Season of Firsts - Michaela Keller-Miller

Season of Firsts - Michaela Keller-Miller

Season of Firsts 

With race season wrapping up in a few short weeks, I find myself reflecting on a season of many firsts. There were times when I could hardly keep up with this whirlwind of a winter, so please join me as I break down notable milestones. In the spirit of full transparency, I’ve included mostly fun highlights with a couple unfortunate firsts for good measure.


In somewhat chronological order:


1. First December Road Bike- In a depressingly low snow winter for the Midwest, I found myself out for a Christmas Eve cycle from my parent’s house in Minnesota. I’d say this is a first that doesn’t need a repeat (unless, of course, I’m on island time in the tropics).


2. First Biathlon Races (but make it IBU Cup)- I began dabbling with biathlon this season which has been both humbling and rewarding. My previous Finn Sisu blog touches on my first foray into IBU Cup racing (one step below the biathlon World Cup) in Finland in November. Since then, I’ve taken a one-week race trip to Arber, Germany for another shot at biathlon. We were deceived by an incredibly beautiful and sunny first day, followed by a week of pouring rain and wind. I learned how to take clicks on my rifle, which is where you adjust the sights depending on the wind speed and direction. I still feel very new to shooting, so these trips can be overwhelming as I essentially cram for the shooting portion of the race. I’m currently in Obertilliach, Austria for the final IBU Cup races of the season.


Traveling by train from Munich to Arber. Transfers weren’t as easy with a ski bag and a rifle.


A break in the rain at the biathlon venue in Arber.


3. First SuperTour Podiums- After US Nationals, the SuperTour moved East to Lake Placid, New York and then to Craftsbury, Vermont. After a disappointing US Nationals, I knew I’d have to pull off some very strong races at Lake Placid if I wanted to qualify for the North American World Cups in Canmore and Minneapolis. Lake Placid was the last weekend of races counting toward qualification.


With an endless stream of races from November through March, I find it challenging to mentally reset after a string of tough races. Nevertheless, I thought about how poor performances can’t discredit what I knew to be strong fitness and speed gained over a productive summer and fall of training. So, I looked forward with as much self-assuredness and confidence as I could muster and raced as hard as I knew how in Lake Placid. This paid off with a fourth-place classic sprint qualifier and a second-place finish in the finals. This was my first SuperTour podium, and I was proud of myself for having enough faith in myself to fight for the win.


My parents and me at the Lake Placid SuperTours.


The GRP women on sprint day with Nick Brown, the GRP wax tech. Thanks Nick! Credit: Phillip Belena.


After our quarterfinal, moving on! Credit: Phillip Belena.


I carried this energy to Craftsbury, which is where I currently live and train year-round with the Green Racing Project. I only raced the sprint in Craftsbury, as I left the day of the distance race for IBU Cups in Germany. I qualified in an okay position, although nothing special. Despite this, I found myself moving through the sprint heats and into the final. After getting off the line poorly in my quarterfinal, I made sure to start strong in the final and see what happened. I lost a bit of steam midway through but hung on for third. It really felt so special to podium on my home trails with the Craftsbury Outdoor Center community out cheering in full force.


The skate sprint podium from the Craftsbury SuperTour.


4. First World Cups! My sprint result in Lake Placid was enough to qualify me for the Canmore World Cup. After the Arber, Germany IBU Cup, I travelled back to Craftsbury for two hectic days before heading out again to Canmore. I was tired from all the travel and a bit overwhelmed being on a different race circuit with new people. Regardless, it was very cool to experience a cross country World Cup as an athlete. I was especially grateful to have so many of my Green Racing Project teammates, as well as coaches Pepa and Nick, on the trip as well.


Soaking in the Canmore sun during a pre-race workout w/ Renae.


5. First DNF (and DFL), all in the same week- And now for the unfortunate firsts… my first sprint race in Canmore resulted in a dead last place result. I wish I could say I had the race of my life, but I unfortunately felt the exact opposite of how I’d want to during my first World Cup. Alas, that’s part of ski racing. A day later, a spot opened for me to start in the 20km classic after two Americans pulled out. I’ve always considered myself more of a distance skier, so I was tentatively excited about this chance despite feeling off in the sprint. Continuing the lowlights, I bailed on lap three of six in the 20km, resulting in my first (and hopefully last) DNF. Nothing was seriously wrong, but between feeling stuck in a slow gear going as hard as I could and having another sprint start in two days, I decided to cut my losses. I’ve certainly finished races feeling far worse and with far more calamities, but it felt like the right decision to listen to my body in this case. Nonetheless, I hope for that to be my one and only DNF.


6. First Hometown World Cup- Saving my favorite first for last, racing at the Minneapolis World Cup. This was undoubtedly the highlight of my season. I knew I was lucky to have this opportunity, especially as I consider Wirth my hometown trails and one of my favorite places to ski.


Happy to have new snow for the first training day at Wirth.


Arriving in Minneapolis to fresh snowfall and seeing Wirth completely transformed for the races was incredible. I can only imagine the countless hours that went into preparing the venue and event; seeing the final product was exceptionally impressive. Warming up the morning of the sprint was wild, as the cheers were already deafening as I tested skis an hour and half before the race even started. I still can’t get over the hype from Minneapolis. So many of my friends and family from different stages of my skiing career were there and it felt like a giant ski reunion. To see so many of my former coaches from high school, Loppet Nordic Racing, and college was truly so special. It was such a full circle moment, as I owe so much to those who have contributed to my development as a skier (and more notably, as a person).


Skate sprint qualifier at the Minneapolis World Cup. Credit: Gretchen Powers @gpowersfilm


Final climb in the skate sprint. Credit: Dean Grace


The energy of the weekend and crowds completely overshadowed my less-than-stellar race. Seeing and hearing how psyched American ski fans were to be there really highlighted the strength of the American ski community. As always, it drives home that what draws so many of us to this sport is the sense of comradery and community. Of course, strong results are fun, but I think most of us would still ski for the people and sense of challenge alone.


Margie and me with Megan, the GRP’s amazing dietician, who was travelling as the US Ski Team’s sports dietician in Canmore and Minneapolis.


High school teammates from Wayzata: Miranda, Kristine, Evelyn, and Nicole


My sisters and me post-race!


My freshmen and sophomore year roommates and teammates from UAA: Nat, Hannah, and Hailey.


Following the Minneapolis World Cup, I stopped back in Craftsbury for another two-day turn around to pick up my rifle and travel to Obertilliach, Austria for more biathlon racing. Although I continue to feel as if I’m diving off the deep end in the biathlon world, I recognize how thankful I am and how cool it is to be given so many opportunities that lead to firsts, both good and bad.


Here’s to many more firsts,

Michaela Keller-Miller