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Training fuel, Part 2: the actual food!

All right, all right, Jessie…you’ve waxed poetic on how important it is to take care of yourself, to put health first, and to create a safe and supportive training environment. All good things! But what does that actually look like when it comes to putting food on your plate and eating before a race? 

I’m so glad you asked. 

LET’S GO!

In part 2 of the training fuel series, I’ll answer some Q&A about how, when and what I eat. Again, I’m not an expert, nor or a dietitian. Especially if you have any tricky food allergies or intolerances, it’s worth meeting with a dietitian to come up with a plan for how you’re going to get all the nutrients you need to power through your day. What I can give you here is examples from my own fueling, which has been shaped by many meetings with the wonderful experts I’ve been fortunate enough to work with throughout my life. 

In the middle of writing this, we discovered that our garden has started producing peas! Yeah! I got WAY too excited about this.

Fun fact: if you’re looking for someone to consult with, it’s important to find a registered dietitian, as they have to pass an exam, as opposed to a nutritionist. A registered dietitian is legally allowed to give clinical advice, and to be registered as a sports dietitian, they need to have two years working as an RD, sit an exam to become a sports dietitian, then retake the exam every five years. This is because what we know about sports nutrition is changing and evolving, and we want the experts we go to for advice to be up to date on current knowledge! One of many tools to find a dietitian near you to work with is this one, where you can search by zip code or by expertise. https://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert

In case you’re looking for more on this topic, my wonderful teammate and housemate Alayna Sonnesyn just put together a fun blog taking you through how we tackle hydration and eating during big hot summer training weeks. Complete with photos and links to recipes…you’re welcome! This is a fun and lighthearted way to see the variety of ways we fuel our training, so I’ll link it for you here: https://www.asonnesyn.com/blog/refuel-and-stay-cool

Now on to the Q&A! 

Alayna and I warming up for speed work! (photo by Tom Horrocks/USSS)

Question: How important is a post-workout snack/meal? Thoughts on the glycogen window? 

I find this super important! Especially when I’m training twice a day, and want to be sure I can recover efficiently. Essentially, the idea behind the glycogen window is that right after a workout, your body is depleted and especially receptive to nutrients, so if you provide those within 30 minuets after training, your body will have the energy and nutrients it needs to recover faster. But the sooner you can get that food in, the better.

I like to imagine it this way: when I train, I’m actually breaking my body down. I’m knocking down the brick wall of my muscles, but that’s ok, because it’s going to be rebuilt taller and stronger than before! However, my body can only rebuild that wall if I give it the materials it needs. In this analogy, carbs are the bricks and protein and fat are the mortar. I need to make sure my body has all those materials right after I knock the wall down, because that’s when it’s ready to rebuild the fastest! 

If I’m going for an easy 30 minute run, I’m not as worried about this, and I’ll be fine waiting until the next normal meal (unless I’m actually hungry, of course!) but after any training session longer than an hour, I make sure to have a snack that’s some mix of carbohydrates and protein ready when I’m done. 

Technique review time; a great chance to remember to shove a handful of sport gummies in my mouth to chew on mid-workout! (photo by Tom Horrocks/USSS)

Some examples of post-workout snacks that have both carbs and protein: 

  • Virtually any sport nutrition bar (my go-to right now are Probar products, and I love the variety that they have available!) 
  • Banana and peanut butter, or a peanut-butter-honey-sandwich
  • Fruit and yogurt
  • Smoothie with frozen fruit, yogurt and either orange juice or almond milk
  • Homemade muffin with oats, fruit and nuts
  • Leftover pancakes/waffles/french toast with nut butter for protein
  • Leftover pizza 
  • Granola with nuts and any type of milk

After a race, the same rules apply. My favorite way to accomplish this, since I’m usually not feeling particularly ready to snack right after a race, is to always have a shake ready at the finish. While I’m changing into dry clothes, before I head through the media zone and out for my cool down, I make sure I finish a Nutrimeal shake. I like this mix because it sits easy on my stomach, it has a nice blend of carbs, protein and fats, and I can easily get at least 300 calories in right after a hard race effort so my body can start that rebuilding process right away. I build it into my routine so I don’t have to think about it, but the idea of “eat, drink, dry clothes” as soon as possible after every race is one that can make your next race or training session more professional. 

Post-workout muffins I made with banana, walnuts and cherries!

Question: Favorite pre-race/highest performance meal? What are some good options for food after/before practices and games? 

Before training is when I try to be pretty conscious of what I’m eating…because I want to be sure it stays down when I’m working hard, and sits ok in my stomach! So if I’m going to be doing hard intensity training, I know my body will be needing more carbohydrates, and ones that I can digest easily so that energy is available. 

Examples of what I eat before training in the morning when I have a little more time to digest:

  • Most commonly, I have a bowl of oatmeal with berries, yogurt, honey and some nuts for breakfast. 
  • Smoothie bowl with all the creative toppings
  • Pancakes with maple syrup and berries 
  • Toast with peanut butter, honey, banana and cinnamon
  • Fried eggs on toast
A smoothie bowl: frozen fruit, banana, orange juice and plain yogurt blended then topped with: banana, raspberry, mango, coconut, honey, almonds.

If it’s the snack before an afternoon workout, I try to make sure it’s mostly carbohydrates that I know my body can digest without issue. You wouldn’t want to eat a bag of green beans, for example, then go out for a run. But if you DO try that, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

Afternoon snack examples: 

  • Jam on a bagel
  • Honey, cinnamon and salt on toast
  • Banana bread
  • Lucky charms mixed with popcorn. I see you rolling your eyes, and I’ll raise you two marshmallow unicorns. I stand by this as a really incredible snack! One, because it’s tasty. And two, because you’ll be needing that glycogen for the training ahead. 
  • Fruit popsicles. Especially if it’s hot and sunny outside, and I want to begin my workout with a cooler body temperature! 
  • Pretty much any kind of smoothie, but especially this one for a cold tasty dose of easily digestible carbs: 1 frozen banana, 1 cup almond milk, 1 T dark cocoa powder.

Before a race, I can usually eat a little more, because I start fueling a few hours out. I usually eat a big bowl of oatmeal with nut butter (peanut or almond or a blend of both!) berries or a banana, and maybe some yogurt and an egg on the side. If I’m eating this 3 hours before race time – since we usually race between 11-12 in the morning  – I have enough time to digest this and then top off my glycogen stores with sport gummies (Probar Bolt strawberry is my jam) in the hour before the race while testing skis. I always have sport drink in my drink belt so I’m also making sure I’m sipping on electrolytes and easily digestible carbs right up until the race starts. 

A long run with Alayna and Ian – a great time to test out how my stomach reacts to fueling on the go!

The best advice I’ve ever heard? Stick to what you know works with your stomach, and test this out (many times) in hard training sessions or time trials before! Even if you’re a die-hard oatmeal person, test out a backup plan in case your number one choice isn’t available at the hotel you’re staying at, or be sure to travel with the foods you know sit well in your stomach on race day. 

During the Olympics, for example, I was your quintessential boring athlete that eats pretty much the same thing every day. Why? Because I was scared of upsetting my stomach, and I knew what worked for me on race day and kept me energized and fueled for hard efforts. I had checked in advance and knew there would be oatmeal, peanut butter and bananas available, and I traveled in with all the Probar products I would need for the Games. Normally, I try to be incredibly flexible with food, but the morning of your big day, it’s nice to stick to what you know your body accepts. 

When it’s go-time, fuel with what you know works for your body – and test ahead of time! (photo by Tom Horrocks/USSS)

Question: Should you eat more on training days, or average it out through the week? And how do you look at fueling when curbing back on mileage, as this can be a mentally challenging thing for some? 

In theory, I change the amount of carbs I’m eating to match the training so I can have enough energy that day, that workout, that hour. In practice, it likely averages out a little bit, because on really big days it’s hard to actually eat enough, so you need the days off to catch up. I don’t really change the amount of protein, fats, calcium sources and fruits/veggies I consume, but try to just up the carbohydrate intake on bigger training days. This is because as a cross country skier, my body is primarily relying on carbs as a fuel source. 

An easy-to-prepare meal; pesto pasta with chicken and a side salad.

Trust that your body is going to ask you for what it needs if you listen to it. If I’m in a recovery week, my appetite naturally starts to decline as my body realizes I’m not placing as many high energy demands on it. That said, altitude and really hot weather can change your appetite, which is why it’s important to be sure you’re fueling and hydrating during longer or harder training sessions even when you’re not hungry or thirsty (more on this later in the blog, don’t worry!) 

Think of a recovery day as a specific recovery plan – it’s important! Think of it as part of your mindset for getting ready for the next hard day. If I had a long run on Sunday, Monday is off and I know I have intervals and strength coming up on Tuesday, then even though I’m not training on Monday, I still need to be sure I’m fueling well and eating when I’m hungry! This is my day to catch up from the week, to be sure my energy stores are topped off, and to make sure I have the energy I need to start the next week of training in a great place. So if I’m hungry, I make sure to honor what my body is asking for by choosing some snacks. 

An incredible savory waffle lunch: fried egg, bacon and stone fruit salsa on top. Boom!

Question: How do you match your eating habits to your training level? And how does that change when you’re in season vs off season vs training? 

This is a little bit similar to the question above, but I thought it deserved its own answer because of the second part of the question. I try to match my eating to my training level, for sure. That is, if I know I have a 4 hour training day, I’ll need to eat more and add in more carbs than a 2 hour training day. However, if I have a 2 hour training day that is high-intensity, then I need to be fueling with about as much carbs as the longer training day, because my body will need that fuel. It’s a mix of intensity and duration that dictates how much food I’ll need to consume to supply the energy I need. 

In the off season, I don’t think about fueling much at all! And as a result, my body asks for less, because I’m expending less energy. I find that this happens organically; when I’m not training or racing, I’m not as hungry. I think this is a very common fear for athletes of any age or level; that when we stop training, we will not be able to stop consuming the amount of food we’re used to, and we will gain weight. I used to be very, very scared of this idea. But trust me when I say that when I stop training completely, as I do each spring, my body naturally adapts and I find that I’m just not as hungry as I am in full training season. I don’t gain weight, my body shape basically stays the same, and I still enjoy a wide variety of foods (and dessert!). It comes down to trusting that your body will ask you for what it needs, and being ready to really listen to your body. 

A quinoa salad with black beans (on the bottom), chicken on the side, cilantro, avocado, feta cheese (also buried on the bottom), onion, tomato.

Question: How do I prevent overeating when I come home from training? 

The first step is to make sure you fuel well during training. There actually is a lot of science behind this, involving consuming a certain amount of grams of carbs per kg of body weight per hour. If you want to get nerdy with it (in a good way), I highly recommend the book “Roar” by Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager.

The short answer? You should never be hungry when you’re racing or training. Would you let yourself be half-asleep during a big test? (the answer had better be NO, kids!). Would you try to drive a car without gas? Nope. So don’t short-change your workout by denying your body the fuel it needs. 

During training fueling examples; 

  • I like to have gummies with me at all times; I usually just keep a package of them in my drink belt so I can have a quick hit of sugar when I need it mid-workout. This is the easiest way for me to keep my energy up as my body is burning through it’s glycogen stores. 
  • I like to have sport drink with carbohydrates in my water belt, always. However, sometimes I don’t like to put this in a camelback, because it’s hard to clean the tube and not let it get moldy! So on the occasions when I only have water, I make sure to also be eating gummies with that water, so I’m still getting the carbs and electrolytes I need. 
  • If my workout is 2 hours or longer, I also like to have a bar in my drink belt. I usually try to find a bar that is mostly carbs, because those are easier to digest than something with a ton of protein mid-workout. 
  • No bar? No problem. Take a piece of toast, smear some honey or jam on it, fold it in half and stick that thing in a ziplock baggie. 
  • Dried fruit or trail mix

My phone autocorrected “gummies” to “tummies” and “dummies” about 8 times while I was writing this blog, and I feel that this is important to mention, as the hungrier our tummies get, the dumber our decisions are, generally speaking. 

Mid-workout snack and hydration break! (photo from Alayna)

Here’s where this gets tricky: you won’t always feel hungry during a workout, especially if you’re running or going hard. And now I contradict myself: I always try to listen to my body’s cues and honor them…but not in the middle of training. I always have snacks with me, and I make sure to eat them even if I’m not particularly excited about it. 

And when you get home from the workout? Time for lunch, or dinner! The biggest thing here is don’t ignore your body’s cues; if it’s telling you you still still need food, it’s telling you that for a reason. Listen to what your body is craving, then make a choice to fuel, not a reaction. Fuel because your body is asking for it, not because you’re bored. But don’t ignore it when it’s asking. 

For example, this morning I had bounding intervals up Stratton Mountain. I had Probar bolt gummies with me, and ate a few in the middle of the workout, and more once I had finished the intervals (but before the cool down). I had water in my drink vest, hence the extra gummies. When I got back to my condo, I made a fruit and yogurt smoothie, and then later when I was ready, I made lunch. 

Stuffed sweet potatoes with chickpeas, feta cheese, arugula, tahini sauce and grilled chicken on the side.

Question: How do I find out if foods are healthy and good fuel and not stress out if I want a treat? What is your view of eating sugar as an athlete? 

In a nutshell, my view is this: sugar is tasty, and it’s ok to have a treat. Everything, in moderation, fits into a healthy fueling plan. Do I eat only cookies for dinner? No, but it’s fine if I have one (or two! Live a little!) after for dessert. At the 2018 Olympics I never had less than 4 Hershey’s kisses in my coat pocket. I don’t have any foods that I don’t eat because I’m worried they’re “bad” foods. Do I eat them every day? Probably not, but I also don’t eat carrots every day, either. I truly believe that if you can enjoy all types of foods in moderation, you never feel like you’re withholding anything from yourself, and you’re not tempted to go nuts on whatever food you’ve deemed “off-limits”. 

Yes, there are complex carbs and there are processed sugars. But at the end of the day, as long as I’m getting a great mix of different foods and nutrients, my body isn’t going to give up and quit in the middle of a race if I’ve eaten white sugar. Sugar, by the way, is not always bad (in my view). Fruit has sugar. When I make bread, sugar helps activate the yeast. And all sport nutrition products have sugar in them for a reason; so your body can quickly absorb it and use it as fuel! Not all sugar is created equal, but there are different times when your body needs different types of fuel. In the middle of the day, I might choose more complex sources of carbs, like whole wheat bread and fruit. Right before a workout or race, however, I might choose simpler sources of carbs, like sport gummies or sport drink, so that I don’t have too much fiber messing with my stomach. 

If you’d like a real-world example, here’s mine. For 7 years, the only World Cup sprint qualifier I’d ever won came after eating dense chocolate cake for breakfast. In the middle of Moscow, Russia, I decided it was the most appetizing option in front of me. My body needed that energy to stay warm in questionably cold racing temps, and it didn’t stop working because I’d eaten sugar. In fact, it thrived. Am I only going to eat cake for breakfast on sprint days? No. Will I keep an open mind and be flexible if my food option of choice isn’t there, and trust that my body can get it done even if conditions aren’t perfect? You betcha. 

The “Drake on cake” popcorn cake we made for Ben’s birthday!

Question: How do you know how much food is enough without measuring/weighting everything or counting calories? I’m currently struggling with trying to eat “just enough” food that I can work out and feel energized, but I’m scared of eating too much because I think I have a tendency to eat bigger portions. But I also think that keeping track of what I eat could spiral into trying too hard to control what and how much I eat and avoiding certain foods. 

I know this is a scary thing for many athletes (and non-athletes as well!), and it might be better answered in Part 1 of this blog series. However, I would say that you need to really listen to what your body is asking from you. If you’re eating during training, having a snack right after training and you’re still hungry…it might be that your body just needs more food. If you’re eating because you’re hungry and you feel like you’d be happy with most any snack, vs. craving a certain kind of food, chances are you just need to eat more. If you’re bored and want to have a bag of chips because you’re watching TV and not really hungry, that’s another thing to consider. But if you really are hungry, it’s important to eat. Personally, there aren’t any foods that I avoid (although I have mild lactose intolerance, so I go for the no-lactose options like oat milk or almond milk instead). I don’t worry about eating “just enough”, because if I’m listening to my body’s cues and training hard, my body will find it’s healthy spot where I can be energized, fast and injury and sickness free. Unless you’re working on a project with a dietician to figure out if you’re currently fueling enough, I wouldn’t keep track of what you eat, and certainly not for more than a few days. Because you’re correct, this can quickly spiral into some unhealthy habits for many people. 

The other element to consider is that, while sport is a big part of your life…it’s still your life. And with many endurance sports, you’re in it for the long haul if you want to find your true potential. It’s important that you can be happy, not pedantic, about food. 

Sometimes it’s important to keep the fun and spontaneity in there! Swimming after a long hot workout with the team.

Question: Are you ever hangry? 

Hangry is that fun word used to describe the state of being when you’re so hungry that you get irrationally angry for pretty much no reason at all! It’s not a great spot to be in. Yikes! I try not to let myself get there by making sure I’m 1.) listening to my hunger cues and feeding my body when it asks me to with a variety of different meals and snacks and 2.) eating and hydrating during training sessions so that I’m not starving at the end. But yes, sometimes I get hangry, and I’m just not fun to be around when I haven’t packed enough snacks!

Your brain prefers carbs for energy, too, and you need it to focus during training! (photo from Alayna)

Question: Iron levels? Is this important for female athletes? 

Yes, it is! You should get this checked – men, you too. Women are particularly prone to iron deficiency and it’s important to be sure your ferritin levels are in a healthy range (personally, I try to get mine above 50 by the start of the race season). This can be impacted by genetics, as well. For some reason, my body doesn’t like to absorb iron as well, even though I grew up eating red meat. So I take an iron supplement to be sure I’m getting enough. 

Here are some other things that are incredibly important for not only female athletes but male ones too: How’s your skin? Your hair? Your nails? Your mood? If any of these are going downhill, it could be a sign that you’re not fueling enough. 

This one’s for the girls, but it’s very important: you should get your period. Regularly. This becomes tricky depending on what birth control you may or may not be on, as some of them will make you get your period no matter what, while some will make you not get one even though you normally would. This can complicate using your cycle as a way of checking in with your overall health and energy availability. But all things being equal, it’s important that you get a regular period, as it’s a really important marker of your health. To be honest, REDS (relative energy deficiency syndrome) deserves it’s own blog post, and I won’t have enough room to really do it justice here. But this is something you should look up, ask your coach about, and be sure that as a female athlete you are taking good care of your long-term health. 

Happy SMST2 girls after bounding intervals! (photo from Coach Cork)

Question: How does this all shake out in a day of training? What are some examples of how you eat? 

How do I build a plate at lunch or dinnertime? The attached photo (very, very scientific and photogenic, I might add) shows what I’m aiming for at lunch and dinner, when I know I have time to digest my food long before the next workout. I try to get a great mix of carbohydrates, fruits and veggies, a source of calcium (I don’t say dairy specifically because of the lactose intolerance), a source of fats, and protein. I’ve sprinkled photos of different meals we’ve cooked in the past few weeks to show how that might look on a plate – it can be fun and creative! 

A general breakdown of how I build a plate of food.

I DO eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day. I feel like the nutrients and vitamins I get from these keep me healthy and keep my immune system functioning at a higher level. Also, they’re another good source of complex carbohydrates! 

Examples of a pretty standard lunch/dinner, if you’re looking for some meal inspiration: 

  • Shrimp linguine with roasted broccoli
  • Burgers, corn on the cob and sweet potato fries
  • Homemade pizza night
  • Mixed veggies, feta cheese and quinoa in a salad with grilled chicken 
  • Brown rice risotto with ground beef, mushrooms, peas, parmesan cheese and lemons. 
  • Tofu and veggie stir fry scramble with peanut sauce and rice 
  • Salmon with sourdough bread and a side salad 
  • Chicken pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes and arugula lettuce
Naan bread that Alayna made, falafel, lettuce, tomatoes and yogurt tzatziki sauce!

Please notice: none of these pre-workout or post-workout meals are exotic, particularly hard to make, or ridiculously picky. I will happily enjoy homemade cookies, waffles and leftover pizza after a workout, and I will also enjoy a Probar if that’s easier for me to carry during training. Yes, this is professional sport, but this is also life. It’s important to enjoy it. So my personal philosophy around fueling in sport is this: 

  • Eat when your body is telling you it’s hungry, and then honor that cue; don’t just eat because you’re bored, or suppress that hunger cue your body is telling you.
  • Eat before and after workouts
  • Eat a wide variety of meals and foods
  • Eat dessert, too

The recurring theme here is to eat; and to enjoy it, not to stress over it. So invest in a good cookbook. I personally love the Run Fast Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky, Dining In by Alison Roman and The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook. Invest in some time and energy finding meals that you truly enjoy and can appreciate with friends. Invest in over-the-top birthday cakes that bring people together. And invest in a kickass granola recipe that you stand by. If you’re short one, I will lend you mine. Happy training, and happy fueling! 

My go-to granola

Let’s talk training fuel: Part 1

I’d like to set the tone and intention for this post right from the start, because it’s important to me that you know why I feel the need to write this. I’m strongly of the opinion that your life should not potentially end in order to achieve success in sport. There used to be a time in my life when I thought “meh, I don’t really care that much if I’m able to have kids someday, as long as I can ski fast”. It’s hard to see the big picture when your brain isn’t finished developing yet, but it’s also hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of an eating disorder. However. The day I stopped thinking that and started to take care of my body is precisely why I found success in sport. You’ve got to love the irony. 

Make Peace with Food!

Food can be a happy thing, one that brings great memories back as well! Food can be an occasion to gather families together, to celebrate. There’s a reason we have wedding and birthday cakes, for example! My earliest memories of learning to cook was sitting up on the counter, peeling and mashing bananas to make banana bread with my Dad. Now when I’m on the road and making banana bread as a snack for my teammates and myself, I have those warm happy memories. So in this blog series you will hear me focus on how to try and create a healthy team environment, how to approach the tough talks, how to fuel for success and how to be supportive. You will NOT hear me say anything about the sacrifices you “just have to make as an athlete”, or how if you want to be the best you need to be a little bit hungry all the time, because, quite frankly, I think that’s a bunch of crap. Healthy, happy and balanced athletes are the ones that make it across the finish line again and again throughout a long career and leave a legacy.

It’s ok to get excited about cheese! (Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

I’d like to sincerely thank you all for the questions, comments and thoughtful prompts that came flooding in! After I asked what you’d like to talk about when it comes to fueling, body image and eating disorders in sport, I realized that:

  • 1.) this is harder to write about than I’d realized, and 
  • 2.) it warrants a two-part series. 

This post, part one, is going to tackle the more emotional-support side of fueling in sport. Because if it was as simple as “eat this and you’ll be fine”, we wouldn’t even be talking about it, would we? 

Part two will take on more of the how’s and why’s of eating; I’ll walk you through my own experience and why I do what I do, how I build a plate of food after training, and what performance fueling looks like for me. 

The reason, perhaps, why so many of us are worried, unsure and sometimes a little scared about eating around sport is that disordered eating is so prevalent. Let me make this clear: you do not have to have an eating disorder to be using disordered eating habits. They’re incredibly common. 

As evidenced by the Emily Program logo on my race headband; eating disorders are common, but don’t have to define your life! (Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

After reading some stats from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)’s website, it’s pretty clear that this is something many athletes – and their support team – struggle with. 

“In a survey of athletic trainers working with female collegiate athletes, only 27% felt confident identifying an athlete with an eating disorder. Despite this, 91% of athletic trainers reported dealing with an athlete with an eating disorder.”

“Though most athletes with eating disorders are female, male athletes are also at risk—especially those competing in sports that tend to emphasize diet, appearance, size and weight. In weight-class sports (wrestling, rowing, horseracing) and aesthetic sports (bodybuilding, gymnastics, swimming, diving) about 33% of male athletes are affected. In female athletes in weight class and aesthetic sports, disordered eating occurs at estimates of up to 62%.”

“Among female college athletes surveyed, 25.5% had subclinical eating disorder symptoms.”

I think it’s so important to note that HUNDREDS of you have messaged me about this, yet the nature of disordered eating or body shame is that it can be isolating and make us feel alone. Even if you are struggling, remember that you are not the only one. Statistically speaking, most of you reading this right now will have struggled with disordered eating at some point. That’s not your fault. It’s also not your fault if you feel anxiety around food or don’t love your body every day; it’s called being human. But that doesn’t mean we should stop working on cultivating as positive and healthy a relationship between ourselves and our bodies as possible, right? 

When I’m warming up for strength, I want to be able to focus on the task at hand, not worry about what I look like. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Before I get into your awesome questions, I want to put out a disclaimer that I’m not an expert. I’ve gone through a lot of this myself, and I feel comfortable talking about it, but I’m not a professional! It would take an incredible amount of arrogance to assume that my own experiences should shape yours. So take my Q&A for what it’s worth; one person’s advice based on their experience, and use it as a thought prompter, a conversation-starter, a way of remembering to check in with yourself. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder (or thinks they might have one), the first thing you should do is reach out for professional help. A few quick links to get you started down that recovery path: 

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

A tool for finding help for eating disorders local to you: https://www.findedhelp.com

The Emily Program website: https://emilyprogram.com/

I can personally speak to the Emily Program as a treatment option that both worked for me and saved my life, and I’m proud to be an ambassador for them now. 

I also wrote a blog on how to support someone going through an eating disorder, with a lot of links for finding help, this past winter. You can reference that here: 

Now let’s get into it! Many of these questions around how to foster a healthy, safe and productive training environment on a team were similar. Kudos to all you thoughtful people asking about how to support your teammates, your athletes from a coaching perspective, or your kids from a parental perspective! I’ve combined a few questions, but made a few distinctions where I feel that they deserve a markedly different response. 

I feel really lucky to have a great support system around me! (photo by Anna Terry)

Question: What are the best ways for a coach to encourage and create a healthy dialog around fueling and eating enough? What if it’s male to female dynamic? How do you approach the topic with an athlete you think may be struggling with food? 

In general, I feel that one of the best approaches you can take as a friend, teammate, parent or coach is to remember to let the athlete tell you how they feel, in their own words. Lead with open-ended questions, not assumptions or statements, that prompt the athlete’s own feelings to come out. For example, let’s envision a scenario where the athlete just finished a time trial. 

Please don’t come in with something like “Nice! You just got a PR! I noticed you’ve lost weight; you’re looking really fit. You must feel pretty good about today!”

Here’s what I struggle with in that instance, even thought it was clearly meant to be a positive and encouraging comment. There’s no such thing as “looking fit”. Fitness doesn’t have a “look”. What you mean is that they look lean, but that’s only one small factor out of many that comprise an athlete’s performance. They may have gotten a new PR, but it may also not be making them happy. By emphasizing their body shape and connecting it to their time, you’re putting weight at a higher value than technique, training, recovery and mental strength. And, if you say this in front of other athletes, it could be really damaging to them. Last but not least, the time on the clock may not reflect how they feel about their performance, and by assuming how the athlete feels because of the time, you are unknowingly negating the other aspects of performance that athletes are working on. I’ve had races with relatively poor results that I was immensely proud of because of how I raced, and races that I’ve won where I feel that I could have improved my technique, tactics or focus. 

