I absolutely love being in Vermont in September. With crisp mornings, peaks of foliage and hints of the approaching winter, I am usually giddy with excitement. Sometimes the excitement of winter approaching can can also cause a bit of stress. Things weren’t all clicking for me last month mentally as I struggled to dial in the training that I desired. Naturally, as most type-A skiers will do, I began overthinking every step I made.
After coming down with a little cold at the beginning of the month, I took a few days off and gave myself a very easy week to try to recover and reset. I’ll be the first to admit that I am pretty horrendous at taking time off like this. I thoroughly enjoy my down time in April and take advantage of planned easy weeks to adventure and find distractions. But when an illness throws a wrench in the plan I start to get antsy and angsty.
I know there’s room in the training plan for obstacles like this and that an athlete doesn’t lose fitness in 7-10 days. Sitting still in Stratton with zero distractions is not something I do well though. As I got healthy I slowly started building back into workouts, but as to be expected I didn’t feel fabulous. I had endless time to hyper-focus on these workouts and once they started reoccuring I began to doubt myself.
Three weeks later and still feeling ‘off’ in my workouts, I started asking questions. I asked my head coach, assistant coach, program director, old coaches, friends, teammates, family… What was going on? Was I overtraining? Was I not training enough? Should I be working harder? Should I take more time off? These are the questions that were swirling through my head and my conversations. I just couldn’t seem to dig deep during the workouts that were supposed to hurt and I didn’t feel strong enough to do one last interval.
Soon, it had been an entire month of feeling ‘off my game.’ Unable to push it during the hardest workouts and unmotivated in the gym or on the roads/trails - something I had never experienced before. I assessed the factors. Sleep, nutrition, volume, intensity, all seemed to be in a good place. I got a blood test and was surprised to see how great the results were so iron/ferritin wasn’t an issue. That led me to believe maybe there was only one possible solution left...
After a YEAR full of travel, I hadn’t spent more than 10 consecutive days in one bed since last October. I took my nomadic lifestyle to the extreme and by mid-August I felt like I needed some down time. So naturally, I took that idea to the extreme as well and didn’t leave Stratton, Vt for 5.5 weeks. A lot of the team was out of town or had different plans and most of my friends/support system were traveling. This meant I didn’t get a break in my day, week, or month to be ‘normal human Alayna.’ I was only being ‘ski athlete Alayna.’
This summer I got a new remote job working for a small marketing consulting firm. I left my old work position at LandTrust and made the transition to Space Monkey Partners, one that I was excited for! In just two months I learned a ton, grew as a career women, and really enjoyed getting to know my new co-workers. This was my one blessing through the last month. It was a distraction. But it clearly wasn’t enough.
Finally, after hours of conversations, brainstorming, trial and error, I decided there was a strong liklihood that this funk I was experiencing was mostly mental. I needed a break. I needed to see family and friends. I needed time with my boyfriend. I needed time away from the team (even though I love and appreciate them so much). I needed a break from Stratton. So that’s exactly what I did.
I flew out to Colorado to attend my cousin’s wedding at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. I had a weekend full of cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I saw Colorado friends and went on adventure hikes just for the social hour. I set aside training for a week and fully embraced the people around me.
Looking ahead, I knew I still wanted to attend our team training camp in Park City in early October and didn’t think it made sense to fly back to Vermont for five days. So, my boyfriend and I traveled into the mountains and met Lina Sutro at her childhood home in Carbondale, CO.
We had an incredible week in the mountains. We eased into altitude life, embraced the Colorado hail storms and frolicked through the golden aspens. Rather than asking my coach what the training plan should be for the week, I asked myself what will make Alayna happy? One day, I sent it on an 8 hour run through the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness with Thomas. Another day, I accepted a 45 minute run as the only training for the day. Finally, at the very end of the week, I joined Lina and Hailey Swirbul for some intervals and strength.
I supplemented this training by indulging in ‘activities with friends.’ Lina, Thomas and I visited Sophie and Simi Hamilton and their newborn daughter. We went to a concert at the BellyUp in Aspen. We watched the Rings of Power and House of Dragons. We took apples from the Sutro apple trees and made fresh cider and applesauce. We embraced Potato Day in Carbondale and played with puppies in the backyard.
I worked hard last week to refill my happy tank and tried to put a different perspective on skiing. I’m looking forward to the season that is quickly approaching, but will admit that I am also feeling nervous about what it will look like. I think it’s good to be nervous because it means that I care a lot. I also have to remind myself though that if things aren’t perfect this year then that’s okay. I can only control the things I can control. I can try to train hard and get sleep and rest and nutrition and train hard again. Sometimes you mix all of that up and get the best cocktail in the world. Other times you get a mixed drink that does the job but isn’t fully satisfying. It’s too hard to tell at this point in the year what type of beverage I’ll be sipping on this season, but I think and hope that as long as I’m going about it with friends, trying my hardest and finding fun in it, then it will be okay.
The last few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster but I'm leaning into my support system. I'm hopeful for what this season might bring and am focusing on controlling the things that I can control. I’m currently in Park City, UT for a two week camp and enjoying the beautiful sunshine, aspens, and smiling faces of all the other athletes we're training with!
Professional skier, traveling the world, exploring the culture, racing my heart out.