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Lynne’s Column for Week of November 22th : X-Country Ski Profile: Lise Meloche & Dave McMahon

Lynne Bermel

Despite this week’s unseasonably warm temperatures, the forecasters are calling for snow any day now. Without a doubt, there are many among us who dread the thought of that fluffy white stuff. It may bring a white Christmas, but it also means months of running on slippery paths, breathing in cold air and alternating between pairs of wet running shoes.

Yet there’s another group who can’t wait for the snow to fall. They are the enlightened ones: The cross country ski enthusiasts. They have not only accepted Ottawa’s endless winter; they wait for its arrival all year because it means months of skiing in the Gatineau Park.

Recently, Runner’s Web caught up with two of the biggest proponents of the sport: Two-time Olympian, World-Cup Biathlon Gold Medallist, Lise Meloche and Dave McMahon, also an International Biathlete and Canadian Champion. Dave and Lise have done a great deal to promote the sport of cross-country skiing: offering clinics, producing training videos, writing a book and recently: developing a definitive guide in the form of a CD ROM entitled: "The Tao of Skiing."

RW: By way of introduction, what are the highlights of your x-country skiing careers?

Lise: We have had many high moments over the years on the World Cup Biathlon circuit, averaging three races a week for ten years. A third place in World rankings in 1986, competing in two Olympics: 92 and 94, and a World cup gold medal in1991 would qualify as highlights. Along the way, I won the Canadian Championships several times, plus the US and Swiss, NorAm’s, PanAms


Dave: The event that stands out for me was winning the 1993 Canadian National Biathlon Championships. I had won the Canada Cup overall title three years in a row – which involved lots of races all over the country and was a very tiring thing to do. At one time I was ranked third in the World in summer biathlon (X Country running and shooting), but the international circuit for this sort of thing would be hit and miss (pardon the pun) More recently I, have done quite a few of winter triathlons (skate, ski, run) with some degree of success

Lise Dave
Lise Meloche Dave McMahon

RW: Lise, what were the hardest races for you?

Lise: Ironically the hardest races mentally and physically were at the 92 Olympics in Albertville, France, largely because of heavy snows and at altitude a mile high. I was just on the road to recovery from burning out from the selection trial that involved no less than thirty-three races. On the brighter side, the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994 were magical. Skiing in third place with two km to go, I missed a shot in the range and dropped to 17th. It was an amazing experience!

RW: How many years have you been skiing?

Lise: I started skiing when I was five years old (RW note: That’s 35 years ago folks. That makes Lise – whose still a force to be reckoned with – well, an amazing.. dare I say, master?)

Dave: I fell pretty hard into the sport about 15 years ago. I never looked back.

RW: How did you get started in skiing/biathlons?

Lise: In the 60's, I would go to Camp Fortune, in the Gatineau Hills almost every day to alpine ski. The absence of lift lines meant hiking up the hill in order to go down. By the time I was a teenager, I was racing alpine. I was 15 when I was first introduced to cross-country skiing in a dedicated way. It intensified by the time I entered the University of Ottawa.

I raced for Canada that year at a cross-country world cup race. About this time, those bad boys of skiing (better known as "biathletes") were bugging the heck out of me to do biathlon.

I tried it. I loved it. I started racing and found some success. I quit school for a while and started training like there was no tomorrow. (Lise later went back and got two degrees in B.Sc. Kin and Education). I was really amazed to find that within a few years I was one of the top contenders on the World Cup circuit.

Dave: I started a lot later than Lise. (Course, I am a little younger!) I would have to say that I came from a more diverse athletic background that included gymnastics, provincial swim team, professional figure skating, martial arts, water polo, shooting and running. After University in 86 I was training four hours a day for triathlons. Although I had a strong swimming and running background, the Army (Dave was an officer) had other plans. "You can run and shoot," the army said "Congratulations, you are our new Biathlon Team Captain. "But I can't ski,"said I. The Army sent me to winter warfare school as an instructor for two months each year, where I was able to spend most of the time ski training.

My first competition was humbling. I had the attitude (or hope) that as a runner with big cardio, I would just run on my skis up those hills and blow everyone away. Ouch. it was an exercise in creative snow removal. It did provide me the contacts I needed to be talent scouted for the Canadian Forces Biathlon Team that is for all intensive purposes, the Canadian National Team. It was here that I found out what real training was. I ended up racing with the team for seven years.

RW: Why do you think cross-country skiing is good winter training for runners and triathletes/duathletes?

Lise & Dave: In a triathlon, you use your whole body as you progress throughout the events. Running is primarily legs and a set of lungs. In skiing, you will use your whole body at the same time. The total body (muscles and cardio) workout is essentially very similar. What cross-country skiing adds are the qualities power-endurance and five zone training (from aerobic, to sub-threshold, threshold, anaerobic lactic and anaerobic a lactic systems).

