• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • A Jackrabbit among the pros

      October 11, 2012

      Caroline Bisson - “Now you are starting to look like a skier!”, says Para-Nordic National Team Head Coach Robin McKeever as he watches me haul my body up the last portion of Highlander Trail – a 1.5K beginners’ loop I treaded over a hundred times since my arrival.

      It is day 15 of an 18 day training camp. There was no need to ask what I could possibly have looked like in the first two weeks, the answer comes quickly enough: some kind of tourist “shuffling on skis” Robin tells me. I laugh. A glance at my wrist confirms that I must, indeed, be doing something different. My heart rate is hitting the roof while my legs are screaming for me to stop this nonsense.

      With a mere three years of skiing experience under my belt – and not a clue of what a three-week intensive training camp entails – I jumped on the opportunity to boost my skiing abilities to live an adventure among the pros when invited to join the Para-Nordic team at its annual summer camp in Southern New Zealand.

      Wait a minute… New Zealand?!

      Thirty-two brutal hours later, I landed in the midst of astonishing peaks next to a field of grazing sheep. A van drove us from Queenstown though the rugged mountains and up a narrow serpentine dirt road all the way to Snow Farm Lodge in the high plateau of the Pisa range.

      Constructed on a former sheep farm by John and Mary Lee in the 1990s the Snow Farm is New Zealand’s only cross-country skiing resort. Standing at 4,500 feet and with over 50 kilometres of tracks overlooking the Southern Alps, it attracts some of the world’s top Nordic and Para-Nordic skiers every summer, including our own national team.

      On my first day, I stepped out under a shining sky, excited to be back on snow, eager to explore the scenic network of treeless trails (quite a change from the Gatineau’s!) and looking forward to doing cool drills and learning tons of new stuff. This is a national ski camp; there must be all sorts of excitement, right?

      Well, no.

      As it turned out, training was not all fun and games. It was somewhat routine and monotonous work. I spent countless hours on the bunny circuit, repeating the same drills over and over – to get my body upright, my ankles down, my shoulders straight, my arm swinging and the momentum going – while the team loaded my brain with information on intensity levels, lactate build-up, fluid intakes, best training practices, racing tactics and coffee-drinking, leaving both my body and brain exhausted by day’s end.

      There was the occasional race, but few distractions besides skiing. No cooking or cleaning to do; no commute or city rush; no meetings to attend, presentations to do or papers to hand out; and huge gaps of downtime to mull over the day’s lessons. It was a unique opportunity to rest, refuel and improve in ways I could never have done back home.

      I would wake up to the sound of the grooming machine or the Russian team coming in from their morning run. After the usual oatmeal breakfast, it was out the door for a 2 to 3-hour ski interrupted only by a change of boots or an intensive technique session with Robin. After lunch, I would inevitably crash into bed for a long snooze while the others would chat, browse the Web or catch up with their family. Out for another ski or strength session before dinner and we would call it a day. The evening offered some time to review the day’s work, plan the next and learn from the others.

      I repeated this routine day after day… until my shuffle turned into something called skiing.

      It was highly rewarding and inspiration came from everywhere I looked; from my fellow Canadians and all the other high-performance skiers with whom I shared the tracks. They too would spend countless hours alone repeating the same motions.

      In his book Outliers, award-winning author Malcolm Gladwell claims that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours – what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule. Under my current training regime, it will take me well over twenty years to become a pro!

      Three weeks was certainly not enough. But it was enough to teach me that improvement is a sneaky process that requires infinite patience, a perfectionist streak, a steely resolve and a relentless commitment to repetition.

      I’m in.

      Colette Bourgonje(L) & Caroline Bisson (R)                    Sunrise over the Southern Alps

      Snow Farm Merino Glen                                   Winners of the Merino Muster (Brian McKeever on the right)