* Kelsey checking in!
I’m sitting here in Stratton, drinking coffee and enjoying an easy morning. We just finished up an easier week of training and next we have a harder two week block. Yesterday, Kyle took the big W in the race up Stratton Mountain, and Alayna and Dave Sinclair both were second! I was so impressed to see them race. The cool thing about fall is that we start transitioning into harder workouts – getting our bodies and minds ready for on snow race season. It does not feel good when you’re starting to get back into race shape. We work on the physical side: getting faster, stronger, getting heart rates up, and trying to start to make that efficient. We also work on the mental side: getting tougher, getting used to the pain cace, making it feel more comfortable to be extremely uncomfortable.
Beyond going hard, we’ve had a few days of perfect fall weather. I’ve been trying to get out on my road and mountain bike as much as possible on easy days while I still can.
That’s all, thanks for reading. And if you’re an athlete, please go thank your awesome coach(es)! Can’t praise them too much though or it will go straight to their heads ;)!
* Sophie checking in.
Late September and early October is my favorite time of year. The weather starts getting cooler, the leaves are changing, and the excitement of winter starts building. After our big camp in New Zealand, we all focused on recovery for a week before jumping back into some normal training. The jet lag coming back from New Zealand is real and it becomes even rougher after a big three week training camp, so we tried our best to stay healthy, get on the right time zone, and ease our way back onto east coast time.
After a week of feeling rather zombie like, most of the team was back and we started up with organized training again. It was fun to have the crew back together and the roads we ski on and runs we do felt fresh after spending so long down in New Zealand. The team splits a little for the rest of the fall with some people spending some time out west at Park City camp and making a trip home before the long season, while others will pretty much stay in Vermont until the season begins. I will be taking a quick trip out to Colorado for the week, but will otherwise be in Vermont until heading over to Europe in mid November.
I’m looking forward to some warm home cooked food, lots of time by the fireplace, and some hard training to get us ready for the season!
* Alayna checking in.
For the first time in 17 years I will not be going back to school this fall. Saying that out loud is more daunting than I had anticipated. For the most part, the classmates that I graduated with can say that they are “going to grad school,” “starting a new job,” or “taking a year off to travel,” but I still don’t know where I lie. I am not taking any classes this year, I am not working anywhere consistently, and I am doing more than just traveling to explore, I’m traveling to race!
I am wrapping up a three-week training camp in New Zealand with the SMS, Craftsbury, and US Ski Team. When I walked through customs I had to write down my reason for visiting New Zealand: Was I a student? Was I visiting a family or friend? Was I working? What was my job? In the rush of the moment and due to habit, I wrote that I was still a student and continued on my way. I later had a few reflections; I still haven’t reached the point yet where I can say I have a job. I don’t have a salary and there are no company benefits. Yet, I work 24/7 toward my job — my job is ski racing. But why is this so hard for me to admit to myself? Is it because, for my entire life, I’ve been a student? What if I hadn’t taken this route? How do others make this decision?
Racing throughout high school, I was given a number of perspectives about picking skiing versus school. My friends were all preparing to go to college and I always assumed I would go to college, too. My parents and older sister went to school, why wouldn’t I go as well? But then I thought about skiing. I never had the most outstanding results in high school (never qualified to race internationally), but I was good enough to qualify for regional and national level camps like REG, NEG and NTG. I traveled to these camps and trained with other high-level athletes, getting more and more motivated by each skier or coach that I met. Then the thought came to me… what if I didn’t go to college? I could focus on training, make those vital steps toward international racing, and continue along the “pipeline” that so many Olympians had followed. Maybe I would make bigger jumps and improve my skiing exponentially? I was entering the unknown and I was unsure how to pick the right choice for me. Looking back on this four years later, I realize that I was far from alone in this predicament.
I have since had the opportunity to talk to a wide variety of skiers and competitors and have learned so much that I wish I knew in high school. It’s OK to be confused. It’s OK to make your own path. Every athlete is in a different situation, comes from diverse athletic and academic backgrounds, and has various goals that they hope to achieve post-high school.
