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Wild Rumpus Sports

Tough or Stupid

At its most basic, training is stressing the body in a specific way to make the body adapt and become stronger. Stressing the body is often not a pleasant experience. Maximal interval sessions are painful by nature, over distance workouts are intended to deplete the body beyond what is normal, and weather and outside forces always have the potential to make workouts more difficult.

I have been training between 700-1000 hours annually for the last 18 years. The consistency of my training relies on my willingness to get the work done despite fatigue, minor injury, and inhospitable weather. Pushing through minor obstacles is proof of dedication and toughness. However there is a line between tough and stupid that I have always had a tendency to cross. This line could also be described as a barrier of diminishing or even negative returns. Even when my body or the climate has been telling me not to continuee, it has generally been mentally easier for me to push through and finish my task. The consequences often lead to injury or long term fatigue. The question of “tough or stupid” often comes down to the individual. What one athlete views as tolerable and worthwhile may seem absurd and foolish to another.

What made me think of this was the Mt Moosilaukee running timetial that I competed in yesterday. About five minutes into the race I was stung on the ankle by a yellow jacket. In general I am not severely allergic to stings but I do react with swelling and nausea. The sting hurt but I was so focused on the task at hand that I just kept running. I should have stopped. At the top of the mountain I had run three minutes slower than expected, my ankle was stiff and swollen and I was disoriented. I am sure that I gained absolutely nothing from the effort and I risked severe consequences by ignoring the allergic reaction. I was stupid and lucky that everything turned out ok

Yesterday made me think of other times that I have ignored pain while racing. My focus is so intense during an event that I seem to be able to block out just about anything. At the 2007 Sapporo World Championships I was skiing in a lead pack of twenty skiers in the 30k skiathlon. With 4k to go, on the fastest downhill, Johann Olsson fell right in front of me and I had to bail at roughly 40 mph. I took the entire impact of the fall on my right shoulder. I skidded to a stop and bounced back to my feet. I was able to catch back up to the pack but was too blown from the effort to put up any fight in the final kilometer. I ended up 19th at the line where I suddenly felt excruciating pain in my right shoulder. I could not lift my arm and any movement hurt. That night I was treated by our physical therapist. He tested my arm by having me perform various strength and range of movement exercises. Every task was intensely painful but I also had full functional use of my arm. I was cleared to race the 50k classic a few days later. My shoulder still hurt like a hell when I started the marathon but I was able to pole with reasonable effectiveness. Turning to the side to grab feeds made me want to cry out in pain though. I had my best 50k performance of my career taking 12th place. Two months later while I was training in Bend another physical therapist was skiing behind me and noticed that my scapula was moving in an odd pattern while I poled. He scheduled an MRI for me and it turned out that I had fractured the ball of my humerous in the crash. The doctor said he had never seen a break in a shoulder without any soft tissue damage before but that somehow I had managed to do just that. That was why I had retained motor function of my shoulder despite massive pain. The strange movement in my shoulder blade was a subconscious rerouting in my arm swing to avoid pain signals from the break and subsequent tendonitis. It took me 18 months of regular physical therapy exercises to retrain the pathways in my arm to move normally again. My verdict on this episode is 50% tough and 50% stupid. I was able to record my best 50k finish ever but I also gave myself a chronic shoulder injury that I had to work for nearly two years to heal.

Perspective plays a role in determining wether pushing through adversity is worthwhile. Sometimes pushing through negative conditions can traain the mind to ignore poor circumstances. Based on my history I don’t think this is something I need to practice. One year at the annual Lake Placid training camp a sprint time trial was scheduled and several club, high school and college teams came to participate. The weather was miserable with 30 degree temps, pouring rain and unrelenting wind. After the qualifier Everyone was soaked through and freezing. Waiting around for an hour before starting rounds seemed foolish to me and I though that it would be in everyone’s best interest to bail. Pete Vordenberg was running the session though and he was determined to see the race through. I wasn’t going to be the only athlete to stop so I suffered through the competition. I was so cold that my heart rate would not elevate out of what was my normal level 3, but I must have been better off than the other skiers since I won every round including the final. Many of the younger competitors were so cold that they eschewed cooling down and warming up to huddle in the van between rounds. I went back to the Olympic Training Center resenting the work out and completely exhausted. The whole exercise had seemed to be a waste of time to me. That evening I over heard Pete talking about what a success the day had been and how tough the US ski community was. Tough or stupid is sometimes just a matter of perspective.

At the 2011 Oslo World Championships I was in the worst form of my entire season. I had finished in the top 10 three times earlier that year and had taken points in a dozen races already. I was recovering from a nasty cold though, and my racing sensations were going in the opposite direction that I wanted. The only race left was the 50k free which I feared would set me back even further. I still had two world cup weekends left including the Finals in Falun. I felt that there was little chance of a good result in the 50k so I relinquished my start right to rest for the remaining races. The recovery was good for me and I closed out the season with world cup points in all four distance races including a top 20. I finished the World Cup season in 27th and somewhere in the teens on the distance list. It seemed obvious to me that I had made a good decision to skip the 50k. A few years later I learned that the brass at the US Ski Team had been shocked that I gave up the 50k start and considered it a sign of weakness. The viewpoint surprised me as I had always considered that decision to be difficult but intelligent. Should I have been tougher and raced or would that have been stupid?

After 18 years of skiing and training full time I would think that I would be better at making the determination between tough or stupid. Yesterday’s allergic reaction showed me that making those calls will always be difficult for me. Even now as I write this with a swollen leg and a Benadryl hangover, I am asking myself if I should be out training. In my core I know that training would be stupid and counterproductive but there will always be that voice telling me to be tough. I love that voice but I wish he came with an on and off switch.

