As many of you know, World Junior Championships took place this past week in Almaty, Kazahkstan. Nakkertok’s Katherine Stewart-Jones had a very strong week, finishing 19th in the classic sprint, 25th in the 5 km skate, and 14th in the 10 km skiathlon. She also led out the Canadian women’s relay team, and took a massive fall, exploding her binding on the first leg, dropping the team from 3 seconds back to 40 seconds, and they ultimately finished 10th.
On the surface, it’s really easy to look at Katherine’s results and say ‘of course she’s done that, she’s super talented – but I’m never going to be that talented’. I’ve worked with Katherine for 5 years, and I promise you, that “talent” that showed this week is a product of those years.
Not many people may know, but Kath was actually pretty close to not making it to World Championships this year. The initial plan was to secure the pre-qualifying spot before Christmas, as she did last year. That went out the window due to a slow start in Rossland, and an unfortunate fall in the classic sprint in Whistler. That left Trials. First day on the skiathlon, she skied a strong classic section, and then her legs seized up instantly in the skate, removing her from contention from the automatic qualification of the win. Second race, classic sprint, where in the final she didn’t have the speed to compete with the top girls. That left one day, one race to do it – Sunday’s 5 km skate.Last year Junior. Last chance to qualify for your massive goal of the season. Roughly 18 minutes of ski racing, or your big goals are toast. That sound like enough pressure?All Kath and I talked about the night before was what we always talk about – her one big strength that she wants to bring out anytime she races. For skate 5kms, it’s the hurt. She goes looking for it, because to her, it says that she is putting all of herself into the race. There is never a performance guarantee behind it, but she wants to cross the line knowing she has given everything she had on that day.The best part about this goal is not that we go looking for the hurt in every practice. In reality, I can count the number of times we hit it in the training season on one hand – a couple of insanely hard track workouts in camps, a striding workout on snow in Germany, a skate LacTol in November, and a Z4 max speed striding workout we did the week before she left – but every workout we do, we do with the goal of allowing her mindset to get to that place when she really needs it.
That means skiing well in Z1 when it’s a zone 1 day. It means doing the right amount of weight in the weight room, even when you want to jack it up. It means sleeping for 11 hours when you’re tired. It means skiing by yourself in Z3 if that’s your pace. That means taking a day off when you’re buried with school work, or getting outside for an easy distance ski in -20. It means the details aren’t just details, but the things that make up who you are, and whether you are prepared.Neither Kath nor I know where she will be next year. But I’m confident that she has built the background she needs to continue to improve. There will be rough days ahead – that’s inevitable – but she, like you, have built the tools to deal with them.If you would like to watch some of the action (I really recommend it, it’s fantastic and shows you what the quality of skiing is like at the top Junior level in the world – it’s also less than an hour) do so at this link.
Frozen Thunder: Shut up, listen, and learn
I make no secret of the fact that I was always crap in school. Over time I’ve come to realize it was due to a number of reasons, most of which would probably be defined by my parents as a general lack of effort.
But most of the time I felt like I was always a step behind. That the math textbook was a page ahead, that the chemistry lab was an hour shorter, that the physics problem was one equation ahead. Now that I don’t have to go to school, any learning I do can be defined as on my own time.
And that means exactly what it says.
I have a close friend who learns completely differently – she often complains that when in classes it seems like everyone else is moving too slow. I think her brain moves at light speed, the rate that she asks questions, moves from topic to topic, and rips through problems. But that’s just the way she wants to learn. I’m the exact opposite. I want to shut up, listen, take in information, and process it.
This was my third season traveling to Canmore, Alberta, the hub of cross country skiing in this country, to take part in some form of camp experience to further my education as a high performance coach. My week at Frozen Thunder reinforced that. I love learning, but over the past five years as a coach, I’ve figured out that I need to do it my way.
I started a good dialogue with Canmore Nordic coach Alain Parent, and he and I sat down with Tom Holland, CCC’s High Performance Director, to discuss some of the issues that we have at the club level in the sport.
I came away with a focused testing protocol for fatigue and a better understanding of recovery from the time spent with Eric de Nys.
I worked closely with, picked the brains of, and exchanged ideas with a huge collection of coaches from different backgrounds, levels, and expertise.
Those are things I couldn’t take away 3 years ago, the first time I went out. But they were possible this time only because I had built up the trust, the communication, and the relationships to a point where I could get at the knowledge the way that I wanted – and needed – to.
This approach has advantages and disadvantages.
My first year taking over the program that I now run at Nakkertok, I was behind the game the entire time. I forced myself to go fast, work outside my usual comfort zone, and made massive mistakes because I couldn’t keep up with what I was pressing to do, and what the program needed to do. It was frustrating for me, and likely frustrating for the athletes as well.
But that frustration is what has allowed me to re-assess what I need to be successful, and what I need to do to make the athletes I work with successful.
Nakkertok is not perfect. I’m not perfect. We never will be, and there is no point in sugar coating that fact. But what I am always pumped about is to push the program in new directions based on knowledge, understanding, research, and practical implications.
Don’t be afraid to look back critically. Don’t be afraid to look ahead with optimism. For me, learning isn’t about checking boxes, but about practical, real-world solutions with real-world outcomes. So if you have something to say, I’m here, ready to shut up, listen, and learn.