Dave: I always found that hard running in the winter was frustrating in the slush if not injurious. Now I run 20 minutes a day during the winter to maintain my running legs in shape and do all the hard stuff on the skis. Skiing gives your body time to recover from all the pounding and in the spring I am fit to road race. XC skiers tended to be the best-conditioned athletes around with VO2 max readings pushing mid 80s. Course, for pure logistics, running remains the workout of expediency - like thirty minutes at lunch.

RW: What is the most difficult part about learning how to ski?

Dave and Lise: Getting the proper balance on skis tends to preoccupy the beginner skier. (Although snow is a lot softer than pavement). Next on the mind of the novice is locomotion, just getting somewhere in control. The whole variety of techniques and terrain changes tends to present a challenge to even intermediate level skiers. Much of this learning process can be streamlined with good coaching. Going it alone can be a frustrating experience. Been there done that. For the most, we were self-taught given at the time we got into it, there were few coaches around who knew how to ski skate. I am happy to say that I can teach someone to ski in a day what it took me a year to figure out.

RW: How many years have you both been coaching in the Gatineaus?

Lise and Dave: We have been coaching for the better part of a decade. We established the idea of Master's Ski Camps in Old Chelsea, Gatineau Park about five years ago. The idea was simple; offer a high quality instruction package for adults here in Eastern Canada and the US. We hired additional instructors to meet demand, all from National or Olympic Teams. The camp lasts an entire day and includes video analysis.To date over 1000 people have attended, including some who have gone on to compete on the World Cup circuit. We even have a web site which explains the details.



RW: What is the most enjoyable part of teaching others about your sport?

Lise: I would have to say, it is getting someone hooked on skiing and embracing it as a lifestyle.

Dave: I get the most satisfaction in seeing it finally come together for someone: Being able to find that explanation which triggers an immediate jump in performance. Also, seeing a former student put in an extraordinary performance.

RW: Tell us about the CD-ROM "The Tao of Skiing - An AideMemoire for Skiing Aficionados" you’ve just produced.

Dave and Lise: The CD-ROM is our ski book and contribution to the greater xc skiing community. There were several reasons why we decided to produce it. First, there were no books on modern cross-country skiing which offer what you need to know by way of technique, training and preparation. There are lots of books on the shelves that tell you what knickers to wear, how to tar your skis and which chalet makes the best hot chocolate. So how to xc ski is still passed on by word of mouth.

In the last 15 years, technology and technique have revolutionized xc skiing. Meanwhile the Official XC Ski Manual devotes mere 4 pages to early skate technique. (And yet 12 pages to video camera repair!)

Meanwhile in twenty odd years we collected boxes and boxes of materials and training programs from all over the world. We have bookshelves full of every conceivable reference material on the sport - from physiological psychology to kinesiology, to Qi Gong. We kept training diaries and every day, every race, every practice recorded what we did, results and any thoughts we had about training or technique.

Knowledge is not power. Power is in the wise use of knowledge. Many of our students asked us to provide written materials after the lessons. The question was: How de we get this information out into the hands of skiers? It took two years to consolidate all the material and edit it into 300 pages of advice, which is dispensed into, digestible, easy to understand portions.

We wanted it to read like a self-help book - not a textbook. We also had thousands of photos and hours of video clips. We discovered it was much easier to explain technique using a combination of sound, text, photos and video. And the best way to this was in an interactive multimedia format. It took a further four months of long nights to produce the master copy of the CD-ROM. It reflects the integration of eastern and western training philosophies. It sells for $25. Most of the sales this fall have come from the US and Australia over our Internet site We anticipate things will catch on here in Canada once the snow flies. The CD-ROM is in all the ski shops and with and chapters. We have been moving them at a rate of 50 a week right now.

RW: What competitive events (brief description) are around for skiers to take part in?

Dave & Lise: There are time trial and races every week in the National Capital Region, including the Keskinada World Loppet. Held annually in the Gatineau Park, it is the biggest ski race in the country. It is open to all and features some of the best skiers in the world. It is a good goal. Race distances range from 10kto 50 km in both classic and skating techniques. The Canadian Ski Marathon, at 160km, is the longest ski tour in the world and is a super adventure.

RW: What sort of training/racing do you do in the summer?

Dave & Lise: In the spring and summer we do a lot of x training which includes running, mountain biking, roller skiing and kayaking. Running includes a 50/50 mix of road and trail running. As the fall approaches, roller skiing and ski striding (trail hill running with poles) becomes all important.

RW: Anything else to add?

Dave & Lise: We have seen nearly every ski resort in the world and the Gatineau Park is simply the best for year-round training and racing. It has the fresh oxygen air. The mix of hills. One of the highest density for top level athletes around to train with and enjoy friendship and support.

We’d also like to add a few of our favourite words to live by:

"Train your weaknesses but race your strengths." "The road to success is constantly under construction" "Do quality before quantity. However, quantity has a quality of its own"

And finally, "Don't spit on your skis, it slows them down" and "when xc skiing - wear wind proof underwear"

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