“I’m pretty sure that 99% of being a fast skier is knowing how to suffer.”
This was my “profound” conclusion partway up Stratton Mountain during a hot and sweaty bounding interval session. This may have been the high amount of lactic acid pooling in my legs talking, but it isn’t always wrong. It isn’t always right, either.
After watching my teammates and friends on other teams, becoming a better skier is (in my humble opinion), mostly about finding the right balance. A balance of pushing your own limits and finding joy in the every day grind of training. Making sure that for all the hard intervals and distance sessions, there are fun team moments to buoy you up. And every once in a while, forgetting the super-focused session and go skiing off-trail for a bit. I’ve always said that having fun and having a great team is critical, and I don’t just say that because it sounds good – I really mean it.
For every incredibly hard moment when you either want to give up, or throw up (or both at the same time) there is a laugh shared with a teammate. Or a moment where you are incredibly inspired by the beauty of your sport and the hard work of the people around you.
I’ve had a lot of these moments recently! One that sticks out was our last big ski in Bend, Oregon during the last training camp I was at before coming back to Stratton, Vermont. We headed off trail to ski on the perfectly hard crust up around Broken Top mountain. And it. was. glorious.
I was initially pretty terrified of skiing back DOWN the hill. Ironic, yes, since my fastest World Cup splits are usually downhill-intensive sections. But see, the thing is…skiing back down a mountain on skinny skis with no metal edges is VERY different than bombing town a groomed trail where you’re perfectly in control and can check your speed if you need to. I needed to learn a whole new technique, and my teammates and coaches were very patient teachers. They were also kindly deaf while I talked myself down the mountain out-loud in a series of you’re-not-gonna-blow-a-knee pep talks.
By the time I’d had a few practice runs I was starting to gain confidence and really enjoyed the ride, and by the end of the ski I was enjoying making little “swooshy” turns as much as I enjoyed going up the mountain. I really embraced the whole “earn your turns” mantra instead of privately thinking “earn my turns, and then, like, gift them away to someone else?”
The other really inspiring moment I had was watching friends who had already retired from competitive ski racing – Izzy Caldwell and Parker Tyler. They joined our girls team in bounding/ski-walking intervals up Stratton Mountain the other day. We were doing 7×7 minutes threshold and it was a warm, humid day – a recipe for a suffer fest. It should also be noted that when training for skiing isn’t your full time job, jumping into an uphill-only interval session is a really gutsy thing to do. But these girls hopped – or rather, bounded – right in and Izzy made her “spot” right behind me. I loved it. Between the two of us we make the loudest breathers I know and I finally felt ok being my freight-train-breathing-self up the mountain!
After a few intervals, everyone was tired but with training not being their only life priority anymore, Parker and Izzy were having to work harder than threshold pace. I was just so impressed with their willingness to suffer for no reason other than to be part of the group pain session. I’m also pretty sure those girls could jump into any race right now and do really really well. Izzy was digging quite deep into the pain cave and we were all cheering each other on during the intervals. Izzy started to fall back, but with a minute to go she let out a mighty roar and sprinted back to the group and got right behind me, exclaiming “I had to finish in my spot!”.
I was floored. Here was someone who had nothing at stake – it wasn’t a race and there would have been no judgement from any of us if she decided to stop – but absolutely refused to give up. It was one of the most gutsy and inspiring things! It also reiterates the power of a team. When you’re doing something as a group, the pull of the group going up the hill together helps you keep going even when your body is screaming no. I’m sure there have been official studies done on this. However, in my own very un-official way, I’ve noticed that most people can give more of themselves when they feel they’re doing it for someone besides themselves.
In other training news, I’m looking forward to the next week and a half in Stratton before heading west to Bozeman for the Newell-Flowers wedding party!