Thursday, October 23, 2008


I just got back from my weekly 3 hour run. Each Wed. is the big day. With our shortening days up here in Alberta one needs to develop some nocturnal habits and the willingness to train in the dark (that is if training isn't your full time job!). Starting out this a.m. a good hour before sunrise gave a whole new perspective. The moon shining off of the snow covered mountains was beautiful. The stars were shining brightly and with Orion now in the sky, winter is sure to be here soon!

In the past I've had good results from long training workouts. In the mid to late '80's the Norwegians were starting to get spanked pretty good in the xc ski world. They decided to throw a bunch of Kroner into research and went about asking, then ultimately answering the question, "what makes a skier go fast?" Their conclusion? Hi VO2 max. That pretty much summed it up....was the bottom line, etc. So the next logical question was, "how do we get high VO2 max's?" Their answer: long training sessions. They found that the heart size began to increase with training over 2 hours. With a bigger heart, each stroke volume pumped more blood....result: higher VO2 max. My coach at the time, Ahvo Taipala, learned this information from coaching clinics in Europe. He added that they showed videos of the Norwegian Nat'l team going on low intensity, but very long (5-6 hr. ) hikes, roller skis, etc. The results over the next decade and a half truly bore out their findings. They dominated the World!!

At the World XC champs in Thunder Bay in '95 I had an interesting conversation with the Norwegian team Dr. and one of the athletes. With this previous knowledge I began to inquire as to the veracity of the physiology and the training methods. The Dr. wasn't too loose lipped, but the athlete spilled the beans that their team's VO2 max average was an astounding 92!!! I think the highest ever recorded is 94. When you consider that several of the US team's best skiers had VO2 max values around 68-78 at that time, you can see they weren't exactly playing on a level field (I'm not making ANY accusations of doping either).

So now, when I look at how the Norwegians seem to be getting away from this type of training and seem to be emphasizing high intesity training you have to wonder, what are they thinking? Sure, they are the best in the world when it comes to far. But what about the other traditional distances? They really seem to have lost their dominance.

A little closer to home... one of our local skiers that grew up in Canmore and is now on our nat'l team had an usual way of peaking for major events that really seemed successful. Several times he qualified for trips, teams or events, that no one thought he would. It seems that a week or two out, he'd do 2 back to back 5 hour skis (one each day). Apparently it brought to him a new level of fitness.

In the summer of 2006 I won a running marathon (ok, it wasn't the most competitive event, but a win is a win!). When a friend stated the next week that I must run a lot I realized that I was only running 2 times a week (with some swimming and biking too). However, each wed. I got my 3 hour run in.

Now, I'm not saying super long and slow is all you need to do, but I am saying it should be the foundation to any training program. Don't neglect it. The optimum is 2 long ones each week. I try to get in a 4-5 hour workout on Saturdays in addition to my 3 hour run. The Saturday workout is often a cross trainer. My last one I ski skated on roller skis for 2.5 hours followed by a 1.5 hike up a mountain. The idea is to keep that heart working. By cross training, I don't exhaust my muscles, but give the best workout to my most important heart.

Happy training!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Altitude Advantage

Man 'o man....!!! I went out for a run this morning and did I ever feel out of shape. I've gone from feeling like superman at 850 meters, now like super-slug back at 1400m.!! The value of training at altitude is often underestimated, but I sure felt it today!

While in Vancouver yesterday I stopped by the Speed Skating Oval for the fall world cup trials. The Canadian team was slugging it out (men's 1500m yesterday and women's 3k). They've decided to make their training base here right at the foot of the ocean until the Olympics. Considering their elevation is about 0 meters one wonders if they're making a mistake. Sure it's one thing to be familiar with the venue, but could it be that the Calgary's oval elevation is what contributed to our country's success? The sprinters (Lemay-Doan, Witherspoon, Auch) broke the success barrier initially, but in 2006 it was the middle and long distance skaters that secured the dynasty. I hope that there isn't dissappointment in results in front of the home crowd because of preparing in the wrong venue.

Coaches should be training:
As long as I'm ticking people off I may as well continue! So many coaches are so far removed from their competitive days that they've not only forgotten many of the lessons they personally learned, but they no longer are familiar with the feelings (physically and mentally) of training and racing. I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten important lessons in the 30+ years of racing I've done, whether it's technique, waxing or training. It seems I'm constantly telling myself, "o yeah, I forgot about that." And then re-learning things.

