“What’s that thing you do, again? How do you train for it? What do you actually DO all day?”
These are all pretty common questions for professional Cross Country Skiers. Please, allow me to elaborate on the answers with a typical day in the life of an athlete training at camp!
Yesterday we woke up around 7-7:30, and walked down the dorm room hall to breakfast. The Lake Placid Olympic Training Center has it’s dining hall, physical therapy and recovery rooms, gym and weight lifting center and meeting rooms at one end of the T shape. The long hallway is filled with dorm rooms, and usually the second floor is reserved for the resident athletes that live and train here full time. They always put the XC athletes all the way at the end, and I think this is either because we’re endurance athletes so the front desk just shrugs and says “let ’em walk”…or because we have a bad tendency to dry out our wet boots in the hallway and they don’t want to subject the residents to any of that nonsense!
We’re also not the only team training here. The Biathlon National team trains here quite a lot, and right now there’s the World Cup push-track tryouts for Bobsled. So the hallways are filled with some of the most muscular, fast-twitch athletes I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s really awesome to see other sports working hard, and here in the OTC I feel like all athletes are on a level playing field…it doesn’t matter what sport you’re in or what medals you have or don’t have. Everyone’s just working hard to represent the US of A and do it the best they can. At lunch the other day Lolo Jones was sitting at the table right behind the National Training Group junior athletes and they didn’t even notice, because here, she’s just part of the group of athletes training hard, not an international track star.
After breakfast, we meet in one of the large meeting rooms for a quick pre-workout powwow. We’ll talk over the goals for the workout and watch about 5 minutes of World Cup footage that the coaches have picked out beforehand. The video will usually highlight both a man and woman that are doing something really well technically, whether that’s V1, transitions from double-pole to striding, or anything in between. It helps to see something done really well before going out to do it yourself, because then you can imagine yourself in their shoes and skiing just as fast.
Then we’re off! In camps like this we’re doing a mix of intervals, speed workouts, long distance and strength/weight lifting. Thursday, we headed up to Whiteface Mountain for our annual suffer-fest of bounding intervals.
The workout set-up is this: go warm up and get in some dynamic stretching and bounding to make sure your muscles are ready. Then we’ll do 4-6 (depending on the athlete – younger skiers will typically do less, older might do 5 or 6) by 3 minutes, at a hard race pace. We’ll do these fast enough that although you’re building the intensity throughout the workout, you’re building up a lot of lactic acid and they are really, really hard toward the end.
I really went for it, and I think it might have been one of the better bounding sessions I’ve ever had! All the girls were just totally kicking butt and working hard but also locking in their technique so it didn’t simply turn into running. The guys looked awesome too, and talking with them after it sounded like they had a great workout.
On my last one, a lot of the girls were done but instead of just heading back down the mountain, they showed a classic example of why I love this team so much. They spread out throughout the course and paced me up my last interval in 30-second segments, so that at all times someone was bounding with me and cheering me on, and then they’d peel off and the next person would take over. This is something the Stratton girls do often for whomever has one more interval left. And it got me SO. FIRED. UP. I pushed harder than I have been able to in a while and got my lactic acid up to 14.6 mm (for reference, when we do intensity it usually sits below 10 mm) and I was so out of it that I just kind of stumbled to the ground and laid in the dirt on the side of the road. Cork was taking a lactate but he could have chopped my finger off for all I knew in that moment!
After a cool down jog for another 20 or so minutes, we all headed down to the stream to cool off. It felt so good to just float in the cold water! It also helped our recovery, letting our legs soak in the chilly stream for a good 10 minutes.
Then we’re headed to lunch, and afterwards we’ll use the recovery room to help our sore muscles get back to normal as fast as possible! We’ll foam roll nearly every day, and often use the ice tubs. We also have Meg Parker here to help us with massage therapy, and we really appreciate her taking time off from her job to come help us out!
After taking care of our sore legs, it’s usually time for some down-time. And here’s the thing: I’m not a very good napper. I can’t really sit still for that long. In preschool this was a very big problem. I was told that as long as I stayed on my little matt, it would be fine…I didn’t have to actually sleep. So, naturally, I would get bored and start doing gymnastics on my matt, trying to turn somersaults without actually putting a toe off the edge. Thinking back on it, I’m actually pretty impressed with my spatial awareness skills. I should have been given a high five…but instead I was put in an isolation room with a coloring book. I have distinct memories of climbing up on a chair to peek through the window into the room where the “cool older kids” got to watch movies, and there I’d remain with my nose pressed against the glass. Not resting, not napping, and not doing what I was told. Oops.
Nowadays I’m working on being a little better at resting, so this camp I’ve been surprised at how tired I’ve felt and how easy it’s been to actually sleep for 30 minutes every day! If only my preschool teachers could see me now!
In the late afternoons we’ll do our second training session of the day, which is either strength, running or another roller ski. Tschanna, our strength coach, has been here for the whole camp which is super awesome. She is encouraging and patient and great with communicating proper lifting technique. She also doesn’t let you get away with anything less than she knows you’re capable of, and I love her for that. T’s been challenging us with not only strength but coordination and functional mobility as well, which is important to be well-rounded and prevent injuries.
And in the evenings? We’re usually too tired to do much, but there’s always the ping pong table, which Paddy and Ben regularly put to good use.
At the start of the week, Annie P and I looked at the tough training schedule ahead and knew we wanted to be pumped up for Saturday morning’s time trial at the end of the week. So the night before we rented Miracle, the movie about the 1980 Olympic Men’s Hockey team when they took the Gold. Have I seen this movie multiple times? Yes, definitely. And it never fails to give me goosebumps. A bunch of us piled into my room, and we propped the door open and turned it up loud. Every time I’d look back, another junior athlete had wandered in and was perched on the bed, eyes locked on the screen. It was awesome. Everyone got so fired up! In our Classic Sprint Time Trial, we’d just yell “AGAIN!” between heats.
Speaking of getting fired up, here’s some great shots from our training earlier in the week. We did some pace line intervals down the highway, so one person would lead for anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, and then peel off and get into the draft. We had a fun, fast-moving train going! We also had a great speed session at the jumping complex.
The junior girls also gave me some henna tattoos. I gave Hailey Swirbul full artistic license and I’m pretty pleased with the result!
We have one more day of camp, then it’s home for a rest week to let all that training soak in and make us faster. Thanks Lake Placid, see you next year!