Posted June 4th, 2008
Tom Stark, getting focused on summer training.
Before coaching, before college, before any encroachment of real responsibility, I spent a few years training for cross-country skiing only. I lived in Minnesota and trained with a group led by Nikolai Anikin, a former Soviet coach and gold-medal winner. There were routines to the training that were clearly founded in Nikolai’s Soviet background. For example: Monday’s were off-days. Tuesday’s we did specific strength work. In the fall we’d focus on ski feel and balance. And every year, on the 1st of June, we’d begin formal, focused, group training.
The 1st meant a return to rollerskiing and to the diligent work of routine and investment. June meant real cross-country skiing, and today, for folks who have goals of skiing beyond high school (and certainly beyond college), it still does.
In the two years I’ve coached at the collegiate level, I’ve been shocked at how foreign this focused training concept is to many young athletes who have high aspirations. In fact, there have been many high-achieving skiers, with a huge collection of great junior results, who have come through the door where I coach, with next-to-no summer training.
In the fall, when the first-year skiers arrive, the majority of them are from smaller, public school programs, and they work through about two weeks of adjustment. The skiers are typically the better athletes on their home teams, but when they arrive at college, they’re additions to a greater group of athletes. There are no rewards, no huge accolades, no pictures in the local paper. The obligation to train goes up, the expectation of performance goes up, and proportionally, the results go up.
This is great for a couple of reasons. First, it isn’t where most young students go in their first weeks of college. “More responsibility” is less a war cry than, say, “HOLY CRAP, NO PARENTS FOR MILES!!!” Second, regardless of age, humans tend to want instant gratification—the possibility of a quick score and the refutation of work or obligation. Last week, I watched with equal parts horror and bemusement when a customer at a grocery store in Massachusetts (I was en route to a bike race) refused to pay for an apple that he thought was priced incorrectly and rather than walk back to the source of the apple to support his point (odds of success—1:1), he merely left the apple on the checkout counter. On his way out the door, the same customer was willing, sans apple, to stop at the kiosk to purchase a Mass. State Lottery ticket. (Odds of success—1:5,245,786.) Bravo, brave customer, bravo.
June 1st is a cross-country skier’s price check. It’s a time when any athlete can take clear stock of what’s in the personal tank. What are the weaknesses? What can be improved before fall? It’s also a time to be truly reflective. It’s easy to walk through the workouts, fulfilling the training obligation, without any mindful attention. Ninety minutes of rollerskiing here, two hours of running there, but alas, this isn’t enough. It takes presence and attention to get better. If you’re a skier, you actually have to reflect and train. The five months that stretch out from here to October is the time to get it done and no amount of natural talent, no shortcut or lottery ticket will substitute for good training in the long run.
Andrew Gardner is the Head Nordic Ski Coach at Middlebury College and the Director of the Flatbread-Ottercreek Cycling team.