This was a season in which it seems that XC OTTAWA had two different groups of skiers with two different approaches to the sport. One group, consisting of Lee Churchill, Craig Storey, Arno Turk, Chad Yurrich, Steve Bursey, Glen McIntyre, Alicia Berthiaume and Laura Clements, trained and raced but also had other priorities in life. These are people who wanted to race fairly seriously while engaging in a balanced life that included careers or school. The other group, consisting of myself, Karl Saidla, Megan McTavish and Tom McCarthy, had skiing as the biggest priority in life, though we did attend school. The one group may have put more into this season in terms of training but it was not always apparent on the results sheet since many of the older skiers, Lee Churchill in particular, are very skilled racers with a lot of experience in the sport. XC OTTAWA's ability to accommodate these two groups to everyone's advantage is a real strength of our team.
This year began back in May, when me, Karl and Tom, in consultation with our coach Pavol Skvaridlo, decided to try some very aggressive training programs in an attempt to ski a lot faster. As a result of this we all worked a lot harder than ever before, knowing that improvements were likely but there was a chance of being tired during the race season. With a lot of time on snow in our week at Forest Montmorency and groomed trails in Ottawa by mid-November, we entered this season with a lot of confidence.
On November 30, a group of us flew to British Columbia in order to compete in Continental Cup races on December 5, 6, 8, 14 and 15. On December 1, after flying for 5 hours and arriving at 10 pm, me and Karl competed in a Canada Cup race in Silver Star in order to prepare for the upcoming races. We did fairly well, coming 8th and 13th, so our confidence was increased for the upcoming season. Then the big races started and we were not skiing at our best. Perhaps a consequence of our aggressive training plan, we were beaten by many other skiers in these races. Karl had two decent races, coming 26th in a Skiathlon on December 8 and 20th in a 10km Classic on December 15th while Megan had one good day, coming 10th in a 5km Classic on December 15th. Following a somewhat disappointing trip, we returned to Ontario for the end of December holidays and the rest of the race season.
Between Christmas and New Year's, most of XC OTTAWA headed to Timmins to compete at Canada Winter Games Trials and the accompanying Ontario Cup races. Though only me and Tom were eligible for the Ontario Canada Winter Games team, the rest of XC Ottawa were hoping for some good racing. Unfortunately for the older men, they seemed to form he majority of the field in the event and did not get great competition. Megan and Alicia were able race against some distinguished rivals because of Timmins' central location in Ontario and because most of their competitors are from Northern Ontario. In the Canada Games Trials races, Tom was tired from a lot of travel and a recent struggle with the Norwalk virus and skied decently but no t at his best with a 5th place in the Classic race and a 7th place overall. I was racing well, despite being on a 17 hour training week, and won the Classic race with a close second in the Pursuit. As a result, I was heading to Canada Games in Charlo, New Brunswick.
2 weeks later the Ontario Cup came to Ottawa and we decided to compete since there was nothing better to do in Ottawa on a weekend than ski really hard along a parkway in -20 C conditions. Lee Churchill made his return to racing that weekend and showed his strength by coming 2nd and 3rd in the 2 races, ahead of me and Tom both days.
After this preparation, we headed to Mont Ste Anne in mid January for the Eastern Canadian Championships, Continental Cup races that doubled as the Canadian selection races for World Juniors, World U-23 Championships and the World Championships. After a one day delay for cold weather we got to enjoy more -20c racing with a 10km Classic in which Tom McCarthy had a decent day and the rest of us didn't. This slump did not last long as me and Karl started skiing well in the 15km Skate with 19th and 21rst places. Lee Churchill continued to show his racing abilities that weekend with a 24th place. The next weekend the Continental Cup moved to Mont Orford, near Sherbrooke and XC OTTAWA returned, though we lacked Lee. Here we showed our ability to compete with the best in North America when I came 14th and Karl 15th in a Continental Cup 10km Skate. The next day was a 15km Classic Mass Start in which I had some bad luck while Tom skied his best of the year and came 21st. After these races, Karl and Tom were disappointed since, although they skied well, they were not skiing at the level we had hoped for. I was a little frustrated since in the 10km Skate I was 12 seconds off qualification for the World U-23 Championships. More intelligent racing and not having bad luck that weekend would have been enough to qualify.
Back to Ontario for the Ontario University Championships in early February. Megan McTavish was making her return to Canada following a trip to World University Games in Italy. She showed she knew how to be competitive in Ontario with bronze and silver medals. Karl, Tom and I had a disappointing weekend but our men were able to take consolation in my victory in the 10 km skate and Karl's bronze in the 15 km Classic.
This weekend was followed by Keskinada, a major event in Ottawa. Last year we were fortunate that Karl was skiing well and, with the help of a little bit of luck, managed to win. This year a number of top European Loppet skiers decided to set themselves in famous Gatineau park, so things were inevitably more difficult. Karl had a solid performance to finish 10th. We were a little unfortunate that a few team members were sick and we were not able to keep our sprinter, Lee Churchill, in the lead pack for long enough to be a factor. We did, however, have success in the 50k classic race, with Sault St. Marie legend Chad Yurich outsprinting Pierre Harvey (no introduction required) to take third place on day that was heard described on more than one occasion as cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey-whatever that really means.
After this I went to Canada Games and continued the trend of narrowly missing objectives. Despite the fastest skate split in the Pursuit, I barely missed a Silver medal and had to be content with 6th. Being from Ontario, I was on a strong relay team and managed to win a bronze medal. From there I went to Duntroon and joined the rest of the team at Canadian Nationals. Unfortunately 2 overnight flights took their toll and I got sick the day before Nationals. The rest of the team did not have the best week either with Tom McCarthy also being sick and Karl still not being at his best. We did manage to have a good final weekend though, with former XC OTTAWA member Ian Murray winning the bronze medal in the Sprints and a decent 50 km for many of us. Karl showed his ability to do well in long distance and fought out a 10th place while Lee came 13th after being in the top 10 most of the race. Me and Tom were largely recovered from illness and fought out a 16th and 23rd place in the hardest Canadian race of the year.
The only races that remained were the US Spring Series, a major week of racing in Houghton, Michigan, in which the top North American skiers would show up to finish off the season with short, hard racing. I continued to ski fairly well here with a 20th in the 10km Skate, 19th in the Pursuit, 15th in the 13 km Skate Mass Start and 6th (partnered with Karl Walczak of Michigan Tech University) in the Classic Sprint Relay.
That was our season. We trained hard, competed in many races, skied well but were not quite at our best most of the time. At one point I described this season as "getting our arses kicked from one end of the country to the other." This is an overstatement but it did sum up our frustration at not quite skiing well enough to achieve our goals and at not noticing improvements from our aggressive training plan. One thing I noticed though was that it was generally the same skiers who were beating us, in December, January or March. It seems that those skiers know how to race well and get the results even when they do not have great form. This ability to make skis move in any circumstances is why they are the best skiers in the country and belong on the National Team. This is a skill we need to work on and when once improved upon will allow us to ski to our potential next year.