But if you come in with “You got a PR! How did you feel about today’s time trial? What were you working on?” 

By letting the athlete state their own opinion on their effort, their feelings about the day and talk through the goals they had for the session, they’re taking some control and ownership of the time trial. It becomes about more than the time, and it’s not about their body shape at all – it’s about a bigger picture. 

And it’s totally ok to give positive feedback and compliments! Just try to make them about the things the athlete has direct control over, not the genetics and body shape they were born with. Comments like: “great focus”, “great hustle!” “I like how you showed up to practice with goals in mind for this workout” or “wow, you made a technique breakthrough today” can be so uplifting and empowering. As a teammate, I try to give sincere compliments on my teammate’s work ethic, technique progress, sportsmanship and team presence when I see them occur. Building your teammate’s confidence with sincere remarks about their effort, not their bodies, is a great way to foster that healthy culture where athletes feel confident in what they’re doing and know they’re on the right track. 

When I’ve finished a race and given it my all, I need to be able to process how I felt about it and make my own conclusions to decide if it was “good” or not. (Photo by Modica/NordicFocus)

So let’s get back to the unsolicited body comments for a moment. This is, in my unprofessional opinion, a big area where parents, coaches and teammates can help create a safer and healthier space. 

Do not make comments about an athlete’s weight. Any comments. At any size. Just don’t. I’m not just making this up, either; out of the thousands of incredibly important things coaches and teammates have done to help me achieve a lifelong goal of Olympic Gold, you know the one thing nobody did? Comment on my weight, encourage me to lose weight, or comment on the bodies of athletes who were beating me (or behind me). It’s just not necessary. 

Things that WERE necessary: 

  • -developing strong sports psychology skills and mental toughness through a sports psych plan
  • -improving my technique (dis was a BIG ONE)
  • -video review
  • -a training plan that was adjusted to my body, my stress and my physiology
  • -creating training camps where I could be challenged and pushed by other athletes
  • -creating a safe and caring environment
  • -organizing logistics around traveling the World Cup for 5 months
  • -talking over race tactics and strategy
  • -keeping me company on long training sessions 
  • -a great strength coach writing a plan tailored for me and my body’s needs
  • -a dietician making sure I got enough iron, vitamin C and figured out how to fuel enough during travel and training

You get the idea. Out of all the components of what makes me perform as an athlete, weight is such a small factor at the end of the day that it doesn’t even make the list. It’s not worth stressing about. And yet. Because it’s so much easier to measure and obsess over in a sport without concrete items to measure because snow speed and ski speed constantly changes, we tend to focus in on it. 

At the end of the day, when it comes to making a comment about an athlete’s body, ask yourself first: What is the point? What do they have to gain from this? What could they possibly lose from me making this comment? Do I need to say this to them? Usually, the answer is nope, not necessary. 

Out of all the things that brought this moment about, I’d say body size or shape is the least important. (photo by US Ski and Snowboard)

Now that I’ve said that, I’m going to contradict myself. If you start to notice warning signs in one of your athletes (losing a significant amount of weight, drop in energy, not acting like their usual self, taking longer to recover), then it might be time to say something. And this is where it gets really tricky. 

What has worked for me, personally, is a coach leading with “I care about you, and I want you to know that I’m 100% supportive of your goals as an athlete. Which is why I’d like to talk to you, because I’d like to see you achieve all your goals throughout a long and healthy career, and right now, I’m concerned about you. How are things going? Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” 

From there, refer them to an eating disorder specialist, help them make the appointment and let them know that you’re really, really proud of them for taking steps to protect their mental and physical health. Remember, they may not have a clinically diagnosable eating disorder, but that may not mean they’re not using disordered eating. In the words of the National Eating Disorder Association: “Early detection increases the likelihood of successful treatment; left untreated the problem may progress to an eating disorder.” 

Here’s the best analogy I’ve got: If an athlete comes up to you and says “I think I have skin cancer”, you are not expected to treat them as if you’re a doctor. You can be there for them, support them, and refer them to a specialist in that field. With an eating disorder, I see this in the same light. You’re not expected to know how to “fix it”, but you can refer them to a professional treatment center or eating disorder specialist, and/or a registered dietician. In my opinion as an athlete, your role as coach is to keep an eye out for your athletes and have the courage to speak to them if you notice that something may be amiss. If they are struggling with something (this includes eating disorders, but it could also be problems at home, bullying, school stress) you can let them know you have their back, and ask how you can be supportive at practice. Sometimes just knowing that your coach understands that you’re going through a rough time and is ok with you taking a step back in intensity at practice goes a long way. Essentially, this is your chance as a coach or teammate to say “I may not understand, but I care about you, and I’m here for you”. It may not always feel like you’re helping, but having officially opened the door to any conversations down the road can be a huge first step. 

Asking for help and having those conversations are the really hard part, but they make us stronger in the end.

NEDA, the National eating disorder association, has a really awesome page on coaches and steps you can take if you are concerned about an athlete, linked here: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/help/coaches-trainers

One organization I am proud to be an ambassador for is WithAll, with their “What to Say” program for coaches (you’ve probably heard me talk about this before, because I think it’s so important). I’ve got a whole blog post for you about this, so I’m just going to link it here for you! 

So what ARE positive action items we can take to create that healthy dialogue? One approach I’ve heard that I think is really proactive and smart is to start the season off with a team chat about healthy fueling for sport. Get that conversation out in the open, as a natural part of being in sport. A natural part of LIFE, by the way. Ya gotta eat! It can get intimidating and confusing sometimes, especially living in part of the world where diet culture is so prevalent and it feels like every other year you’re “supposed” to avoid different foods altogether. So get the record straight – you need to eat in order to train and recover, and this doesn’t have to feel scary if you feel like you’ve got some knowledge on your side. 

This may look different depending on the age group you’re coaching; when you’re younger, it’s about having a snack after practice to help you grow those muscles that you’ve worked hard for! As you get older, more competitive and more serious, it turns from “eat, drink, dry clothes” right after practice to remembering to fuel with adequate carbs long enough before a race that you can digest them and have energy available for your race. In part 2 of this blog series I’ll go into examples of how I tackle fueling in my own training, and why I do it that way. But you don’t have to be an expert on sport nutrition to open this talk – bring in someone who does feel comfortable with that area and let them lead the team talk (and be there to let your athletes know you’re in this with them, and there to support them in their goals). 

It’s important for kids to start building healthy self-confidence at a young age, and we can help by modeling good self-care ourselves! (photo by US Ski and Snowboard)

This can be especially intimidating if you’re a male coach working with young female athletes. There needs to be trust built and in place for a young girl to tell her male coach that she’s struggling with eating, and even then, I personally found this too hard to openly talk about. So what can you do? Make sure your athletes know that they can talk to you, but also provide a secondary contact who is another gender, if possible. An example I’ve seen of this being done really well is a male University coach letting his athletes know at the start of the season that he will not judge them for anything they need to talk about with him. He then introduces the school’s dietician, who happens to be female, as another point of contact that the athletes can use as a resource if they don’t feel like taking with the coach for any reason. Will this system always work? Possibly not, but at least you’re giving your athletes multiple people to approach and resources at hand to use in the event that they need someone to talk to. 

Loved ones and friends can also be a critical part of this emotional support system!

Question: How can teammates best support a teammate who may be struggling with healthy eating? 

Help build their confidence with sincere compliments on the things they’re doing well (not related to body or size, but effort, teamwork, focus) and make sure they know you’re there to support them. Similar to the coach, you’re not in charge of fixing their eating disorder, but you are in a great position to encourage them to get professional help, and be supportive of their recovery path. 

The other best thing you can do is model a healthy food relationship yourself. It’s really easy (sometimes) to see when someone else is struggling, but it’s hard to point that out and help them if you yourself are not in a healthy relationship with food and your body. I’m not saying you have to overeat in order to encourage them to eat, but make sure that you’re not making the contradiction of encouraging a teammate to fuel while never eating during long training sessions and only ever drinking water in your own drink belt. Make sure that your words as you talk about yourself reflect kindness and compassion. If you want your teammates to like who they are and feel confident in their bodies, be sure that you’re showing that respect to yourself as well, not making self-deprecating comments about “losing weight before the big time trial” or “I’m too fat for this hill climb!”. 

When you become a professional racer, you’re also a role model for the next generation. They’re going to be watching you, and you have this one, amazing chance to inspire and get them fired up. It’s important to take care of yourself while doing this! (photo by Martin Riseth)

Question: Could you elaborate on how you view the difference between “discipline” and “disorder”? My human girl is a runner, used to run competitively and during that time she overcame anorexia…but a lot of the women who she trained with justified calorie-restricted diets in the name of “fitness”. 

Question: As a pro athlete, you have to push your body to extreme measures. How and when do you know that your eating is extreme to match the (valid) intensity vs an honest eating disorder? it seems with athletes in particular that line gets too often blurred and therefore left uncaught. 

These are great questions, because when we look around us in the world, it appears that many people are using disordered eating and passing it off as many different things. How then do we know if and when we have a problem, when our own habits are simply mirroring those around us? (this is why it’s so important to model a healthy relationship to food as a parent or teammate, because you can be a great role model this way!) 

There can be athletes that don’t officially have an eating disorder that are still using disordered eating habits. This is still harmful, and has the potential to develop into a clinically diagnosable eating disorder (at least, mine did, and it was plenty harmful). 

In my opinion? You don’t need “food discipline” in order to become a successful athlete. Sure, you do need to follow your body’s cues, listen to it when it tells you it’s hungry and when it’s full, eat a variety of foods and follow some pretty basic sports nutrition, but I would put that in a different category than what many refer to as an athlete’s disciplined food diet. Many people assume that they can never eat sugar, dessert, or fat in order to go fast. I think if you feel that you cannot ever eat certain foods, that you cannot eat even if you are hungry, that you can’t trust your body’s hunger cues because it must be lying to you, or that fast athletes can’t ever eat dessert, that’s trending in the direction of disordered eating. So if you feel that this describes you, this is a great opportunity to look for professional help or consult a dietician. The earlier you can address these thoughts and habits, the sooner you can avoid REDS (relative energy deficiency syndrome) caused by a lack of available energy from not eating enough in comparison to what your body is burning through.

I think the most important thing for me to focus on is having the energy to crush intervals, recover well and work with my body’s strengths. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Question: How do you deal with body dysmorphia as a young athlete, when you have to watch videos of yourself skiing for technique purposes on a regular basis, and this brings out insecurities? How would you help someone with a distorted body image who identifies as much bigger than they are? 

Body dysmorphic disorder is partly described by Mayo clinic as “a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that appears minor or can’t be seen by others.” And while it may seem real to you, or something you are really insecure about, try to remember that this is minor to other people. If this is something that you’re chronically struggling with, that affects you often, it’s a good idea to turn to a professional for help! This is a real mental health disorder, and it requires real treatment. The Emily Program and National Eating Disorder Association both have a screening tool to help you determine if it’s time to get professional help: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool https://www.emilyprogram.com/your-recovery/take-the-quiz/

If this isn’t something that happens often at all, but still really bothers you when it happens on a more minor level (as it should if your brain is playing tricks on you and hurting your self-confidence!), let me level with you about something. Sometimes, I still have days when I look in the mirror and somehow, magically, it appears to my eyes that I’m a much bigger person than I was when I went to bed the night before. Logically, I know it’s impossible to have gained 15 pounds overnight. But my eyes and my brain are telling me a different story, and I have to use my brain to override that icky feeling that starts creeping up on me. This may be a remnant of having had an eating disorder, or this may be something every person on the planet has experienced but doesn’t like to talk about – I’m not sure. But I do know that when I let my brain say “this is an illusion”, I see the real me soon enough. And I’m pretty sure I don’t have a magical Harry Potter type mirror in my room, so it really IS all in my head. I figure if my brain is creative enough to change my vision of myself, it must also be strong enough to override it and come back to normal. 

Different people view things in different ways – and it’s important to remember that how you see something might be different! (cartoon by Liz Climo)

Question: Lots of athletes are trying to build muscle while losing fat – yet this is hard to go about while properly fueling yourself. What is your advice? 

It’s hard to answer this question without getting sport-specific and age-specific. Sport-specific, because different sports have different requirements when it comes to strength, power, muscular endurance and speed. Age-specific, because if you’re a 12 year old it’s more important to have fun and enjoy sport vs. if you are a professional athlete. But for me, personally? I think you need to be adequately fueled for the training you need to do in order to improve in your sport. If you eat a balanced diet and are training hard and smart, generally speaking, your body will adjust and get to a place where you have built up muscles for your sport and your body composition is in a healthy place. I tend to think that being well-trained, well-prepared and ready to go on race day is more important than worrying about how much body fat you have, and that it’s not worth risking your energy and training efficiency in order to have slightly lower body fat. If you’re in sport to try and perform your best, and not in sport only for the aesthetics, then I’d say to focus on training hard and smart and trust that with all that training, your body will adjust on its own. At the end of the day, if you have really sport-specific goals and are worried about trusting your body, then it’s time to work with a dietician and let them help build you a plan that you trust and can feel good about!

When looking at technique video, try to focus on your technique, your effort, the way you’re actually moving fast, not what your body looks like. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Question: I know I need to be healthy to be a good athlete, but it’s hard when I’m with my friends who aren’t athletes and they eat much less than I do. 

This is something I used to struggle with, too, so I feel your pain. It can make you feel self-conscious to be the person at the table eating more than everyone else. But think of it this way: your body needs more than anyone else there. If you’ve got a team practice you’re going to later that day, you owe it to yourself and your team to have the energy you need to do your best, right? It’s not only ok, but GREAT, that you are eating that food you need to feel energized and have focus for your day. So don’t compare what you need to what your friend’s plates look like, because the rest of your day doesn’t look like theirs, either. And your friends will understand and support you, because they want you to succeed, too (if they don’t, drop em)! 

Question: How do you learn to get lean for race season in a healthy way after dealing with an ED? How do I trust my body? 

For me, it was about first being healthy, not worrying at all about being any sort of shape. The main goal was to save my career (and my life, now that I think of it) by making sure I regained a healthy relationship to food and to eating before, during, and after training. 

The biggest thing here, as you mentioned, is trust. And it wasn’t easy, I promise! It took me a long, suspicious-filled period of time before I learned to really trust that my body cues wouldn’t lie to me. If I felt hungry, I should eat. If I felt full, I could stop. And I could (and should) eat during long training sessions and always have drink mix in my water bottle instead of water (more on this to come in part 2 of the blog series, don’t worry!) and I wouldn’t immediately get fat. My body went through some adjustments, but eventually it settled in on it’s own into what I like to call it’s “healthy sweet spot”, where it naturally wants to be when I’m training hard, fueling well and racing fast. There’s a zone where my body genetically likes to be at where I don’t get sick much at all, I don’t get injuries, and I can kick ass in training and recover well. If I try to push my body out of this happy space, it fights back. I get sick. I start to get hurt. I start to get slow. Everything sucks! So what I’ve learned over the years is to simply sit back and let my body be where it wants to be, while I fight the more important battles: the mental toughness training, the actual training, the pacing, the tactics, the technique, the homesickness of being on the road. 

My body doesn’t look like anyone else’s on the circuit. And it doesn’t race like anyone else’s, either. I shouldn’t waste time trying to fit into a space it doesn’t want me to be in, because then I might lose the best parts of what makes me fast. So the long answer to your question is this: I really try not to worry about being lean in the winter. I just worry about being fast, and let my body look the way it looks after months of training and racing and fueling with all the food it asks me for. Is this always easy? Of course not. Do I sometimes wish it looked different? Yes, absolutely. But do I think about my body when I’m standing up on top of the podium? No. Those negative thoughts have to right to stand up there with me, because they’re not what got me up there. 

Happy that right before a race, all I need to focus on is the actual race itself, not how I look. (photo by Anna Terry)

Question: I coach some that feel they need to burn off all the calories that they have eaten and this is motivation for training and over training. Training then becomes a weapon of weight control rather than a process of increasing speed, endurance and strength. How do we get the right conversation around food, weight and using food to care for our bodies? 

Similarly to how I answered the first question, I’d make sure you equip your athletes with knowledge of how to properly fuel by either bringing in someone to do a sports nutrition talk, or consulting with someone before talking to your athletes yourself. Make sure they know that you need to eat during training, to adequately refuel after training and to have energy available in order to be successful in sport. 

Then, ask each athlete to write down their goals for the season. What do they want to accomplish? And how will they do that? After writing down the process-oriented goals for how they will reach their big dreams, ask them to imagine how food plays into that. If they need to do intervals and strength training twice a week to be strong and fast in sport, how might nutrition help them achieve this end goal? If they understand that food is helping them achieve their goals and is, in fact, absolutely crucial in absorbing any of the training they’re sweating through, they need to eat. Understanding how food was critical in making my training effective and lasting was helpful for me in my recovery process. 

If I want to train hard, smart, and be powerful enough to race fast, I’ll need enough fuel to support that training! (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Hey, readers! You get a gold star for making it to the bottom of this post! In closing, I’d like to leave you with a thought from one of the best athletes currently competing: Simone Biles. 

“No matter how good you are in your sport, in life, in work, the number one thing people talk about is how you look.” 

“They focused on my hair. They focused on how big my legs were. But God made me this way. And I feel like if I didn’t have these legs or these calves, I wouldn’t be able to tumble as high as I can and have all these moves named after me.” 

-Simone Biles

I imagine this might happen to men as well, but if you are a woman in sport right now, there will always be moments when you are sincerely trying to SAY SOMETHING or do something, and people will focus in on how they think you look instead. This will be frustrating. It will not seem fair. And you will wonder sometimes: if you were a man, would more of the questions focus in on your strengths in sport, your tactics, your hard-earned preparation for each race? 

Let’s keep the focus on the most important things in sport. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Coaches, teammates, parents: we have a chance to change this narrative from how we look to how we act, what we bring to the team, how hard we hustle. Keep the door open when athletes need to ask for help, and keep the conversation open as well. Let’s keep bringing the praise and attention to the meaningful actionable items, because it’s going to help this culture shift in the right direction! 

Athletes, keep trusting your bodies, take care of them, and don’t be scared to reach out for help whenever you need it. Don’t listen to people who keep bringing the conversation back to how you look. You’re stronger than that, and you’re already working incredibly hard at your sport. Don’t let fighting against your body take any energy away from fighting for your goals.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series: the actual eating part. 

Moving forward with a positive mindset

It’s been a busy spring. For you, for me, for all of us. It’s been a time of feeling unsure of how to move forward, second guessing plans that were made, and realizing that we can’t take things for granted. 

Training hard, but not taking training time for granted! (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

But we are moving forward, slowly but surely! 

Lifting at the Stratton Mountain School, with some awesome safety and sanitary procedures that make us all feel safe! (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It took me a while to put my thoughts down, because I have felt – like many of you, I imagine – that I’ve been running a step behind, trying to figure out how to make this new system of working from home while staying involved with as many people and organizations as possible a sustainable pursuit. But here we are, me sitting on a towel at the edge of the Stratton snowmaking pond with my computer after some ridiculously humid and tough intervals, taking a pause to reflect on the spring and how life is going right now. In many ways, it’s the same; we train hard, we recover, we enjoy time with our close-knit circle of family and teammates who are in our little “germ bubble”. In some ways, it’s different. We have the term “germ-bubble”, for starters. 

Having a bit of down time between hard workouts.

Let’s quickly recap the spring; in case you didn’t notice, a pandemic happened! Just kidding, I know you noticed. 

I was home with my family in Minnesota getting ready for the Canada-US end of the World Cup season and enjoying the ridiculously cute snuggles from our family’s dogs, Leo and Lucy (don’t worry, photos attached) when it felt like the world just…went nuts. 

Leo and Lucy, his little mini-me.
Gratuitous puppy shot. You’re welcome.

Like many ski racing fans around the US, I was so, incredibly over-the-top excited for the Minneapolis World Cup and Fastenal Parallel 45 Festival. And of course, the only safe and smart course of action was to cancel the festival and end of the World Cup season. Yet going to ski the perfectly groomed course the day we were supposed to be racing in our own country, in front of so many excited families and little kids, brought some tears behind the glasses. Sliding a World Cup race bib (which had, of course, already been printed out) over my head and seeing one of my longtime sponsors, Fastenal, right on the front, brought happy tears. I kept the bib, by the way. Good luck wresting that one back from me! Hearing from one kind, passionate volunteer after another that they’d been to the Trailhead every day for the past year helping out with the Festival brought happy tears, and also a deep appreciation for the commitment and enthusiasm of our local ski community. 

On a personal level, this was an event that was also serving as a family and friend reunion of sorts, and I was so excited to see relatives that I hadn’t seen in years. One of my Grandmas hadn’t ever seen me race live, and this was going to be the first time she got to cheer for me from the side of the trail. So, naturally, I struggled to balance this sadness and sense of loss after years of hard work from so many with the relief and cognitive knowledge of how lucky we are to be safe and healthy, and how it could always be worse. I felt guilt for feeling sad, but also needed to process the emotions. So much hard work by so many incredible volunteers not being able to see the light of day is a tough pill to swallow. 

Skiing a hot lap of the amazing MN course! (photo by Skinnyski)

In a similar way, after years spent working on my book Brave Enough, it was a little heartbreaking to cancel the Book Launch party and move it to a virtual event. At the end of the day it was still awesome to have a launch at all! Yet I had been looking forward to the Q&A with my awesome co-author, Todd, and to get a chance to sign books together and celebrate so much hard work coming to a close. Yet even with an unconventional book release, the outreach from so many of you has been such a positive, uplifting part of this spring! I’ve been humbled by the messages following the book launch, and hearing from everyone who enjoyed the book, and had follow up questions after reading it made me want to interact a little bit more. I’m working on a fun project that I’m excited to share with you soon, but I wanted to let you know that Brave Enough is launching something exciting later on this summer! 

It was also so uplifting to hear from many of you about how you were inspired to seek help to improve your mental health and well-being. I can guarantee that, even if you feel alone or isolated in your struggle, you are not the only one. I know this because I also had my own struggles, but also because I’ve had hundreds of you reach out to let me know that you’re starting treatment, having hard conversations with family, friends or teammates, or working to educate yourself as a coach of young athletes. It’s been an honor to hear these stories of hope and hard work, and I hope that they keep happening, on any level that you feel comfortable with! 

Humbled and happy to have such a fun response from the community after the book came out!

I suppose what I learned at the end of the COVID-19 day is that our emotions are our emotions, and we’re allowed to feel many things at once. It’s ok to feel totally bummed out about the pandemic, the cancellation of so many events, to feel sad for all the graduates denied their special moment at graduation ceremonies. But it’s also ok to feel hope and happiness in every day moments, and to actively seek out ways to feel joy. 

Puppy time is a tried the true way to feel better.

Which is why, when my boyfriend Wade proposed to me while on a hike this past April, my heart exploded with joy! All of a sudden, it was not only ok but absolutely RIGHT to celebrate love, hope, and the excitement of things to come. He has made me the happiest person. While there have been many silver linings to this spring, the biggest has absolutely been the working-from-home situation, which has allowed us the most time together we’ve ever had. It’s been keeping me happy and balanced, and I’m incredibly grateful for every extra day I get with him. When your relationship is often separated by an ocean, it reminds you not to take any moment for granted. 

The most incredible day! I do everything with my left hand now.

I got to spend more time than ever in Boston, and Wade and I really threw ourselves into the DIY world of home improvements. Although I’m sure my overenthusiastic help was sometimes slowing us down instead of speeding us up, I really enjoyed learning how to make a headboard and sliding barn doors, and repainting the windows! 

Beautifying the windows
Wade, assembling the workout bench he designed and built for me! (I did help with the staining and sanding, which accounts for a few lopsided ends).

We moved back to our little condo in Stratton, Vermont, quarantined, and once Alayna moved back into her room we made a little “ski family” unit. Movie nights with popcorn, creative baking experiments (I’ve been in a bit of a Drake-on-cake phase) and a lot of time spent out in the garden has made the hours of training feel balanced with more normal life things. 

We needed an awkward family photo, complete with the Orchid plant!

To end on a more somber note, given current events, I’d like to take a beat and address the systemic racism in our country. For what it’s worth, I’m adding my voice to the protestors and standing with them (in spirit, since I’m actually physically out in Stratton, Vermont). Frankly, everyone I know and interact with agrees that what has happened to George Floyd and People of Color since the beginning of our country is appalling, horrific, and needs to be ended immediately. We’ve talked about this on our team every day, but we’ve also had these sort of talks in years past, not just in the past few weeks. 

I think we can all agree that the first step to being anti-racist is to listen, to learn, to look for ways in which you can be the best ally possible. For some really beautifully written thoughts on this, I’d recommend the article by Courtney Ariel, “For Our White Friends Desiring To Be Allies”. https://sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies

But what comes next? Change desperately needs to happen, but I admit that I have no clue what I’m doing, and desperately want to be part of the solution. I sometimes feel like I spend an awful lot of time second guessing what I should do or say, for the very real fear of saying the wrong thing and accidentally harming this important movement towards equality. I just want to do the right thing…then I realize I’m speaking in “I” statements, and feel badly all over again. 

The solution is not, as Lucy is demonstrating, to hide from the issues.

Perhaps the best thing I can do is to keep helping the causes that I’m already involved in and do my best to move them forward while being a good ally, with projects like: 

  • Protecting our planet (climate change disproportionately affects POC, women and lower income communities)
  • Getting girls in sport and empowered through learning teamwork, goal setting and grit (ALL girls need this, no matter where they live or what color their skin is)
  • Continuing awareness and education around eating disorders (which affect people no matter their age, gender or race and are dangerous stereotyped as  “young white girl issue” which really hurts people of color who may be suffering from an eating disorder and are scared to reach out for help)
  • and helping sport become more diverse (obviously)

Just because not every post on social media will always address the protests going on right now doesn’t mean I’m not with them. In a similar fashion, I’m very supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, even though not every post directly ties into the movement. It’s more important to be supportive and do the work than agonize over how it looks on the internet (yet obviously, this is easier said than done, especially when you’re simultaneously being criticized for being an athlete and not staying in your narrow lane, and also for not posting enough). 

Looking to find ways to move FORWARD! (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

I’ve always been proud of the various nonprofits that I work with as an ambassador or serve on a board for. I’ll keep working with them to do the best we can to make the world a better and more equal place, for ALL of the people in this world, regardless of their race, gender orientation, or where they live. If you want to check them out, they’re each linked in the “partnerships” section of my website. 

The Share Winter Foundation is working hard to help diversify the sport, and I’m proud of the work they’re doing! (photo by Loppet)

And I’m incredibly, painfully aware of the privilege I was born with. But instead of just sitting there feeling guilty over it, I figure it’s right to use the platform I now have to give back, and try to move the needle in a positive direction. This spring it was awesome to partner with Kindness Wins to help raise over 4K for the Sheridan Story in Minnesota, donating meals to kids, which became even more important as schools shut down with COVID-19. If you missed the fundraiser, it’s ok – you can always donate any time, at any amount you feel comfortable with. 

