Salomon S Lab Modular Shorts System – Review

Salomon announced a new “S Lab Modular” shorts system last summer that looked interesting but a bit fussy at the time. The system replaces the excellent S Lab Sense short that was in the line for a couple of years. I have used the S Lab Sense short extensively (like for every run for over two years or about 5000 total miles (8000 km) of running) and thought that it would be difficult to improve on the design. Although they changed the inner brief to a longer version in the 2nd year of production, I have preferred the original “classic” size  inner brief although both are very comfortable and great performers. A couple of images of the S Lab Sense shorts made from 2014-2016:

So it was with a quite a bit of trepidation that I tried out the new S Lab Modular System. I have been pleasantly surprised and it appears that comfort might be marginally improved (time will tell).

Salomon S lab Modular system overview

The system consists of an inner brief (boxer length or longer), an integrated belt (for hydration, fuel, and stowage), and an outer (in three lengths). You choose what works best for you in whatever combination you like. Here is a short video that illustrates the system:

The system is pretty flexible but it also seems a bit fussy, particularly since the S Lab Sense short was so good and just involved buying a pair of shorts- no “system” involved and the Sense short had everything that this new product offers- comfortable shorts and integrated hydration/fuel/stowage. But the Sense shorts did not offer the flexibility for different lengths and types of additional support that the new system allows for.

Since there are no studies that show any significant level of efficacy for the use of compression garments in endurance sport, I have never been that interested in the Exo line that Salomon has had for years. I have found the garments to be uncomfortable and, in some cases, they have lead to painful chaffing in some bad places. All of the Exo stuff I purchased over the years is now gone off to the local thrift store. Likewise, with this new system I have no interest in the Exo bits so the review here will be of the non-Exo components. I know there are a lot of fans of the Exo-type compression/support stuff but I would suggest that those who are using it might think about the reality of “the placebo effect”…. but, to each their own!

the system i use

From the available elements of the modular system, I chose the boxer briefs, the integrated belt, and the 6″ outer. This combination most closely replicates the original/second generation S Lab Sense shorts- it is also the least expensive combination (but still a whopping $165 US retail). If you go with an Exo set-up be prepared to spend up to $270 US retail!

boxer

integrated belt

outer

overview

The comfort of any short is highly dependent upon the performance of the liner as this is the part of the short that interacts most closely with the body and some sensitive areas. To be direct, the S Lab Modular boxers are “uber” comfortable- the sort of experience where you put them on and use them but never have another thought about them until you realize that they are essentially transparent in use and exactly what is preferred. They stay put and I have had no need to make any adjustments whatsoever in mountain runs exceeding 25 km (2-2.5 h) in length. The “37.5” material used in their construction is a brand of fabric compositions that use ultra high surface area particulates to help in absorption and evaporation of moisture to help regulate body temperature and humidity in the micro-climate at the fabric-body interface. These materials have been found to be very comfortable in those garments that sit next to the skin. In this case I agree- the fabric is very comfortable next to the skin and all of the “working” parts that a brief interacts with.

Salomon S Lab Modular short system- my version is the boxer briefs, the integrated belt, and a 6″ length outer.

The boxer briefs have two “flap over” pockets on each hip, apparently for additional fuel or keys or whatever might fit. I see these pockets as a place for secure storage whilst running since they are no very easy to get to once the whole system is in place. I currently use them for keys on the very rare days that I drive or ride a bike to a trail head (I live where the trails go right out the door and directly to hundreds of miles of single track), otherwise the pockets are not used. One thing to note about the pieces in this system is that there are no hems- nearly every material edge is unhemmed fabric with a thin, slightly sticky polymer layer on the inside (toward the body side). This layer serves two purposes- first, it prevents unraveling of the fabric and, secondly, it provides assistance in keeping the fabric in place. The areas where there is a loop of fabric over an edge is at the elasticized sections at the hips on the outer piece and at the upper edges of the pockets on the integrated belt.

Also these briefs can be used for other garments, e.g I have used them as a liner for some 3/4 tights and as a base layer for cross country skiing under a pair of thermal tights. In both cases they have worked well.

A side and back view of the boxer briefs showing the “flapover” pockets at the hips and the hemless fabric terminations. Also note that the fabric being used is part of the “37.5” brand of fabric compositions that use ultra high surface area particulates to help in absorption and evaporation of moisture to help regulate body temperature and humidity in the micro-climate at the fabric-body interface. Note the hemless fabric edges and the snaps for attachment of the integrated belt.

You will have noticed the three in-line “holes” placed in a vertical orientation- these are actually the male side of a set of snaps that are used for attachment of the integrated belt. There are another set of snaps on the front of the briefs (see image of entire system above and marketing photos of the briefs, also above). In my experience the snaps are not noticeable against the body during use.

The integrated belt snaps into the briefs and nestles nicely around the waist. There are four pockets distributed around the entire circumference of the belt- two longer pockets across the front and back and two smaller pockets at the hips. All pockets have small tabs centered on the individual pockets to facilitate access.

The integrated fuel/hydration/stowage belt showing the female side of the snaps used for attachment to the briefs, the hemless fabric edges, and one of the small tabs used for access to the pockets.

I found that it is best when using the belt to attach it to the briefs before putting the briefs on. It is difficult to align the snaps at the rear without a visual cue. For those that always use the briefs with the belt they can be left assembled even through wash cycles. However, one will most likely wash the briefs after every use whereas the belt can be used for numerous runs without necessarily needed to be washed.

The integrated belt attached to the briefs showing the position of the belt, the mesh pockets around the periphery of the belt, and the hip pockets on the briefs.

Finally there is the outer piece that is positioned over the briefs and snuggles up to the bottom edge of the integrated belt. The fabric of the outer piece is extremely light and breathable and has a “barely there” feel. This piece appears to use a “lost fiber” process where a fabric is purposely constructed with a proportion of the fibers being composed of a material that “disappears” during the final stages of production. Such a process yields a fabric that has very fine openings that are otherwise very difficult to achieve. The fabric also has a DWR treatment that could help minimize soak-through in wet conditions.

A backlit image of the outer piece fabric showing a fine distribution of openings throughout the construction. This appears to be achieved via a “lost fiber” process.

The 6″ version of the outer piece of the modular system showing the elasticized waist sections, the “barely there” fabric, the hemless terminations, and a 2″ slit up the sides.

review

I’ve used this modular system for about 150 kms (100 miles) of mountain running with a long run of about 30 km (about 3 h). This use has been in temperatures ranging from 40F (4C) to 80F (27C) in generally low humidity (<50% rel) conditions.

I have found the system to be very comfortable under all of the conditions that I have used it in. As noted earlier, one of the primary aspects of this system is it’s transparency, i.e. that it is in place and there is nothing about it that you notice or feel needs adjustment. This is a great thing and one that is not typical in my experience. It hints that Salomon have really thought this system out and tested it extensively for comfort.

Given the epic snow year here in the Central Idaho mountains, we have quite a bit of runoff and what are normally “creeks” have become virtual rivers and a few of these cross the trails that I run regularly. So, I have been up to my waist in rushing water a few times and found that the system stays put and dries out quickly- the outer piece dries very quickly (there is not much there to absorb water in the first place). The briefs and belt also dry quickly, at least in the lower humidity that I have tested them. The fabrics also stay relatively dry in hotter temperatures as the 37.5 fabric is designed to maximize absorption  and evaporation- and it does seem to work well.

As far as fit, I have universally used the Salomon size small and the size small in the modular system fits as expected. The only part of the fit that I am not entirely satisfied with is the length of the 6″ outer piece- it is a bit too long for my preferences as I prefer the 5″ inseam length of the Sense short. The 4″ outer piece is too short. I still do not understand the appeal of the very long, very loose “basketball” length running shorts that have become popular and the 9″ version of the outer piece is just such a length. Once again to each their own… and Salomon have provided a way to pick and choose accordingly with this system- it is one of the strengths of the product line.

Use of the integrated belt has worked well for fuel and stowage but I find I am constrained to a 250ml soft flask size maximum. The larger flasks (500ml) are just too large and heavy when full and they can bounce out. Also the tightness of the mesh pocket fabric over the bite valve can lead to leaking of the fluid so one needs to take care as to where the bite valve is placed. I typically have the valve facing upward at an angle and over the lip of the pocket so that the mesh does not stress the bite valve. You can get two 250 ml soft flasks in the belt (one front, one rear) but I find it to be a bit heavy and slightly bouncy, but for a long run you will be emptying the flasks so this situation would only last for a while.

I have been able to get eight gel packs, an S Lab Light jacket, a long sleeve tee shirt, salt tablets, one 250 ml flask of water (or fuel), and a headband (or hat) in the belt without altering the comfort or having too much bounce. With the exception of additional hydration the belt essentially replaces a typical race vest. If you choose to use the Salomon (or other brand) hydration glove product it is possible to carry up to 1l of fluids (or more if you use a hard-bottle system). For most races this capacity will be sufficient to get from aid to aid without difficulty even in very warm conditions. So as a race alternative, the modular system with the integrated belt should work well- I’ll be finding out for sure in few weeks.

Also you do not have to use the integrated belt as the system works without it in place. I have done a couple of longer runs without the belt but instead used a Sense Set 1 hydration vest. Either way these are very lightweight options for longer runs or as a race set-up.

price

The price of the system as tested is $165 US and is about the same as the $150 US for the prior S Lab Sense short. It’s still expensive but the performance and flexibility may justify the price- it will depend on your expectations. Also the briefs can be used with other garments as noted above.

However, if you go with Exo program in this system you will be at $270! I think that is over the top particularly since there is no basis for the so-called “benefits” of the compression parts of the system.

bottom line

An “uber” comfortable, flexible, and high performance shorts system for trail running and racing. A bit “fussy” but still highly recommended. However, there is extremely limited availability in the US at this time. Not so for Europe and I’ll be picking up a few more pieces when in the Trient-Chamonix area this summer.

