Update+ Race Season 101

Hey there sports fans!! I know it’s been a minute since the blog has made its usual appearance, but no need to fret because it’s back! It seems like forever ago that I last updated you on all of the happenings, and needless to say, quite a lot has, in fact, happened. Since then, I returned to AK at the beginning of January after a great block of family time at home! Shortly after returning, I jumped right back into some races, which kicked off a 6 week “race block” where I raced (in one form or another) a total of 10 times. During all of this I started my spring semester of school, had a birthday, did my first 1 lap, 30km individual start race, and even went backcountry skiing again. Keeping you all up to date, in my last newsletter, I had told you about my recent experience with “fatigue,” and how it had disrupted a few of my races. My point then, was that you never know exactly how fatigue will creep up on you or what it will look like if it does so, as I learned in December. I felt “fine” in general, but my form had clearly dropped a couple notches from where it had been. When I got home for Christmas, I had some blood work done, and found out that I had low iron and low vitamin D. Both of which are essential nutrients for performing at your best. Originally, I swept this under the rug as “fatigue,” however the root cause of my off performances was something entirely different. This goes to show how important blood work can be. Had I not been tested, I would’ve never known the true causation for my sub-par performances. Conclusion? Get some blood work done. It can provide great insights on your body’s many mechanisms.

How to race well week after week after week…

When I was at home during my Christmas break, I had some nice down time followed by a nice block of training before returning to Alaska. After that little block of training, I wanted to commit to a true “race block” of racing week after week. Other than the obvious goal of racing fast, I wanted to apply what I’ve learned, and think will work best in order to perform well week after week. This season has been different because of COVID, for sure, and mainly in the sense that we haven’t had many “major” races or had to travel. However, we have had plenty of racing opportunities whether it be via time trials or smaller local race series. With that said, it has been a great opportunity to try things in a low risk, controlled environment. Here are some of the biggest things that I have learned, and can’t wait to apply next year in major competitions.

  1. Training takes a back seat…

When the race season rolls around, the majority of the fitness building training is complete, and the training that’s done during the race season is all about doing whatever it is you need to prepare for the next races. Personally, I love to train, and grind out those hours, so it took a cognitive shift to say, “ok I have done the training, now let’s use it and see what we can do.”

  1. Different kinds of easy.

For me, during the race season, non-race or interval days, my average day has a 90 minute ski in the morning and some core and a jog in the afternoon. During this time, the morning skis were consistently “easy distance.” Not just shuffling around, but not quite at the distance pace I train at during the summer. In my afternoon “jogs” I was experimenting with different paces/ effort levels to see what they yielded. What I found is that there are 3 levels of footspeed. A run, which is normal distance training speed which, for me, might be around 8min/mi. A jog which is around 9min/mi, and a shuffle which, for me, is 10+min/mi. During this race phase I did a lot of jogging and shuffling. I found that on most days a jog was adequate, but on days before hard efforts like races, a shuffle was superior. For example, one week we did a sprint TT on a Friday, and a 15k TT on Sunday. For the sprint, my legs felt awful, so on Saturday I wanted to take it really easy, and went for a “super shuffle” that afternoon (13min/mi) and on Sunday my legs came around nicely!

  1. The rhythm.

During the ski season when you race weekly, you fall into this rhythm which looks something like this… Race Sat/ Sun, recover Mon/ Tues, easy training or short interval session Wed, easy training Thur , Friday pre-race, then race again on the weekend. Simply put… race, recover, get the body feeling good again to race, & race again, etc… I think a common mistake is going too hard during mid-week intervals because you feel good after a couple easy days, then end up feeling flat in the race because you’ve already spent yourself on the intervals.

I am currently getting ready to start my next race block with the Tour of Anchorage, a well known 50k. Having thoroughly enjoyed the 30km I just did, I am looking forward to seeing what this distance is all about! After that, the plan is somewhat unclear, but will likely include lots of races/ TT’s to round out the ‘20-’21 race season.

