The Tao of Tom

We hadn’t even cleared the train tracks in Northfield, NM, and already Tom was lagging. It was a Tuesday, which meant it was an easy distance 90-minute rollerski.  

Quickly, we self-assorted into small groups of skiers. I pushed the pace out of Northfield and into the long, undulating, chip-sealed roads that plunged into vast cornfields. Sometimes I’d glance back and assess my teammates. Was my Z2 pace hurting them? It was hard to tell.  

What really consumed me was the tall figure of Tom lagging far behind, almost out of sight. I was a junior in college, and Tom was a freshman, but unlike the other skiers, he showed no interest in keeping pace with the upperclassmen in distance workouts. Early in the Fall semester, I smiled inwardly, mentally checking him off my list of people I’d have to beat to make the traveling squad. 

My assumption shattered the first time we started doing intervals. The workout was repeats up a gigantic hill outside Dundas. To the astonishment of everyone, Tom blew us out of the water. None of us could come close. He out double poled us. He out no-poled us. He out V2ed us. He made us all look like idiots, and he did it with the same expression on his face he had when we gleefully skied away from him on easy days. 

Understandably, this dramatic reshuffling of the pecking order led to some pointed questions over dinner, especially from upperclassmen.

“Have you been sandbagging us, Tom?”

“Where the hell did that come from?”

“What doping products are you on and can I get in on it?”

“Were you born this way?”

“Do you have an agent yet?”

Tom was a budding librarian and a walking cliché of a taciturn, bean-pole Minnesota Evangelical Lutheran. He communicated more with his eyebrows than words, so he smiled, shrugged, and just got up from the table and went for seconds. The way I approached training would never be the same.

What Tom embodied was complete confidence in the Plan. When it was easy, he went easy. Tom didn’t constantly gnaw on the top end of Z2, try to drop people on easy days, or otherwise turn every workout into a competition. He skied far back, behind everyone, alone. 

When The Plan said to go Hard, he also didn’t ski with anyone, because he was so far ahead.  

He never explained himself; he just showed you. What other people did had no effect on him.  

I think it’d be easy to add his example as another data point in the narrative of ‘not letting your ego’ get the better of you, but I that misses the point.

Tom didn’t ski easy on easy days and hard on hard days because he had mastered his ego at 19; he did so because he was his mental point of origin. His process was what he measured himself against, not external influences, like his teammates. 

As you ramp up your Fall training for Nordic, it’s worth questioning whether external factors might influence your training too much and whether your best self is dropped, skiing back with Tom, confident in their path.

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