After spending last summer training in the U.S. with the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s U23/collegiate summer training group, this year Johanna Talihärm decided to go home to Estonia.
The FIS Cross-County World Cup swings by Otepää periodically (as does the Continental Cup circuit and biathlon’s IBU Cup series), but Talihärm is originally from Tallinn, Estonia’s capital and a World Heritage Site. That’s the atmosphere she moved back to for the summer — which she said had both pros and cons.
“It is easier at home, because of no extra travel and friends and family nearby,” Talihärm, who turns 24 later this month, wrote in an email. “Other than that I would say Craftsbury was perfect. There’s an amazing and super strong group of girls to train with, biathlon and nordic girls and guys training together, an awesome nature-preserving environment and just a beautiful place.”
The Montana State University (MSU) skier finished seventh in the 15-kilometer freestyle at NCAA Skiing Championships in March, improving on her previous best finish of 13th. She and Annika Miller were the team’s only nordic All-Americans this year.
A few weeks earlier, Talihärm had been at IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, representing Estonia on biathlon’s biggest stage. She placed 57th in the 15 k individual, a result about which she said at the time, “it was all right.” Talihärm, Estonia’s top finisher at those Championships, is planning to go to the 2018 Olympics.
Over the summer, she’s focusing on aspects of training that can help both her biathlon career and her college skiing.
“I would say that my general goal is to get stronger and ski faster, and all the training I do benefits both, my biathlon and college racing,” she said. “Shooting has given me a lot of mental strength and an ability to concentrate that benefits skiing, too.”
Over email, Talihärm explained what summer training is like in Estonia.
FasterSkier: Where are you based this summer? Is this the same area you grew up in, or is your training base away from your family home?
Johanna Talihärm: I live in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, which is in the north, but spend a lot of time training three hours away in Otepää which has a world class training center with two shooting ranges and good rollerksiing opportunities. Also as Estonia is very flat, Otepää has some hills to train on, to switch it up from completely flat Tallinn.
FS: Do you have a team that you are training with, or are most of your training sessions alone? Are there a lot of other athletes and teams using the same area/facilities?
JT: I train with the biathlon national team, but most of them are located in Otepää. I train mostly alone when I’m at home.
A lot of teams come to Otepää for their summer training. The Russian ski team is there with almost all teams (juniors, men, women, para, local club teams and even some youth groups), Ukrainian women’s biathlon team was there last week, also [Slovenian World Champion] Jakov Fak, some Russian biathletes are coming (for example Anton Shipulin), Kazakhstan has been there in the past, and also Estonian nordic skiers and athletes from neighboring countries like Latvia, Lithuania and Finland.
FS: When you are planning your summer training and thinking of what you need to work on for the upcoming season, how do you coordinate between your various coaches about how to design training?
JT: I follow my national team plan when I’m in a training camp with them, MSU training when in school, and I fill up the time in between myself to make it all work. I have to credit the coaching education I got from my sports high school and coaches seminars by Estonian federations for the ability to make educated choices about my training.
FS: What’s the hardest workout you have done so far this summer?
JT: Probably a long lonely run in the rain at home. Not the hardest physically, but definitely mentally.
FS: Are there any absolute favorite places to run or bike or rollerski? Where are you always excited to do a workout?
JT: I’m always excited to work out in a new place. I love exploring new trails in my hometown Tallinn, especially the ones right by the coast. I’ve been there so often that I never expect to find anything new, so the joy is even bigger when that happens.
FS: Maybe related, is your area set up best for some parts of training? Are there excellent hills for intervals, or great places to do long workouts without being repetitive, or what do you think is the best aspect training-wise?
JT: I think my hometown is not the best place to train for skiing in the long term, but it has amazing long paved loops ideal for rollerskiing.
FS: What do you do when you are not training? Do you need to have a job?
JT: I have an internship in Tallinn this summer.
FS: How was your spring — did you get to do a good start to training while you finished up school?
JT: I was pretty wiped out by the load from school, training, racing and travel, so I took a little extra time to recover. I was careful with the intensity at first, but in general I don’t think it will make a big difference in the long run.
FS: What is the best part of Estonian summer, aside from training?
JT: Being able to see everyone, not having to do all my tasks at home in one or two weeks, no packing nor long travel, various bodies of water to swim in, familiar food and warm and long summer days.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.