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Denny Morrison and Richard MacLennan: summer of 2011 – Part 2

With the summer closing to an end, Canadian speed skaters are working towards the end of an interesting training period. The roof of the Olympic Oval in Calgary was under repair this spring and summer, forcing the athletes to find other places to get the first on-ice training laps under their belt. After a cycling camp in Penticton, BC, the Canadian sprint team found refuge in Montana first for another cycling camp, and then spent a long time in Salt Lake City for their on-ice training. Denny Morrison and Richard MacLennan, both on the Canadian sprint team, look back on the summer and talk cycling for a change.

By Jolanda Abbes

Right after the speed skating season ended in March of this year, the Olympic Oval in Calgary closed its doors for some important work that needed to be done on the roof, since the structure had started to deteriorate. All triangular porcelain and enamel panels were taken down and repaired, and the old membrane and insulation were stripped and replaced, before the structure was reassembled. As a result, the oval was closed all spring and most of the summer, and the Calgary-based speed skaters, who usually start their on-ice training in May, saw themselves faced with a problem. A solution was found soon enough, with the Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City, where the Canadian sprint team spent quite some time this summer for on-ice and cycling training. Richard MacLennan, who is on the sprint team, reflects on the time spent in Salt Lake City: “This summer we've been moving around much more, specifically Salt Lake City for skating. It was different being away from home, but with all my teammates there it was as close to home as it gets.”

For Denny Morrison, who spent his last seven summers training in Calgary, this summer was different from last year as well, and in more than one way: “Unlike last summer, when I wished the skating season would never start again, this post season I spent twelve days in different parts of Europe (Ireland, Austria, France), had my mental and physical break from speed skating, and by the end of March I already felt excited to get back to training, though we never started until the second week of May. Our group has done what, for many skaters in the group, has been an unprecedented amount of cycling in the summer. Our first two camps, one in Penticton in late May, another touring Southern Montana in June, focused mainly on cycling. I was especially impressed with the girls on the team, who always covered the same distance on rides as the guys, albeit banking more hours in the process. After that, we did a long cycling, dryland, and on-ice camp in Salt Lake City, which was a nice change-up from training in Calgary in the summer.”

Canadian sprint team in Montana

So what does a training day in summer look like for an athlete on the Canadian sprint team? MacLennan gives an overview of a typical day in Salt Lake City: “Wake up, eat, drive to the oval, skate during the morning session. Finish skating, go back to the house. Eat, sleep. Afternoon training session, weights/biking/some other kind of training.” On a cycling camp, however, the schedule can be slightly different, as Morrison explains: “I like to get up and have a pretty big breakfast most days in my life, but especially before big training sessions or long road rides. Cycling and eating go hand in hand for me, so if the ride is over three hours – which most are – I usually pack a lunch and enough food with the goal of finishing the ride and not feeling extremely hungry. Then a shake or snack within less than 30 minutes post workout. Nap if there is time, or get some type of treatment depending on what is available (physio or massage), then crush the second training session, which can be anything depending on the program. Once home from that, it's a scramble to get dinner made in time because we're usually all starving again. At camps in the US that sometimes means finding out where a nearby Mexican restaurant is and how to get there. Then just hang out with the teammates and have long winded conversations about anything and everything, while playing video games or chatting with friends from home, et cetera.”

Men's sprint team in Penticton

So obviously, when you’re a speed skater, cycling constitutes a large part of summer training. And sometimes, during one of those long road rides, a speed skater may start to imagine what it would feel like to be one of his role models in cycling, as Morrison contemplates: “There have been a few times on the bike that I've imitated Andy Schleck's smiling-grimace and felt like a champ. If only I was 30 kg’s lighter, like him, for those climbs...” Where Andy Schleck is not considered to be among the best descenders in the world, however, Morrison seems to be quite the daredevil: “The fastest I’ve ever gone on a bike was when I went 112.8 km/h following our support vehicle down a hill while trying to catch the rest of the group after I had a mechanical. It should also be noted this was after both of the track cycling camps I participated in last summer, so I was comfortable spinning at about 150 rpm in my hardest gear. And the other day, I hit 98.8 km/h down a short and steep hill after taking a draft from some teammates along the way.” MacLennan comes close to this second time Morrison mentions in terms of his fastest speed on a bike: “I went 98.5 km/h, downhill after a time trial climb we did in Penticton.” Moreover, MacLennan looks up to Cadel Evans, who finished first in this year’s Tour de France: “The way he pushed himself up the hills behind some of the better climbers was very impressive, especially for more of a time trialist.”

After having watched the Tour de France to a large extent and having spent so much time on a bike themselves, Morrison and MacLennan have developed a keen interest in the sport and do not shy away from commenting on each other’s abilities on the bike. MacLennan: “Denny’s strength as a cyclist is that it never looks like he’s even trying. He’s scared of corners though.” And Morrison adds: “Richard is huge so he gives off a huge draft, but riding in a good consistent rhythm makes him easy to follow in a pack.”

Richard MacLennan

Last July, Morrison successfully put his cycling skills into practice at the 24 Hours Of Adrenaline in Canmore:The 24 Hours Of Adrenaline is a mountain bike race starting at noon one day, and goes non-stop until noon the next day, around a 17.2 km loop. There are different categories which all race at the same time: Solo, 2-man, 4-man, 5-man, and 10-person. The goal is to complete more laps than any other team (in your category) within those 24 hours. The 5-man team I was on along with Pat Marsh, Lucas Duffield (both speed skaters), Luke Way, and my brother Jay, was called ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. We completed 21 laps within the time limit, lapping the second place team in our category for a decisive victory!”

Denny Morrison at 24 hours Of Adrenaline

And now, after all these training camps and hard work, the summer has almost come to an end, and the start of another speed skating season is just around the corner. Both MacLennan and Morrison are excited for the new season to begin and look forward to seeing how their work this summer will pay off during the upcoming winter. MacLennan: “I'm really looking to push my own limits this season, and see where I stack up on the world stage. This is still a building year for the Olympics so that's always in the back of my mind, but overall I think it's a really important year.” Morrison stresses the fact that the next Olympics are still far away and that at this moment in time it is important for him to just focus on the here and now: “This season I'm just focused on trusting my new coaches and doing as best as I can to adhere to their program, and technical pointers. It's a long way to Sochi still and I don't need to spend any energy looking that far forward.”

For this season’s rookies on the Canadian team, MacLennan has some valuable advice: “Try to experience everything and DO the initiations, they turn out to be awesome stories!” Morrison contemplates a different approach: “I've never seen a pair of legs explode...” Moreover, rookies and veterans alike, everyone can learn from everyone, always, as Morrison and MacLennan reveal the most important thing they’ve learned from each other. Morrison: “Richard taught me the benefits of having 100% hearing in both ears.” And MacLennan adds: “Never leave your hotel room open, it might be ‘rearranged’ when you get back.”

Click here to read part 1 of this feature story.

Photo 1 and 4: submitted by Denny Morrison
Photo 2: submittend by Gilmore Junio
Photo 3: submitted by Richard MacLennan

Video: Gilmore Junio