My annual pilgrimage (with the exception of last year) to the Haig Glacier near Canmore, AB, is one of the only times in the year that I am totally unplugged from my computer and cell phone. It is a short span of days that is uncomfortable for some; to be away from the comfort of home and their bed and the services and entertainment of society. For me, it's a respite from the bustle of modern living. It is a time when the main activities of an athlete are emphasized to the max. Namely: sleeping, eating, training and socializing. To be high above the tree-line in the heart of the rocky mountains adds a sense of remote wonder that brings into focus these key, monastic elements of the athlete lifestyle.
The training days are hard, and start early so as to take advantage of a firm ski track after the overnight freeze. A big training day at the Haig consists of 45 minutes of hiking uphill to the ski track on the glacier. Then there can be up to 3.5 hours of skiing; some classic, some skating. This is followed by a 20 minute hike back to base camp. The afternoon may hold an additional hour of strength exercises or mountain running. All told you are looking at up to approximately 5 hours on the big days. To make matters more challenging, it could be pouring rain all day, or sleeting, or snowing. With a limited wardrobe due to helicopter flight weight restrictions, every shred of ski clothing will soon be drenched on these inclement weather days. To be at the mercy of quickly changing weather conditions adds to the sense of respect for the desolate, yet beautiful, landscape. The one saving grace for these long, cold days is that you are constantly in motion; pushing and gliding and mentally repeating technical cues; your body pulsing with heat from the exertion to fend off the cold. To be worn down by the weather cultivates a sense of appreciation for the training – to endure you must push and glide.
When the weather is nice, the training experience can be pure bliss. The hot reflection off the glacial snow paired with the stillness of the summer mountain air makes for a truly enjoyable experience. Clothing remains dry and skin takes on a healthy glow.
The return to base camp marks the end of the day’s primary training, and the start of gluttony. To throw down big training days and to log 20-25 hours in the week takes a considerable calorie count, especially at the high altitude. Food is in no short supply, as the glacier hosts prepare seemingly endless meals. You soon gain a perpetual sense of bloated contentedness.
The resultant mid-day food coma generally puts athletes under for 1-2 hours of nap time (3+ hours for the completely shattered). Reemerging from the dark sleeping quarters of the upturned half-culvert quasi-geodesic huts, delirium sets in as ones eyes adjust to the bright, bleak moonscape. Snacks and sloth are the chief activities of the afternoon, sometimes rudely interrupted by a run/hike or a strength workout. After the voracious feeding frenzy that is dinner, final chores are completed, and board game hullabaloo commences (this year’s ever-popular Settlers of Catan had emotions running high, to the detriment of some).
This Haig update is new to some, but I have in fact been back in Whistler for exactly one month after my stint out in Canmore. As much as Canmore is skiing central and has some of the best training in Canada, Whistler in August is simply the cat’s meow. Sun and heat and a plethora of beaches to satisfy the aquatic desires of those young and old, those clothed and those not clothed (there is in fact a nude beach in Whistler). And high up in the alpine the snow has finally receded enough to allow for high altitude hikes and runs.
On the training front, things have been going well. Personal bests are being shattered and milestones achieved. But the days are getting shorter. Yesterday Whistler mountain had it’s first snow storm. Winter is coming. (I feel okay saying that since I come from the modern day Winterfell of Yellowknife, for all you snickering Game of Throne fans.)
In this shot I am the only one holding out still wearing a shirt under the hot sun.
photo cred: Chris Manhard
A not so nice day of rain and fog.
photo cred: Chris Manhard
Lots of snow left in the alpine meant an easy boot ski home for lunch after a morning of skiing.
4 weeks ago I skied the CVTC's skate time trial course in hard intervals of 3:00, 3:00, 3:00, 2:40, 1:30, 1:30 for a total of 14:40. Two days ago I skied the TT in 14:56, under the 15 minute mark that I thought would be pretty tough to break. Things are on track.
En route to a good time trial yesterday, I employed a few mental strategies recently learned from reading Tim Noakes' "Lore of Running". An incredible read for all athletes, not just runners. Some good insight from some great minds about what limits race performance.