“I’ve always believed that the most important thing to remember when discussing the decision to go to school or not (or when to go to school) is that is it a completely individual decision and the right decision for one person might not be the right decision for the next.” — Sophie Caldwell
Personally, I finally decided that taking a gap year might be too big of a jump for me. I wasn’t ready to focus on skiing and I had a lot of goals for myself academically. I decided to attend the University of Vermont and upon reflection, can admit that this was one of the best decisions of my life. Similarly, SMS teammate, Kelsey Phinney, went from high school in Boulder, Colorado, directly to Middlebury College.
“The reason I chose Middlebury College was simple: I went to visit and I was ready to unpack and stay for good. I loved the people, the area, the ski team, and the classes I sat in on.” — Kelsey Phinney
Kelsey and I both fell in love with our schools from the start and knew we were where we belonged. We took these college experiences as learning opportunities; maybe we wouldn’t have been ready to jump right into the professional circuit but we both determined this was the right path for us.
“I loved the experiences I had on the Carnival circuit. Both good and bad times taught me a lot about life and skiing, and I felt like the balance of school and sport made me better at both,” Kelsey reflects.
Similarly, Sophie Caldwell had her mind made up without the need to hesitate over a gap year or jumping into full-time skiing.
“I chose to go to college right out of high school, and it was something I had always known I wanted to do. I knew there was a good chance I wanted to ski professionally at some point in my life, but when I was 18, I wasn’t ready to 100% commit to skiing,” Sophie, a Dartmouth graduate, explains.
With academic goals in mind and the confidence to pursue skiing in the long run, sometimes there’s no need to question it. Going directly to college might challenge you more than you think and it might make you question what you’re doing. The balance of school and skiing is great, but it’s TOUGH! At least you worked through those challenges and figured out where you want to be though.
“I definitely had my ups and downs throughout college and at times I considered not pursuing skiing after college, but by the time I entered my senior spring, I knew I wanted to give skiing professionally a shot and knew it was because it was what I wanted to do, not what I had to do,” Sophie notes.
Over the course of four years, we were able to say goodbye to our homes, grow into adults and develop as skiers, allowing a much smoother transition into the professional racing circuit post-college. This decision to go right to college made sense for Kelsey, Sophie and me — it was simple; but I recognize that this choice isn’t as straightforward for everyone.
“I loved my time at Burke and wasn’t quite ready to leave. I also didn’t know where I wanted to go to college as part of me wanted to go out west while part of me wanted to stay closer to home.” — Ida Sargent
The conflict of picking a school, a place we are willing to spend at least four years of our lives at, can be intimidating to anyone. Taking a year off to think and explore what motivates you once the structure of school is taken out of the picture can be extremely vital to one’s skiing longevity. Other times, this year off can be done to test out what skiing professionally is actually like.
“I wanted to test out whether I could do only professional skiing.” — Katharine Ogden
A feat that might sound easy to accomplish — ski, eat, sleep, repeat — can’t be THAT hard! But what happens when you suddenly put all of your time and energy into one goal?
“Ironically, my gap year did not turn out even close to how I had planned or imagined!” reflects Julia Kern.
After facing an early summer surgery for compartment syndrome and then an untimely back injury in the fall, Julia notes that her gap year was extremely tough with plenty of lows and setbacks.
Ida Sargent offers, “My PG year was a bit of a disappointment as I wasn’t as happy as I was expecting and I also didn’t feel like I made as big of a jump with my results as I had hoped.”
“I think in hindsight it was a good philosophy but I think I approached it wrong. I didn’t do a good job securing other things to do besides training and was thus pretty bored, which led to me putting a lot of stress on skiing and racing,” says Katharine Ogden.
Maybe taking a gap year isn’t as easy as it sounds? Coming face-to-face with this type of ski-focused intensity as an 18 year old can be challenging.
“It showed me how much I really wanted to go to college,” offers Katharine.
