Contributing Editor for the Master Skier
Murray Banks lives and skis in the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont.
This is the second in a three part series leading up to the Masters World Cup in Idaho in March… This second installment will focus on early/mid winter training and racing and making sure you are ready on Feb 28 for MWC. The third article will focus on peaking your training, what it will be like when you get to McCall and how to navigate the logistics & protocols for MWC so you race your best.
Early winter… aren’t we supposed to be on snow now? If you are geographically fortunate, you have already found some, but like those of us in the Northeast, it is hit or miss until mid December.
For many of us, early winter means inconsistent snow. So, let’s go with the flow and use what nature gives us to be well prepared for real skiing after the holidays. This is also applicable for those who can only get on snow on weekends.
When you get on snow…
• Be sure to make technique and ski specific strength your priority for the first few weeks. Begin every session with 15-30 minutes of no poles skiing to enhance balance, body position and leg strength; finish every session with 8-10 double pole intervals up a slight hill.
• If you can’t resist the temptation to do intervals, do them comfortably so you can maintain efficient technique.
• Ski a lot of easy terrain where you can do mostly V2, the technique that requires good balance, body position and strength.
• When you hit the hills, slow down, ski strong and get to the top with a low heart rate. We’ll go hard later.
For ‘old school’ masters skiers like me, all this easy skiing is analogous to being lazy! “No pain, no gain” is our mantra. But at our age, we will ski faster by skiing better, not harder.
Think Karate Kid and Star Wars… remember the karate master making the kid start with the basics and carry water before actually doing full on Karate?
Remember the Jedi Master making Luke Skywalker “feel the power” before he could actually use the light saber?
For the first few weeks on snow, “feel the power” and “get in touch with your skis,” then in January let’s crank it up and ski stronger and faster.
When you can’t get on snow…
• If we ski easy on early snow, let’s go hard on foot
• Do hard ski imitation intervals (ski walk or bounding) with good technique, then when you get on snow you don’t have pressure to ski hard, yet you have been developing the ski muscles.
• Hiking with short poles & trail running build a different kind of fitness than road running, with better carry over to skiing.
• Keep building upper body fitness either with double pole intervals on roller skis or core/arm strength exercises. It is critical to keep building strength even after you get on snow. Always know you will do two strength sessions each week and the weather may dictate which days they occur.
Early season racing…
Another challenge with early and mid winter skiing is trying to race when you haven’t had a chance to build up your fitness on skis. Our memory sometimes exceeds our fitness and when the gun goes off, we start way too fast. For early winter racing:
• Try to “build into the race,” beginning moderately and maintaining solid technique. Pick up the speed as the race goes on, maybe even skiing a negative split.
• Remember, once you start bonking, you can’t stop and one of the characteristics of bonking is sloppy technique.
• If solid technique is my focus on the start line, I have a better chance of maintaining it during the race. Be clear on your priorities when you step up to the line.
The challenge is often ego… I know when the number gets pinned on; I want to go for it! I find it very difficult to enter a race and back off just a bit. So now, I just don’t race as often in the early season and try to wait until my fitness and technique are worthy of a race.
Mid winter training and racing
Now let’s let it rip and get dialed-in for the big races. The MWC format has an opening mid-distance race, then a 5k or10k, then, a longer race (depending on your age group).
Because I turned 60 this year, my distances at MWC change from 30k-10k-45k, to 15k-10k-30k. This means I should adjust my training to a focus more on speed and strength.
You may also want to decide which of those races are your strength or preferred focus, then plan your training for more speed or more endurance. Training for a 10k is different than for a 30k, so clarify your goals and corresponding training regimen.
Ratcheting up the training
If your early season on snow intervals were longer and easier with a focus on solid technique, it is now time to add on layers of intensity. Some of my favorite mid-season, race prep workouts include:
• 2-3 minute gradual up hill using only V2. If the focus is V2, I can usually make myself do it throughout the interval; I try to begin somewhat easier and finish it off strong. When I can do 8-10 of these, I know I can do more V2 in the race.
• 3-4 minute loop with two tough V1 hills. I try to ski comfortably through the flats with the focus on skiing strong V1 up the hills. If the flats are skied too fast, the quality of the V1 diminishes.
• 4-6 minute loop with varied terrain just like you find in a race. The focus here is to ski the correct technique for the terrain, not just to ski hard. If you can make yourself ski fast with the appropriate technique in training, you will do it better in a race: strong V2 in the up hills; ski fast over the top of the hill with 2-3 hard V2 strokes for max speed down the other side; quick tempo V1 - under control - on the steeps; staying focused in each part of the loop with no daydreaming.
• 5 X 200 meter down hill double pole intervals for speed; followed by 5 X 200 meter down hill V2 intervals. Slight downhill intervals help us build the neuromuscular pathways for speed… important for getting a fast start without going under and sprinting at the finish.
• 2+ hours with approximately 1/4 no poles, 1/4 poles only and 1/2 regular skiing. Built into that are 8-10 speed bursts of 10-15 seconds. The no poles and poles only portions come intermittently, dictated by terrain and fatigue… a beautiful section of rolling terrain would be ideal for 5-10 minutes of no poles or poles only and a slight downhill would be ideal for the speed bursts.
• And finally, my favorite… 6-8 downhill intervals with fun turns and quick transitions. The focus here is on skiing aggressively in the downhill corners and carrying speed up and over the small hills, not on getting the heart rate up… although that will probably happen!
Notice how many times the word focus is present here. Early and mid winter training, for best results in McCall, will require a focus blending speed, technique and stamina. But, having the MWC in McCall is special; so let’s make our training this winter a little more focused!
One last thought… all this focus is not at the expense of skiing a couple hours with my buddies on a Sunday morning. Slow skiing for an hour, discussing prominent issues in the world and catching up on what’s happening in our lives. Eventually, someone picks up the pace, conversation drops off and we are ripping around a corner three abreast… and we all lose 40 years off our chronological age!
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