Until next time,

Garrett Butts

Update + Dealing with Fatigue

Season’s greetings! Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas! Writing this, I’m sitting on our porch in shorts and a t-shirt at 17 degrees, soaking up all the sunshine and vitamin D I can! Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of different things going on for sure. Since the first official races of the season were cancelled, I was able to put some more time into my training, and get in some good time trials with my team. After numerous weekends with time trials or races, I am pretty happy with how things are looking at this point in the season, knowing that there is only room to improve. I also finished up the fall semester of my second year of college at APU and managed to maintain straight A’s! After the semester ended, I had a week in AK, and the day before I left to come back to CO for Christmas, I went on my first backcountry skiing trip! Then, following a long travel day home, and catching up on sleep in my own bed, it was already Christmas. It’s been a treat to be home and enjoy some nice, warm sunshine, blue skies, and good times with the family, and our new puppy- Zeke. As for training, I’ve used this first week at home to recover from a pretty heavy block of training in AK. For the rest of my stay, I’ll be taking a break from the super high end of the intensity spectrum, and take this opportunity to add some easy volume, and L3 training to keep base fitness as high as possible for later in the season.

Fatigue and all it’s sneakiness.

As I have previously mentioned, our first races of the season got cancelled, so, we shifted the focus from those races, back to training, which meant incorporating both higher volume and higher intensity. For the first 4 weeks of this, things were ticking right along. I was able to keep a good mix of high volume, and high intensity through time trials and intervals while still feeling strong throughout. But nothing lasts forever… The 2 weeks following this highly productive block, I was hoping to really kick things into high gear. As I came to find out, that high gear had unfortunately been stunted. The interesting thing was that at no point did I feel tired or overcooked, nor did any metric reveal any signs of fatigue. It was only in the last couple of race’s that it revealed itself. My point in all of this is that you can’t always pinpoint this crazy phenomenon called fatigue. No matter how perfectly you may have things planned out, or what your watch might say, or not say, sometimes it may still sneak up on you. In my case, there seemed to be a delayed onset of this fatigue, and it’s this that most people don’t think to look for. Whether it be with rest or training, there is generally a delay until the outcome is realized. For me this would’ve meant taking an easy week, the third week of that 4 week block, in anticipation of that rest coming into play for these last races. This is one of many reasons why keeping a training log can be so beneficial, so that you can look back to see correlations between training and it’s results. Although a couple of my early season races may have been compromised because of this additional load, I am confident that it will pay dividends later in the season and am looking forward to what the rest of the season has in store!!

I know for a lot of people, 2020 has been a rough year, but personally, I can’t believe it’s already coming to an end. Wishing everyone a healthy and Happy New Year!

Until next time,

Garrett Butts

Happy Thanksgiving!!

I can’t believe it’s already the end of November which means…Thanksgiving!! And then less than a month until Christmas, and a little more than a month until 2021! Crazy right?! In other news, I was able to time my return to Alaska perfectly! I missed the worst of the shoulder season, and was able to come back to some decent skiing right away! For the past number of years, Thanksgiving has usually marked the first time in the season for me to get on snow, which is why this was such a treat! Being able to ski on snow since the end of October has meant that I’ve been able to jumpstart the actual ski season. I’ve been able to log many miles in anticipation for the upcoming race season. Besides skiing a lot, I’ve been busy with my academic schedule, which is soon coming to semester’s end. Only 3 weeks left!!

This past weekend was supposed to have been the official kick off for the 2020-21 season with official FIS races up in Fairbanks, however, they were cancelled along with races on Dec. 4-5th. Luckily we’ve been able to make some plans that seem like they’re here to stay, which include racing the first 3 weekends in December. Directly after the last races, I plan on heading back home to CO for Christmas for a couple weeks. From there, I’m not sure what to expect, as the COVID dilemma keeps us guessing. Uncertainty seems to be the theme of this past year. Expect the unexpected!

Tips and Tricks for Thanksgiving Training Success

As I said before, Thanksgiving usually marks the first time of the year to train on snow, and this is true for most other Americans as well. Given the fact that it’s the first time in over 6 months that you’re able to truly glide on a ski, ambitions are high, and the overall excitement level is through the roof. At least that’s how it’s been for me. With that said, it can be really easy to do too much during that first phase of on-snow training. Whether you end up logging entirely too many hours for your respective level, or go too hard all the time, or a combination of the two, you can end up digging yourself a major hole. I can personally attest to doing just that. While yes we do spend the entire year getting ready to ski on snow via various forms of ski imitation, there is nothing quite like the real thing, meaning, an additional stress for your body. For a lot of people, “Thanksgiving Camp” means traveling to places like West Yellowstone, or Silver Star, both of which are at altitude which adds other aspects to take into consideration especially if you’re coming from lower elevations. In my experience, it’s better to take things a bit easier than you think to let the body adapt to the new stimulus. The whole point of getting in lots of skiing is to start building ski specific efficiency so that you’re ready to rock when the race season kicks off, not to bury yourself before you even get the chance to toe the start line. Another very important variable to take into consideration is your skis. A lot of times athletes will get a fresh new pair or two during the late fall/ early winter, and all of this early season skiing is a perfect time to get to know your skis. (If the conditions allow, that is.) Test them versus your old skis, test out kick zones, and in general take advantage of the varied conditions that you will likely be skiing in so that you really know how your skis run.

