At 5:45 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, I joined the Idaho Nordic Ski Club for one of their weekly dry land training sessions. We gathered on the northeast corner of the lawn at Fort Boise, carving out space among the 4-year-old soccer players and the 44-year-old softball players. Though I only recognized a few skiers, the group hadn't been difficult to find. With body- fat percentages obviously in the single digits, the striated hamstrings and washboard stomachs on these athletes set them apart.
I became a member of the Idaho Nordic club last winter, hoping that mere association with a group of cross country skiers who compete and train together would catapult me to a new level of skill and speed. I can skate ski well enough to navigate most of the Nordic area at Bogus Basin, but I didn't know Swix wax from Toko. When I heard about the club's dry land training sessions, I connected the dots. Stealth training in the off-season might be the ticket to free speed when the time comes to grab my poles and click into the bindings.
What I hadn't realized was that the club had begun meeting for dry land workouts back in June. By showing up in the fall, still well before any hint of snow, I was already behind.
Eyes trained on a pair of legs that would have been the envy of any woman even half their owner's age, I was startled when the group dashed off at 5:47 p.m., as if in response to an inaudible gun shot. We lapped the softball fields at a brisk trot for a warm-up. Ah running, I thought, I can do this. But that lap ended quickly, and before I had time to catch my breath, we were quad-deep in vertical hops, side leaps and backward skipping--all explosive, plyometric moves designed to build strength, power and coordination. Done properly, their execution is guaranteed to send blood lactate levels through the roof.
We moved on to skate-specific balance and strength drills that mimic skiing, but with long pauses to develop muscular endurance. I mirrored Joe Jensen, a club leader who doubled as a drill sergeant, raising both arms forward simultaneously and then yanking them down, slicing the air as if double-poling through deep snow. Jensen described the motion: "You always want to be driving forward from the hips. See how my hips are over my feet? When you pull down, it's actually engaging your lats--like you're gonna hug someone."
The remainder of the workout was a hypoxia-induced blur, and by the end of it, I needed more than just a hug. It was a good thing I'd heeded wise advice from more experienced training partners who had recommended that I avoid participation in dry land training if I had any upcoming events, like a bike race or a fun run, because muscle fatigue and soreness would surely result in a devastating performance. And they were right. During the days that followed, my running routine was preempted by couch-surfing and beer-drinking--not a good thing, since I am staring down the barrel of my next adventure: the Boston Marathon. But in the name of recovery, it was necessary. So much for my head start on ski season but at least now the marathon will seem easy by comparison.