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 – 300 km Update

Even though we have only just finished up the ski season (the last grooming was this past Sunday (7 May), I have been able to get out running a fair bit. The epic snow year means the trails are opening up slowly so I have not spent much time up high on the more technical rocky terrain as these areas are still under 3-6 feet (1-2 m) of snow. But I have been able to find some dirt, some rock, and, mixed with some snow fields, pieced together some reasonable length runs of 15-25 km. In total I have about 300 km on the 2017 Sense Ultra at this point with about a 50/50 mix of dirt/rock and snow.

After about 200 kms, there hardly any noticeable wear on the outsole, no excessive wear on the uppers (even though I have postholed through a fair share of crusted snow fields where abrasion is very high), and no noticeable reduction in cushioning.

The performance of these shoes has been outstanding! Salomon have truly hit a “sweet spot” of cushioning, grip, trail feel, and weight. The grip has been superior in all of the conditions that I have been able to test- dry and wet dirt , mud, clay mud, snow, ice, and wet and dry rock. All of these on rolling and steep (up to about 40% grade) trails. The trail feel is very good but not as transparent as in the S Lab X-Series (Sonic) and S Lab Sense. The weight (about 260 gms for these 7.5 US 40 2/3 EU) is not as noticeable as I thought it might be. But the most prominent feature of these shoes is the mid-foot support and the added cushioning.

The design of the shoe does an excellent job of securing and supporting the mid-foot and placing a generous amount of cushioning in this region and this makes for a huge improvement in comfort both in shorter (<15km) and longer (>25km) runs. As a forefoot striker, as I tire my midfoot begins to increasingly make contact coincident with the forefoot and support and cushioning in this area becomes critical for comfort and efficiency. I find the S Lab Sense Ultra to maintain a high level of comfort throughout runs, independent of the state of muscle fatigue and it is apparent that the onset of foot fatigue is pushed further out in time and distance compared to other shoes that I have worn (e.g. Sense, X-Series, Sonic, S Lab Wings, etc.). There is also substantial cushioning in the forefoot and this may be playing a role as well. Of course, the heel is even more cushioned and this is very welcome on long (> 3km) steep downhills that are typical here in the Northern Rockies (as well as in the Alps, where the  steeps are truly steep!). Combined with the excellent proprioception, bombing downhills in these shoes is a real pleasure and even at this early stage in transitioning from skiing I am finding some significant improvements in downhill speed.

The Sense Ultra also have very good glissading capabilities. It is not clear why but these shoes will glissade down a steep snowfield with significantly more control than I have experienced in other S Lab products. I suspect that the lug design is playing a role since the diamond shapes are oriented in way such that they may be providing a certain amount of directional stability. As a cross country skier I am intimately familiar with and comfortable on a narrow platform and the control on snow with the Sense Ultra is something like what a ski feels like, albeit minimally. I have much more control in these shoes on long glissades and this has been a welcome feature of the design given the amount of snowfield running I have been doing.

After about 300 kms, there is hardly any noticeable wear on the outsole, no excessive wear on the uppers (even though I have postholed through a fair share of crusted snow fields where abrasion is very high), and no noticeable reduction in cushioning. If there is a potential issue it might be the fact that the upper on the medial top of the right foot has a “wrinkle” that could develop into a high stress site and eventually a hole.

A “wrinkle” has formed on the right shoe on the medial top of the upper mesh fabric and may eventually lead to a hole at this higher stress spot. Only time will tell.

The “wrinkle” is not present on the left shoe so this is probably some sort of manufacturing issue. Whether it is common or not, only reports from other users will confirm. If my experience holds in observations of other such high stress spots in upper materials there will likely be a hole here at some point- the question is when.

summary

The Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra is an excellent shoe for just about any terrain or condition one might experience. The midfoot support and overall cushioning along with excellent proprioception, grip, and acceptable weight lead to a “sweet spot” product for the trails. This will clearly be my go-to shoe for the 2017 trail running season for both training and competition. Stay tuned for another update- probably at around 700 km when I will have a lot more time/distance on the shoe in technical terrain.

 

The Haywire Heart – How too much exercise can kill you and what you can do to protect your heart – Review

Overview

There has been much written in the popular press over the past decade or so about the downsides of training for endurance sports particularly as it relates to the so-called “athletes heart”. In many of these articles (and as usual) the claims by medical “scientists” are often misrepresented, misinterpreted, and selectively presented to inflate any findings beyond even the typically overstated and often unsupported conclusions of the authors in contemporary medical journals including results from clinical trials. This represents a severe dis-service to the general population and specifically to those who choose to train for endurance sports.

The authors of “The Haywire Heart” dance the line between the constructive, by providing a useful source of guidance on the subject of arrhythmias and endurance sport, and the deconstructive, by adding further, in my opinion, to informational dis-service. I think they have stepped a bit too far on the side of overblown alarm and not presented a balanced, statistically framed, and critical context in which to absorb the significant body of research outlined and referenced in the book. The subtitle of the book is a particularly egregious alarmist and unsupported statement.

Of course, readers today gravitate toward sensationalism at the expense of accuracy and precision (it is not obvious why this is the case, other than the continued failure of our educational systems to address critical thinking skills, particularly in the US). As a result, if an author expects to reach any sizable non-fiction audience, nothing less than a muted sensationalism needs to be a central theme. In this, the authors of this book succeed. In providing a balanced, statistically accurate evaluation of the potential for the development of arrhythmias in endurance athletes, they fail.

The authors make a good start at a balanced approach in the introduction, but thereafter obvious bias and sensationalism creeps in and incrementally erodes the foundations of the “science” being presented. This process ends with a ridiculous chapter on “supplements”. Too bad because all of the elements of a very good guide to the subject are here and without the hype and misrepresentation it would represent a true contribution.

On the positive, the book will provide the reader with a reasonable description of the workings of the heart, the observed arrhythmias and various treatment options, and how the skimpy evidence on the effects of endurance sport training on the development of arrhythmias might be interpreted. The book is a worthwhile read provided one takes a critical stance on many of the conclusive statements throughout the book by pursuing investigation of appropriate referenced sources and applying logic, questioning “fact” , and using reason. Additionally, there is good coverage of what to be aware of as it concerns the symptoms that are typically observed in those endurance athletes who have developed arrhythmias- so if you are one of the very few who might be at risk you will have some idea of what sort of heart episodes to be sensitive to. In no way does the meager evidence for the incidence of arrhythmias that appear to be correlated with endurance sport exercise lead to any significant general concern for athletes training for endurance sports.

Although I am by no means an expert in the field of electrophysiology, cardiac arrythmias, or cardiac clinical research, I did spend 10 years of my scientific career on the device side developing new therapies and devices for the treatment arrhythmias. I have been intimately involved with development of state-of-the-art implantable pacemaker, defibrillator, and cardiac re-synchronization therapy (CRT) devices. In this work I interacted with Electrophysiologists, clinical researchers, and device experts to help provide the most efficacious treatments possible at the time. My background in the field is substantial, however I would not describe my level of understanding as “expert”.

As a research scientist I feel qualified to evaluate the scientific evidence presented and critically review any conclusive arguments and extensions to recommendations for endurance athletes. Additionally, I am a life-long endurance athlete who knows, trains with, and has raced against National-level and Olympic-level competitors for over 40 years- both when we were all “pink-lunged” youngsters and now as semi-decrepit Masters. In fact, many years back, as  budding road cyclist and graduate student doing research at Los Alamos, I would occasionally train with one of the authors (Lennard Zinn) up into the Jemez Mountains and around the Via Grande just above town. It was here that I first discovered my abilities as a climber and I am forever grateful for the “calibration” that Lennard supplied- he is a truly talented cyclist.

statistical context

Perhaps one the largest failings of this book is the complete absence of a summary of the observed incidence of arrhythmias in the general population and the common correlates and concomitant diseases that are associated with arrhythmias. As a result the reader is left to wonder what the expected occurrence rate of arrhythmias is in the general population and how this is related to age and other associated conditions.

Numerous epidemiological studies have been conducted on various arrythmias and particularly for atrial fibrillation since AF is the most common arrhythmia condition. The primary identified factor for the development of AF is age- the older you are the more likely you will develop AF. A recent study of AF in a European population showed an overall incidence of about 2% but this rate is highly dependent on age. The incidence at ages less than 49 years is about 0.14% but increases dramatically to about 4% at ages 60-70, and to about 14% at ages greater than 80. Additional studies of other populations typically yield slightly different incidence rates that are within error estimates. Other concomitant conditions include hypertension, obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, and cardiomyopathy.

With this type of statistical basis for the incidence, correlates, and concomitant conditions for arrhythmias, one is in a position to properly evaluate any increased incidence observed in endurance athlete populations. However, the book never reviews nor even supplies this information- which is very disappointing.

I have listened to a few of the podcasts that the authors have participated in and in those podcasts with Mandrola present it is stated by him, up front, that the condition is rare and any discussion should be cognizant of this fact. However, this never comes through in the book. Also in the podcasts, the significant uncertainty in making any concluding statements about the relationship between endurance exercise and the development of arrhythmias is highlighted. However, later in the podcasts, statements that are inconsistent with this are rampant.

the “athlete’s heart”

Fundamental to the all of the evidence and discussion on the development of arrhythmias in endurance athletes is a condition called the “Athletes Heart”. “Athlete’s Heart” is a syndrome described, in simple terms, by an enlarged heart and a low resting heart rate. Cardiac adaptation to endurance exercise and training leads to hypertrophy of (primarily) the left ventricle, dilated chambers of the heart, an associated increased stoke volume, and a generally attendant lower resting heart rate. These effects can be (and often are) misdiagnosed by uninformed (and often poorly educated) medical professionals as other conditions not typically found in the general population, e.g. cardiomeagly (enlarged heart), cardiac hypertrophy (thickening of the left ventricle), and bradycardia (low heart rate). Repeated loading of the heart muscle in ways typified by endurance sport training (e.g. long (>60 min) exercise  sessions and high intensity intervals) will naturally lead to cardiac remodeling that includes all of these conditions. One rare potential outcome of this remodeling is the (hypothesized) development of electrical malfunction within the heart which can be manifest as various types of arrhythmias and is the subject of the book.