BIG THANK YOU!

As it is now Thanksgiving, it seems only fitting to take this opportunity to thank friends, family, sponsors, one and all, for your generous support! There may be uncertainty surrounding this race season, but if one thing is for certain…COVID can’t cancel a dream!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Update+ Altitude Training Tidd-Bits+ The Mental Side of Things

It’s been a while, and contrary to last time, lots has happened!!

Since the last blog, a lot has happened! I jumped on a plane at the beginning of October and came home to CO for a nice altitude training camp and of course to get some time at home. I was able to get a few more days of working with Tenderfoot Outfitters in, taking different horseback tours, go for my first 100, mile bike ride, and shoot my bow, just to name a few highlights. Then in the last few days of my stay I was lucky enough to be able to get out in the woods and do some elk hunting. I didn’t end up getting anything largely due to heavy snowfall greatly affecting ⅔ hunting days, but regardless, I was able to have the experience I wanted and unplug from normal everyday life and get back to some of my roots and do something non ski related that I really enjoy. Normally during this time, my team APU would go to Park City Utah for a two week altitude camp, but due to all things COVID, that wasn’t able to happen. Luckily for me, my home of Gunnison CO sits at 7,703ft and fits in perfectly as a substitute!

Those Tidd-Bits I Mentioned 😉

While here in CO I was able to get plenty of good training in, and also get a lot of various data points on how my body reacted to coming back up to altitude. For example… When you come to high elevations from sea level, there are a lot of things that happen to the body, but everything that happens, happens on a highly individual basis. When I got home, I was looking forward to tracking 3 things. How I would do with a 2 day race entry, how my blood oxidation would change from day to day, and how long it would take me to return to being highly efficient at high altitude.

Simply put, a “2 day entry” means racing the 2nd day of being at altitude. There are a few ways to try to optimize performance when going from low to high, but the 2 day entry is one I had not yet tried. The thinking behind the 2 day entry is that you race very soon after you arrive because your blood oxidation levels should theoretically remain at a high level from being at sea level, i.e. 98ish%. Needless to say it seemed to work just fine.

Most studies show that when going from low to high, your blood oxidation will decrease for 3 days before coming back up/ normalizing after that. For me, my blood oxidation was the lowest the first morning I was home, dipping to 91% from 98% the day before. (Which is a fairly normal level for me at altitude based on numbers gathered over the summer.) Then it came back up to 94-5% for about 5 days before stabilizing at around 92% for the rest of the trip. Needless to say, not what I was expecting based on what most studies show, which just goes to show how individual all of this is. Interestingly enough, based on feeling, I seemed to regain my high efficiency at altitude on day 16ish, which did not exactly correlate with my blood oxidation levels.

The Importance of Mental Balance

While being able to come home to get an altitude camp was fantastic, it made up a small portion of why I was very excited to get to CO. To be honest, I was counting down the days leading up to my departure. I was ready for a change of scenery, blue skies, warm sunshine and some good family time. Essentially, my soul was ready for a good recharge to get me through to Christmas. This brings me to my main point. Whether you are a professional athlete, work an office job, or are a busy retiree, it is very important to take some time to unplug mentally. Whether you do that by taking some days off or just do a different activity that you find joy in, you can reap enormous benefits. For me this took the form of getting to ride my bikes, ride my horses, spend time up in the mountains, spend time with family, eat some good ol’ home cooked food, etc. While yes, if I had to stay in Anchorage, I would’ve been completely fine, however, it would’ve likely taken a little more out of my mental bank than I would’ve liked. Now I can go back, recharged and revitalized and can continue to train day or night, rain or shine, (so in Anchorage, all dark and lots of precip:))without having a problem with motivation or anything else of the likes. As they say in all forms of sport… “Happy head, fast legs.”

