For the past five months I've been not only in the country but in the great state of Alaska. "Home" has been my true home rather than a hotel room that I try to make feel like home. At this "true home" I have more than three shirts to choose from, I receive physical pieces of mail and I exhibit control over the temperature settings in my house. Coffee is made fresh by me, when I get up, and when my cat is hungry he sits on my head while I press the snooze button, just like in the comics.
These may seem like simple, unremarkable things, but for someone who has had to appeal the Permanent Fund Dividend office because of an average absence of 200 days annually, being home is a radical concept.
I've spent the last Olympic cycle bouncing from one World Cup race venue to the next, always following a very familiar pattern: Travel, race, race, travel, repeat. At the height of the Tour de Ski, this could mean as many as seven races in nine days in three different countries. There's a saying that claims skiers are made in the summer, and so in the buildup to last winter's Sochi Olympics, I also made multiple summer trips to find snow and altitude for training.
Needless to say, when I returned this spring after my five-month competition season, I was ready to reinvest in Alaska. I don't think an all-expenses paid trip to the tropics could have pulled me away from my house, my husband and my cat. Until last month my only trip out of state was to Washington to see my family, including my brother who I hadn't seen in three years, and to celebrate my grandma's 90th birthday.
The beginning of my summer was spent rebuilding my aerobic base the way I know best --? with Alaska adventures. The most memorable trips were a four-day beach bike ride from Captain Cook State Monument in Anchorage to Homer, and a traverse of Chugach State Park during which my husband and I hiked from Bird Ridge to Pioneer Peak.
On these trips I was averaging anywhere from six to 14 hours of "training" per day. They allowed me to get back to my roots and renew my love of backcountry Alaska travel --? the thing that gave me the fitness to pursue my 2010 Vancouver Olympics bid and life as a professional athlete in the first place.
A hamstring injury kept me from competing in as many local running races as I'd hoped but luckily I had my first pain-free workout five days before the "Olympics of Alaska" ? Mount Marathon. Two-thirds of Mount Marathon went well for me, but the heat and my propensity to suffer in it saw me give up nearly two minutes of the lead I had at the summit. Had the finish line been another 10 feet down the road, I wouldn't have won.
Following Mount Marathon, I participated in the fourth annual Women's Training Alliance camp, which includes one week of dryland training around Anchorage followed by a week of skiing at Alaska Pacific University's Thomas Training Center on Eagle Glacier. Top female skiers from around the country flocked to our facility overlooking Girdwood. Ironically, it felt like we were back skiing in Sochi, with slush covering our boots and average temperatures of 55 degrees.
After four years of living out of a duffel bag and jet-setting to the next training or competition destination, it's been great planting my feet in one place: home. This spring and summer I embraced training in a less structured way, highlighting opportunities at home and the surrounding area. This summer more or less served as a post-Olympic sabbatical, a rehabilitation that included training from my doorstep and reconnecting with friends and family.
This winter will take on a different spin for me. Rather than racing internationally with the U.S. Ski Team from November to March, I've opted to enroll full time in graduate school at APU for the fall semester. This will allow me to further my education while simultaneously logging some huge training hours for my new challenge ? the FIS World Loppet Ski Marathon Series. Think the Tour of Anchorage on steroids --? 40-, 50- and 60-kilometer races all over the world.
While the ski marathon scene is huge in Europe, no North American has ever taken this series on as a primary focus. I am excited to be the first.
Holly Brooks is a two-time Olympic skier from Anchorage who this summer claimed her second Mount Marathon victory in Seward. She and Olympic teammate Kikkan Randall will be among the featured athletes at the Fast and Female Champ Camp on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 28, at East High. The event is for girls ages 9-19. For information, go to fastandfemale.com.