"Will I be ready?" A Collegiate Skiers Approach to Pre-Winter Nerves.

Posted by Annie McColgan on Nov 3rd 2023

"Will I be ready?" A Collegiate Skiers Approach to Pre-Winter Nerves.

Last year, I learned some sayings from GRP and US Biathlon team member, Jake Brown, regarding each month’s own kind of emotive alliteration. What started as, “Don’t worry it’s Just June!”, became “Man, its Already August.” Now, we’ve wrapped up “Uh oh October”, and arrived at “No way its November…” (these are not official month labeling however I find the alliteration helpful to prove the point). What Jake’s fun phrasing proved to me, that was no matter the caliber of athlete you are, or the success you have had, fall is that season for cross country skiers that can illicit any number of feelings, and reactions. As our Instagram feeds fill with up with each team’s “first on snow” posts, and booming altitude camps, it can be easy for that Pre-Winter excitement to begin to have a twinge of anxiety.

Getting excited for winter isn’t always wrapped up in that eagerness and giddiness to get back to doing what we love most, sometimes, this time of year can be slightly nerve-wracking. Training blocks begin to wind down, USST skiers’ and US Biathlete’s prep for the big flight across the Atlantic, College skiers battle the fall school grind and constant barrage of colds, Domestic Professionals wrap up their last hurrahs of blocks before prepping for the first super tour of the years, and junior skiers get ready to take head on their multiple levels of international, national and local goals, all while navigating high school.

All of this is only exasperated by our constant barrage of Instagram posts of workouts, camps, and final preps of our contemporaries. It would be a lie to say that the energy to find those posts inspiring by our competitor’s training rather than anxiety inducing becomes difficult. As easy as it is to say, “Just focus on your own training,” the words are far easier than the action.

Don’t get me wrong, we are competitors and pressure is a part of the game we have signed ourselves up for. Great moments in sport are often born in these wonderfully small windows of opportunity for someone to grab at and sometimes succeed, and sometimes not. We wouldn’t love it if it wasn’t like that. What we do in this sport is truly a daily privilege, one that should not be underappreciated. However, to plainly say that pressure always manifests in athletes in healthy ways is a lie.

Part of fall in the past for myself that has been difficult to manage and adapt to, is the growing louder question of “Will I be ready?” Sometimes we can get wrapped into the fact that there is a coming point where, as my teammates say, “the hay is already in the barn.” For me, fall can often morph away from the motivating last few months of work to accomplish before coming race season, and into “I gotta cram this hay in the barn no matter what or else there won’t be enough for the long winter.”

(App Gap Rolling with the UVM Women’s Squad)

Especially this year, with some big stakes on the line for many Professional Domestic Skiers and top ranked college skiers, both at the North American World Cup and beyond, the pressure to perform in clutch qualification moments feels more tangible this year. Something that again, we have to work hard to remind ourselves that it’s an inspiring thing, rather than a nerve-wracking one. We have come very far as country both on the international stage, as well as the national at all levels, professional to junior, so that those World Cup starts are up for grabs to a large amount of competitive American skiers. That awesome pressure is the thing that yes, makes for great moments in sport, but can also be sickening if not perceived with longevity in mind. We all know that feeling, the moment where that pressure we love and crave as competitive beings, morphs into something that turns the thing we love, into something we want to get away from.

Fall is also the unique time of year where we are both the furthest away from the last time we raced, but also the closest to the next time we will. It gets harder to remember racing holistically as a whole season of work and travel, and easier to let our preconceived notions and anxiety shape our narrative around it. This is a reason I find it helpful, yet also tough when the workouts begin to get shorter, harder, and faster. The physical effects of these workouts are directly tied to the timeline of how we want our bodies to perform in a few months’ time, however it is important to also gain the psychological and mental benefits of these workouts no matter if they go poorly or great. The physical and mental reminder that we can/have/will push ourselves to the limit we want is something too valuable to let anxiety take over. In contrast, rest during this time, can feel frustrating if it is due to sickness or injury, can be the most valuable action during this time of year as our bodies and brains will not function at their highest capacity when we need them most to if they are too tired to perform.

(Roller ski Looping a 20k Pacing Project)

So, I’ve been trying to approach this fall with these thoughts in mind. If we don’t talk about the tough feelings, how can we ever find a way around them to continuously work to find motivation in them rather than dread? The only thing I’ve found as an athlete to ease that fall pressure, is the constant process of reminding myself why it is that I do this, how far I have come, and where it has brought me. An internal meditation on the intrinsic value of the sport we love, completely separated from the result-oriented side of things. If we don’t remind ourselves of this, strongly and often, we risk losing the joy in it. Winter is long, ski careers longer, and a lifetime of skiing is longest and most precious. 

From Skipost Editor:

Annie McColgan is a Nordic skier for the University of Vermont. She is currently pursuing an MA in English. If you see her out training, give her a shout.