As I sit looking out of our condo window in Deer Valley, the bright sunshine illuminates the beautiful fall colours in the valley below; bright reds, yellows and oranges. It reminds me of fall back home in Ontario, and since I haven’t been home in the fall for eight years now, it is a welcome and comforting sight. Our team has been here for five days, and we have yet to see a single cloud in the sky. We’re here in Deer Valley, (just a few miles up from Park City) for a 12-day high altitude training camp.
Thanks to an invaluable tip from a friend on the Canadian Cross Country ski team, we’re staying at the Black Bear Lodge in Deer Valley, which is quite possibly one of the most affluent ski towns in North America. The town is quiet at this time of year, which lends to incredibly cheap prices: our condos are only $40 US per night!
Upon arrival late in the evening last Tuesday, we opened the door to our condo with much shock and disbelief. Beautiful pine walls, slate floors, leather couches, a full kitchen (with a dishwasher!), two bedrooms with king size beds, two washrooms, a jetted tub, and laundry! We were incredulous, and immediately questioned the likelihood that it could be only $40 a night for all three of us. After checking with the coaches, we found out that the condos in fact came to $48 per night, including taxes.
For those of us who have traveled throughout Europe and North America and stayed in countless small, cramped hotel rooms, the decadence was somewhat overwhelming. There is a sign on our coffee table indicating that the unit we are staying in is up for sale for $565,000!
Not to focus too much on our lavish surroundings, as we are here of course, for a training camp. After we settled in to our new lodgings our attention turned to training. This camp is primarily a cycling camp, and serves as our last block of volume before the competitive season begins.
Training at altitude can be a challenge, it’s hard enough on the body to acclimatize to 9000 feet, let alone train in it. It is a fine balance between going too hard and not going hard enough. Having been to altitude before, I knew what to expect during the first few of days: a high heart rate, increased rate of breathing, dehydration, and trouble sleeping.
After a few days of easy training we started out yesterday morning to do a five-hour ride with some long, intense intervals. The loop mapped out by the coaches left some of us a little uneasy, as we were riding on a busy state highway! We soon found a quieter road with a good hill for the intervals and set out to start the workout.
I climbed the hill three times, each time stopping at 15 minutes. I felt very good during the intervals, my heart rate was high, my legs felt strong and I made it the same distance each time. By the end of the third one I knew I had done a good workout and a small group of us headed home, a 40km ride back to Park City. We descended for a long time, heading away from Park City for a while, before looping back on a different highway.
I started to feel a little fatigue as the intervals and sheer length of the ride, 125km, began to take its toll. Every hill seemed monumental and I wondered how I would ever make it back! I knew somehow that I would not bonk, and although I fought with myself to maintain a positive attitude, as each kilometre slowly passed by, I loathed my bike more and more. I ate all the bars I had left, conserved some water and struggled on. With my head hung low, I concentrated only on getting home. Every pedal stroke left me feeling weaker and weaker.
For the last 20km, I suffered. If not for my teammates, some suffering as much as me, others fairing rather well, I would certainly have found a nice patch of grass by the side of the road and laid down for a nap. By the end of the ride I wanted to get off my bike more than I ever had before. In my state of exhaustion I repeatedly declared that I would not, under any circumstances, go to play games tomorrow, nor would I skate on Monday and would definitely be taking at least two days off.
Today is different. Today I am most thankful for Sunday; a rest day. I feel like a different person, compared to the one I was yesterday after the grueling five hour ride. My irrational behaviour and lack of perspective seem like a distant memory. It doesn’t even seem like the ride was that hard. I have eaten, slept and recovered.
Such is the life of the athlete, a constant flux between two extremes: at once being completely exhausted and the next day ready to train yet again. With the exception of peaking once or twice a season and time off in the spring, this cycle of fatigue and readiness to train is continuous and most challenging.
This morning we drove down to Park City to play games in the park. The energy level of the team was considerably lower than in previous days, thanks to yesterday’s ride. So we played kickball, California style, in the baseball diamond at the park. It was fun, fun to laugh, poke fun at each other, and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, fun to be a team. It is days like these, ones filled with hard training and ones left for fun and games, that remind me of how thankful I am to be a part of this team and how happy I am to be a speed skater.
After a team dinner in Park City this evening, we’ll return back to Black Bear Lodge and enjoy another night’s sleep, before waking up tomorrow morning, ready to train again.