by GRACE CASTONGUAY
I spent the past month in Utah training and prepping for the U.S. Biathlon International Team trials held at Soldier Hollow this past week. Here’s how it went!
Running up Clayton Peak
I let excitement get the best of me in my first week. Having spent two summers training in Utah, I was eager to hit up all my favorite rollerski routes and runs, despite the altitude taking it out of me. Week one highlights included skiing through the changing leaves up Guardsman’s Pass, testing the new pavement on the Soldier Hollow roller-loop, scrambling up Clayton Peak from the Blood Lake Trail, and enjoying the long downhill on my recovery classic ski up Emigration Canyon. New England autumn is certainly charming, but don’t underestimate the changing seasons in Utah. The Aspen trees burst into a golden yellow a few days after my arrival and lit up the mountains.
Entering week two, more teams and athletes started to arrive and it was time to start dialing in a bit more on race prep. Early, sleepy mornings at the biathlon range were made pleasant by the sight of familiar faces. The U.S. biathlon community is a very small one at that, but spreads across the entire country. It feels like a little reunion every time we all come together for a training camp or race weekend. It was nice to connect with friends and teammates that I had raced with this past winter on the IBU Cup and trained with this summer at Craftsbury during my time as a U23 with the Green Racing Project.
As the third week loomed, it was time to start focusing on feeling dialed for the racing that would take place later that week. We did some fun group shooting exercises early in the week, such as a “slow mass start,” where everyone skis range loops easy so that we can come into the range all at once and shoot head-to-head. With the first races being Friday, Thursday was pre-race. My pre-race motto is “short and sweet.” I try to get in and out of the range in less than an hour and a half, do just enough shooting to feel primed and confident and just enough skiing to wake the muscles and the lungs up.
Friday was a 7.5k sprint (two shooting stages). Because this race is so short, shooting can feel extra important because you have less time to “ski off” any bad shooting stages. Warming up, I reflected on what I had visualized last night before going to sleep: coming into the range poised and confident, hitting all my targets one at a time.
Hermodes warmly greeted us on our first lap of the race. For anyone who hasn’t skied at Soldier Hollow, Hermodes is an infamous hill that goes straight up and completely unforgiving. It’s nearly impossible to ski in L1 up it, so I avoid it on easy skis almost always. Thankfully, I was greeted by a slew of friends, coaches, and teammates lining the hill. Their encouragement gave me the boost I needed.
On the start line for the sprint race!
I finished the day in 5th place. Despite cleaning the prone stage (not missing any targets), I let the voice in my head get the best of me in the standing stage and my excitement from cleaning the last stage caused me miss three targets.
Going into the 10k mass start on Saturday, I was excited. I rarely get to race biathlon mass starts, and was really looking forward to how much fun it is to ski as a big group, jump back and forth with people, and race with the added pressure of true head to head competition. I went out skiing moderate, trying not to get caught up in someone else’s pace. Skiing within myself, and after only missing one target each stage for the first three shootings, I found myself coming into the last stage of shooting in 3rd place with a solid lead. All I had to do was hit my last 5 targets and bring it home. Entering the range, I tried to swat invasive thoughts of how awesome it would be to snag a podium that day. Concentrating so extremely hard on how badly I needed to hit the targets actually caused me to ditch my typical process and cadence, and I missed four. I’ve learned this lesson before, but the four penalty laps I had to ski reminded me that biathlon doesn’t like it when you’re needy and that the targets don’t owe you anything. I skied in the final lap with a friend, ending up in 7th place for the day. The aftertaste of a potential podium still hung in my head. Each race is a learning experience, and I clearly need to work on getting a control on my excited thoughts in the last shooting stages!
Starting the mass start!
It was bittersweet to say goodbye to beautiful Utah, but I am looking forward to a few weeks back at home in Vermont before heading to Finland in November for the U.S. World Cup Selection pre-camp! And more exciting, my new fleet of Salomon skis will be meeting me there with fresh USBA grinds! I can’t wait to take the rockets out for a spin on snow, and so soon!