I don’t really know what to say when people ask me if I’m a professional athlete. After 10 years of competing at an international level in either Biathlon, Ski jumping or Nordic Combined some people might consider me a professional skier, others might not.
I certainly pride myself on acting in a professional manner. I strive for excellence and progress every day in training. I try to actively promote my sport, while being a good role model. I prioritize training and competing…above pretty much everything else in my life (sometimes even at my family and boyfriend's expense). I make sure to speak positively about myself, my national team and my sport. I maintain my equipment to extremely high standards. I schedule my life about 6 months in advance. All of this seems pretty professional, right?
To me that is the way it feels. However, because of the sport I choose to pursue, my results didn’t translate into financial self-sufficiency until very recently. Prior to this, I had to rely primarily on fundraising and working to keep my athletic dreams alive.
Let me tell you this, a bad day of skiing is better than a good day of work. This has helped me keep perspective when I have gone through rough patches in my career. Even when I jumped horribly for two weeks straight in Japan on the World Cup, I knew it was better than a full-time job. It was also comforting for me to know what I would be if I wasn’t a fulltime athlete. I knew/know I can stop and get a job anytime I need to. Sometimes I have needed to. It’s not easy working part or full time and trying to be a high-level skier, but it is something a lot of athletes need to do.
Here are some points that I have found helpful in balancing life, work, school and training.
I can’t share all of the things that helped me get through those tough years, like an awesome mom, some steadfast supporters, a few amazing coaches, a lot of luck and grit, but I can share my time and resource management tricks and tips. Here are some of the basics I relied on to keep my performance level high even when I was doing half the amount of training I should have, because I was working.
While these methods have served me in my “professional” career, I feel they can also help just about any parent, 9-5er, junior/college skier, or weekend warrior in their pursuit to balance life, training and competing.
*** First, I would like to say I am not a scientist, these are not scientifically proven methods, these are ideas that worked and helped me, but may not work for others, this is not the way this is a way.
1. Get enough sleep and take naps, or at least get more sleep. While we focus on diets in America, I personally think lack of sleep has a higher impact for me than lack of proper nutrients. From my point of view it is important not to overbook your already busy life by cramming more training in at the cost of sleep. In recent years’ there has been a big push in bringing awareness to the negative effects of bad eating habits. Personally I think a vital part of a good diet is getting enough sleep.
Often if you get enough sleep you don’t have as much cortisol in your body, therefore, you don’t have as many bizarre cravings and your hunger actually has more of a chance to stem from your body’s real dietary needs, not a reaction to stress.
If you are tired after work, take a 20-60min nap, anywhere, nap in your car, nap under your desk, nap in a library, but preferably not on the job. It may take a while before you can take a nap anywhere, but honestly, it's a vital life skill if you are trying to hold down a job and improve as an athlete. For me, it was always better to come home from a 10hr farm job, take a nap, and then try to do a workout. Yes, dinner was usually pretty late for me, but at least I got a quality workout in.
2. Quality over quantity. Make sure your intensity is high quality. It’s not a L4 session unless your HR is actually in L4 for the right amount of time. If you are lacking motivation, drink some caffeine and stick yourself on a treadmill. Treadmill intervals are incredibly “boring”, yet, utterly effective because of the controlled environment and repeatable conditions. When running on a treadmill or Ski-Erging (shout out to Concept 2 ) motivation comes instinctively from the mere fact that you don’t want to fall off the treadmill, or let your speed on the monitor drop. Secondly, you can control your heart rate exactly, and get the most out of limited time. Treadmill intervals also have the added benefit of making you mentally tough.
3. Make sure you have short and long-term goals. Maybe your goal is just reaching a new strength level (I like doing more reps). Maybe you want to improve your time in a local race, or perhaps you are working towards your first international podium. Make sure you have goals for each training session and focus on those goals. Create small steps that will bring to your bigger goals. Value your goals. Don't base them off of others. Choose things that will make you proud, not anyone else.
4. Focus on your weaknesses not your strengths. Work on improving your weaknesses and not your strengths. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen high-level skiers who are horrible at downhills focus only on the VO2 max intervals—so they continue to stay horrible at downhills. If they took a step back, they would realize that objectively they could get 30seconds faster a lot easier by focusing on skiing better on downhills. If your goal is to have a stronger upper body, don’t spend your short gym session warming up and doing static core. Do a 5min run instead of a 30min run and make time to do a lot of pull ups. This will enable you to make actual progress on the weak areas in your skiing and it will help keep you motivation. Focus on your weak points.
5. Polarize your training. Cut out all the fluff, reduce your hours. Balance your training with work or school. This could mean you won’t have the staying power to race fast every weekend from November through March, but it will mean you’ll be rested enough to go really fast for a few races that matter. I would always use a block training plan i.e. easy week, speed week, strength week, distance week. Or easy week, speed week, distance week, strength week. That being said, I did some form of HIT training on all weeks.
6. Integrate your training into your life. Try to make sure your life isn’t taking away from the training you do. Be creative. Use all the resources you have available to you to integrate training into your life. For example, if you are a parent and you don’t have enough child care, do intervals with a kid on your back or in a trailer. My mom did this, so I know it’s possible. If you need to stack a bunch of wood, do it fast, make it dynamic, and count it as circuit strength. If you work at a desk all day make sure you make use of your lunch hour to exercise even if it is only 30min. You can totally do intervals in 30 min by the way! 10min warm up, 3*4min L4 and 5min cool down. It won’t feel good but it’s effective. To help get the most of the training you do, create time to eat healthy and drink enough water. Use a creative office, try a standing desk, or a balance chair. Keep yourself active and your physical body engaged even when you are not officially training. Don’t get defeated. Do what you can with what you have. If all you have time for is 15min of strength on a strength day, make the most of it and be proud of that.
7. Don’t limit yourself just because you have a busy life, don’t count yourself out. Even with limited training hours you can still achieve great results. Professional athlete or not, the most amazing part about training and competing is the journey, the ups, the downs and the people you meet along the way. It doesn’t matter if you are 17 or 75 you should value your goals, your training and your competitions as a centering and heathy aspect of your life.