Special to the News
Editor’s Note: This is the second of four columns by Yukon cross-country skier Minty Bradford, reflecting on her experiences training in France this winter.
March for cross-country skiers is also known as the championship period.
This month is the pinnacle of the season. I am excited to race in two big events. The first is the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) where I will represent Team Yukon during the second week of the games from Feb. 28 to March 5. It will be my first time at a multi-sport games.
A week later I will be racing in my second national championships at the 2023 Nordiq Canada Ski Nationals in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I will be travelling and racing with the Yukon ski team, with help from Northern LYTES Youth Sport Development Fund and the Yukon High Performance Athlete Assistance Program.
The preparation for these races began in May, but since December I have been racing in French national races, as well as in regional races around Grenoble, France. The region where I am living is a collection of middle altitude mountains in the western French Alps. I have recently been taking time for rest and recovery after a couple of months of hard training.
The first weekend of February I travelled with my French ski club to the southern French Alps. I competed in the U15 French National Challenge, which is a championship race for all racers under 15 years old from across the country. There were two races: a sprint race on the first day, and a four-kilometre distance race on the second. While I placed in the top 10 of both races – and am very proud of this as over 200 girls started the race – I did fall in both. Falling is something that happens in this sport, but I was upset because the two times I fell I was in a podium or winning position. Falling in a race where you are pushing yourself as hard as you can is very difficult. Once your muscles get relief when you fall, getting back up to race again, is mentally draining, not to mention there’s time you lose from falling.
In the distance race, I fell about halfway through and finished in second place with a gap of only 0.8 seconds behind. I was really disappointed at first because I felt really strong during the race and knew that it went really well despite the crash. After a bit, I thought about how the race went and I was really happy with the results and how the day and weekend as a whole turned out. I also learned a lot. This good feeling came not just from the results, but also from knowing that even though I crashed in both, I tried as hard as I could to get back up as quickly as possible and not give up. During the sprint race on the first day, I was even able to pass a skier before the finish line after my crash.
The feeling I get when I cross the finish line is really cool. After you’ve been pushing yourself so hard and you get to stop, it gives you an adrenaline rush and you feel on top of the world even though you are very tired. At the French National Challenge, the second race was an individual start race where skiers start at 20 second intervals and the times are counted when they cross the finish line. This means that during the race you are in your own bubble and it’s up to you to keep yourself going, not the people around you. Most of the time you don’t really know how anyone else is doing so there is no time to waste. In the overall ranking from the two races, I finished in second. This aggregate score is really positive considering my day one result was eighth, which was still a decent result, but not on the podium.
A big goal that I have for my upcoming races in Canada is to push hard, stay on my feet and not fall. If I do fall, I will try to get up quickly and keep pushing until the end. I aim to race well and stay upright. I want to concentrate on finding that balance between maxing out and staying in control. Now I know what to work hard for.
While racing and training in March at big competitions, I also must rest and recover so I can be in top form at the start line. This comes with my rest days that I take at least once a week, but also spending some time away from cross-country skiing. Last week, I took two days to go downhill skiing with my family in the French Alps. During this time, I was able to do something that I enjoy and have fun without the intensity that I put into my main sport. It is a careful balancing act of recharging energy without losing touch to the feeling of racing that I like so much and need right now.
As I head into a month of competitions, I have to be confident in the training and recovery I have done building up to this month. I know that I have a strong fitness base from my offseason training in the summer and fall. I also must remember I need to focus on the process of racing and not the results. I want to do as best as I can in the races, but not just in terms of results, when I finish a race, I want to be proud of how I skied technically over the whole course and how I was able to push even in the hardest parts of the race. And, of course, I want to have fun!