A Late Start

FasterSkierSeptember 4, 2019
Katie Bradish ready to roll. (Photo: Sarah Klintworth))

Summer has been chaos. Bright, shining chaos.  

By the time mud season subsided here in the Idaho Panhandle, the calendar bulged with summer weekends that had been taken out of the unscheduled pot ages ago.

Glorious, unbroken stretches of cheery weather forecasts beckoned for peaks to be bagged, rivers to be paddled, trails to be pedaled, tents to be inhabited, and clubs to be swung. Those same weather reports inspired home projects that were, inevitably, way more costly and time-consumptive than sanguine guesstimates anticipated. 

And here it is, late August and the pace shows no sign of flagging. A wave of guilt comes over me when I catch myself pining for shorter, cooler days. Days when life doesn’t demand such a harried cadence. 

Along with my furtive fall-time longing, a queasy dread will occasionally drip down my spine. Remember that thing you said you would do? Looming, ever nearer? The Norwegian and Icelandic Worldloppet races clearly list my name on the roster this upcoming season.   

Oh, shit. I’m supposed to be training. Which really means learning to roller ski.

Serious cross-country skiers start training for the upcoming season in May. Since “serious” isn’t the best descriptor of my relationship with this sport, I got a set of roller skis at the end of June and scooted around on them three times in six weeks. On my fourth outing, it was kindly pointed out that I was trying to skate on a classic set up.   

“See, they don’t roll backwards… and they say classic right here,” said my friend Clara, a junior racer on the Sandpoint Nordic Race Team. 

I’m not a good enough classic skier to be on classic rollers. Apparently, I’d be sure to develop a nasty late kick that will not serve me well in Scandinavia this spring, according to those in-the-know.   And when I say “not good enough,” I mean I am not a classic skier… at all. But that is a problem for when the snow flies. 

The Sandpoint Nordic Race Team was kind enough to lend me a pair of skate rollers. I tagged along for practice – a double-pole ladder workout. The racers are half my age, twice as fast, and didn’t even give me a hard time when I started practice by falling over and hitting the pavement for no reason – not an obstacle or hazard in sight. A rosy, grapefruit-sized scrape to the tuchus and a slight bruising to pride were the only injuries sustained. 

Inaugural roller ski – check.  Since I now have a full 10K of experience under my fanny pack, here are a couple thoughts for less-seasoned rollers to consider.

  • Asphalt is less fun to bomb on than snow. Always wear a helmet, gloves and knee pads at the very least. Honestly, this is a goofy-looking sport as it is, so I am shameless adding elbow pads and some wrist support to the ensemble too.
  • My rollerskis do not have brakes. There is basically no way to quickly stop. Scout your route ahead of time. Be aware of the slight downhill that slopes into an intersection of oncoming traffic. Skip the headphones and wear some bright colors. And mentally prepare yourself to take that crisis tuck n’ roll into the ditch. The ditch is far preferable to that Mack truck.
  • There are far more obstacles on and around mixed-use trails than Nordic trails. Bikers, runners, cars, dogs, gravel, sticks, and water are all present and ready to take a roller skier out. Even the volume of people out in the summer as compared to winter warrants additional caution. 
  • “Generally active” doesn’t maintain what most needs maintaining when it comes to rollerskiing. I optimistically thought that mountain biking and backpacking counted as training. And in some ways, they did. But after months off from skiing, my upper body felt noodley after double poling for less than an hour. Burning hip abductors reminded me that the lateral movements of skating aren’t a common movement pattern in my daily life.  

The queasiness I felt towards training before has mutated into focus. One honest effort on rollers has highlighted what needs work. That’s why I sign up for these things in the first place – to scare myself into improving.  Without that hard deadline, my motivation fails to materialize. 

I’ve got six months to learn to classic ski 55K.  Actually, that feels like enough time.  

Katie Bradish (@katiebradish) is an investigative athlete and will be a contributing writer for Faster Skier from Sandpoint, Idaho. Bradish decided to learn to cross-country ski with some hard deadlines. With the support of Fischer Nordic, SWIX USA and Coach Rebecca Dussault, Bradish will race in three Worldloppet races by the end of 2020. Uff-dah! You can read about Katie’s Purple Wave experience at the American Birkebeiner here


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