Update + The Pros & Cons of Time Trials

Fall is here! But not for long…

Since the last update, just about the only thing that has changed is that I now have more classes on my plate than I did before. But, to be honest, not a whole lot of interesting things have happened. I’ve settled into a nice rhythm with training and school, oh and of course watching the Tour de France! With all that, I have managed to stay quite busy, which I can certainly be grateful for! We have had our fair share of lovely fall days here in AK, and the colors have been equally brilliant. The temperatures have certainly started to drop, and every once and a while you can see a light blanket of snow sprinkled on the peaks above Anchorage. As I mentioned in the last update, I had been dealing with a couple of injuries, but through perseverance and no doubt a bit of stubbornness, I can confidently say that both injuries have healed and I have been able to get back to a more normal training regime. Hopefully I can remain uninjured and healthy for the rest of the season, as is every athlete’s hope. As the season’s change, a slight shift in training is also occurring…

Time Trials.. The Pros and Cons

In all sports, there is periodization. No matter the definition, there is no arguing that sports in general all have their own respective phases. For many endurance athletes, it’s common to train more and more specifically as the season nears. As for us nordies, we are starting to get closer to the competition phase, so the focus generally narrows a bit. For me this translates to a slight decrease in overall training volume, and an increase in intensity. Without getting into the specifics too much, a good (or bad) way to do that is by implementing time trials into training…

PROS

Time trials can be a great addition to spice training up a bit! Until now, a lot of training time has been spent logging in distance hours and a large portion of Level 3 intervals(roughly 85ish% max), so it’s been a while since you really got to rev the engine. This is one reason why time trials can be highly effective. They remind the body what it’s like to go as hard as you can, to race, go absolutely full gas, open up the throttle, throw down the gauntlet, & lower the BOOM! You get the picture. Often without race like efforts before important races your body may feel sluggish and won’t be able to optimally perform because it’s not used to such intense efforts. Doing time trials in the Fall is also a great way to measure improvements from time trials done in the Spring, and they can certainly improve your high end efficiency (among other things). They also allow for opportunities to test things like pre race meals, warm-up routines, day before training, etc, so that when you get to the starting line you are dialed in and ready to go. Furthermore, adding time trials now can highlight areas of weaknesses where more time should be spent in training to make further improvements with the time left before the season opener.

CONS

While there are numerous advantages to implementing time trials into training, there are other things that you might want to take into consideration. One of the biggest things that can have a negative effect on a potentially golden opportunity, is having the wrong mindset. Personally I have been there. It’s easy to get distracted in comparing & analyzing variables such as rollerski speeds, weather conditions, training loads, one’s strengths and weaknesses, etc…I like to recognize such variables, but also keep it all in perspective and judge my performance accordingly. Off season TTs can play mind games, so it’s always best to look for areas for improvement and if applicable, appreciate gains made from previous tests. For most of us, there are 8+ weeks left before our first ski races, so regardless of any TT performance, there’s lots of time to continue improving!

Until next time! Keep training smart, and enjoy the warmer temps while they last!

Cheers,

Garrett

Update + Getting Through Injury & Sickness

The winds of change are blowing…

With all the things that have happened since last spring, it feels like an eternity since anything school related has been on my radar. Now, school is back in session. For me, nothing has really changed too much as far as classes are concerned because I was taking mostly online classes last year before the pandemic started, and will go back to taking more online classes again this semester. It seems my “norm” is becoming more of the “norm” around the country, as far as schooling is concerned. Since the last update, I was able to do a few more cool Alaskan outings to finish off the summer before the school year! In the first part of the month, I was able to tag along with Hunter and Chip for a caribou hunt up north of Fairbanks. Long story short, we woke up early, hopped in the truck, and shortly before reaching our destination, the truck broke down. Luckily we were able to get our hands on a satellite phone, got in touch with some help, and thought, “Well, they won’t be here for a few hours, so let’s go hunt.” A couple hours later Hunter had notched his first ever caribou tag, and we were loaded up with heavy packs heading back down the mountain! Needless to say, we finished out the summer with a BANG! And of course more training. 😉

(From left to right, Hunter, Chip, Me, with Hunters first caribou.)