It has been hypothesized that arrhythmias can be the result of endurance exercise via a mechanism that includes a process by which the heart muscle is taxed in such a way that it “stretches” and leads to small tears that are naturally healed by laying down collagen in the affected areas of the heart. This healing leads to something called fibrosis (aka “scaring”) and it is proposed that fibrosis can eventually lead to electrical discontinuities within the heart and manifest as an arrhythmia. There is no mechanistic understanding of the relation between cardiac fibrosis and electrical malfunction- it’s just an idea at this point. However, whilst reading this book you might be lead to believe that such a mechanism is fact.

alcohol use and atrial fibrillation

Although not central to the concerns about AF and endurance exercise, the following represents an example of selectively presented mis-information by the authors.

The authors present a graph (Fig 5.1) on page 130 that relates “chance” of atrial fibrillation with number of alcoholic drinks consumed per day, referencing a recent study  that has shown statistical evidence for increased risk of atrial fibrillation/atrial flutter for those who consume even moderate amounts (1-6 drinks per week!) of alcohol. Firstly, the graph is entirely misleading because the authors relate  a quantifiable variable (number of alcoholic drinks per day) with a qualitative variable they call “chance” of AF. Even though the referenced study presents a full analysis of the quantifiable data for the “chance” variable, the authors chose not to plot this quantitative information. This is a common method utilized by sensationalists to obsequiously over-state a relationship. This happens because a graph such as this shows, in this case, a doubling of the “chance” (or risk) for the ailment (in this case AF) per daily drink of alcohol but gives no information on the underlying risk magnitude. The underlying risk can be very low- as it is here. In addition the actual data on “chance” of AF used in the graphic is in units of risk ratio, i.e. total risk with alcohol consumption divided by total underlying risk. For there to be doubling of the risk this ratio would need to be equal to 2. It isn’t and this is detailed below.

If one analyzes the data presented in the referenced study it is found that the risk for the no alcoholic drink population is about 2% and that this risk is essentially unchanged for those who have about one drink per day, increases by about 10% (a risk ratio of 1.1) for those who have 2 drinks per day, and by about 20% (a risk ratio of 1.2) for those who drink 3 drinks per day. What this means is that the risk increases from 2% to 2.2% for those that drink 2 drinks per day. So although the obfuscating graph (and accompanying text) purports to show a doubling of the risk, it is not a doubling, and the magnitude of the increased risk, at least as far as I am concerned, is inconsequential. Make your own determination but, authors: please provide the data when it is available instead of confusing and obfuscating what is observed. The medical literature is rife with such drivel (see for example the papers by Ioannidis referenced at the beginning of this post).

The authors may have confused increased risk with increased incremental risk- which is a very different thing and one that the general reader would have limited interest in. Even if they meant to include the word “incremental” in front of “risk” (where appropriate) in this section, the data are inaccurately presented and is inexcusable in a book intended for a general audience. The relevant value is the increased risk- something that the reader can best understand and personalize.

For clarity a plot of the the risk ratio versus the number of alcoholic drinks per day based on data from the referenced study is presented below:

Risk ratio for the development of AF as a function of alcohol consumption in the general population based on data from a study referenced in the book “The Haywire Heart”.

A side note here that is good news to those who enjoy beer- the authors of the referenced study concluded the following as it concerns specific alcoholic drinks:

For specific alcoholic beverages, consumption of more than 14
drinks/week of liquor or wine was associated with
increased risk of AF (Table 1). There was no association
with beer.

It is not clear what to make of this observation other than this result highlights how little is known about the subject and any mechanistic cause that might increase the risk of developing AF. Since life stress is thought to be a contributing factor for AF, are wine drinkers more stressed out than laid back beer drinkers? Who knows… but the absorption of alcohol into the body seems to not be reliably associated with increased risk of AF, at least based on these data.

development of Arrhythmias in endurance athletes are rare

As noted, the incidence of arrhythmias correlated to endurance athletes is rare. In one long term study (reference 5 of Chapter 4) of about 52,000 cross country skiers who participated in the annual Vassaloppet 90km ski race in Sweden, an overall occurrence rate of less than 2% for all arrhythmias was found during the 10 year study period. Note that this incidence rate is similar to the results of the epidemiological study of just AF (not all arrythsmias) in a general population summarized above.

Apart from simple observations from incidence rates, it is important to point out that such studies are properly done by using exposure metrics rather than incidence rates. This is because the exposure (in this case, endurance exercise) is the parameter being studied to determine any correlated affects on the body. However, this exposure is confounded with age, a primary observed correlate with AF. Therefore the data are often presented in “person years” of exposure (in this case exposure to endurance exercise, not age, which is another type of exposure that confounds the data), as they are in this referenced study of Vasaloppet skiers. In addition, the models used to analyze the data employ techniques to correct the dataset for age and other concomitant conditions known to be present in individual subjects.  Using these metrics and modeling, the authors found an increased incidence of atrial fibrillation in the skier population that is functional with finishing time (a hazard ratio (instantaneous temporal risk) of about 1.3 among those with faster times) and number of races (a  hazard ratio of about 1.3 among those who participated in more races).

At this juncture, it is not, and cannot be, determined that AF and endurance exercise have any mechanistic connection. Any such connection is purely speculation. Additionally, there may be other, perhaps more important, factors (such as stress) not being measured that lead to the increased incidence of AF in this skier population. Since much of the data on health history and lifestyle factors (such as stress) is self-reported, significant errors are likely extant in the dataset. This is a fundamental issue with the results of all epidemiological observational studies (EOS) that attempt to link disease with exposure. This fact is never discussed in the book, yet much of the data presented derives from EOS.

Further, it can be pointed out that, even in this endurance athlete sub-population of cross country skiers, the incidence of AF is very low, however the authors of this book attempt to leave the reader (or at least this reader) with the impression that the condition is common among long term endurance athletes. The authors further reinforce this by using the anecdotal experience of one of the authors (Lennard Zinn) and making arguments that arrhythmias are much more common in endurance athletes- specifically, that an unexpected number of fellow long term endurance athletes known to Mr. Zinn came out of the woodwork after he was diagnosed and expressed that they too have various arrhythmias. Such expressed high incidence is just not supported by the (meager) data available, and, given the Boulder-centric observations, one might postulate that this supposed high incident rate of arrhythmias might best be called “Boulderythmia”- a disease that affects high strung, high stress, and “striver” male endurance athletes living in Boulder, Colorado.

This is not to say that an endurance exercise correlated arrhythmias is not a serious condition- just that it’s a rare one and one that is seen almost exclusively in older athletes just as it is (and at a similar rate) in the general population. The message here should be that arrhythmias are more common as one ages not that endurance exercise causes arrhythmias.

A critical editorial comment on the above referenced study of cross country skiers serves as a very well stated and concise summary of the state of understanding of any proposed relationship of exercise-dose with AF. The authors assembled data from numerous studies to come up with a exercise dose to risk of AF functionality. A “strawman” U-shaped graphic is provided but much caution is expressed as to the power of any of the current studies to allow firm lines to be drawn or even to establish guidelines with respect to exercise dose and the potential for development of arrhythmias.

Another recent review article by one of the authors of the comment is also a very good read (and where I learned a new (to me) word- pleomorphic – a word I am already itching to use!). Using a combination of these authors opinions, a review of the referenced work in the comment, and a critical review of the article will allow one to develop a substantiated position on the subject. Have at it!

Also recommended is a recent (2015) PhD thesis (an expanded version of the type of study in the article on cross country skiers referenced above) that has much more information and data. This study included 200,000 Vasaloppet skiers and a time frame spanning the years 1989-2010. Here is how the author summarized his work:

We evaluated risk of death during the race in two papers (I,II). During 
90 years of annual races, cardiac arrest occurred in 20 skiers, of which
five survived. The death rate is in average two per 100 000 skiers.

We also studied the association with cancer incidence (paper III). The
overall reduction of cancer was modest among skiers compared with the 
general population, but for cancers related to lifestyle the risks were
markedly lower.

We investigated the risk for recurrent myocardial infarction and found
a 30% reduction among skiers (paper IV). In paper V we showed that 
skiers with a first stroke have a lower incidence of all-cause death. 
The skiers had a higher frequency of atrial fibrillation but had less 
severe stroke and no increased risk of recurrent stroke. Thus our data 
suggest that a lifestyle with a high level of physical activity may 
work as a protection after a cardiovascular event.

Summary: The short excess mortality in endurance physical activity is
by far outweighed by the long term protective effect of exercise in 
cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

An overview of the thesis and an interview with the author is provided here and confirms the overall benefits of endurance exercise and the observed slight increase in AF. It seems obvious, based on the data available at this juncture, that the benefits of endurance exercise far outweigh any risk and this, combined with awareness of the symptoms of arrhythmias, should allow one to fully embrace an endurance sport lifestyle without any significant concerns about development of heart arrhythmias due to endurance exercise.

summary

With the sensationalist approach of The Haywire Heart, it will take a bit of extra work and pursuit of clarification and calibration from the literature to fully grasp the current understanding of the relationship of endurance exercise to the development of arrhythmias. This is unfortunate because with some minor editing the book could have been a “one stop shop” on the subject for the interested endurance athlete and general reader alike. But the sensationalist vibe and biased writing undermine the good work that is presented.

The book does serve as a good source for basic information on the heart and how it works, review of some interesting cases of endurance athletes who have developed arrhythmias, and as a source for references to background material. I suggest you read the thesis referenced above and the other relevant work (including the recent review article) and make your own conclusions, but suffice it to say that, in my opinion, the alarm that is the apparent primary focus of the book “The Haywire Heart” is misplaced and substantially detracts from a book that provides an otherwise good source of information on the subject.

