For the past nine days, Sadie James has been representing Bates Nordic Skiing at the NCAA National Collegiate Ski Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. This was James’ first time at nationals and her first time competing at high altitudes.

Leading up to the race, her training was focused on preparing her for the high altitude conditions, including changes in diet (extra iron) to prepare her blood for the lower levels of oxygen as much as possible. Due to a lack of snow and warm weather, it was extremely difficult for James to train outdoors. Most of her training was spent running or using a ski erg machine.

James participated in two races in Colorado: the 5K skate and the 15K mass start classic. She admitted to feeling nervous in anticipation of competing. “There aren’t many times in a ski career where you can go into races with not a lot of expectations, but this was one for me because it was my first time at NCAAs,” James said. “I was definitely the most nervous I’ve been for a race in a long time.”

Her first race was the 5K while she was still adjusting to the altitude, which made for a very new and different race experience. James’ 5K time from NCAA Regionals, which was 14th-best in the Eastern circuit, placed her only in the top 40 at Nationals. Knowing that your competition is better than what you’re used to can mess with any athletes’ head. James was prepared for this, “My coaches and I talked about how that was a mental race, and they are right. If you weren’t mentally there for that race, it was going to be hard.” James placed 37th out of 40 on the 5K but was happy that she beat her Regionals time. The course was a difficult one, involving rolling hills, steep climbs, and ending with quick climbs.

The second race in which James competed was the 15K classic and according to her, was “the hardest race I’ve ever done. By the time I raced it was 48 degrees–not ideal for racing. My coaches did a phenomenal job with my skis and they were able to adjust my wax so I had kick the whole time. The snow turned to slush so quickly and it was just so, so slow.” James ended up placing 30th out of 40 competitors with a time of 59:30.9, about five minutes behind the first place finisher. Only one racer from the East Coast placed in the top 10, perhaps an indicator of the difficulties in racing in the high altitude.

Did James enjoy her first national championships? “I ended up having a great race when looking back at it in perspective. It was such a great experience. The support I got from both my team and the entire Bates community was incredible.” James is definitely a bright spark for the Nordic team and will hopefully compete next year at Nationals again.