Glass half full mentality…

Having been at sea level for roughly 6 weeks now, it is safe to say that my body has normalized to its new environment. It did however take around 26 days, which was very interesting to see. During the “boost week” of the last training block, I can certainly feel now that it did indeed help boost fitness, but I also picked up a couple of injuries. One, a strained calf muscle which I got during a bounding interval session, and the other was a case of either tendonitis or tenosynovitis in my right hand, and I have no clue how I picked that up. (Although I do have some ideas.) This meant no running and very limited roller skiing. Luckily it all happened at the tail end of the block and I had a recovery week following it, which enabled me to get a handle on things. I continued to plug along through these injuries with training, using different methods such as the ski erg and spin bike, and now both injuries have seemingly healed. It wasn’t the ideal way to do things, but it got the job done, and I came out the other side stronger than I would have otherwise. In other words, persevere! Do whatever you can do, and do it to the best of your ability. You’ll be all the better for it! 🙂

(Lots of sweaty indoor sessions over the last couple weeks…)

Coming back from injuries…

The bigger point I want to address is returning from injury or illness back into regular training. Like most of us, I have gone through my share of sickness and injuries despite trying my absolute best to avoid both. The most important piece of the puzzle to keep in mind when coming back, is to do it slowly and steadily. One of the worst things you can do is rush your return, and wind up setting back the clock and restarting your healing process. To give you an example with my recent calf injury, I gave it 3 days, it felt mostly normal, I rolled the dice and ran on it to try to give my hand a break, and went right back to where I was 3 days before. I came back too quickly… After that, I made sure that I was 200% certain that it had healed before I started building back the run. I started with a 15 minute run, and almost 3 ½ weeks later, I am up to an hour of easy running. I hope to return to complete normality in the next couple weeks in regards to both running volume and intensity. As they say, “Patience pays dividends.”

(Been wearing some extra padding to help put the hand.)

Hope everyone has had a lovely summer!

Until next time,

Garrett Butts

Update + The Lowdown on Going to Lower Elevations to Train.

Getting there!

It’s now been a little over 2 weeks since I have arrived back in Anchorage, and needless to say, things have been ticking right along. Since returning, I have planted a “leafy green” garden in hopes that it’s not too late to be able to enjoy it in the coming weeks. I’ve purchased a car so that I can take myself around whenever I need to go and not have to always rely on my teammates to hitch a ride. Anyone you ask here in Anchorage would say, “It’s definitely a car town.” Luckily for me, I’ve got some great friends up here who have been more than happy to give me a great tour of Alaska, and we have started what we call “scenic Sundays” where we get out and do some sort of sight seeing.

(Hunter Wonders and I took a paddle around Eklutna Lake, then went to his house to roast some moose sausage over the fire.)

(Took a weekend trip to Hunters cabin. Did some more canoeing, water skiing, took an argo tour, and picked some berries.)

Then of course I have been training quite a bit. I am just over half way through the 4th “period” or “block” of this season’s training calendar, having just started the beefiest week of said block. In this week there will be 3 intensity sessions stacked among lots of other workouts to log between 26-30 hours for this week. We call it, “the boost week.” It has been very interesting to once again come back down to sea level after having spent 4 months at altitude at home in Colorado, where most training happens at 8000 ft+.

Why sea level? The quick run down…

Most people have heard of athletes going from sea level to altitude for training to get more fit and get other adaptations, so I often get asked, “Why do you want to go down in altitude? Don’t you have an advantage by training up here?” The short answer is, “Yes, and no.” If all of our ski races were held at higher elevations, then yes, I would likely be fine spending the majority of my training time at altitude. However, this is not the case because most of the biggest races on the calendar for me and even World Cup athletes happen close to sea level. Since cross country skiing is largely a power-endurance sport, you have to sustain higher power outputs over long distances to be able to compete. In order to train the body to increase your sustainable power, and even your maximum power output, you need more oxygen. To put it in perspective, here is an example. In a lot of races at sea level, you see athletes from higher elevations who do well in the longer distances, but are nowhere near that level when it comes to shorter races like sprints. Essentially, being from altitude, your body can hold a lower sustained power for a long time, but it doesn’t have the ability to sustain higher power outputs because it is too expensive for the body to train that higher power output when at altitude. Now there are certainly some exceptions, there are some great sprinters that have come from altitude, but this is what generally happens and certainly is in my case.

Low altitude sickness? (whaaaaat?)

