Summertime in Alaska is crazy. We all go into overdrive, and it seems like for most of us, the level of activity ramps up with the increase in sunlight. As a professional cross-country ski racer, summertime is actually the part of the year when I have to train the most. In our sport, it takes so long to make improvements that we need every workout, every day we can get, in order to get faster by next season. We train May through November, then compete almost every weekend December-March while training every day to prepare for the big events. After the Olympics in Korea in 2018, where I finished a career best 6th place in the Team Sprint event, I am more motivated than ever to train as hard as possible. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this means I somehow have to find a way to mesh the demands of training two or even three times a day with the summertime Alaskan lifestyle.
Want to know the magic way to have time to both workout and adventure, in a summer that seems to get only more and more packed full? Combine the two!! With just a little bit of planning ahead, you can go out and check all (or some) of the boxes on the Alaskan list, and also enjoy training at a world class level (or any level you want, for that matter) at the same time.
Let me give you an example.
Recently, I had some good friends in town, and we really wanted to make a trip down to the Russian River to try and fill up a cooler with salmon. The fishing reports were buzzing, and as we all know, when the fish are running, they’re running! As a cross country skier, I spend a lot of time doing intervals uphill; however, the many mountain running races put on by the Alaska Mountain Runners provide a really great way to push myself even harder than I do in training. The Bird Ridge race is always one of the bigger events of the year, and I had seen it approaching on the calendar for a little while. With a little flexibility from my wife and friends, I knew that the potential of combining this race with a fishing trip to the Kenai peninsula was looking promising.
The drive along Turnagain Arm is one of the more scenic sections of road in the world. Every time I drive south from Anchorage, I find myself staring up at the beautiful mountains as they thrust their way into the clouds from that Cook Inlet mud. However, huffing and puffing up Bird Ridge as hard as possible is in the short term, a much less pleasurable way to experience this vertical terrain. I went out hard from the gun, and found myself in a race against my own mental barriers, pushing my pace alone as much as my searing legs and pounding heart would allow. It was pretty nice to have my friends and wife Marine up there on the mountain cheering me on, especially when I really started to hurt. I was happy to win the race, but even happier when it was over, and I reveled in getting to check out the 360 degree view of the Chugach mountains from the peak. With the finish line being at the top, this race allows the descent to be a little more leisurely, which let us all take in the quick transition from high mountain alpine terrain to true rainforest coastal in just a matter of minutes, cheering on other racers along the way.
But the fish were waiting.
With the truck pointed down the Seward highway, I think I could almost feel that cold, clear water rushing around my waiters already. Remembering to eat, I pounded enough calories to fuel me up and help my body recover from the race. With the good company, the miles around Portage, Turnagain, and Summit Lake flew by. As soon as we knew it, we were there at the Pink Salmon parking lot, dropping the tailgate and pulling out all the gear. After finally getting all suited up, we tromped down toward the river, fishing rods in hands and big smiles of anticipation on our faces.
The feeling when that line hooks up and the tug from the salmon reaches your hand could probably be compared to winning a ski race. I think it’s really cool that the very fish that is on the end of my line will fuel the training that will hopefully allow me to win some ski races. What a crazy Alaskan phenomenon!
After catching our share of fish and reminiscing about the couple good ones that got away, we hauled our catch back up to the truck and packed up. After hours of standing in the cold water with our eyes staring intently beneath the surface, we were all ready for some grub. Luckily, there are some good options in Cooper Landing, and we found ourselves some quality, high-calorie sustenance that really hit the spot.
It was a great day; any time you get to go running in the mountains and catch wild salmon in the same 24 hours is a good day. I love the option to experience these kinds of things in close proximity to each other!
It’s an amazing state we live in. The options available for hiking, biking, running, boating, fishing, hunting, skiing, and so many other activities here in Alaska are crazy. In addition to all of the outdoor things, I also workout at the Alaska Club a couple of times a week. It’s especially great for my strength and weight training workouts; the complete array of workout machines they have allow me to train every possible muscle group and motion, and I can focus on the ones I need for ski racing as well as the ones I need for injury prevention and balance. I love the different locations around Anchorage and in the valley, so no matter where I am training, I can pop in and hit the activities I need to.
I hope you all have a great summer, great workouts, and can find many creative ways to train and explore at the same time!