Devon Kershaw had a stand-out season this winter, racking up top finishes in the World Cup (placing 31st in the overall final) and placing 16th in the Tour de Ski. But his season culminated, appropriately, at the Olympics where he had several inspirational performances, including a 16th place pursuit, 4th place team sprint with teammate Alex Harvey, and his last – and best – race, the 50 kilometer classic, in which he was just .6 seconds out of bronze and 1.6 seconds behind gold medalist Petter Northug.
Devon Kershaw returned to the states two days ago, after a spring trip to Mexico and another to Spain, in time to join the Canadian and U.S. National teams at their camp in Bend, Oregon.
Having taken the time to rest and recover, Kershaw now reflects on the past season in order to take inspiration for the upcoming summer of hard training. Although the team achieved some altogether fantastic results, Kershaw is not willing to rest on those laurels: instead he ups the ante in the goals he lays down for both himself and his team.
Finishing .6 seconds out of third is a tough loss to anyone in any race – much less over the course of a 50km – much less at the Olympics, where medals can mean everything.
Still, Kershaw is using that to his advantage during this summer of training.
“The biggest motivator is that 1.6 seconds over 50km that I was too slow in February. It haunts me. It’s the best motivation one could ask for – it’s hard to deal with – being that close to achieving something you’ve thought about for so long.”
It may be just the type of motivation needed for the kind of training – day in and day out – that Kershaw hopes to achieve for at least 6 more years. Though focused 100 percent on this winter Olympics, his career goals extend further.
“I always knew I’d continue beyond Vancouver and compete in Sochi in 2014. It was never a question. My plans didn’t change at all after the Olympics – I was always thinking that my best chance at Olympic success would be in 2014. I’ll have just turned 31, so that’s right in that elusive/mystical sweet age as an endurance athlete.”
Also driving him forward is his desire to see Canada’s Nordic team compete as one of the best teams in the world. Though they have come close – “painfully close at times,” admits Kershaw, the men’s team has yet to achieve a medal at a major championship.
“I am so excited to get that goal achieved. I know it will come from someone in our group – so we are all super hungry to work together, support each other and push ourselves (and recover well!) to achieve just that – a men’s championship medal.”
But first things first: rest and recovery.
Kershaw admits that he, like most of the team, was running on fumes at the post-Olympic World Cup races.
The stress and demands of the Olympic games – 17 days of dealing with media, driving, security, and training restrictions, as well as the hype before their races and excitement after their races – left them all over-stressed and under-trained. (Kershaw writes on his blog that he was surprised to go back over his training logs and find that he hadn’t trained over 14 hrs/wk in over a month during the Olympics. For most people this sounds like a good amount, but for someone at Kershaw’s level it is, as he writes, “absurd”)
“Of course the Olympics are a stressful time – especially when they are in your own country! Our Canadian team had such a great games though – so that was fantastic. It took a lot of energy out of all of us – but it was worth it.”
Where is an ideal place to recoup and recover from a long parka-and-tuque season? For Kershaw and girlfriend Chandra Crawford (also on the Canadian National Team) the destination was Baja, Mexico.
Sea kayaking, swimming, camping, surfing, and fishing (they caught a 245 lb Marlin, which was big enough to draw accolades from the locals) was the kind of change that Kershaw welcomed as being “vastly different from my normal life. To me that’s so important in the spring.”
Kershaw admits that taking this kind of spring vacation near tropical waters was instigated by Crawford, but after five years the tradition is growing on him.
“I am slowly learning how to relax faster and enjoy the big, bad ocean more and more. I don’ t think it’s a coincidence that my racing has been getting better and better since starting these “recharge” trips in the spring. I cannot stress enough how important it is to let your body/mind come back in the month of April.”
Another change of scenery came when Kershaw and Crawford were invited on a trip to Spain through Gold Medal Plates (goldmedalplates.com), an organization which has, to date, donated 4 million dollars to help the Canadian Olympic movement. GMP hosts various gala dinners throughout Canada and several around the world, pairing cooking competitions with high class dining and wine tasting. Kershaw and Crawford were invited to GMP’s most recent event, which took place over eight days in France and Spain.
But the trip wasn’t without set-backs. Kershaw got sick upon arriving in Europe, when he and Crawford spent the first week at friend and “wax tech extraordinaire” Yves Bilodeau’s house in France.
“I had to take antibiotics for the first time that I can remember and it was a really vicious 6 days.”
So Kershaw had to settle with watching and “coaching” Crawford instead of joining in on the mountainous bike rides in France. Fortunately, by the time they arrived in Spain, he was on the upswing.
Now back to full health, Kershaw is “feeling hungry and ready to tackle the new season.”
He is psyched to be at Bend camp for the first time, not only for the great training (although he had skied once so far at the time I talked to him, he reported the training to be excellent), but for the mental break of being in a new place.
“It’s so important to keep things fresh and when you are training in places that you’ve never been at before – it makes training that much better. Every workout is like an exploratory workout – you are seeing things you aren’t used to seeing, and getting to really know the areas that you are staying in.”
Also new on the scene is Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, and although this will be the first real training camp with Wadsworth as coach, Kershaw is optimistic. Until this time, Kershaw has had four different coaches in as many years, and as he says, “some continuity will be a really nice change.” Kershaw is admittedly sad to see Dave Wood, long time team leader, leave the team, but he is definitely looking forward to Wadsworth’s promise of sticking with the team for at least four years.
“Justin seems to be a fantastic communicator, very positive and it seems like he already really cares and believes that we had a shot of doing something no Canadian man has ever done. He’s pumped and we’re pumped to get after it!”
There won’t be a lot of new changes to Kershaw’s training routine right away, although he is excited about sitting down with Wadsworth to hash out training philosophy and discuss new approaches. But Kershaw does admit that he would like to be better this summer about something that he has been notorious for skipping out on in the past: strength training. He will also focus on his other weaknesses: specific strength poling and skate technique, which he laughingly calls “a work in progress.”
Kershaw doesn’t skip out on strength training to pick flowers in the park, however. Fortunately the addiction which pulls him from the weight room is one that still pairs well with ski training – namely, running. Racing track and cross country running in high school, Kershaw admits the sport is “still a passion of mine”.
“My favorite type of “cross training” is without a doubt, running. I just love to run. . . .If I could run every day I would!”
Kershaw usually welcomes April and May as a time to get out in the backcountry for spring skiing, and credits Chandra’s dad, Glen Crawford, whom he calls a”mountain man extraordinaire”, for his backcountry inspiration.
Though high avalanche danger in the Rockies this spring limited his time on snow, it didn’t keep him off the road. Kershaw is involved in a cycling advocacy group called “Share the Road”, and his work in organizing rides and events keeps him busy even when he is not training.
There won’t be any more down time in the near future, however: with the advent of Bend Camp spring is officially over, and now the hardest work – the making of a world class ski racer – has begun. Never one to slack, Kershaw now has the addition of a recent and unforgiving reminder to ensure he makes the most out of every workout: