Ben’s view on the latest from the Russian Doping scandal, as viewed from Icarus, a documentary currently on netflix documenting the whole thing.
I wonder sometimes how it felt to be Paul Newman.
More specifically, I wonder sometimes how it felt to be “Cool Hand” Luke Jackson.
I don’t wonder what it would be like to be stuck in the same prison as Luke, but I wonder what it would be like to live in a world that was stacked against you; a world where the powers that be chose to ignore nobility and perpetuate injustice for the sake of the system they built. In my everyday life, I don’t experience a world like that, but after watching the recently released documentary Icarus I have come to believe that I compete in one.
Icarus is the creation of filmmaker Bryan Fogel. He set out to tell the story of the time he went on performance enhancing drugs, to illustrate how simple the act of doping could be in professional and semi-professional sports. “Originally,” he explains in the film, “the idea I had was to prove the system in place to test athletes was bullshit.” About 40 minutes into the movie however, he tumbles into a rabbit hole and the movie instead becomes a set of blueprints for a Russian-state doping machine.
I’m not going to spoil all the depths of depravity that are alleged in this film for anyone, you should all go and watch this movie for yourself (it’s available on Netflix now.) What troubled me the most about this movie was not the sordid details of how such a doping system was executed without consequence; in fact, the middle hour of the film was fascinating, like Ocean’s 11 from some alternate universe where George Clooney is a mustached man named Grigory, and Brad Pitt is Vladimir Putin. What hurt me about this movie was the conclusion. The conclusion that showed the totality of evidence facing the International Olympic Committee, and the IOC’s subsequent rejection of responsibility in the face of that evidence.
I cannot do justice to the damning stories about this doping ring in a blog post so I urge you to go watch it yourself and to read some of the great journalism that brought these injustices to light in the first place. I’m only here to say how, as an athlete who hopes to go to an Olympics, it made me feel.
I watched this movie with my teammates. Crowded on a couch in a small apartment in a place far away from most of our homes, where we moved to chase a dream of athletic excellence, we watched a systematic and painful explanation of all the ways in which competitors have allegedly cheated, and the way in which the IOC failed to respond to that information with anything approaching rationality. It was heartbreaking. In one of the movie’s final sequences, a series of shots were played in reverse, from the press conference in which the IOC said it would allow Russian athletes to compete in Rio, all the way back to Sochi Games where the Olympic flame (in reverse now) was extinguished. I looked up around the room. It was almost startling to realize that several of the people there had been at those games. They had been in the stadium where Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC had given a speech about fair play, and they had just spent two hours being told that it was all a lie. I didn’t know what to say to them. I wanted to say something, but what can you say? Against such brutal reality, such rampant dereliction of duty, what can you say? Is any amount of idealism about sport enough to combat that type of darkness?
My teammate Simi got up and closed the laptop.
“That’s not why we ski.”
“It’s more than results, and we can only do our best, but that’s… I mean it’s just not why we ski right?”
“Yeah.” I said “But it still sucks.”
One of my goals for the summer was to spend some more time racing the best skiers in the World, which is why I committed to racing two of the biggest roller ski festivals here in Norway, the Blink Festival and Toppidrettsveka. The roller ski races fell about two and a half weeks apart on the calendar which also meant I was going to have to spend some time on the road, link up with some fast peeps, and make a training camp out of it.
I had never been to the Blink festival and it was incredible just to see that part of Norway, a place that we never travel to during the winter. Sandnes is located on the west coast in a landscape that is very lush but also very mountainous and rocky. Flying in it looked like a hundred Yosemites stacked next to each other with huge rock faces and waterfalls stretching all the way to the ocean.
Liz Stephen also flew in for these races and we didn’t spend too much time adjusting jumping into a long weekend of racing just a few days after arriving from the US. For me first up was a 60k mass start, followed by a rest day, and then a 15k skate and sprint. These races bring in a lot of big name skier and are definitely made for the entertainment of fans and TV. Most of the races were in the evening time around the 6-8pmwindow making for a shock to the jet lagged body but I actually felt really good and was happy with the results.
