Loving Spring

At Dartmouth more than at many schools, the end of a winter sports season really means the end of one thing, and the start of something else.

That’s because of the quarter system. Dartmouth skiers returned from Junior Olympics and NCAA’s and had to make up their finals. From there, they went on break. End of skiing, end of term, end of story.

The rest of the college racers? Well, they just went back to school, back to the same second-semester grind they saw before the championships.

I say “end of skiing” even though there was racing to be had over break. A few of us made the trip to Maine for the Sugarloaf marathon, and three skiers were competing through this weekend at U.S. Long-Distance Nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska.

But even if we raced over break, it’s definitely the end. A few days ago I started putting my race skis away for the year. It’s a relaxingly banal rhythm: apply soft wax, scrape it while it’s warm to pull dirt out of your bases, repeat, and then apply some storage wax. The ritual has a tremendous sense of finality: these skis will not be skied on again for a very long time.

When return to campus, it will seem like ski season has long since passed. We will be confronted with new classes – often difficult ones that we avoided taking during the competition season – and a distinct lack of snow. For a few seniors, myself included, there’s a thesis waiting to be written that we ignored all winter.

Before we completely move on, we have to take a minute to look back over the season to see what went well, what didn’t go well, and what we learned for next year. I suppose this is more true for some athletes than others, but I was taught by the Ford Sayre club to write out your goals at the beginning of the season, and then review them at the end.

Goal: I want to be a varsity member of my team. Achieved? Yes.

Goal: I want to have carnival results I’m happy with: top 20s in skate, top 10s in classic. Not really achieved, as I had only a few top 20 finishes.

Goal: Be higher on the NCAA qualifying list than the last skier who gets to go, recognizing that there is a 3-skier limit for each school and Dartmouth will far outpace that. Achieved? No, complete failure.

Goal: Go to big races and get experience. Achieved? Yes. Even if the experience part was, “wow, that went really poorly!”

Any competition season leaves you wishing for one more chance to prove what you can do. While this is fresh in your mind, you’re supposed to think about what affected your performance this year and decide what to do better next year. That’s the new beginning part of spring: the next racing season always seems like it will be better than the one that just passed.

And trust me, I have plenty of ideas for how to make next season great. As my coaches will tell you, I think too much. But I have a bigger problem: I don’t know if there is a next year. I’m graduating. College is over.

When I put away those race skis, it was even sadder than most years. I wondered, will I ever use these again for what they’re made for, racing? Then I told myself I was being dramatic. Of course I’ll find a way to race sometime, even if it’s the only skiing I do that year. I love it too much to walk away completely; I’d rather muddle along, out of shape, in some citizen’s race. The real question is whether I can find a way to train, so that the racing is actually good.

These are serious thoughts. But even if winter and skiing are over, spring brings fun along with the warmer weather. Classes start again and so does our concept of exercise. On the weekends, we might head up to Tuckerman’s Ravine, where spring still involves snow, but during the week, there’s plenty to do. We’re all dusting off our road bikes and giving them the once-over before we head out on our first rides.

That’s why spring is so great. In a few weeks those of us who are lucky enough to have another season will start training again, but in between now and then, there’s a mandatory period of recuperation.

It’s a period where “PLAY” is on the training plans. A period where our only athletic homework is to go remember that the sun shines and we love to be outdoors. Conveniently, this corresponds to the beginning of the term when, theoretically, homework is at its lowest.

Even when we do start training, it’s spring training, not summer or fall. Running and biking and hiking all count as training. Maybe we’ll run a local road race, team up for a relay at the Vermont City Marathon, or jump in the cycling team’s home race weekend. We’ll bring out the rollerskis eventually, but first we have to rediscover all of those endurance pursuits we went without over the winter months.

We’ll do more or less whatever makes us happiest. Spring training in a way holds the most promise of a great season to come, because you’re looking forward months and months to racing, but the gritty hard workouts haven’t yet started.

So thanks, Dartmouth, for giving us spring term.

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