Hello! Annika here checking in from the Craftsbury GRP with some tips on how to be adaptable in diverse training environments and conditions.
Adaptability is a skill that I value highly but am also constantly seeking to improve. As an elite athlete striving for the highest level of competition, an inability to be flexible (or experiencing major stress while trying to be flexible) can mean the difference between reaching your goals and falling short. Adaptability to me means responding to stress or uncertainty in a productive way and the summer is a good time to practice challenging your mind and body’s ability to perform and train well, regardless of the conditions you find yourself in.
The past few weeks I was home in Sun Valley, Idaho, visiting my family and taking advantage of some altitude training. Unfortunately, even though it was still early July, smoke from wildfires across the west blanketed the mountains, making it unsafe for many days to train normally outside. For those who are unfamiliar, many athletes use an Air Quality Index (AQI) to determine whether the level of pollutants in the air is unsafe to breathe. An AQI under 50 is considered ‘healthy’ and training can proceed as normal. An AQI from 50-100 is typically safe for low intensity (and shorter duration) training but not for any high-intensity training like intervals or speeds or long over distance. Anything above 100 makes it unsafe to train outside at all. These are conservative guidelines, but from my perspective, I like to be cautious rather than risk damaging my lungs (especially during a pandemic).
Training in a KN95 mask during a moderately smokey day. KN95 filters out P2.5 particles that are harmful for your lungs.
This is where mental adaptability becomes important.
Often with smoke, you have to wait until the morning of to make a call on safety, which makes it hard to plan training in advance. Each day, you have to be willing to change your plan to reflect the conditions and often that means trading your long run in the mountains for a spin bike or erg. When this happens, my motivation to train plummets and I find it difficult to get excited about going to the gym and spending two hours on a spin bike.
How do I adapt my mind at this moment to make a day of training indoors productive?
I reset. I take some additional time in my morning to enjoy my breakfast, some extra coffee and another chapter of my book. I love mornings, and because of the reality of training, I don’t often get to enjoy them as much as I would like. Allowing myself a little extra “me” time on days I know I might struggle mentaly gives me time to reframe the day in a positive way. Even if it is only 20 extra minutes, I find that taking the time to re-plan my day makes a big difference in being able to bring energy and quality to that day of training.
I reevaluate the workout to fit the conditions instead of trying to force the pre-planned workout regardless of the situation.
Can I make the workout shorter in order to maintain higher quality throughout?
Can I add variation like switching between a ski erg, spin bike, treadmill in order to stay engaged and work different muscle groups?
Can I come up with a unique set of intervals or speeds that I wouldn’t normally do?
If I end up not being able to train as many hours, can I use that time for better recovery, like stretching or yoga?
Creativity is an often underused skill in a sport that benefits from consistency, but I think it is a crucial way to almost always make your training work for you in whatever context you may find yourself in.
(Running Intervals and Skate speeds on the Treadmill)
Lastly, I recharge. Effective training on its own is mentally taxing, but adding the extra strain of uncertainty due to smoke (or other factors like travel, family events, injury, etc…) can start to wear you down. It is important to pay attention to when the scales start to tip because that is a good indication that it’s time to give your mind a break. For me, this means not trying to do a 24+ hr volume week indoors. It also means making sure that I am getting enough sleep and carving out time to do non-training activities with family and friends. However you like to recharge, add it into your training plan because it’s important to stay fresh and motivated.
(Enjoying a nice evening in Ketchum with my mom and sister)
(Relaxing with my dad at the end of the 30k Standhope Ultra Challenge)
Reset + Reevaluate + Recharge = Adaptability
Adaptability like any other part of skiing, you have to train for. Using the summer months to experiment and practice responding to different situations, both of your own making (i.e. changing your breakfast, changing your warm up before a TT, etc…) or out of your control, (i.e. smoke) will make you an athlete that is not easily rattled and is ready no matter the context, to give their best effort.
Until next time!