My favorite place to give copies of Brave Enough – to cool fundraisers!

We’ve now raised over 2K for WithAll Foundation through the Cameo shoutouts I do when people book me on the Cameo app. This is an ongoing fundraiser, with a direct link to book me in the “about” section of my website if you’d like me to make a birthday, graduation, or just have-a-super-duper-great-day shoutout for someone in your life. It’s been so cool to do these fun little shoutouts for people while also raising money for a cause that’s so close to my heart. There are so many ways we can help others, and at the end of the day, every little bit helps! 

In the meantime, I’ll be here, training hard, resting hard, baking ridiculous cakes and spending way too much time fussing over the garden plants. Wish us luck as we head into our next big training block! 

Team distance run (photo from Sophie)
Weekend camping trip with Wade.
I’ll be here, working on keeping a “balanced” life! (see what I did there?!?)

ED Awareness Week Part 2: The Support Team

We’re back, with part two of eating disorders awareness week; the support team. Parents, teammates, coaches, teachers, friends…you have the most important job of all. We need you. We need your strength, your cheering, your compassion, your patience, your unconditional love. But you might need a few tools and tips along the way as well, and that’s why we’re here right now with Eating Disorder Awareness week! 

I feel so lucky to have such a strong, loving support team around me! Sometimes literally all around me. Thank you family. (photo by Modica/NordicFocus)

Again, I’d like to kick this post off with a Brave Enough book excerpt that will hopefully help to explain some of what is happening around an eating disorder. It can be nearly impossible to understand what is happening inside the brain of someone struggling with an ED. While it was happening to me, I certainly didn’t understand it, either. Hopefully talking about our experiences can help provide some insight, while recognizing that everyone’s experiences are a little bit different and unique to them. 

Eating disorders can be extremely confusing…so it’s time to get the thinking caps on and see how we can support one another! (photo by Reese Brown/SIA Images)

“I began to make breakthroughs. Besides my therapist meetings, my parents were actively trying to help me. My mom bought me the book Life without ED by Jenni Schaefer. This extremely well-written book is about how one woman declared independence from her eating disorder, and I highly recommend it for people struggling with an eating disorder and anyone close to them who wants to understand what they’re going through. 

Schaefer likens having an eating disorder to being in an abusive relationship, which is very much what it is. In many abusive relationships, the victims think they need the abuser. The victims are not willing to leave because they’re too scared to think about what it’s going to be like without the abuser. It’s a really good analogy because with an eating disorder the one thing you think you need the most is the one thing that hurts you the most. It might kill you someday. While you’re in the relationship, you don’t believe it’s really going to kill you. Because that only happens to other people. You don’t think it will ever happen to you. Your marriage, your relationship with this eating disorder, is fine. You think you have it all under control. Nothing bad is going to happen. 

I continued to have private sessions with a therapist outside of our group sessions, and this time I met with a new therapist, Angie Scott. I instantly clicked with her. She had this air of warm, caring calmness about her, and for the first time in private sessions, I truly believed that I could share everything I felt and thought. 

These intimate, raw conversations turned my life around. They helped me separate who I really was from who I was with an ED. Angie was very motherly, and her aura reminded me of one of my grandmas. She helped me gain the tools to cope with the stress of being a competitive athlete. Using symptoms was currently the only tool I had in my toolbox, but Angie helped me figure out that I had many other, less self-destructive ways of dealing with stress. Every week I practiced a new tool, such as taking my dog outside to play when I felt the urge to throw up, calling a friend, or watching a show that would distract me. I had no idea at the time, but the tools Angie gave me during those sessions at The Emily Program were ones that could help me throughout the rest of my life. Most important, Angie helped me figure out my struggles weren’t about the food and that it wasn’t all my fault. 

Before I met with Angie, I thought there was something wrong with me, that if I was just a better person, I wouldn’t be struggling with an eating disorder. As a result of this assumption, I felt shame and embarrassment that caused me to not act like myself. I was always such a truthful child that I never had a curfew. My parents just trusted me to use my judgment and come home at a reasonable hour. And I always did! I was so intense with my ski training, so focused on school and getting into university that I never considered staying out late, partying, or lying to my parents about anything. However, when my eating disorder came along, I found myself lying for the first time in my life. I became a different version of myself. 

My eating disorder took a strong hold, and from there on it did whatever it had to do to survive, like a parasite that’s taken over its host. Lie to my parents, saying I wasn’t hungry at dinner because I’d already eaten? No problem. Be angry with my parents for trying to talk to me about my eating disorder? Piece of cake (figuratively speaking). Cry irrationally and become overly emotional at the smallest things? Of course, that’s what happens when you’re trying to function on, shall we say, less than optimal nutrition. Whenever someone was trying to help me, my immediate instinct was to push the person away, even if a small corner of my brain was still crying out for help. The larger part of me that was controlled by my eating disorder was terrified of accepting help of any kind, so taking any steps whatsoever toward recovery was like dragging a ball and chain behind me. 

A shockingly accurate description of my brain with an eating disorder.

I’ve always been such an intense person, and that’s been an incredible thing for my ski career. My ability to focus in on one thing and stay on task until I am finished is simultaneously my best and worst character trait. And my eating disorder absolutely thrived on this intensity. 

“Genetics loads the gun,” Angie explained. “Environment pulls the trigger.” 

I learned through the experts at The Emily Program that bulimia is a mental disorder. Much the same as alcoholism, depression, or anxiety, it’s something you feel you cannot stop. It’s part of your genetic makeup, and you’re predisposed to suffer from that condition. If you’re someone who is predisposed and at risk for an eating disorder, it’s likely going to surface at some point. It might surface very early if you’re a super type A athlete in a really stressful situation, or it might surface much later in life. Maybe it’ll never surface, or maybe it surfaces quickly, and you get treatment and you get better fast. Or maybe it takes a long time. It’s different person to person and case to case. 

Everyone experiences situations differently, and handles stress in their own way! (cartoon by Liz Climo)

The environment I was in, one with a lot of stress, brought everything to a head. Let’s face it, high school is stressful for almost everyone. And the stress I was under with school, skiing, violin, AP tests, and applying for college is what pulled the trigger on my loaded gun and set me off into an eating disorder. It’s hard to explain how much this knowledge helped me let go of some of the intense guilt and shame I felt. All along I’d been thinking I had a behavior problem, that I just wasn’t strong enough to not use symptoms, that I was a bad kid. Learning that I hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve this helped me start to have compassion for myself. 

Stress was at the root of my bulimia. So, Angie set out to help me handle stress, because I had never known how to deal with it well. Now, I know that when I’m really stressed, I can call my mom and talk it over. I have a sports psychologist I can hash it over with. I can talk to my coach, Cork. I can talk to a teammate. I can talk to my boyfriend, Wade. I can go for a walk. I can do yoga. I can watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. There are a million tools in my toolbox now because Angie helped me put them there. I’ve also learned that if you just need to be sad, that’s OK too. You can be sad! You can be anxious. You can be worried about something. You can be nervous about a race. It’s human, and if I learned anything at The Emily Program, it’s that I want to let myself feel the whole range of incredible emotions we humans experience. 

I was always such a happy-go-lucky kid. When I was eighteen years old, a time when everything was going right for me, I felt that I had no right to be nervous or anxious. So, I didn’t know how to deal with stress and adversity. Angie changed that. She helped me figure out that life is about facing and channeling that stress. We would talk about everything in life and talk about symptoms and what my eating disorder was doing to me. She would break it all down to the smallest box to find the truth. 

Two weeks into my residency at The Emily Program, I felt that I was beginning to heal. I started to see things more clearly from the mental health and emotional side of things. But I still needed to conquer the next stage. 

I had to keep the food down. I still didn’t want to eat.”

Eating disorders can feel isolating and lonely, but you’re not the only one who is going through it. (photo by Modica/NordicFocus)

Sometimes, the person you care about who is suffering from an eating disorder might simply need someone to listen to them, but not necessarily try to understand or explain why their disorder doesn’t make sense. We know it doesn’t make sense. We know that we need to “just eat, damn it”. But what we really need is for someone to listen to what’s scaring us, what’s stressing us out, what our fears are, even if they don’t make sense at all. It’s ok to say “I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I care about you a lot, and I want to be here for you”. That support and unconditional love goes a long, long ways. 

I know Wade will be there to support me, love me and listen to me on the best days, the worst days, in the sun and in the rain. And that unconditional love is important to have, whether or not you are recovering from an eating disorder!

The good news is, you are not alone. You have resources! 

  • WithAll’s what to say campaign, “What to Say” equips youth coaches with ways in which to talk with their athletes about how to create healthy relationships with food and their bodies. It’s free, and it’s an extremely small time commitment that can save an athlete’s relationship with themselves. Check it out here: https://withall.org/
  • The NEDA website: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ 
    • Under the header “Help and Support” there is a “find treatment” button to click that brings you to a map of the US, so you can find a treatment option nearest to you. 
    • Coaches, it’s a great idea to have names and numbers of licensed therapists and nutritionists on hand, so taking the time to explore this website and find options near you if your program, school or University doesn’t have a RDN (registered dietician nutritionist) or counselor on hand. 
  • In order to find treatment, the site https://www.findedhelp.com is pretty incredible. You can search by location and type of care, but also by your insurance provider. 
  • I also recommend the Emily Program, not because I’m an ambassador for them, but because their treatment program literally saved my life. They also have a lot of helpful resources on their website, so take some time to play around and learn more. https://emilyprogram.com/
  • The Work, Play, Love podcast with Lauren Fleshman and Jesse Thomas. Everything they do is great, but specifically their podcast #63 “Mary Cain, Creating A Healthy Team Culture, Eating Disorders, Performance and Nutrition, Picking a Program”. Starting at 19 mins, Lauren and Jesse dive in depth on the eating disordered culture around running and what needs to happen in order to change it for the better. I thought their remarks were right on the button, and I recommend this as a great conversation starter for athletes on teams and as food for thought for coaches. 
  • The PeaceMeal podcast, by the Emily Program. They discuss topics around eating disorders, body image and how society plays into this, along with inspiration recovery stories. Their podcast Episode 2: Eating Disorders 101, can be especially helpful for anyone looking to understand a little bit more about what exactly these disorders are. 
  • ROAR by Stacy Sims. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it to female athletes and coaches of female athletes. The premise is that “women are not small men”, and should be given training and sports nutrition options that reflect a Woman’s unique physiology. 
  • Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer and Thom Rutledge. As mentioned in my book excerpt above, this book uses many different analogies and yes, even humor to help explain what it’s like to have an eating disorder, and offers many helpful tools and inspiration to fight against it. 
One of my favorite photos with Jason Cork; the time he ran my race skis to the start line in Drammen wearing a top hat, just to give me an extra smile before the race! Our coaches are great at finding ways to keep sport fun and take the pressure off, even though we’re racing at the highest level.

Coaches

Even if you foster the most incredible team culture with the best body positivity in the world, you may still have athletes with eating disorders. I was one of them, and I had the most caring coaches in the whole world. This is not your fault! But there are some things you can do to help them out, because we know you care about your athletes as humans as well as athletes. 

If you’re scared to talk about it with your team at the start of the season, bring in an expert and be present for the conversation. Let your athletes know that there are many resources available to them and let them know that they can come to you at any time. 

Meet with an RDN (registered dietician nutritionist) and have a chat with them about how to talk to athletes about food and fueling during training, and then you have someone to refer athletes to if you feel something is not quite right. 

Focus on process oriented goals, not outcome results. Make sure your athletes know that you care about their work ethic, their presence on the team, and their mental game more than what number is next to their name on the results page. 

I know that the finish line hugs will be there whether or not I podium in a race. Here, getting a hug from Head Coach Grover because he knew I’d left it all out on the course. (photo by Nordic Focus)

If you see an athlete who appears to be showing some red flags of an eating disorder, it’s ok to ask them about how things are going. Ask them if they’re doing ok emotionally, if they’re stressed, if they are doing ok outside of sport, since there is likely something triggering their eating disorder. Offer to give them resources (maybe your school has a RDN or counselor they can meet with), or point them in the direction of local eating disorder specialists. 

Lastly but perhaps most important: do not ever tell your athletes they are fat, to lose weight, or say that they are “too big” for their sport. I repeat; don’t do this. Ever. This can only cause harm. If your athlete comes to you asking about how to safely drop weight for their sport, refer them to a registered dietician nutritionist or helpful resources like the book ROAR by Stacey T. Simms (this is for women specifically), or sit down to have a conversation with your athlete if you feel knowledgeable and comfortable doing so; with awareness that a type-A athlete may take what you say about weight loss and run too far with it. 

Former teammate, great friend and now all-around amazing counselor and coach Holly Brooks giving me a big huge hug and dose of laughter when I really needed it. (photo from Garrott Kuzzy)

Parents

Your child’s eating disorder is not your fault. Just as it is not their fault, it is not yours, either. But there are some ways in which you can help your child build (or re-build) a healthy relationship to food and their body. 

When it comes to athletics and results…your most important job is to make sure your kids are happy, healthy and enjoying sport. Ask about how their day was or what they learned/worked on, not what result they got. Ask about their goals. Ask about what they learned today, or if practice was fun. Because sport, in the end, is supposed to be fun! 

Seeing my Mom right after I won time of day in a World Cup race. But she didn’t ask about my result, she was saying in this moment “I’m so proud of how you skied with guts!” (photo from Nordic Focus)

Think about the words you use to describe yourself or how you talk about your relationship with food in front of your kids. I am forever grateful that I never once heard my Mom say “these pants make me look fat” or “I’m being ‘bad’ and eating french fries today”. If she wanted the french fries, she enjoyed a normal portion of them, and as a child I saw that all foods could fit into a healthy life. My parents never made comments about my body or my shape, but I did receive comments from my Dad like “way to go! You were really hammering up that hill!” or my Mom saying “wow Jess, it looks like you’ve put a lot of hard work into your double pole technique, good job!”. It was never about how my body looked, only about what it could do. 

Of course, I still developed an eating disorder anyways because it was hard-wired into me, but without this guidance and examples of self-care and confidence from both my parents, I am sure my eating disorder would have sufficed much earlier and with more disastrous results. In short, treat yourself with the same kindness and love that you treat your child, because they’re always watching. I say this with the full and complete knowledge that I’m not a parent and have no clue how hard it is, and I’m sure I will make many mistakes down the road! But hopefully this will not be one of them, because it is so important to show with your actions and words that it’s ok to accept and love yourself the way you are. 

Dad helping Mackenzie out with her skis with my Mom and I in the background. I’m so grateful to them for keeping skiing about the joy, the people, the fun and the challenge, rather than the results.

Teammates

Look for ways to foster an open culture on your team where concerns can be shared and openly addressed. This goes beyond eating disorders! School is stressful. Life is stressful. Dating can be fun (but also, stressful). Talk to one another. Listen to one another. Have one another’s backs.

Finish line hugs with Sophie (photo from Nordic Focus)

What I love about our environment on the US women’s team is that I feel that no matter what the topic is, I can have a productive, safe and interesting conversation about it with my teammates. I know I won’t be judged, and I’ll have another viewpoint to consider. The fact that we can talk about body confidence and pressure from racing with one another takes away the strange influence something seems to hold when it’s made a taboo topic. By bringing it into the light, we take away some of its power. 

Hanging out and sharing giggles after a good hard training session with Julia Kern, Hannah Halvorsen and Hailey Swirbul.

Some ways to start this culture include but aren’t limited to:

  • I’ve had teams send around my Body Issues blog post as a conversation starter as well, which you’re welcome to use to get the conversation going on how you want to create a safe space to talk about the hard things.
  • Have everyone listen to Lauren Fleshman and Jesse Thomas’ podcast (listed above) and discuss those topics covered as a group. 
  • Most important, get together as a team and brainstorm about the type of culture you want to create. What kind of things do you value as teammates? What does being a good teammate look like? Write down your “team culture document” so you all have a copy to look back on now and then. 
I feel supported by my teammates in all ways…even when they’re scraping me up off the snow! (photo by Nordic Focus)

In summary, although I desperately wish there was a “how-to” book for exactly how to support someone who is struggling through an eating disorder, it’s going to look different case to case and person to person. But in my experience, offering your unconditional love and support, compassion and being available to check in with your person is incredibly helpful. This is likely the roughest period of their life, which can take its toll upon you as well. Thank you for standing by them, and for being so strong! 

Eating Disorders Awareness week, and a Brave Enough book excerpt!

Eating Disorders awareness week is really important to me, and hopefully to you as well! Statistically, you know at least one person who has or who will suffer from one at some point in their lifetime. As with many challenges in our lives, the more we can learn, understand and find compassion, the more we can help one another through the rough patches. 

Talking about eating disorders can help us take away the stigma and taboo so it’s easier to ask for help. (photo by Jesse Vaananen)

I’d like to start with an excerpt from my upcoming book, Brave Enough. I was 19 years old, having just checked into the Emily Program for group sessions during my treatment. I was beginning to learn more about how my eating disorder was connected to my emotions, not necessarily to food. Depending on who you are, this will either sound familiar (you’re not the only one who has felt this way, I promise) or it will be an insight into the mind of someone suffering with an eating disorder. 

“I had a lot of unpacking to do. No one likes moving furniture and boxes, but this was even harder. I was unpacking my thoughts and emotions and moving them from the deepest, darkest part of my brain and out into the bright, open space of The Emily Program. This unpacking process was where I took major strides down the road of self-discovery. 

For pretty much everyone at The Emily Program, it wasn’t really about food. Yes, we were in a clinic that handled eating disorders. But our treatment wasn’t focused solely on food and eating. Our group and individual therapy sessions were more about unpacking our own history. It wasn’t so much about what symptoms we were using but more about the emotions behind our actions, the reason we were using those symptoms in the first place. Often, it wasn’t even about getting skinny. Some people had an eating disorder because they’d been abused. Other patients had eating disorders because they didn’t want to look pretty. They didn’t want to look attractive because they were terrified of it. For some people, it was about handling stress from work or school or athletics, and that was exactly why I was there. 

The unpacking process was exhausting for me. I was encouraged to talk about how using symptoms made me feel and what led up to it. My emotions were packed away in a series of tightly connected boxes like Russian nesting dolls. They were stored in the back of my psyche, and some emotions fit inside other emotions. Every time I would bring an emotion out from the deepest, darkest spot of my brain and into the light of The Emily Program, another emotion would reveal itself. Soon, the boxes were stacked up all around me. I worried that if they toppled over, they’d bury me alive. 

“Everyone’s favorite question to ask an athlete is about what we can or can’t eat,” I said in one group session as I began to unpack an emotion. 

“They always ask me, ‘Can you eat dessert? What do you have to eat? Are you on a special diet? Oh, you’re going to eat that?’ People are always asking what I’m eating and question if I should be eating it,” I told the group. 

(photo from the Emily Program)

“So, now, I question whether I should or shouldn’t eat the food in front of me. I’m questioning myself at every meal, especially if I’m eating in front of teammates who are watching me. I feel so guilty about the amount I’m consuming because I’m an athlete.” 

The guilt was now unpacked and out in the open space of our group session. The light allowed me to discover another emotion inside of the one I had just revealed. Heck, I didn’t even know it was there. But I now knew that this feeling haunted me. 

“At first, I felt guilt about what I ate. But then I realized that I also felt ashamed and completely unworthy because here I was, trying to become a pro athlete, following my training plan perfectly . . . and I can’t even extend that same attention to detail with my diet. I feel like maybe I’ll never be enough, that I won’t be good enough to make it.” 

Unpacking that memory led to a discussion about how my eating disorder was tied to my athletics and how I created very restricted eating ideas, but we also talked about how my quest to be “perfect” was creating really rigid walls for me as well. Our group therapist led a discussion about how all foods do fit into everyone’s diet, and that allowing yourself to be who you are is key to being able to be at peace with yourself. I began to think maybe perfection didn’t need to have so much control over my life. 

In those first weeks at The Emily Program that was exactly how my recovery went. I still felt guilty and ashamed for needing to be there at all, and it was confusing. But I also felt relieved. I was sharing my secrets for the first time, and that made me feel brave. While a large part of my brain that was still controlled by my eating disorder screamed at me to quit, a smaller, much quieter part of my brain was jumping up and down, waving banners, and cheering for me as I slowly came around to the idea that I might not always need my eating disorder. I was unpacking all those emotions that I was so ashamed of, and the people sitting next to me were so supportive, and as they listened, they offered insight. Most important, I felt supported in my quest to open up and figure out why I used symptoms. “

Thankful to my parents for helping me form better relationships with food!

For those of you reading this who have struggled or are currently struggling with an eating disorder, know this: you are not alone, it’s not your fault, and there is so much hope for you to get better and find peace with yourself. I’m no expert by any means, but allow me to share three things I wish I’d heard early on. 

1. Ask for help! The sooner you get professional help and start your road to recovery, the greater your chances of returning to a happy and healthy life as soon as possible. If you fall and break your arm, would you hide it from everyone and insist that you can fix it yourself? Would you insist that school, your job, or other obligations are more important than getting your arm healed? Or would you tell your family and then head to the nearest doctor to get medical help? 

Treat your eating disorder with the gravity of the life-threatening illness that it is. Don’t struggle though it alone, reach out to medical professionals trained in eating disorders for help. Tell your family, and tell your coach or other important people in your life. If you’re nervous or scared to tell them, feel free to use me as an example to get the conversation started. Send them this blog post, and read it together. 

Taking away the stigma from eating disorders, one story at a time. (photo from the Emily Program)

A few resources to get you started: 

  • The Emily Program has multiple locations, and you can learn more about eating disorders as well as call to set up an appointment through their website: https://emilyprogram.com/
Not all hurts are on the outside and visible, but they hurt just the same and deserve compassion and help.

2. Build a support team around you. Ask important people in your life if they can be there for you through the ups and downs, to: 

  • listen to you, not judge you 
  • check in with you when you need some accountability
  • walk you to an appointment if you’re feeling nervous
  • be a shoulder to lean on

When you’re on a team, you feel supported and surrounded by positivity and hope. Ask your family, friends, coaches and teammates to be part of your team as you take steps on your road to recovery. 

Team comes in many forms, and is there to support you in many ways. (photo from the US Ski and Snowboard Team)
Animals count as support teams, too! They’re a great way to relieve stress and boost your spirits when you’re feeling down.

3. And finally…you’ve got this. Don’t give up, especially because it seems impossibly hard at times. When you come out the other side, you will be one of the strongest people on the planet. Recovery isn’t immediate, and just as it takes time for your eating disorder to take hold, it takes time to drive it out with healthier thoughts and new patterns of behavior to cope with whatever triggers your eating disorder. But even though it takes time and isn’t a linear path to the top doesn’t mean that every single step isn’t important! Each time you choose your health over your eating disorder, every time you stand up for yourself, is a small victory and something to be proud of. Celebrate those daily small victories, and keep cheering for yourself. And when it gets exhausting, turn to your support team; they’re always going to be there cheering for you even when you’re too tired from fighting against ED to cheer for yourself. 

Even crawling forward is still moving you up and up!
There are so many important things to be; Brave, Intelligent, Hard-working, Compassionate, Fun…the list goes on and on! What you look like is at the very, very bottom of that list. (photo from the Emily Program)

Eating disorders awareness week continues with another post coming soon, especially for the members of those all-star support teams! Coaches, parents, teammates, teachers, this next one is for you. Thank you for your love and support. 

Hitting the mark, missing it, and everything in between.

We’re starting our second Tour event of the season tomorrow! But before I get into race stories, a really fun announcement that I’d like to highlight…the registration for my book launch party is up! We’re hosting it at the Stillwater Area High School (so my English teachers can grade my final project) because they have enough space to fit everyone who wants to come! The signup link is below:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-launch-for-brave-enough-with-jessie-diggins-olympic-gold-medalist-and-hometown-hero-tickets-89882836985

I’ll be speaking, sharing a recap of the past year’s races, as well as some of the highlights from the book. We’ll cover the process of going from a pair of 3-pin binding skis at youth club to racing on the world’s biggest stage. We’ll talk about the ups and downs of ski racing, learning how to deal with pressure, being a woman in sport and what I hope people will learn about body image from my book. 

When I first got to see the advanced copy, around Christmas!

Then you’ll get to hear from both Todd and I as he leads a Q&A session, before we sign books and take photos. I’m really looking forward to sharing this book launch event with everyone, and celebrating the end of the season! 

The event is free and open to all, but please register for your ticket so they know how many people to expect! When you register for your ticket, the “price” is listed as $0-26.73 because there is also a book pre-order option for those who would like to order their book and have it signed at the event. There is also a donation option, for the ArtReach St. Croix to further fund their literary arts book programming…and those donations will be split between ArtReach, WithAll and Protect Our Winters. 

Now back to racing…it’s been interesting for me, navigating pressure and the expectations of others in a post-2018 Olympic world. I have had a podium since the Tour, but also been so tired I wondered if I was going to collapse before reaching the finish line. I’ve made good choices, and some spectacularly dumb ones. 

Getting ready for the next set of races with Cork in the wax truck (photo by US Ski and Snowboard)

While racing in Nove Mesto, I had difficulty connecting to my body while racing. This seems a strange thing to say and even stranger now that I’m writing it, but it’s true! After the Tour de Ski and a little time off, getting back to racing felt like something my body wanted to do while my brain was saying “eeeehhhhhh…but really? Why?” 

When lunging at the line, always make the most ridiculous face possible. (photo by Nordic Focus)

In Oberstdorf, the 15km skiathlon was a rough day for me as I was pushing absolutely as hard as I could…with a gas tank that was only about half full. I felt tired and low energy, but not on low mental energy, which made it very frustrating. The next day I rallied back, reasoning to myself that even if I was tired for a 15km race, anything can happen in a sprint. And anything DID happen, as I pulled off 3rd place on the podium! Classic sprinting…who knew, right? 

Racing in the 15km skiathlon…and doing the head tilt that happens when I’m super tired but pushing hard anyways. (photo from US Ski and Snowboard)
Look ma, no feet on the ground! (photo by US Ski and Snowboard)
I don’t know why I make these faces. I can’t help it. (Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard)
A slightly more normal looking podium shot. (Photo: Ben Merrill/U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

We then scooted over to Seefeld for a mini training camp, during the only weekend that was without World Cup races the entire winter. After a chance to live in apartments and try to get over the homesickness that was starting to tug at me, it was time to get back to business in Sweden. 

Road trip! We stopped in Mittenwald, Germany for a lunch break and loved all the painted buildings.
Alayna and I enjoying some sunny skiing!
Caitlin, Rosie, Alayna, David and I about to embark on a 4-minute long sled run…after a 45 minute hike up to the top. Earn your turns, sledding style!

Falun was a bizarre weekend for me. The morning of the classic sprint race, I woke up with a super tweaked neck. I had managed to strain a muscle by sleeping funny, and it was an intense kind of pain that I wasn’t used to. Our entire sport is pretty much based on handling pain and discomfort during a race, but at least you’re in control of it; you could always back down the pace if you choose. This kind of pain was foreign to me, and while getting it worked on I started to tip over, recognizing the signs that I was about to pass out. I felt silly, with this loss of control. My trademark is being good at pain tolerance, so why I was starting to faint from a silly neck muscle pain? Luckily for me, we had our amazing volunteer PT Zuzana Rogers there, and she checked me out and made sure it was safe for me to race. Every time I planted my poles I felt unsettled, but I had set my mind on racing, so I pushed through it (this was undeniably stupid of me). By Sunday, I was incredibly sore but without pain, and I thanked my lucky stars every time I planted my poles and was able to push as hard as I could around the course. 

