This is my fourth year skiing and it’s been quite a journey up to now. I can remember the first time that I came out to ski a loop with fellow Carleton skiers Erika and Brian with my brand new “second hand” (courtesy of Karl Saidla) classic skis. I didn’t know how to ski or pole or anything, and it didn’t help that the others were skating and I was running along trying to keep up on classic skis. I made sure that I didn’t fall behind, and treated that workout with extreme seriousness. I was definitely skiing in the vicinity of zone 4/5 while they were cruising in Z1! Even with my shabby technique and virtually no knowledge of the sport I knew that if I really put my mind to it I just might be able to stay with them on the loop! I have come a long way from that (as least that’s what I tell myself) but it definitely takes a lot of diligence and commitment to become an “elite” Nordic skier.
There are four main things that I have come to learn that contribute to the success of a skier. As you keep improving up to the elite level where the miniscule things matter, the order of each aspect of an athlete’s repertoire changes slightly. As each year of training passes, you start to learn how your body will react to certain sessions, and you have to change your habits accordingly. Here are the things that I am trying to improve on from last year:
This is a tough one to try and keep top notch. I try my hardest to eat balanced meals but with time commitments of school and training sometimes food preparation takes a backseat. This month has been extremely hectic with starting of school, moving and figuring out my schedule. I have already gone though a 2kg jar of PB and this is a sign that I really have to try to balance out my PB and J diet. With time on my hands I can make a pretty mean beef souvlaki and vindaloo curry, but it is making it a priority that sometimes poses a problem.
Another difficult thing to get enough of at university is sleep, although I seem to be improving slightly at this as the years go by. I try and aim for about 8 hours a night and if that isn’t possible 8 hours a day (naps are essential!).
As my planting partner Zac Reimer states so prudently; sickness, soreness, and tiredness is all in your mind. This is not always a good motto to live by (I have learned the hard way) since you must listen to your body. To know when you are actually tired (your resting heart rate is 5 beats higher), or you have the early signs for a cold, comes with experience as each person’s body reacts differently. Training when you are on the edge of sickness only puts you farther back. Paying attention to signs of tiredness is not necessarily weakness; it’s the strength to listen. Teammates have been surprised to hear sentences like this come out of my mouth; “I’m going to drop back a bit since this is a little too fast for me to stay in Z1”, but I am finally starting to realize that being healthy is directly correlated to racing fast.
[editor’s note: I have never ever in my life heard Gavin say that a z1 pace is too fast for him – either he’s joking or he’s on another team I don’t know about.]
This is obviously an important aspect of the performance of a cross-country skier. It isn’t just the volume of training that correlates one to one on the results board, which is sometimes a difficult concept to grasp. Training smart by following a program tailored by an experienced individual is what leads to exceptional racing.
Peace of Mind
This aspect, which many people seem to overlook, is definitely one of the top elements of success for the elite athlete. Confidence in yourself to know that you can compete with your competitors is very important. When going up to a start line, I know that there is little that I can do except race with confidence. My performance will, with little variance, be directly related to my preparation coming into the race. By remaining relaxed and focused on the goal, you will race harder and faster and at the capabilities that your training gives you.
Races are not the only thing which you have to approach with the correct mind set. Sometimes it is even more important for you to have the positive approach to training and intensity sessions during the year. If at any point in the season you question yourself and the reason that you are doing intervals up penguin in the pouring rain at 8 in the morning, when you could easily be home in bed, then you are in trouble. A goal always helps to give a purpose for the seemingly meaningless training and this is one of the reasons that I enjoy doing some off-season racing (triathlons, road races, roller ski races). Being happy in other aspects of your life will also transcend to your focus and mindset when coming to training. Therefore it is good for athletes once in a while to take a step back and realize that there is no use getting too uptight over the demands of the sport.
To summarize in one sentence, have fun, be smart and try hard; and with this you will have the peace of mind to race fast!