Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mid-Winter Blues

Winter is my favorite season. I love snow, cold and all the fun the winter season brings. I have never understood why the middle part of winter gets people down in the dumps. This winter, I experienced my own version of the “Mid-Winter Blues”, but not because it was dark, cold and snowy.  
That's some nice skiing

As I noted in my previous post, my non-selection to the European Championships team put to rest any ambitions I had of racing overseas this season and consequently the chances of my being included in a national training group next season. I did my best to stay focused on improving myself at every opportunity and enjoying the winter season. After a few days of bitter disappointment, I expected my normal outlook to return. Instead, I continually felt sad, unmotivated and depressed. Despite the lovely winter atmosphere, miraculously good skiing in Southern Maine, and the absence of competition stress, I felt lost, frustrated and directionless. Losing my primary goals of racing in Europe and progressing to a national training group hit me much harder than I expected it to.

I should note that technically, I still had a chance to qualify for European competition. The February North American Cups in Jericho, VT and Lake Placid New York where listed as selection races for March IBU Cup Racing in Russia. I knew that even if I was selected for this tour, I would not be able to afford to go. Furthermore, the selection criteria for next season’s national training groups did not contain any objective standards for March European racing. After some deliberation, I decided that I should put the time and energy I devoted in the training year to use and race some biathlon.

The NorAm in Jericho was much like the rest of my season, a mixed bag. I was graciously hosted by the coaches of the Mansfield Nordic Club. Check them out here: http://www.mansfieldnordic.org/, they are doing amazing work for Nordic sport in Vermont. I shot 86% prone over the race weekend, received some excellent race day coaching and felt fast and fit on skis. On the other side of the coin, I struggled shooting standing and did not have competitive skis compared to other top athletes. The USBA same wax protocol was not put into effect for this NorAm. Consequently, some of my competitors and I where at a serious disadvantage to those athletes whose teams could apply multiple layers of expensive wax to their skis. So far, I have not seen any sign that these races where used to qualify athletes to race in Europe, so ultimately, the gap in wax preparation did not matter. I ended the weekend with a terribly long, rainy, dark and windy drive home.

Lacking the funds to travel to Lake Placid, I took the opportunity to help others reach their goals. I graciously accepted an invitation from my former coaches Cory and Steve to help prepare skis for the University of New Hampshire at the final college carnival of the season in Middlebury, Vermont. A weekend helping others, seeing old friends, feeling for fast skis, and unplugging from my normal routine was the perfect reset to help me shake the last of my “Mid-Winter Blues.” I am very grateful to the UNH Skiing community for all they do and have done to make me feel like a part of something bigger than myself.

A second uplifting force came in the form of the sublime performance of Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggings in the Team Sprint at the Olympics. Their GOLD MEDAL performance brought joy and inspiration to all corners of the Nordic world, especially right here in the USA. I am so excited to see the generation of athletes they have inspired bring home Olympic Medals of their own.   

I will not be traveling to Utah of US Biathlon Nationals. Instead, I will be jumping back into cross country racing at the US Supertour Finals in Craftsbury, Vermont at the end of March. I will be racing the 15km freestyle race and aiming for a performance which outdoes my current 132 USSA point status, a number more than double my personal best of 65. (USSA points are like golf-lower is better.) 

If you are interested in more regular updates on my biathlon life and otherwise, follow me on the social media.   

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Valcarti-No Way

I enjoyed a great Holiday Break from racing with my family. My parents selected and excellent Christmas tree, some of my extended family visited, and I reveled in snow-globe dreamy skiing in Southern Maine.
Ruby, the Christmas Dog 
During the festive season I put in a training block to prepare for a North American Cup in Valcartier, Quebec. Valcartier is a challenging course, which has treated me well in the past. I was excited at the prospect of producing good results. This North American Cup was highlighted by US Biathlon as a focal point in their selection of the European Championships team. Although I couldn’t shoot between Minnesota Trials and these races, I was confident I could carry my good shooting form into the competitions.

