Winter Training: Do Something Else!

GRP Rower Wes Vear racing at the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships here in Craftsbury.

from Troy Howell, Craftsbury’s Director of Sculling:

I remember thinking when I moved from Virginia to Texas what a profound advantage I was about to have over the vast majority of other rowers in the United States. I’ll be able to row year-round! Think of the mileage! No long blocks of endless meters on the erg, staring at the monitor or the wall behind it! Greatness, until that got a little monotonous and I added triathlons and Crossfit for variety, novelty, and other virtues. Some people might tell you “oh, that’s not sport-specific enough – you’ll get slower if you’re not sport-specific.” That hasn’t been my experience at all, and in fact the opposite has been true: my biggest jumps in performance all seem to correspond to years in which something happened that got me jazzed about training again, even if the source of the excitement was not specific to rowing and sculling.

Returning to the move to Texas/year-round rowing gambit, after fifteen years there, I turned the idea on its head and moved to Craftsbury, where if the original logic held, I would be at a profound disadvantage; back to the extreme winter erg grind, hundreds fewer miles on the water, and between that and aging, becoming ever slower. That turned out to be nonsense too, thanks to 100+ kilometers of Nordic ski trails less than a hundred yards from my office door. In fact, I believe that Nordic skiing has done as much to improve my sculling from 2009-2019 as sculling itself has. 

It surprises some people to hear that most of our GRP scullers spend more time on skis than they do on the erg from December through February – even our marketing director raised his eyebrows at me and implied that I was stretching the truth when I put that in the camp description materials for our recent Skiing For Scullers program, but it has been a fact for the vast majority of our year-round athletes since the program’s inception in 2012.

Dan Roock established the tradition in the winter of 2012 by writing only two prescribed erg workouts per week into the training program and prescribing our local Tuesday Night Ski Race series as an expectation. That race instantly became the highlight of the week for nearly everybody on GRPRow, and although most everyone spent a fair amount of time beyond the two benchmark workouts spinning the flywheels of the ergs in our gym, when the weather was anything but foul you could also find GRP scullers skiing for far more kilometers than they erged. And what we found is that when we got back on the water in early March at the outset of our southern training trip, no one had any trouble hitting the splits they expected to see and most everyone felt fresher for having made an entirely different sport a key component of winter training.

So I’m going to get behind three basic ideas and make a few simple recommendation based on them: 1) Something less than twelve months a year of sport-specific training is optimal for rowers and scullers. How much less? Dunno. For our purposes, though, let’s say “a few weeks”. 10-15 has been working like a charm for us here. 2) Every athlete gets more out of training that they’re excited about doing, even if it’s not sport-specific. So by all means, if 5 X 5’ on 5’ rest still excites you, do it up – make it one of your benchmarks. But if you’re bludgeoning your way six days a week through endless erging because you’ve swallowed the sport-specificity argument, flush out your headgear, doofus, and find something else to do that you actually ARE excited about. 3) Trust your training. Once you’ve committed to a basic plan for winter training, whether the plan is traditional, cross-training dominant, or a hybrid with erg-specific benchmarks and another sport playing a key role as I’ve described above, the biggest determinant of the plan’s success will be between your ears. If you think it will work, you’ll get a better result than if you doubt that – which is not to say you can spend the winter playing Call of Duty, or perhaps knitting wool caps, as your training program (good luck convincing yourself to believe that will work).

The final word, then, is well-summarized by something Declan Connolly used to say in his physiology lectures at the sculling camp: “If you want to go faster, you have to go fast.” Get excited. Get outside. Do something else for awhile. Stay in touch with your benchmarks if you feel you need to. And when spring comes, you’ll be ready.  

Note: Check out our Tech Tips Archive for content like this from past years, and subscribe to our Sculling eNewsletter to receive future editions in your inbox!

