Mark Arendz: Last Lap Heroics

This article was originally published on Mark Arendz's website.

To conclude this season of jet setting, I found myself in Surnadal, Norway for the final World Cup of the year. It could not have been any better for the first few days that the team was in Norway. Sunny, cloudless days with the temperatures just freezing at night and warm during the day. It was the very best that spring skiing can offer. It sure helped to get over the jet-lag. My plan for Norway was to race the three biathlon races and potentially the 10km classic on the weekend. The first race in Norway was a 20km skate, which I never planned to race because the following day would be the Biathlon Sprint. I would start the World Cup Finals with a hard fought third place finish. I had fantastic skis and a very strong final lap where I was able to ski myself back onto the podium after a costly miss in my second bout of shooting. I had been leading the race after the first shooting. But the miss nearly sunk me, leaving the stadium 11 seconds behind the leader at the time. I still had three very strong skiers starting behind me. My goal as I started that last lap was to diminish the gap by as much as I could. I pushed for every second, every inch of the course I could. I had put in a great lap and to my surprise came across the finish 1.3seconds ahead. I was now leading the race once again. All I could do was to wait until the last competitors had crossed the line. I heard that one skier was quite a ways ahead but it would be tight for second place. With everyone finished the race I would end up in third place. The winner had a huge 42second lead but I was only 1.3seconds behind second, 0.7seconds ahead of fourth, 1.3seconds ahead of fifth. In all, places 2-7 were separated by 8 seconds or so. An exciting and tight race yet again. Both first and second were clean, I had the single miss but so did fourth place, fifth was clean. I felt great after that result, with missing one and still getting onto the podium, proved to me that I had the skis and the fitness to be right in it.

After a day off for everyone, the next race was the Biathlon Pursuit. One of the most exciting races we do, and it proved to be just that. I had an ok start to the race, with a single miss in my first bout of shooting, which let two competitors catch up to me and so in a rare opportunity, the three of us were skiing together for the entire lap. After the next trip through the range two of us shot clean while the other missed two. At this point I skied with a Ukrainian and we were battling for third. The wax techs did their magic, because I had rockets coming down the hills and the Ukrainian could only get in behind me and hope to stay in my draft or get dropped. Into the range for the third bout of shooting and I made the mistakes and put two shots wide of the target. This was not helping me get to the front of the race! I skied the fourth lap by myself. To salvage the race and not slip any further down the order I had to go clean in the final bout. I did! And as I came around the corner out of the range I suddenly saw the Norwegian about 15seconds ahead. I had one lap to close the gap and get by the Norwegian to take third place. I continued to close the gap throughout the lap and was just behind on the final little climb back into the stadium. When we entered the stadium, I put in a final effort, got by and tried to create a small gap. On the finishing stretch he couldn’t respond and I came home in third place. My second in two races, both after making mistakes on the range and strong final laps.
I decided not the race the next day’s classic 10km, saving a bit for the last day’s Individual Biathlon race. It was onto the final race of the 2014-2015 season. I woke up having a great feeling about the day. I was ready to put it all together, something that seemed to elude all this season. With a much stronger wind then on previous days, which usually favors me quite well. Zero was really good and everything was then set for a fantastic race. But it was not to be. I did ski the third fastest race on the day and closer to the fastest skiers then I’ve been all year. But it was my shooting that prevented me from having the day I felt I was capable of. A single miss in each of the first three bouts had me close but three minutes was a lot to make up for. As I tried to focus on a clean final bout it all slipped away from me as I missed my first and last shots of the bout. I would tumble down to fifth place. It was not the end to the season I had imagined.
Nor has it been the year I envisioned either! I fought with myself; it seemed, in most races to have that race where it all came together. Yes, the skiing itself was great, I ended the year having the confidence and proof that I can ski with the very best in Cross Country races, especially in classic. In Biathlon, I never really seemed to find that killer groove in shooting. Several unforced errors were gravely exploited by an extremely competitive field. On countless occasions one miss less would have changed things a lot. A standout for me this year has to be my fourth place finish at World Championships in the 10km Classic. I really enjoyed that race, it felt very naturally, everything clicked for me that day and I came out of it with a career best (it would be bettered the following month). Most of the Biathlon races this year left me a little disappointed and wanting more from myself. For the first season in my career it was Cross Country races that took greater pride in. I end the season with clear focuses on what needs to be done this following year and in the upcoming years as the next Paralympic Games approach. It may not have been the results I take away from this season but the lessons I learned along the way. Lessons on how to be the best or lessons on what I need to be at my best. These lessons will be the greatest take away from this year. For now it is time for some reflection, a bit of planning and most importantly resting both mind and body.