From the outside looking in, cross country skiing is the epitome of an individual sport. You put in a couple hundred hours of training a year by yourself, your bib number during a race usually corresponds to you and only you, and when you stand on top of the podium you’re usually standing alone on that step. But skiing is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport just like football or basketball or soccer. Your teammates are there during much of your hard training intervals, either pushing you to your limits when they’re right behind you hot on your heels, or giving you reason to go to a new place in the pain cave when you’re a stride behind them. Sometimes you even get lucky enough to look over at a teammate during a sprint heat on the World Cup. And when you are named to a sprint or distance relay team, the importance of team cohesion and chemistry takes on an entirely new focus. Team is everything.
I wanted to bring up this idea of the importance of team because I think sometimes, while we reflect on past training blocks or great workouts or sweet adventures we’ve done recently, we sometimes forget about the extraordinary team sessions we’ve been lucky enough to be a part of in the recent past. I’m taking this opportunity to describe a workout we had last Saturday that was one of the best team interval workouts we’ve had all year. By the numbers, the session looked like this: 5×10 minutes of skating on rolling terrain at threshold (level 3) at Ball Mountain Dam, with the last 20 seconds of each interval at sprint pace. On paper, it’s not that special of a session, but when you’re skiing 25 miles/hour with 5 other dudes, and you’re all focused 100% on being in that place and no where else, it’s a hard feeling to beat. A lot of athletes in all different kinds of sports talk about “getting in the zone”. For us, doing this kind of workout allows us to find that special mental space, and the reward of finding it is made that much better when you know your teammates, who are also some of your closest friends in life, are also in that mental space. Your surroundings are a blur as the pace line of skiers hammers along the road or trail. You feel like you could continue at that speed, in that pace line, forever. Your breathing becomes rhythmic and relaxed. You feel the endorphins speeding through your brain and body, and you crave more.
It’s important to remember workouts like this. When you’re 12 km into a 15 km race in the middle of the quiet, cold forest in some far off country like Finland, it’s easy to forget what team really means. But it’s these kinds of workouts with some of the best teammates in the world that allow you to push just a little bit harder for just a little bit longer. I can’t wait for many more days with my teammates in the future, and that anticipatory feeling will continue to drive us to be the best in the world.