Liz Stephen has discovered a magic combination: the two-time Olympic cross country skier is also a four-time XTERRA Trail Run National Champion.
“I think trail running is what has made me a fit all-around athlete,” says Stephen. “I used to be an alpine racer, until I was 15, as well as a runner. Meshing the two has been a real benefit to my overall fitness, as well as a perfect fit with what I enjoy doing most, which is adventuring. I love being in the mountains and in the desert. Just being outside makes me happy.”
Despite the fact that both running and skiing are solitary sports, Stephen relishes being part of a close-knit group. “I believe so much in the power of a team,” she says. “In the last 10 years, our U.S. women’s team has gone from being ranked close to last in the world and consisting of only two of us, to a team of seven full time World Cup athletes. This year, we finished the season ranked fourth in the world.” Stephen adds that she hopes to make next year’s Olympic team and medal in the 4x5K relay event in Korea.
Stephen is considered to be one of the best climbers in the sport, which may be why she has so much success in XTERRA trail runs. “I don’t have specific running goals right now,” she says, acknowledging that she is at the end of her skiing season and is using the month of April to rest. “But I’m always psyched to compete in XTERRA races if I am in town. I love the hills!”
She will resume training in May where she will follow a rigorous schedule. “On a typical training day, I wake up, eat breakfast, and then workout for two to four hours, either in endurance or intensity training,” says Stephen. “I refuel right away with lunch or a snack, because four hours later, I do it again.” Stephen complements her efforts with Pilates, yoga, massage, and physical therapy to prevent and treat injuries. “Your body performs as well as you treat it,” she says, “So I treat mine as well as I can!”
What’s remarkable about Stephen’s three-straight (and four total) XTERRA National Championship victories is that she won the races after an intense training camp with her ski team. If she can accomplish this when she is tired, what could she do on fresh legs?
“I have thought about focusing on running for a few years after I retire from my career as a skier,” says Stephen, “But we’ll see. Being a professional athlete at such an elite level is time consuming and all encompassing. Although, I would not trade my last 11 years for anything in the world!”