy thing is that those fast runs felt easy.

So great day today! Coach Mark said my riding was good and he seemed pretty happy about it. I still need to work on getting forward because he said I was getting forward for the first four gates and then slowly I’d be ticking backwards and that messed me up for the knoll, but by the end of the day I got it and was able to ride the steeps. I actually had a really fun training day and got the love for snowboarding racing back. Yay!

August 12, 2009: Carvin’

Mt. Hutt, New Zealand – Despite gale force winds, flat light and a very slow moving chairlift, I had an amazing day of training! The top of the mountain was closed so we had to train in the flatter section of the mountain. Which was a perfect confidence builder.

For the runs in gates I really wanted to focus on what I was working on yesterday: clean initiation of the turn without sliding my back foot out. Two things needed to happen: 1) Be patient before starting my turn (i.e. wait until at the panel), and 2) Be forward before starting each turn (i.e. push my front foot against the boot in the direction of the new turn.

And it worked! And felt so good! My first few runs felt clean and I had good speed. I even felt my board generate speed on the toesides. My heelsides weren’t as slidey as normal. Yay! I just focused on either driving forward or being round (couldn’t focus on both at the same time) and it helped considerably. On one of the runs I really loaded up the nose on a toeside and it shot me out into a rough part of the rut and I blew out of the course. But I was really going for it. On the runs I was taking a really round line, sometimes coming no where near the stubbies but Coach Mark said that it was a lot cleaner and it’s easier to bring the line in than out.

So overall it was a great day! I really felt what it’s like to carve turns. Finally! Granted the slope wasn’t steep but at least I can do it. The only difference in steeps is aggression. At the end of the day Coach Mark said that I was carving more than he had ever seen, and another coach Nate said that I had more good turns than not good turns. My time was about 2 seconds off the fastest girl which I can lessen with a tighter line and a better pull-out at the start (we didn’t have a good start gate to burst out of).

So tomorrow I’m just going to keep focusing on the same thing: Patience before starting the turn (when I’m at the panel), and driving the front leg forward before initiating the turn.

I just fnished watching video and had a good talk with Coach Mark. He said I need to focus on driving forward, forward, forward. He said there was some good stuff happening in my riding, but I have a tendency to bottom turn out of my heelside turn (too high of an angle at the bottom of the turn when my board should be going to flat) and the cause is because I’m not setting the top of the turn correctly so I’m having to compensate by turning way at the bottom. Coming out of the heelside I need to drive forward and get over the board. Even if it takes a split second longer on my flat edge so I can get forward, I need to take it. I need to get forward and work on the initial part of the turn and then everything else will fall into place.

We also talked about overall general times and I need to get about 3.5 seconds faster by the end of this camp to get to where I need to go (need to be within 10% of the top male rider here). He’s confident I can get there but I really need to work hard and drive to get there. I need to really power the board and get speed out of it. And I need to be confident.

So more work to do! But I truly am enjoying it.

August 10, 2009: Shut Down

Mt. Hutt, New Zealand – We were scheduled to leave for the mountain at 6:15am in order to get on the lift and start training by 7:30am. But right as we were getting into the car, we got the call saying that strong winds forced the mountain to close. So were on hold until 8:30am when the next call would be made.

Later that morning we were told that one of the lifts was running so we made our way up, but by the time we got there winds were blowing hard again and the lifts were shut down. After two and a half hours of waiting for the winds to die on, we called it a day and drove back home.

I’m super ansy to get back on snow again. After my talk with Nate I really want to try the new things to focus on. I’ve visualized them and have set my verbal cues when I ride. I know conditions get a bit windy down here but I really want to go ride (whiney voice)! This is a good test of patience and not getting frustrated with things out of my control. Unfortunately tomorrow’s forecast is very windy so we’ll probably be shut out again. Oh brother.

June 23, 2009: The Best I Can Do

Whistler, Canada – Today was our last day of camp and after much hoping and praying for decent weather, I awoke to a bright and sunny day. Finally! In the warm temps we set a course that paralleled that of the Canadian National Team. It was great to watch them ride and compare our speed to some of the best riders in the world with a beautiful backdrop of the Canadian Rockies.

I really went for it on my first run, wanting to start the day off and continue with this type of ‘wanting it’ aggression. And it felt really good, especially for the first run of the day. (Usually it takes me a few runs to get comfortable.) But after my coach told me that we don’t have to be super aggressive on the course; instead he would rather us work on technical things even if that meant slowing down. Then he proceeded to tell me that I needed to be more patient especially on my heelside and I was starting my turns too early and as a result had to feather or double turn to make the gate. I was a little disheartened because I thought I had a pretty good and smooth run, and I was able to harness on command the desire to really go for it. So I toned it back and focused on the technical stuff.

Then I started thinking too much and staying in my head instead of riding and feeling the snow. I would focus on being patient on the heelside before initiating the turn, but then I wasn’t getting the board up enough on angle. Then the next run when I focused on getting the board angle up, my line would be too straight. It was super frustrating; when I focused on one side of things the other suffered and vice versa. I was so focused on trying to get it right that I let the frustration get to me and affect my riding and spirits.

There was a new thing that the coach had me work on that will definitely help me in the future. He said that when I move my hips over the board to initiate the next turn, instead of moving perpendicular to the board, move over and forward on the board to really drive into the next turn (i.e. move the hips at a 45 degree angle from perpendicular as opposed to zero) and stay with the board. He likened it to a football player driving forward as he prepares himself for a tackling.  I tried that on one run and it felt a lot faster.

The overthinking was really getting to me where I couldn’t even finish the runs. I would go on the inside of the stubby on the same gate or completely blow out or get so late at the bottom. So instead digging myself deeper and getting more aggravated, I decided to take a few free runs to get myself together again. My coach came up to me and knew something was wrong and I almost broke down in front of him. I told him how discouraged I was and that I felt like I wasn’t doing anything right. He told me that there are just a few little kinks that I have to work out in my riding but everything is there and I just have to dial it in. He reiterated that my line was causing a lot of the problems because it wasn’t allowing me to do any of the other things I need to work on. But he did say that my toeside turns were really coming along and that some of them were ‘killer’ and he could see my powering the board. So that was encouraging. He also reminded me that I need to do my best every day and that my best is good enough to get to where I need to be. Then he said he noticed that when I train I start getting down the second half of the day and that I can’t beat myself up and so long as I give it my all every run, every day that’s the best I can do.

When we got back to the house we watched video and when I saw my runs I was disappointed. It’s common when being taped to think that you look and feel better than you actually do, and that was just the case. My heelsides were a lot slidier than I thought but my coach did say I had some good speed. Later he noticed that I was still down and he gave me a little pep talk which was helpful. Overall he said that it was a good camp and that I’m definitely progressing.

I still can’t shake the frustration. I’m not doubting my ability to get to the Games but I want to be at that level now. But like most things it’ll just take time and I need to be patient. And I need to do the best I can do every single day.

Three things I absolutely need to work on and get down pat at the next camp:

  1. Round out my line by being more patient when initiating turns
  2. Driving my hips over and forward on the board to start the next turn
  3. Get the board angle up high at the top of the turn (do all the work at the top of the turn) by driving the hips down into the snow. I noticed that when I think about driving my inside hand down into the snow it helps.

So for the next month before the New Zealand camp I just have to keep working hard on my physical conditioning and start working on mental training and watching video of top riders. Overall I believe it was a very productive camp and I’m really happy that I’m developing the ability to turn on my aggression button.