Redefining Success

Coming off of the games, Dad asked me to do a talk for the HTB team about some of the race day strategies I used. Still high off of the trip, I definitely talked more about my adventures than the racing and left out some important strategies that I now wished I did talk about with the group. So, I would like to quickly touch upon one that I found to be the most important for the games, and athletic career.

One thing that I believe athletes struggle with is their definition of success. Many have too specific of a definition, or one that they can’t control. For example, having the perfect race is a very specific definition, and winning gold is one that isn’t necessarily within the control of an individual athlete. A strategy that I used this past year, that got me through the tough times, was redefining my own success.

When I had mono I was unable to walk properly for three months. At first, it was incredibly frustrating to not be able to perform such a simple task that I had rather excelled at for 21 years. With time, I realized that re-training my steps was not going to be easy or quick. So, I decided to mark my progress by a few things:

  1. How I felt mentally and physically. Did I feel more in control? Did I feel better? Did it feel easier?
  2. How far I made it. I would go into my backyard and walk the same loop, holding myself up with an old broomstick handle, and see how far I could make it before complete fatigue. Each day, I would take a few extra steps.This was an easy way to mark my progress.

This strategy helped me to feel satisfied, and find success in myself everyday even though I was still a long way from the top of the mountain.

I ended up adopting the same strategy for my racing, in particular for the games. I had no expectations going into the games, no idea where I would place, so I based my daily success off of a few similar measures:

  1. How I felt mentally and physically. Did I feel in control? Was I able to push hard when it got tough? Was I able to maintain technique and form? Was I mentally aware and focused?
  2. If I did something I hadn’t done before in a race/if I applied training I’d done to the race. For example, I’d never been able to maintain diagonal stride technique in a 15km race before (this applies to a race, not training) but I did in the last race so that was a success. I did numerous one skate intervals on college drive and there was a similar long grinding hill in the skate race. I was able to apply the same technique, form and power to this hill and I kept telling myself ‘you’ve done this before, you can do it now’. When I was able to use that fall training to my advantage in a race, I considered that a success. This was how I measured my racing progress, similar to my walking progress when I had mono.

These two measures told me at the end of my race whether or not I considered my day a success. And this really helped me to have a healthy outlook on my races.

I’m not saying that you can’t have results based goals, you absolutely can. I wanted a top 30 more than anything at the games. But, in the first two races when that didn’t happen, I made sure that not meeting this goal didn’t define how my day went. I can’t control the results, so even though it was a goal I wanted, it wasn’t my ultimate determinant of success.

I really truly advise all athletes to take a look at their definition of success. At the end of the day, success is a perspective. The results list does not determine what you have accomplished, it is up to you to decide what your successes are, and celebrate them.

Zubbs out.


WUG: Chapter 6; 15km and Peacing Out

It’s been a slice Kazakhstan.

The last few days of the trip went by quick. My last race was a 15km classic mass start. None of the above things appeal to me, so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. However, it was a beautiful bluebird day and I was ranked last (I had no points to see me properly) in the mass start. While I was not really feeling it the morning of, I told myself that I literally can’t do any worse than my bib number, so they only way to go was up in the race. Then I realized that I didn’t really care all that much about the race itself, it was just such a beautiful day to ski and my skis were BOMBER. The day and the course was built for me and the set of skis that I picked so I was really looking forward to just going out for a distance ski. And I thought about the excessive number of 3hr + classic skis that I did in New Zealand this summer and that got me super excited because those were always my favourite days. Starting the 15km I was quite literally out for a ski. As I was out enjoying the mountains and singing a happy tune to myself just enjoying the ski I started to realize that I was passing more people than I expected. I thought that was weird, but kept meandering along bopping my way along the course. About 3.5km in, I noticed that I was gaining on girls that I didn’t even expect to be close to. I was out gliding the group I was with. The rest of the race felt really smooth. I was legitimately having so much fun, which was unexpected in a 15km classic, because I was just enjoying the course, day and ski so much. I was able to push a bit harder in the last lap and get a good final effort in. I finished 25th, only 15seconds behind fellow Canadian teammate Christel. Even though the group only started with 40, and ended with 37 I was still very pleased with my effort and my result. At the start of the week there were over 60 girls, so I’d like to think that the fact that I finished the week strong was a win.