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MNC Skiathlon Photos

On Sunday, the Mansfield Nordic Club hosted their annual Skiathlon at the Outdoor Center. A skiathlon race consists of a classic leg followed by a skate leg, with an equipment transition in the middle. This sort of race requires adeptness at both skate and classic techniques, as well as the ability to quickly change skis and poles! The youngsters; ‘Lollipoppers’ and 1st and 2nd graders, only had a classic portion, but everyone else from 3rd graders to those in their 80’s did both skate and classic! Lollipoopers raced approximately 0.3k, grades 1/2 raced 1/5k, graders 3/4 raced 2k, grades 5/6 did 3k, and grades 7/8 did 4k. The open races completed 14k. Thanks to Dave Priganc (DP) and John Lazenby (JL) for the awesome photos! Results for the open race and 7/8th graders can be found here.

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Photos from the Lake Placid Eastern Cup/SuperTour

Thanks to Dave Priganc and Paul Bierman for the awesome photos of our Craftsbury skiers at the Lake Placid Eastern Cup and SuperTour! Day one photos of the classic sprint are all from Dave Priganc, day two of the classic mass start are a mix of photos from Dave and Paul.

Classic Sprint Photos- January 26

Classic Mass Start- January 27

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Takeaways from ‘Skiing for Runners’ Camp

Last weekend we hosted a four-day ‘Skiing for Runners’ Camp. Our days were filled with ski clinics, snowy runs, core-warming saunas, and snowshoe walks under the stars. Although the majority of the athletes had spent little – or no – time on cross country skis, they were ready and eager to try it all. During our ski clinics, the coaches introduced technique fundamentals and focused on helping the athletes find a stable and efficient body position on skis. The athletes then practiced one-ski drills, no-pole drills, and downhills as they got the feel for gliding by ski rather than running by foot.

By the final day of camp, many of the athletes opted to venture out onto Craftsbury’s trail system to test their legs on hillier and more technical terrain. It was remarkable to see their progress after three shorts days – a testament to both the attentiveness of the coaches and the good-humored bravery of the athletes! Perhaps most impressive was the group’s collective resolve to take risks, be vulnerable, and try something new.

As runners, we often feel the need to pound the pavement mile after mile, day after day. It’s easy to fall into this monotonous trap, as a disciplined running routine can feel rewarding and reliable. It’s beneficial, however, to mix up our training. The mind and body need variety in order to be challenged and to stay healthy. In many ways, Craftsbury Outdoor Center itself epitomizes the multi-sport training approach; supporting a plethora of endurance programs and encouraging varied training for Craftsbury junior and elite athletes alike.

Skiing for Runners Camp was a great reminder that there is nothing quite as refreshing as a day spent moving outdoors. Though at times the thought of facing the cold may have been daunting, the group displayed an unfaltering determination to adventure in the wintery Northeast Kingdom each day. At camp or at home, the biggest obstacle to winter training is often layering up and stepping out the door. So, take a note from our Skiing for Runners athletes. As the polar vortex continues to sweep the nation, bundle up and get outside! Walk, run, snowshoe, ski, fatbike, or ice skate; it’s not the miles that count, but rather getting out and moving in the world.

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The unrefined art of pool running

On the heels of an injury post, it felt fitting to pay homage to an injured runner’s frenemy: Pool running. I have met very few people who truly enjoy pool running. In fact, I can think of only one friend who claims to love it. Because what is there to love about running in the pool, really?

The scene: You willingly enter a space that, more often than not, has no windows, poor lighting, and the sterile smell of chlorine.

The activity: You strap an awkwardly-fitting flotation belt around your waist and proceed to run while floating in the water. The pool clock loudly displays your less-than-satisfying elapsed time as you slowly inch your way back and forth from one end of the pool to the other.

The onlookers: You inevitably receive quizzical looks from your fellow pool-dwellers. Children and seniors alike gaze at you with both curiosity and concern, confused why this floating head is bobbing along looking so focused, yet bored.

The result: You get out of a 60-minute pool session with no data on distance run, elevation gained, or mile splits hit. There’s no satisfying way of quantifying a pool running session; even heart rate data can be dispiriting, as it can be challenging to maintain a high rate while pool running.

