The countdown to Sochi continues, and the widget on my blog tells me the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Russia are a meager 105 days away. Race season is right around the corner, meaning my departure day is on the horizon too.
Last year I left Alaska in the first week of November and didn't return to the United States until April 2. This season will be similar, meaning I have about a month to put the final touches on my training and life in the U.S. before I depart for World Cup racing in Europe before the big show in February.
Fall training has been hard and productive, just as it should be. All of late August and early September were spent in Alaska, which often meant training in the rain. Daily roller ski sessions involved pushing tired feet into gritty, still-damp ski boots for yet another session.
There were lots of days when plenty of people probably looked out the window and opted to stay indoors or go to the gym. But as a skier training for Sochi, I was outside everyday, twice a day.
Sometimes while roller skiing, cars passed too closely, splashing me in the face with diesel-infused puddle water. I created a game out of the unpleasant situation for the sake of my own survival -- with each puddle to the face, I pretended it was 10,000 fans cheering me up the last hill on the race-course in Sochi.
Intervals are a main staple of fall training for a cross-country skier, and I have been doing a lot of them lately.
Generally speaking, summer training consists of easy volume and big hours. September, October and November are when we start to put our fitness to the test and practice going fast.
A typical VO2-max interval workout means running uphill for four minutes almost as fast as you can, recovering for a moment, and then doing it again -- six times in all.
At the four-minute mark of each interval, you feel as if your heart is about to pound out of your chest and your legs might explode with lactic acid. You hang on your ski poles for a moment of recovery and then you do it again ... and again ... and again.
Fatigue creeps into your body and mind. I can recall many times when the gray fall light turned dead trees into bull moose and overturned stumps into brown bears.
In late September, I packed my bags for Park City, Utah -- home of the U.S. Ski Team. Every October the nation's top skiers head there for some time at altitude and to test themselves against others in interval sessions.
While there, I slept in Deer Valley, which just shy of 8,600 feet. Sleeping and training in the thin air is meant to create a natural boost in our red blood cells and hemoglobin, thereby allowing our bodies to deliver and process more oxygen to our muscles. Altitude training has been an important component in my training this year, because the Sochi trails sit on top of a mountain at an altitude of 4,500 feet.
Part of our time in Park City is spent taking a battery of physiological tests. We are given blood tests, strength tests and mobility exams. We also have two VO2-max tests where we roller ski on a eight-foot diameter treadmill while attached to sea-level oxygen. We ski until we literally drop -- a chest harness cushions our fall to the treadmill that is still spinning under our ski boots.
Beyond all the training and testing, there are meetings, media appearances, Olympic committee meetings, team photos, sports psychology sessions, physical therapy, uniforming and presentations.
One day, following a week's worth of 13-hour days, we got a chance to sleep in. At 6 a.m. there was a knock on the door. I ran to answer and found a representative of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency standing at the ready. Peeing in a cup, in front of a stranger, is just another aspect of an athlete's life on the road to Sochi.
Holly Brooks of Anchorage is a 2010 Olympian who trains with the Alaska Pacific University nordic ski program. Her reports on preparing for February's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will run periodically.
Road to Sochi
Anchorage cross-country skier Holly Brooks is a member of the U.S. Ski Team and a top contender for the 2014 Winter Olympics team. In a series of occasional columns between now and February, she will share her experiences as she and her teammates travel the road to Sochi.