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The Intimidation Factor - learning how to use mental preparation for a positive means
By:  Lindsay Los   (2007/10/08)


Last week, Tuesday October 2nd to be exact, marked the beginning of a new season at XC Ottawa. It was that time of year again – when the leaves start to change colour, the parkways open a half hour earlier and only the “hardcore” rollerskiers still make it out to practice on time. Well, in XC Ottawa land, this meant it was time to retire the tire and head south for the winter, to Penguin that is, because it was now time to tackle that infamous uphill with our 5 minute intervals!

 As a newbie to the team and a relative newbie to Ottawa (I’ve been here for 2 years now) I had yet to do an interval up that hill. I’d ski walked it, hiked up it and definitely skied it before, so I knew the hill well, but somehow this wasn’t very reassuring. I think the fact that I had two or so weeks for visions of it to stew in my head didn’t help, as for some reason I only seemed to remember the steepest parts of that hill. Maybe it didn’t help either that, about six months ago, on some lazy (or more accurately, while procrastinating from studying) afternoon, I was browsing the XC Ottawa website in search of some interesting reading, when I stumbled upon an article by Gavin detailing the grueling 5 x 5 minute intervals up that hill. At the time, I was interested and impressed. Now, with the intervals looming up, just weeks away, I was worried to say the least.

As Tuesday morning rolled around, I found myself in the back of Sheila’s car driving out to Gatineau Park. I was slightly preoccupied with debating Macro Economics with Alana and frantically putting the finishing touches on an assignment that was due in 4 hours. In no time, we had arrived at the Penguin parking lot. My nerves hadn’t even had time to prepare. I was completely calm and relaxed – all my Beginner Yoga at Carleton seemed to be paying off – you could even say I was in a Zen state!  

From there it was straight into the warm-up, and after an easy loop around the parking lot, Craig, Alana and I headed off for an introductory walk up the Penguin hill. We got so engrossed in talk of batteries and other exciting physics experiments, that the hill flew by and we were back down at the parking lot all warmed up and ready to go! As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun” and with that, the intervals were over! I have to admit that there were some factors that helped for sure, like the fact that the intervals were in zone 3 for starters, and that we only did three of them. As well, I’ve learned in the last month, since starting with XC Ottawa, it is crucial to warm up to your intervals ensuring that you don’t fill your legs with lactic acid in the first couple of minutes. All these things combined with the scenery (on my first interval I saw a deer meandering off into the woods beside me) to set the stage for a solid and successful set of intervals. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m excitedly awaiting the next one, I did enjoy the morning workout. 

Now, as I was preparing to write this article I decided I should probably reread Gavin’s article and see just what it was that managed to instill this sense of nervousness. However, search as I might, I wasn’t able to find it. I did four or more searches spending at least an hour looking for this fabled article, but I couldn’t seem to locate it. Was this all in my head? Did I spend weeks building up and creating an imaginary intimidation factor? It would seem so. I’m sure every athlete has been told over and over again by their coaches just how powerful the mind is, and that mental training is a very important part of any competitive sport. However, it would appear that my mind took this a bit too far and it had the opposite effect, which can not be the one that coaches are trying to achieve. 

Needless to say, I learned a lesson that day, as I seem to do at every XC Ottawa practice. However what that lesson was, I’m not quite sure yet. The apparent answer would be, save your assignments to the last minute to complete on the way to practice so as to keep your mind off the future task and at ease? I have a feeling that this is not the best answer. Perhaps that we should all learn yoga to use as a means of creating a Zen state of mind to better enable the body to complete the task at hand? Maybe, but not likely the correct answer either. Conceivably I found the answer without even knowing it. It was the combination of all those “events” leading up to the intervals, that didn’t even give my mind a chance to get started in its worrying, overanalyzing ways. So, I suppose, the lesson I took from that workout, is that the mind is indeed a very powerful “tool” and one must be careful when learning just how to use it. Also, the Penguin hill really isn’t that bad, or scary or intimidating. After all, it is just a little hill, nothing like the mountains I’m used to back home in B.C. Just wait till Nationals this year in Callaghan – now that’s something to be worried about!!

It all starts on a beautiful fall morning in Gatineau Park.  Helps with the Zen.

Warming up and listening to the workout parameters.

Lindsay and Zoe getting last minute instructions from John.

Zoe's all smiles as she shed the warm-ups getting ready to meet Penguin...she's also from B.C.

Lindsay and Zoe halfway up Penguin and going strong.

Lindsay and Zoe reach the "summit".

Sheila catching the group on the warm down.

Warming down with an easy, slow group ski walk.

Water or Eload, and lots of it is required on the warm down.

Heading home.

Interesting Reading. . .
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