This past week, I found myself standing at the base of a 20% grade climb in Sweden. Seeing as how I had never roller skied up a hill of that grade, I was ready to find out exactly how steep that actually meant. We have just returned from a successful training camp in Torsby, Sweden with the SAS ProTeam. The camp included time in the ski tunnel in Torsby (thanks Mika!) and training in the surrounding area, then finishing off with the Allians Loppet in Trollhätten.
On this particular afternoon, standing at the base of the hill (who said Sweden didn't have hills), we were setting out to tackle this beast of a climb four times as maximally as possible, while remaining consistent with the elapsed time from bottom to top. As in, targeting a sustainably hard pace without burning yourself out and not being able to complete the rest of the intervals. It is great to find such steep roads in the summer, as the trails we ski on in winter are always steeper than the ones we roller ski on in summer. This makes it harder to find ways to simulate racing in summer. Finding my groove, I dove in and embraced the grind. To be honest, I skied the first interval like a teenage kid sneaking out of the house at midnight. I was shuffling up in silence, hoping I could get away with this without facing any catastrophe. Each time I tackled the climb, however, I felt stronger and could embrace the grind.
To embrace and immerse oneself in a moment is an undervalued feat. I trick myself into thinking I am the most productive when I am brushing my teeth, packing my bag for training while simultaneously getting dressed and checking Instagram. Four things at once is better than one, right? In hindsight, the moments where I feel like I juiced the most potential, are the ones where my thoughts and actions were dedicated to executing the task at hand. Rather than dumping my energy into a sieve, pouring it into a funnel. Concentrating the effort while maximising the output.
Since the beginning of the training season, I have been putting aside chunks of time to dedicate to mindfulness. It has now become as habit as brushing my teeth before I leave the door in the morning and this otherwise irrelevant 5 minutes a day, are compounding into something remarkable. Sitting and breathing; sounds lackluster. Yet this simple practice has allowed me to bring similar mindfulness to my training and the accumulated practice is a tool to follow energy patterns throughout my day, week, or month in relation to training. Adopting a regimented daily habit ironically allows for flexibility and adaptability. Having been mindful of where I am at at the start of the day, I can carry on with that awareness throughout the day. Be it grumpy, peppy, sloppy or snappy.
When it comes to training and racing, being able to tune into what your body is doing is not always pleasant. The grind is far too real and the pain cave is too deep. But figuring out when I feel good and why, and tuning into THAT, has be extremely powerful. Being mindful of my thoughts and body, then creating a space for myself where I can succeed and recreating it when needed. What do I focus on when my shoulders are tense? How can I increase my stride or glide length? Ideally, the more mindful I am of how and what my body, together with my mind are doing, the more I can practice and the easier the 'grind' will become.
The roller ski races in Trollhätten as part of the Alliansloppet were an eye opening experience for me. This is not a cross-country ski race. Some of these athletes focus their entire training on roller ski races while to the rest of us it is a training tool. We showed up in the afternoon of the races on Friday in Trollhätten, with ‘general issue’ fast, but not insane, roller skis in hand. The light rain throughout the day made the asphalt extremely slick and when our coach lined up fast skis with bullet (and I mean bullet) fast wheels, there was no chance for me to ski on them more than a few minutes before my start, let alone wear my own boots (no Salomon bindings were available!). Hello, Heidi skiing like Bambi on ice. Not present in the moment, but focused on getting myself out of this uncomfortable situation.
I wasn’t the only one out of their comfort zone, but I walked away from a disappointing 150m skate sprint on Friday, only advancing one head-to-head heat, and a brutal 500m hill climb on the same evening. I had no chance of pulling a performance out of my body with the preparation I had leading into the sprint. Disappointment in myself for the way I performed, however, reinforced the importance of being confident in your equipment and how much energy and time you loose skiing with compensated equipment, technique and worrying about future outcomes, therefor failing to be present in solving the problems at hand. Grateful that my job involves snow and not pavement!
The following day, I raced 48km on classic roller ski race around the area of Trollhätten as part of the headlining event, the Allians Loppet. Three laps of a 16km course made for an entertaining 48km race! I was really happy with how hard I fought and the way I skied for the first two laps of the race. Having my pole broken 5km into the final lap wasn’t planned, but finding an interim replacement pole was well timed! I managed to catch back up with the group I was skiing with, but this replacement pole wasn’t going to get my to the finish. I stopped again, about 3km later to switch for a proper length pole and grip and caught back up with the group … again! In the mean time, I hadn’t taken any feeds and was feeling the cost of all that spent energy catching up with me. I found some strong pink liquid from a feed station, charged the rest of the race and had to settle for 17th place, finishing 2:09:37, almost 10 minutes behind the lead...!! I know I could’ve squeezed some more time from that course, but it was super fun regardless and an amazing atmosphere around the sport.
I’m back in Davos now and will meet up with my team again in a few weeks’ time for the Nordic Weekend in Andermatt, followed by a training camp in Goms. The summer colours and light are sticking around for the mean time, but I know that fall is just around the corner. Keeping myself attentive to the moment and not caught up in what the future holds will be the biggest obstacle standing in my way. Here’s to the here and now. Enjoy the Grind.
As an add-on: Photos from my parents' visit at the beginning of August. A great break in the hot sun of Ticino, farthest thing from the grind!