After an incredible end to Toni McCann’s 2022 racing season – a victory and course record at the Otter Classic – she exchanged summer t’s and shorts for thermals, thick socks, hot cups of cocoa, and a white Christmas.
The adidas TERREX athlete left South Africa early December, and trading her home trails for ski slopes, landed in Åndalsnes, a small town in Norway. Typically McCann’s offseason consists of “base training” – running with lots of strength work – but this year transpired into an experimental ski camp of sorts. Having never skied before, McCann admitted that it was both extremely exciting and intimidating to be the one wearing the “beginner shoes.”
McCann comically admitted to falling “at least 20 times the first try,” but, with guidance and support from fellow TERREX #oneteam mates, our summer-loving athlete quickly became a winter-wonderland convert.
While the sub-degree temperatures and the vastness of Norwary’s mountains will forever be close to McCann’s heart, the elite athlete’s passion for patisseries could not be tamed; and so, two weeks later, McCann moved to the land of baguettes where she has been since. In France McCann learnt to ski off-piste (off path); a discipline which she confessed “burns your quads like nothing else.”
Despite Toni McCann’s off-season being far from her typical training, she shared that “from a mental fatigue point of view; the removal of structure and the big break from ‘proper’ running training has been very much needed and well received.”
McCann’s snow-filled re-set meant she stood at the start line of her first “ice-breaker” race, with 50% of her training being ski-focused, and her running volume low and unspecific. Despite predominately hitting the gym to run on a treadmill, battling a chest cold in early February and consequently only managing two weeks of consistent training; McCann’s re-entry into racing, regardless of her reassessed approach to her race build-ups, “seems to have paid off.”
While initially nervous, McCann said that the 4:30 am wake-up and drive to Grenoble – filled with great prep talk and lots of coffee – left her filled with “only excitement.” Upon arrival, she felt “calm and relaxed,” and “knew that there was no pressure, only new trails to run and enjoy.”
Although McCann raced with “no expectations,” – knowing that she was up against an incredibly talented field of elite women racers, Hillary Gerardi for example, “a seriously badass professional skyrunner,” – she crossed Trail du Grésivaudan’s 30km (1700m+) finish line in 2:43 to claim first-place.
To stand on the podium at her first race of 2023 was “great affirmation that the past three months of skiing were not wasted time.” It’s settled McCann’s “small fear that [she] would have lost valuable training time,” and reaffirmed to her that “diversifying [her] training has actually been incredibly valuable.” McCann shared how pleasantly surprised she was with the improvements in her uphill running; she found it noticeably easier to keep a faster pace on steeper gradients for longer periods, as well as maintain her heart rate in a sustainable zone. In addition, McCann attributed her “comfortability in sustaining faster speeds over the flatter parts of the course,” to her ski season, maintaining that this new sport has “helped increase aerobic capacity through lots of very easy zone 1 and 2 training.”
While skiing will remain part of McCann’s training, making for the perfect recovery-type session, the “fire to start running and get back to work properly,” has caught alight. McCann’s focus now is her upcoming race in Transvulcania. The 48km marathon includes 2000m descent and requires a lot of conditioning; so it’s back to the trails and gym for our Faces and adidas TERREX athlete, Toni McCann… Although she did humorously add, “who knows, maybe the Winter Olympics may just have a Saffa on the start line.”