Friday, January 6, 2012

What I learned XC Skiing

Welcome to 2012!  I spent the most of the past holiday season throughout the Midwest, but I was fortunate to spend Christmas and the days following with my sister up in Steamboat Springs, CO.  It was a great trip, but one of the stand-out memories was my first attempt at cross country skiing.  Since I'm a big-time professional endurance athlete, this was supposed to be a sport that suited me perfectly, so Erin signed us up for lessons and bought me a 2 day ski rental for my birthday.  Not the easy Classic style skis, but the more challenging Skate style skis... How nice.  I have blocked out the first few hours of the lesson, but here is an idea of what I remember:

By the second day, I had made progress enough to pass as a beginner and had learned a great deal about attempting something new.  Since I work with many athletes learning to swim and learning to be better athletes, I figured I'd share my observations. I'll be posting these in two parts (I had A LOT to learn...)

1.  Don't Be Afraid to Fail:  My sister made the comment that she's never seen me struggle before...  I would definitely disagree, but I believe that many times I have been lucky to pick things up quickly.  I have failed a great deal in life, but like to say that I'm too stubborn to notice.  From my first, eye-opening fall on the skis I knew that I would keep trying until I was no longer a 'failure'.  I embraced the fact that I was going to fall many, many times before I was going to succeed.  I could have stayed down and saved myself quite a bit of pain and embarrassment, but the end result would have been a negative experience instead of positive one.

2.  Enjoy the Process:  I was in Ccolorado with my sister and her boyfriend on a beautiful day in December!  How could I not enjoy myself?  Over the course of my two day experience, I noticed plenty of people who did not.  I was probably one of the worst out there at first, but I was enjoying the challenge.  I heard and saw a bunch of people spouting frustration and looking dejected at the first fall.  Call it my competitive nature, but I wasn't going to let the skis win.  I enjoyed learning from my mistakes and was proud of myself for staying up long enough to wave to my sister and grin like an idiot. 

3.   Listen to your Coach:  This may seem self-serving to my athletes, but it's true.  We had a great instructor who was patient and clear with her instruction (and secretly amused with a pro athlete looking like a fool!).  I think she told me over 1000 times to lift from my feet and not my hip, and I SWORE I was doing what she told me to do...  It finally clicked after hours of practice and I couldn't believe that I really wasn't doing what she was telling me!  Having an expert observe and comment is invaluable and even an educated observer like my sister throwing in comments was helpful once I got going.  In short, leave all premise of knowledge behind and really try to learn something new!

4.  Relax:  If you've worked with me in the water as a new swimmer, I think I say this more than anything else.  It's easy to say and hard to do!  I "looked like I was taking a dump" for most of the ski lesson and really had a hard time letting go and trusting my body.  Every time I started to get the hang of it, I'd start over-thinking and end up on my butt.  There is a reason why the best athletes make it look effortless!  They work hard at learning to be relaxed and efficient.  While I didn't achieve either on skis, I at least got close!

5. Know When to Stop:  I commented to my instructor that I'd ski all night until I got it right.  She answered back that if I skied all night I would definitely get it wrong!  Once I fatigued and my form (or what I had of form) broke down, I'd be practicing doing things incorrectly.  No matter how determined you are to get something right, being foolish about how you go about it is no way to improve.  Not to say I didn't work on form while fatigued, which is probably the most important way to learn a sport such as swimming,  I just knew when I was physically at my limits.  There is no harm in calling it a day as long as you're ready to attack the next day...  Sometimes a bit of pride swallowing goes a long way!

That's it for part one.  I'm off to train the swim/bike/run, but I always have my XC skiing lessons in the back of my mind.  Until next time...

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