All that said, there is a reason we runners take to the pool in times of both injury and health. When injured, it helps us keep in touch with the sport we love, stay connected to our goals, and reminds us to appreciate times of good health. When healthy, it offers a low-impact cross-training option and helps flush accumulated fatigue out of tired legs.

Now that you’re convinced to hop in the pool, here are some tips for honing your pool-running craft:

  1. Find a friend! We can all agree a couple of floating heads bobbing in the water is far better than one singular bobbing head.
  2. If you’re really fancy, get waterproof wireless headphones and dive in to your current audiobook, podcast, or killer playlist. Save your favorite listening items for the pool ONLY. It will make the pool feel special, in a way.
  3. Find a pool with windows – do they exist?
  4. Accept and re-frame the monotony. Boring hours in the pool are great mental prep for marathon training and racing!
  5. Don’t expect it to be more than it is. Is pool running fun? Not really. Is it going to be exceptionally boring at times? Yes. Is being cleared to pool run better than nothing? Of course. Is it a step towards being a stronger, healthier runner? Absolutely.
  6. Mix it up! Do fartleks in the pool. 1 minute on / 1 minute off, 2 minutes steady / 30 seconds hard / 90 seconds easy, and so on. This helps pass the time and gets the heart rate up!
  7. Is it summer time? Skip the pool and jump in the lake! More scenic, less monotonous, and more destination-driven. A much, much more enjoyable rendition of the same workout.
  8. Just keep… pool running!
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An ode to Injury

Heidi pictured here at the Center’s weekly Community Track Practice held May – October in Morrisville, Vermont.

Oh injury, sweet injury, what have I done?
To make you lay siege to my body
and toy with my mind…

Greetings from the Land of the Injured! After living here for a couple of months now, I have some thoughts to share about my experience of this place. I can’t claim to have anything groundbreaking to say, but it feels important to acknowledge my residence here. Injury needs to be talked about in the running world. So, for what it’s worth, here are just a few of my complicated, volatile, and ever-evolving thoughts about my time off the roads.

It happened one morning, half-way through a bread & butter long run, seemingly out of the blue. In the months leading up to my mid-run onset of pain, I felt unstoppable: fit, strong, and healthy. Today, I am at 12 weeks since my last run and 11 weeks post diagnosis of a pelvic stress reaction coupled with a ruptured obturator muscle. These weeks so far include 6 weeks of no exercise, 4 weeks of PT exercises and gentle activity, and, now, 2 weeks of strength exercises and more intense activity. Perhaps to some, 12 weeks sans-running sounds like a treat. “A doctor-ordered exercise pause and as much couch time as possible? Sign me up!” But to an athlete, it sounds more like a cruel joke.

…you dropped in without notice, unannounced and unplanned,
and with no tasty nibbles to offer and share!

As the initial shock of my injury faded, I jumped to distraction tactics: “I need a hobby to fill my newly found time and energy! I’m going to sharpen my long dormant piano skills, I’m going to read all the best books of 2018, I’m going to finish major work projects… etc etc.”

Guess what? Nothing changed on any grand scale. Yes, I spent a few hours tickling the ivory keys, I finished a couple of books, and I managed to check off some of my bigger ‘to-dos’ at work, but nothing fruited into a replacement passion project. What did change? I slept more. Rather than waking up pre-dawn to run every morning, I stayed in bed sleeping or reading. By and large, the days went on as regularly scheduled programming, though decidedly less endorphin-fueled.

With the hope of blissful distractions fading, feelings of shame rose to the surface. I felt ashamed for blindly ignoring warning signs, training myself into the ground and consequently sustaining a typical runner’s injury. I found myself embarrassed to be asked why I was on crutches, and having to say I had run my way into an overuse injury. No, it wasn’t a fall or accident, I’d done this to myself. As a running coach, I felt like a hypocrite. I was clearly not practicing what I preach to the groups of running camp athletes or the high school cross country team I work with. How was I supposed to be a role model for runners or effective in my job when I myself couldn’t run?

…and no, that’s not all,
to add to the gloom,
you made me feel careless & foolish & scared!