Every time I come down to sea level after extended time at altitude, I feel quite strange. When you spend a long time at higher altitudes, your body adapts and your blood thickens as your RBC (Red Blood Cell) and Hemoglobin counts increase. When you come down to sea level, the surplus of oxygen saturates your blood so more oxygen is being carried throughout your body. (this is why blood doping is highly illegal in sport) Whenever I come down to sea level, it always feels like I am always putting the pedal to medal (muscularly speaking) but somehow still flying along with ease.(cardiovascularly speaking) Since your body now has so much more O2 available, you feel like you’re not breathing at all,(compared to altitude) but since you’re able to put so much more power down because of all that extra oxygen you feel it more in your muscles than in your lungs. Essentially, when you come down to sea level, after time at high altitude, there is a much higher muscular stress on the body than there is on the lungs. Here’s another example: When I am in Colorado, most training is distance training and what we call “Level 1.” For me, that means I keep my heart rate between 140-160ish(63-72% max), “Level 3,” or “threshold” is 182-192ish(82-87%max) (numbers based off of physical lab tests). Now, when I come to sea level, Level 1 feels like I am going Level 3 altitude pace, yet my heart rate might only be 120-130. My body becomes confused because my muscles are “hammering” but my lungs feel like they’re taking a nice Sunday stroll. This is where the “low altitude sickness” train hits me and I feel like I’m in a funk, for lack of better terms. For me personally this sometimes shows itself as having a good morning session, then in the afternoon, I end up being unmotivated but not tired and have a harder time getting out the door. I think part of this comes from changing time zones, and training later in the day (9 vs 7:30), so it’s an even bigger change for the body. This year that “low” point hit me about a week after I arrived and luckily only lasted a couple of days. My body has been normalizing to sea level and slowly getting back to a balanced point, but I am still not quite there yet and still have quite a bit of “high altitude juice” flowing through my veins. In the long run, the goal is to increase sustainable power and max power, which, because of high o2 availability, is much easier at sea level than 8000ft.

Yours Truly,

Garrett Butts

First Blog Post!!

Welcome back sports fans!

Welcome to my website!! TEAM Butts headquarters! Home of everything you want to know and find about my journey as a cross country skier!!

I know it’s been a while since the last newsletter and update, but despite all the changes that have occurred I have been lucky enough to stay busy! While a lot has happened in the past few weeks, much of it has been the same daily routine, train in the morning, go work, train again in the evening, inevitably eat a lot throughout all of that, then go to bed and get ready to do it all over again the next day. I got to spend some great time with family, friends, and run around in the mountains exploring.

I just finished up the last major week of my 3rd training period, and am currently in a recovery week. Last week I had my second testing week of the season to check in on how my form is progressing. Needless to say, I set new personal bests in all of my tests, so all things are headed in the right direction!

This friday, I will be heading back up to the last frontier to join back up with my APU squad. I have taken the necessary precautions in order to return and keep everybody safe in doing so. Getting tested before travel and once again after travel. Unfortunately once I have returned to AK there will likely not be any glacier camps as was previously anticipated, which is a big bummer because I was looking forward to checking a lot of firsts off the list during that time. It will still be great to get back with the crew and to the land of lots of oxygen.

Big thanks to all of my sponsors/ partners/ supporters for your support! I truly couldn’t do it without you! I am super excited about the upcoming season, and with the way things are going, I’m on track to have the best season so far in my career to date. More to come in the future so if you would like to get the latest updates in real time, subscribe to my newsletter, or shoot me a note saying you would like to be added to it.

“You’ve Hit Rock Bottom”

Trained more hours than ever”. “PR-ed by 30 seconds”. “Set a new record in the race”. “Felt awesome in intervals”. These are all common statements by cross-country skiers throughout their summer and fall training—whether said in-person, at practice, or on social media. These statements reflect gains in fitness, strength, and technique: steps towards fulfilling the goals athletes set to eventually achieve peak performance during the season. But what happens when your summer is filled with slower times in time trials/races, feelings of tiredness that persist even with rest, interval sets where keeping up with your teammates and training partners is impossible? These intermediate measures reflect moving further and further away from your goals, and eventually those goals seem unattainable and ridiculous to even pursue. What does a fulltime athlete do when this is their reality?

