Senior Nationals 2020, Houghton Michigan
After sneaking into Minneapolis between ice storms, the week was off to an interesting start. Disappointingly low snow pack out east had led to some creative workouts leading up to Senior Nationals and even Mount Saint Anne, my go to December ski location due to their seemingly never ending supply of snow, was struggling this year due to the balmy weather. However, Houghton did not disappoint, and was hit with nearly a foot of fresh snow the day before I arrived. Backed with the support of Gear West, my alma mater Colby College, and many midwest friends, I had a place to stay and a team to prep my skis. Being primarily a distance skier, I treated the first race, a 1.5k skate sprint, as somewhat of a warm-up for the other race to come later. Of course giving it my all in the qualifier, but not putting the same amount of pressure on myself as I would for the distance races. I qualified 48th overall and 9th for the U23 division which is a very solid sprint result for me. As much as continuing onto the heats would have been fun I knew the extra rest I would get compared to those who continued on would aid me in the following days 15k individual start skate race, my main event.
On the morning of the 15k I felt a bit tired and felt as though I was lacking some of the explosive energy you'd like to have for a race, this has become a common feeling for me and I have even learned to tell myself that the worse I feel before a race the better I'll do, as if my body is saving all its energy for the race itself. I had a great starting position where I was chasing down Ian Torchia, or at least attempting to, and running away from Johny Hagenbuch. Coming off the line fast I was worried I started the race too fast, but reminded myself that that is a tactic I need to employ as my pacing is usually consistent lap to lap. Usually not having the fastest first few laps but not slowing down like many others on subsequent laps, leading me to make up valuable time later in the race. As the race went on I was hearing splits that I was in 8th place, this was a great reassurance that my pacing was going well but I knew many fast racers were starting behind me and would be setting very fast times. As it turned out I skied the 17th fastest first lap, 13th fastest second lap, and finished the race in 11th, only skiing one second slower than Ian Torchia during my final lap. This race was a huge successes for me, because not only was I the 10th American finisher but I was the first U23 American finisher, meaning that I had just won a national championship title for the first time as well as qualified myself for the U23 World Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany. This fantastic result assured me that my training was paying off and calmed my nerves heading into the 30k classic mass start.
Of course the weather decided to take a turn for the worse on the morning of the 30k, with temperatures just below freezing and snow predicted during the race, waxing was just about as tricky as it gets; luckily I had great wax support from my former coaches Tracey Cote and Jackson Bloch. With kick for days the 30k began and I quickly crashed on the first hairpin downhill when another skier stepped on my skis, although avoiding catastrophic equipment failure or a major collision with another skier the crash placed me solidly in the back of the first pack. As the lead group broke off I struggled to navigate through the maze of skiers to reach them and soon found myself skiing essentially alone for 25k. Slowly but surly my bomb-proof skis showed their might and I clawed my way into 26th place overall and 6th for the U23 division.
All in all this was my best showing at Senior Nationals to date and I am very happy with the results that I was able to achieve. Having completed an interesting combination of biathlon and cross country training this year I was relieved to see everything come together at the right time. Thank you again to Gear West, Colby College, Start, Swenor, Blizz, Madshus, and all the individuals who helped me along the way and making this all possible!
- Zane Fields