The last day Emma, Kyla and I actually did a zone1 ski at Alatau (the ski resort that we race at) before we cheered on the boys in their race. It was so nice just to be able to have a chill ski after such a big week!

The closing ceremonies were neat, but a bit sad. Afterwards though, everyone was running around frantically trying to trade their gear (I got a Netherlands head band, Slovenian toque and a Russian sweater!). We also had an international dance party, and the Canadian Cross Country team made a little video:

Things I will miss about Kazakhstan:

  1. Celebrity treatment.  Every Kazakh wanted a picture with you. The Kazakhstan population may not be particularly fluent in English, but they definitely know the word ‘selfie’ and ‘please’
  2. The ski trails. They were amazing, steady gradual climbs with quick corners. What a phenomenal place to ski!
  3. The people at the games. Everyone was extremely friendly and it was a unique way of meeting people from around the globe! Also, the Canadian crew was fantastic and made sure the trip was smooth and memorable.
  4. All of the monogrammed Universaide things. EVERYTHING was monogrammed with Alamaty Universaide 2017 and the logo. Pillow cases, sheets, towels, coke bottles, water bottles, buses, kleenex boxes, walls, wet wipes cases… everything was monogrammed which was crazy!

Things I am looking forward to back in Canada:

  1. Making my own food, and eating it whenever. As nice as it was to not have to prep or do dishes, the novelty of caf food only lasts for so long. Also, the gluten free section was typically empty except for a tray of tomatoes. The staff was awesome, but definitely looking forward to some home cooked meals!
  2. Not taking a bus 3hrs+ every day.
  3. Gross as this is, my phlegm turned black from the smog (I’m not even a little bit kidding). So I’m pretty stoked for that not to be a thing anymore.

That’s a wrap, see y’all back in Canada.

Zubbs Out.

WUG: Chapter 5; Cultural Expedition and Relays

Following the sprint was three whole days off! This mostly consisted of homework, rest, cheering on team sprint teams and some shorter zone 1 pieces with lots of rolling, stretching, massage and flossing.

Sunday February 5 was the teams official cultural expedition day. Mary was kind of enough to book us a tour and we got to go explore the city. There are a few things to note about Kazakhstan:

  1. The road kind of switch backs up through the city. The road basically signifies the hierarchy of socioeconomic status. Aka, large apartment buildings with small, more run down rooms leading to bigger, newer homes with massive shopping malls further up.
  2. While there are many of lower socioeconomic standards, there are few that are actually homeless.  Generally (from what we have seen) everyone has a roof over their heads.
  3. For the games, there is security EVERYWHERE. We are surrounded by a massive fence with guards every 10meters. There are military uniforms and guns no matter where we go. Also, we have to go through a metal detector and security gates every time we enter or leave the village.
  4. The traffic is so bad in Kazakhstan that we need a police escort every time we leave the athlete village.
  5. Almaty means the city of apples. They were very well-known for their apples until businesses cut down all of the trees at the bases of the mountains.
  6. You actually are not supposed to play with the guard dogs.

On the tour we went to the top of the gondola where there are several attractions such as rides, souvenir shops and a zoo! There was also a really random monument to the Beatles. To be completely honest the zoo was a bit concerning. I’m not sure if ostrich’s are supposed to be living outside in -15 degree weather and the other birds honestly looked like pigeons or spray painted chickens. Still a very nifty experience nonetheless! We then went to the President’s Park where we saw a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church, monument to the Kazakh Soldiers and a weiner dog wearing a snowsuit! The last stop was the Green Market which is a massive Kazakh market. We got to taste test numerous dried fruits and nuts, all very tasty! We also had to zip through the meat department, to get to the chocolate and other fun and exciting goods, which was not my favourite because there was goats and pigs heads hanging on wooden stakes. It was rather alarming. Overall though, a truly unique tour of Kazakhstan and we definitely enjoyed it! My favourite part was definitely the weiner dog in a snowsuit though haha.

