SO, I left Moritz on a high on Saturday after the race and by Sunday having reached Altenberg I was a stressed out mess! Let me explain. As I alluded to in my last post, Altenberg is a tough track; basically it is one of the ones that can hurt you. When you tell sliders you’re heading there they wish you luck. Inexperienced sliders shouldn’t slide there, it has two of the toughest corners in the world; and the rest are hardly a walk in the park. One of our coaches left us with the advice ‘make sure you turn the sled’.
We walked the track Sunday and it confirmed everything I’d heard; it was one tough cookie. Because of a massive travel day the day before we were a bit behind on schedule and two hours before the start of our training session my sled was still in pieces in the van! The feeling of being rushed did not help to settle my nerves which were pretty much off the chart by Sunday afternoon.
I was relieved when our coach made the call to cancel training to give us time to prepare and build sleds. Relived is actual an understatement. I was ecstatic. We used the time to watch the training we were supposed to be in. Watching sliders I was competitive with and of similar or less experience get down the track was reassuring and you can get an idea of the timing and speed of the track too. We were back to business the next day. Sliding was at 2:30 pm. I think I lost my ability to eat shortly after breakfast!
Once at the track we were going from ladies luge start as a way to get an idea of the track without too much pressure/speed. I should add that the track is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by a forest and seeing as there was as ton of snow everything was white and picturesque. It never used to be open to other nations; back in the day it was exclusively for German’s to train on and no one knew it was there. Anywho, we waited for ages to go because we were off last. Despite being much better prepared compared to 24 hours prior I felt sick to my stomach. I tried to put my gumshield in and almost threw up – I had no chill.
Despite my misgivings I slid (because that’s what I chose to do, despite the stress I go through!) and it was okay. Kreisel was hard and I didn’t have great feeling but the rest of the track was okay. So it was to the top for the second run! Cue new wave of nerves! The other thing about Altenberg is that is has a super long start; on most tracks I run about 14 steps and get on. I was aiming for 20 in Altenberg!! On my first go off the top I wasn’t going to run it fast to manage the speed but I still had to go the distance or risk the sled stopping before the brow! So I trotted off at a slow pace, thought this is taking a while had a little look up and then had to keep going – very pro. I actually did better from the top compared to ladies but I was so relieved to have gotten the first day over! I was starving!
The next few days of training consisted of gradually ramping up the start and working on the key corners. I clicked with the track almost straight away once the first day nerves were gone. I committed to hard steers where necessary and as a result (plus the added bonus of the track being cut nice) negotiated the tricky areas of the track mostly okay. I started to admit to myself that I liked Altenberg. I mean I still had nerves every time I got to the block but as I became more consistent I gained some confidence that I could manage this track and therefore started to enjoy it. Official training one was cancelled so that left us with the option of six runs over two days in the lead up to the race. I took four because the track is physically tough on the body and I am old!!
It felt odd to be preparing for a race after five runs at a new track but that was the situation. So we race prepped runners and sleds even though not one of us had ran off the top at full pelt! At the start of the week my aim was to get a second run (top 20), after some solid training I was starting to think another top eight could be on the cards. What happened exceeded ALL my expectations. I was in third after run one – WHAT! My run was solid, some areas for improvement; cue another long wait. This time I held my position; coming down the track in a huge PB and seeing the elusive ‘1’ at the bottom with two girls to follow. My first proper podium; I got to see the Union Jack next to the two German flags; a hugely special moment.
Back to the hotel to a horrid lunch! Fortunately, our coach was sympathetic and drove us into town for lunch, treating us to nuggets and chips; a team favourite! This week was a double race week so once back it was straight into recovery, runner and sled prep and video analysis of the day. There wasn’t much time to chill.
The second race was this morning (at time of writing) and I was feeling good in myself. I made a few key mistakes in the first run; probably losing some focus which is not ideal. I was fourth after the first run, the Russian athlete I’d beaten the day before getting the better of me by nine hundredths; the chase was on. My second run was a mess! I failed at controlling my sled but somehow held fourth, even closing the gap a little. But not enough. I finished fourth, five agonising hundredths behind third. You can probably tell I’m disappointed with today’s sliding BUT given where I was six days ago on this track I am actually thrilled overall. I’ll get to come back to Altenberg maybe next year or next and I can do better. I also placed 5th in the overall Europa Cup standings which was a bonus as I’d been nowhere before Christmas! For now, it’s plenty.