by Kikkan Randall
If you had asked me several years ago if only a single World Cup podium would mean a disappointing season, I would have said you were crazy. Yet after an upward trajectory in results over the past several seasons, and actually for most of my career, last season felt like a step backward.
The signs were already there early in the season, but it was easy to dismiss the concerns, as the plan had been to build shape into the season for a peak at World Championships. By the end of the World Cup Period One, however, it was becoming apparent that I was overtired and needed a break. So I returned home for a couple weeks to recover and reboot for World Championships. The rest helped, but then I found myself out of shape. My results in Falun, Sweden were far below expectation, and I ended up being sick on and off through the rest of the season. My one shining light was a podium in the skate sprint in Lahti, Finland.
Finding the answers to the regression in my results was not an easy task. I sat down with several integral members of my team to discuss observations and poured over my training log. In the end, we decided I had lost the critical balance between training, recovery and outside energy commitments in my life.
One major factor was the emotional energy I was carrying after the disappointment at the Sochi Olympics and how motivated I was to redeem myself and prove to myself that I could be at my strongest at a championship. With Worlds ahead in Falun, I probably didn't rest enough last spring and started off the training year too intensely, thus already starting the year with fatigue.
A second factor was my work with some outside organizations that I care deeply about. In the spring of 2014, I was elected chair of the FIS Athlete Commission. It was something I was excited to do, but leadership of the group increased my involvement with FIS activities and required an early trip to Europe in the fall. Around the same time, I also started on the mission of officially incorporating Fast and Female in the U.S.A., applying for non-profit status and hiring our first staff person. Again, this was something I was really excited and motivated to do, but it greatly increased the number of emails I was answering between training sessions and took more mental energy away from my recovery times.
The third factor was not putting enough emphasis and commitment toward my recovery. I was training a similar amount to the previous years, but was missing sleep to answer emails, getting up early for conference calls and traveling a bit more. I was also not acknowledging that I was getting older and that recovery was becoming ever more important.
Regaining my balance has been a big learning experience. I've relearned the importance of taking it easy enough in the spring to let your body fully recover before beginning a new training season. I took six full weeks off this spring, and then started back with a very conservative schedule for another four weeks. By the time I started training again, I could tell I was finally out from under the fatigue I carried all last year.
For the outside activities, this step has been a little harder. I've had to learn to say no a little more often, and I've had to take a step back. Thankfully, the people I work with are very supportive and understanding. I stepped down as chair of the FIS Athletes Commission, but will still be involved as a cross-country rep. With Fast and Female, I've got an incredible board of directors and executive director who are handling more of the decisions and the day-to-day operation of our American organization. My sponsors have also been very understanding, and we've tried to get much accomplished in the spring so as to alleviate the demand during the high training times.
And finally for recovery, I have given much more attention to detail and made the commitment to protect my recovery times and make recovery methods such as sleep, nutrition and body care my top priorities. This spring, I began working with a company called Overskudd that helps track the quality of my sleep so that we can optimize both my training and recovery methods. This summer, this has already been a great tool that helps me see when I'm in balance and not.
Despite the great results I had been enjoying over several seasons, it turns out that I am not superhuman. I thought I could train at a high level and still manage all my outside activities. Turns out, even Kikkanimals needs to rest, and sometimes I guess you have to learn the hard way. Now that I'm armed with better knowledge and perspective, I'm doing my best to correct some of the errors of last year and get back on track.
Kikkan Randall has since announced her pregnancy and will sit out this season – see page 6. Skitrax wishes her and husband, Jeff Ellis, the very best.