I think it’s really fun to jump into a the racing scene again to test your fitness and also stay in touch with what it’s like to race, which can be tough in a long off season. Nobody is really trying to peak for these races so they are pretty low stress and low pressure, but there is still prize money and still TV cameras so everyone gets amped up. We do however try to keep up with training even during the weeks of racing. I think I had a 4-hour training day before the 60k, Liz and I climbed a cool mountain with some friends and other Italian skiers.
Since Blink festival I have been back in Lillehammer trying to make the most of my time here in Norway by training with some different athletes. I have several friends in the area from staying here in the past and there are always lots of different groups to join for intervals, or distance, or whatever it is you have planned for the day. Skiing is so popular here that you can’t go out roller skiing without running into another group of skiers, or several other groups of full time athletes out training. I was reminded of the depth here when I was out running the other day with Oystien Pettersen and Ola Vigan Hattestad both of who have Olympic gold medals sitting at home from Vancouver and Sotchi.
One of the things I’m also reminded of when training here though is how it’s not so different than what we have going on at Stratton. Maybe on a bigger scale over here with more funding but the idea of a local ski club working together is the same. There is an NTG (which is basically a ski school) based out of Lillehammer and it’s common for the national team athletes to come in and out and train with them. Much of the workouts are the same, L3 bounding on the weekends, strength in the afternoon, speed workouts, all the same things we try to work on as a group at Stratton.
Tomorrow I will travel up to Trondheim and Aura for the Toppidtrettsveka (translates to top sportsman festival haha). This race series will also be an action packed few days with two sprints and two mass start races and a lot of really tough competition. Maybe even more than Blink, Toppidrettsveka brings in a lot of different national teams from around the World making for a near World Cup field. Going to be fun!
I’ll admit I’m a bit of a homebody and since Stratton is only about 30 mins away from where I grew up, summer is “home” time for me. I can appreciate adventures and hopping from place to place, but there’s also something nice about staying put for a couple months and getting into a routine that involves coming back to the same home every day. Time still manages to pass quickly because all of a sudden I only have about three weeks left of summer. Most of the team has been in Vermont since early July and a good percentage of us will head to New Zealand in a few weeks for a big block of training on snow.
Once a year, SMS hosts an annual summer training camp for junior and Bill Koch League skiers from around New England. “Camp Week” kicks off with the BKL crew, a rambunctious bunch of 8-13 year olds who have a seemingly endless supply of energy. After four days of games, roller-ski practice and mountain adventures the BKL crew heads home and older junior skiers arrive for four days of hard training, time-trials and technique work. This year’s camp coincided with a big week of training for most of the Elite team but we were able to jump in a few workouts with the younger crew and hosted a Q&A and small group discussion with each of the groups. The Q&A is by FAR one of my favorite things we do at the camp. It’s like an episode of Kids Say the Darndest Things (except without Bill Cosby creeping around). We basically let the kids ask absolutely anything they want…they can ask about skiing, school, relationships, training, racing, eating, hobbies, anything. Most of the time the kids are too shy to really grill us with questions or more often they just decide to tell us stories instead. But every once in a while, you get a real gem. Below is a breakdown of some of our favorite camp questions from the next generation of ski champions and a few of our answers (Full Disclosure: I was in a Q&A group with Jessie so most/all of the responses are from the two of us).
- Most asked question:Q: What do you eat for breakfast?
A: I think I’ve actually been asked this EVERY SINGLE YEAR at “Camp Week.” Apparently our noshing habits are fascinating. My answer? Power oats: oatmeal with pumpkin, an egg, cinnamon, maple syrup, granola, peanut butter, banana, blueberries, and Greek yogurt.
- Most useful question: Q: How do you recover between workouts?
A: This was one of the best questions I received this year. Jessie and I both responded with a few ideas. Eating a mix of protein and carbohydrates within 30 min. of a training session (i.e. banana with peanut butter). For a week, try to eat something within 2 minutes of your workout! LOTS of water. LOTS of sleep. Naps when possible. Foam rolling and massage. Yoga. Vitamin C. Active recovery-spinning or jogging for 15-20 min.
- Best race question:Q: How do you stay focused during a race?
A: Everyone has different strategies for this but Jessie and I both liked to pick a physical technique cue to help us refocus during a race. This could be something as simple as swinging your arms, crunching down on your poles or even just remembering to breath!
- Best training question:Q: How do you warm-up for a race?
