--Chandra Crawford, of Canmore, Alberta won gold in the sprint skating at the Torino Olympics in 2006. During her career, she's also won three World Cup medals, two gold and a bronze. And she helped start Fast and Female, a series of outdoor events for young women.
Definition of READY:
a: prepared mentally or physically for some experience or action b: prepared for immediate use.
A New Zealand rugby player glares into the middle distance, stomps, grunts and smashes his elbow with a cupped hand. In a physical sport such as rugby the All Blacks prepare for the battle of their competition with the traditional Maori dance, the Haka. While cross-country ski racing is far from the violent undertaking of rugby it definitely hurts when you go hard and we can all take something from their dedication to readiness. You have worked hard physically to get your body ready for the challenges and now with a couple key strategies you’ll be free to enjoy your hard-earned race. With emotional preparation and rehearsing responses you’re going to that start line as ready for battle as even the most focused Maori warrior.
Racing is an emotional undertaking. You have to be ready to go outside your comfort zone, push through physical pain and somehow keep your technique together through all of it. What can you do to get your head in the right spot to get the most out of your body? No seriously. I'm asking you. This is such a wildly individualized part of racing that there's almost nothing I can tell you that will be as valuable as your own time spent reflecting on what you need to do.
Whether or not you are an excited individual everyone can perform better by skiing more smoothly, pacing better and using only the muscles necessary for forward movement while letting go of others. (I’m talking to you squished-up-grimace-face!) This is generally called "relaxing." Short of bringing a chaise lounge to the start line and sipping your sport drink out of half a coconut with an umbrella, there are some very easy cues for relaxing to conserve your energy for the race (and the most important part - a strong finish!) In his book "Pursuit of Excellence," sport psychologist Terry Orlick explains:
"Strangely, high performance and relaxation belong together. If you can relax during the recovery part of the swim stroke or run stride, if you can keep tension out of your body while cycling, you will perform more efficiently and hence faster for longer." For us skiers the glide phase is an obvious moment to maximize relaxation in order to make the next push even stronger.
“Stronger, better, faster, harder… Now that that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger” cheers the catchy chorus of “Stronger” by Kanye West. Whether you need to chill out or pump up, music can do wonders. As Kikkan Randall says, “"Before some races I like to listen to some good pump up music, like Lady Gaga and Katie Perry. But other times I pick something more mellow, like Tracy Chapman, Alicia Keys and Norah Jones. I like lots of different kinds of music." With those gaps between sprint heats you can’t stay Up all the time so Kikkan and I both take advantage of an ipod state of mind to relax between heats.
But then it’s time to wake up and get into it and add some (!) to the preparation. While I’m personally really high on life already there’s nothing like slammin’ a strong coffee 30 minutes before the race and pumping some dance tunes to pep my prep. Adrenaline gets me out of the start gate and another surge when I see the finish line gets me home. I use music during warm up less than half the time but when it’s raining and I’m tired it’s a great source to draw energy from.
The fun songs I listen to have an added bonus of reminding me of the pure joy of ski racing and can get my mind off results and any gravitas that may have snuck into my psyche when there’s a lot on the line or I’ve prepared for something for a long time.
How do you ready yourself for the moments that count the most? You train and train and train and the closer you get to the big day the more your reactions to everything matter. Yes, what happens matters… but not nearly as much as your reaction to it all.
As sport psychology PhD and veteran of 12 Olympic games Cal Botterill has the key to readiness dialed. “Emotional preparation involves imagining a feeling/emotion and rehearsing an effective response. It’s a form of “emotional inoculation” which dramatically improves one’s readiness/response when the real feeling occurs. It can be a big help in keeping one’s emotions functional in the volatile world of sport. It’s valuable for players, coaches, as well as staff.”
This is such a key part of my preparing for a race and has helped bring me some success because I’ll prepare for a lot of worst-case scenarios. That way I’m pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t snow a meter, the skis are running perfectly, I’m not racing against a team of rugby players and the course isn’t all uphill. Going through “what ifs” with a friend or as a team is a great experience and also helps talk out the nerves.
So relax, enjoy, prepare and pump the tunes because you’ve trained too hard for this day not to be…
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