Perspective: A Reflection on Racing in 2021

This year will be one people tell their grandchildren about. We just wrapped up a race season that no one could have predicted, we weren’t sure it would even happen, and that all hope won’t be repeated anytime soon.

I’ve spent the past 62 days in Europe with 12 races (3 sprints, 5 distance races, 4 team events), 20 covid tests, 1 relocated race weekend, 2 cancelled race weekends and countless adjustments to “the plan”. If one thing can be said, it’s that this past season wasn’t a boring one. It also wasn’t an easy one for many reasons.

As someone who likes having a plan and control over my situation and its outcome, the almost constant state of uncertainty, took a lot of energy. Over the past few years I have put a lot of work into being more chill, going with the flow and focusing my energy on the things in my control (instead of the things that are sorely out of my hands). And am I ever glad! I’m not sure 20-year-old me would have handled all of this years unknowns. This year we created plans A through C in advance and still ended up back at the drawing board coming up with a plan E. I want to say an extra hug thank you to my wax techs, coaches and teammates for everything they did this season. We managed to keep, smile on our faces most of the time, to support each other, and to stay safe and healthy while traveling to 4 different countries. Planning and executing this season was not easy, so thank you to the people who made it possible and enjoyable!

Cendrine, Katherine and I, preparing to race in the beautiful Engadin Valley!

From the racing standpoint, this last weekend of World Cup racing was awesome. I felt strong, had fun and ended the season off with personal best distance results two days in a row. On Sunday in the 30km skate pursuit, I tied my best ever World Cup result, finishing 15th! It was a great way to end this short season, skiing through Engadin Valley surrounded by the Swiss Alps, gasping for air but with a big smile on my face.

Skiing to 15th in the 30km skate pursuit. ( © Modica/NordicFocus)

My season performance as a whole, not what I was hoping for. The Engadin race weekend really saved my season from a performance perspective. Looking back on the rest of my season, it was frustrating and disappointing. I raced 3 individual races in our first period in Sweden. The first two of those were on the same weekend, my body felt off. I couldn’t figure out quite what was wrong or why, but my arms and legs felt hollow, void of power and my ski speeds and results were indicative of that. The following weekend was the one skate sprint I would race this season, my best event. I was still feeling a bit off, not totally sure what to do to make myself feel better again. I liked the course and believed in my skate sprinting abilities. I was essentially willing a good result out of my body. Unfortunately, my mental drive brought me to 0.3sec short of qualifying for the heats, finishing 32nd. After this race I cried. I cried out of a combination, frustration, anger, disappointment and sadness. After a training season where I had felt really good and saw an improvement in my baseline performances, it was hard to finally make it to the start line and be severely underperforming. It’s one thing if you finish a race feeling like you gave your best and the results aren’t there, it’s a totally different feeling finishing a race knowing that it was far from what you are capable of. I left Sweden disappointed that I missed out on both skiing valuable sprint heats and scoring valuable World Cup points to help Canada secure more quota spots leading into an Olympic year. Also, that I had only been given one opportunity to race a skate sprint this season.

Canada only participated in the second half of the World Cup season this year. Even in the limited races, as a team, we managed to have 4 different women and 3 different men score World Cup points (top 30 placing) this season. This is a big step up from the past few years where we have had 3 or 4 athletes total score points over a full season. Although my season was overall very frustrating up until the final weekend, it was really fun and motivating to be able to share the team’s success as a whole. Every weekend we had different team members achieving personal bests or strong results.

Mid ski photo op with my bubble in the Swedish woods. Photo credit my talented teammate Russell!

By the time World Championships came around at the end of February, I was feeling confident in my body again and ready to race. At the World Championships I did 5 races. It started with the classic sprint. The sprint was another disappointment, I finished 38th and missed making the heats. In contrast to my two sprints in Sweden, I crossed the finish line disappointed with how I executed my race plan not with how my body felt. I also made a mistake with my choice in the skis for the day. I opted for my fastest pair but they were harder to kick than my second pair. I ended up struggling on the cresting on the two climbing sections not being able to get the power I needed to accelerate over the tops of the climbs well. But that is part of racing, and hopefully I will not make the same mistake in the future.

The rest of the championships consisted of the team events, team sprint and relay, and two distance races. Both of the team events were really fun, and we posted out best team relay results in many years, finishing 9th.

Katherine tagging off to me in the 4x5km relay at World Championships.

Championship courses are renowned for being some of the hardest course. Climbs are added and others are extended. I am definitely someone who prefers courses where the climbing is broken up and transitions are important. With that in mind, I was actually pretty happy with both of my distance races at World Championships on some incredible hilly courses.  In the 10km skate I went out hard fighting for a place in the top 30 and I held around that position until the 6km mark, where the killer climb began. I ended up fading down to 44th place but I left it all out there. The 30km classic was the final event. This was actually my first classic 30k, all the other 30k’s I have raced have been skate. I skied my own race, going a pace I knew I could hold and build on and ended up finishing 34th. This result, on a course with 1100m of climbing really helped build my own confidence and excitement leading into the final weekend of racing at the Engadin World Cup.

Enjoying some sunshine in Oberstdorf in between racing at World Champs.
Relay day and mask life in Oberstdorf, Germany!

Navigating this season required constant shifts in perspective, adapting to what was in front of us in each moment. Maintain constant bubbles within the team was hard, not being able to hug some teammates after a good race because they were a different bubble, and interacting with staff at a distance and while wearing masks. We also had to adapt to the COVID-19 regulations in different countries. Countries such as Sweden had no mask policies, so that made things like going to the grocery store a bit more stressful and more calculated. In contrast, regulations were very strict in Germany and we had to be tested every second day for the two weeks we were there and N95 mask or equivalent were mandatory. This was good from a health precaution perspective, but expensive, time consuming and logistically difficult to navigate. Even navigating the return to Canada had many incarnations. When I left in January I was expecting to land in Calgary in March, participate in the rapid testing pilot program and be out of quarantine in 2 days. Fast forward to March and this program is no longer an option. In place, I was landing and spending a 3 day mandatory hotel quarantine at my airport of entry, Vancouver, while I awaited a negative covid test. After receiving my negative test, I was able to fly to Whitehorse for the remainder of my quarantine period. I’m currently out in a cute little tiny house in the woods. A pretty nice place to be isolated for two weeks.

Quarantine Cabin

Looking back on the past two months, I am so grateful from the chance to compete and represent Canada. There were many fun and wonderful moments this winter. There was also extreme stress which took a huge toll on mental energy. A race season half the length of normal was the most emotional draining season I’ve had to date. I am really looking forward to spending the next 6 weeks at home in Whitehorse and having a mental reset. I am taking the positive feeling from my best ever World Cup weekend last weekend and channeling that into motivation for the Olympic training season starting May 1st. Until then, I will be resting, mentally and physically, enjoying precious time with my family and friends and making sure I am fully recharged to start the next season.

A huge thank you to my sponsors and community for the support and kind words during this wild season. It means so much know that there is such an amazing network of people behind me during both the highs and the lows!


One Reply to “Perspective: A Reflection on Racing in 2021”

  1. Great performance in the World Championships relays, Dahria, and VERY impressive weekend in Engadin! We, and I dare say this on behalf of nearly all the Norwegian cross country fans, really hope to see a female winning skier out of Canada. Alex Harvey was immensley popular in Holmenkollen and all of Norway. You have some of that star potential as an athlethe, so no one would be better to take that champ role in the Canadian team. With that said, BEST
    OF LUCK for you spring/autum preparations, for you and all of the Canadian team, and see you next season!

    Liked by 1 person

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