There are a few places I'm fortunate enough to travel to that feel familiar. Providing a feeling of ease, and though it might change subtly, it feels very much the same. After months of uncertainty, many of us hope to return to those familiar, comforting places again. I've experienced a routine that I'm very confident provides me with the best possible performances throughout the past seasons. After doing it a few times, I have the utmost belief that a schedule of training, camp locations, etc., will get me to my best. But maybe that best had its limits? I have found it interesting to go through my 'normal' training schedule the past two training seasons and not repeat those camps that have given me confidence in the past. The curiosity to see if doing something differently yield better results. Maybe the limiting factor was what I had been doing? Now going somewhere else or doing something differently could be the key to unlocking greater performance. I have been fascinated by what I could learn by not simply repeating the same training camp schedule because it wasn't possible. How would my body react to the newer challenges? Mostly staying close to home, exploring all these areas close by that I hadn't explored yet. The mountains are spellbinding for their ability to hide so much amazement, but the fun is getting out there and seeing what you can discover.
It has been great to explore the playground and my growth with the greater possibilities that can still result in better training. That said, there is a special feeling going back to what you know and trust to make you better. That trust and confidence are essential, especially as we near the Games. I had that sense of ease and familiarity again when we returned to Mammoth Lakes, California, for an altitude training camp in mid-September. Though we were forced not to make the trip last year, that skipped year added to this year's experience. If you return year after year, progress is perceived to be less, maybe even small enough to not notice. After skipping a year, now I was looking at two years of progression, improvement. When a run I did two or three years before took me nearly four hours, this year I'm looking to fill an extra 45 minutes, as I finished in three fifteen.
Another example was in an intensity. Starting from the same rock as I have always done; on my first (which was at an easier intensity), I virtually matched my very best from two years previous (when it was final interval and going for all the marbles). It feels pretty good when you start an intensity matching your best. It only gets fun after that.
So many things of the camp felt that little bit easier. Whether the roads felt flatter or shorter. The climbs felt less steep (most days…). Easier to sleep up high or knowing how best to plan recovery for each workout. After so much uncertainty, it feels great to return to what was once considered our regular training. I take confidence from that as we head into the final stretches of major training before an incredibly important Winter. The first skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre is days away. The temperatures have suddenly shifted from pleasant Fall to late Fall. The other morning, I felt like I needed a completely different closet, especially after spending the past three weeks where I only wore shorts, usually a t-shirt (or no shirt). Then a couple of days after returning, I'm going to training in the morning at -7—full tights, base layers, jackets, vests, headbands, and much warmer gloves. I had even forgotten how much extra time it takes to scrap the windows of the car.
The training camp was a fantastic three weeks for me. I felt excited and motivated going into the camp. I usually take a couple of days to 'warm up' to a camp location, but I think those first few days were better than my typical response. The second and third weeks are where I excel. From the first day, I had some promising indicators that I was there in good shape. Starting a three-week camp, the first week is about making smart decisions that best set you up for the latter half of the camp. A fantastic area I went to this year for the first time was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. One of the steepest sections of road I've skied up, but a good time skiing with the guys up over 3000m before switching to running shoes to run in the area with these incredible ancient pines. Some are said to be the oldest trees on Earth, nearing 5000 years old. With only a bit of knowledge of the surrounding trees, there was a uniquely spiritual sense of running amongst the ancients. The next day I had an amazing pair of sessions, with intensity in the morning, where I felt the best I had all Summer. I greatly enjoyed that session. I had the feeling of being able to open the taps, but I was very much in control throughout. I was going fast but never lost the sensation that I had a gear or two in reserve if required, which was perfect for that intensity. I didn't expect to feel as strong as I did in the afternoon while focusing on strength on roller skis.
We used several locations for workouts that I could describe vividly. Like Green Church Rd, Round Valley, 'ski striding hill,' Rock Creek, or the pathway to Horseshoe Lake, and others. That goes along with the familiarity of this Mammoth camp. Maybe that made the camp special? Where we had opportunities to try a few different roads or trails. As I shared earlier, the Bristlecone Pine Forest area, but a few others like in Mammoth, the Scenic Loop to Minaret Vista, or the newly paved road to South Lake.
In past Mammoth camps, I've had some of my most epic runs during this camp. Since the training season started, I've looked forward to seeing this year's edition. Midway through the camp, we drove to Yosemite National Park for a long run. Yosemite did not disappoint. At Tenaya Lake, I started heading towards Clouds Rest, which was to be the highest point of the day's run at just over 3000m—at the summit, taking in the spectacular view of the Yosemite valley extending out before us. I was running with members of the National Ski Team, Senior, Development and NextGen. I was reasonably familiar with the descent off the top of Clouds Rest from a previous year's run. To my surprise, I soon found myself leading the group (it might have split up into a few smaller groups because of the pace) to what would be the lowest point of the run.
We charged downhill for the next 30 minutes, from Clouds Rest at 3005m to the bottom of the trail at 2195m. We regathered for the most part, and after a brief discussion, several groups parted ways because of different objectives. I headed northward with a few on the John Muir Trail. After about 3km, we came across a series of intersections; these were critical as depending on which trail you chose determined the length of your workout. I went for the goldilocks option, what I called the up-the-middle. To my left was the shorter option; to my right, the longer option. All would end up back at the same spot, more or less.
I would end up running most of the next two hours solo, as the guys I had been with decided to go for the longer option. There were a few moments that were strangely peaceful during my solo time. I felt I could get lost in the vastness of where I was but enjoyed a sense of freedom by myself. There might have been a moment or two where I worried I would be longer than my teammates, making them wait for me. As it happened, I merged onto the main return trail as my teammates entered the same intersection. Meaning I was with the team for the last 30 minutes of the run. You could not have planned it any better! Now, minutes before I ran into my team, I had quite the experience of running into a bear. I soon dubbed Bobo because he wasn't that big and had no picnic basket. I wondered earlier in the run about bears, I know there are bears in California and was pretty sure they would be in Yosemite, but I had never heard of any issues or sightings from other athletes or teams. I can now confirm there are bears, or at least one.
Overall, it was great to be back in Mammoth Lakes for the camp. I was mixing the familiar with new experiences. I can't think of any other way I would want to wrap up the Summer and transition into the final Fall block of training before the competitive season starts, which is only two weeks away and continues straight through until Christmas if I want. I'm excited to test myself in the coming weeks. It has been a long time focused on the training, with very few opportunities to test the competitive performance. Hopefully, I'm racing over the next several weeks, which will be fun, but my focus is where it needs to be - on being at my best come March.