This past weekend I had the great pleasure of crashing the coach’s symposium here in Park City. I didn’t get to go to many of the talks around training, but the guest presentations I got to see were pretty cool. I figure, coaches have to learn so much about us as athletes and what we need to succeed…but how often do the athletes consider what goes into the actual job of coaching? I want to know what my coaches are learning.
Guri Hetland, the Swiss National Team coach was here to present (though I unfortunately couldn’t see her speak), as well as Alberto Salazar, the coach for the Nike Oregon Project. In case you somehow haven’t heard who he is, he coached Galen Rupp and Mo Farah, Olympic silver and gold medalists. But you probably already knew that. I also got to hear some of Pam Lemons’ talk, a sports psychologist who works with out team, and Michael Naperalsky, our strength coach. The symposium covered a ton of topics on coaching athletes, from the psychological aspects of bringing a team together and helping them reach their full potential to strength training (yes, you do need to lift, and yes, it SHOULD be heavy weight).
A couple of the most interesting points I took away from the meetings were things that might seem like common sense, but are so easy to forget. One of them is this – coaches, get to know your athletes, because each of us is different. We’re not like wind-up toys or robots where you can program in a training plan and expect exact results…and everyone reacts to training in slightly different ways. Which is why we all have slightly different plans from each other, although we try to train together as much as possible! Another is that working on sports psych and team cohesion strategies are just as important as the actual training itself. Being mentally strong and able to cope with the stress and pressure of racing all winter is huge, and there’s nothing more important than loving your job. So having a great “work” environment, with a team that truly supports each other, is key!
Salazar had some great points in his talk, and some fun stories about how he trains and coaches his running team. One thing that stuck out to me was that right away, he stressed the importance of periodization and proper biomechanics/technique as well as rest to avoid burnout in his athletes, because he himself used to never rest enough and had to end his career much too quickly because of it. He was adamant about his runners being in touch with how they felt during training and using strategies like taking a few weeks off twice a year to avoid injury and give them a mental break from the intense training. He also showed that one of a coach’s most important tasks is not to push their athletes harder, since most athletes are driven enough to drive themselves straight into the ground, given the chance. A coach’s job is to hold the athletes back so that they don’t overdo it, and to help them understand when enough is enough. I think that was cool for me to hear especially because I still hate taking days off – I love to be out DOING things. But this is an endurance sport, with a lot of years left for me to be training and racing, and overdoing it now would just be silly.
Speaking of not overdoing it…in wildly exciting news, I got to try classic striding on the treadmill for 15 minutes today, with a small sheet metal insert under the ball of my right foot (to keep me from flexing too much). And there was no pain! So I am now cleared for classic, and my time spent sitting and sweating away on the spin bike will be slowly wasting away. Which is great, because I have a real issue with things where you’re working hard and going nowhere, staring at the wall (treadmills and spin bikes). I love being outside, and now that it’s nice again here in Park City, I want to take full advantage of it! For a very cold two-day stretch, we had snow and yes, even hail going on, and Liz and I did some speeds in a near white-out snowstorm one morning. It was snowing SO hard! Now it’s all melted and back to sunny and windy afternoons. So, wish me luck with my classic intervals tomorrow!
As usual, we’ve been having dinner with friends most nights, including a visit to Corey in the ski yurt while he was stone grinding up a ton of skis! I was also excited to get to see another friend of mine, Emily Ranta, who was in town for a short time. She was at Stillwater High School a few years ahead of me, and I still remember that she was the team captain that first told me I could come to a varsity practice and ski with “the older kids”. I still remember how excited and nervous I was! Emily then came back to volunteer coach for Stillwater, and help out with West Yellowstone trips and awesome things like that. So it was such a lovely surprise to get to catch up over dinner while she was here!
It’s funny because I tend to vividly remember specific moments where an athlete, coach or role model I really look up to made an impression on me. My first year I went to the Lake Placid camp as a junior, I actually called home to tell my parents that I had really, REALLY sat at the same lunch table as Newell, Liz and Koos, and that they had actually TALKED to me, asking how camp was going. A few days later I almost died of happiness when I did some intervals behind Liz (she was doing L3, I was near death in high L4 trying to keep up) and she said I was doing a great job, and that it was fun doing intervals with me. That entire fall, every time I did intervals I heard her saying “great job!” and it kept me motivated to train hard so I could come back to camp next year and ski behind the US team again. I have countless moments like that – when Kikkan first signed a poster for me, when Morgan Arritola gave me a pair of her old glasses to wear in races (they became the lucky magic glasses that year). When Kris Hansen, my high school coach, wrote me my first real training plan. When I first got a hug from Chandra Crawford. With all these moments in mind, I’m excited to be a good role model in all the Fast and Female events and club ski events I get to do…and hopefully leave an impression even half as good as the ones I’ve gotten from my teammates and coaches!