I was glad to have my dad along for this race weekend to help with driving and logistics. His help was invaluable in what turned out to be the wildest weather weekend I have ever experienced. Biathlon races only get canceled in extreme conditions: cold, wind, fog, etc. The forecast was not promising, but I suspected that at least one race would go off. My father and I left for Quebec on Friday. During the drive it was raining and a steady 50 degrees Fahrenheit. We arrived at the venue to find that training had been canceled for the day. This was not surprising, but unfortunate, as it deprived me of the chance for some shooting training before the race.

I awoke the next morning to about 8 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the low teens. I have raced in very similar conditions to this in Quebec and around the world, so I had no doubt the race would go on. The race did go on, and the organizers did all they could to provide the best possible conditions. The ski tracks where very soft and powdery, the penalty loop had to be abandoned due to puddles, and heavy snow persisted during the race. The racing was equally difficult for all the competitors. I struggled in the soft snow and picked up 5 penalties on the range. I felt okay about my race, and was relieved not to make any gigantic mistakes. The next day I learned that I finished 4th, 1 second out of 3rd. 
This is what skiing on Saturday felt like. 
The forecast for Sunday was very cold, and the organizers shortened and delayed the race in the hopes of still running the competition. When I arrived at the venue the race had been canceled, and the car thermometer clearly told why. It was 20 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit! This represented a 70-degree swing from Friday afternoon! The US Biathlon representative on site initially told the competitors that an official, optional time trial would take place. It would not count against selection for the European Championships, but would still be considered. I prepared to race, but later, the USBA official canceled the competition outright after conferring with club coaches at the race. I did some light training following the announcement and after skiing one loop of the course it was very apparent that racing would have posed a serious risk of bodily harm.   
Yeah no racing happening in that cold... 
I drove home on pins and needles waiting to hear who had been selected to the European Championships team. This nervous feeling of anticipation, excitement, and dread continued into Tuesday morning. Noon Tuesday passed with no contact, a time at which a US Biathlon official indicated to me a decision would be made. On Tuesday evening I found out through unofficial channels that I was not selected to the team. I had a feeling I would be left out, but I was nonetheless gutted to miss out on the last European race opportunity of the year. I looked over the criteria and my results and I feel I had a good case for being selected. These selections where done subjectively by a committee, and not objectively based purely on race results. Since my recent results where strong, I would like to think I had something to do with the extended deliberations, but I will never know.

As sad and discouraging as not being selected is, I am very proud of the level of performance I have been able to achieve with no venue, no in person coaching, no teammates and no funding. I am also proud of my comeback for zero fitness after a long and intense spell of mono in the summer of 2016. This season, I have beaten all but 6 of the American Men’s field at least once on-snow. Of those 6, I have never raced 5 of them on snow. This isn’t the same as making a team, but it does give me some small amount of solace.
My peak fitness in August 2016. 28 minutes walking was all I could muster. 

Looking ahead I will be staying close to home, working, and skiing as much as I can. I may participate in a North American Cup in February and, if I can, race at the US Biathlon Nationals in the end of March in Utah, but my season is essentially over.  

I would like to wish everyone racing in Europe good luck, and once again thank my family, friends and supporters.  

Image result for go team usa images

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


My sincere thanks to everyone who has helped me on my way through the Nordic World. 
You made my journey possible. 

IBU Cup Trials

The IBU Cup Trials was the focal point of my season. These competitions offered a chance to race in Europe and qualify for the 2018 US Olympic Team. The IBU Cup Trials always take place in Coleraine, Minnesota. Coleraine is one of the venues I have raced at the most in my life. I have raced at this venue every December (with a 2-year hiatus for college) since I was 13 years old (13 years ago!)
The series consisted of 4 races, (3 Sprint races and 1 Mass Start) over the course of 5 days. After 3 weeks of quality training in Canmore and a nice rest at home I was optimistic about my potential for success. My goal for the series was to be one of the top 2 athletes overall and move on to the final phase of Olympic selection in Europe.

The first race was a sprint, with 2 shooting stages of 5 shots each in a 10-kilometer race. I skied well, but missed 3 targets. This performance left me about 1min behind the winner in 6th place. This was my best performance of the year, and left me with renewed confidence and optimism for improvement in the coming 3 races.

The second race was the same format as the first, and my performance was incrementally better. I missed 2 targets, and maintained good ski form. Again, I was 6th, about 1 minute behind, and just outside the level of the best athletes.