Even if coaches just casually competed they'd be reminded of many an important lesson. I'm told that Canada's new Xc ski Norwegian coach Arlid Monson is one of these. If he even has 70% of the juice he had while racing for team Norway it's no wonder he has no problem keeping up with our boys while doing intervals. Way to go coach!

Anyway.....gotta go!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bears, Bobsleds and the 2010 Olympics

I'm here in rainy Whistler for a couple of reasons. First, in my role as Canadian sport/faith chaplain, we've got several Christian athletes here for a 3 week training camp. I'm here to meet with them, be a part of their world and encourage them. It's been a fun, but rainy week. Next, I poked around the 2010 xc venue and did some roller skiing (for my role as a coach). Technically it's closed during the week, but as the good book says, "you have not because you ask not". So I got a good ski in yesterday. The elevation is 850 meters....not too high. As I've been training around here in coming down from 1400m in Canmore you can start to feel super-fit. It'll be back to reality tomorrow!

The bears seem to rule around here. There have been about 6 of them hanging around the bobsled track. Apparently they like munching on the wildflower and clover mix they planted all around the venue. Yesterday I wanted to ski hike to the top of Whistler mtn. departing from my Creekside base. I hadn't gone too far when I encountered a large bear (grizzly) on the trail up. So I circled around back to the base. Trying a new route I covered a lot more vert before I ran into my 2nd bear. This time I was a lot higher up and b/c of the fog didn't see him until I got pretty close. I was making a lot of noise though and he heard me and casually lumbered over to the woods. I could see him intently looking at me though and the trail narrowed and veered pretty close to the bruin, so I decided I'd had enough ursa close encounters. I was carrying bear spray, but this only works in hand to claw combat. Wanting none of that was what motivated me to retreat.

When it comes to training for ski mountaineering....vertical is king. At home (Canmore), I've been doing a lot of mountain hikes in the peaks close to my home. I recently read where one of the top Euros kept track of all his training by vertical meters. He was up to several hundred thousand that year. Really, there's probably no better training for Randonee racing. Each week I try to do one hike in zone 1-2 heart rate (~70-80% of max) and one in zone 3-4 (~85% of max.). The latter, my hammer hikes, last about 45min to an hour for the uphill hammer portion.

This trip has taken a major hit on my training hours, but it's been fun to be in Whistler and motivating too. Our Nat'l randonee championships are here and it brings back some good memories from last year's race. I finished just off the podium, but this year...who knows?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Welcome: here we go

Welcome to my blog place, "Ski Training Central"!!

We've all got our personal quests and goals. I've been pursuing skiing sports for over 30 years now. Mostly cross country and more recently ski mountaineering racing. You can't help but pick up a few things along the way. This blog is to share some of my experiences and what knowledge I've gleaned.

After 25+ years of shooting for xc success I felt it was time to expand my horizons. In 2001 I started doing triathlons, including ironmans. It was amazing how my skiing improved, even though I wasn't doing specific off season training anymore. Seeing competition and my body from a whole new light easily transferred into better skiing. I'd never done 5 hour skis before, but workouts this long were common place in tri training. I learned new things in nutrition, particularly in race and in training nutrition that equated to better performance. My mental approach also changed. Among the helpful new strategies was to be more focused and "in the moment". As I did this and learned to quiet my mind, tune in to what was going on, I found that the hours during racing and training flew by and were really enjoyable.

Now I'm delving into another new horizon that's got me really pumped up. It's the new (new for North America) sport of ski mountaineering. I'm in a totally steep learning curve and one of the reasons for this blog is to record what I learn for other newbie racers. My friends call me the "toy boy" and it's true...I'm a total gear head. The down side is I'm not rich, so I'm always looking for ways to gear up on a tight budget. I'll have some future posts on how to make stuff and where I found places to get stuff.

I'm also very actively involved in coaching, so future blogs will incorporate technical stuff for athletes and coaches. My current coaching involves our local clubs youth programs, but I've coached in 2 Olympics, coached High School skiing in MN for several years, done some volunteer coaching for one of Canada's devo. nat'l teams and done various clinics for past sponsors Atomic and Karhu.

Check back soon!!