 

The Road to Klosters – Wrap-up and Path Forward

This is Part 10, the final post, in a series about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland that took place in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, fleet evaluation, racing weight, race course profile analysis, and peaking, and packing for an international ski race.

overview

It has been a great year of training and performance for Team Bumble Bee! We put a goal out there, made detailed plans to achieve excellence, executed upon those plans, and ultimately learned a lot and grew measurably as individuals and as a team. Much of this has been chronicled by me (Bumble) in this blog over the past 9-10 months. We have tried new approaches to periodization, made strength training a focus, worked more diligently on technique development, ensured that easy days were easy and hard days were hard (a very hard thing to do!), took intensity sessions to levels that we have not experienced since we were national/international-level endurance athletes, managed to avoid any major injuries, and effectively and efficiently managed the ailments that inevitably occurred along the way. In the end we are both pleased with how it all shook out at Klosters. We have taken away a sense of accomplishment and identified a bunch of needed improvements to “up” our individual performances and proceed to higher levels of excellence.

Bee had an outstanding series of performances- 4 Gold medals in F06 in 15km Free, 10km Classic, 30km Classic (shortened to 22km due to avalanches), and the F03 Relay. No other competitors in F06 were even close and she was consistently in the top 5 overall, independent of age. It was unfortunate  that the competition was not more robust as it affected Bee’s ability to push toward her best performance level. It is certain that there are other F06’s out there that could give Bee some challenge and we are very hopeful that they show up at future World Masters Championships!

Bee gliding down the small hill (and trying to see through the rain) on the way out of the start/finish area in the 30 km Classic race (shortened to 22 km due to avalanches). After 0.5 km she already has a 100 m lead!  Such was the case for all of her races- great job!

Shauna, our 83 year old neighbor, close friend, fellow dog-walker, committed athlete, and Team Bumble Bee protégée (Bee has been coaching her), also had stand-out performances winning 3 Silver medals including  a “come from behind” placing with a “lunge for the line” and a 0.1 sec margin. Quite inspiring!

Shauna, our 83 year old neighbor, friend, and Team Bumble Bee protege, pushing the pace in the 5 km Free under hot pursuit by another competitor. She piled up three Silver medals over the course of the week of racing. Inspiring!

Bumble had a couple of great races, and a couple of challenging ones. I placed 13th (15km Free), 14th (10km Classic), 14th and hypothermic (30km Classic- shortened to 22km), 7th (5km Classic) and 1st US competitor in all races. M07 being in the largest age group with 138 registered competitors, the fields ranged from 65-85 depending on the specific race. We estimate that about 2/3 of the field of any World Masters Championship race is there to compete, are serious, and have prepared for the events (the other 1/3 are there “for the experience”, camaraderie, and a vacation). So the M07 fields represented no less than about 40 of the world’s best cross country skiers in the M07- a very competitive field indeed! I will go through each of my races in more detail below but the bottom line is that if I am to expect a podium finish my downhill speed has to improve substantially.

An issue with training in Sun Valley is that the snow conditions are routinely “ideal” and it is difficult to practice things like downhill skills in challenging conditions. Our friends from New England and the Midwest are constantly dealing with “marginal” snow conditions and they (can) therefore develop skill sets that are much more accommodating of whatever race day conditions might prevail. We will be concentrating on getting out on difficult downhills every “marginal” or challenging day in Sun Valley going forward. Practice and experience is the only way to slay the downhill demon- and it is very important both for being competitive and being safe.

The travel went relatively smoothly but there was a large group traveling from Sun Valley (about 25) and many were on some of the same flights and this made for a few frustrating moments and a couple of mistakes- this experience further reinforces the point made in Part 9 about the importance of traveling alone if possible. This is something that Team Bumble Bee will be adhering to going forward.

Thule ski bag we used for the trip. Nicely padded with room for 5 pairs of cross country skis, four pairs of poles, two sets of boots and still room for other stuff.

The Thule Ski Bags we each used worked out exceedingly well. Although ostensibly  “alpine” bags, they are available in a 195 cm length, which, for us shorter skiers works out just right for the longer ~196 cm cross country classic skis. The bag easily allows for up to 5 pairs of cross country skis, 4 pairs of poles, two sets of boots (and boot driers), is nicely padded, has a number of internal pockets, and there is still room for other stuff (like waxing equipment). The roller wheels are high quality and smooth and the handle positions are very ergonomically located. I shuttled both of these bags through two terminals in Zurich, and about a 600m walk through the village from our hotel to our waxing “cabin” at the race site- without any difficulty. Highly recommended!

The balcony of our very nice corner room at the Klosters Alpina Hotel. A great place to stay – nice rooms, very good food, outstanding facilities, and convenient!

The hotel accommodations and dining service were excellent- we were in pleasant walking distance of the start/finish, traveling through a very nice, quaint Swiss Village. We basically stayed in Klosters the whole time doing as we did at race series events as full-time professional athletes in the past- warm-up, race, eat, sleep, repeat. It was relaxing and allowed for proper mental preparation and limited any exposure to potential sickness. It was remarkable how many of our fellow US and Canadian competitors spent much of the time at breakfast and dinner complaining about the food or the rooms. I guess if I go to Switzerland, I expect (and look forward to) that I will be served Swiss food, be in Swiss-style accommodations, and have a Swiss experience. Perhaps others are looking for a slice of US or Canada in Switzerland… go figure! In any case the food was excellent (and we have high standards) our room was nicely outfitted and plenty large enough for us, our athletic and street-wear, 4 pairs of ski boots, 10 pairs of skis, 8 pairs of poles, and a place to have lunch- as well as a beautiful balcony along the entire perimeter of our corner room looking up into the Alps and the quaint Village streets.

Weather was probably the most challenging part of the trip. We all knew that early March is problematic in the lower Alps as it pertains to snow and we had quite the mixture of rain, snow, ice, and puddles. We arrived a few days prior in the rain which cleared off for a day of sun and then some repeated warm nights of snow followed by warm temperatures with mixed sun and snow for the first few races, rain during the 30km/45km Classic race day, and a nice (but very wet snow) day for the relays. But the local organizers did an outstanding job getting the courses ready and in good condition prior to all of the races.

Walking to the race venue a couple days before the races started in weather that would end up being typical for the period- snowy, wet, variable skies. Not the best of weather and snow conditions but fun nonetheless.

The decision to arrange for the SkiWhisperer to come and take care of all testing, waxing, and consulting on our skis was, to be direct, brilliant! The knowledge and experience base that we had at our disposal was by far the best there. And, as you can tell from the summary of the weather, the waxing was very challenging and made for one glide “Fluoro-fest” after another and a bunch of kick anxiety since the courses all climbed up enough that there could be rain at the start and active snowing during the races at the top of the course thereby making kick a tough decision. I have never seen so much expensive fluoro powder go down on skis before. We were using a 7 seven layer glide work-up including a final surface process that the SkiWhisperer calls “goosing” right before the start. I can say that Team Bumble Bee had among the fastest, if not the fastest, skis out there in every race. Any time we were passed on a downhill was due to “operator error” (and there was a lot of that by Bumble). The stress reduction and lack of “time-on-feet” associated with having the snow conditions analytically tested and your skis waxed for you is transformational- and highly recommended for such an “A” race series. It’s expensive but worth it. The SkiWhisperer Team did an outstanding job (13 medals, mostly Gold) and we only hope that we can convince them to join us in Norway in 2019!

Looking into our wax “cabin”. A group of about 10 of us pooled resources and convinced the SkiWhisperer&Co to come to Switzerland and work with us on preparation for the races. A brilliant idea as it turned out! And a critical place to warm up for Bumble after going hypothermic in the 30 km Classic race… more on that later!

Bee earned an elite bib for the Engadin Marathon and had an OK race there, winning her age group by a large margin. Bumble, with a bib in 13000 range, sat it out after hearing exactly how little “skiing” you get to do back in the “peoples” waves. It was a good decision after listening to all of the stories Sunday night of those who persevered and waddled their way across the 42km flat course with 15,000 others. These large marathons hold no special place for Bumble… and now, even for Bee.

Return travel was not without a few hiccups including a power outage, dirty rooms, and dirty grounds at the Zurich Airport Hilton (all of which are not very “Swiss”). This hotel is not recommended- use the Radisson Blu right on the airport grounds; it’s more convenient, has clean rooms and facilities, much better food, and an outrageous wine cellar.

On the return trip our hotel in Zurich was very uninspiring (and very much NOT Swiss) but we did find some nice forest parkland next door that had a newly installed Parkour course including these rings that are perfect for Garhammers!

Bumble managed to catch some Euro-virus that took hold during the return transatlantic flight and ended up being very stubborn and, as of this writing, still not fully flushed. We hypothesize that Bumble’s hypothermia during and after the 30km Classic race (more on this later) may have knocked down his immune system and made him vulnerable, in any case it’s been quite the downer, but has forced some epic resting.

Delta is not a good choice to Europe- they have a very small presence there and as a result they sub-contract to a number of other airlines and check-in agents. This resulted in screwed-up seat assignments, a number of inconveniences (including a 20 min bus ride to the plane in Paris), and one of our ski bags being lost and not returned for a few days after traveling around Europe and the US on what looks like 5 additional flights. Stick with the major players (Swiss Air, etc.) when going to Switzerland.

the races

Although there are a total of six races at World Masters (for the M07 and F06 these are: 15km Classic, 15 km Free, 10 km Classic, 10 km Free, 30 km Classic, 30 km Free, and the 4X5 km relay with two Classic legs and two Free legs), competitors are allowed to race just three individual races and, if selected by the National team, the relay race. Both Bumble and Bee signed up for the 15 km Free, 10 km Classic, and 30 km Classic. We were both chosen for the relays and we both were “scramblers” (the first relay leg (Classic)). It was a nice schedule with the 15 km Free on Saturday (the 4th), the 10 km Classic on Monday (the 6th), the 30 km Classic on Thursday (the 9th), and the relay on Friday (the 10th). This gave at least 24h of recovery between efforts and 48h prior to the longer 30 km Classic race- a pretty ideal set-up for the series.