The 3rd day of racing was a Mass Start race. The whole field raced head to head over 15km with 4 shooting stages. I picked the wrong skis, rushed my shooting, and let my emotions get the best of me. I had hoped to make my bid for the team in this competition, but I finished well behind in 10th place.
After an off day, I was eager to put together a race which showed my true quality. The final sprint race was my best biathlon performance in years. I missed 2 targets on a very windy day and fought off some serious fatigue to post a respectable ski time. I finished in second place. As my former coach Vladimir put it, “Good race, Raleigh, a little too late thought.”

Shooting with some of my favorite Minnesota biathlon friends. Right before it all went wrong in the Mass Start 

I finished the series in 5th or 6th place, depending on which selection criteria you used. In one set of selection guidelines, US Biathlon declared that the best 2 of the 4 races would be used in the final ranking. In a second set of selection criteria, 3 of 4 races where to be used. Thankfully, the top two positions where not effected by this oversight, and the top ranked athletes where selected.
I had hoped to gain perspective on what my path forward should be from the results of these Trials. Resounding success or crushing defeat would have left me with a clear path forward, instead I am left tantalizingly close to excellence, with a podium to prove I have the potential to be among the best. 

Pushing for the Podium! 
My final ranking left me in 10th or 11th in the US, after all the trials races. Far from a top 5 Olympic-Team ranking, but in the mix with the athletes tipped to be the next National A Team stars.
In the coming weeks there are more selection races which could qualify for to race at the European Championships and on the IBU Cup. Attending the trials races and funding a potential European race trip present financial hurdles I could have to overcome, but neither are out of the realm of possibility.
For now, I am looking forward to spending some quality time with my family for the Holidays and entering 2018 as happy and healthy as possible.       
This is the face you make when you podium, but don't know what to do next. 
Photos by Karen Brown and Gregory Haugen

Canadian November

November is a bipolar month for biathlon training. In November some of the hardest dryland training takes place. The amount and intensity of the exercise increases. At the same time the amount daylight and enthusiasm for running and rollerskiing decrease at a nearly equal rate. On the other end of the November spectrum is on-snow training camp. After a 7-month separation from skiing, the first days on snow are among the most fun training days of the year.

This season I experienced the full range of November biathlon training. Early in the month I worked hard to improve on the weak areas I had identified in the October rollerski trials races, and tried to put in hours at my job to finance my upcoming travels. The hard rollerski sessions where driven in part by the light at the end of the tunnel with was skiing on snow in Canmore, Alberta Canada.
Following the October rollerski trials, I reached out to Patrick Johnson, a biathlete from California with the idea of sharing the cost of a training camp in Canmore and a race trip to the IBU Cup Trials in Minnesota (More in this in another post). I had only briefly met Patrick prior to coming to him with this proposal, but he gamely agreed! Patrick is a supremely talented biathlete and excellent person. We got along famously throughout the camp in Canmore and the race trip to Minnesota. I am very grateful to Patrick for agreeing to travel with me.

My time in Canmore was filled with quality biathlon training, some poor North American Cup race results, and lots of breathtaking scenery. Canmore is on of my favorite places to be, and I always enjoy my time there. The Bow Valley is #1 on my list of ski vacation destinations. In Canmore I was a guest athlete of the Auburn Ski Club (http://auburnskiclub.com/asctc/biathlon/)  and Team R.A.D. (http://www.canmorenordic.com/team-rad/). Both clubs welcomed me as one of their own and provided me with great coaching and training buddies. A special thank you to Rachel at team R.A.D, and Glenn, Lenka and Joel from ASC for their help.      

The training camp in Canmore allowed me to build some race form, get my skis legs under me and adjust to shooting on a regulation size biathlon range. I steadily improved my fitness and skills throughout the camp. After Canmore, I spent a few days at home resting and resetting before traveling to my home state of Minnesota for the IBU Cup/Olympic Trials races.