When I began dissecting my training cycle, it was easy for me to point out everything I had done wrong. In fact, there were glaring red flags. I could have balanced my increased mileage with fewer intensity workouts. I could have been better about getting the nutrition I needed for such intense training. I could have stuck to my initial plan and not run 3 hard half marathons in an ill-advised four week time frame. I could have slept more. I could have established a more focused strength routine. Yes, I could have done a lot of things differently.

But what about the things I did right? It was several weeks before I gave myself any positive credit. When I look back at my training now, I can see PRs achieved, new & challenging workouts conquered, consistent mileage hit, weekly rest days taken, and spontaneous adventures enjoyed. In that time I found a new confidence in myself, now believing I can run the times I want to run. I didn’t fully believe that when I started this marathon training cycle. Most importantly, this period of training gave me tremendous gratitude and appreciation for the place I live, the work I do, and the powerful gift of a healthy body.

… yet you’re not all that bad,
not nearly the worst,
bringing tidbits of goodness & learning & cheer!

The bigger picture shows the good and the bad, the successes and the failures, the focused attention and the oversights. Such perspective can be grounding. Everyone can agree there are far worse things than a temporary break from running. Amidst all that healthy perspective, however, I’ve found it important to allow myself those moments or days when I’m still straight-up bummed. No sugar-coating or faking it, just bummed. Of course I am disappointed. Running has been a life-long pal who I’m suddenly not allowed to hang out with for a couple months. Running has gotten me out of bed and going most mornings, making me feel more alive than a cup of coffee ever could. Running has helped me process in times of loss and frustration. Running has helped me dream up goals and creative ideas. Running has introduced me to many of my closest friends. In so many ways, running has led me to where I am today. So of course the sudden absence of running was – and is – disorienting. It’d be odd if it weren’t.

Recently, I’ve recognized the need to let go of a timeline. Timelines are helpful in many ways, providing some semblance of structure to hold on to or a date to count down to in the blurry vagueness of injured life. A prognosis of 6-12 weeks is more easily digested than “indefinitely”. It’s when we become attached to the timeline that we run into trouble. Optimistic and confident in my healing abilities, I was sure I’d be going for walks and doing strength in four short weeks. A month in and going for a walk was still out of the question. Two more weeks, I thought, and I’d be ready to rip around on skis. Two weeks later and I was decidedly not at that point. I told myself another two weeks and then I’d really be good to go. Womp womp – and so on and so on. The body has its own timeline. It’s encouraging to source hope and motivation when we can, but, ultimately, the body is boss.

… still you tease me, mislead me,
make me greedy, even needy,
as you dangle the prospect of movement & play!

It’s easy to get carried away when we can be active again; even easier when we are fit and healthy, with injury a distant memory. Still fresh back to being able to cross country ski, I feel myself itching to lace up and start running. Are we ever satisfied? Probably not. Do we really learn from injuries? I like to think so. As I move on and let go of this injury, I also hope to hold on to it – remembering both what it took from me and what it gave me.

Looking ahead, I can see myself enjoying the muddy runs of a New England spring, celebrating early morning runs at running camp, racing up Mount Washington, and adventuring on the rugged trails of the Northeast Kingdom. I know running and I will be reunited soon enough – we’re lifelong pals after all.

…oh injury, sweet injury, what can I do?
to wish you good riddance,
but also say thank you?

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Running in to 2019

As 2019 approaches, so does our collective annual habit of reflect, reset, and reboot. January 1 is symbolic of a fresh start: the year ahead an unmarked map for you to run across, up, and over. In the running world, New Year’s Day is bursting with running races, rituals, and routines. You can count on the running masses to take to the roads and trails for a 5k race, sunrise hike, or post-festivities jog to mark the beginning of a new year. Whatever it may be, as runners, we launch into the New Year with some sort of running-related ritual.

For me, New Year’s Day is a chance to pay tribute to the beautiful places I get to explore by foot every day. This year, in particular, I will carry new-found appreciation and perspective. As I make my way back to activity post-injury, I plan to celebrate the body’s resilience and the too-oft-taken-for-granted gift of being able to move about the earth on two healthy, powerful legs. 