I will not review the details of Bee’s races here other than to say that within about 1km of the start of each race she was substantially off the front and never saw the other competitors again. She obviously dominated and went on to win four Gold medals all by significant margins- from 6-8%. Nice job! Bee attributes much of this level of performance to the upper body and core strength work that we both focused on this past Summer and Fall and then throughout the race season. More on this later.

Note: I am writing this race summary/observation section for documentation and learning purposes- it will likely be too detailed (and long) for most appetites. Sorry for that!

15 km Free – strategic error but good effort

Being the first race, I was coming in with a well rested body and a psyched mental state. After all, this was the culmination of a nine-month intensive training and race program entirely focused on peaking for this one week of four races. I felt physically ready and mentally prepared. This was, however, only my third Freestyle race ever; I’ve focused primarily on Classic so it would be an interesting experience.

Butch, the lobby dog at the Alpina, was a calming influence as we entered the competition period.

Since I have not done any Masters World Cup races in the past I had pretty lousy seeds throughout the race series. The start is grided-out according to total Masters World Cup Points, points that I have none of. So I was seeded at the back of group for all of the races. Also the M07 was the largest group with 138 registered competitors and 85 of those chose to race the 15 km Free event. It was the largest field of the week, independent of age or gender. I was in row 4, column 17 (well back and out on the right edge) in the 5 row, 20 column grid, i.e. a tough place to start. The top seeds were in the first row in the 9, 10, and 11 columns (center). There were 60 skiers between me and the top seeds. Oh well!

The snow conditions were good with relatively wet snow and temperatures hovering around 26 F (-3 C) but with a brisk wind out of the north at about 15 mph.

It was a civilized start and not particularly fast. I quickly threaded my way through the field up the small hill out of the start and settled in for the glide down, over a bridge and on to the slightly uphill stretch directly into the 15 mph headwind. At this point (about 1 km in) I thought that I had seen three guys go off the front on the first little hill and the 40+ pack that I was in seemed to be “sandbagging”. Two columns of about 20 skiers had formed due to the wind. Knowing that if the three got away the race was over, I decided it was now or never and worked my way up the middle between the two columns to the front. I still thought that I saw three leaders ahead and decided to push the pace and close the gap. At this point we were just about to a point where the course makes a u-turn and heads downwind for about 1 km. I lead through the turn and put a bead on the “leaders” in the distance. The pace whittled the group down to about 12 when we came to a second u-turn and proceeded to head slightly uphill and directly into the wind for about another 1 km where I continued to push the pace. At about 3km the course takes a right and begins the first climb of the day (about 50 m). I continued to push the pace (still thinking that the leaders were off the front) until about 3/4 of the way through the climb when one of the guys who I thought was off the front comes into my peripheral vision… it turns out no one was off the front and I had just wasted a significant amount of energy pulling the entire field along at an accelerated pace. Rookie mistake.

When we crested the first climb the group was down to about 7 skiers with a decent gap to the next group. The first downhill presented very marginal conditions of wet “sucky” snow (with obvious puddles underneath) mixed with patches of ice. The trail crosses a road and then swoops to the right, goes up a slight incline, and then chicanes down to a creek and bridge. The road crossing was sketchy (very wet and uneven) but did not slow any of the pack down significantly and the speed was high and getting higher. As we went into the swooping right, I began to loose my nerve in the marginal wet snow/icy conditions and started “skitching” around trying to keep control. I got it back together but the pack was already gone! The guys in the top of this group have very good downhill skills and just dusted me for the remainder of the downhill and I found myself a good 250 m off the back of the pack by the time we started on the second climb. I made up some of the gap by the end of the 2nd climb but, once again, they just put significant distance on me on the subsequent downhill. In addition others had recovered from the first climb and were starting to pass me on the downhills whereupon I would catch and pass some of them on the uphills. This continued throughout the race and I ended up on the back of the second group in 13th place about 7% back from the winner. Bummer!

The good side is two-fold:

  1. I know that I need to significantly improve on downhill speed
  2. the heart rate file shows an excellent effort

Here’s the HR file:

The graph shows the elevation profile (gray) and the HR record (red). I have a LT of 155 and a max HR of 170. The average HR for the effort was 153 (about 2 beats below my lactate threshold), a min of 146 (excluding the HR lag at the beginning), and a max of 163. I spent 32 min in Sub Threshold (Z4, 147-154)(almost all of this in the 150-154 range), 12 min in Super Threshold (Z5a, 155-158), and 2 min at Aerobic Capacity (Z5b, 159-164). This is pretty much a breakthrough race effort as in the past I have had difficulty keeping my average HR for similar cross country ski races above 146 due to recovery on the downhills and not pushing hard enough on the uphills. Here I managed an average of 153, never dipped below 146, and put a significant portion of time into Z5b. This was partly due to the rest coming into the race but also due to the dynamic capacity that all of the intervals have been building toward, particularly the peak program that Team Bumble Bee executed upon. It’s that being “comfortable with uncomfortable” but also the ability to turn it up an additional notch as well (and still survive). With improved downhill speed, this cardio effort would have been very competitive- even with the strategic blunder of dragging the field along through the headwinds in the first 4 km.

I am pretty confident that I can compete with the best in this age group from a cardio perspective, now I just need to bring the strategic element, and, most importantly, downhill speed to the table. The strategic mistake was a combination of being a rookie and also having a bad seed. Now that I have good World Cup points I will have a much better seed and be more aware of where the leaders are. So downhill speed is action item #1. Lots of stuff to look forward to!

The finish area at the Klosters Masters World Championship. The event was very well organized and everything ran like a… well clock!

10 km Classic – first double pole race effort

The course presented some significant challenges from a snow perspective. New snow overnight, prevailing air temps above 32 F (0 C), snow temps right about 32 F (0 C), icy tracks and deck, and very wet snow in certain areas (road crossings and low points). Our zeros were working perfectly but we thought that with the zeros-type snow combined with some partially icy tracks and decks the conditions might give an advantage to double poling on skate skis. We also determined that the 10 km course was very much “double pole-able” with just a couple of steep climbs. So, with additional positive input from the SkiWhisperer, we cut to the chase and decided to go with skate skis and boots and double pole the race! It was our first double pole race so there was a bit of trepidation standing on the line.

Refueling with “the breakfast of champions” (donuts) the day before the 10 km Classic race and relaxing while watching the Cross Country Skiing World Championships live!

With a non-ideal seed, it was a bit of an effort to maneuver through the 60 person field but I manged to get into the top 10 within about 1.5 km and settle in for the first climb. The climb went well and I crested in about 6th with the leaders about 50 m up. Then came the downhill and it was “deja vu all over again”. Even with the skate skis and boots I still was not competitive on the icy downhills and lost significant time on each one. Also the potential advantage of the skate skis was negated because the tracks were icy fast and kick wax/zeros were not much, if at all, slower on the downhills and flats. Although I held my own and did some passing on the uphills, striding would have been faster in these snow and track conditions. But I have now demonstrated that I can double pole a race and still be competitive even in conditions that are not necessarily advantageous for DP. With continued focus on strength development, I expect to be even stronger.

I maintained position in a group of about 7 in places 7-14 but was taken out on the last downhill when a skier in front of me nearly lost it and put me into the soft snow on the edge of the deck. I went down and quickly got up but 6 skiers had gone by immediately and, although I closed the gap significantly in the last 2km, I just ran out of real estate. I ended up 14th about 10% back from the winner. Not a great race but as it turns out, a very good effort. Here is the HR file:

Again, this was a very good effort with an average HR of 146, a min of 142, and a max of 163. I spent 22 min in Sub Threshold (Z4, 147-154)(almost all of this in the 150-154 range), 11 min in Super Threshold (Z5a, 155-158), and 1 min at Aerobic Capacity (Z5b, 159-164). Not bad! There is bit of “bumpyness” in the HR trace and this is due to the more extreme efforts when double poling up steep sections- you will see a spike in HR but it is easily accommodated. So I am happy with the engine but not so happy with the downhill skill. This goes to show that, in an endurance sport with an important  skill element, harder training will never get you to the podium. You have got to have superior ability in all aspects.

30 km Classic – going hypothermic

The World Masters was the “A” race series for the 2016-2017 season and the 30 km Classic event was the focus race for me at the series. I generally perform well at the longer distances and always have (I was a 100 mile+ mountain specialist as road cyclist). So I expected this race to be my best chance to podium at the series.

The snow and weather conditions were very challenging with air temps at 34 F (1 C) and snow temps at 31 F (-0.5 C) we were presented with saturated snow, icy tracks, rain (steady drizzle to steady rain), and generally deteriorating conditions. The SkiWhisperer had a kick wax system that was working but I decided to go with the zeros as there was a distinct possibility that it would be snowing at the top of the course and the zeros were a better bet. Fortunately, compared to other competitors my skis were fast (who said zeros are slow?!!- not in our experience).

As we gathered on the line in a steady drizzle, it was clear that the field had diminished due to the weather- 48 registered but 16 DNS. OK great, all the better as far as making my way up through the field in the first couple of kms. Unfortunately, the rain had significantly deteriorated the course and we were starting as one of the last groups so the tracks were totally chewed up and the deck was “mashed potatoes” in the start area and for about 1 km in. This made it very difficult to move up in the field until we got away from the start and onto the less chewed up first, slightly uphill, section. So I languished in about  15th where I settled in. The strategy was to not be overly aggressive on the first lap but to keep the leaders in sight and put what I had out there on the second lap (the race was two 15 km loops).

The strategy played out well through the second of the three climbs on the first loop although I was shivering vigorously. I had kept the average HR at about 144 with a min of 133 and a max of 153 (90% of the time was in 145-147). The downhill went better in the softer, more grippy, snow and I still had the leaders in sight. Then the shivering subsided on the second major downhill and I began to have issues with fine motor control and frozen hands- and my HR had plummeted to well below 100 (not a good sign as I would find out later). As I proceeded toward the high point of the course the course marshals had detoured the race away from the biggest climb due to avalanches and thereby shortened the course significantly- to about 22 km (11 km loops). Bummer, as I was looking forward to gaining ground on these climbs. However, my physical state was precarious and in the end it was a blessing that the course was shortened.

