Practice makes progress

Practice makes progress

'I am completely and uncontrollably addicted to the pursuit of greatness'

By Isabelle Weidemann for CBC Sports
February 6, 2019

Every March at the end of the speed skating season, I reflect on the past year before starting fresh on the next one.

I like to comb over all the training I did, achievements and hurdles, the goals I checked off, and where I fell short. I make lists of the things I learned, and everything I want to apply to the future season. There is always room to improve. Potential is limitless. The prospect of getting better and faster excites me. Figuring out how to accomplish this is a welcome puzzle.

Canadian speed skater Isabelle Weidermann has big plans during this Olympic cycle. (Submitted by Isabelle Weidemann) Canadian speed skater Isabelle Weidermann has big plans during this Olympic cycle. (Submitted by Isabelle Weidemann)

The 2018 Olympics capped last season for me. They were an unbelievable experience. Fantastic and magical though the Games were, I struggled to find happiness in my own results. I was sour and disappointed in my inability to contend with the top three. I have been sixth in the world for the past three years now, and it is becoming a bitter pill to swallow. I was frustrated when I left Pyeongchang.

My mindset slowly changed when I took some time away from the ice in the off-season. I feel much more at peace about the Olympic races now.  I remember how fortunate I am to wear my Canadian suit, and how hard I worked to get there. I gave everything I had in those races, and I am proud of that. The lingering dissatisfaction will be the four-year-fuel for my training fire. I will forever be hungry for more.

If I want to be a serious contender in four years, what am I missing? What has to change? Of course, those are the million-dollar questions and if I had simple answers, I’d have one heck of a book deal right now. My main takeaway from this analysis is clarity: I don’t want to spend the next four years training to come sixth. If I want to go faster, I need to push myself.


I have always worked hard.

My determination has constantly been one of my strengths. I am not the only athlete who relies heavily on this trait in search of success. Many of us log extra miles in our running shoes or spend more time than prescribed on our bikes.

For a long time, I clung tight to the notion that if I wanted to achieve more, I had to do more. If I trained more than my competitors, and more than I had in my previous season, I would inevitably go faster. And it worked. At least, it worked until I reached the level where everyone trains incredibly hard. That’s when I discovered world class results are not built solely on training load. Sure, workload matters, but to excel you need an extra edge. I had arguably reached a physical limit for training hours, so I needed to get more out of what I was already doing. I needed to work smarter, more efficiently. The purpose of every practice needed to be clear.

This was my project for the summer, and the one that I continue to build on this racing season: practicing with Purpose. My Purpose this year is to narrow the goal of every practice. To know exactly what I want to get out of every one. Instead of mindlessly skating laps, I ensure there is a firm and focused objective for each of them. Technical, tactical, or physical, the purpose of practice is always defined.

I’m extremely fortunate to be surrounded by some big stars in speed skating. Every day I train alongside Olympic and World Champions — the best in the world at what they do. I get to watch them practice and analyze what makes them great. I’ve come to see that when they train, every exercise is calculated and purposeful. Every dryland step, every lap on the ice, every movement is dialed in. They know what they want to do and what they want to get out of it. They focus on goals without a moment of inattention.


I have been diligently trying to replicate this.

But training with a focused, purposeful mindset is difficult. Pushing my body hard without a real thought of specific purpose was my default mode for a long time. The challenge now is ensuring at every practice I know what I want to achieve. There are only so many hours of training we can log every season, and by focusing on the process and purpose of each session, I am trying to make every second count.

I am a winter athlete, but my base is built in the summer. I log almost 800 hours of training in the warmer months. In the winter, I race for a season total of 75 minutes. Those off-season training hours have got to count! What have I learned from training alongside the world’s best? That the difference is in making those hours purposeful. That’s where the great athletes are separated from the rest.

I’m still learning how to be purposeful in training every day. I occasionally fall back into old habits, grinding out empty laps on the oval or purposeless miles in my running shoes. It is much harder than you’d realize. Thankfully, I’ve got an outstanding team of coaches and support staff to remind me daily about our goals. This changed mindset has been difficult, but one I embrace with excitement, because I am completely and uncontrollably addicted to the pursuit of greatness.

(Top large photo by Jung Yeon-Je/Getty Images; Middle large photo by Mladen Antonov/Getty Images; Bottom large photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The Isabelle Weidemann edition

Q: The best book you've ever read? 
A: Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden or the Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid. Both are great.

Q: Must-listen Podcast? 
A: CBC’s players own voice, of course! I’ve also been bingeing Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Blueprint for Armageddon took over my life for a couple of weeks.

Q: Best advice you ever received? 
A: ''Never run to class. You’re going to be late anyway  you may as well save your legs.''

Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called? 
A: A little crazy, but we’re making it work.

Q: What word or phrase do you over use? 
A: “Coffee?” or “I’m too cold for this."

Q: What is a skill you wish you had? 
A: Stand-up comedy.

Q: What's something no one would guess about you? 
A: I can’t throw a ball properly. My arms don’t move that way.

Q: What scares you? 
A: Every horror movie. Ever. Malls at Christmas time.

Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the people you'd invite? 
A: Paula Radcliffe, Jane Goodall, JK Rowling, Misty Copeland, my mom

Q: What makes you cry, every time? 
A: Horror movies and letters from loved ones.

Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
A: To finish my undergraduate degree in geology and learn to mountain bike!

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