It’s easy to burn out at Williams. Academics alone can have that effect on me, not to mention everything else I want to commit my time to. Sometimes I want to just hide under my covers until my computer learns to do my homework for me … or at least my laundry. This feeling of completely losing energy seems to be especially familiar to students involved in activism on campus. During those times I’m hiding under my covers, I often reflect on my past life as an athlete and wonder how I was able to dedicate the amount of time and energy it took to show up, train and compete year after year.
Although I now identify as a “non-athlete” at Williams, I’m still in awe of the energy and dedication members of sports team here are able to sustain. In this piece I hope to reach back across the athlete/non-athlete divide and recall the advice my coaches gave me over the 10 or so years I competed as a cross country skier. This advice was difficult for me to follow especially as a college student, but they were goals, and ones that I think could help sustain the energy among any group of individuals with a common passion.
1. Write down personal and team goals before the season starts. Even though skiing is an individual sport, the team could be unified even when each member had different personal goals. Some teammates wanted to make NCAAs while others wanted to improve their technique or make the travel team. Each season, we were asked to record and follow up with personal goals that were challenging but realistic to our ability.
2. Follow the training plan and keep a record. I’m not sure if there are many other athletes that obsess over training logs like cross country ski racers. I started keeping one when I was 13 years old. Each day I was supposed to record the number of hours I trained, what the format of the workout was, the intensity level at which I did the workout and how I felt both physically and mentally. Each week had a target number of hours to train, which fluctuated from low volume recovery weeks to high volume base training weeks. By keeping the training log, I was able to make sure that I was maintaining the balance of hours that were structured so I wouldn’t over-train before the season was even over.
3. Take a rest day (or two) every week. Taking a day off from training each week was just as important as doing the most intense workout. These days of mental and physical rest allowed the body to consolidate the benefits of a week of training and prepare for the next round. Each year, I would be able to recover from the ski season with a month or so of unstructured training and rest.
4. Fuel your body properly. I’ve never been so aware of how my body works as I was while training year-round. It felt as though I was a finely calibrated machine that could easily break down under the stress of training unless I kept all its components perfectly in balance. I learned the hard way many times that I could not perform well at practice after pulling an all-nighter or skipping breakfast. Without proper nutrition and rest, I was less able to maximize the benefits of training and was more prone to illness and mental and emotional stress.
5. Work together as a team. There were many times I would have been unable to complete a workout if it wasn’t for my teammates beside me, also struggling but collectively motivating each other. Before leaving for a weekend of racing we had a ritual of exchanging small joke gifts or good luck cards with each other. The most important aspect of team solidarity occurred during the races. No matter how tired we were after the race, it was a given that the women’s team would be back out on the course cheering for the men’s team and vice versa. Although cheering could be a loud and obnoxious affair (think cowbells), it was unacceptable to harass members of other teams on or off the course.
6. Spread positive energy. My coaches often explained the scientific benefits of thinking positively and taught us to evaluate a race performance only briefly before moving on to prepare for the next race of the season. Nothing seemed to beat the feeling of a great race result, but when team morale was high, the collective energy was multiplied.
7. Try to keep things in perspective. Whether we were dressing up in ridiculous costumes or singing songs during roller-ski workouts, some of my favorite memories from skiing were those times when we weren’t taking ourselves so seriously. Cross country skiing is the most physically challenging sport I’ve ever done, but the challenge of it never seemed insurmountable when there was enough team camaraderie and humor mixed in.
Gabrielle Joffe ’11 is a literature studies major from Kentfield, Calif.