It's a beautiful spring day in Brunswick - blue sky and sunshine. Campus is gorgeous, and graduation is right around the corner. That means I'm overdue for a rambling post on subjects of interest only to me (and Nick Crawford). As we close the book on another fine school year, here are a few of the things I'm thinking about:
Walking the line: When it comes to training, there’s a fine line between too much and not enough. If you want to get faster, you need to push the limits, and it’s easy to push just a bit too hard. This happens pretty frequently to college athletes - every year a few of our skiers hit the wall and start feeling crushed by the training load. The big challenge is how to respond – rest, of course, but how much and how early? Our typical response is to have people take a day or two off if they’re a little tired, and a week or two off if they’re really in a hole. That works sometimes, but sometimes it doesn’t. A day or two doesn’t seem to do much if an athlete is really tired, and a week or two off doesn’t do much if a skier has been struggling for a while. I’m starting to think that we need to have a lower threshold for the longer rest periods – catch it early when someone is just starting to get into a hole, and rest them longer to ensure that they’re fully out of it. This year we had a couple instances where this approach paid off, and I’m ready to keep using it going forward. What we really need, of course, is to not get into any holes in the first place – keep the intensity carefully controlled, use good recovery practices, get plenty of sleep, etc. But the world isn’t perfect yet, so instead we’ll settle for being a little more aggressive with our interventions.
The sophomore jump: Our sophomores were a huge part of our success this year – not just because there’s a million of them, and not just because they’re such wonderful people, but also because they all improved significantly this year. Sophomore year is often a time of major improvement – most people learn a lot in their first year and then turn all that learning into better race results a year later. But that doesn’t always hold true – some skiers make big gains right away and then have a bit of a sophomore slump, while others just sort of plateau. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a whole group of sophomores make such steady progress as this year’s group did. Why did this happen? There's a lot of good energy surrounding this group – they have good relationships with each other and with the whole rest of the team, and I think they’re having fun with this whole ski team thing. Happy people ski faster, after all. We were also lucky to have a great group of seniors to serve as role models, and the younger skiers have learned a lot from them. I’m really encouraged by the progress our sophomores made this year, and I’m excited to see what they (and all of our other skiers!) can do in the future.
Organic training: Organic training is our term for training that just sort of happens naturally when you’re doing something for non-training purposes. Some examples drawn from our team in recent years: trail work, hunting, running/hiking between data collection sites, bicycle touring, raft guiding, and more. This is stuff that doesn’t fit nicely into a training log – you’re focused on something besides heart rate or pace or duration, and it’s hard to quantify the training benefits that you’re getting. But you’re working hard, and you end up getting stronger and fitter whether or not you realize it. I love this stuff! It’s not training by the book, and maybe it’s not an optimal use of a skier’s time and energy. But people come back from a couple weeks or months of organic training in great shape, and more importantly they come back happy and fired up to jump back into regular ski training. This year we had several skiers doing their share of organic training, and it certainly didn’t seem to hurt anyone when it came time to race. Lily is the most notable example – she spent the summer leading canoe trips in Ontario, and she came back decently fit and outrageously strong after hundreds and hundreds of hours of paddling and portaging. It took her a few weeks to get her running and rollerski fitness back, but once she did she was unstoppable. I’m not at all sure that she would have skied faster this year if she’d spent the summer on a traditional training plan. I’ve always had a soft spot for outside-the-box training, and I’m more convinced than ever that any college skier can benefit from some random outdoor adventuring over the summer. Happy people ski faster!
The dam breaks: Despite Bowdoin Nordic’s gradual improvement over the years, we haven’t really seen much change in our team finishes. By every other measure – placings, percent back, USSA points, NCAA qualifying – we’ve improved, but it never seemed to translate into better carnival finishes. This season, we suddenly jumped from 8-10th to 4-6th. I’m not shocked – we’ve been working toward this for a long time – but I’m struck by how big the jump was when it finally happened. It’s encouraging to see how quickly things can change after years of grinding – persistence pays off. The other lesson to take from this, though, is that things can go the other way just as quickly – we’ll have to fight hard to stay at this level. Right now, we’re in a good position - we’re bringing back a great group next year, and I think it’s realistic to expect us to stay competitive. But it’s not going to just happen. We’ll have to find ways to keep improving and keep closing the gap between us and the teams ahead of us. It’s going to take imagination and creativity and a whole lot of hard work. We're ready for it.