Lucky number 7. That’s the spot where Sophie Caldwell, a 26-year-old U.S. Ski Team member based out of Vermont, formalized herself as yet another U.S. women’s team potential podium placer. She ended the competition year as the seventh-ranked sprinter on the World Cup. It should follow that Caldwell had little to shake up during the offseason. Something must be working.
Athletes at the elite level make small adjustments in their training as they progress from spring to summer to fall, hoping that introducing incremental stressors builds incremental improvements. With her first-ever World Cup win, a skate sprint at Stage 4 of the 2016 Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany, a big offseason shakeup was far from Caldwell’s mind.
“I think what I did last year worked well and so I don’t want to make any huge changes,” Caldwell said over the phone last week. “I really want to improve my distance skiing and just my overall fitness and strength. So I am focusing a lot on strength and adding so more volume and just holding off on the intensity a bit because I think I can get into race shape pretty quickly.”
For Caldwell, that meant a dryland season building volume and power with the typical grab bag of rollerskiing, running, mountain biking and three on-snow camps in Oregon, Alaska and New Zealand.
No big leap in training hours. No radical attempt to metamorphose into a faster stronger version of herself. The plan is about a more indefatigable tortoise and less “look at me now” hare.
“I don’t think there is any magic or secret recipe to success,” Caldwell said of her World Cup rise. “I have really great working relationship with [U.S. women’s coach] Matt [Whitcomb] because he has the same philosophy as most of the coaches I have worked with in my life do. We do what we think makes sense, but we are not throwing in any crazy secret training.”
Caldwell’s philosophy emphasizes balance. The fun, the serious, the strenuous, and the curious.
“I would say my training philosophy is to keep things simple and to also make sure I am keeping a good balance of training and life. There can be a lot of overlap with those two things and if I am only rollerskiing and in the gym for too long, I’m the kind person that I am going to get burned out,” she said. “I like throwing in some adventure … so I think finding that overlap between them to maintain a good balance in life, so I feel like I am still training well and working towards my skiing goals, so I can still live life the way I want and enjoy different things. People often underestimate the mental aspect of skiing and keeping it fresh and fun is what makes me ski the fastest.”
That summertime balance of elevated heart-rate training adventures also included Caldwell’s first book club, where highlights included the novels “A man called Ove” and “The Nightingale”.
Balance is relative. In every World Cup athlete’s mind the upcoming World Championships in Lahti, Finland, loom large. The weight of those two championship weeks are seemingly more hefty than the sum of the late-November to mid-March World Cup season.
“In a year when there is a World Championships or an Olympics, I think that’s probably the main focus of the season,” Caldwell said of her 2016/2017 skiing objectives. “Lahti is something I am really looking forward to. But, that said, I really want to have a strong season overall. And I don’t want to only focus on World Champs. I’d really like to go into it strong and try to hold it throughout the whole season.”
High plateaus punctuated with a peak, followed by a valley describes this International Ski Federation’s (FIS) sprint “statistics” of Caldwell’s 2015/2016 World Cup season. The prevailing trend remains groupings of top 10’s with a few weeks of performance fall off, then a rebound. It appears like an athlete peaking, then tiring and resting, and peaking some more. That isn’t lost on Caldwell, who spoke of trying to better manage her energy to prevent the performance troughs.
“I think this season in particular, it’s kind of setup for this because there are a few breaks in there where we get at least 10 days or two weeks where we can have a little training block in the middle of the season, which will help maintain our fitness throughout the season,” she said. “It’s a long season and it is easy to get tired. At the end of last season I definitely got a little tired but we also didn’t really have any breaks. It was just kind of ‘go’ time from the start.”
For now, Caldwell plans on attending the pre-Olympic World Cup in PyeongChang, South Korea from Feb. 3-5. “I am not one-hundred percent sure I am going. As of right now, I am planning on it. I am excited to preview where the Olympics are going to be, but I have also never been to Asia before and I think that could be a really neat experience.”