As you might have guessed, currently I fall in that second category. Whereas many athletes have tracked progress on an upward trend this summer, my trend has been increasing downward, or at least all over the place. Some training days have been awesome, but the majority and, in particular, hard efforts in intervals and races, have been brutal and well off the mark I personally hold myself to. Starting in July and continuing throughout August, I found myself unable to train with my normal training buddies, feeling tired, confused and overwhelmed at why I could not keep up. I was training similar amounts to my teammates (which I’ll admit is not a small number) and focusing on recovering as much as possible, but I just couldn’t handle it. During workouts that I count as a strength of mine (uphill threshold skating), and being far behind everyone else, started to kill my confidence. By ranking myself behind, other types of workouts that always are a bit challenging for me (speeds, short sprint-pace efforts), turned into a brutal mind game that translated into questioning my potential to be a top-level racer. All through Alaska’s rainy, cold dreary August, I fell deeper into a negative feedback loop. The topping on the cake came in the last week when first, I developed a cold, and second, likely did not take enough time to rest and get healthy. And then less than a week later I jumped into a three-day time trial series with an uphill run, skate sprint and classic hill climb. Instead of setting PRs in these races, I was more than two minutes back from my personal records. The first day, in the uphill run, I thought I was going to simultaneously pass out and have my head explode from the pressure left over from my recent cold. Things did not improve from there.

My parents’ own a coffee mug that is from Rock Bottom Brewery and its slogan, “You’ve Hit Rock Bottom” echoed in my head after that first time trial. Now of course, I didn’t lose a loved one, I didn’t contract some terrible illness and overall, my life is running pretty smoothly. But when your day-to-day lifestyle revolves around training and your performance during those hours, it really feels like the bottom when things keep heading south.

It took a major wakeup call to drive through my stubborn head that something is not going well. After finishing up the time trial series, it did not take a genius to point out that I have to change my training and on a more personal note, my approach to skiing, if I want to reach the goals I set for this coming season. Now what made this realization so hard? It seems perfectly doable to train really hard, push yourself to exhaustion and overwhelm yourself with training load, intensity, summer races, lots of work hours and school when everything is going perfectly. As my teammate Chelsea Holmes put it, “when you are having good results, you are PRing and training tons, AND working to pay for all of it, you feel like a champ. You have this little muscle man angel on your shoulder screaming in your ear “YOU GOT THIS.” But when your results start to slip, your performance, or even your perceived performance isn’t up to par, all of a sudden that basket that you put every single last egg in…just fell apart.”

I have spent most of my athletic career working hard, then working even harder to get to where I am at. However, the top racers are not necessarily the hardest workers—in the literal sense of the term. Top performers are people who listen to their bodies and work really hard when the moment is right. And sometimes what is really hard is not driving yourself into the ground, but figuring out a way to rise up from the ashes. Acknowledging that you are not in a good place is really hard; it feels like you are acknowledging that you are weak, and in turn, that challenges part of your identity as an endurance athlete. Even harder is setting aside your pride enough to do what you need individually, especially if that is much less than everyone else. This is where I am at for the month of September.

The road back includes less training, less life stress and focusing on the positive. In truth, I’m not much of a concrete goal-setter, but this month I set goals that include less tears and breakdowns, slower training or taking more time off, and most of all: no comparisons—against my teammates, my personal records, my “competitors”, whomever. This process isn’t a temporary fix; it’s a long-term perspective shift. There will always be pressure to overdo, and consequently, times where we give into that pressure. When the consequences hit we simply need to adjust and figure out how to find balance, balance in training, in work, in relationships and in life.

Maybe my September plan will not work, but once you’re at the bottom the only place to go is up, right?

 

Some photos from the last month (including an awesome visit with my little sister; first time anyone in my family has been to Alaska!):

My sister, who lives around the world in Spain, came to visit after we hadn't seen each other in over a year!
We road tripped down to Homer
Fisher-woman extraordinaire
A rainy hike around Williwaw Lakes
Beluga Whales in Girdwood
Beautiful Anchorage sunsets above Fire Island. Photo: Anna
The only image I have of me rollerskiing from the entire summer.
Anna was a champ and hiked with me
McHugh Ridge on one of the rare sunny days with Anna
We explored the Turnagain Arm during our rainy camping trip.
Arctic Valley
Missed this girl!
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Risky Business

The APU Elite Team just finished our first glacier camp of the summer training season. This past week was my sixth time on the glacier and I finally feel like I understand the drill. Wake-up, drink coffee, eat breakfast, ski for 2-3 hours, eat lunch, bake (my energy supplier), read, wax skis, ski again for 2 hours, make dinner, eat, and go to bed…it all becomes a blur by the third day. While in the past I often became a little bored during each afternoon’s downtime, this year I found it a pleasant break from my day-to-day schedule of training, then work, then often biking or rollerskiing home from work to second training, then on the really crazy days, heading to a second job—whew! However, by the end of the week, while I was pretty exhausted from A LOT of training, I secretly looked forward to getting back into my busy schedule down in Anchorage.

