The End of the Beginning

It’s been a tough month.

I find I’m much less enthusiastic about sharing disappointing news than I am about sharing exciting news. No surprise there, I guess.

As many of you will have seen on my Instagram or Facebook page, race season got cut short. I injured a tendon in my forearm shortly after returning to Bend from the East Coast Super Tours, and 3 weeks of one-armed everything was not enough to get me back to healthy in time for the final races of the season. That’s pretty much the full story.

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My Dartmouth teammate and current housemate Meg after winning a 50k

I missed a total of 4 races, including all the races at Super Tour Finals (Spring Series) and a marathon in Bend. I opted to race a 25k skate with one pole in West Yellowstone in March. (One thing I learned from this experience: Once you’re racing, it really doesn’t matter if you’re skiing with one arm or, I would imagine, any number of other ailments… The Pain Cave hurts the same no matter what!)

I look back on this experience as lightheartedly as I can, but there’s no denying that racing with one pole was demoralizing, and failing to recover in time for Spring Series was a bit of a devastating way to finish my first season of Super Tour racing. The season is short, with only eight events, and as I missed the first two and never planned on going to one of the eight, that left me with a truncated season. There’s no room in a race season for things to go wrong.

However, things do go wrong, and that’s what happened here. Yet when I look back on the season, my overwhelming feeling is that it was a success. This season was the beginning of my life as a semi-nomadic semi-pro skier. At the end of the beginning, I’d like to reflect on three ways in which I feel like this season was an enormous victory:

  1. Logistical Feasibility
  2. Rest, Recovery, and Avoidance of Illness
  3. Mental/Emotional Win

Logistical Feasibility

This time last year I had no idea how to pull off a season of racing Super Tours independent of a team. I wrote in this post from March of 2017 about the challenges and victories of racing independently on a regional circuit in New England. I described my experience of trying to work and train simultaneously to fund a somewhat expensive sport, and I wrote about designing my own training plan and training alone. Those challenges are only magnified on the national scale.

 

The common fears my friends talk about are 1) Not knowing what they want to do with their lives, and 2) Not knowing how to make it happen. Often Fear #1 is really just Fear #2 in disguise. When we don’t see how something is possible, it can be easy to write it off entirely, leaving us with the illusion that we don’t know what we want. I knew I wanted to race the Super Tours this year, but I didn’t know how I would afford it, how I would manage transportation and housing, who would wax my skis. I didn’t know if it was realistic to write my own training plan, and I strongly suspected I would benefit from training buddies. I didn’t know where I wanted be for training, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t where I was living in April 2017. But I’d faced many of these fears on a smaller scale racing in New England last year.

Perhaps more significantly, I learned last year that once I get to the start line, I’m there to race, just like everybody else. That knowledge and that enthusiasm motivated me to find a way to make it work this year. And now at the end of my first year of Super Tours, I know I can do it again next year, and do it better. The biggest challenge is funding. I do everything I can to maximize efficiency in my travels, but race season still involves a lot of flying and a lot of entry fees. Equipment is a major expense every year. I also pay my wax techs individually, as I worked with someone different at every race this year, and they are not being reimbursed by a team for waxing my skis.

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Logistical feasibility also extends beyond simply racing. I’m still really excited about my semi-nomadic life, and I try to take every opportunity I can to explore as I travel for training and racing. I absolutely love writing this blog, working with my athletes in my personal coaching program, and keeping up with you all via social media, and I’m excited to continue building my business. Right now my goals are to continue to coach other enthusiastic athletes, and expand my services as a lifestyle design consultant.

My role models are folks who have created a totally unconventional life for themselves, based on the simple idea that they didn’t want to follow the path most clearly laid out. It doesn’t matter if they had an end vision or not, these free spirits made things up as they went along, making choices and designing a life around one question: Is this what I want to be doing? I’m working really hard to follow their example, and I hope I can inspire others to do the same, because the life I’m living now is making me one of the happiest versions of myself I’ve ever been.

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Unconventional? You bet. Fun? Awesome training? Check, check!

In hindsight, it often seems there was a path all along. But the circumstances that led me to where I am now were half intentional, half accident, and certainly not on a predetermined path. Yet I’ve been semi-nomadic for three years. I’ve been entirely self-employed for a year and a half. I just finished my first season as a semi-pro athlete. My vision, both for what I want and how to make it happen, gets clearer as I move forward. This life is logistically feasible.

Rest, Recovery, and Avoidance of Illness

Possibly the most critical piece of race season is not getting sick. By the time racing starts, the training we’ve done in the preceding seven or eight months is what matters. As my dad used to say, the cake has been made, racing is just icing. Sure, we try to optimize workouts throughout race season, but the bigger goal becomes recovering, and staying on top of our health. This was my most successful season ever in regards to avoiding illness, as I didn’t get sick once from first race to last. This was amazing.