Stelvio II

Training has continued to go very well on the Stelvio glacier. The MWSC, Noah, and I are staying at the Livrio Hotel at the foot of the glacier which allows us to ski out the door each day. Though isolated it is easy to take the tram down to our van and drive down to lower altitudes and civilization. Here are some pictures of me running through Bormio. href=””> The food is better than one would expect at 10,000 feet but only three meals a day is a little light for xc skiers putting in up to five hours of training a day. Will Sweetser has been making frequent trips to the grocery store so that we can have five meals. I’m pretty sure that Noah has been eating about half of the food that Will buys for the six athletes he is supporting. I witnessed him eating an entire…


I am currently training on a glacier in Stelvio Italy. The training loop is about 5k long with the high point at an elevation of 10,900 feet. The air is thin up here but the skiing has been good so far. I was on multigrade hardwax for both of my classic sessions and my skate skis were gliding fast on the Fischer P1-1 grind. The visibility has been hit or miss but the sky is supposed to clear soon. I have never trained this high for an extended period and I was curious about how the high altitude would affect my insulin sensitivity. My altitude experience has been limited to traveling from sea level to as high as 7000 feet. When I have transitioned to these altitudes in the past I have always had to up my insulin doses by at least 20%. I speculate that my body treats the…

Ride Aroostook

This Weekend I drove back up to Presque Isle Maine to take part in the Ride Aroostook bike tour which benefits the children’s diabetes program “Camp Adventure.” I have worked with this camp on two occasions, going for a downriver canoe and participating in a run and shoot biathlon relay race. I was impressed with the organization and ambition of the camp. Ride Aroostook is a two day bike tour that is advertised as being 150 miles total (by my measurement it was 62 miles the first day and 70 the second). I decided that it would be fitting for me as an Olympic skier and type 1 diabetic to roller-ski the event in order to drum up more donations and draw more attention to Camp Adventure. I skated the first day and really enjoyed the well marked course that hugged river beds and meandered through rolling potato fields. The…

Top Notch Triathlon

I raced the Top Notch Triathlon in Franconia NH this morning. The unique race starts with a six mile uphill Mt Bike. This is followed with a half mile swim across Echo lake to the base of Cannon Mt. The last leg is a run/scramble up the alpine trails to the summit. I set the course record for this race with a 1:06:05 in 2006. That year the course was dry as a bone and the Mt bike was ripping fast. This summer has seen more rainfall than I can ever remember in New England. For good measure there was a long thunder shower last night that completely saturated the trail. Setting a new record in the muddy conditions was going to be a tall order. Fortunately another very talented competitor, Ryan Kelly, raced today and we pushed each other hard. Ryan is a more practiced and technically better rider…

Busy July

In late June I wrapped up my first training camp in Maine with a 5k running race. I broke 16:00 for the first time since the year 2004 with a 15:53. Not blazing fast but still a good indication that things are going well. Since then my summer has gotten very busy. Over the past eight years I have been visiting summer camps for kids with diabetes all around the country. I share the story of my diagnosis and career with them in the hopes that they will not let the disease deter them from their dreams and goals in life. I find the advocacy work very rewarding so I planned to visit 10 camps over course of five weeks. I planned the disruption into my training in the Spring so I have only scheduled 75 training hours for July. I am not allowed to post pictures of the campers…

Great Camp in Maine

My first camp of the year in Maine is nearly over. It has been very well supported and I have gotten some good quality sessions in. I did some L3 kayak intervals with Will Sweetser on the Aroostook river. I also did a 100 mile road bike zig zagging my way from Presque Isle to Fort Kent. It was really nice to have a support van for the entire ride. This morning I went for a two hour double pole with Welly, Sam Tarling, and two junior team members. I will take advantage of the pool at the University of Maine Presque Isle and put in some laps for today’s second session.

On Track

Training in New Hampshire has gone very well so far this Spring. I have hit all of my goals for the first six weeks of training. Admittedly training goals are the easiest to hit at this time of year but none the less. Sunday I head up to Presque Isle for my first training camp away from my condo in NH. It will mark a change in focus towards more specificity. I will be thirty-three years old in October, but my body still responds very fast to training and I have been recovering quickly from a fairly high load. I have been looking over my last several years of racing and my last two seasons have been subpar. However in 2011/2012 I scored the most world cup points of my career. Being only two years removed from what could arguably be called my best season, I believe that my best…

Mad Triathlon

I started training again on May 1st. I have started conservatively with 20 non-specific hours the first week. If you follow me on twitter you would have seen a few of the activities that I have been doing. If you want to follow me on twitter I am @TeamFreebirdXC Here are some pictures XC skiing does not help maintain leg speed. Justin enjoyed hurting me during some speed work last week. This a picture of Amber and I skinning on Mt Sunapee I was able to skin at Waterville Valley till May 1st. Here is a picture of me holding my Fischer Watea Tele skis. Fischer, Alpina, and Swix have all pledged their continued support for me through next season. I have great sponsors. I was skiing on the 1st and swimming on the 3rd. I don’t know why but every year that I have swum at least two hours…


Today I went for my first ski since I got home from Tahoe. I skinned up the alpine slope in ideal corn snow with perfect sunny skies overhead. I felt lousy though. I have barely slept the last few days as I have been trying to reconcile with a new situation. I will no longer be a member of the US Ski Team. I was told that even though I am extremely likely to be representing the US at the Olympics in February, I was not nominated for NGB support because there was little probability of my medaling next year. Despite this assumption the Maine Winter Sports Center and my longtime coach still believe in my potential. We will continue to prepare for Sochi on our own.