Today, February 6, was the relay event. I was pretty excited for this event because the course is a ton of fun, and almost exactly resembles one of my favourite interval courses in North Bay (I spent hours upon hours training one skate there). Unfortunately, the bus was real warm and real bumpy on the way up which led to some severe motion sickness. It took a while to settle down the innards, however it was such a beautiful day to ski that I was stoked! Around -7 with previous fresh snow and bluebird day, doesn’t get much better than that! I didn’t feel very snappy, a sure thing after three days off easy. At the start, I knew I was going to have fun racing, and since I didn’t feel overly snappy, I decided to focus on my technique and feeling smooth. There were some great one skate sections, so I told myself to get into a rhythm and keep consistent. That seemed to do the trick as the legs filled with fatigue. I also wanted to put Kyla into a great spot for the anchor leg, so I strategized where to use smooth technique to my advantage, and where to use my energy stores to push a quicker tempo (like fast transition hop skate sections). Overall, I didn’t feel particularly sparky but I did feel in control and technically focused so I considered that a win!

One more race tomorrow, and then the week of racing comes to a close.

Chat soon!

WUG: Chapter 4; Classic Sprints

The main thing that has constantly been reinforced for me in Kazakhstan is to control the controllables, and not worry about anything else.  Thus far, there have been so many factors going against success. Severe pollution, altitude, travel, questionable food (even though most is tasty, I’m pretty confident I have not gone a day without eating some form of gluten and/or lactose)… etc. So, I really had to dial in and focus on the things I could control. Making sure I get adequate calories and nutrition. Stretching, rolling and flossing my muscles (especially my calves) everyday. Staying in zone while I ski. Proper ski picking and wax testing. Proper rest and recovery. Etc. This routine helps me to focus, and build confidence going into these events. Coming into the games, I had no idea where I would place. I’ve been out of the circuit for over a year and therefore had no points or general comparison to predict my results. I saw this as a huge advantage because it meant the only thing I had to focus on was doing the best that I could, and let the chips fall where they may. I have had so much fun racing this week because my focus has been on simply controlling what I can and pushing myself as hard as possible to do the best I can on the day.

Going into the sprints, I was stoked. The course is a ton of fun, and the snow conditions were pristine for classic sprinting. You literally could not ask for better snow conditions (we could have done without the heavy smog though). I felt bouncy and snappy, which is weird for racing at altitude. I knew today that I had a goal in the back of my mind. One that I didn’t really want to admit to myself, but everyone knew. I wanted to qualify to race in the heats, and earn a top 30 result at the games (why not kill to birds with one stone?). Entering the stadium, every athlete must go through equipment check. The clock ticked down to my start time, and the line up was still massive. My heart was POUNDING. That was honestly the longest 13minutes of my life. The race itself though was awesome. I somehow felt really snappy on the climbs and powerful in my double pole. I have never been so mentally aware and focused in a race before, and I kept talking (out loud, whoops. Hope the cameras didn’t catch that…) to myself trying to push a little bit harder. I crossed the line, Kyla was cheering like mad, and the jumbotron said I qualified in the 28th. After all of the racers were done, I had qualified to go through to the heats in 30th. I have never been so excited in my life. That being said, I will admit to the field not being quite as deep as previous years, or on the day as there were multiple DNS’s. However, it was still so exciting to achieve a goal that was just out of reach, and I definitely won MY race in the qualifier. Putting on that heat bib was electric (pictures to follow later in the week!). It was particularly exciting because the past few games, Canada has not qualified any women to the heats. We qualified 4 (and one male!). The girls qualified 17, 26, 27 and 30 and our fifth was super close at 38 (the times were close!). Now, the heats did not go as well. Unfortunately, racing in the afternoon means constantly changing conditions (the wax techs did a great job with testing though, it is always rough grip waxing when the conditions are constantly changing from the negatives to the positives on the thermometer), and the rush meant no wax testing prior. I had grip for days, and several near faceplants. Which on one hand was good because it meant the climbs were snappy! However, the double pole and downhill sections were definitely a bit more of a struggle. I didn’t really care though. I mean, obviously I wanted to be competitive and up my placing, but I was just too stoked to be racing in a heat. I made sure to push hard  and I had a blast. It actually turns out that while my final placing in the heats was technically 30, my rents told me that my time beat two others in the overall finals. So I had the 28th fastest time in heats which is pretty nifty!

On this day, Feb. 2, I found out that I achieved all of my goals for the games. Top 30 finish, qualify for the sprint heats, and race the skate leg for the Canadian Women’s relay on Saturday.

Thanks again to all of those who supported me this past year. It was not a steady ride, but it’s paying off now.

