According to Wikipedia, "Interval training is a type of training that involves a series of low- to high-intensity exercise workouts interspersed with rest or relief periods. The high-intensity periods are typically at or close to anaerobic threshold, while the recovery periods involve activity of lower intensity. Varying the intensity of effort exercises the heart muscle, providing a cardiovascular workout, improving aerobic capacity and permitting the person to exercise for longer and/or more intense levels."
Improved aerobic capacity!! How lovely! Anaerobic exercise sounds pretty enough, like Olivia Newton John, without the head band.
Downtown Nordic thus has one scheduled interval session per week throughout the ski season. The sessions start with a lower number of repetitions and shorter intervals in mid-December, and gradually increase in number and length as the season progresses. We generally use the hills on the first fairway to add to the intensity of the intervals.
Driving to an interval session is usually a quiet, eerie affair. All skiers in our car are withdrawn, dealing with their own dark thoughts, their private hell, struggling with the grim sensation that we are all heading to an execution.
Upon arrival at the Windsor Park Nordic Centre club house, members examine the others who have also come for the night's interval session. Do the others look rested? Tired? Strong? Any conversation between participants donning their ski gear generally revolves around the night's excuse. All participants are primed with their excuse for the evening. The stories vary in quality and tone "I ran this morning...really far." "I have not slept for three days." "I have a cold." "I have a disease." "My ribs are broken." "I left the stove on."etc etc etc. We all know the stories are as truthful as a VW emissions report. We just all need to have an excuse ready for that moment of inner shame, if ever we need to pull out of the interval session early, or if we show any weakness during the session, or especially if another skier passes us.
During warmup, the stories sometimes change. "I used the wrong wax." "I brought the wrong skis." "My binding is broken." "My knee is broken." We hurl out the stories as faster skiers pass us, not that they listen, but we feel mightier and emboldened by our own stories. We actually start to believe them.
The intervals begin. The format generally varies. Sometimes coach Steve breaks us up into six groups based on ability and technique. Sometimes, we self seed ourselves. Sometimes, we are doing intensity intervals between pylons, or other times, Steve is blowing a whistle letting us know when to go hard, and when to ski easier. In any case, once the intervals start, any ability to carry out a conversation ceases. The only sound is the heavy breathing of the skiers, the slap of the skis on the tracks, the poles slicing through the air before finding purchase in the snow.
I ski hard for the first few intervals, but sometime after the first five, my heart rate no longer returns to a respectable zone after the rest interval. It hovers somewhere above my recommended maximum heart rate. I want to ski slower, at a more civilized intensity. However the Lioness is right on my tail. I can hear her gasping for air right behind me, her skis sometimes slap mine letting me know of her proximity. There is the metallic taste of blood at the back of my throat. I feel as though I have nothing left to give; but as the Lioness pulls up beside me, I know that if I lunge harder, dig a little deeper, I can just beat her...this time anyways. At the pylon which indicates the end of the hard effort, I pull up, ski slowly, trying to regulate my breath, trying to let the oxygen flow into the cells of my extremities. The Lioness is doing the same. We don't make eye contact. We cannot spare the energy. I wonder if she can smell my fear, my desperation.
"If the enemy is to be coerced, you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than the sacrifice you call on him to make. The hardships of the situation must not be merely transient - at least not in appearance. Otherwise, the enemy would not give in, but would wait for things to improve." Carl von Clausewitz, On War
Three more intervals to go. We battle back and forth, pulling ahead, lagging behind, the light supper we ate several hours ago now seems like a bad idea. The bile rises through my digestive tract, fighting gravity. My field of view narrows as we plunge up the hill one final time. We can hear Coach Steve's muffled voice in the background, urging some inner competitive beast to come forward for that final push. "This is where all the gains are made!!!" We ski harder and harder, and finish that last interval before collapsing in a heap in the snow.
We have finished for this week. We claw ourselves back to standing, wipe away the snot and the bile, and begin skiing slowly. The stories start again, but only if excuses are required. Generally, we feel proud. We pushed harder than we thought we could, went faster than before, felt stronger. Just like a difficult childbirth, we will forget about the pain for a little while, until next week....