This summer has looked a bit different than past summers in Alaska. While my first summer I found myself quite busy with schoolwork finishing my M.P.A. from NMU and ski training, and last summer I tutored and trained, this year I jumped off the “busyness” cliff and took a summer office job, continued tutoring, enrolled in APU class, and have grabbed any odd-job opportunity I can (looking for a house sitter: I’m your girl!). For a couple weeks in May, I diagnosed myself as psychotic. I felt like I was in a constant whirlwind of deadlines, places to be, logistical planning and not a moment to breathe. As a carless Anchorage-ite, I rode my Huffy (more adequately named my Huffy and Puffy as it weighs about 100lbs and only has two working gears—hard and easy), or rollerskied as my main form of transportation. I felt like a fool, as I would rollerski across busy intersections in Anchorage with my backpack full of work clothes and lunch. However, towards the middle of May things started to get easier. I got in better biking shape, I started realizing that after sitting at a desk for six hours the only thing I want to do is train and be outside, and everything became a bit more manageable. And then manageable became awesome. I remember summers in Bozeman and Marquette where I worked at hotels housekeeping or at McDonald’s, on your feet the entire time, but still quite energized to train a second time. Your off days become secret gems of anticipation and you look forward to the weekend like the rest of society. Long ODs of three hours seem quite short, and much better than deskwork for six. Everything becomes relative and instead of feeling drained, I, all of a sudden, seem to have more energy and positivity than ever.

I spoke with a teammate of mine who works a lot. She unfortunately is on her feet most of the time and deals directly with a fair amount of rude customers. Outside of the occasional horrible day, we both remarked how while work seems like a drag some days, overall the sense of purpose, and the filling of our days with activity outside of our sport, lets us bring more of ourselves to the table each training session. Now I understand everyone is different. I know athletes who need to solely focus on training and do not operate the same way as me. I know athletes who train and work full time jobs. Everyone is different. I do not see my outside obligations and pursuits as disruptive to my athletic goals and the process to achieve them.

I do not operate with 100% intense focus on skiing year round. I love to train, but training is part of my lifestyle; a run in the mountains will help me achieve my athletic goals, but it is also one of my favorite activities to do. Sometimes I struggle with finding the balance between working towards my goals and the outward futility of each baby step in the process. Will I ever get to where I want to be? My first year skiing with APU, results within racing and training took a new level of importance. Since I was “a professional”, I felt I had to act a certain way with a certain presence and level of knowledge. So although I was making technique and fitness gains beyond previous years, I fought internally with how to be the athlete I am, especially when it did not always fit into the stereotypical “Nordic Skier” mold. This also diminished my confidence and enjoyment I experienced training and racing. This past year, after spending a large chunk of the winter training alone, I started to question if I was pursuing something even achievable. Self-doubt breeds into a lack of confidence, and eventually race results show this.

Everyone analyzes their season in the spring, determines what went well and what failed. Oftentimes, the analysis discerns that an increased focus on training and a limitation on outside obligations are necessary. While true for some, I realized this is not how I operate. I am at my happiest, most productive, and therefore, “fastest”, when I am juggling with more than one ball. Of course, I am only human and so have hard days and need vacations, but overall this summer so far has been awesome—partly due to taking the risk to burden myself in addition to ski training. A wise teammate once said, “taking risks is essential to what we are as athletes, be it in a race or the big decisions of pursuing our sport full time”; while I continue to pursue skiing as my first and most important priority, sometimes the risk taken is to be authentic in your individual approach and believe in your process. My process this summer includes some outside pursuits, but pursuits that nonetheless enhance the journey to my end goal of performance on the snow. And of course, making some money can’t hurt either.

My only photo of the glacier, whoops!
Little O'Malley Trail
Yummy cake post-glacier camp!
Willowa Lakes