In this way, the New Year is an annual reminder to take a step back and consider changes. As a runner, what better time to assess your relationship with running? 

Someone recently said to me that runners are “just running from injury to injury”. From a certain vantage point, this may be true. Our sport is highly demanding of the body – there is no faking the cumulative miles of pounding. Injury is an inevitable fate for the vast majority of runners. And yet defining a running career by injuries accrued betrays the spirit of the sport. There are many reasons why we run, each person drawing on their own unique motivations. We run not from injury to injury, but from stunning sunrise to stunning sunrise, from mountain adventure to mountain adventure, and from race well-run to race well-run. 

With the coming of a new year – just as with injury – there is an undercurrent of hope: the hope of lessons learned, perspective gained, and appreciation renewed. No more stressing a run skipped or a workout gone bad. Go out and mark the beginning of 2019 with a ritual celebrating the simple joy of running. 

Here’s looking at you, 2019! May it be a year filled with long runs at sunrise, run-ventures to unexplored places, blissful recovery days, positive training goals, and the company of running buddies new and old.

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Photos from Craftsbury Sprint Doubleheader

This gallery contains 42 photos.

Thanks to Wes Vear and Paul Bierman for sharing their photos from last weekend’s sprint doubleheader in Craftsbury. We were psyched to host almost 100 skiers for classic sprints on Saturday, followed by freestyle sprints on the same course on … Continue reading

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Fall Running Road Tour: Recap!

Last month Craftsbury Running spread her wings and ventured out of the COC nest for the first annual Craftsbury Running Road Tour. We decided it was time to share the best kept secret in New England running: Craftsbury is running paradise! And so I took to the road and toured some of the Northeast’s top running hubs, with stops in Boston, Manchester, New York City, Annapolis,DC, and Philadelphia. In each city I visited running clubs and met up with Craftsbury camp alumni. I also attended a mix of running races along the way, from the weekly 5k in Mystic, MA to the New England High School XC Championships to the Philadelphia marathon. At every city and every event, the running energy and enthusiasm was palpable – I met so many people who wanted to share their running routine and community.

Pounding the pavement as I chased peak foliage down the east coast, the hours spent driving gave me time to reflect on how grateful I am to be part of the running world, both personally and professionally. There have been many moments when the reach and generosity of the running community has stopped me in my tracks, and this running road tour was no exception.

Being on the road for two weeks can be a bit of a grind: sleeping on another friend’s couch or old teammate’s futon by night and driving hundreds of miles by day. But each day brought a new group of runners to meet, and time and again their enthusiasm energized me and reminded me why I love this sport so much: the people you meet.

My visit to the Annapolis Striders running club provides a wonderful example of this. Over the summer, four women vacationing in Vermont showed up for our weekly Community Track Practice in Morrisville, VT. It was a humid, rainy day, and it poured rain for the majority of the workout. Despite the less than ideal conditions, these women charged through the workout, cheering each other on every lap. In true Vermont summer fashion, the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds, just in time to provide golden evening light for the group’s final laps. The women thanked me for the outing, and we shared contact information to keep in touch.

The next week, one of the women, Nina, came again to track practice, this time accompanied by her husband, Tom. Tom is the President of the Annapolis Striders running club, and we chatted about running events and programs as Nina tore through another track workout. At the end of the workout, they encouraged me to visit, saying they were always ready to host me.

And so, after only a collective three hours spent together, three months later I found myself in Annapolis, visiting the Striders’ weekly Tuesday evening workout and staying with Tom and Nina for the night. Sitting by their fireplace eating Nina’s delicious minestrone soup with some club members post-workout, the warmth and generosity of these new acquaintances blew me away. Without a second thought, these people introduced me to their running community and welcomed me into their world. It is a beautiful reminder of how special the ever-growing running network is, and exemplifies the communal, accessible nature of our sport. 

