Tuesday, September 6, 2005 - Exel Racing team
Exel Racing Team Update: Humble Pie Tastes Great!

- By: Jeff Ellis

Who am I kidding, Humble Pie never tastes great. We all know that humble pie tastes awful and that the taste can last for days after a particularly bad helping is served. However, it is the lessons learned from the experience that can lead us to great things. For me it was three nasty helpings in the fall of 2003 that not only taught me about what kind of skier I needed to become, but more importantly tested my desire to be a great skier. At that time I believed I had all the ingredients to be a dominant sprint skier: I had speed, lots of strength, and a past full of skiing success (at the provincial level).

In late September of 2003 I was just over a month removed from a second place finish at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in the 400m hurdles and I was still carrying all the confidence of an athlete that had been ranked top 4 in Canada for the previous 6 years. Was that ever about to change! I was also two weeks into my “return” to the ski-racing world. I remember being so excited to try these Olympic sprints on roller skis I had heard about. I was already thinking “enough with this long slow distance stuff, sprints over 250 and 500 meters, that is what I am talking about!” Little did I know this workout would present me with my first taste of Humble Pie.

With my new training partner Karla Mika I managed to exude some dominance in the first 250-meter roller ski sprints. Even the first 500 went well, although I did notice she was getting closer. Then it happened, half way through the second 500, despite my best efforts all 5'4” of Karla marched right past me for 3 seconds of a lead at the finish. Lesson # 1: It doesn't matter how much speed you have if you don't have the technique and endurance to back it up. To my dismay my recently healed ego had to endure serving number two a short two weeks after my first helping.

This time I was taken to school during a roller ski strength workout. I thought to myself, “Strength, I've got that. I set personal lifting records all last year in the weight room”. Yet again I was paired with Karla who explained to me how the process went. First we would double pole up a hill for 1 minute, followed by legs-only, and finally the diagonal stride with arms only. Sounded easy enough... I had no idea. At the half way point of the hill Karla had not only closed the gap I had worked so hard to create in the first 10 seconds but she was now pulling away as I was left to blame my pole tips for slipping. Next up, legs only. I must say I was able to keep up, but strength work for some reason had suddenly become zone 12 intervals. Now for the arms-only diagonal stride thing (I gave myself a self-imposed 20-meter head start for this one). I can still picture Karla skiing right past me rhythmically planting her poles out in front one at a time, as I collapsed with all my weight on each pole. I am sure I looked more like I was trying to pop water balloons under each armpit than I did some crazy ski strength move. I'll stop there because that is when I learned we still had 3 sets left. Lesson # 2: It doesn't matter how strong you are if you can't be strong repeatedly.

Lesson number three was taught in mid-December of '03 at the Canada Cup held at the Calgary Olympic Park. It would be my first official race since 1997 National Juniors held in Cornerbrook, and just four months after I had left sunny and warm Florida to pursue my life long skiing dreams. First up: Classic sprints. They went great. I caught the two racers (15 second start intervals) in front of me and I anxiously waited for the results to be posted to see if I had made the top 16. SMACK! the Humble Pie missed my mouth completely and caught me squarely in the face. My name was nowhere to be found on the first page… ”was I disqualified? Maybe I skated out of a turn? Oh no, there I am top of the second page in 45th place”. Lesson # 3: It is a quote; “If success comes easily and quickly, where is the challenge?”. The great thing I learned that day (but didn't recognize until later) about skiing is that talent can only take someone so far, it takes hard work and patience to be a great skier.

Athletics has taught me a great deal. Most importantly it has taught me to have a short and selective memory. I have learned to forget bad workouts and races so that I look forward to the next ones, but to take with me the lessons learned from each. I can't remember how many times I second-guessed my decision to leave the 400m hurdles that first year (good old short term memory). What I do remember though is after it all I truly wanted to keep working on being a great skier. It was this week two years ago I decided to try skiing again, and now I am writing an update as an Exel Racing Team member. I have lots of lessons to learn from my new teammates and hopefully I can share some in return.

Thanks for your time,
Jeff Ellis

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