Last Thanksgiving, I received an email forwarded through FasterSkier asking if I would write advice for another older athlete with kids and a full time job. I have received a couple similar requests over the years, and I keep thinking that I will make a blog post about this soon, rather than trying to respond to individuals. I have started the post a couple of times – maybe this is the version I will actually finish.
1. Train every day. This is really the most important part of getting and staying in shape. And for many, it is the hardest. Now, a day off here and there is a good thing, so – like any advice you receive, particularly from me – take it with a grain of salt. But as a parent with a full time job, there is almost always a reason to take a day off: family obligations, work obligations, exhaustion from an unplanned late night, a chance for a night out with your spouse… Every once in a while, this is truly necessary, but if you approach life with the attitude that not training is not an option, it is amazing how well and how often you can train.
2. Have a wonderful spouse. My wife does and always has supported me in many ways, among them that she does not consider it an option for me not to train. When we make plans, she puts just as much concern into when I will train as I do.
Of course, having a wonderful spouse requires being a great spouse, and so I always try to be this. I work hard to communicate with my wife about when I will be racing and training, and to adjust as needed. I do my best, when returning from a long hard workout, to shower quickly and start doing my share around the house (or, in the summer, I schedule hard workouts for days when my wife and kids are doing something else so that I can get home and be useless alone).
Finally, my wife has run a couple of marathons and a bunch of half marathons and I do my best to support her training for these events just as much as she supports me.
3. Recover well. I know I just said to train every day and not take time to yourself when you get done, but at some point you need to recover. Mostly this means getting a good night’s sleep and good nutrition. It also means that you should pay attention to your recovery level before planning intervals and overdistance.
4. Use your weekends. If, like most people, you work Monday to Friday, you have more flexibility on the weekends. And while you may have fun things to do with your family, you probably have time to sneak in a longer training session or one good set of intervals – maybe even both in one weekend.
5. Expect uneven results. Whether you are a former high-level competitor or someone who discovered endurance sports late in life, it is easy to believe that following the above advice should make you fast, and that if you focus on a particular race, you should be able to do well there. My experience at least, is that this is not the case. I have had some very successful seasons, and some much less successful seasons, often on basically the same training. I have had early season success that defied any reasonable explanation followed by late season races I tried to peak for that went disastrously. Once in a while, I have had great results when I planned to, but more often, my really good results have been as much a surprise to me as to anyone else.
6. Balance your training. Skiing fast requires endurance, technique, strength, power, and mental toughness. You need to make sure that your training builds each of these things. An optimal training program includes a lot of distance training, some overdistance, some intervals, some strength, and some racing. In an ideal world, you will get some of each of the first four every week, and one or two races a month. You will have to look elsewhere for the details of how to break these down, though, because my last piece of advice will be the same as the first:
7. Train every day. Train because it makes you fitter, because it relieves stress, because if makes you happier and more productive. Train in the hope that you will be fast, and achieve whatever goals you have set for yourself. But if there is a secret to my success, other than my genetics, it is that as much as I love to win, I love to race even more. And I much as I love to race, I love to train even more. And if you approach you athletic career with this attitude, you will be successful by the metrics that truly matter, and likely successful on the results sheets as well.
Okay, I don’t know that this is finished, but it is the third attempt in six months and I don’t think it’s getting any better. I welcome comments and further questions.