A: With music, lots of jumps, some L1 a little L3 and even little less L4 plus some running around, changing of clothes, going to the bathroom and more jumping.
- Best travel question:Q: What’s your favorite place to ski?
A: Tie between Bozeman, MT and Sjusoen, Norway.
- Best historical question:Q: How old were you when you started skiing?
A: Me: 11 Jessie: since she could walk!
- Most personal question: Q: Have you ever been injured? How did you deal with it?
A: I broke my elbow in the fall of 2015 and honestly didn’t deal with it very well. After it healed I was able to gain some perspective and realize what a small part of my ski career that 8 weeks was and also recognize the opportunity I had to focus on other things in my sport like mental strength while I was injured.
- Most unusual question: Q: “What if you don’t like people cheering for you and it makes you sad/slower/nervous?”
A: Although I love cheering and feed off of it during races, I actually used to hate it when I was younger. I think I even told my dad that before races I didn’t want to see or hear him because I needed to “get in the zone” and he wasn’t allowed to cheer for me during the race. Although you can’t tell all of the fans to stop cheering during a race, remember they are out there because they all want to encourage you and are psyched to see you pushing hard and skiing your best! Try to reframe “cheering” to make it motivating. Every time you hear someone cheer, pick up the pace so you won’t have to listen to them anymore or use the cheering as a cue to refocus on your race rather than worrying about the people on the sidelines.
- Best non-ski question: Q:What do you do in your free time?
A: I like to get outside as much as possible! Hiking with friends, fishing, swimming, kayaking, anything outdoors. Jessie and I also share a love for baking and cooking so that’s a fun way to unwind as well.
It’s noon on a Friday in mid-July and I’m anxiously standing in the Avis rental rental car line in the heavily air conditioned Reno International Airport. I’m dragging a fully-loaded 70-pound ski bag, a bike box, and a duffel packed chock-full of equipment ranging from alpine touring ski boots to running shoes to my rack of climbing cams. For once in my life, I’m at least slightly envious of the scores of overweight tourists walking past me, rolling their carry-on bags out of the terminal into the sweltering heat and towards their complimentary casino shuttles. I’m not jealous of the fact that I’m having to lug around hundreds of pounds more gear than them, I got over that envy a long time ago. I’m not jealous of the fact that they’ll be leaving a few days later with lighter wallets and a pool-side sunburn. And I’m not jealous of the fact that their vacation package comes with all you can eat seafood in a restaurant that is 218 miles inland from the Pacific coast. I’m jealous of the fact that for the next 48 hours they know exactly what they are getting themselves into, and I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m getting myself into.
I first floated the idea of flying out to Nevada to pace my best friend, Linden, in his first 100-mile backcountry ultramarathon in April during a sunrise run with him outside of his home in Santa Barbara, CA. Like most of those genius ideas usually pan out, on that April day I didn’t actually think this one would be any different and come to fruition. But as is the nature of daydreaming about something that is months away, it becomes all too easy to exclaim, “Yeah! We should totally do that!” As the race date neared, I decided to follow through with my promise, pulling the trigger on a plane ticket to Reno, and justifying my decision by deciding it would be the prefect mid-summer break that would keep me engaged in training and satiate my thirst for stupidly long adventures that most sprinters on the World Cup would probably say no to. A week before my flight west, Linden informed me in a phone call that he hoped I would be able to pace him from mile 50 to mile 100, picking him up at the end of his first 50-mile lap and running with him from the early afternoon until, ideally, the wee hours of the morning. Up until this summer, the furthest I had ever run was 30 miles. I’m a fit guy, I enjoy running, and I know I can suffer through a whole array of different types of challenges, but I don’t care who you are, doing anything physically demanding for 12 hours is daunting, nerve racking, and is downright scary. Hence the anxiety I felt in the airport as I questioned my survival and at least partially longed for the normalcy that usually comes with a three-day stay in Reno.
