Biathlon Beginnings

In January, one of my teammates, Emily, wrote a blog post called “Confessions of a Beginner Biathlete” on the GRP blog. Emily’s post was about her first IBU Cup experiences and some of the things she has learned along the way. If she calls herself a beginner biathlete, then I’m a baby biathlete. I often ask her when I have biathlon related questions and think she’s pretty darn speedy.

Gunnar and friends (Sam photo).

The adventure began early this winter, when the skiers were racing in West Yellowstone and only the biathletes were home. We decided that I should learn how to shoot a biathlon rifle and try out a theory that they had: that someone could get good at shooting by only dry firing (practicing inside) and a left handed person could shoot righty. Casey also made a deal with me that if I did my range procedure in a certain amount of time with my eyes shut, he would let me borrow one of his old rifle harnesses. I thought that this would be as far as my biathlon career went, restricted to the living room at our house. Turns out that I wrote most of this post at Canadian Biathlon Nationals. With no ski races planned in the six weeks between the last SuperTour and SuperTour finals, I decided that doing a biathlon race could be fun.

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The beginning.

In mid February, Kait (doing some pre World Cup race prep on a biathlon range) and I got in the van with the rest of the biathletes to head to Jericho for some NorAm racing. The first race was a 7.5k “sprint,” were you shoot twice and ski three 2.5k loops. Just to be sure we didn’t forget anything critical, Kait and I wrote detailed lists of our prerace procedure, including “bring rifle to start,” the night before. The list worked well for Kait, as she finished second, right near teammate Emily. I must have forgotten to write “shoot straight,” on the list, as I missed ten out of ten shots. Biathletes have a special name for when you miss every target in a shooting stage: dirtying. And it’s pretty rare to dirty every single time in a race. Each time you miss, you ski around a penalty loop before heading out on course again, so I did a lot of skiing in small circles while others whizzed by.

jericho range picture (PB)
Ideally, all the black dots turn white. Realistically, they don’t all turn white. In my case, they all stayed black. (Paul Bierman photo).

On the ride home, I had a moment of realization and announced “I think I forgot to attach the sling to my cuff!” This attaches the rifle to your arm and makes everything a lot steadier. If I had remembered to attach it, it may not have helped my shooting, but certainly wouldn’t have hurt it. When we returned home, this prompted Mike to help me practice exactly what I would do on the range, to help avoid some of the silly mistakes.

jericho prone (PB)
Shooting prone- probably sans sling attached to cuff (Paul Bierman photo).

The next day was a 10k pursuit start race, where everyone start based on their time back from the day before. Though I didn’t forget to attach the sling to the cuff, I had plenty of other silly mistakes, mostly borne out of being too frantic on the range. My mistakes necessitated assistance from an official on the range, Coach Sam handing me an extra clip of bullets before skiing into the range the third time, and one of the my teammates, Clare,  having to walk onto the range to help me load my rifle correctly. Every time I shot, I had Ethan’s voice in my head saying “squeeze,” and I tried to remember to squeeze the trigger versus yanking on it (apparently you don’t shoot well when you do that). This may have helped, because finally hit a few targets! Not many, only five out of 15, but enough to keep me coming back for more!

judy at the start (PB)
Two good things going on in this picture: Marika (one of the Craftsbury juniors) getting ready to start and Judy starting racers. Dick or Judy has been the starter for more than half the reasons I have done this season- these two are incredible! (Paul Bierman photo).

The following weekend, another NorAm was planned for Lake Placid, but no snow there cancelled the races, so we did  some fun races/ TTs at Craftsbury. While skiing penalty loops on our home turf, another idea blossomed: the biathletes were planning on going to Canadian Biathlon Nationals right before SuperTour finals, maybe I could go?! Pepa agreed with the idea, under the condition that I did a lot of classic intensity before leaving. An ill-timed cold left teammate Caitlin home from the Ski Tour Canada World Cups, which did mean a training buddy for me.

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Chasing Caitlin (Pepa video high quality screen shot).

After three classic interval sessions in one week, I packed up my skate skis and jumped in the van with the biathletes for Val Cartier. There were tons and tons of junior skiers, but only a few “men” and “women,” as the older age groups are called. The first day was a sprint race. I dirtied the first stage and got a bit frustrated skiing around the slushy and slow penalty loop five times. Standing, I missed the first target, then remembered some pointers Alex had given me, and hit two! I was beaming! As I skied three more penalty loops my frustration from dirtying earlier in the race wore off a bit.

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Penalty looping. Alex was standing by the penalty loop, with instructions to remind me to smile if I wasn’t. He never had to remind me! (Alex photo).

The next day was a pursuit race. This time, instead of starting based on time back from the sprint, we started at five seconds intervals based on yesterday’s results. My prone shooting was nothing to write home about, though I did hit one, which made me pretty happy. But my standing shooting went pretty well! I developed a new tactic of coming into the range, skiing onto the mat, and just standing there for a few seconds before taking my rifle off my back. It looks like something is wrong, but I think it helps me relax a little bit before I try to shoot. Then I hit three for each standing stage! It was a good end to my rookie biathlon season.

On the range (Sam photo).

This last month of dabbling in biathlon has been a blast. It has certainly helped turn a season that had the potential for a lot of frustration because of injury into a season that was really fun. It was cool to begin to learn how to do a new thing and spend time with the other half of the GRP. I can’t thank all of the GRP biathletes enough for the help that they’ve given me. I don’t think that a single day went by where at least one of them didn’t offer me a useful bit of information or two. They are all unrelentingly supportive of my foray into a new sport and answer all of my really dumb questions. Also, having such successful teammates on the biathlon World Cup is awesome motivation to excel at any ski related activity, whether skiing or biathlon.

Hard to not to be excited about biathlete with this crew! Just missing Clare. (Judy photo).
tennis ball biathlon CP pic
Upon returning to Craftsbury, it was decided my new biathlon skills qualified me to help run the biathlon station at Fast and Female with former MWSC biathlete and current GMVS coach Kat Howe! (Caitlin photo).

Now it’s off to SuperTour finals for some long awaited classic skiing!


One Comment

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  1. Nice blog post speedy. Xtra laps make you stronger!


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