An amazingly scary photo of the snow situation in Falun this winter, but a big thank you to the organizers for pulling it off! (photo by Nordic Focus)

But here’s the thing; the muscle strain was just an outward symptom of an overtired body. It wasn’t really about the neck at all. The problem wasn’t that I had almost passed out hours before the race, the problem was that I was extremely tired, my body was shutting down, and I was stubbornly insisting to myself that I was fine and ready to race. Even after 200-something World Cup races, it can be hard to be honestly in tune with your body and have the courage to rest when you need to. It’s something I’m (clearly) still working on. With that in mind, this week I cut my training load by a wide margin, and – surprise, surprise! – started to feel better and better through the week. I hadn’t realized how tired I was until I experienced what normal energy felt like! 

Trying to float instead of herringbone. My only thought at this moment was “ouch. this hurts.” (photo by Nordic Focus)

If there’s any kids reading this right now, here’s what I have to say about it: it’s ok to be human. It’s ok to have races that aren’t exactly what you wanted, as long as you fought hard for them. I know, because I’ve had a wide range of races these past few weeks, and you don’t always have to have perfect performances. The only thing you “have” to do is get out there and give it everything you’ve got. And that way, you’ll either have a great race, or learn something to take with you for next time! And if you have any injuries or suspected injuries, get them checked out right away! Not all pain is significant, but all pain is worth getting looked at to be sure it’s ok. 

Alayna, me, Julia, KO, Zuzana, Caitlin, Cork and JP all enjoying some much-needed sunshine!

So heading into this Tour of Scandinavia, my only goals are these: 

  • Be a good person (I mean, isn’t this on everyone’s goal list?)
  • Set very clear process-oriented goals for each race, like “keep my core locked in tight while v2-ing”
  • When I cross the finish line, be able to look back and honestly say I gave it all the energy I had that day.
  • Decide for myself if each race was a success or not – BEFORE I look at the results sheet – based on how I hit my own goals and the effort I was able to give.
Excited to get this tour going with my longtime coach and tech, Jason Cork! (photo by Nordic Focus)

We’re excited to get this tour rolling! And as a Valentine’s Day bonus…a photo of our family dog Leo looking so darn cute. 

I will never understand how he’s able to do that with his legs…but cute no matter what!

The Tour test of positivity

I didn’t mean to completely block the finish line by collapsing a mere two feet from it. When I finally dragged my tired and completely flooded body across the red line in the snow at the top of Alpe Cermis, my ski hit one of the pine boughs marking the finish, I tripped, and that was it. Once I was down I wouldn’t have been able to get up even if you were waving free tickets to Disneyland in front of my nose. 

Awesome photo reposted from Ragnhild Haga…sorry I was right in your way at the finish, girl!

I was so out of it that it took a good 30 seconds before I realized that the GPS pod in the back of my bib was digging into my spine. I treated it the same way I reacted to the spit I was sure I had all over my face: annoying, but still don’t care enough to do anything about it. A really deep sense of satisfaction started to soak in about the same time the snow melted into my suit; we had made it to the finish. We were done with the Tour. 

That is one tough climb. (photo by Nordic Focus)

Except, of course, for 90 minutes later, when I was trying to run alongside the boys to cheer, wheezing and coughing and shamelessly using the boys tall spare poles to push myself up the slope. 

Counting on a little extra sparkle power to get me through! (photo by Jesse Vaananen)

This was my 8th Tour de Ski, my 7th time completing the whole circus (I got sick one year partway through). That either makes me crazy and brave, or crazy and stupid. I’m still not sure which one it is. I feel like every time I do the tour, it teaches me something. How to deal with pressure, how to keep the focus going day after day, how to be smart about recovery, how to be more resilient. This year, I think it taught me how to hang tough after disappointments and be a better person. I have never been more proud of my team than after this tour.

An exciting shot of a scary little moment during stage 6’s sprint! (photo by Jesse Vaananen)

As I learned from racing Period 1 of the World Cup, nothing is hard when it’s all going right. When your fitness, your body, your skis and your wax are all in a great place, you race absolutely as hard as you can…and sometimes, you get to step onto the podium. It’s not hard to be happy, to be positive, to smile. But when you race as hard as you can and your skis aren’t competitive, you’re injured or a crash takes you out, it is the hardest thing in the world to be positive after the race. That’s where the true test of mental toughness lies; what do you do when you’ve given it everything you have, and it doesn’t work out the way you know it could have? Do you throw a fit at the finish line? Do you smash your poles into the fence? Do you yell at the coaches and techs? Or do you straighten your spine, hold your head high and remind yourself that if you did everything you could as well as you were able, you should still be proud of yourself and the effort you gave? 

Sadie and I working together during stage 4, a tough day for our team. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Taking a moment to catch my breath after getting up from the snow (photo by Nordic Focus)

I want to be the racer that’s still fun to hang around after it all goes wrong. What you act like after a tough day says a lot about who you are…but the best part is that it’s completely within your control. It’s something I’m always working on. It’s easier said than done, and I’m the first to say that I haven’t always been proud of how I reacted after a disappointment. But one of the benefits of getting older and having done hundreds of races is that you’re more easily able to put it all into perspective, and remember that how you carry yourself after a bad day speaks to your character more than how you smile after a good day. 

At least I have photographic proof that I pretend to drive invisible cars around corners! (photo by Nordic Focus)

So no, this tour wasn’t even close to what I had dreamed of, what I had trained for, or what my team and I know that I’m capable of. But I earned the right to be proud of myself for how I stayed positive, gave it my all day after day, turning myself inside out pushing hard for the finish line even when I had no kick wax or when I was getting passed right and left. It’s not a secret that we struggled on a few stages with having competitive skis this tour, but it wasn’t for lack of effort, and in truth that’s just part of this sport. It’s never fair. Someone always has the best skis, someone has the worst, and you have to accept the fact that the playing field will not be equal. But that’s never an excuse to give up or stop trying.

Sending it! (photo by Nordic Focus)

We missed the wax outright in the first stage in Lenzerheide, and it was a tough day for the team. But when we got to the wax truck, there was no yelling, no tears, no accusations. I told the techs that I believed in them and I knew they would nail the wax the next day. Because here’s the thing: I know that they are always giving their best effort, and I know how hard they’re working. And I have no idea how to wax skis. There is a 0% chance that I would have done a better job, and a 100% chance that I would have messed it up were it me in that truck. How could you be mad at someone for giving it their best shot, especially when you couldn’t do it yourself?

Gutting it out with all my energy in Stage 1 (photo by Nordic Focus)

And you know what? The next day, the techs totally nailed it, we had a great qualifier for the sprint as a team, and Sadie and I both made the finals. It was a sign that our fitness was there, and we had to trust that our training had worked.

Hammering the sprint qualifier in Lenzerheide. (photo by Nordic Focus)

For me, the tour was a test of positive energy and a can-do mindset, looking for every chance to keep pushing my body as hard as I could to regain lost time after a few tough days interspersed through the tour. I was more proud of how I hung tough than the podium I snagged on stage 6, although that was also an extremely fun day! All that belief and trust in my fitness paid off, for when I had the great skis to match, I knew I could hang in there and ski a great race.

Just enjoying the moment. (photo by Jesse Vaananen)
Apparently, I make weird faces? (photo by Nordic Focus)

We had a really awesome crew doing the whole tour this year, and it made me excited for years to come. It was so fun to see Rosie and Sadie have new TDS personal best finishes, to see KO crush her first ever tour, and to see David and Logan rocking the men’s side and mixing it up.

Our TDS finishers, left to right: David Norris, Katharine Ogden, Rosie Brennan, Sadie Bjornsen, Logan Hanneman and me!
Sadie and I trying to rest and stay warm before the sprint heats on stage 6 (photo from Matt)

The tour takes so much from you; your energy, your mental toughness…your sanity. But it gives you so much in return. A confidence boost, a fitness boost, a renewed excitement for ski racing. All that said, as much as I adore the adrenaline rush of the Tour, it’s equally important to find a way to shut it off and reset in the weeks afterwards.

Wade and I skied up to an Alm and got apple strudel and hot chocolate!

Heading to Ramsau for a week of nice relaxing skiing in the sunshine, sledding at night and eating strudel after skiing up to the Alm would sound amazing no matter what, but getting to have my boyfriend Wade there made it the happiest week I’ve had in a long time. 

Amazing views from pretty much every part of the ski trails.
After taking the cable car to the top of the Dachstein Glacier, we hiked around a little bit, enjoyed the views, and got lunch in a cool little hut!
Not bad, huh?
We were in awe of how beautiful it was – in every direction!

Now we’re headed to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, to get back into the World Cup racing scene with a two-day pursuit weekend. Saturday will be a 10km skate followed by a 10km classic pursuit-start race on Sunday, and I’m happy to say that after a refreshing break I’m once again excited to pull a bib on! 

If you didn’t go to Stillwater High School, this shirt won’t make sense.

The TDS, explained in GIFs

Here we go, you guys. On the eve of the Tour de Ski 2019-20, I’ve put together a ridiculous interpretation comprehensive guide to life inside the Tour de Ski. It’s a wild ride, but it’s also my favorite event of the whole year because of it’s non-stop energy!

When you’re not pumped about leaving Christmas behind.

I had a really incredible week with my family over the Holiday break. It was our first Christmas together in 5 years, and although it flew by, we had an amazing time skiing together, sledding, baking cookies and just enjoying each other’s company.

Family ski up Sertig valley!
The tiniest of gingerbread houses!

But now, it’s time for that thrill ride of a race series…the Tour! I’ll let the photos/gifs do most of the talking.

Fuel is important (always), but especially when you have 7 races in 9 days. Eat up, kids.
When you’re trying to look cool at opening ceremonies.
When you’re trying to get to sleep the night before the first race…but you’re kind of excited.
When you have a good race

The cool thing about the TDS is that whether you had the race you dreamed of or not…you have to get over it and get ready for the next day! And you still get the fun fans yelling and clanging cowbells whether you’re first or last.

When Dario’s fan club comes in with the giant cowbells

Right after the first weekend of races, we pack up and drive to the next venue. The travel between races is almost harder than the races themselves…depending on how many times the vans have to stop.

This always happens between Toblach and Val di Fiemme. It’s not THAT short of a drive, people!

Inevitably, there will be strange weather. Roll with it (or slide with it, depending on what it is).

When the course ices up overnight…and there’s nothing you can do about it.
…and then when it inevitably starts snowing 5 minutes before the start of the classic race.

Remember what I said about getting over your race result, whether it was good or bad? I lied. Definitely take the 10 minutes to celebrate any team podiums that come along. And definitely let the techs take a cut of the massive podium cheese.

When someone scores some podium cheese and JP breaks out his hidden fondue set.

The second travel day this year is from Toblach to Val di Fiemme. It’s sometimes a fun race to see what countries get out the door first.

Wheels up.

As the techs know, your technique isn’t always it’s finest when you’re getting deliriously tired. Sometimes they have to adjust the skis accordingly.

Your wax tech’s reaction when you keep asking for more kick wax as you get more and more tired.

And finally, the worst best part, the totally strange yet epic final climb up Alpe Cermis.

What I think I look like during the final climb.
…and what I ACTUALLY look like. Rare footage of me coming to the finish line of Alpe Cermis (yes, I am a sloth in this moment).

Watch out for the energy crash post-tour! It always comes when you’re least expecting it.

When you find out it’s a 5 course meal and you aren’t going to make it

Wish us luck!

Race-day braids and Relay socks

This has been, without a doubt, the most exciting Period 1 of World Cup that I’ve ever had! It’s had it’s little ups and downs in the weeks between the races, but it’s been so much fun being part of a team that’s killing it both on the race course and off. And it’s hard to believe that we’ve been over here for a whole month already! 

Keeping the Beito plant baby alive…even on a 16 hour travel day from Ruka to Lillehammer! (photo from Sophie)

We arrived in Lillehammer after some delays and extra flights. Honestly, I was relieved that I’d managed to not kill my little plant that I’ve been traveling with since Beitostølen. Curiously enough, no eyebrows were raised in customs each time I marched through the airport clutching this bundle of little white flowers and green leaves…but the flight attendants seemed to really love it. 

Psyched about the snow in Lillehammer! (photo from Cork)

We like to make sure we have fun team things to do that have nothing to do with skiing. So mid-week we secured a meeting room in the huge hotel and had our “joy of painting with Bob Ross” night! As a bonus, we ended up with sweet hotel room decorations to make us feel less like we’re on the road. Or maybe I was the only one who saved mine? I hope not!

Sophie, Rosie and the team working on their Bob Ross scenery!
Techs JP, Tim and Oleg (can you spot the wax truck making an appearance?)
My “happy little trees”

When it came time to race, I was excited more than nervous, and in a really happy place. I hadn’t done a Skiathlon in quite some time, and it’s such a cool race format with the exchange from classic to skate mid-race. It’s different than our usual sprint-and-10km weekends, which was also a great change of pace.

Sophie, Julia and I toured the Swix factory!
Testing skis the day before the race weekend began! (photo by Nordic Focus)
Sadie, Rosie F, Rosie B and I talking over the race prep plan. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Testing skis with Cork…and getting a tan? (photo by Nordic Focus)

The classic skiing in Lillehammer was maybe as good as it’s ever been, and as I was racing I had a sudden burst of confidence in knowing that I could get up the long grinder of a climb without wasting energy at all. With Therese out in front with a gap, I started to push the pace, and after the exchange it was just me and Heidi rounding out the podium. We exchanged leads, pushing each other to race faster and create a sizable gap.

Starting to push the pace a little (photo by Nordic Focus)
Lillehammer has some big climbs! (photo by Nordic Focus)

I love skiing with other racers who understand how changing leads and helping each other by leading where your strengths are can result in a much better race for both athletes. And we did just that! By the time we were about 1.5km from the finish, I felt like I had just a little energy left in the tank, and pushed really hard over the last pitch of the long climb, getting a little gap. Because I always work my way into the season, coming into the finishing lanes in Lillehammer in second place felt like a big moment for me, and I soaked up every second of it, knowing that you can never take a podium for granted because you’ll never know what your body and your wax will be doing the next weekend! 

That “I need more air” face…(photo by Nordic Focus)
Smiling my way into the finish! I had so much joy in this moment, I couldn’t keep it inside. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Happy podium! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Then, of course, the 4x5km relay came around. You KNOW I had the socks and face paint all lined up and ready to go! Relays are such a special thing for our team, because it takes such all-out effort from so many different people to make it come together. As I was warming up and keeping an eye on the jumbotron showing the race, I was so proud of Sophie, Sadie and Rosie for their fighting spirit and was inspired to follow up their efforts with everything I had. 

Cork had the skis dialed in! And special thanks to the Salomon reps for their awesome help in testing. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Pre-race rituals…(photo by Nordic Focus)

I’ve been anchoring the US Women’s 4×5 since I was 19 years old. I’ve seen every manner of race play out before me, and had the entire range of race experiences in this one race format alone! But every single time, crossing the finish line and hugging it out with my teammates – whether it was our best day or our worst – is the single best feeling in ski racing that there is. When I crossed the finish line in Lillehammer, I plowed right into the group hug (and managed to slobber all over Sophie’s jacket). It was the second time in history that we’d finished 2nd in the relay, and we enjoyed that special moment together!

The relay team of Sophie leg 1, Sadie leg 2, Rosie leg 3 and me in leg 4! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Maybe it was too good to be true, because the next morning I woke up with the start of a cold. By the time we got to Davos and I put myself to bed, I had a little fever and chills, couldn’t breathe out of my nose, and was completely miserable. But I went through 3 boxes of tissues, drank about 20 cups of tea with honey per day, got some sunshine on the deck, and read 2.5 books over the next few days. I walked around on my skis to get some fresh air, and did my best not to worry or think too much about the upcoming races. Stressing over an outcome I cannot change wasn’t going to help me get better faster! 

Travel days. It’s really all about the little things. (photo by Nordic Focus)

Luckily, I was feeling back to normal by Thursday night so I could join in the best night of the whole year…our annual team Secret Santa! It’s embarrassing to read a poem or sing a song about you in front of the team, but it also brings more laughs than the week put together and brings the team closer. I drew Coach Matt, and the poor guy had to sing, because of course we were going to make all our coaches sing in front of the team! Scott drew me (literally), making a really cool portrait. 

Hailey reading her poem that Matt wrote her (but she didn’t know it at the time). Cork is very embarrassed on behalf of everyone who had to perform.
My secret Santa portrait from Scott!

I also love being in Davos because we always stay in the Kulm hotel, and the ski trail goes right up to the hotel door! You can ski right down to the other end of town and up the different valleys, and take a bus back home if you really start making poor timing decisions. It’s always so easy to hop on a bus and go down to town to get a waffle and a coffee, and it’s Switzerland, so you KNOW they’re going to be running on time. 

Me, being very overwhelmed by the craziness of the testing zone on race prep day. (photo by Nordic Focus)

By Friday afternoon, I knew I was set on racing, and I felt healthy again, kicking the tail end of the cold out the door. The sprint on Saturday was nothing special for me in terms of results or what I knew my body was capable of, but coming off a cold, it felt like a gosh darn miracle! I was happy with my day and immediately started getting ready for the 10km skate the next day.

In the quarterfinals (photo by Nordic Focus)
The athlete tent was REALLY hot, so Simi and Kevin cooled their heads off while Matt gave some race advice. This is one of my favorite photos from period 1. Note: Coach Sverre Caldwell studying the heat sheet in the background!
Cheering on Julia in her heat while cooling down. (photo by Nordic Focus)

One thing I love about this team (ok, it’s like the 139th thing that I love, but let’s add it to the list) is that we make sure to celebrate every small victory along the way. It’s easy to get excited over podiums and wins and historical “first-ever”s, but those won’t last forever. If we forget to celebrate every step on the path to getting those breakthroughs, we are suddenly in danger of taking those moments for granted. So after every race we acknowledge every sort of victory out there, whether it was the techs nailing the wax in tough conditions, someone’s first points, first World Cup start, first time in the sprint semis, or first podium. 

Hailey scored her first ever World Cup points! And then we got to ski the first heat together. (photo by Nordic Focus)

And boy, did we ever have a lot to celebrate this weekend! Hailey Swirbul got her first World Cup points by making the sprint heats in Davos. We were in the first heat together, and it was fun to be part of something so special. It brought to mind the sprint in Quebec when Julia Kern made the heats for the first time, and I was also in her heat. I think I’m the luckiest old lady on the team ever, because I got to witness the excitement and look at their faces as they lined up to start the heats for the first time. You don’t get to see that kind of pure excitement, joy and inspiration every day! Then of course, seeing Sophie smoothly ski her way onto the podium was the incredibly satisfying and delicious icing on the cake. Rosie Frankowski also scored her first World Cup points the next day in the 10km skate, and we had 5 girls in the top 30 (myself, Sadie, Julia, Hailey and Rosie). The positive energy and confidence going through the entire team was a tangible thing! 

Charging down the finishing lanes. (photo by Nordic Focus)

As for my race, that 10km skate felt incredible. The course here in Davos is so tricky to pace, as it winds its way up the valley in one long grind where you are constantly working. Then it roars back down in a working downhill that never gives you as much rest as you think it should. But my body was rested, I executed my pacing strategy well, we had good skis and I fought my way to the podium again for my 3rd individual podium of the season! For a girl who loves high-speed sledding as much as I do, I was pretty stoked to get one of those cute mini-sled trophies in my hands. 

Leaving it all out there…or sliding into home base? You’ll never know. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Podium photo! Heidi, Therese and me. (photo by Nordic Focus)
Getting a hug from Coach Grover at the finish! (photo by Nordic Focus)
Ok, ok, our suits are cool…but check out those race day braids, am I right?!? (photo by Jesse Vaananen)

A special shoutout goes out to our new US Ski and Snowboard team partner, Land Rover. I’m one of their athletes, and Land Rover arranged for us to have a car over in Europe to help the team out with transportation! Not worrying about the snow coming down hard while driving to the race venue was a huge relief, and I’m extremely grateful for the added freedom of mobility while traveling on the road for 4 months! Because of course I would give cars names, we gave it some thought and dubbed the car “Discovery Dwight”. 

Welcoming Dwight to the family (photo by Logan Hanneman)

Now I’m staying here in Davos over the Holiday break, training and looking forward to spending some quality time with my family! My Mom, Dad and sister Mackenzie are all coming to spend a week with me, and I’m excited for some family skis, baking Christmas cookies, and decorating a tree together. 

Psyched up and ready for the Tour coming up next! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Bust out the Sparkles!

Before I get into the race tales, I have received a number of questions about my book, Brave Enough, so I thought I’d take the hottest of seconds to go through those. First of all, thank you all so much for the positive messages and excitement! After 18 months of hard work, I’m pretty over the moon about the book coming out for real on March 10th! 

Leo the handsome doggy is excited about the book, it seems!

A lot of you have asked about the best way to buy the book, and the answer is 1.) pre-order that cute little sucker! and 2.) if possible, order it from your local bookstore. The Indiebound and Barnes and Noble links on my website should take you right to where you can pre-order it. I’ve also gotten questions about how to get a signed copy, and the mnworldcup.com site has a tab under “Festival Information”, then “Merchandise” where you can purchase a special copy of my book. I signed a one-time run of special bookplates that commemorate the Minneapolis World Cup, and that’s a great way to get a limited-edition copy of the book if you’re into collecting things like I am! You can also get a giant cowbell on this same page, so really, it’s the whole package. 

Why do authors always ask you to pre-order their book? I always wondered this, and then I became one of those people asking you to pre-order their book. How cliché of me. Here’s why: if you like the author and want to support their book launch, then pre-ordering the book from your local bookstore or Indiebound lets stores know that you want this book, which results in them stocking the shelves, so more people see the book and pick it up. Pre-ordering also guarantees the lowest price, and you know that I know that you know you love a good bargain. 

Either way, the German Women’s Team coach and one of the Norwegian Women’s coaches told me they pre-ordered it…so my day has been made! Now, on to your regularly scheduled programming from the World Cup. 

Excited to be back on snow with Sadie and Rosie!
Reunited with our wax techs in the Oslo airport! JP enjoying some ramen.

The first week of being back on the the road for a 4-month stretch of World Cup races can be the most exciting, because it feels like the first day of school. You’re stoked to see all your friends from other countries and hear how they’re doing. You’re also not-so-secretly excited to see the good, the bad and the ugly evolution of each Nation’s race suit. The first week can also be the hardest, though, because you’re the most homesick and trying to adjust to being on the road again. 

A beautiful sunset over Beitostølen!
Skiing the tourist trails with Cork after ski testing!

Luckily for me, we got to stay in small apartments while in Beitostølen, which made a huge difference! Being able to hang out as a group on the couch instead of in your bed all day makes you feel more at home and less like a nomad. We marveled at all the glorious snow falling from the sky almost every day, we ate brown cheese, and we got caught up with friends. We each selected one or two races that first weekend to use as tune-up races, and it brought a huge smile to my face, getting to cheer as Sophie got 3rd place in the classic sprint! The next day, I placed 4th with Sadie 5th (we basically skied the exact same race!) in the 10km classic, and it felt good to put a bib on again and remember how to test skis before a race. Then we hopped on a bus ride, two plane flights and another long bus ride to get to the land of Reindeer and the snowy forests of Ruka, Finland.

Sadie and Rosie and “sunny”, the lamp that is supposed to help us get over the jet lag and dark mornings!
Totally pumped on all the fresh snow! (photo from Rosie Frankowski)
A typical roadside attraction on the drive to Ruka…

The first World Cup of the year is almost always a classic sprint race in Ruka. And by “almost always”, I mean that I’ve been starting the season with this race for the last 8 years! For 8 years, I’ve been working on improving my technique on the uniquely steep climbs that we’ve dubbed “the half pipe course”, and this year I feel I finally started to make that sought-after progress. I had the best sprint I’ve ever had, qualifying in 12th and being hundredths of a second from making the semifinals. 

Charging hard in the qualifier (photo by Nordic Focus)
Rounding the corner in our quarterfinal (photo by Nordic Focus)

The next day, the individual 10km classic race, wasn’t quite as sparkly, although I certainly pushed my body right to the limit that day. I was frustrated with how my body felt during the race, like I was pushing up against my top race gear, hammering on the door and trying to get in, and was simply unable to. This is the feeling athletes often refer to as “feeling flat”, and it’s honestly the same feeling you get when you’re next in line for the amusement park ride and they shut down the ride before you can get on. This analogy makes no sense if you’ve never experience heartbreak while waiting to get on the Spongebob Squarepants Roller Coaster at the Mall of America, but I have, so just go with me here. 

Striding it out in the 10km classic race (photo by Nordic Focus)
Maybe these “rocky mountain”, “true American tradition” marshmallows would have made me even faster? (photo from Sadie)

However, 20 minutes after the race, I had a larger self-pity problem going on, as my left hip had a rapidly blossoming inky black bruise and for some reason, I was unable to raise my left arm above my head. I had crashed on the far corner of the course, bounced right back up and kept hammering away during the race. I thought I’d gotten away with just a little “plonk” into the snow, but now that I couldn’t raise my left arm, I was re-thinking how I had fallen. 

Trying to catch my breath again after the race (photo by Nordic Focus)

It was the injury scare that I needed, whether or not it was the one I deserved. It knocked me into a better mental state. Suddenly, instead of wishing I could feel closer to sharp race fitness, I was simply wishing to be able to race the next day. Pete Dickinson, one of our volunteer PT’s, did a quick screen of my shoulder in the wax truck. He reassured me that my shoulder was ok; my muscles had just tightened up and were pinching together to try and protect my hyper-mobile joints after I’d apparently smashed them into the snow. 

As a racer, I sometimes have to issue an official apology to my body. This was one of those times. Luckily, my body was in a “forgive and forget” kind of mood, and other than a slightly sore hip, it didn’t hold a grudge. Within a few hours my shoulder had totally loosened up, and I was psyched to race the next day. 

The other thing that got me excited was seeing my teammates performing so gosh darn well! Sadie came in with a 3rd place in the classic sprint, then she got a 4th place in the 10km classic with Rosie coming in 6th! It’s so fun to see my teammates on fire because I know how hard they’ve worked for it, and it feels like seeing a family member accomplish a hard-earned goal.

Always lunging for the extra .01 of a second! (photo by Nordic Focus)
Sadie pretending to ride the ice sculpture fox in town 🙂

Without any pressure and with the only goal to chase down as many people in front of me as possible, I went out charging with everything I had. I ended up having my best ever day in Ruka with the 3rd fastest time of day in the 10km skate pursuit. It was a sneaky podium that FIS counts on your profile, just without the flower ceremony and giant wedge of cheese! Apologies to our wax tech JP and his fondue set that is waiting underneath the wax bench in the truck. With or without the pomp and circumstance, I felt equally proud of my effort and the team effort behind the race that it took to get such awesome skis gliding in that cold, compact snow! I felt one giant step closer towards that feeling of unlocking my top race gear, which is exactly where I want to be this early in the season.

