Welcome to my blog! This is a site where you can keep up to date on my life as a full-time athlete in the sport of cross country skiing. You can expect regular updates throughout the year as I report on training, racing, life in general and maybe even some school. Sponsors, family, friends and fans: Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Regaining health after a long-term funk

The form of this blog post was undecided for the longest of times. After returning west from Easterns at Nakkertok, I had a special opportunity to take part in some races at ex-US wax tech, Nat Brown's ranch, located near my girlfriend's cabin in Princeton, BC. There should have been a blog post devoted just to that weekend, but my body was in such a state of constant lethargy and sleepiness that I could hardly appreciate the spectacular venue and overall excitement surrounding the informal (yet extremely well-organized) races. I raced one day (nearly collapsed on course and then had a sudden urge to sleep upon crossing the finish line) and skipped the next.

The beginning of my staleness syndrome, but still enjoying the sunshine at Nat's ranch with the burly and highly academic Stef Sander-Green. 

Returning to Whistler, I took it very easy in training for the next two weeks leading up to Western Canadian Champs in hopes of turning things around. I did a set of short intervals the week before the races that felt pretty good, so I was off to race in Grande Prairie for the first time in my life (hard to believe, being from Yellowknife). Western Champs was a complete train wreck for me. I had a great pair of skis and felt surprisingly good in the skate sprint, but I crashed in qualifying and was unable to move through my quarter final. The next day was worse and even a little bit frightening.

Over the past 4 years I have been dealing with an unusual heart condition that comes and goes. At it's worst, during interval training my heart will start beating at up to 250 bpm, essentially just flapping and not pumping blood very effectively, and my workout would need to be adjusted. I have been able to control the racing heart rate by squatting down and taking a small break. This increased blood pressure somehow resets my heart into a normal rhythm and will remain so as long as I don't push it again that day. During these spells when my heart is acting up (usually a minimum of a week in length), I have limited the amount of intensity I do as much as possible to avoid triggering the arrhythmia. Because the tachycardia had always been triggered during the rest phase of hard intervals, I was surprised when it happened in a race for the first time at Westerns. In the 15 km classic race, I felt my heart start to flap midway through the race. I started to feel extremely terrible, my limbs and breathing started to seize up and refused to keep working. My race was done for the day. I also pulled the plug on the next day's 30 km. More on this heart condition at the end of the post...

Starting out my skate qualifier. The race was going well until I went over a section of ice on a corner and hit the deck.

15 km classic race at Western Canadian Championships

Back in Whistler, I was glad to have a month-long break before racing Nationals on my home course. This was a good time to feel things out and get the body back on track with some normal training, but to my frustration, I remained in this long-term funk. I had a couple okay races at Nationals and only one disappointing race. I failed to qualify for the sprint heats for the first time in my life, slipping and sliding all over the place as I struggled to get grip in the classic sprint qualifier. I switched my focus to a much anticipated trip to California with my girlfriend...

10 km skate at Canadian National Championships in Whistler

Believe it or not, we went to California for more ski racing. US Supertour Spring Series were taking place high up in the mountains in Truckee, California, racing high up at 2200 meters for better snow cover after the worst snow year in a century. I raced three races; a 3.3 km skate prologue, a 15 km classic mass start, and a classic sprint. The three races without a rest day in between and at that elevation made for some discomfort and tough mental battles out on course. Despite this, I skied to one of my best results of the year, a 16th place in the prologue in a tough field of Americans vying for positions on their Olympic team for next year. The next day's classic race was gruelling and I had difficulty getting purchase with the stiff skis I had selected. The final day's classic sprint was inclement weather, with rain and sleet and snow causing all sorts of ski and wax combinations to be tested on course. I opted for double poling on my race wax from Thursday's skate race since I couldn't get proper grip in warm-up and figured the course was moderately flat anyways. Aaaand for the second time in my life, I didn't qualify to race heats.

Honda Fit in its element. 2 road bikes, 3 people, racing gear and camping gear, driving from Whistler to California.

Over the course of the next two weeks, Kajsa and I visited the following places on our camping road trip vacation (there were a few days not camping too): Yosemite, Death Valley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Francisco, Sonoma, and everywhere in between. A great way to unplug and unwind after a bit of a tumultuous season.

Dante's view with Death Valley in the background.

Lowest point in North America!

San Francisco was the highlight of the trip. Can't wait to go back!

There are still good things to take from this past season. I qualified to race my first World Cup, which was my primary goal for the season. In the summer, I achieved the best shape of my life and set records in both of the CVTC uphill roller ski time trials (shape that was gradually subdued after a knee injury in July that I am still dealing with today).

Québec City World Cup and the highlight of my ski career.

But with less than optimal health heading into this next training season, I am changing things up a bit over the coming months in hopes of being able to complete 100% top-quality training come July. I just got heart surgery for my supraventricular tachycardia. The procedure was a routine and safe procedure that has a short recovery time of one week. I walked into the hospital with a heart that flaps erratically while doing intensity, and walked out at the end of the day with a heart that is ready to pump full strokes of blood. Let me tell you, being a young person with an unfortunate heart problem that prevents me from doing what I love to its full extent, I feel pretty fortunate to live somewhere where such a high-tech procedure can be performed by a very reassuring and young, highly specialized doctor, FOR FREE, and get me back in action fully recovered in a matter of mere days. I was also relieved to hear that my condition, although frightening, was never life-threatening - only performance limiting.

Directly in the centre of the shot is one of the four holes they went in through. Size of a black fly bite.

Here are the other three, located at the top of my leg. (bruising is from local anaesthetic needles)

As for my knee, I am awaiting an MRI that will shed light on the instability issue I have had since last summer. I also have a fantastic physio that I have been working with whose aggressive techniques are proving effective in relieving the knee and quite performance enhancing.

You may be starting to think that I sound like an old car that's past it's prime and is starting to have some major breakdowns. But truth is, my fitness and experience have only been improving each year and I feel that my best days and results are yet to come. I have a long-term focus in this sport and I hope to be training and racing at a high level for many more years.

With lower training volumes planned for May and June because of my focus on my health, I will be attending a couple classes at Quest University in Squamish. I look forward to this change of pace and the unique educational experience offered at the seminar-style liberal arts and sciences school. Ecology and Astrophysics, here I come!

A Callaghan Valley photo shoot with my friend, Jen Tabbernor.

Every day is a spring day in Whistler.