Fast forward 24 hours. I’ve eaten a tub of quinoa salad from Safeway for breakfast, spent at least an hour meticulously taping my toes so as to avoid blisters, and gone through my running pack at least a dozen times checking and re-checking to make sure I’ve got a headlamp with spare batteries, a roll of white tape, a rain jacket, 15,000 calories in ClifBar ShotBloks, and enough ibuprofen to tranquilize an elephant. Like clockwork, Linden trots into the 50-mile aid station at 3 P.M., having just run his first 50 at exactly the pace he was aiming for. A smile is plastered to his face even though he’s just run for 10 hours in 93° F desert heat. I pour a cup of ice down his back, refill his bottles with cloudy electrolyte drink mix, help him put on a fresh pair of socks, and then we hit the road. Eager to take his mind off of the fact that he’s only half-way done, I launch into a two-hour monologue complete with all the best jokes I know, a run down of the morning’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me episode, and a rolling checklist of all the Sierra peaks I want to ski with him next spring after the racing season is over. Six hours and 27 miles later we flick on our headlamps, letting the last light of the sunset over Lake Tahoe wash over us. There’s a chill in the air without the California sun above us, but our chapped lips and sun burnt skin embrace the bite that has replaced the intense heat. The miles continue to tick away as we plod along the Tahoe Rim Trail’s rolling single track, each of us going through our own highs and lows (I know, his lows were much more warranted that mine). Several times, I stutter-step to avoid crushing the tiny translucent scorpions that litter the high desert trail and only become visible when your headlamp beam lands directly on top of them. The aid stations at mile 30/80, mile 36/86, and mile 43/93 come and go, their pots of mac and cheese and chicken noodle soup slightly emptier after we’ve vacuumed up a few thousand calories from each. Our legs feel good, our crotches have miraculously stayed dry and chafe-free, and the stoke among both of us has gradually increased with each passing mile. Finally, at 2 a.m., we come off the final, seven-mile descent and catch a glimpse of the lights at the finish line and the thumping of reggae music coming from the party that awaits us. With only a couple miles left around the lake where the race is staged out of, our spirits soar and we throw in a few whoops of excitement. Just for the hell of it, we churn out a couple 7 minute miles as the beams from our headlamps start pouring faster and faster through the winding single track. And then just like that, we’re done. Linden finishes 11th overall, with an incredibly impressive time of 21 hours and 54 minutes (the TRT 100 is one of the harder courses you’ll find anywhere). A friend of ours, Leland, who was running main support and logistics for Linden, would later tell us that he knew it was us on the other side of the lake because all he could see was two headlamps hauling ass along the bank, knowing we were probably the only two runners out there who would still be able to muster up the energy to finish like we were just completing a 5 km.
Every time I reflect on that weekend, I can’t help but feel a surge of pride. Not because we ran a long way. Not because we proved we were worlds fitter than all those tourists strolling through the airport on their way to the craps table. And not because we were able to dunk ourselves in the radiant blue waters of Lake Tahoe without the help of a wheel chair the next day. No, I feel a surge of pride knowing that like myself, my best friend’s idea of a great time involves doing something so out of the ordinary it almost seems stupid, and to a lot of people out there, it is stupid. But not to us. Both of us will remember this adventure for the rest of our lives, storing it away with all of the other ones we’ve embarked on together in the past and all of those still waiting for us in the future.
Summer on the mountain is flying by. The last few weeks in Stratton the team has been settling into a solid training routine along with the Stratton Junior and Development teams here in Southern VT. This time of year our training plans call for a wide variety of different modes and intensities. The past few weeks have been full of hours running, roller skiing, biking, swimming and lifting in the newly revamped SMS gym. We just wrapped up a three-week block of hard training and are moving into a recovery week to help us reset before diving into August. Last week we finished off a sweaty week of volume training with a trip up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
A huge thank you to my parents for hosting the entire SMS Elite Team in Lyme on Saturday night for a team dinner and board in the Lyme Center Dormitory. On Sunday we drove up to the White Mountain National Forest for an over distance run. Our route took us from the Lincoln Woods trailhead – just off the Kancamangus Highway – over the “extended” Franconia Ridge taking us over each of the following mountains: Flume, Liberty, Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette.
We had a perfect day up in the mountains and everyone finished the fifteen+ mile long point to point in around four hours. Now it is time to rest up and get ready for another big training cycle before most of the team heads down under for an on-snow training camp in New Zealand!
If you haven’t tuned into the fact that Harry Styles has fully transformed from the One Direction boy band heart throb into a legitimate musical phenom…you clearly haven’t driven across the country listening to his latest album on repeat. While there are other incredible songs on the album (my favorite is woman), the current radio tune is Sign of the Times.
