Coping with Corona

Inge ScheveSeptember 16, 2020
Hailey Swirbul (USA) racing in Oestersund, Sweden. Photo: Nordic Focus.

Madshus athlete Hailey Swirbul (USA) shares her strategies for getting the job done and preparing for the upcoming season amidst the corona pandemic that has hit the United States harder than any other Western country.

“I’m trying not to stress out about it. The virus is out of my control. But of course, we are concerned. In our team, we no longer talk about what we will do if someone in the group gets infected with Covid-19. Now, we talk about when someone gets it,” Swirbul says.

“I feel like a lot of Americans don’t take the virus seriously. They totally ignore the restrictions, don’t wear masks in crowded public spaces, and act insanely irresponsibly, and that’s very frustrating for the rest of us. As elite athletes we are depending on staying healthy, so I avoid public places as much as possible,” Swirbul says.

The 21-year-old US Ski Team racer lives and trains in Anchorage, Alaska, where infection rates and restrictions have been less than many other places in the United States. But Swirbul and her fellow training buddies still have felt the impact of the devastating virus.

“Nobody knows if or how we will get to compete this fall and winter. We were not able to travel to the glacier for our usual on-snow summer training here in Alaska, and there haven’t been any training camps with the full US Ski Team,” Swirbul says.

Last winter, Swirbul posted her best ever results on the World Cup in Davos (SUI) in the beginning of the season, proceeded to win both the sprint and the 20-kilometer classic event at the 2020 US National Championship, and was preparing for a second peak toward the last part of the season. But then the corona pandemic hit and closed down racing, traveling and life as we knew it in March. As spring turned to summer, the United States topped the global statistics of corona infections and deaths.

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Hailey Swirbul (USA) at the FIS World Cup in Falun (SWE) last winter. Photo: Nordic Focus

Up to 30 hours of training in a week
“Fortunately, outdoor workouts have not been restricted in Alaska, and while we can’t easily travel or do camps with everyone, we have a strong group of skiers locally who train together. But we are careful to keep social distance. We only train alone or in small groups, and I have also been focusing on other things than I’ve been doing the past few years,” Swirbul says.

In a typical week, Swirbul does one interval session on foot and three roller ski workouts with the local team at Alaska Pacific University. Additionally, she does at least one long distance workout of about three to four hours, either alone or with some of the other local athletes, and several strength sessions.

For an average week, that adds up to about 20 to 22 hours of training. But on big weeks Swirbul can hit almost 30 hours. Occasionally, she also has recovery weeks where she drops the training volume to 12 to 15 hours.

Tweaking the training program
While outdoor training is fairly uncomplicated as long as the training groups are small, gyms have been closed for months. Accordingly, Swirbul has used the pandemic as an opportunity to tweak her strength and conditioning routines this summer and fall.

Normally, she would do three or four strength sessions per week, with at least two of them being longer workouts at the gym. This year, she’s done nearly all of it at home.

Instead of doing weights at the gym, Swirbul has focused on plyometrics and explosive strength. She found that a tree branch can be used for pullups. And she picks up her dog for extra weight when she’s doing squats.

“I look at this season as an experimental year. I keep doing what I can do and who knows, maybe it will pay off and I won’t be any slower. After all, there is no perfect recipe for training, and the most important thing is consistency,” Swirbul says.

Hailey Swirbul (USA). Photo: Madshus

Inge Scheve

Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.

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