The road tour ended with a triumphant final stop at the Philadelphia Marathon Expo. Thanks to the contagious zeal of the many runners stopping by our Craftsbury Running booth, the two days in the convention center flew by. Of course, I would be remiss to not also mention a true highlight of the expo: meeting running icon Bill Rodgers! He walked by our booth and did a double-take, at which point I waved eagerly at him. In characteristic light-hearted fashion, he floated over and chatted with us easily. He had heard of Craftsbury Running Camps from previous camp director and fellow running great Lynn Jennings. He was excited to learn about everything we do in Craftsbury, and even teased that he would like to visit someday. As a person who is greeted by fans regularly, it was striking how present and engaged he was with us – another generous running spirit!

I am very grateful for the running community and all the people I’ve met through our shared love of the sport. I came away from the road tour with a lot of new ideas for the Craftsbury Running program and a renewed sense of purpose in connecting runners, facilitating access to the sport, and helping more people experience the invigorating Craftsbury magic for themselves. I am heartened by the positive energy and generosity shown to me throughout my Northeast travels. Many thanks to all of my hosts and to the running clubs for never failing making me feel at home and welcome.   Know that a little slice of running paradise is always here in Craftsbury, ready to be your home away from home. 

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In praise of saunas

From COC Running Director Heidi Caldwell

During the dark days of December in the Northeast Kingdom, we are all about upping our cozy game and hunkering down. Recently, I’ve been channeling the Scandinavian concept of “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah). In essence, hygge captures the internal sense of warmth, coziness, and contentment. How to achieve ultimate hygge in the cold snowy months? Saunas. A practice born hundreds of years ago in Finland, saunas are a core part of the hygge lifestyle.

The original practice of sauna-ing in Finland was based in promoting wellness, comfort, and happiness. Saunas can be an indulgent and relaxing way to end your Sunday afternoon or unwind after a long day at work. Saunas can be highly stress-relieving, help you sleep soundly, and are generally cleansing. Plus, saunas are a great social outlet. What better way to catch up with friends than a weekly sauna ritual? Sound crazy? Sauna gatherings are a staple in Scandinavian communities, and the trend has spread to many parts of the world.

Beyond having a relaxing and warming effect, sitting in a hot wooden box might actually be a useful training tool. It may be time to think about adding a sauna session or two to your weekly routine. Here are some things to consider:

The Physiological Benefits. Sitting in a hot sauna, your heart rate goes up, increasing sweat production and signaling blood flow to the skin. All of these mechanisms encourage cardiovascular development.
The Recovery Benefits. Saunas help your muscles and tendons relax and drain after a hard training session. The deep sweat achieved by sauna-ing boosts your ability to flush toxins, thereby speeding up your body’s detoxification and recovery processes.
Heat Adaptation. Saunas help teach your body to better handle the stress of heat. If, for example, you are running the Boston Marathon in April but training through the cold all winter, saunas are a great way to boost heat tolerance and keep your body’s heat-stress mechanisms tuned and primed.
Immune System Booster. Studies show regular sauna-ing can lead to improved lung function and reduce a person’s susceptibility to the common cold.

Don’t just take our word for it: you can find a review of sauna-related studies and detailed findings here and an athletic performance focused study can be found here.

Sauna use by endurance athletes is no new fad. U.S. Cross Country Ski guru John Caldwell once wrote, “After some good exercise, the best thing you can do is come in and take a shower, hot bath, or a sauna. Then, cool off gradually and rest awhile.”

Ready to give it a try yourself? When the primary goal is to boost running performance, it’s best to take a sauna directly post-run. This keeps your heart rate up and skin sweating for an extended period, prolonging the physiological benefits of the workout itself. How long to sauna? Like any type of physical exertion, sauna-ing takes practice, and you need time to build up this specific type of endurance. Be gradual as you begin your sauna routine. Start with 5 or 10 minutes, and, if you really get into it, work your way up to 30 minutes.

So go hop in a sauna and find your inner-hygge – it’s sauna season!

*Note: You are not continuing your workout in the sauna. No exercising in the sauna! Sit down, relax, and sweat it out.
**Also note: Saunas are not recommended the week prior to a race, or the days leading up to a big workout. After those events? Yes, a sauna would be a great way to recover and celebrate!
***SAUNA AT YOUR OWN RISK. (We are not doctors!)

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