Here we are, pounding the roller ski track in Soldier Hollow in our last US Team training camp of the year! How is it already late October? This is nuts, people! It’s hard to believe that on November 12th, I’m going to be getting on a plane…and not coming back to the US until late March. I’m excited for the season, ready to get back into the thrill of racing and see all my friends on the World Cup again, but there is one more month of work to do first.
Thursday and Friday we had back-to-back time trials. We had a skate sprint time trial first, with round-robin style heats so everyone raced the course 4 times. And wow, I somehow managed to forget (or trick my brain) in between New Zealand and now. I managed to forget how hard racing actually is on your body! It HURTS, you know? Pulling up to the line before the final, my legs felt shaky and I thought I might actually puke, and I couldn’t really feel my toes.
But then I went out and hammered as hard as I could anyways, and it turns out that even when I’m convinced my body is about to fall apart, somehow that darn thing keeps on going! We’re so much stronger than we think, and our bodies are capable of so much more than we realize. Having a time trial to play around and push myself in every round was a great way to not only practice that race feeling, but to remind myself that the “pain cave” is my specialty, and it feels so satisfying to dig deep and then dig some more, and realize that I can handle it.
Today we did a 12.6km for the women and 16.8km for the men. We did this on purpose, because FIS is considering adding in those distances, based on careful focus groups that determined the ideal race length for fans. These changes will go into place starting in the fall of 2019, so we need to start adjusting our bodies now! Just. Kidding. But did I get you going there, just for a second? We did those distances because that’s how long three laps of the paved roller ski course in Solder Hollow is. The real answer is so boring!
While racing at altitude is tricky because you have less oxygen and can “blow up” or “hit the wall” a lot faster than at sea level, I appreciate the chance to practice here. It’s good for me to get to play around in a low-stakes atmosphere to see exactly what it feels like right before I’m about to blow up. And as we near the end of camp, I’m feeling really good about where the team is at! Everyone’s working hard, in a good place, and looking good.
But sometimes, it can be really hard to feel confident when there’s not a lot you can actually measure. We don’t have a 400 time on the track to compare in the off-season. We’re not swimmers, where we could go off a time to see if we’re in the right place. Our roller ski courses and wheels are all slightly different speeds, and even a time trial course on the pavement can be drastically faster or slower depending on the weather!
So what do we do, when we don’t have a way to really know where we are? Train hard, train smart, and have a little trust in the process. We’re not robots, after all. It adds a little bit of excitement, that edge of uncertainty. I do the absolute best I can, and if I’m giving this sport everything I have in training, and listening to my body, then I’m doing my job right. I also like to focus on getting the best recovery I can as well! When I go do do a strength workout in the gym, or do 6 x 4 minutes all-out intervals up a hill, those things don’t actually make me faster by themselves. I’m tearing my muscles apart and breaking my body down, and only by resting and recovering will my body come back stronger and faster. Which makes getting enough sleep basically one of the most important parts of my job!
When I was training in high school, I’d hear that I needed to be sleeping better and longer, and I’d sort of roll my eyes – hey, I was a teenager! That’s what we do! – and think “but I have so many things I need to be DOING!” But hey, you know what? Mom was right. (She’s always right, by the way). Without enough sleep, I wasn’t recovering and getting the full benefit of the training I was doing. When I turned pro, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt once I started sleeping 9 hours a night, and once I had some down time in the middle of the day to do things like stretch, foam roll or ice tub. Honestly, if I could go back and tell my 15 year old self one thing to make me a better athlete.. it’d be this: sleep more. Everything else can wait, because you’ll do a better job if you’re rested.
I realize this sounds sort of ironic, coming from the girl who appears on social media to be EVERYWHERE and doing All Of The Things that a person could possibly do. And I recognize that the amount of extra work I’ve been taking on post-Olympics is only sustainable in the short term, so don’t worry, you’ll see me doing less next year! But in between training and helping promote the sport I love and my sponsors whom I love for supporting me in my career and also helping to grow this incredibly fun sport, I’ve been working on resting. I make sure to come to every training session ready to go, and in between training sessions I get off my feet and have a little down time. I look for ways to sleep better, to totally chill out in the middle of the day, to relax both my body and my brain!
Bose came out this summer with some particularly incredible technology for sleeping. Their sleep buds don’t cancel noise…they mask it. So you can pick a sound track that goes into these pea-sized soft flexible ear buds that you can wear all night long. I also set my alarm on these so that only I hear it, and don’t wake up my roommate. This is huge for me because I’m always traveling and changing sleeping locations, and some hotel walls are…well…thinner than others. And some roommates are sleep-talkers. I can say this because I’ve been told I sometimes LAUGH in my sleep, which is, of course, incredibly creepy. I apologize in advance to my roommates. But I still think that’s better than snoring, for the record!
I’ve used these cute little things every night for the last 3 months, and it’s been a huge asset on the road, but also at home. Sometimes it’s hard for me to quiet my brain when I have so many thoughts going round and round my head, but I also know that I need to sleep, which obviously doesn’t help because then I’m obsessing over not sleeping! But having a gentle background noise is almost meditative and helps me relax. I like using the “rain shower” sound track, and now I’ve started to associate that sound with “it’s time to sleep!” so when I hear it I start to relax automatically. And like my Slumberland Furniture pillow that I travel with, I’ll always have the same feel no matter where I go. I love the consistency in an ever-changing lifestyle. I mean, I literally took my pillow all around Europe with me! And now I’ll be taking my sleep buds, too. Thanks, Bose!