End of Season Recap and Reflections | Michaela Keller-Miller

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  • By Michaela Keller-Miller
End of Season Recap and Reflections | Michaela Keller-Miller

Marking the end of a packed winter of racing, springtime for skiers brings much-needed rest and time for reflection. For me, this spring also marked the end of my first season racing professionally on the American SuperTour circuit. Travelling throughout the US on the circuit has been both rewarding and the impetus to return to summer training come May ready for more.

 

Since I last checked in at the end of January, the SuperTour moved East, where I raced in Lake Placid, New York and had the opportunity to compete where I currently live and train in Craftsbury, Vermont. By this point in the season, I was starting to feel a bit mentally drained; my results weren’t quite where I was hoping, and the mental fatigue was carrying over into workouts and racing.

 

As is true with anything that you invest hundreds of hours into, ski racing can evoke strong emotions following both amazing and poor results. No matter how much I try to distance myself from the result, I still find myself disappointed after periods of subpar racing. I’ve come to realize that this disappointment is okay; after all, it’s normal to feel frustrated when it feels like preparations haven’t paid off. Being disappointed is a sign that I care, and it turns out caring is crucial to enjoying racing and training. While disappointment may not be productive on its own, using it as a catalyst for reflection, both on what went well and what can be improved, is helpful for improving future results.

 

Racing on my team’s home trails in Craftsbury. Credit: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com

Racing on my team’s home trails in Craftsbury. (Credit: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

 

Midwest crew back together in Craftsbury.

 

Reflecting on positive takeaways and where energy can be focused in the future has helped me to stay present in training and racing. For instance, while I continue to find there are plenty of technical improvements I can make, I also acknowledge the strides I’ve made in fitness and strength. Not only this, but it was so fun to race on my home trails in Craftsbury and enjoy the fresh foot of snow in between the Eastern races and the Birkie. Taking time to ski trails I hadn’t been on all winter and going for sunset and night skis allowed me to reset and find joy in the monotony of training.

 

Enjoying the Craftsbury trails during a few-week break from racing.

 

After a period back East, my team and I travelled to the Midwest for the Birkie. I was so excited (and nervous) since this was my first full Birkie. Following the Birkie mystique from afar for so many years, I was psyched to finally live up to my Midwest roots and race myself. The hype lived up to my expectations and it was incredible to see so many skiers pumped to traverse the 50 kilometers through the backwoods of Wisconsin. The race itself was quite the experience; starting out with the lead pack of the elite wave, I felt relaxed and ready to take on rest of the course. As the race progressed, I was working together with a couple other women and having a great time tackling the rolling terrain. The crowd lining the OO bridge had infectious energy and it was so fun to see one of my former Wayzata High School coaches (shoutout to Megan!), and mom and sister cheering me along.

 

Midway through the Birkie at OO and feeling good! (Credit: Bruce Adelsman/Skinnyski.com)

 

By the halfway point, I began to realize that I had only managed to consume limited electrolytes and a partial bottle of water (partly thanks to a frozen bottle), completely failing to consume any solid food or liquid calories. I’d been feeling strong, so I had let my nutrition plan that I was so worried about before the race slip to the back of my brain. This became increasingly evident as I crossed the sign marking 23 kilometers to go and felt my legs beginning to seize up. Pushing this feeling out of my mind, I tried to maintain contact with the pack I was with, only for the seizing feeling in my legs to grow stronger with each ensuing climb. In an attempt to reverse the beginnings of a major bonk, I consumed additional electrolytes and fuel, but realized I had waited too long.

 

Throughout the final 20 kilometers, my goal changed from a strong result to just crossing the finish line. As I continued at what felt like a crawl, I was solely focused on placing one foot ahead of the other as the kilometer markers slowly ticked by. The cheers of the crowds and passing skiers kept me moving, even as I felt all my energy going into staying upright. There were times during these last kilometers when I doubted that I could physically make it to Main Street, making it even sweeter when I finally skied across the line. Despite learning some hard lessons on fueling, it was a dream to race the Birkie, to be surrounded by the incredible Midwest ski community, and to hear the success stories of friends, family, and teammates.

 

The aftermath of the epic bonk. (Credit: Sunny Freed)

 

The Birkie was my final race before SuperTour Finals/US Spring Nationals in Whistler, British Columbia at the end of March. These races were combined with Canadian Spring Nationals, making for large and competitive fields. Since this was my first time in Whistler, it was fun to explore the surrounding area and trails on afternoon and rest day runs. It rained most days, although sometimes switching to snow at the venue, making for slushy deep snow on the race courses.

 

 

Exploring the local Whistler and Squamish trails.

 

I raced four of the five races at Spring Nationals, forgoing the Team Sprint for an extra day of rest and to keep my ankle (still not 100% from surgery last June) from getting too aggravated. Spring racing is always challenging, as many are feeling burnt out from a long season of racing. I was grateful for one last week of racing but was definitely looking forward to April to finally give my body and mind some rest. One highlight of the week was racing the classic sprint day in the pouring rain; even though I drenched most of the clothes I had packed, it was fun to fight one last time this season in sprint heats. Since I didn’t advance to the semifinals, I got to cheer on my teammates and watch fellow Green Racing Project skier Caitlin sprint to second place.

 

Cheering for my teammate Caitlin in the sprint final. (Credit: Anna Sellers)

 

Another highlight was finishing the final race of the week, a 45-kilometer skate race. I say finish, rather than ski, because the race was a journey from start to finish. About two kilometers in, I crashed hard and snapped a ski, leaving me to double pole until I could get to my coaches with a replacement. Irrespective of the ski incident, I was feeling the full-body fatigue that goes hand in hand with the end of the season. I knew that skiing 45 kilometers at L1, let alone trying to go race pace, was going to be a feat in itself. When I finally made it to the finish, cheered on by my wonderful teammates, I felt so grateful even though the result was nowhere near where I was hoping. I’d made it through a challenging year, overcoming a summer and fall of mostly stationary training on the SkiErg and spin bike, and racing the full season even when I didn’t feel like I had done enough ski-specific training to be ready.

 

Enjoying the trails at the Whistler Olympic Park, the race venue.

 

The end of this season also brought retirements for several of my GRP teammates, Caitlin Patterson, Akeo Maifeld-Carucci, and Adam Martin, who have been so inspiring, encouraging, and selfless in sharing their experience these past two years. Their dedication to hard work and attention to detail has been amazing to watch and it was fun to see them crushing it one last time in Whistler.

 

Most of the GRP skiers with our coach Pepa Miloucheva after the Craftsbury SuperTour races. (Credit: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

 

Now that the season is over, I’ve had the chance to reflect on takeaways and set process goals for the coming training year. I went into the season following a very non-conventional summer of training, so I tried not to place too much emphasis on result goals. While I did come away with several strong early-season results, a surprise as I was still working through ankle pain, the winter left me wanting more.

 

The beauty (and curse) of ski racing is that there’s always something that can be improved. This season made me realize that there’s still a lot that I can work on technically to translate to better race efficiency. While small technique improvements can be frustrating to dial in, I’m looking forward to working hard this summer to continue developing as a skier. Not only this, but I can’t wait for more outdoor training this summer (fingers crossed), as I really missed long runs and roller skiing this past training year. Until then, I’m excited for an April full of rest and fun adventures with friends and family!