Check out the next post on this blog for a recap of these competitions.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sparks, but no Fire

I am back in Southern Maine after a weekend away at the last round of World Cup rollerski Trials in Jericho, Vermont. The races did not produce any good results, but I still feel that I made progress since the first rollerski competitions of the season in August. Even though the shooting results remained poor, I felt much more in control on the sometimes (very) windy range. On the tracks I finally began to feel that I was carrying better speed and my economy was improving. Racing is the best way to improve as a biathlete, and I am looking forward to racing on snow, instead of pavement.

My fall training went well, but it was not enough to meaningfully close the gap between myself and the rest of the field. After analyzing the results of both weekends of summer racing I have determined that my performances are on a similar level to those I produced in 2014. This is frustrating considering the 2,000 or so hours of physical training I have completed since then. I have had to deal with some illness and injures in that time as well, but I had hoped my general fitness would be at a higher level. The positive spin on this analysis is that I still have lots of room to improve in ski speed and economy.

Outside of the race results, I had a great time in Vermont. The weather was pleasant, the venue was in excellent shape, and I got to spend some time with new and old friends. My pals Jake Brown and Paul Schommer where very kind to invite me to a dinner hosted by local ski coaches Adam Terko and Liam John. Adam and Liam both coach for the Mansfield Nordic Ski Club. Mansfield is a dynamic and successful club, which is forging a stellar reputation in the New England ski community.  I am not the only person to draw this conclusion, as Adam was named the New England Nordic Ski Association’s Coach of the Year in 2017. Check out all that Mansfield Nordic does HERE.     

The next important competitions are the IBU Trials in Coleraine, Minnesota in early December. In the eight weeks between now and then I am pushing all my chips into the center of the table. Going “All In” sounds cliché; however, I feel that the act of pushing my training, time, and finances to the limit adds elements of excitement and finality which will further motivate me to bring my best.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dusting Off, Clawing Up

August and September have flown by and the biathlon calendar is turning to the business end of the year. Over the next two months my training a will become more intense and specific as I sharpen my shape before the winter racing season begins in late November.

As incongruous as it seems, the 2017-2018 season has already begun. In mid-August I traveled to Jericho, Vermont for a training camp culminating in the first round of rollerski selection races for the Period 1 World Cup. I had been feeling good in training leading up to this week and I was optimistic about producing good results, but the results did not reflect my feelings. I was well off the pace skiing and did not produce acceptable shooting results. Accepting these results was difficult considering the work I had put in to get back into a competitive position for these races. These competitions did leave me with a clear direction for my fall training and showed I have lots of room to improve. You can find photos of the event here: http://fasterskier.com/fsarticle/us-biathlon-rollerski-championships-photos/.

Since the August races, I have put in quality training, highlighted by a trip to Fort Kent, Maine for a rollerski training weekend with my friend Russell Currier. Since I don’t have the facilities to do shooting and rollerskiing at the same time when I am at home, trips like this are crucial to training progress.  Russell has two Top 10 World Cup results to his name, and has been one of the most consistently speedy biathletes in the US over the past 8 years or so. You can find Russ’s blog here: http://russellcurrier.blogspot.com/. I believe Russell is one of the most honest and engaging Nordic bloggers on the scene.

I will train and work at home for the next two weeks before traveling back to Jericho, VT for more rollerski selection races on the 14th and 15th of October. My goal is to be the most improved athlete at these races. I am confident I can achieve that standard. In a spot of positive news, I am now able to complete high intensity running and shooting training again due to improved strength in my dodgy left ankle.

Looking further ahead, I am hoping to travel to Canmore, Alberta Canada in mid-November for an on-snow training and competition camp, but I will have to wait and see if my finances will allow it. After November, it is full speed into the December Trials races held in my home state of Minnesota. These competitions will be the “make or break” point for my Olympic bid.  

There are many other athletes like me who are striving to represent their nations at the 2018 Olympics. The University of New Hampshire has created a page highlighting current and former Wildcats who are working to represent their nations at the 2018 Olympics. I am very proud to represent UNH and carry on a tradition of Olympic level excellence. You can find profiles and updates from the featured athletes on this page:  http://unhwildcats.com/sports/2017/8/16/olympic-central.aspx?mobile=skip

To follow my journey though this Olympic season, follow me on Instagram: @roggoessling91 and Twitter: @TheRGoessling.