The low HR continued and got worse even through the third (would have been the fourth) major climb under hard work when I normally will see significant HR increases. No dice! Obviously something is clearly wrong.

I went through the lap in 10th but very cold and very uncoordinated. Persevering, I hoped that I would warm up once I got to the climbs on the second loop but the drizzle had turned to light rain and I was on the loosing end of a war of heat loss. Finally at the top of the second climb my HR started to come back, albeit not at racing-level; I could only manage mid 130s even at high work rates. Shivering had returned and I continued to chatter and stumble around on the downhills as I got passed by a few skiers on the way to the finish just hoping I could hold on without going down. I finished in 14th (13% back from the winner) and immediately went into violent shivering and made my way quickly to our waxing “cabin” where there was heat. I came into the cabin in a mental fog and the SkiWhisperer expressed some concern, helped me get out of my wet racing suit, and helped me put on some dry clothes. I shivered for about 30 minutes in front of the heater being watched closely in case I went back into second-stage conditions (no shivering and depressed HR). I have never gone hypothermic before and did not realize it was progressing or had even happened, until the uncontrolled shivering took over in the cabin. Based on a bit of research the HR file below indicates that I was likely in second-stage and perilously close to third-stage hypothermia and lucky to finish the race and not have a visit with the local hospital.

The very low HR under hard work in the middle 10 km of this race is very scary. Lesson learned- I just did not have enough thermal layers on to race in the rain at 34 F (3 C). Here in the Northern Rocky Mountains, we just do not get much rain in the winter and I have never ski raced in rain. The super thin lycra race suit I had on combined with a thin synthetic base layer has worked fine even down to about 0 F (-18 C). But get this system wet and you might as well be naked out there. I need to put on a thin wool base layer or a thicker synthetic one to ensure thermal insulation in rain (wet/high heat loss conditions). Also 6% body fat did not help either, as Bee repeatedly points out.

Quite disappointing but some good take-aways. Onward!

Recovering from the hypothermia with a warm bowl of soup back at the hotel. Feeling much better!

5 km Classic Relay – scrambler takes a faceplant

The relay day is usually a fun one because the focus shifts from individual performance to team performance. The peer pressure to do your best as part of a team is always motivating, and such was the case here. We had sufficient racing strength to field an all M07 relay team (some nations would, for instance, have strong M08s play down to M07 or M06 to fill spots in weak areas). Based on performance I was chosen as the 1st leg “scrambler” due to the criticality of a good start and attaining a good position for the first transition. The sequence was Classic-Classic-Free-Free. Although I was also the strongest Freestyle skier in US M07, there was not enough depth to fill the roster optimally. I am a better “closer” (last leg) but “scrambler” was the best place for me based on my teammates abilities. Bee was also chosen as “scrambler, even though she is a better “closer” as well- there just aren’t enough strong Classic skiers in the US.

Bib is on, recovered from the hyothermic situation, and ready to race in the relay- “scrambler” Classic.

The conditions were quite challenging as, after going below freezing overnight, it had gotten warm and into the low 40’s F (5 C) at race time with some sun. This led to an icy track but a softening deck and substantial free water, streams, and puddles on the race course. The road crossings were particularly dangerous, and we had three of them- one at the bottom of the fastest downhill (more on this below). The SkiWhisperer nailed the wax and I went with a medium thickness klister that maximized my kick but did not adversely affect glide. I tried a thinner klister but it was not kicking reliably and the glide was not noticeably better than with the thicker klister.

The 5km course is a relatively easy one and I considered double poling it but, once again, given the track conditions, the advantages of skate skis and boots was not substantial. So I went with the klister option. There were 11 M07 teams but we were started with both the M05 (8 teams) and M06 (12 teams) so the start was not much smaller than the M07 fields- and the M07s started in the back row. The start went relatively straightforwardly but the track and the deck had both deteriorated substantially in the warm conditions and it was difficult to get around anyone on the very soft deck. I bided my time until the first small downhill and started to push the pace- I could just barely see the leaders about 100 m ahead cross the first bridge and I put my mind to closing the gap in the 2 km double poling section prior to the one climb. I made up some time and seemed to be gaining at a reasonable rate and continued to push through to the top of the climb and proceeded to tuck the long downhill in the track. Although a bit chewed up, I forced myself to stay in the track all the way down the hill and gaining significantly on other competitors until a course marshal directed me out of the track and into a giant puddle at a road crossing near the bottom of the hill. Well, a fraction of second later, while being sucked down by the puddle, I faceplanted and slid a good 25 m before getting my bearings, scrambling up, and double poling my heart out for the last two km. I managed to catch a few competitors and finished strong but with a bit of whiplash from the faceplant (turns out that Bee was also directed directly into the puddle on her leg and she also faceplanted). I finished in 5th on the leg (7th overall on both the Classic legs) about 9% back from the leg winner (who was also the fastest Classic leg). It was bit disappointing but not debilitating for the team. Our team finished 8th just a few seconds out of 6th (so the fall did make an impact on the final finishing place) but 3 minutes off the podium. Here is the HR file:

It was a good effort but for a 5 km I should have notched it up a bit and averaged much closer to my 155 lactate threshold. The average is 149 with a max of 156 and a min of 137. An OK performance but I am capable of much better. I was still feeling the effects of the hypothermia the day before so this may have played a role in a less than stellar performance.

All packed up and ready to, reluctantly, return to Sun Valley after a great World Masters Championships.

training review

As you may recall, I have tried a different training protocol for the last 9 months- something called Block Periodization (BP). The BP plan is reviewed here and here and updated here . Simply, BP differs from traditional periodization by utilizing blocks of singular focus (e.g. endurance, lactate threshold (LT), and VO2max training) which are then periodized according to the type of event and timing of the “A” race(s). In the case here, endurance training was completed throughout the summer and was followed by blocks of LT training and VO2max training. This periodization was chosen because the most important abilities in cross country ski racing are LT and VO2max, endurance, although very important, plays a secondary role. Here is the annual training plan originally presented last July:

and here is what actually happened:

As can be seen, we truly did stick with the program as outlined. We added a couple of races and time trials (due to no available races) and eliminated one race (OSCR). Although Bee generally followed a traditional periodization she did do a couple of mini-blocks (2 weeks) of LT and VO2max during my block sequence period. We both liked the way BP allows for singular focus but Bee just can’t get on the, in her words, “boring” day after day LT or VO2max 4 week blocks wagon. I thrive on the focus and the material improvements that are readily apparent.

So, the big question is whether the BP is superior to a “traditional” periodization. Based on my results and direct race comparisons to other competitors that I have raced numerous times in the past, I will give a guarded advantage to the BP. This season I stepped up significantly in competitiveness compared with other accomplished athletes, e.g. being in the lead pack when in the past I was leading the second pack, double poling right by others at starts, being able to push the pace when I usually would just be hanging on, etc. And the race results reveal this higher competitiveness to be real. However, there are other factors that certainly play a role in the improvement. First is the continued focus on strength training that was taken to new levels this season- there is no question that I am much stronger than in the 2015-2016 season. Second is the continued technique development and weekly skills sessions focused on improving technique and skiing speed. Third, I had a major goal out there (World Masters) and that commitment is a big driver for achievement of excellence. So even though the BP likely played a significant role in improvement, these other factors could have been similarly impactful, if not more impactful. Finally, the utilization of BP may be a matter of personal style- I like the longer term singular focus approach, others might not and therefore would not necessarily respond as positively (both physically and mentally). I will be sticking with the BP for the time being and we will see how it works long term.

As noted above the consistent and challenging strength training had a large role in improvements. When compared to an initial baseline strength going into the training program last July, the impact of the strength development has been large and critical to success. Mentioned elsewhere, strength development is critical not only for the advantages in power development with individual muscle groups, but, importantly, in the development of proper technique that naturally leads to enhanced power delivery and efficiency. One must have optimally synchronized  and strong upper, core, and lower body strength to have just good, let alone, excellent cross country technique. This is where so many masters miss the boat and is the area of training that will yield the largest improvements- just as I have experienced.

Our peaking programed worked well. We significantly dropped volume in late January-early February (28 Jan-8 Feb) and then did two weeks of every other day intervals (9 Feb-23 Feb) followed by easy skiing (and travel) until we raced on 4 Mar. We both felt well rested and very strong throughout the race series and definitely had the ability notch up efforts at any point in a race. So I think we will be sticking with this peaking protocol  going forward.

With the BP and a focus on strength, I know from this season of racing that the “engine” is very competitive even at the World level. Although there are some improvements that can be squeezed out on the cardio front, it’s pretty well dialed at this point. Downhill speed is the major limiter to continued improvements and racing excellence. This will be the primary focus going forward and I will be putting up some posts about how one might go about improving downhill speed.

summary

It’s been a fun, enriching, and successful training and racing season. At no point did the training become drudgery or the racing become “work”. This was partly due to that big goal out there but also because we prioritized the training and made sure that we stayed rested. With an average if 15h of “certified” training per week and a peak load of 24h on a diet of 2 interval and 3 strength sessions per week, we have proven that even at 61 and 58 years of age, “elite” levels of training are doable and will lead to improvements and great racing results. Staying on top of those “Big Three” factors that adversely affect older endurance athletes (VO2max decline, muscle loss, and body fat increases) is the core principle that will allow for the successful pursuit of excellence… and, of course, those downhill skills. Onward!

the path forward

I am now transitioning to trail running for the upcoming trail running competitive season. Having focused on mountain ultra trail races the past 4 years, I am going to switch things up this year and do some shorter 25km -35 km mountain trail races. Having fought my stomach after about 4 hours in in every ultra I’ve done , I’ve decided that the stress that ultras put on the digestive system is just not healthy, particularly for an older competitor. The requisite and routine “barfing” just cannot be a good thing for a digestive system and the esophageal complex, not to mention how uncomfortable the whole process of so-called “resetting” is. I look forward to actually running hard for an entire trail race, pushing my athletic limits (instead of my digestive limits), and feel the joy of going fast through the mountains.