When I first returned to Vermont after my western hiatus (a stay with my boyfriend out in South Dakota, an on snow camp in Bend, and THE wedding of the year), I was preparing for the worst a Vermont summer can offer. Namely, the dual attack of heat and humidity (or triple attack and add in some bugs). But for the first week, I can only describe the weather as pleasant. Week two brought more of the same, with some days more reminiscent of fall training than summer.
Then this past Monday came around, and we were hit with the ultimate sign of the times. With every day bringing the possibility of a massive thunderstorm that never really occurred, we have consistently been building up ridiculous levels of heat, humidity, bug bites…and sweat.
The ULTIMATE sign of the times was the fact that after two workouts in a row, I (a self proclaimed dry lander with no love putting my face underwater) voluntarily jumped into cold bodies of water. This morning we completed perhaps our sweatiest workout of the year, a 50 minute continuous bounding session around the SMS woods below school.
Stopping only for the occasional drink of water or lactate test, we built up a lot of fitness, chafing, and salt. The workout is really great for building lactate tolerance, and practicing the subtle shift between “easy downhills” and “hard uphills.” Working together to mimic strengths and focus on weaknesses, the workout was a smashing and sweating success. Defining the day were two incidents: Jessie’s hair transforming into a potential hiding spot for a hamster, and Erika waiting to get a lactate and going blind from sweat in the process.
All of this is a sign that the times are doing exactly what they are supposed to do…making us really excited for winter 🙂
Jessie fills us in on the last few days of training
One of the things I love most about training for Cross Country Skiing is that the off season has so many different modes of training! We’ve been roller skiing, running, in the gym, working on our foot and ski agility, biking…and if it gets any hotter I’ll definitely be throwing some swim workouts into the mix. Summer has many opportunities to keep challenging the body with different activities while building a good base with all the long slow hours. Being able to keep switching it up means that you can put in a lot of hours without getting injured (or, you know…bored)!
And we have such a great training group here to keep each other motivated! We’ve had some good group intensity sessions and the team did a time trial last Saturday where everyone got to practice their group skiing and drafting on the flatter sections of the course.
The gym is always packed and everywhere you turn you can see someone working so hard to get just a little bit better and stronger that day. It’s very motivating for both the SMS juniors and seniors alike!
We’ve also been playing around with switching leads as many as 6 times during a 10 minute Level 3 interval in order to keep the train of people moving along. It’s generally a little bit harder to lead since you’re breaking the wind for everyone else, but it’s important to become skilled at skiing in a pack and also leading effectively. So we try to make sure everyone gets better at group skiing during those long threshold interval sessions.
Next week will be a bigger volume week for us which should be pretty exciting!
We hear it all the time in the sporting world it has become one of the biggest clichés an athlete ever hears. Carpe diem, making it count… whatever phrase is most appealing to you they all pretty much get at the same thing; it’s about the here and the now and doing everything we can to improve today. And as cheesy as it sounds, I like it!
I like it because as an xc skier holding a phrase like that in the back of your mind can be incredibly relevant for staying focused throughout a long off season or when your long term goals seem so many months away. It’s only the middle of July! But that’s kind of the point. We are into the 3rd month of the training year and the initial excitement of beginning our training has warn off, the initial feel-good June boost in strength and fitness is behind us, now it’s all about the small gains, the daily grind.
I’ve been thinking a lot about making the most out of each day since returning from our Park City training camp and coming back to Stratton with the team. I have just two weeks here before heading to Norway and I want to get some productive training in with everyone while we are all at Stratton. This is the biggest and most consistent training group we have ever had here at SMS so each workout is not only super fun but also a chance to learn a lot from each other.
Considering Vermont has brought us a taste of what you might call inclement weather I think we all have had to relay on a seizing the day type motto at some point this week. Intervals in the fog, 2.5-hour distances in the pouring rain, some blown out hip flexor speed days. I was stoked to get to chase down speedy Paddy in some 5×10 minute L3 skating this morning at a soggy BMD. It has been one of those weeks that on your own would kind of suck, but with a team at your side has been pretty fun and filled with all kinds of small gains and as we move into the meat of the summer… that’s what it’s all about!