Hoping that the rest of the week goes just as well, if not better for Team Canada!

Chat soon!

WUG: Chapter 3; Pursuit

After the race yesterday I was feeling pretty fatigued. My calves were throbbing. I had a severe race cough that lasted through the night. At one point, I had so much phlegm in my throat (from the cough) that I sounded like a cat purring as I slept. However, I knew that I needed that one killer hard effort to push my body toward full adaptation and get prepared for the rest of the week. I respond well to intensity, so I was fully aware that the first race would be brutal, but hopefully set me up for a good remainder of the week.

I pushed the race from yesterday out of my head and focused on today. The evening consisted of stretching and rolling to get some elastic energy back into my muscles. The race was a short 5km (more like 4.5km) skate race which is one of my favourites. This morning, it was blizzarding like crazy which meant that the rock solid, icy corduroy was replaced with several inches of fluffy powder (there was a foot in some areas!). Hard icy conditions are not my fave, so the fresh snow was also a huge plus for me.  Walking onto the site I felt a million times better than yesterday. The conditions, technique and race distance were all in my favour which got me stoked. The beginning of my warm-up did not feel great. I could feel the previous hard effort and my heart rate and breathing increase rapidly with the altitude. However, the longer I skied the better I felt. As the km’s went by I could feel my race cough disappear, the fatigue in my legs was replaced with elastic energy, my head cleared, and my heart rate/breathing rate steadied. The more I skied, the more excited I got. I also knew my body couldn’t handle a hard effort right off the bat, and I would need to strategize my effort. My body responds well to hard z3 efforts building to z4. So, I knew I needed to start relaxed with a slower z3 tempo and then build based on how I was feeling. And it was phenomenal. I felt totally in control, when I wanted to push harder my body responded. When I wanted to go faster, my body responded. My technique felt on point, with my skis efficiently gliding through the thick powder. I managed to push hard where I needed to, and put in a solid effort. I will admit, that I planned to have a rest on the final 1km descent. So I pushed hard until the top of the descent expecting to recover. However, the powder really slowed down the course so the rest did not happen. The last km was tough, and definitely not as quick however I was really happy with my overall effort. On the day, I finished 41st in the pursuit (2 spots ahead of where I started) 5min 35 seconds behind the winner (in the pursuit which is 5km classic + 5km skate). My goal was to be less than 5min behind, however I was still happy with it. My skate time placed me as the second Canadian, only 11seconds behind teammate Kyla (who had an outstanding race!) and I managed to crack the top 40 in 38th position, 2min 36seconds behind the winner. Once again, I was hoping to be within 2min of the winner, but I was happy nonetheless. I am inching my way closer to my goal of a top 30. For now, I have my sights set on a top 35 so we shall see what the rest of the week brings!

Big shout out to the coaches Toivo, Mary, Katja and Kirk for the awesome race skis and cheering. They managed to be everywhere on the course and the cheering really influenced such a hard effort! Thanks team!

Chat soon!


WUG: Chapter 2; Commencement of the Games

The first day in Kazakhstan was a bit rough to be completely frank. Amazing, but rough. To overcome jet lag you need to force yourself to stay awake for as long as possible. So, travel turned into 48 hours with very intermittent sleep patterns. Also, the first thing that one typically notices about Kazakhstan is the amount of pollution. Some days are sunny, others the air is so thick and dense with smog that little is visible and one struggles to breathe properly. Luckily, the ski venue is up in the mountains where the air is lush with fresh mountain breeze and, while there is little of it at altitude, oxygen. So, stepping off the plane at 4am I looked forward to a day of adjusting to the culture; no sleep and a vastly different atmosphere then I was used to.

But then we got up to the trails to ski and it was glorious. Beautiful mountains, sunny skies, trails crisp with corduroy and courses that flow gracefully from one hill to the next. It was one of those days when you could just ski forever in your t-shirt and never feel cold or fatigued because with the sun beaming down you never wanted it to end.

The evening of the 28th the Canadian crew went to watch the Canada vs. China women’s hockey game. Canada win, woohoo! This was immediately followed by the Canadian team reception which was nifty to meet the rest of the crew, however, most of us were overwhelmed with fatigue at this point.