Stress and lack of sleep are my main risk factors for illness, so naturally I try to limit these during race season. But a little bit of stress is unavoidable (i.e. Lost ski bag after flying to Salt Lake from Nationals), and lack of sleep is a natural result of time zone changes and long travel days. So yes, the winter included some stress and some lost sleep, but somehow I skated through from November to April without getting sick once. My mandatory 1-2 day(s) per week off from training, 9+ hours of sleep every night, diligence regarding the little details that promote post-workout recovery (changing my shirt, getting a snack, etc.) and limited energy expenditures outside of training and racing paid off in a big way.

However, as soon as I realized that racing at Spring Series was not going to be a physical option, I got really sick. The body, granted permission, shut down in a serious way. That happens. Sometimes it’s the hype and intensity of racing that keeps me healthy. When I let my guard down and start to recover, I feel worse before I feel better.

That’s definitely what is happening now. I’m in the middle of a six-week recovery period before starting summer training. The goal is to recover from my overtraining issue last year, recover from race season, and come into May feeling rested, strong, and super antsy to get back to training 🙂

Mental/Emotional Win

Perhaps the best part of this season is that I had the time of my life doing it. Even though I started the training season with Lyme Disease and a partially ruptured achilles, overtrained from July through September and consequently missed the first two races of the season, lost my ski bag in what was possibly the worst travel day of my life post-Nationals (I did get the bag back!), achieved none of my results-goals, dealt with a second tendon injury that made brushing my teeth excruciating, raced a 25k with only one pole, missed Super Tour Finals, and then collapsed into a heap of flu-like misery for a week. Despite all of this, I’m coming out of the season smiling. Why? Because that’s just the highlight reel of the worst moments, and every season has moments that would make any sane person question their life choices. There’s so much more to it than that.

After coming through my Athletic Identity Crisis, I was extremely fortunate to find that I still loved ski racing. After racing a regional circuit last year, I wanted to make the jump to national level this year. The primary goal, above all training goals and results-goals and logistics, was to enjoy the process and come out of the season happy. That meant a couple unconventional decisions, like my day of alpine skiing at Alta the day after Nationals, or my three weeks spent car-camping last summer. Were those the absolute perfect things to do for my training and racing? No. But I minimized the negative physical impact, and the mental and emotional well-being that these decisions promoted was worth tired legs ten times over. I would make those decisions again in a heartbeat.

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Alta, Utah

But it’s not just the decisions to step outside the racing bubble that made this year such a happy and fulfilling one. I felt every step of the way that I was working toward something that mattered to me. That I was simultaneously creating and living a path that I wanted to be on. I’m honing my body as a ski racer. I’m testing my limits, seeing what I can do. I’m traveling. I’m building a business and a brand based around a lifestyle that combines the things I’m passionate about in a unique way. All of this makes me the athlete that I am when I arrive on the start line. That athlete is the happiest athlete I’ve ever been.

***

This is the end of the beginning. I’m no longer in my “first season racing Super Tours”. I’m incredibly stoked to say I WILL be racing on this circuit again next year, and I’m working hard to use everything I learned this year to minimize chaos and maximize performance in the coming year.

As I mentioned, I’m now in the middle of a six week recovery block. I’m training, but not every day, and I’m not doing any intensity. Lots of rock climbing, some easy trail runs (testing out that achilles. It’s healing!), enjoying the late season snow… And I’m traveling! I hit the road from Bend to spend a week in the desert of Southern Utah, then headed North to Jackson, Wyoming to visit friends. I’m driving to California this weekend, where I’ll be cheering on my buddy who is racing an Ultramarathon (Sonoma 50). I’m flying out to Hawaii next week, for my first visit to the islands. When I cancelled my trip to Spring Series I was able to re-book my PDX-BOS flight to a flight to Kauai! So excited for this adventure. We’ll be backpacking around the island for eight days. Watch for social media updates!

 

Thank you again to everyone who has helped me along the path I’m creating: the folks who hosted me this winter for races and last summer and fall as I traveled, my generous host family who is making it possible for me to train in Bend, all the friends and supporters who donated to my fundraising campaign last year, my personal sponsors, Caldwell Sport and Sunbutter who take care of my equipment needs and my favorite allergy-safe snack, the athletes I work with who continue to inspire me and remind me that I should take a bit of my own advice and rest a little more, and my friends and followers who read this blog and like my Instagram photos. You guys keep me going.

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My best ski bud, Lizzo, and I in Gatineau, QC

If you want to be a part of the journey, here are three awesome things you can do:

  1. Share this post, my website, or my social media channels (Instagram @Carly3ski, Facebook: Endurance Efficacy) with your friends. Seriously, that’s one of the best ways to show your support, and it helps a ton.
  2. Send me a message! I LOVE hearing what sort of nomadic or athletic adventures y’all get up to. Let’s chat.
  3. If you know anyone who would benefit from chatting about their own training, or would like to talk about ways to creatively design an out-of-the-box lifestyle, mention me to them. I am actively building the lifestyle design side of my business, and am collaborating with other free spirits free of charge right now. I am also accepting athletes right now for my personal coaching service, so as the weather warms and spring fever hits, I’d love to help other athletes start their summer training right.

As always, you can join my email list here, and be in touch here. Thanks everyone, happy spring!

Carly

 

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