Hammering up the big hill with Frida and Tiril (photo by Nordic Focus)

I went out charging with everything I had

Exhausted after the all-out efforts, but proud of them as well! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Our next stop is in Lillehammer, and I’m not sure what I’m more excited to see…the Christmas lights all down main street, or the 10 different varieties of brown cheese in the grocery store! 

I wrote a book!

I am so excited to finally “officially” share some really big news…I wrote a book, called Brave Enough! And my website got a much needed update! And…I’m currently in Beitostølen, Norway, skiing in a winter wonderland, so life is good all the way around. 

My book cover!
Our “morning commute” from the apartment to the wax truck in Beitostølen

The website update seemed obvious, and a huge thanks to Doug DeBold and Zach McGill for their awesome work!

But why would you write a book, Jessie? (I asked myself this many times, especially around the 200 hour mark of working on it). Weeks after the Olympics, I was approached about writing a book. I thought “eh, that’s cool…but seems like a lot of work. No way, dude.” 

Then I did the ESPN body issue shoot, and decided to share more of my history with an eating disorder. And the weirdest thing happened. The more I talked about the hard parts of my past that I thought people might judge me for, the more human and relatable I became to young skiers. The more I talked about my eating disorder, the more I heard from skiers, coaches and parents saying that it helped them open up a positive conversation with the people in their life. I started working with the Emily Program as a spokesperson. I started to hear from college teams that were initiating constructive team building talks around body positivity. And I realized that part of the book I’d maybe write some day needed to include the full, nothing-held-back story of how I got into my eating disorder, and more importantly…how I got out of it. 

Hoping to inspire the next generation by keeping it real (and sparkly). (Photo by Loren Johnson)

I figured the world didn’t need another glamorous, unobtainable sports book, but maybe I could help some people by sharing both the best and worst parts of my life in the most unfiltered way I could think of. And, in a very important detail, I learned that I could partner with an author who (wait for it…) actually knows something about writing books, so I wouldn’t be winging it on my own, wandering in circles! Imagine my relief! I decided to go for it. If this book makes at least one person feel inspired, or laugh, or get pumped up to get out the door and go skiing, it will have been well worth the journey. Either way, I had a lot of fun writing it with my co-author, Todd, because like anything memorable I’ve ever done in life, I didn’t do it alone.

This isn’t a book to make me look good, and in fact some parts were incredibly hard to write. But some chapters were easy to write, with the fun twists and turns and ridiculous moments that seem to happen every year on the World Cup. 

Sharing not only the beautiful, glamorous moments…(but I hope my technique has improved some from 7th grade!)

My hope for you, if you choose to read the book, is that you get some unexpected laughs. That you get a very real and raw look into the worst parts of my life but also the best parts, and you’ll get a feel for what training and racing on the World Cup actually feels like for me. I hope you find something to inspire you, whether that’s from my own stories, stories of my coaches, or stories of my teammates incredible team spirit off the course and brilliance on the course. 

I get to share some of the magic behind the scenes of the World Cup. (photo by Nordic Focus)

And now, finally, allow me to introduce my awesome co-author; Todd Smith! He wrote the book Hockey Strong, lives in Minnesota, and became a good friend during the last 18 months. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the book writing process from teammates and friends, so without further ado..here’s how we did it! 

Sometime in the spring of 2018, I was connected through my agent and a book agent to my future co-author, Todd. He came to my house, we bonded over our shared love of Tina Fey, and I realized he was the perfect person to help me write my life story. Over the next month we emailed and called back and forth, building a book outline based on what stories I wanted to tell, and where they fit into chapters. 

In June of 2018, Todd came to Stratton, Vermont and joined me in workouts for a week. In between, I talked, Todd asked insightful questions, and he recorded something like 20 hours on a tape recorder. Back in Minnesota, Todd got all those hours transcribed, then set to work on the book itself with all this raw material. He cleaned up my “um”s, “ahh”s and way too many “like”s, and hammered my stories into more readable chapter formats. This is the part that I would have procrastinated over for years, but he hammered right through it! Major kudos. 

Todd took this photo…while cheering me through my workouts before we’d go back and record!

Then Todd sent the chapters back over to me one by one, and all through the season and spring of 2018-19 I edited them, adding in details I forgot the first time around and taking out parts I thought weren’t necessary. It’s weird, reading your own words after they’ve been transcribed. Somehow we never quite sound as smart as we think we do! Luckily, we had a lot of time to work with it. We submitted the first draft of the book to our publisher, U of MN Press, and our editor, Erik Anderson, sometime in the late spring of 2019. 

Then Erik began the editing process with me, going through the book in a more “big picture” format, making sure we had the larger storyline where we wanted it to be. Todd was double checking everything as well! 

Next came the copyediting round with Mary Kierstead, and she and I went through the entire book line by line, word by word. Every punctuation mark was looked over, every word signed off on. Through the process of editing the book three times, I think the UMP press and I managed to change about 50% of the book! By the time we were done, I was really happy with it. It sounds exactly like me, and if you’re a frequent blog reader, it sounds like one of my blogs that grew up and went to college. 

Special thanks to Wade for keeping me from getting too stressed through all the editing by taking me camping!

During this last round of editing, I was in New Zealand at a training camp with Coach Cork and my teammate Julia Kern, who also happens to be a very talented photographer. I love her style (and she knows me so well) that she was my first and only choice to shoot the cover image for the book! It also seemed fitting to do the shoot during a camp in one of my favorite places on earth. We had a lot of giggles, wandering around the mountain at sunset, and I think she did an amazing job. Afterwards, I got to see the design process take place, and it’s so impressive to see how many people have to work so hard to make everything about a book come to life. 

One of the better outtakes (photo from Julia Kern)

I had a lot of fun reaching out to people who really inspire me to share an advance copy of the book for them to read and-hopefully-give a quote on. It was very nerve-wracking yet exciting to share with them the early draft. All their beautiful (and likely undeserved) words are on the “book” tab of my website. A very special thanks indeed to Mikaela Shiffrin, Kikkan Randall, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Ann Bancroft and Wayne Coffey! 

Brave Enough is out March 10th, but it’s already available for pre-order through a number of outlets! The “book” page on my website has links taking you right to them. I hope you enjoy it! 

Brave Enough…to be exactly who I am. (photo by Julia Kern)

My Barbie doll is jealous of my biceps.

I’ve only lost my cool in the gym once in my life. I was lifting weights early in the morning my senior year of high school, intent on being able to do 3 sets of pull-ups like I’d seen the senior athletes do at regional training camps. I was serious about training hard for cross country skiing, which meant that, like it or not, I was going to have to get serious about spending some time in the gym to get strong.

I was getting ready to do my first set of pull-ups with some assistance from a rubber band when a football player walked up with his chest puffed out.

“Move over, I’m about to do some REAL pull-ups.” he announced. “I need that bar.”

I almost punched him in his smug, stupidly chiseled jaw.

“These ARE real pull-ups.” I spat out. “You can just SIT AND WAIT!”

I was furious that, because I was a girl, he assumed he could boss me around and take over the lifting equipment just because he was going to lift something heavier than me. But maybe I should thank him, because I was intensely motivated to progress to unassisted pull-ups pretty quickly after that.

 

Working on push jerks in the gym. It doesn’t matter what weight you’re lifting, as long as you’re practicing good form! (photo by Todd Smith)

Either way, most women I’ve talked to can relate to a moment of feeling belittled, uncomfortable or out of place in the gym. Sometimes you feel self-conscious because you’re not super strong, or because you are incredibly strong and people are openly staring at you, wondering what sport you play.

I eventually learned to feel comfortable in the gym and convinced myself that I belonged, even when doing my weird “skier exercises”. But once I grew those coveted muscles, I wasn’t sure if I should be proud of them anymore. Finding a prom dress really, really sucked (and don’t get me started on the sports bra and heart rate monitor tan lines). Finding a pair of jeans that fit my quads without a huge gap in the waist was nigh-impossible, and some of the boys I dated weren’t super comfortable with the idea of their girlfriend being proportionately stronger and faster than they were. I had worked so hard to get strong and get biceps, but once I had them, they didn’t seem that awesome anymore.

Showing what it means to “train like a girl” at a Salomon photo shoot! (photo from Salomon)

Everywhere I looked, society had signs showing me what I should be striving towards. Billboard ads, tv ads, Hollywood stars, Disney princesses, even the Barbie dolls my little sister and I had played with…none of those cultural ideals looked like the professional athlete I was trying to become. I realized I needed some new heroes…and maybe the goal wasn’t necessarily to look like my Barbie doll (a feat that is anatomically impossible, by the way).

I want to make sure the next generation of girls know that they can get after it in any sport they choose!

Ultimately, I learned to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. The choices I make and the goals I can hunt down are much more important than how someone else thinks I look. Of course…that’s easy to say, and much harder to believe! But it’s a great place to start.

You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, and you don’t have to look like a barbie doll (but if you do, that’s cool, too). You only need to look like YOU, and you’re allowed to change over the course of your life! If you want to grow your muscles, that’s great. If you don’t happen to have to have tons of them, you can still hit the gym or run up a mountain, if that’s what you want to do. The bottom line is that you don’t have to look a certain way to fit in. You just need to have goals, and feel supported in whatever sports you want to take on.

Grateful to each and every one of my muscles for getting me up and over 9 mountains on a 7.5 hour run this summer! Coach Pat being the best support ever in the background there!

The other worry I hear from many young women in sport is that they’re not allowed to be fierce and feminine at the same time. And I can relate to that – I’m famous for wearing sparkles on my face when I race, for goodness sake! But I also have a pretty sweet layer of drool over that glitter, because I’m pushing myself so incredibly hard. In fact, racing all-out from the gun and pushing your body past limits has become synonymous with “racing like a girl” on the cross country World Cup circuit. The women of the World Cup are known for pushing the pace right from the start and not being afraid to take chances and string out the field. And that’s a really, really cool thing to be known for.

You can be the grittiest, most badass racer on course…and do it with glitter on your face and braids in your hair (if that’s what you want)! You don’t have to choose between feeling strong and feeling beautiful, because they’re the same thing. I mean, I’m sponsored by a jewelry company (shoutout to Ross-Simons for being awesome!) and I wear really pretty sparkly things…all while I’m pushing myself in training and going on 3 hour long muddy, rocky runs on the AT trail. My point is that you never have to feel that pursuing sports will mean you can’t feel beautiful. In fact, you may find that feeling strong and capable makes you feel more beautiful because it’s coming from a place of strength! The key word here is “feel”, because it’s about how you feel inside, not how others think you look.

I love that I see glitter on both boys and girls of all ages, by the way. It’s not just a girl thing! The glitter, to me, is a statement; a promise to myself that I race because I love this sport, and a promise to go out there and have fun while laying it all out on the course. It’s a reminder to race with joy, to appreciate the fact that I get to be here.

Glitter and grit. You can possess both! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Why am I going on about this? Certainly not to save future football players from being punched in the face. It’s to save them from making that kind of comment in the first place.

Being a girl in sport is so incredibly fun. I don’t ever feel less-than. I train exactly as hard as the boys, and I learn from them in training just as they learn from me in return. I race the same World Cup circuit, and when I place in the top 20, I’m paid exactly the same as the equivalent place on the men’s side. We have the same amount of cheering as the men, and our personal sponsors are determined by our individual merit and effort, but we have equal opportunity.

I love that, at a young age, we all line up on the same start line. It’s cool to see that as we get older, we can still support each other even if men and women race at different times! (photo from SMS)

While giving an interview earlier this year, I mentioned how lucky I felt to be paid the same as the men on the World Cup, especially as news about Women’s Hockey and Soccer team pay gaps were coming out. Then I realized how dumb that sounded. I should never feel lucky for being paid to do exactly the same thing as my male counterparts. It shouldn’t be something I think about at all (and for the most part, I don’t). It should simply be a fact, for all women, in all sports, in all jobs. I feel so completely supported by the boys on our team, by our coaching staff, and by my sponsors. Because of this complete support, I feel like I can take on any training or racing challenge.

Girls belong in sport, in all capacities, in all body types. We belong as professional athletes, as recreational athletes, as coaches, as National Governing Body leaders. It’s our job – men and women – to keep girls in sport. What we say to the girls in our life as they set goals and work towards them can help empower them and keep them on track, or make them doubt themselves or feel out of place. The same holds true for young men as well; they also deserve respect, guidance and encouragement as they pursue their goals, regardless of body type or innate skill level.

Everyone working together at SMS during the summer (photo from Pat O’Brien)

Our words and actions have a huge impact on young people and coaches have one of the most influential roles in a child’s life. I know, because the words I heard from a former coach – no matter how innocent their intent was –contributed to my eating disorder.

You’d be surprised to learn how powerful our words and actions are. Proud to be a spokesperson for the Emily Program!

So, I want to remind you, if you’re a coach and you haven’t already, please sign up for WithAll’s “What to Say” Coaches Challenge. During the 5-week Challenge, participating coaches receive short weekly emails with a phrase to use, context on why the phrase matters, questions for self-reflection, and suggested action steps to do with their athletes that week. It’s SO EASY and only takes 3-5 minutes of your time each week. What are you waiting for? Just do it. Please. On behalf of all the young (and older!) athletes you’ll interact with in your lifetime.

They are running one more pilot this fall and the deadline to sign up is October 20, so head over to whattosaynow.org/coaches and sign up now.

In other training news, I’m currently crushing caffeinated beverages at a coffee shop on main street, Lake Placid, NY. We’ve just finished up our first week of training and are starting on our second week! Right before camp started we got to cheer on Simi and Sophie as they got married on the most beautiful fall day in Vermont, and it was so fun to see these good friends and long time teammates tie the knot!

This Bride is beautiful from the inside out!

Past and present SMST2 team teammates, all here to celebrate the happy couple!

This fall, we’ve split the US team camp into two parts; an altitude camp for half the team in Park City and a sea-level camp for some of us in Lake Placid. I love coming here, being inspired by seeing athletes from many different sports all training hard at the Olympic Training Center, and feeling the strong Olympic history of the town itself!

Fall leaf peeping! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

We have a few team time trials to start dialing in our race-pace intensity, and try out tactics on each other. It’s been so fun to team up with SMS, Craftsbury and Sun Valley as well as a few Collegiate teams coming in next week. I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible from everyone here!

Hard double pole intervals with this fast group of girls! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Caitlin Patterson, Simi Hamilton, Sophie Caldwell, Erik Bjornsen, me, Kevin Bolger and Julia Kern (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

My Barbie doll is jealous of my biceps.

I’ve only lost my cool in the gym once in my life. I was lifting weights early in the morning my senior year of high school, intent on being able to do 3 sets of pull-ups like I’d seen the senior athletes do at regional training camps. I was serious about training hard for cross country skiing, which meant that, like it or not, I was going to have to get serious about spending some time in the gym to get strong.

I was getting ready to do my first set of pull-ups with some assistance from a rubber band when a football player walked up with his chest puffed out.

“Move over, I’m about to do some REAL pull-ups.” he announced. “I need that bar.”

I almost punched him in his smug, stupidly chiseled jaw.

“These ARE real pull-ups.” I spat out. “You can just SIT AND WAIT!”

I was furious that, because I was a girl, he assumed he could boss me around and take over the lifting equipment just because he was going to lift something heavier than me. But maybe I should thank him, because I was intensely motivated to progress to unassisted pull-ups pretty quickly after that.

 

Working on push jerks in the gym. It doesn’t matter what weight you’re lifting, as long as you’re practicing good form! (photo by Todd Smith)

Either way, most women I’ve talked to can relate to a moment of feeling belittled, uncomfortable or out of place in the gym. Sometimes you feel self-conscious because you’re not super strong, or because you are incredibly strong and people are openly staring at you, wondering what sport you play.

I eventually learned to feel comfortable in the gym and convinced myself that I belonged, even when doing my weird “skier exercises”. But once I grew those coveted muscles, I wasn’t sure if I should be proud of them anymore. Finding a prom dress really, really sucked (and don’t get me started on the sports bra and heart rate monitor tan lines). Finding a pair of jeans that fit my quads without a huge gap in the waist was nigh-impossible, and some of the boys I dated weren’t super comfortable with the idea of their girlfriend being proportionately stronger and faster than they were. I had worked so hard to get strong and get biceps, but once I had them, they didn’t seem that awesome anymore.

Showing what it means to “train like a girl” at a Salomon photo shoot! (photo from Salomon)

Everywhere I looked, society had signs showing me what I should be striving towards. Billboard ads, tv ads, Hollywood stars, Disney princesses, even the Barbie dolls my little sister and I had played with…none of those cultural ideals looked like the professional athlete I was trying to become. I realized I needed some new heroes…and maybe the goal wasn’t necessarily to look like my Barbie doll (a feat that is anatomically impossible, by the way).

I want to make sure the next generation of girls know that they can get after it in any sport they choose!

Ultimately, I learned to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. The choices I make and the goals I can hunt down are much more important than how someone else thinks I look. Of course…that’s easy to say, and much harder to believe! But it’s a great place to start.

You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder, and you don’t have to look like a barbie doll (but if you do, that’s cool, too). You only need to look like YOU, and you’re allowed to change over the course of your life! If you want to grow your muscles, that’s great. If you don’t happen to have to have tons of them, you can still hit the gym or run up a mountain, if that’s what you want to do. The bottom line is that you don’t have to look a certain way to fit in. You just need to have goals, and feel supported in whatever sports you want to take on.

Grateful to each and every one of my muscles for getting me up and over 9 mountains on a 7.5 hour run this summer! Coach Pat being the best support ever in the background there!

The other worry I hear from many young women in sport is that they’re not allowed to be fierce and feminine at the same time. And I can relate to that – I’m famous for wearing sparkles on my face when I race, for goodness sake! But I also have a pretty sweet layer of drool over that glitter, because I’m pushing myself so incredibly hard. In fact, racing all-out from the gun and pushing your body past limits has become synonymous with “racing like a girl” on the cross country World Cup circuit. The women of the World Cup are known for pushing the pace right from the start and not being afraid to take chances and string out the field. And that’s a really, really cool thing to be known for.

You can be the grittiest, most badass racer on course…and do it with glitter on your face and braids in your hair (if that’s what you want)! You don’t have to choose between feeling strong and feeling beautiful, because they’re the same thing. I mean, I’m sponsored by a jewelry company (shoutout to Ross-Simons for being awesome!) and I wear really pretty sparkly things…all while I’m pushing myself in training and going on 3 hour long muddy, rocky runs on the AT trail. My point is that you never have to feel that pursuing sports will mean you can’t feel beautiful. In fact, you may find that feeling strong and capable makes you feel more beautiful because it’s coming from a place of strength! The key word here is “feel”, because it’s about how you feel inside, not how others think you look.

I love that I see glitter on both boys and girls of all ages, by the way. It’s not just a girl thing! The glitter, to me, is a statement; a promise to myself that I race because I love this sport, and a promise to go out there and have fun while laying it all out on the course. It’s a reminder to race with joy, to appreciate the fact that I get to be here.

Glitter and grit. You can possess both! (photo by Nordic Focus)

Why am I going on about this? Certainly not to save future football players from being punched in the face. It’s to save them from making that kind of comment in the first place.

Being a girl in sport is so incredibly fun. I don’t ever feel less-than. I train exactly as hard as the boys, and I learn from them in training just as they learn from me in return. I race the same World Cup circuit, and when I place in the top 20, I’m paid exactly the same as the equivalent place on the men’s side. We have the same amount of cheering as the men, and our personal sponsors are determined by our individual merit and effort, but we have equal opportunity.

I love that, at a young age, we all line up on the same start line. It’s cool to see that as we get older, we can still support each other even if men and women race at different times! (photo from SMS)

While giving an interview earlier this year, I mentioned how lucky I felt to be paid the same as the men on the World Cup, especially as news about Women’s Hockey and Soccer team pay gaps were coming out. Then I realized how dumb that sounded. I should never feel lucky for being paid to do exactly the same thing as my male counterparts. It shouldn’t be something I think about at all (and for the most part, I don’t). It should simply be a fact, for all women, in all sports, in all jobs. I feel so completely supported by the boys on our team, by our coaching staff, and by my sponsors. Because of this complete support, I feel like I can take on any training or racing challenge.

Girls belong in sport, in all capacities, in all body types. We belong as professional athletes, as recreational athletes, as coaches, as National Governing Body leaders. It’s our job – men and women – to keep girls in sport. What we say to the girls in our life as they set goals and work towards them can help empower them and keep them on track, or make them doubt themselves or feel out of place. The same holds true for young men as well; they also deserve respect, guidance and encouragement as they pursue their goals, regardless of body type or innate skill level.

Everyone working together at SMS during the summer (photo from Pat O’Brien)

Our words and actions have a huge impact on young people and coaches have one of the most influential roles in a child’s life. I know, because the words I heard from a former coach – no matter how innocent their intent was –contributed to my eating disorder.

You’d be surprised to learn how powerful our words and actions are. Proud to be a spokesperson for the Emily Program!

So, I want to remind you, if you’re a coach and you haven’t already, please sign up for WithAll’s “What to Say” Coaches Challenge. During the 5-week Challenge, participating coaches receive short weekly emails with a phrase to use, context on why the phrase matters, questions for self-reflection, and suggested action steps to do with their athletes that week. It’s SO EASY and only takes 3-5 minutes of your time each week. What are you waiting for? Just do it. Please. On behalf of all the young (and older!) athletes you’ll interact with in your lifetime.

They are running one more pilot this fall and the deadline to sign up is October 20, so head over to whattosaynow.org/coaches and sign up now.

In other training news, I’m currently crushing caffeinated beverages at a coffee shop on main street, Lake Placid, NY. We’ve just finished up our first week of training and are starting on our second week! Right before camp started we got to cheer on Simi and Sophie as they got married on the most beautiful fall day in Vermont, and it was so fun to see these good friends and long time teammates tie the knot!

This Bride is beautiful from the inside out!

Past and present SMST2 team teammates, all here to celebrate the happy couple!

This fall, we’ve split the US team camp into two parts; an altitude camp for half the team in Park City and a sea-level camp for some of us in Lake Placid. I love coming here, being inspired by seeing athletes from many different sports all training hard at the Olympic Training Center, and feeling the strong Olympic history of the town itself!

Fall leaf peeping! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

We have a few team time trials to start dialing in our race-pace intensity, and try out tactics on each other. It’s been so fun to team up with SMS, Craftsbury and Sun Valley as well as a few Collegiate teams coming in next week. I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible from everyone here!

Hard double pole intervals with this fast group of girls! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Caitlin Patterson, Simi Hamilton, Sophie Caldwell, Erik Bjornsen, me, Kevin Bolger and Julia Kern (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Creating a new arena

“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backwards after taking a step forwards is not a disaster. It is a cha cha.” – Robert Brault

I feel like the last few years have been big opportunities for learning more about myself; learning what I can do, what I can’t do (yet) and where I feel comfortable in the great balancing act of work, life, family time and outside commitments. It’s no secret that last summer I found myself completely overwhelmed by the number of things I was doing outside of training. I hadn’t allowed enough time for simply recovering and absorbing the crazy amount of training I was doing. As a result, I found myself feeling just a little bit emotionally and physically tired all the time…not enough to really notice it as it was happening, but with some hindsight, enough to notice that I feel much better this year! Over the last three years, I’ve done a little cha cha dance of taking one small step forward, one step backwards, slowing dancing my way to a happier place. I wouldn’t take back my schedule of last year, any more than you’d want to eliminate a step from the dance!

Last summer, my spirit animal accidentally started to look like this:

oops

THIS summer, I’m finally finding some balance and the ability to say no when I need to, in order to prioritize time with my family and time to properly recover from all the hours of training. Now, my spirit animal looks much more like my dog:

That’s more like it.

That’s not to say I haven’t kept busy, but as I’m adding hours to my training, I’m learning how to keep a healthy balance. Here’s a little recap of the summer, and what’s kept me inspired and happy while training hard all over the world!

After an awesome start to the training season at home in Minnesota with my family, I went to Bend, Oregon for the first US national team training camp of the season. It was a great chance to meet new team members, train hard, but also just get some long hours on snow under our belts!

They say dogs and their owners sometimes look alike. Too much, maybe?

So happy to reconnect with the girls again! Sadie, Hannah, me and Hailey (photo from Matt)

Some of the crew on a long, fun crust ski up to Broken Top mountain. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

When coach says “we’re headed up that mountain”. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Next, I had the awesome opportunity to fly across the pond and join the Norwegian National Team women in a training camp in late June. I already knew most of the girls, but it was such a fun chance to get to meet new friends and get to know everyone even better! I think what I loved most about that camp was seeing how much they care for each other and work to support a good team chemistry. I admire that even more than their incredible racing and work ethic (a big statement, since they’re amazing athletes all round), because the commitment to building the soul of the team is what will continue to grow those opportunities for success.

Having fun, but training hard with the Norwegian girls! This was after a tough strength workout.

I have so many friends on the World Cup circuit, from pretty much every country out there. It’s exciting to me to meet skiers from around the world, to get to know them. Despite growing up in very different places, we’re usually more alike than we are different. I also love that feeling of camaraderie that comes with recognizing that everyone has given a race their best effort, and you can be friends up until the moment the gun goes off, and friends immediately afterwards. I see this all the time on the US circuit, but I see it on the World Cup circuit every weekend as well.

Finish line hugs with Erika Flowers and Liz Stephen after a US Supertour race (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

Getting a big hug from Marit after the last World Cup race of 2018 – and her last World Cup race ever. (photo from Falun World Cup)

When you see someone giving it everything they’ve got, it’s as though international boundaries and team lines melt away and you only want to congratulate and support a fellow human for a job well done. That’s why you’ll see myself and many other athletes patting backs, unclipping ski bindings and helping to untangle pole straps for anyone still trying to catch their breath in the snow after a race, regardless of what color suit they have on. I think this is one of the best parts of the cross country ski circuit, and one of the things I’ll be taking with me when I retire someday.

Getting some much-needed help from Ingvild and Heidi after the 2018 Tour de Ski finish line (photo by Fiemme ski World Cup)

I think this feeling is best summed up in an awesome quote by pro cyclist Amber Pierce:

“None of us can do as well solo as we do in a race when we compete with others. Your competitor is helping you to discover your limits and potential and how you have more in yourself than you thought possible. She is your greatest ally in that self-discovery, and you are the same for her,” says Amber. “Regardless of whether you win or lose, you are creating an arena in which you can reach peak performance. You are competing together because you bring out the best performance from each of you. In that regard, training hard and being as prepared as possible to give your best effort during competition is the best gift you can give your competitor, because she has to reach that much higher to find her own personal excellence.”

Beyond the obvious (don’t cheat, compete clean, DUH!) the best thing we could ever do for the competitors we admire and respect is to simply show up ready to give it all that we have. And I’m so grateful to each and everyone one of the women on the Norwegian team (and their coaches!) for having me and coach Jason Cork at their camp, so we can continue to push one another to the highest levels we possibly can!