So there will be a half dozen or so 25-35 km trail races this summer (as well as some even shorter stuff including a Vertical KM). This will dovetail better from both cardio and endurance perspectives leading into the cross country ski-specific preparations in late summer and fall for the 2017-2018 race season and the 2018 World Masters Championship in Minneapolis- yes, Minneapolis. Not sure how an “urban” World Masters site will turn out but we shall see. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Road to Klosters – Packing for an International Trip

This is Part 9 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, fleet evaluation, racing weight, and race course profile analysis, and peaking.

Packing for an international ski trip to compete against some of the best age group skiers in the world is no easy task. Skiing both classic and skate only adds to the complexity. Add the modern ultra-complex waxing needed to have fast skis and, on the surface, the exercise can be overwhelming. In such instances, it is often a good strategy to break down the process into the functional areas that each need to be addressed. There are many approaches to this but the following is how I break it down:

  1. skis and related equipment
  2. boots
  3. wax and related equipment
  4. comments on traveling with others

How one proceeds with each of these packing/travel categories is specific to personal details but there are overriding general approaches that will work well for most travelers. The following is what I do- there may be some information here that will be of use to others.

skis and related equipment

As a competitive skier that participates in both classic and skate technique races, one will find that there will be many skis that would be possible “race day” skis during an international trip. For the Masters skier, it is generally not possible for one to bring an entire fleet ( due to expense and other travel issues), not to mention somehow managing to get numerous pairs waxed and ready for race day testing and a final decision. So it is important to make informed choices for which of the skis in the fleet will be the most likely skis to be used during the competitions. This can be accomplished by ensuring that you have good and current testing data on all of your skis combined with the best reports that you can get on the conditions at the race site prior to, and those predicted for, race day. Fortunately there are reasonably detailed and reliable weather and snow conditions reports available via various websites for many ski race venues. Klosters has a few although the information is fairly limited, particularly as it relates to snow conditions on the Nordic trails. A call to a local ski shop can often give the best information and it is recommended that one contact such a local shop to ensure that you have the best information possible for decision-making. Note that, although skis do make a difference, your training leading up to the races is by far the most important. So I suggest that one not get too “strung out” about ski selection and have confidence in your training program to deliver on race day.

Race site webcams can also be quite useful. here are a couple from Klosters in the area of the start finish the last few days.

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View of the surrounding hills in Klosters, Switzerland from the Sportzentrum on 21 Feb 2017. There is definitely a lack of snow and a base of about 12″. The start finish for all of the races at World Masters are across the street from the Sportzentrum.

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View of the surrounding hills in Klosters, Switzerland from the Sportzentrum on 24 Feb 2017. Some predicted snow (2-5″) did materialize but there is very little snow in the current forecast for the World Masters period.

We have gathered as much information as we can (and we will continue to monitor the situation right up until we leave for the airport) and mapped the expected conditions onto the ski fleet specifics. The Klosters Valley area has about 14″ of snow depth as of today 24 Feb (assuming that the new fallen snow compacts into the base). However, it has been warm and fairly dry for the last few weeks and other than the snow that fell in the last day there is no appreciable snow in the forecast for the World Masters period. This means that what snow there is will likely be old, dirty in places, and quite granular. The expected high temperatures are continuing on the warm side (above freezing) with lows getting down to about 20F (-7C) but averaging 25F (-4C ). In general the highs will be above freezing and the lows just below freezing, a typical freeze-thaw scenario for which there are well established approaches for waxing and structure.

Since ski flex is the most important variable in choosing a ski for a given race condition, it is important to know what the deck conditions are. Right now the decks in Klosters are fairly soft and it is expected that they will stay soft or get softer prior to the first races at World Masters due to the just-below-freeezing overnight low temperatures. So softer skis are a likely choice at this point although under certain circumstances in such general conditions a slightly stiffer ski may run better.

The next task is determining the right grind selection. The expected warm daily high temperatures and the not so cold overnight lows will favor “wetter” grinds that are focused on water management. However, if a dry front comes through during the week-long competition entirely different grinds are likely to be running faster. So it is best to hedge and bring along both a softer ski and a stiffer ski with a “dryer” grind just in case. These “hedge” skis could also serve as a warm-up and training skis as well.

Ok, now double that thought process if you are also doing classic races and think about classic ski choices in soft conditions with slushy to dry-slushy snow. This could mean difficult waxing and possibly zeros if it snows.

The most important part of this selection process is to know and understand your skis and how they each perform in various conditions. This information can only come from rational, repeatable testing. Typically this is done by “zeroing” out the fleet by waxing all of the skis with the same (usually non-flouro) wax and then sequentially skiing each pair on a 1-2km loop of varying terrain (ups, downs, and flats). Use the same effort level for each loop and record your time and note any particular “feel”- like if a pair are “slippery” or if a pair feels “slow”. Skiing “feel” is your best tool for getting a good understanding of the ski fleet although the lap times will help solidify your observations. If you have this testing information then your ski choices for those to take on an international trip will be fairly straightforward.

boots

Boots are the one piece of equipment that are very difficult to replace if lost, stolen, or misplaced. So it is highly recommended that you take your boots with you in your carry-on luggage. They take up a lot of space but you can stuff them with clothing or other items to maximize the content of the carry-on. Finding a boot that fits properly once on the  ground at your destination is a low probability occurrence. So keep your boots close and protected!

wax and wax related equipment

This is the “bogeyman” of a trip to an international event. Packing, lugging around, setting-up, taking down, and keeping track of all of the paraphernalia associated with modern cross country ski waxing is not a simple task. When traveling to an international ski race it is highly recommended that you arrange for a waxing service at the race venue. This will allow one to truly enjoy the challenge of the race, without stressing over wax. Sure you may not get the very best waxing, but your training will be much more important than the waxing, particularly as a Masters skier. With a few exceptions, the waxing services are usually quite good, if not very good. Team Bumble Bee has combined with a small group of skiers to bring the “ski whisperer” to do waxing for us at the World Masters- it’s fairly expensive but when viewed in within the context of the total cost of the trip and having the cost spread over a small group, it will be well worth the expense to have an expert ski wax guru preparing and testing skis for race day. We can now concentrate on being ready at the start line!

Do take a few basic tools however, just in case. A travel ski profile (like the 3-part one from Swix), a scraper, a couple of brushes, and small selection of waxes. Hotels at the Worlds should all have wax rooms available with benches and some sort of iron. These tools will give independence from your guru (who may be quite busy just when you need to wax your skis for training) and others who have brought a full suite of equipment. It is another stress reliever and every bit of stress you can eliminate will only have positive effects on your performance.

comments on traveling with others

Traveling, on it’s own, is stressful and traveling with others can be very stressful. This is because it’s one thing to have to deal with your own schedule, priorities, and peculiarities but it is altogether another thing to have multiple such things to coordinate among a group of travelers. In addition each individual has their own unique way of handling these travel stresses. So it can be difficult to try to proceed through a long and sometimes complex travel itinerary with others. I suggest that unless you like to or, as in the case of most of my now-gleefully distant Corporate travel, have to travel with others, don’t. Traveling with a group will always involve some compromise, additional stress, and may end up delaying your schedule.

Managing stress is a very important part of the pre-race period 
of your training.

If you do travel with others, try to establish some boundaries about how you might (or might not) respond to certain situations should they develop. If you are traveling to an “A” race the shorter the travel and the fewer the variables (and other co-travelers) the less will be the stress. Managing stress is a very important part of the pre-race period of your training.

Remember that a travel day is equivalent to a hard training day and a two day travel itinerary is equivalent to three hard training days. Adjust accordingly, do not minimize the impact of the travel, and make sure you get sufficient rest and some deliberate relaxation.

concluding remarks

An international trip to an “A” race should be an enjoyable experience, particularly for a masters competitor. So make sure you have some fun along the way and when you get there. Being overly-serious will likely detract from your overall experience and could adversely affect your performance. Being relaxed and ready at the start line to give everything you have trained so hard for is the ultimate goal. A bit of forethought, planning, and a positive and focused demeanor will serve you well!

Salomon Sense Pro Max – an Improved Pro Pulse and a Trail-Worthy Cushioned Option

In August of 2015, Salomon introduced their first truly “cushioned” shoe, the Sense Pro Pulse. I reviewed that shoe and summarized it as follows:

"Salomon fit with Hoka Clifton cushioning at Stinson weight. 
Life is compromise!"

Lamenting the 335 gm weight of the Pro Pulse did not prevent me from using the shoe extensively in hill bounding and other higher impact activities as I worked through an intensive cross country ski training regimen last Summer and Fall. Shoe fit is key in successfully executing upon this type of “agility+power” workout and the Salomon fit technologies (EndoFit, SensiFit, and QuickLace) make all the difference. Other cushioned shoes that I have tried have marginal-to-bad fit and this combined with the large stack heights make the shoes a dangerous choice for these workouts that require significant off-axis force vector stability. I found the Pro Pulse to have sufficient grip for the mostly steep (20-30% grade) and super steep (>40% grade) “dirt roads” that made up the staple of the hill bounding workouts. I also found that the cushion was essential for my 60 yo connective tissue to accommodate an elite-level of training stimulus in cross country skiing-specific sessions that include significant high impact repetitions (e.g. hill bounding, plyos, and other “agility+power” exercises). The Sense Pro Pulse shoes were “enabling” for my ski training schedule.

I was pleased to see Salomon announce the Sense Pro Max as a Pro Pulse replacement last summer with a shoe that is slightly lighter (276 gms for my US 7.5/ EU 40 2/3 or 18% lighter than the Pro Pulse) but with a much more aggressive outsole and some new dampening technology that will be described below.

