For Central Cross Country’s Jennie Bender, summer is for both building strength and taking time out for unstructured workouts.
The winner of the classic race at last year’s Birkie tries to balance the exact focus of specific strength training with free form over distance. By losing track of time on a long run or canoe paddle, she gets inspired to challenge herself with a grueling intensity session.
Her go-to intervals, usually done on classic skis, are broken into three sets of six to eight uphill repeats of 30 to 60 seconds each. For each set, she works on double poling, single stick, double pole kick or striding.
For the University of Vermont alum, the best part about these intervals is being able to shift the focus of a particular session by tweaking certain aspects of the same basic workout. For more strength, she finds a steeper hill.
To focus on technique, she slows it down and concentrates on proper form. For higher intensity, she’ll increase the interval length or speed.
Bender will do this workout or a double pole-only one just like it at least once a week.
“Specific strength is one of those workouts where I always finish feeling like I just became a better athlete,” she said.
If you’ve got access to training partners, this session can be even more valuable.
“There is always something to learn from those around you, even if it’s what not to do,” she said.
Speaking from home in Vermont, Bender also stressed the importance of going outside and having fun during the off-season. In returning home and talking with her high school coach, she was reminded that her desire for adventure can apply to her training. Some of Bender’s most memorable workouts are ones where she didn’t look at her watch.
Whether it was an all day canoe with high school teammates or a long hike in college with just her iPod, she would always feel reenergized afterwards.
“I didn’t focus on how long it would take me. I just went until it was time to go home.”
When she’s not getting lost in the woods, Bender will also mix things up by playing Ultimate Frisbee, practicing yoga, or going salsa dancing. “You have to be serious about training, yes, but don’t forget to challenge yourself and have adventures,” she said.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.