It can also be validating, as it can prove to oneself where they really belong at that point in their life.
“It made me realize that I wasn’t ready to ski full time and I still needed balance in my life,” reflects Ida.
What might be the most beneficial aspect of taking a gap year are the lessons you learn throughout. How to deal with the pressure, free time, potential obstacles, and how to respond when you’re suddenly put in an unfamiliar situation.
“My gap year turned out to be far from ideal from a training/fitness standpoint, but I became very in tune with my body, learned how my body responds to training, became mentally tougher, and learned that I love the skiing lifestyle (even if it is tough sometimes) and that I want to ski at the highest level possible,” says Julia.
Some things you just can’t learn in a classroom.
After taking a gap year to figure out what skiing was like full-time; Ida, Katharine, and Julia attended Dartmouth College (via various routes):
Ida states, “I started by going to school full time and I raced for Dartmouth for three years and then made the National team so I took my senior winter off to race for the USST and then I went back for a spring term my fifth year.”
“One year in [as a traditional student], I am very happy at Dartmouth and racing the collegiate circuit last year reignited my love for the sport,” adds Katharine.
While Julia contributes, “I chose Dartmouth because I wasn’t sure what skiing and school balance I wanted to have, but I did know that I wanted to be able to take terms off to race internationally.”
Regardless of which Dartmouth plan they followed, all three skiers seem to have enjoyed the choices they made. Whether taking a gap year is or isn’t part of your plan, the most important takeaway is that you should TAKE SOMETHING AWAY! Learn something new about yourself, about skiing, or about classes you want to study.
So what about other options for pursuing a ski career? Jessie Diggins and Andy Newell both chose to skip college and go straight into skiing. Stay tuned for my next post when I’ll include input from both of them as well as what U.S. Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb has to say on this topic.
*Julia checking in
After a summer spent adventuring in green mountains, I decided it was time to change things up and find some white, snowy mountains! Although training has been really good at Dartmouth, it was time to mix things up and get a taste of winter before heading back for fall term. As soon as my last class ended, I hopped on a plane to join the rest of our team down under at the Snow Farm in New Zealand. I figured there is no better study break during finals than hopping on some skis and skiing on incredible snow after a long, hot summer.
It has been so fun being back together with the team, training hard and having lots of fun. The first part of camp has been mostly just distance training with a few speed sessions and interval workouts, and I can say that we have been extremely spoiled by the weather. Everyday the grooming has been amazing, the sun has been shining, and everyone has had smiles wiped across their face (how can you not in this magical place).
Our first race of the camp was the annual Merino Muster where Simi and Jessie placed 1st and Kyle and Alayna 3rd in the 42km, and KO and Ben placed 1st and Julia placed 2nd in the 21km Snow Rake! The Merino Muster is always a fun event and the conditions were absolutely perfect. We are looking forward to a few more days of training before the New Zealand Winter Games races begin.
Stay tuned for more photos and results! Thanks for following 🙂
*Kyle checking in.
Miles of trials, trials of miles. This term comes from my all time favorite book, Once A Runner. I consider this book the Bible of the endurance athlete. I have yet to find a book that captures the mindset of an endurance athlete better than John L. Parker Jr. does in this book. I could write a whole paper about this book, but I will stick with my favorite concept, the trial of miles. In the book, this term defines the relentless amount of work it takes to become an elite runner. “The new runner would find it more tedious than he could bear. The aweful truth would begin to dawn on him: there was no Secret! His days would have to be spent in exactly this manner, give or take a mile or two, for longer than he cared to think about, if he really wanted to see the olive wreath up close.” I get goose bumps just typing that out. Ultimately, what drives me in skiing is the constant pursuit to better myself, one workout at a time. I understand it is a long game. Some days won’t go well, but they all accumulate, hours and hours, years and years of training to build the best version of myself. People who know me well know I am not one to sugar coat things. The weather out East the last few weeks has been rather miserable. We have had more rain than I have seen in my lifetime over such a short period of time and when it’s not raining it’s somehow even more humid and hot than the Twins Cities, which up until this point I thought had some of the worst training weather to deal with in the summer. But despite the weather, we have trained well here in Stratton. The miles of trials continue. At Northern Michigan, the men’s team had this attitude engrained into their training and I truly believe that is why we were so successful. Now it is great to be on a team where the men AND women share this montra. As we push ahead towards the year, the trial of miles is about to become a little easier. At the end of this week, we will be heading to New Zealand for three weeks of skiing. I cannot express how excited I am for three whole weeks of training on snow in the summer. On top of that, New Zealand is incredibly beautiful and also the back drop for my favorite movies, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have no doubt when we get down there, the SMS T2 members will be ready to seize every day as an opportunity to get a few hours closer to the best version of themselves. Embrace the miles of trials and you will reap the benefits. Happy training!
*Simi checking in.
“What did you made?” asked one of our coaches, Jason Cork, after I uploaded my heart rate data and GPS file to my training file. I had just completed the “Pemi Loop” in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and my heart rate graph looked similar to a cross-section of peaks in the Himalaya. The Pemi Loop is a classic 31 mile rugged single track adventure that climbs and descends nearly 10,000 vertical feet. The majority of the terrain is ridiculously punishing, and it’s almost impossible to average a pace faster than 13 minutes/mile as you run down waterfall sections of trail, traverse exposed granite slabs above hundreds of feet of cliff, and navigate relentless boulder-strewn climbs on your way to the seemingly never-ending chain of 4,000’ and 5,000’+ summits that dot the loop. With heavy rain in the forecast for last Friday, I had decided ahead of time that I was just going to “take it easy” and scout the loop for a possible time in the future when I would see how fast I could run it when I was really pushing things. I was okay with this idea when I started from the truck early Friday morning, especially since my stomach wasn’t totally cooperating with me and a big week of training had left my legs feeling unusually heavy and my breathing labored. But as I crested Mt. Lafayette (the high point of the loop at 5,260’) a few hours in, I was feeling more normal and I knew that I was still moving at a decent clip (the rain mostly held off all day). Deciding to go for it from there (the ~9-mile mark, with 22 miles left), wasn’t so much a decision to try to get the record as it was just a test to see how well my body could respond to several more hours of hard running on dicey terrain. With every mile, I felt stronger and more in reach of putting up a good time. Unfortunately for my body, I hadn’t been smart about fueling early and often, and the fuel level indicator hit “E” at 26 miles. Barely able to stand on my wobbly legs, I knew that I was in the midst of an epic bonk. So I found the nearest place to sit, which turned out to be right smack-dab in the middle of the trail in the dirt, and shoved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth, the last of my remaining food. Feeling the sugar hit my blood steam almost instantly, I rallied to my feet and felt like I had just been reincarnated. I focused on the fact that I only had five miles left, put one foot in front of the other, and slowly made my way out to the truck. By the last 15 minutes of the loop, I was actually feeling great again, and I finished off the adventure with a couple miles at 7 minute pace. After I had stopped my watch and decided that 15 minutes off the record was still something to hang my hat on, especially after all of my poor-planning shenanigans, I planted myself firmly in the crisp water of the Pemigewasette River. Sitting in the frigid current, ringing my dirty undies out from 6+ hours of sweating, I remembered why those kinds of adventures keep me going as an athlete and as a human. You may ask yourself several times why you’re doing them when you’re in the middle of doing them, but when all is said and done, everything just seems to make sense. And then you eat 7,000 calories and call it a day.
My SMS teammates and I head to New Zealand to get on snow in 10 days. We couldn’t be more ready to get out of this humidity, get off the rollerskis, and start getting in tons of kms on real snow. Everyone is doing awesome, and the team has been functioning as one incredible family all training season. But before we head down to the southern hemisphere, I’ll test my running legs one more time with a 50 km trail race in central New Hampshire this weekend. Having never done any kind of running race like it before, I have no idea what to expect, but I’m pretty darn pumped for the adventure!