If Caldwell decides to skip the three-day Asia leg of the World Cup, she would be looking at a break from World Cup skiing from Jan. 30 through Feb. 18 when racing resumes in Otepää, Estonia.
FasterSkier caught Caldwell on the phone during a layover in Detroit, Mich. She was returning from the U.S. Ski Team training camp in Park City, Utah, to her home in Peru, Vt. Sensing she was getting tired after training at altitude, Caldwell practiced what she preached. It was time to rest up.
“I am feeling pretty good. I got a little tired for sure spending so much time at altitude,” she said of her Utah departure. “I am definitely a sea-level kid. And being at 8,000 feet takes a lot out of me. So I am excited to go home a few days earlier instead of doing any intensity just because I want to be able to rest up and have another good training block before the season starts rather than risk getting really tired from doing a few more days of pretty hard training that is on the schedule.
“But getting a little tired is how you get better, I think. It’s great to always to feel good, but in order to get faster and appreciate feeling good you have to get a little tired sometimes and as along as you can avoid turning tired into a hole, I think that it’s an OK thing,” she continued. “I am excited to get back home and breathe some thicker air, recover and then get in another training block before heading to Europe. But it’s been an awesome summer I feel like I have made a lot gains and I think I am fitter and stronger than I have been in the past. So I am really psyched for the season.”
We asked Caldwell to give our ’17 Questions for 2017′ a go. Here are her responses:
1. Biggest change in your life in the last five or so months since the ski season ended?
My sister and brother both moved out West, so it’s a pretty big change not having them around!
2. Biggest change in your training?
This summer I’ve been doing a little more volume and a little less intensity, but no groundbreaking changes to my training.
3. Major areas of improvement you’ve seen so far?
I think my fitness and strength have both improved.
4. Whom you’ve been working closest with this offseason (coaches or training partners)?
I work closely with my coach Matt Whitcomb, and when I’m home in Stratton I also work with my club coach Pat O’Brien. I’ve been primarily training with the SMS Elite team of Jessie Diggins, Annie Hart, Erika Flowers, Julia Kern, and Katharine Ogden, but I’ve also attended all the U.S. Ski Team camps where I train with my USST teammates.
5. Best trip in the last five months (and why)?
New Zealand! I just love everything about our camp in New Zealand. Good training, food and sleeping and really nice people!
6. Favorite cross-training?
7. Favorite non-athletic activity or pastime this summer?
I joined my first book club this summer and that has been really enjoyable and has also held me accountable for doing a fair amount of reading over the summer.
8. Song that was your jam this summer?
“Sleep on the Floor” – The Lumineers, “This Girl” – Kungs and Cookin’ on 3 Burners, “Devil Like Me” – Rainbow Kitten Surprise, … and many more 🙂
9. All-time favorite race moment?
Racing in the Olympics, everything about it!
10. First thing you pack in your bag when you leave for Europe?
My stuffed animal, Sleepy Bunny
11. Venue/event you’re most excited to visit this season?
I’m really excited for Pyeongchang. I’ve never been to Asia before and it will be fun to get a preview of the Olympic venue.
12. Who will win the men’s and women’s World Cup titles this year?
Simi and Kikkan
13. Biggest sacrifice you feel you’ve made choosing this career path?
I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to be pursuing ski racing right now. I’m also looking forward to the day when I have a home that I can spend time at for more than five months a year and when friends and family are a bike ride away instead of a plane ride or Skype call away.
14. If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
That it would be 100% clean and that we would never have to wonder if there were a possibility that someone could be doping. I would also love for it to be more popular in the U.S., but we’re working on that!
15. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Coffee, banana, blueberries, yogurt, granola, peanut butter, cinnamon, milk, all mixed up in a bowl of goodness (except for the coffee, that’s separate).
16. In 5 years, I’ll be ____?
Maybe a teacher? Who knows, but probably happily living in one place with another job I love (hopefully).
17. In 50 years, I’ll be ____?
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.