The 29th was the official commencement of the games. The Opening Ceremonies was a completely surreal and unique experience, and I can not express in any form of written language the excitement and awe I had attending such an event. The evening started with the teams collecting under the stadium. We were able to walk about and meet student athletes from around the globe. The energy was contagious, and everyone was running wildly about collecting international pins and trying to snap photos with other athletes (many with whom we want to trade our team gear with later). Then we walked into the stadium. Seeing a sea of red walking through the doors into a huge stadium full of screaming people was amazing. Canadian flags splashed across the ceilings and the crowd cheered wildly. (Check out my facebook page for videos from the ceremony!)

Today was the first official race of the games. Now, I will confess I had some trouble getting amped. After 30 hours of travel, I arrived only 48 hours ago. To race at altitude. Very little sleep. Adjusting to cultured meals (aka cold cuts for breakfast…?). 2-4hours a day spent on a bus (the race site is 1hr 15min away from the athlete village). Temperatures quickly changing around the 0degree mark for a classic race (to race zeros or not to race zeros, that is the question). There were so many factors running through my mind that were completely against my race prep for a good competition. With the help of fellow Canadian teammates amping me up, I got to the start line with adrenalin and nerves pumping through my veins. And I raced. I will admit, I was not overly stoked with it. It hurt. A lot. Straight up suffer fest to be honest. But, I was expecting the first one to hurt more than usual. And my result was not too shabby considering the circumstances, so that is getting me really excited for the rest of the week. A little bit of rest, a little bit of sleep, a little bit of adapting… We’ll see what happens! Just being in the race atmosphere alone is enough to get me stoked for the rest of the week. The Jumbotron was definitely my favourite part. So cool to see your picture/race video and results on the big screen!

One thing that is still mind boggling to me is the support of the locals. Everyday when we walk out with our Canadian gear on, the volunteers, kids and locals all come up to us wanting pictures. It is definitely a celebrity treatment and it is amazing (and strange) to see someone’s face light up just because you take a selfie with them (I’ve thought about telling them that I’m actually not that interesting of a person but then I thought…Mmmm… better not). Very unique experience for sure!

Chat soon!

World University Games, Kazakhstan, FISU Universaide: Chapter 1; Travel

One year ago today I could barely stand. I couldn’t walk properly. I couldn’t eat. One year ago today, I was severely ill with mono. I was bed ridden for two months, and out of training for three. From Christmas day 2015 until mid-April 2016 I was under severe physical, mental and emotional stress from the virus. Now, one year later, I am sitting in the athletes village in Kazakhstan typing about my adventures representing Canada at the World University Games. The past year was most definitely not an easy or smooth ride, so to be competing against the best in the world after such a detrimental disease and time in my life is even more gratifying, and I could not have done it without the amazing support of my family and friends. So thank you for pushing me, pulling me, picking me up and dusting me off because it has led to this unique experience.

The trip started at Highlands Nordic on January 26th. Ribbons for Larry had taken place on the 25th, and I wanted to pay my respects. Going for a zone 1 ski before the flight, I took my ribbon up and placed it on the tree. It was an extremely emotional moment for me because I remember how much Larry supported high performance racing through the university programs. His support of student athletes was overwhelming, and he definitely helped to pave the way for university racing. It was very emotional to pay my respects only a few short hours before leaving for the airport for the University Games, because I can only hope that Larry would have been happy to see me, a forever Trailblazer, doing something that he, and his daughter Meg, so avidly promoted.

The flight was quite long, with approximately 30 hours of travel from door to door. Luckily, I had my travel companions Jordan Cascagnette and Gavin Shields and we were able to do some touring around Amsterdam. That was definitely a highlight of the trip. I was really shocked to see that Amsterdam was exactly how I pictured it.

  1. There are bike EVERYWHERE. Bikes for DAYS. There is even a bike crossing light at intersections. It was incredible to see the people being so active in their transportation!
  2. There are in fact tulips, clogs, cheese and  Heineken beer everywhere you look in Amsterdam Centraal
  3. The red light district is not a myth, as we did stumble upon it on our travels. Multiple times actually. It’s pretty hard to miss.
  4. After renting bikes, we came to the conclusion that it truly is the best way to tour Amsterdam

We arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan on January 28th at 4:00am extremely jet lagged. The volunteers were amazing and cheered us off the plane and took our baggage to the busses. Definitely treated like celebrities!

Chat soon!