The training season began in earnest for the U.S. Ski Team in Bend, Ore., in the last two weeks, but while many athletes have been putting in two-a-days on snow and on running trails, one of its headliners has had to take a cautious step back from traditional spring workouts. Kikkan Randall, two-time World Cup sprint champion, has battled a recurring flare-up in her left Achilles tendon this spring and has had to take proactive steps to manage it. This has meant less time on snow and more time in the pool and on the bike during the Bend camp, with the hope that she can return to full training in a few weeks.
“This is something I had last summer in addition to the stress fracture, so I think I injured it at the end of last season and it didn’t get the chance to heal,” Randall said. “Sometimes it’s fine, other times it flares up… We did an uphill running workout the first week back and it was just a little bit too much; it kind of set it off a little bit.”
When she experienced a similar issue last summer and fall, Randall doesn’t think she initially gave her Achilles enough time to recover. This year, with the experience of her quick bounce-back from last season’s stress fracture behind her, she’s trying to be smarter about her training to prevent a nagging issue from getting worse.
“All is good, [I’m] just trying to be a little smarter this time around and not push through potential injuries to the point I did last summer,” she said.
So far, being smarter has meant shortening her on-snow ski sessions in Bend in favor of more hiking, double-poling on a SkiErg, and aquajogging in the pool. Randall is also icing after workouts, getting massages and doing exercises to calm down the flare-up for the time being and return it to full strength.
“I’m just being more proactive this time around to build up the strength so that I don’t get myself in the situation where I really have to stop and back off training,” Randall said.
She says it’s been difficult to forego on-snow sessions with her teammates, but she knows from last winter that she can adjust her training and still be ready to race in time for the start of the World Cup season. Last November, when Randall wasn’t sure how her stress fracture recovery would affect her early season results, she set modest expectations for Period I. She ended up taking third in a 10 k skate on opening weekend, her best result in a distance World Cup to date.
Now, Randall has more confidence in her decision to take it easy this early in the training year.
“The experience from last year showed I can back off, doing training in different ways, and still keep in really good shape if I’m smart and patient,” she said. “I don’t feel the pressure to force the training right now. I can keep the fitness up with these alternate activities if I’m paying attention and working on recovering… It’s not easy to come off the snow early and miss out on things like running, which I really enjoy, but in a couple of weeks I’ll be training as normal.”
Randall says her workouts in the pool and on the bike have enabled her to keep her usual volume. Her return to full training was delayed by a few weeks this May because of a later-than-usual Spring Series, and since returning she’s experienced other signs that she can’t immediately jump back into workouts with the same intensity she could when she was younger.
“I was testing out some new skate boots that ended up bruising my right heel, so we had to adjust the boots and make a few training alterations to let that recover,” Randall said. “[I’m] being careful with the elbows too as we’re reintroducing double poling on pavement.
“I’m finding that I can’t just jump right into training like I used to, but if I work really hard on recovery and building into things, I should be able to train full strength in a few weeks.”
Randall and the rest of the USST are headed to Park City, Utah, on Friday to begin testing at the Center of Excellence. The team atmosphere in Bend, she says, has been as energetic as ever. After Park City, Randall flies to Croatia to fulfill her duties as FIS athlete representative at the governing body’s annual conference.
“I’m super excited for the new season and the energy on the team has been really good,” Randall said. “It’s a good time to take that excitement and manage it in a proper way and not get carried away. We have a lot of training time ahead of us, still.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.