At home, this is what we do every single season; we re-create and form a new arena where every member of the team can find opportunities to grow. The exact makeup and feel of the team is going to change every year as the people on the team change, but the commitment to helping each other find success is a constant.

After getting a few weeks of training in at Stratton, I flew up to Alaska to see Sadie become Sadie Maubet Bjornsen as she married Jo! It was so special to get to see a teammate but also very close friend get married, and of course the weekend also felt like one amazing team reunion! I finally got to meet Holly’s adorable babies and catch up on the stories of all my teammate’s lives.

Holly Brooks, Ida Sargent, me, Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall all out for a mountain run.

On my way home, I stopped in Minnesota for a short but sweet visit with my family.

Leo and Dad swimming in the St. Croix river on a hot day

Then it was time for more training with my SMST2 teammates in Stratton!

A regular Tuesday suffer session (photo from Jason Cork)

Parking lot sprints with the junior training group (photo by George Forbes)

In addition to our weekly coaching sessions every Thursday afternoon for the local skiers, we hosted a few clinics as well, and it was very cool to see so many different junior skiers training hard and challenging themselves!

Honestly not sure what I’m doing with my right hand, but I’m trying to demo the pump track for an agility workout with the CSU team! (photo from Reese Brown)

I snuck in a camping trip with Wade, too!

We went “fancy camping” and brought a quilt…the same one I smuggled out of the Sochi Olympic village.

I’d been dreaming of doing the Presidential Traverse for a few years now, but due to the fact that it’s about 20 miles that goes over 8 peaks in the white mountains of New Hampshire, it didn’t quite fit into the training plan for a while. But this summer, I finally did it, with our club coach Pat O’Brien and Ida Sargent! It took us 7.5 hours and we added on an additional peak, but wow, what a day! My legs were crushed for a few days afterwards, but the views that day were well worth the inability to go down a staircase.

Pat, Ida and I on our way up Mt. Washington, about half-way through our epic 7.5 hour hike/run!

Because I love being cold and pretty much cease to function properly in the extreme heat and humidity, it was time to escape from summer and head down to my all-time favorite training camp: New Zealand.

Cork and Julia cruising on top of the world! *Or is it bottom of the world, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere?

This camp was just me, Jason Cork and Julia Kern, and we had an amazing time down under. Because it was just the three of us, it was really easy to decide what to do with our day off: paragliding over Queenstown!

Julia taking flight!

We encouraged each other in intervals, pushed each other in the New Zealand Winter Games series, and helped each other with our speed and technique goals. There are certain things like fast downhill corners, finish-line lunges, kicking classic skis in tricky waxing conditions and herringboning up hills that you simply cannot work on while on roller skis. We used the most of our averaged 650 kilometers that we skied those three weeks (oh yes, Julia added it up on her watch!) to work on all those skills as well as push our comfort zones in each of the 4 races we did!

They had some short but really steep hills on those race courses! I loved it. (photo by New Zealand Winter Games)

Practicing giving it everything I have. (photo from Cath Beattie)

The sunsets were ridiculous every few nights, as well. I swear, I did NOT edit the image below. It’s just that gorgeous.

This never gets old!

We also mixed it up with a really fun, long run halfway through training camp! In case it isn’t obvious, I have a huge crush on everything New Zealand.

Loving the single track running! (photo from Cork)

Goofing off in Wanaka! (photo from Julia)

Of course, camp wouldn’t have been complete without the traditional crust skiing day, where we got to practice our “Nor-pining” skills by making turns…on classic skis with klister wax on! Talk about committing to the turn!

Julia cooling me down with some fresh powder 🙂

All in all, it was an incredible camp, and I felt that my body absorbed the training and racing load well. I feel so grateful to have had that chance to push myself and get better during those three weeks!

Now I’m back in Stratton for a nice big block of training, and loving the steady rhythm of training, napping, cooking up really awesome meals with my roommate and teammate Alayna. We’re also into the sweet habit of re-watching Game of Thrones with a bowl of popcorn every night together!

Alayna and I were so impressed with the Stratton Nordic kids for going to the Global Climate Strike last week!

Alayna and I getting some sunshine time!

We have one last team camp coming up, and I’m so excited to get together with my teammates and create that arena where we can help each other reach our best performances. It’s our last chance to push each other to be better, to challenge each other in hard intervals, before the final few weeks of preparation leading in to the World Cup season. It’s not always convenient or easy to pack your bags and leave your cozy home to hit the road. I’d love more time in my own condo, more weekends with my boyfriend, more chances to plan little camping trips. But every time I go to camp, I think it’s well worth the time spent traveling in order to not only build myself into the best racer I can be, but use my strengths and years of experience to help build my teammates up as well.

In the wise words of Winnie-the-Pooh:

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Creating a new arena

“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backwards after taking a step forwards is not a disaster. It is a cha cha.” – Robert Brault

I feel like the last few years have been big opportunities for learning more about myself; learning what I can do, what I can’t do (yet) and where I feel comfortable in the great balancing act of work, life, family time and outside commitments. It’s no secret that last summer I found myself completely overwhelmed by the number of things I was doing outside of training. I hadn’t allowed enough time for simply recovering and absorbing the crazy amount of training I was doing. As a result, I found myself feeling just a little bit emotionally and physically tired all the time…not enough to really notice it as it was happening, but with some hindsight, enough to notice that I feel much better this year! Over the last three years, I’ve done a little cha cha dance of taking one small step forward, one step backwards, slowing dancing my way to a happier place. I wouldn’t take back my schedule of last year, any more than you’d want to eliminate a step from the dance!

Last summer, my spirit animal accidentally started to look like this:

oops

THIS summer, I’m finally finding some balance and the ability to say no when I need to, in order to prioritize time with my family and time to properly recover from all the hours of training. Now, my spirit animal looks much more like my dog:

That’s more like it.

That’s not to say I haven’t kept busy, but as I’m adding hours to my training, I’m learning how to keep a healthy balance. Here’s a little recap of the summer, and what’s kept me inspired and happy while training hard all over the world!

After an awesome start to the training season at home in Minnesota with my family, I went to Bend, Oregon for the first US national team training camp of the season. It was a great chance to meet new team members, train hard, but also just get some long hours on snow under our belts!

They say dogs and their owners sometimes look alike. Too much, maybe?

So happy to reconnect with the girls again! Sadie, Hannah, me and Hailey (photo from Matt)

Some of the crew on a long, fun crust ski up to Broken Top mountain. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

When coach says “we’re headed up that mountain”. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

Next, I had the awesome opportunity to fly across the pond and join the Norwegian National Team women in a training camp in late June. I already knew most of the girls, but it was such a fun chance to get to meet new friends and get to know everyone even better! I think what I loved most about that camp was seeing how much they care for each other and work to support a good team chemistry. I admire that even more than their incredible racing and work ethic (a big statement, since they’re amazing athletes all round), because the commitment to building the soul of the team is what will continue to grow those opportunities for success.

Having fun, but training hard with the Norwegian girls! This was after a tough strength workout.

I have so many friends on the World Cup circuit, from pretty much every country out there. It’s exciting to me to meet skiers from around the world, to get to know them. Despite growing up in very different places, we’re usually more alike than we are different. I also love that feeling of camaraderie that comes with recognizing that everyone has given a race their best effort, and you can be friends up until the moment the gun goes off, and friends immediately afterwards. I see this all the time on the US circuit, but I see it on the World Cup circuit every weekend as well.

Finish line hugs with Erika Flowers and Liz Stephen after a US Supertour race (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

Getting a big hug from Marit after the last World Cup race of 2018 – and her last World Cup race ever. (photo from Falun World Cup)

When you see someone giving it everything they’ve got, it’s as though international boundaries and team lines melt away and you only want to congratulate and support a fellow human for a job well done. That’s why you’ll see myself and many other athletes patting backs, unclipping ski bindings and helping to untangle pole straps for anyone still trying to catch their breath in the snow after a race, regardless of what color suit they have on. I think this is one of the best parts of the cross country ski circuit, and one of the things I’ll be taking with me when I retire someday.

Getting some much-needed help from Ingvild and Heidi after the 2018 Tour de Ski finish line (photo by Fiemme ski World Cup)

I think this feeling is best summed up in an awesome quote by pro cyclist Amber Pierce:

“None of us can do as well solo as we do in a race when we compete with others. Your competitor is helping you to discover your limits and potential and how you have more in yourself than you thought possible. She is your greatest ally in that self-discovery, and you are the same for her,” says Amber. “Regardless of whether you win or lose, you are creating an arena in which you can reach peak performance. You are competing together because you bring out the best performance from each of you. In that regard, training hard and being as prepared as possible to give your best effort during competition is the best gift you can give your competitor, because she has to reach that much higher to find her own personal excellence.”

Beyond the obvious (don’t cheat, compete clean, DUH!) the best thing we could ever do for the competitors we admire and respect is to simply show up ready to give it all that we have. And I’m so grateful to each and everyone one of the women on the Norwegian team (and their coaches!) for having me and coach Jason Cork at their camp, so we can continue to push one another to the highest levels we possibly can!

At home, this is what we do every single season; we re-create and form a new arena where every member of the team can find opportunities to grow. The exact makeup and feel of the team is going to change every year as the people on the team change, but the commitment to helping each other find success is a constant.

After getting a few weeks of training in at Stratton, I flew up to Alaska to see Sadie become Sadie Maubet Bjornsen as she married Jo! It was so special to get to see a teammate but also very close friend get married, and of course the weekend also felt like one amazing team reunion! I finally got to meet Holly’s adorable babies and catch up on the stories of all my teammate’s lives.

Holly Brooks, Ida Sargent, me, Liz Stephen and Kikkan Randall all out for a mountain run.

On my way home, I stopped in Minnesota for a short but sweet visit with my family.

Leo and Dad swimming in the St. Croix river on a hot day

Then it was time for more training with my SMST2 teammates in Stratton!

A regular Tuesday suffer session (photo from Jason Cork)

Parking lot sprints with the junior training group (photo by George Forbes)

In addition to our weekly coaching sessions every Thursday afternoon for the local skiers, we hosted a few clinics as well, and it was very cool to see so many different junior skiers training hard and challenging themselves!

Honestly not sure what I’m doing with my right hand, but I’m trying to demo the pump track for an agility workout with the CSU team! (photo from Reese Brown)

I snuck in a camping trip with Wade, too!

We went “fancy camping” and brought a quilt…the same one I smuggled out of the Sochi Olympic village.

I’d been dreaming of doing the Presidential Traverse for a few years now, but due to the fact that it’s about 20 miles that goes over 8 peaks in the white mountains of New Hampshire, it didn’t quite fit into the training plan for a while. But this summer, I finally did it, with our club coach Pat O’Brien and Ida Sargent! It took us 7.5 hours and we added on an additional peak, but wow, what a day! My legs were crushed for a few days afterwards, but the views that day were well worth the inability to go down a staircase.

Pat, Ida and I on our way up Mt. Washington, about half-way through our epic 7.5 hour hike/run!

Because I love being cold and pretty much cease to function properly in the extreme heat and humidity, it was time to escape from summer and head down to my all-time favorite training camp: New Zealand.

Cork and Julia cruising on top of the world! *Or is it bottom of the world, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere?

This camp was just me, Jason Cork and Julia Kern, and we had an amazing time down under. Because it was just the three of us, it was really easy to decide what to do with our day off: paragliding over Queenstown!

Julia taking flight!

We encouraged each other in intervals, pushed each other in the New Zealand Winter Games series, and helped each other with our speed and technique goals. There are certain things like fast downhill corners, finish-line lunges, kicking classic skis in tricky waxing conditions and herringboning up hills that you simply cannot work on while on roller skis. We used the most of our averaged 650 kilometers that we skied those three weeks (oh yes, Julia added it up on her watch!) to work on all those skills as well as push our comfort zones in each of the 4 races we did!

They had some short but really steep hills on those race courses! I loved it. (photo by New Zealand Winter Games)

Practicing giving it everything I have. (photo from Cath Beattie)

The sunsets were ridiculous every few nights, as well. I swear, I did NOT edit the image below. It’s just that gorgeous.

This never gets old!

We also mixed it up with a really fun, long run halfway through training camp! In case it isn’t obvious, I have a huge crush on everything New Zealand.

Loving the single track running! (photo from Cork)

Goofing off in Wanaka! (photo from Julia)

Of course, camp wouldn’t have been complete without the traditional crust skiing day, where we got to practice our “Nor-pining” skills by making turns…on classic skis with klister wax on! Talk about committing to the turn!

Julia cooling me down with some fresh powder 🙂

All in all, it was an incredible camp, and I felt that my body absorbed the training and racing load well. I feel so grateful to have had that chance to push myself and get better during those three weeks!

Now I’m back in Stratton for a nice big block of training, and loving the steady rhythm of training, napping, cooking up really awesome meals with my roommate and teammate Alayna. We’re also into the sweet habit of re-watching Game of Thrones with a bowl of popcorn every night together!

Alayna and I were so impressed with the Stratton Nordic kids for going to the Global Climate Strike last week!

Alayna and I getting some sunshine time!

We have one last team camp coming up, and I’m so excited to get together with my teammates and create that arena where we can help each other reach our best performances. It’s our last chance to push each other to be better, to challenge each other in hard intervals, before the final few weeks of preparation leading in to the World Cup season. It’s not always convenient or easy to pack your bags and leave your cozy home to hit the road. I’d love more time in my own condo, more weekends with my boyfriend, more chances to plan little camping trips. But every time I go to camp, I think it’s well worth the time spent traveling in order to not only build myself into the best racer I can be, but use my strengths and years of experience to help build my teammates up as well.

In the wise words of Winnie-the-Pooh:

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Words matter, so let’s learn What To Say.

The spring after competing in my first Olympic Games in 2014, I should have been full of self-confidence, fired up about training hard, and setting big goals. And I was! But one particular event really shook my faith in myself, and my confidence in rocking the muscles I had spent hundreds of hours sweating to be able to have. We had a bonfire party at my house to celebrate the end of the season, and invited a bunch of friends over.

Someone who had been one of our many awesome volunteer coaches for my high school team came over to wish me well after the season, and after talking for a few minutes they casually threw out “wow, you look a lot bigger than you did in high school! Have you gained weight?”

The casual comment about my size and shape of my body was what I would call an unintentional cruelty. In fact, when I look back on it, they may have even intended the remark as a compliment! But whatever the intention was, that evening, I slid back into my eating disordered habits for the first time in over a year, throwing up everything I ate for three days before getting help and once again committing to taking care of myself. I didn’t reach out to or talk to that person again for 3 years. When I think about this person, to this day, their comment is the first thing that comes to mind, which is honestly really sad. Clearly, they didn’t have any idea that they caused me harm, but through their words, they caused me such physical distress that I was one unlucky day away from a serious trip to the hospital.

That an off-hand comment from someone who wasn’t even extremely close to me could have such a destructive impact on my mental and physical well being seemed crazy, but there I was, relapsing into my eating disorder because I no longer felt fast, powerful, or confident. I only felt “too big”.

If one sentence can spiral an Olympic athlete back into an eating disorder, take a moment and imagine what a parent or coach could cause by telling a young athlete directly under their mentorship something along the lines of “you’d be much faster if you lost weight”, or “you could jump higher if only you dropped 10 pounds”.

Words matter. What we say to the people who look up to us, especially as coaches and parents, can have a huge impact on them. You can’t directly cause an eating disorder with your words—eating disorders are complicated, and multiple factors contribute to their development. But the words we say to others can be, and often are, significant contributors to a person’s an eating disorder.  Or, words can set one off. I know, because it happened to me.

I am so proud to speak up about my past with an eating disorder in order to help people currently struggling see that there IS hope! (photo from Julia Kern)

So what do we do? Say nothing? We could never, ever bring up food or body image for fear of saying the wrong thing…  OR, we could be the person in a young child’s life who sets a great example by not being afraid to start the conversation in a positive direction! As a coach, teacher or parent, you have the incredible opportunity to mindfully acknowledge the role food and body image play in each of our lives, and model self-care for the people who look up to you.

Which is where the “What To Say” initiative from the WithAll Foundation comes in! WithAll is the nonprofit that focuses on advancing eating disorder prevention and support. “What To Say” is an initiative to empower adults to help the kids in their lives develop healthy relationships with food and body. Decades of research show that what influential adults in a child’s life say about food, body, diet, and exercise has tremendous power in shaping the child’s body image, self-esteem and the likelihood that a child will develop an eating disorder. That’s why WithAll started this program; to give adults simple and direct resources to raise their own awareness about their relationship with food and body image, and to be able to take proactive action with the children in their life.

Happy to talk about WithAll and the importance of educating all the adults in a young athlete’s life! (photo by Render Photography)

So what exactly IS “What to Say”? Glad you asked!

  • “What to Say” is starting with 5 phrases adults can use now with kids, as well as age-specific phrases for youth sports coaches. They will expand with specific phrases for pediatricians, teachers and parents, as well as more resources for all adults.
  • Their premise is that while inspiring a child’s health and sense of self is a big responsibility, it doesn’t have to be complex. Knowing what to say, and feeling empowered in the small moments of each day, can have a big influence. Learn more at whattosaynow.org

They’re starting with coaches, because eating disorder risk and prevalence is higher among athletes. Having a coach simply be aware of how they talk about their athlete’s bodies and food, or even how they talk about their own bodies in front of their athletes, can have a huge impact. I mean, think about it…no child is born counting calories, declaring carbs to be off-limits, or saying that they are “being bad” when eating french fries. These are learned behaviors they pick up from mimicking the adults in their lives. Even if you never say anything disparaging to a child about their body, how you treat yourself and how you talk about your own body in front of them has a lasting impact. Not only do you want to treat the kids in your life with love and respect, you need to treat yourself that way, too!

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my Mom never, ever said “do these pants make me look fat?” in front of me as a kid. Pants were, well, pants. You wore them around in lieu of being stark naked. Nothing more. They didn’t carry emotional baggage. Clothes didn’t make me feel shameful if they failed to make me look skinny. Similarly, my Dad never talked about food being “good” or “bad”…it was just delicious, and a good way to have energy for going out and mowing the lawn or going out and canoeing! If you were hungry, you ate. It was very simple. And the coaches I worked with all the time were always awesome in how they referred to food – it was powerful fuel that we needed in order to do what we loved. Food could also bring about happy social events, like the big team pasta feeds the night before a race! How they referred to food and their own bodies had a really positive impact on me, and I still ended up with an eating disorder later in life…but in all honestly, I think being surrounded by all that positive messaging saved me from developing my disorder at an extremely young age.

Really grateful to have such loving and supportive parents!

WithAll created a coaches challenge, to have coaches spend a little bit of time each week thinking about how phrases they use to describe their athlete’s bodies could have an impact on the kids they spend so much time coaching. For example, the first week’s phrase was “Healthy athletes come in all shapes and sizes.” Coaches learned how they have a powerful voice in reminding their athletes that they don’t have to look a certain way to be a great athlete. They were prompted to think about how well they accept the shape and size of their own body and its abilities, and how they might be communicating that to their athletes. Suggested action steps included modeling positive self-talk with their athletes, jumping in to redirect negative comments they overhear, and bringing their athletes together to discuss how appreciating their own bodies is an important part of being a good athlete and playing their sport well.

I’m so appreciative of having so many coaches who think I’m a badass for working hard, not for looking a certain way. (photo from Coach Pat)

In their own words, the WithAll “coaches challenge” is pretty simple, and for a busy coach they don’t want to take up too much of your time. But, this is incredibly important! “This challenge offers guidance for how and why to use the 5 phrases with your athletes. It consists of a short weekly email with suggested action steps for one phrase and poses a question or two for your own self-reflection. Our goal: make it easy for you to have an even bigger positive impact on the health of the kids who look up to you.” They’re running another challenge this summer/fall, and if you’re a coach of any sport, any age level, you can sign up right here: https://whattosaynow.org/coaches/

Because you can’t focus on training and jumping high if your brain is busy worrying about your body! (photo from Coach Cork)

And for those of you reading this who are currently struggling through an eating disorder (statistically, 6% of you)? I’m sending out a huge hug of loving support. And I’d like to tell you to be brave, to do the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life, and reach out for help. Talk to a trusted family member, friend or coach and share that you need some help. Pick up the phone and call the Emily Program at 1-888-EMILY- 77 and someone will be there to talk to you, do a short quiz over the phone to determine what sort of eating disorder you might have with a few simple questions, and schedule an intake provider meeting within just a few days for a more thorough assessment of what type of care and treatment plan you may need. They do an incredible job breaking down barriers to treatment, so your concerns are quickly heard and you will be able to start recovery as soon as possible!

It’s time to Make Peace With Food. (photo from Julia Kern)

We can so often find reasons to put off doing things for ourselves, but when it comes to your mental and physical well being, there really isn’t time to wait. When you’re living with an eating disorder, you’re only living half a life. The sooner you can start recovery, the sooner you can get back to living your full, whole and happy life again! People often put off going to treatment because their eating disorder tricks them into thinking they don’t deserve help, that they’re not worth it, or that they are selfish for wanting to fix themselves instead of spending their time taking care of other people in their life. But think of it this way; if you aren’t healthy, you can’t be there for the people in your life the way you can if you’re taking good care of yourself. If you are healthy and empowered, you can be such an incredible positive role model and force for good in someone else’s life, too! So even if you don’t want to start recovery for yourself, ask for help for the people who love you in your life. For just about a million other reasons to start getting your life back right away, check out this inspiring post from the Emily Program at this link. 

One more reason to start recovery this summer? So you can picnic on the beach and simply enjoy it, not worry the whole time!

A really great resource if you’d like to learn a little more? The Emily Program’s new podcast, called Peace Meal. Their first episode, Eating Disorders 101, is incredibly enlightening and will help shed a little light on what eating disorders are, how to go about getting help, and how to support a loved one going through treatment. They also dispel a lot of myths that people still believe about eating disorders!

Words matter, so let’s learn What To Say.

The spring after competing in my first Olympic Games in 2014, I should have been full of self-confidence, fired up about training hard, and setting big goals. And I was! But one particular event really shook my faith in myself, and my confidence in rocking the muscles I had spent hundreds of hours sweating to be able to have. We had a bonfire party at my house to celebrate the end of the season, and invited a bunch of friends over.

Someone who had been one of our many awesome volunteer coaches for my high school team came over to wish me well after the season, and after talking for a few minutes they casually threw out “wow, you look a lot bigger than you did in high school! Have you gained weight?”

The casual comment about my size and shape of my body was what I would call an unintentional cruelty. In fact, when I look back on it, they may have even intended the remark as a compliment! But whatever the intention was, that evening, I slid back into my eating disordered habits for the first time in over a year, throwing up everything I ate for three days before getting help and once again committing to taking care of myself. I didn’t reach out to or talk to that person again for 3 years. When I think about this person, to this day, their comment is the first thing that comes to mind, which is honestly really sad. Clearly, they didn’t have any idea that they caused me harm, but through their words, they caused me such physical distress that I was one unlucky day away from a serious trip to the hospital.

That an off-hand comment from someone who wasn’t even extremely close to me could have such a destructive impact on my mental and physical well being seemed crazy, but there I was, relapsing into my eating disorder because I no longer felt fast, powerful, or confident. I only felt “too big”.

If one sentence can spiral an Olympic athlete back into an eating disorder, take a moment and imagine what a parent or coach could cause by telling a young athlete directly under their mentorship something along the lines of “you’d be much faster if you lost weight”, or “you could jump higher if only you dropped 10 pounds”.

Words matter. What we say to the people who look up to us, especially as coaches and parents, can have a huge impact on them. You can’t directly cause an eating disorder with your words—eating disorders are complicated, and multiple factors contribute to their development. But the words we say to others can be, and often are, significant contributors to a person’s an eating disorder.  Or, words can set one off. I know, because it happened to me.

I am so proud to speak up about my past with an eating disorder in order to help people currently struggling see that there IS hope! (photo from Julia Kern)

So what do we do? Say nothing? We could never, ever bring up food or body image for fear of saying the wrong thing…  OR, we could be the person in a young child’s life who sets a great example by not being afraid to start the conversation in a positive direction! As a coach, teacher or parent, you have the incredible opportunity to mindfully acknowledge the role food and body image play in each of our lives, and model self-care for the people who look up to you.

Which is where the “What To Say” initiative from the WithAll Foundation comes in! WithAll is the nonprofit that focuses on advancing eating disorder prevention and support. “What To Say” is an initiative to empower adults to help the kids in their lives develop healthy relationships with food and body. Decades of research show that what influential adults in a child’s life say about food, body, diet, and exercise has tremendous power in shaping the child’s body image, self-esteem and the likelihood that a child will develop an eating disorder. That’s why WithAll started this program; to give adults simple and direct resources to raise their own awareness about their relationship with food and body image, and to be able to take proactive action with the children in their life.

Happy to talk about WithAll and the importance of educating all the adults in a young athlete’s life! (photo by Render Photography)

So what exactly IS “What to Say”? Glad you asked!

  • “What to Say” is starting with 5 phrases adults can use now with kids, as well as age-specific phrases for youth sports coaches. They will expand with specific phrases for pediatricians, teachers and parents, as well as more resources for all adults.
  • Their premise is that while inspiring a child’s health and sense of self is a big responsibility, it doesn’t have to be complex. Knowing what to say, and feeling empowered in the small moments of each day, can have a big influence. Learn more at whattosaynow.org

They’re starting with coaches, because eating disorder risk and prevalence is higher among athletes. Having a coach simply be aware of how they talk about their athlete’s bodies and food, or even how they talk about their own bodies in front of their athletes, can have a huge impact. I mean, think about it…no child is born counting calories, declaring carbs to be off-limits, or saying that they are “being bad” when eating french fries. These are learned behaviors they pick up from mimicking the adults in their lives. Even if you never say anything disparaging to a child about their body, how you treat yourself and how you talk about your own body in front of them has a lasting impact. Not only do you want to treat the kids in your life with love and respect, you need to treat yourself that way, too!

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my Mom never, ever said “do these pants make me look fat?” in front of me as a kid. Pants were, well, pants. You wore them around in lieu of being stark naked. Nothing more. They didn’t carry emotional baggage. Clothes didn’t make me feel shameful if they failed to make me look skinny. Similarly, my Dad never talked about food being “good” or “bad”…it was just delicious, and a good way to have energy for going out and mowing the lawn or going out and canoeing! If you were hungry, you ate. It was very simple. And the coaches I worked with all the time were always awesome in how they referred to food – it was powerful fuel that we needed in order to do what we loved. Food could also bring about happy social events, like the big team pasta feeds the night before a race! How they referred to food and their own bodies had a really positive impact on me, and I still ended up with an eating disorder later in life…but in all honestly, I think being surrounded by all that positive messaging saved me from developing my disorder at an extremely young age.

Really grateful to have such loving and supportive parents!

