Note: This is the first of a new series about working out with high-performance athletes. The idea is to shed light on the daily routine of someone dedicated to training and share a regular Joe’s story of trying to keep up.
ALMONTE, Ontario — Upon my early arrival in Almonte, I decided to explore the hometown of Canadian Cross Country Ski Team member Perianne Jones.
A few lefthand turns and I had completed the grand tour of the town about 50 kilometers outside of Ottawa. Apparently, the man who invented basketball, James Naismith, grew up there, and I was a week late for the town’s celebrated puppet parade. With a population of about 4,500, Almonte had a lot going on.
Well, not a ton, but enough.
With 25 minutes to spare before meeting Jones, I chose to conserve my energy for the day’s events – a double workout with the 2010 Olympian – and drove straight to her home.
In front of her family’s log cabin at the end of the street, I found the 26-year-old dressed and ready to go. With muscles bulging as she moved broken tree limbs aside, I knew she was the person I was looking for.
I wheeled around to park and Jones waved. I guess I met her expectations, too. She invited me into her home, and by 10 a.m. sharp, without any obvious concern for promptness, we were out on the road.
A member of Canada’s Senior World Cup Team, Jones started her classic rollerski with a smooth kick double pole up a gradual climb to the main road. With a sense of what was coming, I ambled along on my road bike.
We chatted throughout the nearly 13-mile workout while Jones and a friend of mine rollerskied at a pace I gauged as moderate. In reality, the 1-½ hour session was part of Jones’ recovery: a 10-day vacation from training full time.
I had caught her in a rare appearance back home. Aside from living in Canmore, Alberta, for the last eight years, she had spent much of the summer skiing on glaciers and training as far west as Hawaii.
After several weeks of intense high-altitude work – first in Maui at 10,000 feet with the Canadian national team and then on Alaska’s Eagle Glacier with about 20 women – Jones flew to Ontario. For almost a week, she stayed at a friends’ lake cabin west of Ottawa, mostly reading and resting up.
“When I was at the cottage, I was sleeping 11 or 12 hours a night,” she said. “So it was pretty good for my recovery.”
The night before we met in Almonte, she said she hadn’t slept much. Too much garlic at a local garlic festival the day before was likely to blame, she joked.
“I feel like I’m ready to get back into normal training,” she said during lunch at an Almonte café. “Maybe it wasn’t the garlic. Maybe it was that I haven’t trained in a long time – like seriously – so that’s why I wasn’t sleeping. You just get kind of antsy and want to get back into it.”
Back home rollerskiing on relatively flat country roads, she didn’t seem too bored. A group of women and children near her high school provided some distraction, stopping to watch as she passed by.
Rollerskiing wasn’t overly common in Almonte, Jones explained. But it was evident they were more interested in her than the rollers.
Just across the town line into Blakeney, an assortment of emus and goats stood attentively near the side of the road. Even they couldn’t take their eyes off Jones.
On the way back, we took a water break in front of the farm. I stood a street’s width away from the fence-pecking birds while Jones got up close. Not a way I’d want to lose a finger, I thought, but she wasn’t worried.
The 5-foot-7 ½ Jones wasn’t easily intimidated. When she joined the Canadian national team in Canmore in 2003, she couldn’t do a pull-up. Hours after our morning workout, she proved she overcame that.
Shortly before 4 p.m., Jones found a couple of commuter bikes in her yard and suggested we ride to her hometown gym. As she led the way, I noted our speed during the mostly uphill ride – 15.5 miles per hour – and she was on a one-speed bike.
Why would I expect anything different? A few miles away at Almonte Fitness Centre, Jones quietly entered the no-frills gym and moved toward a back room. There, she warmed up with plyometrics and hurdle jumps, and I mimicked her moves for the experience.
In the mirror, she looked like a track star. I looked like a lumbering fool.
Ten minutes later, we moved to the main floor where a few muscular men took little note of us. It didn’t matter that Jones was doing hang cleans and stepping up on a teetering box with 135 pounds on her back; I had to help her get it up there.
I asked if she had others spot her when she was alone. Not unless other women were there, she replied. The day I was there, the only other female in the room stole the cable machine Jones was using.
Elsewhere, Jones said she received plenty of attention. Her local ski club, Nakkertok, welcomed her annual appearances. But in the male-dominated gym, her chin-ups with 45 extra pounds drew few looks.
That was the exercise she was most proud of.
“When I moved out to Canmore, we used to have the strength test where we did a minute of everything, and I’d get to the chin-up part and I’d just hang there,” she said. “It was impossible.”
She and teammate Amanda Ammar resolved to complete the test, so they integrated pull-ups into their daily routine.
“We’d go for a run and hit up the chin-up bar,” Jones said. “We started by just going down and eventually we got a lot better. It’s pretty fun.”
Once she could lift herself, she hung additional weight from a chain around her waist. She finished each heavier set with a quick, aggressive chin-up – the exclamation point on her achievement.
Initially a runner who began lifting later on, Jones said she enjoyed strength training. Her best performances came in Canmore with her strength coach and the teammates she trained with most: Chandra Crawford, Devon Kershaw and Ivan Babikov.
“I’m glad I’m not in the gym more than two days a week, but it’s nice,” she said. “It’s always fun doing strength because you can see your improvements. … Whether or not that makes you a better skier I don’t know, … (but) it’s always encouraging.”
Clearly, all her pull-ups, tricep cable thrusts and core work paid off. Last winter, the sprinter won several Nor-Am Cup golds and finished sixth in the World Championships team sprint with teammate Dasha Gaiazova. At the 2010 Olympics, Jones was 41st in the classic sprint and helped Canada’s 4 x 5 k relay place 15th.
This year, she’s gearing up for the World Cup, including some opening races Nov. 19-20 in Norway and a classic sprint in Finland the following weekend.
With a little less volume and some more intensity in her personalized regimen, Jones said she felt well rested. In Canmore, she would continue rollerskiing most days, run about four days a week, and hike and mountain bike when she could.
On Aug. 28, she planned to run her once-a-year road race at the Calgary Women’s 5 k.
“We’re pretty lucky as skiers because we can do so much for training,” Jones said, reflecting on her hula-hooping phase that helped pass time between races.
“We have so many options,” she added. “If you were a swimmer, every day is in the pool, then I would probably be cranky.”