As I sat on my back deck enjoying an abnormally hot Alaska summer, my experiences last February in Sochi, Russia, seemed extremely far away.
While the geographical distance from here to there is vast, the 2014 Winter Olympics are just around the corner -- 227 days until the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies, to be exact.
You may remember my articles this winter about my pre-Olympic World Cup experience in Sochi -- the hot dog salad, the endless security checks, the odd modes of transportation to get around the most expensive Olympic venue in history.
That World Cup served as our test event -- a sneak peak, if you will -- for the Games. The countdown has begun, and athletes across Alaska, the United States and the world have Sochi on their minds.
Skiing and ski training is always on my mind, but I would be lying if I said there is nothing special about the upcoming Olympic season. While professional skiers live, train, eat, sleep and dream their sports 365 days a year, for years on end, the Olympics are the one time that the world tunes in.
It's our Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup on steroids. Suddenly, neighbors who have never noticed us gliding by on our roller skis might stop to wave or cheer. The media takes notice. The Olympics are a chance to turn obscurity into mainstream, to tell your story and to be recognized for years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
But what does it take to actually get to the Olympics? And then, once you're there, what is it like, and what does it take to actually perform? I hope to share all of that with readers as I prepare for what would be my second Winter Games as a cross-country skier. (I say "hope" because the team won't be officially named until Jan. 12. Yes, you read that right -- a short three weeks before the opening ceremonies!)
One of my favorite questions I get as an athlete is, "What do you do in the offseason?" Well, I train -- and I train a lot.
Less than two weeks ago, I returned from this season's kickoff camp with the U.S. Ski Team and Alaska Pacific University in Bend, Ore., where we spent 10 days skiing at Mount Bachelor. Each day, we spent two to three hours on snow in the mornings, followed by afternoons of running, lifting weights, physical therapy, biking, and flexibility drills. Evenings are filled with team planning meetings, mock press conferences and individual sessions with nutritionists, technique coaches, strength advisers and sports psychologists.
After our time in Bend, we traveled to Park City, Utah -- home of the U.S. Ski Team. In Utah, we went through a battery of semi-annual tests. One of my teammates likened us to "lab rats" as we were pricked, poked, filmed, and measured. We had our blood taken, our bodies measured for fat content, our strength tested, and our flexibility and mobility benchmarked.
Then, there was everyone's favorite: the infamous VO2 max test, which tests physical fitness by determining how quickly your body can move and use oxygen. These tests are done while roller skiing on six-foot-wide treadmills; athletes wear nose plugs and breathe from a tube with extra oxygen to simulate sea-level conditions. And we wear harnesses so that we can ski until we drop, literally.
Max efforts create quite a scene in the gym, attracting an audience of snowboarders and downhill skiers, coaches and physiologists -- the first group watching in disbelief, hoping and waiting for carnage; the latter cheering you and hoping for results that show improvement from last year.
After three weeks of training on the road, it was great to be home sleeping in my own bed, cooking my own food and training at some of my favorite spots -- including those directly out my front door.
This week, the APU team is at the season's first on-snow training camp on Eagle Glacier, 5,000 feet above Girdwood -- just another detour on the road to Sochi.
Holly Brooks is a 2010 Winter Olympian and a member of the U.S. Ski Team and the Alaska Pacific University ski team. She lives in Anchorage.