WithAll created a coaches challenge, to have coaches spend a little bit of time each week thinking about how phrases they use to describe their athlete’s bodies could have an impact on the kids they spend so much time coaching. For example, the first week’s phrase was “Healthy athletes come in all shapes and sizes.” Coaches learned how they have a powerful voice in reminding their athletes that they don’t have to look a certain way to be a great athlete. They were prompted to think about how well they accept the shape and size of their own body and its abilities, and how they might be communicating that to their athletes. Suggested action steps included modeling positive self-talk with their athletes, jumping in to redirect negative comments they overhear, and bringing their athletes together to discuss how appreciating their own bodies is an important part of being a good athlete and playing their sport well.

I’m so appreciative of having so many coaches who think I’m a badass for working hard, not for looking a certain way. (photo from Coach Pat)

In their own words, the WithAll “coaches challenge” is pretty simple, and for a busy coach they don’t want to take up too much of your time. But, this is incredibly important! “This challenge offers guidance for how and why to use the 5 phrases with your athletes. It consists of a short weekly email with suggested action steps for one phrase and poses a question or two for your own self-reflection. Our goal: make it easy for you to have an even bigger positive impact on the health of the kids who look up to you.” They’re running another challenge this summer/fall, and if you’re a coach of any sport, any age level, you can sign up right here: https://whattosaynow.org/coaches/

Because you can’t focus on training and jumping high if your brain is busy worrying about your body! (photo from Coach Cork)

And for those of you reading this who are currently struggling through an eating disorder (statistically, 6% of you)? I’m sending out a huge hug of loving support. And I’d like to tell you to be brave, to do the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life, and reach out for help. Talk to a trusted family member, friend or coach and share that you need some help. Pick up the phone and call the Emily Program at 1-888-EMILY- 77 and someone will be there to talk to you, do a short quiz over the phone to determine what sort of eating disorder you might have with a few simple questions, and schedule an intake provider meeting within just a few days for a more thorough assessment of what type of care and treatment plan you may need. They do an incredible job breaking down barriers to treatment, so your concerns are quickly heard and you will be able to start recovery as soon as possible!

It’s time to Make Peace With Food. (photo from Julia Kern)

We can so often find reasons to put off doing things for ourselves, but when it comes to your mental and physical well being, there really isn’t time to wait. When you’re living with an eating disorder, you’re only living half a life. The sooner you can start recovery, the sooner you can get back to living your full, whole and happy life again! People often put off going to treatment because their eating disorder tricks them into thinking they don’t deserve help, that they’re not worth it, or that they are selfish for wanting to fix themselves instead of spending their time taking care of other people in their life. But think of it this way; if you aren’t healthy, you can’t be there for the people in your life the way you can if you’re taking good care of yourself. If you are healthy and empowered, you can be such an incredible positive role model and force for good in someone else’s life, too! So even if you don’t want to start recovery for yourself, ask for help for the people who love you in your life. For just about a million other reasons to start getting your life back right away, check out this inspiring post from the Emily Program at this link. 

One more reason to start recovery this summer? So you can picnic on the beach and simply enjoy it, not worry the whole time!

A really great resource if you’d like to learn a little more? The Emily Program’s new podcast, called Peace Meal. Their first episode, Eating Disorders 101, is incredibly enlightening and will help shed a little light on what eating disorders are, how to go about getting help, and how to support a loved one going through treatment. They also dispel a lot of myths that people still believe about eating disorders!

The inside guide to Peru, part two!

I’m back! Ready for part two of the Salkantay trek, and Machu Picchu? Picking up where I left off, we woke up nice and early (thanks to Heihei the slightly confused rooster, whom I still haven’t forgiven), and started our third day with…a van ride!

Only in Peru does the graffiti feature…Llamas?!? (photo from Cesar)

Cesar had learned the night before that there had been a huge landslide that took out the hiking path we were supposed to go on a few weeks ago. They had dug out a new path through the slide, but just three days ago it slid once again, and thank goodness for our guide figuring that out ahead of time! We said goodbye to the horses and the porters who had taken care of them, and took a car on the bumpy dirt road across the part of the valley that was most prone to landslides. While Wade and I were stunned by the jaw-dropping cliffs that our left wheels were only inches away from, neither Cesar nor our driver were the least bit fazed. “Slides are very frequent around here!” the driver told us, in a gross understatement. We lost track of how many slides we saw, and how many times we drove through a slide that had been bulldozed to clear a narrow path for cars. This. Was. Epic! Again, like I said…they just make them tougher in the Andes.

I don’t have photos from our car ride, but the road we walked after was gorgeous and full of flowers!

After almost an hour’s drive, we got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to the small village of Lucmabamba, or, as Wade would pronounce it…”luuuk-at-mah-bumba”. We loved this place.

Layers on layers of green!

Little campsites were offered along the single dirt road that was the main road, and most campsites were also small plantations that grew anything from coffee to bananas, passionfruit, guavas, avocados, yucca, corn, plantains and potatoes.

Much smarter chickens lived at our campsite with us this time around.

Our campsite for night 3 of the trek!

If you have the chance, I highly recommend the place we camped at, Flor de Cafe. The adorable couple there grow and make their own coffee (some of which we brought back with us! Don’t tell US Customs!) but the best part was that the owner gave us an awesome tour of his farm, explaining how he cares for and grows each plant and letting us pick and then eat a variety of things!

Picking avocados with a long pole attached to a basket.

I had tasted passionfruit juice before, but never peeled and eaten one fresh, and it became my favorite snack. After breaking the harder shell and peeling away the soft white almost fuzzy stuff around the fruit, you get this wobbly, clear jello-like mass of seeds, each surrounded by juicy little blobs of fruit. It was as if a pomegranite, a jelly fish and chia pudding decided to join forces inside this bright yellow shell. “Like a monkey brain!” Cesar told us, “just suck it out, break the fruit in your mouth but don’t crunch the seeds and swallow it!”’ That was one delicious monkey brain.

Yucca root!

But first, coffee.

We picked a number of coffee fruits from one of the many Arabica trees on his farm, then brought them over to the cement bins where the farmer would hand crank the wheel of the machine that separated the red skin of the fruit from the beans within, the skin falling to the back and the beans dropping to the floor of the container. I had no idea how exactly coffee was made before this (I gathered the roasting the green beans and grinding part, but the steps before that were a mystery to me) and it was surprising to me to learn that when I put a fresh green bean in my mouth it was covered by a sweet sort of sap, a film covering the bean.

Ripe coffee fruit is red, and the beans inside it are green.

Our new farmer friend holding the Arabica coffee tree as we picked the ripe fruits.

Wade operating the machine that separated the shell from the beans.

Honestly, we were having way too much fun with this!

Then came the part we cheated because we didn’t actually have three days; the farmer explained that he would fill the basin with water and the beans that floated to the top were bad, and were scooped out. The rest would be thoroughly washed, then dried out for three days before the light shell covering the bean was taken off.

The red shell, the slimy green beans, and in the pan the beans that had been washed then dried out.

When you were left with just the dried green beans, this is the stage where many coffee companies purchase the beans from this area of the world and roast them themselves. This is when we took a bunch of the beans over to a corner of the farmer’s covered stone patio, where a small pot was placed over a fire that we took turns stoking by blowing air through a rod into the flames. The beans were roasted in the pot with one of us constantly stirring them around, and near the end some sugar was added to give them extra flavor.

Roasting our own batch of coffee!

My face when Wade said that between the two of us, he’s the chef 🙂

When the beans were nice and black and the air smelled ridiculously good, the beans were poured into a basket where we stirred them around as they cooled down.

Cooling off the freshly roasted beans.

Then we ground the beans, in a hand-cranked grinder the farmer told us was relatively new – his parents had ground the coffee by pounding the beans with a large rock that was in the corner. The smell of the freshly ground coffee was straight up ridiculous.

This smelled amazing.

Just trying to get all the coffee smells.

We enjoyed a few cups while simultaneously enjoying the view of all the farms dotting the valley of the cloud forest. What a peaceful way to spend the afternoon!

Pouring the coffee!

Cesar, Wade and I enjoying the coffee we’d just made.

But wait…it gets better. In what can only be described as a view taken straight out of Jurassic Park (the first movie, obviously!) were the hot springs of Santa Teresa. These weren’t hot springs that smelled like old eggs or had murky water, either – the pools spaced along the edge of the cliff had hot spring water and cold mountain water constantly circling through and out of them, with a small waterfall of freezing cold water where you could cool off. If you want your trip to be romantic, you should definitely go here. Just saying. You’re welcome.

The hot springs.

The next morning started bright and early at 5am, with our last delicious breakfast from our chef before climbing up for a few hours.

So much green! So many ferns! Bamboo! Vines! Wow!

Taking a chill break nearing the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain, we had our first view through clearing clouds of Machu Picchu, across the valley and Urubamba river far below us! It was so incredible to see these ruins from far away…we marveled at how long it took for them to be discovered after the last Incas fell to the Spanish around 500 years ago. It’s absolutely amazing that they were discovered at all, however, because of how overgrown they were at the time, how high up and protected the city was, and how the ever-changing cloud forest often completely obscured any view of the lost city.

Machu Picchu is tucked into the tiny “flat” section near the left of the mountains you see in the photo.

Just another absolutely awesome model shot of Wade.

We learned that although Hiram Bingham was given a lot of credit for “discovering” Machu Picchu, he wasn’t actually the first to find it. Farmers in the area knew it was there, and another explorer from Cusco had found it as well. However, Hiram was the one who brought in the archeological team and made it famous to the world (and stole artifacts, some of which were only recently returned, by the way. Seems like a great guy!) so he gets much of the credit. Either way, I’m just grateful the Spanish didn’t know about it’s existence when they took over Cusco, because they destroyed (or converted to Catholic churches) most of the Quechua culture, while Machu Picchu, thankfully, remained intact.

Happy dance now that we’d seen how close we were to Machu Picchu!

We started to climb down and on our way saw the incredible Inca ruins of Llactapata, a site thought to have been used for ceremonies along the Inca trail we were hiking. It was interesting to see that a lot of these stones were placed using mortar, in opposition to the perfectly aligned stones of Sacsayhuaman. As the Incas became more advanced over time, they figured out how to make these virtually seamless walls, so any earlier work (or less important work, such as houses where the less important people lived at the time) were not as perfect looking and used mortar. It was so cool to see what was important to the Incas (usually, religious sites) by the quality of their buildings!

Llactapata ruins, the uncovered part.

Part of Llactapata, still overgrown and covered by nature!

The view of the mountains with Llactapata at our back. Basically, views on views this entire trek.

Wade, “golfing” his way over to Machu Picchu.

By the time we made it down the other side of the mountain and along the river to the hydroelectric plant we had the choice. We’d either walk for 1.5-2 hours along the railway or catch a train to the town of Aguas Calientes, or as it’s recently been renamed, Machu Picchu Pueblo. Either name still works – everyone will know what you’re talking about. It was astounding, the difference between this town and the ones we’d passed through on our hike…tourism to this area had made Aguas Calientes a bustling town filled with restaurants and hotels. The bumpy dirt road gave way to beautiful walking paths and paved streets. In a very happy twist of events, our original hotel had overbooked and offered us a free upgrade to the Inkaterra Pueblo hotel, the nicest hotel in town, and that was more than ok by us! After walking 7.5 hours that day a hot shower, incredible food and tea while strolling through their orchid gardens was a perfect end to the day. Needless to say, we felt pretty spoiled, but enjoyed every second of it!

I can’t even tell you how awesome a hot shower and getting off my feet felt! Wow!

There were hummingbirds everywhere in the hotel gardens. I loved watching them!

So here’s the part that’s new about visiting Machu Picchu – due to the number of people from all around the world who want to visit, you have to get your permit ahead of time (especially if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain overlooking the city) and now the permits come with an entry time. Once you enter, you’re supposed to leave after 3 hours, so that it’s not overcrowded for any group of people. Although to be honest, around 4 in the afternoon it was much less busy, so if you want the clear photo…do the afternoon!

Me, “getting the shot”, without a whole lot of other people at 4pm.

The entry time system was awesome because instead of a crazy bus line starting at 5am, we were able to enjoy a nice breakfast and then get in line behind the 8am entry sign, avoiding a lot of waiting and stress to get up there in time. When we arrived the city was socked in by fog and clouds, and it was easy to see how Machu Picchu had evaded attention for so many years…you just couldn’t see the dang thing!

A slightly spooky ghost village! This is the part where the normal people lived.

Wade, looking out the windows from the Guard Hut.

Wade and I, without any other tourists in the background. Haha, just kidding! Just accept early on that you will have tourists in your photos and you will enjoy your visit a whole lot more!

Honestly, the fog swirling around made it feel pretty mystical and slightly creepy, which I loved. It was really cool to see more and more of the ruins uncovered as the sun burned through the fog, and by 11am it was fully sunny out!

A side view to show just how many levels of terraces there were, supporting Machu Picchu and preventing slides!

Loving the fog in the mountains.

Cesar showed us around the ruins, and it was so cool to see the different parts of the city and how it functioned. One of the coolest things were the water channels built into the mountain to move natural spring water at exactly the right grade in order to provide a constant flow of water to the city year round. It’s so impressive how smart the Incas were and how they worked with nature, not against it!

I’m 5’4”, so myself and all the other Hobbits fit right into the building plans! Where the normal citizens lived, the doorways were not that tall!

One of the many water channels flowing through the city.

We hiked Huayna Picchu (pronounced “why-nah pee-choo”), and it was relatively short compared to what we’d been walking every day, but fun in how steep and exposed it was. The view looking down on Machu Picchu was very cool, and even better after we’d learned more about it so we could see how the city planning worked from above!

A bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham, or maybe that’s Wade.

On the tippy top of Huayna Picchu!

On your way back down from Huayna Picchu, you will need to crawl through a small cave. I thought this might be pertinent to mention because clearly, some folks behind us were unaware of the cave part, and “I don’t like this I don’t like this I DON’T LIKE THIS” echoed behind us for a little while as they scooted their way through.

I, however, DID like the cave!

Happy and hungry hikers (with Huayna Picchu behind us)

After our hike we ate a pretty incredible meal at the Sanctuary Lodge (the only place up on the mountain, right outside the entrance gate) before heading back in for the afternoon. It started to rain, which felt awesome and cooled us off as we hiked up to the sun gate, which was opposite Huayna Picchu. This was where the Incas, after hiking from Cusco via the famous Inca trail, would have had their first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

The Inca trail and a view from the opposite side of Machu Picchu.

Hiding from the rain, with the Sun Gate in the background.

Because this is the cloud forest, after all, the rain and clouds cleared within the hour and we were treated to a breathtaking golden hour (and a half…it was a long golden hour) as the sun started to lower.

Gorgeous.

We had a train back to Cusco that evening, so we had planned to take a bus down to Aguas Calientes. But as Cesar had warned us, the lines for the buses on the way down aren’t regulated by an entry time, so it can be a little crazy. We were nervous about making it back in time, so we hiked back down (ahhh! MORE stairs!) and had time to get an ice cream (ok, so the stairs were worth it after all) before boarding the train back and flying back home the following day.

My recommendation, if it works for your travel plans? Stay in Aguas Calientes another night. Go up with a guided tour of Machu Picchu in the morning to learn all about the city, and even if there’s clouds or fog in the morning, don’t worry – it will clear up. Hike Huayna Picchu for sure, then have lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge or pack your own picnic. Then have an afternoon permit so that you can do another entrance with any extra hikes you want to do – the Sun Gate was particularly cool, and doesn’t require a permit! That way you can enjoy and explore without feeling rushed, and if you get skunked on the weather for one entrance time, you have another. Stay for the sunset (around 5pm), and hopefully the bus line will be less crazy than it was for us. If not, it’s only an hour walk down to town and you won’t be worried about catching a train because you have another night to enjoy before your travel back to Cusco and home!

Wade and I walking along the coast in Lima on our travel day home.

On our travel home, we had a 14 hour layover in Lima, and here’s what I’d definitely recommend if you also have a long layover! Check your bags in “stored luggage”, the blue wall at the far end of baggage claim. It’s only $13 to store a bag for the day and it’s worth it to not haul it around the city! Then catch the Airport Express bus to the Miraflores district. The bus is safe and cheap, and they have a guide on the bus who will tell you when it’s your stop based on what hotel (or restaurant) you want to get off at. Definitely, definitely, absolutely, FOR SURE get yourself a reservation and eat at Amáz, a restaurant that pulls fresh food from the rainforest and surrounding area into their meals and serves a creative take on dessert that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys good things in life. Then walk along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the ocean, watch the surfers below or just wander around looking at the unique houses!

River snails for appetizers at Amaz…these were tasty little buggers!

Overall, this was such an incredible experience for Wade and I. I loved getting to see a totally new part of the world, someplace where ski racing will never take me. I was excited to learn more about their culture and history! I felt so at home in the Andes mountains, and the culture I got to experience and the people we met made a lasting impression. If you get the chance to visit someday, enjoy every second of it!

Loving it!

But wait! One more thing. The gear guide, for those of you who might be planning a trip and are looking for recommendations on what to bring. We put a lot of thought into what we were packing as we didn’t check a bag, and here’s the list of what we loved best! I’ve linked to the women’s version of all these, but guys, it should be pretty easy to find yours too.

The day packs: Because sweaty backs are gross (and I should know, I sweat for my job), get yourself a nice pack. These light and small backpacks kept us cool but also held all the essential gear for the day. Women’s Trekker Air Carry Pack by LL Bean

The hiking boots: Wow. I can’t say enough how incredible these were. I have pretty rough feet (flat, bone spurs, weird poky bones, just gross in general) and these got me though full days of hiking with zero issues. Wow, wow, wow. Quest Prime GTX W by Salomon.

The water filter: For those times when you don’t want to trust the water, this was incredibly fast and light to carry. Katadyn BeFree Water Filter from LL Bean

The first aid kit: for peace of mind (also bring anti-diarrhia meds and ibuprofin pills, just in case). Adventure Medial Kit from LL Bean.

The sleeping bag liners: renting sleeping bags is awesome…and so is having your own liner to put in it. Enough said. You’ll need the liner to add warmth when you’re camping up high, and when you’re in the rainforest you may want to sleep in only the liner to stay cool. Sea to Summit Thermalite liner from LL Bean

The portable pillows: in line with the “Gucci camping” experience of having amazing food and horses to carry our equipment…why not actually get a good night’s sleep, as well? We loved these little blow-up pillows. Sea to Summit inflatable pillow from LL Bean

The packable hoodie: We went through a LOT of different climates. We didn’t always need this layer, but when we did, we REALLY did. As a bonus, it was very cute. Primaloft Packaway Hooded Jacket by LL Bean

The light tank top: A mesh back was amazing, especially hiking with a pack on! Light and breathable, and also cute. Thanks, Salomon. Comet Breeze Tank 

The hiking shorts: These went up and over mountains, no problem…all while fitting a phone into the side pocket. Agile Short by Salomon.

The zip-off hiking pants: They’re pants. Nope, now they’re shorts. They’re convertible without needing to actually take your pants off. Genius. Vista Zip off pants by LL Bean

The raincoat: Armpit zippers, light and breathable fabric, cute. Need I say more? Nope. Tek O2 Element Jacket by LL Bean

The rain pants: Incredibly light and easy to roll up into the bottom of my day pack, these were awesome for the sudden showers. Lightning Race WP pant by Salomon

The wear-on-the-plane or around the camp pants: So cute. So light. So cozy. Comet Pant by Salomon

The sweater: don’t be silly, buy one with Llamas on it when you get there.

I’ll stop just shy of recommending hiking underpants as well (although, you know…pack a lot, or be prepared to do sink laundry). Happy camping!

The inside guide to Peru, part two!

I’m back! Ready for part two of the Salkantay trek, and Machu Picchu? Picking up where I left off, we woke up nice and early (thanks to Heihei the slightly confused rooster, whom I still haven’t forgiven), and started our third day with…a van ride!

Only in Peru does the graffiti feature…Llamas?!? (photo from Cesar)

Cesar had learned the night before that there had been a huge landslide that took out the hiking path we were supposed to go on a few weeks ago. They had dug out a new path through the slide, but just three days ago it slid once again, and thank goodness for our guide figuring that out ahead of time! We said goodbye to the horses and the porters who had taken care of them, and took a car on the bumpy dirt road across the part of the valley that was most prone to landslides. While Wade and I were stunned by the jaw-dropping cliffs that our left wheels were only inches away from, neither Cesar nor our driver were the least bit fazed. “Slides are very frequent around here!” the driver told us, in a gross understatement. We lost track of how many slides we saw, and how many times we drove through a slide that had been bulldozed to clear a narrow path for cars. This. Was. Epic! Again, like I said…they just make them tougher in the Andes.

I don’t have photos from our car ride, but the road we walked after was gorgeous and full of flowers!

After almost an hour’s drive, we got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to the small village of Lucmabamba, or, as Wade would pronounce it…”luuuk-at-mah-bumba”. We loved this place.

Layers on layers of green!

Little campsites were offered along the single dirt road that was the main road, and most campsites were also small plantations that grew anything from coffee to bananas, passionfruit, guavas, avocados, yucca, corn, plantains and potatoes.

Much smarter chickens lived at our campsite with us this time around.

Our campsite for night 3 of the trek!

If you have the chance, I highly recommend the place we camped at, Flor de Cafe. The adorable couple there grow and make their own coffee (some of which we brought back with us! Don’t tell US Customs!) but the best part was that the owner gave us an awesome tour of his farm, explaining how he cares for and grows each plant and letting us pick and then eat a variety of things!

Picking avocados with a long pole attached to a basket.

I had tasted passionfruit juice before, but never peeled and eaten one fresh, and it became my favorite snack. After breaking the harder shell and peeling away the soft white almost fuzzy stuff around the fruit, you get this wobbly, clear jello-like mass of seeds, each surrounded by juicy little blobs of fruit. It was as if a pomegranite, a jelly fish and chia pudding decided to join forces inside this bright yellow shell. “Like a monkey brain!” Cesar told us, “just suck it out, break the fruit in your mouth but don’t crunch the seeds and swallow it!”’ That was one delicious monkey brain.

Yucca root!

But first, coffee.

We picked a number of coffee fruits from one of the many Arabica trees on his farm, then brought them over to the cement bins where the farmer would hand crank the wheel of the machine that separated the red skin of the fruit from the beans within, the skin falling to the back and the beans dropping to the floor of the container. I had no idea how exactly coffee was made before this (I gathered the roasting the green beans and grinding part, but the steps before that were a mystery to me) and it was surprising to me to learn that when I put a fresh green bean in my mouth it was covered by a sweet sort of sap, a film covering the bean.

Ripe coffee fruit is red, and the beans inside it are green.

Our new farmer friend holding the Arabica coffee tree as we picked the ripe fruits.

Wade operating the machine that separated the shell from the beans.

Honestly, we were having way too much fun with this!

Then came the part we cheated because we didn’t actually have three days; the farmer explained that he would fill the basin with water and the beans that floated to the top were bad, and were scooped out. The rest would be thoroughly washed, then dried out for three days before the light shell covering the bean was taken off.

The red shell, the slimy green beans, and in the pan the beans that had been washed then dried out.

When you were left with just the dried green beans, this is the stage where many coffee companies purchase the beans from this area of the world and roast them themselves. This is when we took a bunch of the beans over to a corner of the farmer’s covered stone patio, where a small pot was placed over a fire that we took turns stoking by blowing air through a rod into the flames. The beans were roasted in the pot with one of us constantly stirring them around, and near the end some sugar was added to give them extra flavor.

Roasting our own batch of coffee!

My face when Wade said that between the two of us, he’s the chef 🙂

When the beans were nice and black and the air smelled ridiculously good, the beans were poured into a basket where we stirred them around as they cooled down.

Cooling off the freshly roasted beans.

Then we ground the beans, in a hand-cranked grinder the farmer told us was relatively new – his parents had ground the coffee by pounding the beans with a large rock that was in the corner. The smell of the freshly ground coffee was straight up ridiculous.

This smelled amazing.

Just trying to get all the coffee smells.

We enjoyed a few cups while simultaneously enjoying the view of all the farms dotting the valley of the cloud forest. What a peaceful way to spend the afternoon!

Pouring the coffee!

Cesar, Wade and I enjoying the coffee we’d just made.

But wait…it gets better. In what can only be described as a view taken straight out of Jurassic Park (the first movie, obviously!) were the hot springs of Santa Teresa. These weren’t hot springs that smelled like old eggs or had murky water, either – the pools spaced along the edge of the cliff had hot spring water and cold mountain water constantly circling through and out of them, with a small waterfall of freezing cold water where you could cool off. If you want your trip to be romantic, you should definitely go here. Just saying. You’re welcome.

The hot springs.

The next morning started bright and early at 5am, with our last delicious breakfast from our chef before climbing up for a few hours.

So much green! So many ferns! Bamboo! Vines! Wow!

Taking a chill break nearing the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain, we had our first view through clearing clouds of Machu Picchu, across the valley and Urubamba river far below us! It was so incredible to see these ruins from far away…we marveled at how long it took for them to be discovered after the last Incas fell to the Spanish around 500 years ago. It’s absolutely amazing that they were discovered at all, however, because of how overgrown they were at the time, how high up and protected the city was, and how the ever-changing cloud forest often completely obscured any view of the lost city.

Machu Picchu is tucked into the tiny “flat” section near the left of the mountains you see in the photo.

Just another absolutely awesome model shot of Wade.

We learned that although Hiram Bingham was given a lot of credit for “discovering” Machu Picchu, he wasn’t actually the first to find it. Farmers in the area knew it was there, and another explorer from Cusco had found it as well. However, Hiram was the one who brought in the archeological team and made it famous to the world (and stole artifacts, some of which were only recently returned, by the way. Seems like a great guy!) so he gets much of the credit. Either way, I’m just grateful the Spanish didn’t know about it’s existence when they took over Cusco, because they destroyed (or converted to Catholic churches) most of the Quechua culture, while Machu Picchu, thankfully, remained intact.

Happy dance now that we’d seen how close we were to Machu Picchu!

We started to climb down and on our way saw the incredible Inca ruins of Llactapata, a site thought to have been used for ceremonies along the Inca trail we were hiking. It was interesting to see that a lot of these stones were placed using mortar, in opposition to the perfectly aligned stones of Sacsayhuaman. As the Incas became more advanced over time, they figured out how to make these virtually seamless walls, so any earlier work (or less important work, such as houses where the less important people lived at the time) were not as perfect looking and used mortar. It was so cool to see what was important to the Incas (usually, religious sites) by the quality of their buildings!

Llactapata ruins, the uncovered part.

Part of Llactapata, still overgrown and covered by nature!

The view of the mountains with Llactapata at our back. Basically, views on views this entire trek.

Wade, “golfing” his way over to Machu Picchu.

By the time we made it down the other side of the mountain and along the river to the hydroelectric plant we had the choice. We’d either walk for 1.5-2 hours along the railway or catch a train to the town of Aguas Calientes, or as it’s recently been renamed, Machu Picchu Pueblo. Either name still works – everyone will know what you’re talking about. It was astounding, the difference between this town and the ones we’d passed through on our hike…tourism to this area had made Aguas Calientes a bustling town filled with restaurants and hotels. The bumpy dirt road gave way to beautiful walking paths and paved streets. In a very happy twist of events, our original hotel had overbooked and offered us a free upgrade to the Inkaterra Pueblo hotel, the nicest hotel in town, and that was more than ok by us! After walking 7.5 hours that day a hot shower, incredible food and tea while strolling through their orchid gardens was a perfect end to the day. Needless to say, we felt pretty spoiled, but enjoyed every second of it!

