Interview: Alayna Sonnesyn

November 10, 2013

Alayna Sonnesyn seems to know how to peak when the stakes are the highest.  In 2012, Sonnesyn notched a second place finish at the State Meet, then went on to Junior Nationals in Utah where she consistently posted the top Midwest J2 girls results.  Last season, after some bumpy results at Senior Nationals and the State Meet, she rebounded taking the Kortelopet title and surprising the field at Junior Nationals with a victory in the J1 freestyle race.

Sonnesyn is impossibly busy this fall, juggling a full plate in school in her senior year, while trying to squeeze in Nordic training as she competes for the Wayzata cross-country running juggernaut. Sonnesyn recently found a few minutes out of that schedule to answer some interview questions...

While the Norwegian skiers at Junior Nationals last season might have stolen some of the spotlight, it was a huge achievement winning the girls freestyle J1 division title in Fairbanks last March! After have a rough Senior Nationals and State Meet, you topped the entire field of girls from across the nation for a fantastic way to wrap your season. Can you take us back to that race -- what worked, or what clicked, that helped you have score that enormous win?

I'm not sure what happened at Senior Nationals, could have been the altitude, could have been a cold. For state I was not feeling well the night before and it seemed like it just wasn't my day. Little things went wrong at state that, looking back now, were very silly mistakes. I forgot my chip for the first race and didn't realize it until 4 minutes before the race. This meant I had to run up to the third floor in the lodge and back down with just barely enough time to get on the starting line. Not a mistake I want to make again! However, even after these "not-so-great" races, I was happy with my Kortelopet result. I had been feeling good during my workouts leading up to Junior Nationals and was taking a lot more time to recover. I had hopes of being All-American prior to the race but wasn't sure if it would work out the way I wanted. I told myself to forget about the previous races that year and just focus on what was in front of me and try to have fun. I knew there were some tight corners toward the beginning of the race but I had practiced them quite a few times leading up to the race. I really concentrated on those turns during the race and after I made it through them successfully I got a little boost in spirit. After the first kilometer someone shouted at me that I was in fourth place. I didn't believe them. About halfway through the race once we had been climbing for almost 2 Kilometers, one of our coaches said I was two seconds out of first place. I knew I had to keep up the pace if I wanted to stay there. Fortunately, the wax, the skis, the coaching, and my preparation, all seemed to work in my favor that day. I was thrilled when I saw the results.

Any karma from the Midwest Junior National date ski (as both Ian Torchia and Sonnesyn won National Titles the next day)? 

I think our ski date let us relax and have fun before the racing started. It's very easy to get so focused on the races and not take a break and enjoy the moment. Our date was a slow, fun, ski with lots of other "couples" and we all had a blast.

You've been busy this fall running with the nationally ranked Wayzata high school girls cross-country team. The team won the Minnesota State Meet earlier this month, as expected, in decisive fashion. What are your fall plans, especially with Wayzata probably competing in some post-season cross-country meets?

It has been such an honor to run with the Wayzata girls cross-country team. We have all put in so many hours and hard work and were so excited for the State Meet. As this is my last year on the team, I have decided to stay with the team through the post-season meets to compete in Regionals and hopefully Nationals. That being said, my team understands how important skiing is to me and know I have to start to switch seasons. The next couple of weeks I will be trying to keep a healthy balance between my running and ski training without getting overwhelmed or overtrained.  

[ Update: Wayzata girls team won the NXN Heartland Regional on Sunday, Nov 10th, advancing to Nationals Dec 7th in Portland, OR!]

How did your summer ski training go, did you have any new activities or benchmarks?

My summer ski training went extremely well. I was invited to ski with the National Training Group in Park City, Utah in August. I met so many other athletes from around the nation and got in some really great training and coaching. We even got to sit down and talk to Kikkan Randall! The camp was an incredible experience and such a cool place to train.

Seems like in season's past, you decide and plan your own schedules with your family. Where do you get most of your coaching - is it more self-directed, family advice, or Sisu coaches? 

My family is really into skiing and enjoys the sport as much as I do. We like to plan family vacations around some of our out-of-town races and experience the new destinations together. It's also nice to have a home-cooked meal by my mom the night before a race and feel very comfortable with where and who I am staying with. During the summer, a lot of my training is a balance between self-directed, family advice, and Sisu coaching. I get a lot out of the early morning practices with Sisu, but also have to think about my running training and anything else I feel necessary through the rest of the day. During the Fall I run cross-country so I have to be more self-directed with my training for skiing because of time constraints. However, during the Winter, I am on my high school team and follow my high school coaches planned practices. Of course, I tweak things here and there by adding a few extra intervals on the hard days or adding additional rest if I have been doing a lot of racing. I think that by incorporating all of these, I am able to get the right balance of training.

Last season you had a busy racing schedule, hitting Senior Nationals, the JNQ races, winning the Kortelopet... Any changes or new goals this season? 

Last season was very busy. I would say my main goal this season is to focus on recovering more between races and after hard workouts. I think it got to be a little too much with all of the racing and I was never able to be well-rested for the next race. With this in mind, I hope to have some better races at Senior Nationals and continue this throughout the season.

As a senior, the pressure on making post-secondary (college) plans is undoubtedly increasing each month. Any early thoughts on your career after high school?

I intend to go to college next year without any sort of Post-Grad year. I am planning on skiing while also staying focused on my schoolwork and I am very excited for this.

While being pulled in a lot of directions over the next few months, watch for Sonnesyn to move up the skiing field as her season progresses this winter!