I wake up, roll out of bed, and glimpse out the window. Grass is everywhere. Not the green kind of grass, the brown kind of grass that was expecting winter months ago. The rain continues to fall into piles where the cross-country trails used to be. Instead of those strips of freshly groomed corduroy that existed days ago, all I see is a puddle that is actually starting to resemble a small lake.
It’s on days like these where I have to really dig deep. It’s days like these that make me curse at all the times I took snow for granted. Negative thoughts try to cling on and cloud my mind. I don’t want to go outside but something inside of me knows I have to.
I slowly get dressed. Putting on clothes that I already know will not stand a chance against the elements outside. I packed three months worth of clothes into a suitcase but am unbelievably unprepared for the rain. Maybe I was being optimistic when I packed up, or maybe I was just being stupid. With the climate in Europe nowadays, I think the latter is correct.
I leave the hotel and begin to run up the bike path. The path winds its way along the Slovenian countryside, which is hardly visible in the torrential downpour. I try to keep my mind empty and ignore the rain. For the first five minutes this works. Then I begin to feel the cold. I try to focus on my running stride. I remember what Physical Therapist Dave Cieslowski told me, “Run with the hips, drive the knees up.” This helps take my mind off the freezing rain. Another five minutes go by. Now I’m starting to feel the moisture breaking through my outer layers.
A thought comes to mind and I get lost in it. I remember a story my mom still loves to tell. My mom would put me on my little bike (with the training wheels still on) and we would head up the bike path that winds along the Yampa River. She would insist on turning around at a point she thought reasonable. I would dismiss this idea and keep going. A few minutes later she would bring it up again saying, “Ben you’re not going to have enough energy to get home if we go any further.” Once again I would shake off the idea sternly and continue on. This would continue until finally, I would become too exhausted to pedal any further. Then my mom would have to carry my bike and myself all the way home. I had a terrifying amount of energy as a child and these walks
Just like those days on the bike path with my mom, I keep refusing to turn around. I need to make it for at least an hour. I need to drain my energy. By the time I make it to the next town, I’m absolutely freezing. I turn around and ramp up the pace. By now my clothes are becoming heavy with moisture. My shoes are already soaked and the puddles now seem pointless to avoid. As I get closer to home I kind of hit that, “Oh shit I’m cold moment”. It’s that moment where it goes from being kind of funny to serious. I ramp up the pace again.
I make it home and head straight to the shower. I know I need to warm up fast but I can’t help but glance at my watch. I scroll through all the stats and start to smile. This is what I read:
Time: 60 minutes
Distance: 9.5 kilometers
Average Heart Rate: 121
Running Index: 68
Running Index is a measurement that puts time, distance, and average heart rate into a formula that calculates efficiency. I’ve found that this number is very representative of my fitness level. 68 is the highest running index I have ever achieved.
Turns out the numbers don’t lie. I had a very solid weekend of competing. My jumping was average but I skied well and held my own in a very strong field. The first day I jumped to 14th and skied to 24th and the second day I jumped to 16th and skied to 20th. After last weekend I am sitting in 22nd place in the Overall Continental Cup Standings. I believe I finished somewhere in the 70’s last season.
Cheers to staying positive no matter the forecast! Cloudy with a chance of rain in February.
The last two weekends I had the opportunity to compete on the World Cup. As a professional skier, competing on the World Cup is the ultimate goal as it is the pinnacle of the sport. It’s always exhilarating moving from the Continental Cup to the World Cup. The atmosphere definitely changes. All of a sudden there are cameras, fans, and noise! I cherish these opportunities to compete against the best skiers in the world and I truly love being on this stage.
I remember when I first started competing on the Continental Cup when I was 17 years old. I experienced a lot of the feelings I now get on the World Cup. The pressure seems higher and the athletes are more talented. It’s kind of a shock to the system. When I was thrown into the Continental Cup I had my ass kicked at first. I remember it seeming impossibly hard. I would watch the best athletes and wish I could walk a day in their shoes at the front of the race. Over time though, I adjusted to the higher level of competition and I improved. I went from finishing in the 40’s and 50’s to finishing in the 30’s. Then I started finishing in the top 30. This year I have finished in the top 10 twice. This took years of hard work and it didn’t happen over night but I went from hardly being able to imagine finishing at the front to actually doing it.
Last season I got my first couple starts on the World Cup. It gave me flashbacks to when I was a seventeen-year-old kid stumbling around on the Continental Cup. It felt very familiar. This gave me hope. I knew that I just needed more experience and a little more training and I could be competitive at this level too.
Two weeks ago I competed in my first World Cup of this season. It took place in Chaux Neuve, France. Things did not go well and I knew I didn’t perform even close to my best. Once again, it felt like I didn’t belong. Luckily I had another chance in Seefeld, Austria the next weekend. I jumped better and I skied better. This lead to better results and a personal best 43rd place. I know 43 is a very high number but it is improvement. I finished about 45 seconds behind the top 30, which is closer than I have ever been. Everything seemed to slow down. This has me feeling very excited and optimistic. I am making progress!
The best part about the weekend in Seefeld, Austria was having some American fans to cheer the team on. Two of those fans happened to be my dad and uncle. On Saturday I was winning the jumping during the beginning of the round so I got to sit in the leaders box. My uncle hopped the fence, ran up, and gave me a hug. I’m pretty sure the whole scene was aired on EuroSport. It was an awesome moment. I feel very blessed to have a family that supports what I do.
I am back in Planica, Slovenia now training and getting prepared for my next shot on the World Cup. Two weeks from now I will travel to Lahti, Finland (The site of next seasons World Championships) and I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off. Four weeks in Europe down… Six weeks to go!