I can’t even tell you how awesome a hot shower and getting off my feet felt! Wow!

There were hummingbirds everywhere in the hotel gardens. I loved watching them!

So here’s the part that’s new about visiting Machu Picchu – due to the number of people from all around the world who want to visit, you have to get your permit ahead of time (especially if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain overlooking the city) and now the permits come with an entry time. Once you enter, you’re supposed to leave after 3 hours, so that it’s not overcrowded for any group of people. Although to be honest, around 4 in the afternoon it was much less busy, so if you want the clear photo…do the afternoon!

Me, “getting the shot”, without a whole lot of other people at 4pm.

The entry time system was awesome because instead of a crazy bus line starting at 5am, we were able to enjoy a nice breakfast and then get in line behind the 8am entry sign, avoiding a lot of waiting and stress to get up there in time. When we arrived the city was socked in by fog and clouds, and it was easy to see how Machu Picchu had evaded attention for so many years…you just couldn’t see the dang thing!

A slightly spooky ghost village! This is the part where the normal people lived.

Wade, looking out the windows from the Guard Hut.

Wade and I, without any other tourists in the background. Haha, just kidding! Just accept early on that you will have tourists in your photos and you will enjoy your visit a whole lot more!

Honestly, the fog swirling around made it feel pretty mystical and slightly creepy, which I loved. It was really cool to see more and more of the ruins uncovered as the sun burned through the fog, and by 11am it was fully sunny out!

A side view to show just how many levels of terraces there were, supporting Machu Picchu and preventing slides!

Loving the fog in the mountains.

Cesar showed us around the ruins, and it was so cool to see the different parts of the city and how it functioned. One of the coolest things were the water channels built into the mountain to move natural spring water at exactly the right grade in order to provide a constant flow of water to the city year round. It’s so impressive how smart the Incas were and how they worked with nature, not against it!

I’m 5’4”, so myself and all the other Hobbits fit right into the building plans! Where the normal citizens lived, the doorways were not that tall!

One of the many water channels flowing through the city.

We hiked Huayna Picchu (pronounced “why-nah pee-choo”), and it was relatively short compared to what we’d been walking every day, but fun in how steep and exposed it was. The view looking down on Machu Picchu was very cool, and even better after we’d learned more about it so we could see how the city planning worked from above!

A bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham, or maybe that’s Wade.

On the tippy top of Huayna Picchu!

On your way back down from Huayna Picchu, you will need to crawl through a small cave. I thought this might be pertinent to mention because clearly, some folks behind us were unaware of the cave part, and “I don’t like this I don’t like this I DON’T LIKE THIS” echoed behind us for a little while as they scooted their way through.

I, however, DID like the cave!

Happy and hungry hikers (with Huayna Picchu behind us)

After our hike we ate a pretty incredible meal at the Sanctuary Lodge (the only place up on the mountain, right outside the entrance gate) before heading back in for the afternoon. It started to rain, which felt awesome and cooled us off as we hiked up to the sun gate, which was opposite Huayna Picchu. This was where the Incas, after hiking from Cusco via the famous Inca trail, would have had their first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

The Inca trail and a view from the opposite side of Machu Picchu.

Hiding from the rain, with the Sun Gate in the background.

Because this is the cloud forest, after all, the rain and clouds cleared within the hour and we were treated to a breathtaking golden hour (and a half…it was a long golden hour) as the sun started to lower.

Gorgeous.

We had a train back to Cusco that evening, so we had planned to take a bus down to Aguas Calientes. But as Cesar had warned us, the lines for the buses on the way down aren’t regulated by an entry time, so it can be a little crazy. We were nervous about making it back in time, so we hiked back down (ahhh! MORE stairs!) and had time to get an ice cream (ok, so the stairs were worth it after all) before boarding the train back and flying back home the following day.

My recommendation, if it works for your travel plans? Stay in Aguas Calientes another night. Go up with a guided tour of Machu Picchu in the morning to learn all about the city, and even if there’s clouds or fog in the morning, don’t worry – it will clear up. Hike Huayna Picchu for sure, then have lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge or pack your own picnic. Then have an afternoon permit so that you can do another entrance with any extra hikes you want to do – the Sun Gate was particularly cool, and doesn’t require a permit! That way you can enjoy and explore without feeling rushed, and if you get skunked on the weather for one entrance time, you have another. Stay for the sunset (around 5pm), and hopefully the bus line will be less crazy than it was for us. If not, it’s only an hour walk down to town and you won’t be worried about catching a train because you have another night to enjoy before your travel back to Cusco and home!

Wade and I walking along the coast in Lima on our travel day home.

On our travel home, we had a 14 hour layover in Lima, and here’s what I’d definitely recommend if you also have a long layover! Check your bags in “stored luggage”, the blue wall at the far end of baggage claim. It’s only $13 to store a bag for the day and it’s worth it to not haul it around the city! Then catch the Airport Express bus to the Miraflores district. The bus is safe and cheap, and they have a guide on the bus who will tell you when it’s your stop based on what hotel (or restaurant) you want to get off at. Definitely, definitely, absolutely, FOR SURE get yourself a reservation and eat at Amáz, a restaurant that pulls fresh food from the rainforest and surrounding area into their meals and serves a creative take on dessert that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys good things in life. Then walk along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the ocean, watch the surfers below or just wander around looking at the unique houses!

River snails for appetizers at Amaz…these were tasty little buggers!

Overall, this was such an incredible experience for Wade and I. I loved getting to see a totally new part of the world, someplace where ski racing will never take me. I was excited to learn more about their culture and history! I felt so at home in the Andes mountains, and the culture I got to experience and the people we met made a lasting impression. If you get the chance to visit someday, enjoy every second of it!

Loving it!

But wait! One more thing. The gear guide, for those of you who might be planning a trip and are looking for recommendations on what to bring. We put a lot of thought into what we were packing as we didn’t check a bag, and here’s the list of what we loved best! I’ve linked to the women’s version of all these, but guys, it should be pretty easy to find yours too.

The day packs: Because sweaty backs are gross (and I should know, I sweat for my job), get yourself a nice pack. These light and small backpacks kept us cool but also held all the essential gear for the day. Women’s Trekker Air Carry Pack by LL Bean

The hiking boots: Wow. I can’t say enough how incredible these were. I have pretty rough feet (flat, bone spurs, weird poky bones, just gross in general) and these got me though full days of hiking with zero issues. Wow, wow, wow. Quest Prime GTX W by Salomon.

The water filter: For those times when you don’t want to trust the water, this was incredibly fast and light to carry. Katadyn BeFree Water Filter from LL Bean

The first aid kit: for peace of mind (also bring anti-diarrhia meds and ibuprofin pills, just in case). Adventure Medial Kit from LL Bean.

The sleeping bag liners: renting sleeping bags is awesome…and so is having your own liner to put in it. Enough said. You’ll need the liner to add warmth when you’re camping up high, and when you’re in the rainforest you may want to sleep in only the liner to stay cool. Sea to Summit Thermalite liner from LL Bean

The portable pillows: in line with the “Gucci camping” experience of having amazing food and horses to carry our equipment…why not actually get a good night’s sleep, as well? We loved these little blow-up pillows. Sea to Summit inflatable pillow from LL Bean

The packable hoodie: We went through a LOT of different climates. We didn’t always need this layer, but when we did, we REALLY did. As a bonus, it was very cute. Primaloft Packaway Hooded Jacket by LL Bean

The light tank top: A mesh back was amazing, especially hiking with a pack on! Light and breathable, and also cute. Thanks, Salomon. Comet Breeze Tank 

The hiking shorts: These went up and over mountains, no problem…all while fitting a phone into the side pocket. Agile Short by Salomon.

The zip-off hiking pants: They’re pants. Nope, now they’re shorts. They’re convertible without needing to actually take your pants off. Genius. Vista Zip off pants by LL Bean

The raincoat: Armpit zippers, light and breathable fabric, cute. Need I say more? Nope. Tek O2 Element Jacket by LL Bean

The rain pants: Incredibly light and easy to roll up into the bottom of my day pack, these were awesome for the sudden showers. Lightning Race WP pant by Salomon

The wear-on-the-plane or around the camp pants: So cute. So light. So cozy. Comet Pant by Salomon

The sweater: don’t be silly, buy one with Llamas on it when you get there.

I’ll stop just shy of recommending hiking underpants as well (although, you know…pack a lot, or be prepared to do sink laundry). Happy camping!

The guide to a crazy fun Peru trip, part 1

Wade and I just returned from an absolutely incredible trip in Peru, stopping in Boston for a quick 20 hours before joining his family on their vacation in San Diego for a few days. Getting the chance to fully re-set and recharge my batteries? Glorious. Not checking email for two weeks? Terrifying (and glorious).

Loved the sun and sand time!

Even better than the beach? Time with Wade and his family!

I’ve had so many people reach out with questions about the trip that I wanted to write a little guide, a rundown of the places we saw and what the Salkantay trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu was like. Then I realized that “a little guide” just wasn’t going to cut it…I like to talk way too much to keep this short. So without further rambling, here’s part one of our trip to Peru!

The goal? Machu Picchu!

First off, the planning. Once we decided that we really wanted to see Machu Picchu and hike through the Andes mountains in Peru, we weren’t sure exactly how to plan the details! We decided to plan our trip through Global Basecamps, and they were truly awesome. Could we have set this trip up ourselves? Probably, but we had a lot of questions about the area, had no idea what to expect for the weather or how to pack when going through 16 climate zones on our planned hiking route, don’t speak Spanish fluently, and didn’t want to be stressed out about the details. We just wanted to enjoy our trip! As soon as we reached out to them they were incredibly helpful and answered all our questions, then helped us plan the trip so we could make the most out of the time we had, and see everything we hoped to see! We didn’t have to worry about setting up taxis (there are a lot of warnings in the airport about taxi scams), booking a good hotel right near the old part of town, or renting good camping gear. Perhaps most importantly, they work with local tour groups and set us up with the most incredible guide, Cesar, who really made the experience an incredible one for us. I’d definitely recommend going through them if you are looking to plan a trip. If you’d like to see more about them, here’s the LINK to their website!

Thanks to Global Basecamps for helping us find the most incredible guide, Cesar!

A note about travel: I can’t lie to you, it’s probably going to be a long series of flights. But it’s absolutely worth it, I promise! But here’s a little tip to hopefully make your travel day easier than ours was. I take great care to only recommend brands, companies and experiences that I truly believe are good, and I don’t want to lead anyone astray. For that reason I can’t in good conscience recommend that you fly Air Canada, as we had some pretty rough experiences with them and watched as way too many people were denied boarding our last flight back to Boston due to them overselling the seats. But luckily there’s a lot of options to get down to Peru, and once you’re there you don’t have to deal with jet lag from the time change, which is a really nice bonus.

The Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco. The flag of Peru is on the left, the rainbow flag on the right representing Cusco.

We started our trip with a day in Cusco, to explore and basically eat all the ceviche we could find. We were traveling over Easter week, so when we left our hotel to go walk around town we saw hundreds of people out on the steps of the church for Palm Sunday. Every ten feet, ladies were selling sweet empanadas and dulce de leche tamales (both were tasty) and the main square, Plaza de Armas, was packed with families, both tourist and local, enjoying the warm weather. I learned that a knowing a few words in Spanish was very helpful (thanks, grade school and junior high Spanish classes!). Beyond the usual “please and thank you”, it was especially handy when asking “where’s the restaurant with the best ceviche?”,  “where is the toilet, please”, or understanding how many soles the man in the market was asking for the red sweater with the llamas on it.

Families enjoying the sunshine in the square!

If you have a day in Cusco, here’s your need to know:

-Try the street food! If you’re nervous about it, start with the sweets; churros, sweet empanadas and sweet tamales were pretty outstanding.

Yum!

-Walk around both the open air and covered markets, and whatever you do, definitely sit at one of the juice counters and try their fruit juice. They will peel the fruit right in front of you and blend it up, no water added…and it’s incredible.

One of about 20 juice counters lined up in the markets.

-While you’re at the markets, check out all the adorable sweaters that scream “I’m a TOURIST!” It’s ok, just embrace it. You ARE a tourist. Don’t fight it. You can get more expensive sweaters that are made from 100% baby alpaca (meaning the first time they cut their hair, so it’s the softest and not as wiry or itchy), although most of what you’ll find in the markets is a blend, and they’re incredibly cheap.

You’re a tourist. So what? Embrace it!

-Besides the art you see woven into sweaters and blankets, there are many other mediums of art all over the city! Wade and I loved walking around looking at the local artists beautiful creations, and I’d recommend taking the extra few minutes to poke your head into the tiny shops tucked into the walls, because you can find some beautiful things hidden there!

Exploring the outside of a Spanish church in Cusco

-Being fueled by tourism, many places accept credit cards. If they don’t, they are within walking distance of an ATM.

Flowers on flowers! Probably a good idea to have cash (soles) on hand for most market items.

-Oh my gosh, don’t even get me started on the food. We literally couldn’t find a bad place to eat there. Every place we tried, the food was so fresh and delicious! For more Peruvian food, try Limo or Ceviche, both located in the main square of Plaza de Armas. For food that’s definitely catering to tourists but with a fun and fresh Peruvian twist, go to Jack’s (bring cash, they don’t take cards) or Pacha Papas.

Quinoa finds its way into most dishes, and it’s delicious.

And can we talk about the fact that we were walking around the Andes mountains chewing cocaine leaves? Relax, it’s ok. Technically, we were chewing coca leaves, the plant that cocaine is made from, but in it’s raw form without being chemically altered the human body can’t absorb the cocaine. You can (and do) absorb about 4 cups of coffee worth of caffeine, though! We learned that after a big breakfast, farmers in the area go to work all day with just a bunch of these coca leaves for energy. Whoa!

Coca are used to help with altitude sickness as well, all the locals told us. I mean…”when in Rome”, right? We tried the coca tea, and later tried chewing the leaves plain. In case you’re wondering, it tasted somewhat like green tea. Despite this, Wade had a headache our first night in Cusco, which makes sense given that it’s at 9,000 feet. What we didn’t know was that this altitude headache would be a warning for later….cue the dramatic and foreboding music!

Just another beautiful church in Cusco…you tired of these yet?

Our second day in Cusco we drove to some incredible Inca ruins only 20 minutes out of town, called (you’re going to love this): Sacsayhuaman, pronounced “sac-saaaaaay-whoooooomaaaaan”. Or, if you’re really not going to try the accent, “sexy woman”. The stonework of the Incas was truly awe-inspiring, especially when we learned that the stone used in Sacsayhuaman had been moved there from over 10 kilometers away. These huge rocks were rolled into place and slowly chipped away until they fit together so tight, you couldn’t even slide a piece of paper in between them!

Those are some HUGE rocks! Wow! Wade and I in Sacsayhuaman.

Going into one of the ruins

This was where they may have made some of the mummies of the Inca royalty when they died. So cool, so creepy, all at the same time!

The windows at the top, where the stonework is finest, were for the Sun God.

They’ve withstood earthquakes that took the colonizing Spanish’s churches to the ground, but these Inca walls are still standing, in the ruins outside the city but also spread out throughout Cusco as well. When the Spanish came in, they destroyed or converted to Catholic churches much of the Inca’s work, but built right overtop of some of it. So as you’re walking around town, you’ll see a section of Inca wall or a few stones built into a house.

Hiding in plain sight…Inca stonework!

Look at the rock to the right of Wade – it’s touching 12 other rocks. Imagine fitting those together with only other rocks as tools! Wow!

That night was the “Lord of the Earthquake” celebration in Cusco. We had quickly learned that the overwhelming majority of Cusco is Catholic, and this was a very important week for them. But nothing was more important than this celebration, to honor the earthquake Lord, as the people there were Catholic but (as it was explained to us) still believed in the forces of nature and needed to respect them. The Plaza de Armas filled with people as the evening turned into night and people pressed close to see a glimpse of the flashing tall red figure, the solitary Lord in the parade, as it moved about an inch per minute through the streets of town. Wade and I had dinner in a balcony to watch the entire thing and it was so special to see what was clearly a very important part of the Quechua culture! Then we got to bed early because the next day, the trek I’d been so excited for was about to begin.

That’s a lot of people!

Wade and I enjoying the Lord of the Earthquake festivities.

A note about our hike: we had decided that since this was a vacation, after all, and we didn’t know anything about the Andes mountains, we’d go on a guided hike. This meant that porters bring the camping equipment, food and clean water for you on a horse and you only have to hike with a day pack. I would highly recommend this. While it’s also fun and a cool adventure to bring everything totally by yourself, I could see where hiking at 15,000 feet of altitude with a 40lb pack and not getting to learn any cool facts about the area you’re exploring would sort of…well…not really feel like much of a vacation! By going with a guided tour, we were able to learn more and stress less. As it turned out, we were the only two booked for this specific tour at this time of year, so we lucked out with a private tour!

One cool thing we learned from Cesar was that if a doorway was incredibly tall, like this one, it was for Incas – the royal people, who would be carried in on a litter. The Quechua people had regular sized doorways and houses.

Our first day of the Salkantay trek began at 6am. I would later learn that nearly every day would begin this early, because by 6am it was light outside and by 6pm it was fairly dark, so by waking up around 5-5:30 and starting each day’s hike early, you’d avoid a lot of the hot sun and be able to really take your time and enjoy each moment of the hike. This was, after all, a vacation…not a training camp! It was really fun to hike at a leisurely pace that was enjoyable, and although it was still challenging to be hiking over a 15,000 ft pass, we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere!

I learned how to be a morning person. Haha!

We met our guide, Cesar, the chef for our hike and one of the porters at the hotel and drove for three hours through small towns, stopping at Limbatambo for a quick breakfast. Everywhere you looked, there were tiny taxis on three wheels. When I looked closer, I noticed the taxi cab was actually a little bench seat attached to the back of a motorcycle, with a loose frame holding it all together. The driver was essentially just riding a motorcycle inside a car frame. No lack of creativity there!

Check this out: a motorcycle-taxi cab.

After driving up into the mountains, we followed a bumpy dirt road to the grassy flats at the foot of the ice-covered Humantay mountain, an area called Soraypampa, which is where the trail began. This was where we met the other two porters for our trip, who were in charge of the horses that carried the food, water and gear. Everyone was incredibly nice, and although I could only string together a few words in Spanish and talked like a 2 year old trying to learn how to conjugate verbs, they were patient and friendly and let me try to practice my Spanish with them!

The horses that were so helpful in carrying our gear for us!

A note on these totally awesome, badass porters…I loved going through Global Basecamps because they partner with tour companies (in this case, InkaNatura eco travel) that treat the porters extremely well and compensate them fairly. These guys, combined with Cesar’s knowledge and expertise, friendly company and fun facts about not only the archeological ruins but the various birds and plants we saw along the way, totally made the trip for us. I was stunned by how hard-working and tough these guys were in the mountain weather, however, when I learned that after the four day trip, they wake up early the next morning and hike it all the way back to the start in ONE day, where they rest for a day before helping the next hiking group. It seems like the people of the Andes Mountain range are just tougher and more badass than most other people on earth, in pretty much every way! They were impervious to the weather conditions, cheerful in cold rain with no complains when it was hot and humid. They could hike faster than anyone even at 15,000 feet, and knew their way around the cloud forest and high mountain ranges. I like to think I’m in pretty good shape, but if I asked the porters how many hours the hike was, I had to tack on an extra hour for how long it would actually take me to hike it. I know that shirtless cross country skier dude from Tonga gets a lot of attention at the Winter Olympics, but let me tell you…I’d love to get some of these guys and their incredible aerobic capacity on skis!

Some porters from another group saying hi!

Once we got hiking, we started slowing winding our way uphill along the same trail that goes to the Humantay mountain glacier before they split up. Up ahead you could see different tour groups beginning their hikes, and various eco-lodges where hikers not sleeping in tents could spend the night. I would later learn that the term “pampa” referred to a flat area, which is why pretty much anywhere we would be camping would end in “pampa”.

Local families had houses along the way and sold sweaters or food to hiking groups.

We only hiked about an hour and a half uphill that day to Salkantaypampa, which wasn’t a village, but the name for the flat area at the base of the steeper climb up to the Salkantay pass, with a beautiful and imposing view of the ice-crusted south face of Salkantay looming up above us when the fog cleared out.

The clouds started to clear and gave us a view of the south face of Salkantay from our campsite.

We stopped there because it had started to rain pretty hard and the flatter areas for camping up high were flooding out. This ended up being a huge bonus, because at this point we were at 13,500 feet of elevation, which was, you know, just sliiiightly higher than Boston’s sea level air. In fact, it’s the same altitude at which the pilot informed us that we were beginning our decent into Boston on our flight home. Skyjumpers jump out of planes much lower than that. I’m just saying.

Wade had worried that the altitude might pose a potential threat to our trip, but I had brushed it off, saying “it’s nothing! It’s not THAT high!”. Whoops. In a strangely prophetic turn of events, I wasn’t affected at all by the altitude. Which is crazy, because I definitely notice even 5,000 feet when I’m in training camps. Maybe the lack of needing to perform or feel good meant that I just didn’t notice if I wasn’t feeling 100%, but either way, I wasn’t affected by altitude the entire trip. Wade, on the other hand, got hit hard by altitude sickness the moment we drove over 12,000 feet before we even began hiking. I felt horrible, because it looked pretty miserable, and we were both worried that the trip would be ending soon for him, as it was pretty debilitating. He described it as the pounding headache of a concussion combined with the body ache and nausea of the flu. Luckily, our guide Cesar had been through this hike a time or two, and had pretty much seen it all. They traveled with an emergency tank of oxygen and after a few minutes of breathing more “sea-level air”, Wade felt a little better. I’m not going to lie, that first 30 hours of the hike were rough for him, until we had gone over the pass and defended back down to around 8,000 ft. As it turns out, you can’t predict who will be hit by altitude sickness, or when! But as soon as we got down to easier breathing, Wade was fully back to normal and totally fine. What sort of sorcery is this altitude thing, anyways? Huh? My point here is, don’t miss out on a crazy cool experience like this for fear of altitude sickness unless you already know you are severely affected by it. Wade had an awesome trip as soon as we got lower in altitude, and even when he was in a rough spot he was able to enjoy the scenery and impressive face of Salkantay Mountain.

Even when he was hit hard by the altitude, Wade still had a smile for me!

But back to our camping spot…we made it to the flat area where the porters had already set up our tent, which was incredibly nice as we were both pretty cold and Wade already had a headache from the altitude. However, once the rain cleared up I got out to walk around and it was absolutely gorgeous! The wisps of clouds constantly curling and circling the mountains on either side of us made it feel surreal and (at the risk of sounding totally cheesy) magical.

Our campsite for the first night is at the bottom of the mountain.

Happy that I packed a warmer layer of clothes and rain gear!

Speaking of magic, it was amazing to me what our chef could conjure up in a tent with a pan, a pressure cooker pot, a gas stove and a cutting board that he placed across his knees to chop up vegetables! The food we had every day on this trip was out of this world. Fried garlic bread and vegetable soup, spiced potatoes, quinoa and pan-seared fish, purple corn jelly for dessert…it was both cool and tasty to experience local and traditional foods from the Andes mountains.

Our chef for the hike, working his culinary magic!

The next morning, we got up around 5:30 and after another tasty breakfast (my favorite breakfast of the trip was a quinoa porridge mixed with spices and bananas), packed up and started up towards the Salkantay pass. Wade had a pounding headache and nausea still from altitude sickness (sleeping at 13,500 probably didn’t help this out!) so for that morning he went on horseback, to get up and over the pass and down towards more oxygen as quickly as possible. I followed at a more stop-and-take-all-the-photos pace, and loved every second of the snow capped peaks surrounding us.

Made it up the first steep part of the climb that morning!

Salkantay peak was at a staggering 20,570 ft, but the pass we went over topped out at 15,300 so even as we were looking down at mountains and valleys below us, we were still dwarfed by the imposing Salkantay.

The trail on the left winding up towards the pass.

At the top of the pass, little rock figures were everywhere with coca leaves snugly tucked into the base of them, as offerings to Pachamama, mother earth. I loved how connected to the planet the Quechua people are, and this is probably obvious but whenever we left a campsite, there was no trace that we had been there at all, preserving the beauty of the mountains and the plants of the cloud forest.

Little offerings to Pachamama everywhere.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather this entire trip, especially as in April we were just at the end of their rainy season, and it was impossible to predict weather in the Andes. This bright and sunny morning, however, the clouds completely cleared out for the hour and a half that we were nearing the top of the pass, and we were granted an incredible view down either side of the mountain. Later when we were a few thousand feet down, we looked back up and saw that the pass was completely obscured in fog once again. I’d never been so happy about a 5:30am start to the day before!

Wade and I enjoying a moment at the top!

Wade starting the hike down towards the cloud forest.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen – I cannot say this enough for the top of the pass!

After descending for a few hours we stopped for lunch right at the edge of where the cloud forest began. Fog and clouds were constantly blowing up over the rim of the steep drop down, and the area truly lived up to its name with clouds bringing small rain showers, followed by hot sun, followed by fog and clouds and back to sun again in a manner of minutes. I’ve traveled to a lot of places, and it’s funny to me how in almost every place, a local will jokingly tell me “you know, we have a saying about the weather here! If you don’t like it…wait 5 minutes!” The only people who never made this claim were, perhaps, the only people who truly should have – the Quechua people of the Andes mountains. Never before have I seen such truly ever-changing weather as in the cloud forest, and it was beautiful!

As we hiked down from the pass, we started seeing little potato farms! Up above, Salkantay starts to fog up again.

PIGLET! Not really part of the hike, but adorable, so it made the blog post.

We hiked downhill for hours through cloud forest, the temperature rising as we descended from the 15,300 ft pass to the small village of Collpapampa at 6,850 ft. The lower we got, the more birds we heard, the the trees and plants went from miniature to towering over us, and the more moss and ferns grew in layers, sometimes completely covering the trees!

Hiking through cloud forest (photo from Cesar)

After a lot of downhill hiking we were grateful for a good night’s sleep in the village bordering the Santa Teresa river, the sound of water running extremely peaceful. What I found to be slightly less peaceful was that we were apparently camping with Heihei the chicken from Disney’s Moana movie! This rooster was just a tiny bit confused as to 1.) how to crow like an actual rooster. It sounded like it was being strangled, which ironic because I found myself ready to go cook it and eat it around 4am, (you are not working with a vegan or vegetarian blog here) and 2.) the fact that roosters are supposed to start making noise at dawn, not at 3 in the morning! Both Cesar and I thought it would make a nice dinner, but I guess Heihei belonged to someone, so we left him to continue his confused crowing and figure out daylight savings on his own.

Our campsite the second night – happy to get off our feet after 7.5 hours of hiking!

Part 2 of our Peru trip coming shortly!