I received a pair of Sense Pro Max in early February and have put only about 20 miles (30 km) on them- we are currently in the middle of an epic snow year (20+ feet and counting) and my current focus is on competing at the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in early March (see elsewhere on this blog). But I did want to try these shoes out and get a better understanding of the design approach and execution. What follows is a “first impression” look at the Pro Max and I will follow-up with updates as usual.

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Salomon Sense Pro Max includes new midsole dampening technology called “Vibe” that utilizes “Opal” dampening inserts placed in the forefoot and heel in cavities in the Energy Cell+ EVA midsole material.

construction

The Sense Pro Max has a much reduced “rocker” profile when compared to the Sense Pro Pulse model that it is replacing. Although the forefoot still has a significant upward curve, the midfoot to heel is nearly flat to the ground. It is not clear why Salomon have made this change but I will assume it was based on testing by and input from their athletes.

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The Salomon Sense Pro Max has a reduced “rocker” profile when compared to the Sense Pro Pulse that it replaces. This profile is in contrast to many other highly cushioned shoes most of which have a very prominent “rocker” profile.

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The Sense Pro Pulse from 2015 had a very prominent “rocker” profile typical of highly cushioned shoes.

All of the Salomon fit technologies are present including Endofit (a separate inner sock-like element engaging the foot), Sensifit (outer polymer overlays integrated with the QuickLace system), and the QuickLace system. The tongue is minimally cushioned.

The shoe is quite flexible for such a cushioned construction but still includes the Salomon ProFeel film technology that provides protection from rocks, etc. Salomon have figured out how to design with the ProFeel film and yet yield flexible constructions that still give significant rock protection along with better trail/road proprioception. Such improved proprioception is one of the factors that distinguish the Pro Max (and the previous Pro Pulse model) from many other highly cushioned shoes.

As mentioned above, my size US 7.5 (40 2/3 EUR) weigh in at 276 gms (9.7 oz) which is getting close to the weight range for a racing shoe. This shoe is not a Salomon racing product as it is intended for general training and trail running. Note: It appears that Salomon have dropped the “CityTrail” concept that the Pro Max predecessor was part of but was never well explained by the company. The Pro Pulse was a part of the “City Trail” group but the Pro Max has a much more aggresive outsole more intended for rougher trail use.

midsole

The Sense Pro Max midsole has a number of new technology features, the most prominent being two dampening elements that are inserted into the midsole at the forefoot and heel. The primary midsole material is Energy Cell+, a dual density EVA that is compression molded in a way that achieves firmness in some sections and a softer feel in others. The new dampening elements are called “Opal” and these (approximately 75mm X 100mm X 15mm thick- forefoot and 50mm X 50mm X 15mm thick- heel) “pucks” are inserted in cavities in the top of the midsole at the interface with the footbed. Here’s how Salomon describes the Opal material:

Opal is a cushioning compound that is inserted into the midsole that
provides a soft and comfortable underfoot ride with the benefit of
high-rebound. Cushioned and bouncy, the best of both worlds. In 
addition, Opal is extremely lightweight, durable and maintains its
performance in extreme temperatures.

Looking into this a bit more, it appears that the Salomon Opal material is a low density open cell foamed polypropylene (PP) with the possible addition of butyl rubber.  The known high mechanical dampening properties of certain PP compositions combined with significant open cell void space seems to allow for a unique combination of properties for use in running shoes.

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The Salomon “Vibe” dampening technology includes a proprietary midsole insert material called “Opal” that is claimed to reduce mechanical vibrations imparted to the runner.

The combination of the Energy Cell EVA and the Opal inserts makes up what Salomon call the “Vibe” technology that is being used in a number of 2017 Salomon models. It is claimed that this technology significantly reduces mechanical vibrations imparted to the runner during footstrike. These vibrations are thought to reduce the efficiency of running, increase muscle fatigue, and lead to connective tissue and muscle damage. Sounds like another “Holy Grail” of technology that is able to mitigate the most detrimental mechanical forces and impulses in running- we shall see.

The other models that offer the Vibe approach are in the road-specific shoe line and include the S Lab Sonic 2, Sonic Pro 2, and Sonic. The Vibe technology and initial impressions reviews of the road shoes is nicely summarized here and more specifically, here. I will not be reviewing or using any of these road shoes as they all have traditional laces- something that I have no interest in putting up with particularly when the speed laces work so well, are lighter, are less prone to absorption of moisture, and make putting on and taking off the shoes quick and easy.

Of course the Pro Max is a highly cushioned shoe (at least for Salomon) and the stack heights are the same as were extant in the Pro Pulse and consist of a 30 mm (heel), 24 mm (forefoot) stack with a 6mm drop. Add about 3mm to total stack heights to include the outsole.

Upper

The upper is a very breathable (maybe too breathable) 3-D knit mesh. The entire upper is quite cool and drains water well as I found out whist running during a brief melt-out and the trails, roads, and walkways were flooded with up to 6″ of water. I expect that this material dries fairly quickly, at least in the low humidity conditions typical here in the Northern Rocky Mountains, but only testing will tell. The upper mesh seems like it may be too “open” and allow significant fine dust to accumulate inside the shoe. This will be obvious once I out some miles on these on dry dirt- stay tuned.

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The toe bumper looks to be sufficient for rocky trail running and the polymer toe overlay looks thin but needs to tested to see how well it protects.

The ankle cup is symmetric and there is a stiff structure around the ankle cup and heel. A solid polymer element is integrated into the back of the heel. A continuous, but very minimal polymer overlayer stretches across the toe area and a reasonable toe bumper sufficient for trail use are present.

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The typical Salomon rigid construction and symmetric heel cup are utilized on the Pro max.

outsole

Other than the new Opal dampening technology, the other big change in the Pro Max relative to the Pro Pulse is the outsole. Salomon have totally redesgned the outsole and made it much more aggressive and suitable to a wide variety of trail types. The aggressive outsole will, however, limit the amount of running you might want to do on roads with this shoe.

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Perhaps the biggest change in this shoe from the Pro Pusle is the much more aggressive outsole that is clearly intended for use on rugged and rocky tails.

The mostly diamond-shaped lugs include isolated elements as well as overlapping “echelon” groupings. I have only had this shoe on snow, wet snow, and wet pavement so mud performance will be documented in an update after I get more miles in the dirt and muddy trails.
Salomon have narrowed the outsole planting width at both the forefoot and the heel when compared to the Pro Pulse. In size 7.5 US/ 40 2/3 EU, the Pro Max is 103 mm at the forefoot and 93 mm at the heel whereas the Pro Pulse was 105 mm and 95 mm. The Pro max also looks and feels narrower although it did not affect the comfort for me. The shoe is very comfortable.
The outsole composition is the “Wet Grip” ContraGrip material that Salomon started using in the S Lab XA Alpine shoes introduced over the summer. This material has very good grip in wet conditions on hard surfaces, submerged algae-covered rocks and logs, and on snow and ice.
running performance

With very limited miles my first impressions of this shoe are mixed. They definitely feel nicely cushioned and the fit technologies give a very good sense of control on firm and loose surfaces even with the large stack heights. The more aggressive outsole is a welcome addition as the grip on the snow, wet snow, and wet pavement that I have been on is much superior to the Pro Pulse and more in line with the S Lab Sense Ultra and S Lab XA Alpine shoes. These shoes look to be a Pro Pulse that is fully intended for rugged trail use.

I have not noticed any reduction in mechanical vibrations compared to the Pro Pulse or even the S Lab Sense Ultra but, with such limited miles, I will defer any assessment at this point.

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The lower weight is also noticeable right away and will be a nice feature for the hillbounding sessions that I intend to do with these shoes. The exaggerated above ground movements of the foot in hillbounding can be highly affected by an overly heavy shoe. The Pro Pulse was right on the edge of being too heavy so the Pro Max should work out well.

On the downside, I can very much feel the “Opal” inserts under the forefoot and they give a sort of uneven, disconcerting feel during footstrike. Perhaps with use this will fade away but right now it detracts from the running experience.

I’ll be putting more miles on these but probably not in the near future as we will likely be skiing well into May this year. An update will come a bit later than usual.

price

$150US. In line with other highly cushioned trail shoe offerings, but this one has great fit, good proprioception, and some new (unproven) dampening technology. All of which is likely worth the minimal added cost.

bottom line

A premium fit, trail-worthy, highly cushioned, “almost-racing-weight” trail shoe with dampening technology from Salomon.

The Road to Klosters – Race Course Profiles, Peaking, and Training Update

klosters logo

This is Part 8 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, fleet evaluation, and racing weight, respectively.

Training for any event should include some race-specific sessions that will simulate what one will see on race day. Since cross country skiing competition dynamics are significantly driven by the details of the race course terrain, it is important to establish an understanding of the race course profiles, climb sequencing, and downhill challenges to both simulate racing but also to develop pacing strategies. This analysis all starts with elevation/distance data for the race courses.

The MCW Klosters website has .pdfs of each of the race courses that will likely be used at the events. I say likely because there could be last minute course changes due to weather and conditions at the time of the races. The resolution of the .pdf files is marginal and with 60 year old eyes, getting accurate and precise elevation/distance data from the files is a challenge.

I contacted the race organizers in Klosters and asked if they had the digital gps files that were used to construct the .pdfs on the website. The person I contacted responded promptly and wanted to know what I would do with such data and I told her that I would use the data to have an accurate digital file of the profiles so I could make comparisons with the trails here in Sun Valley. I suggested that there should be digital files of the courses since they would be needed to produce the .pdfs on the website. I further suggested that it would be productive if the organization could make the .gpx or .tcx files  for the courses available (or whatever digital files they used to make the .pdfs) so the competitors could have an accurate representation  of the profiles. I indicated that the Chief of Course might have access to the files. Unfortunately, I have never heard back from the race organization. So what follows has been derived optically from the website .pdfs and, as such, will have some errors and be of lower resolution that typical digital data. However, the profiles presented here will be representative and largely applicable to any comparison exercise.

klosters world masters course profiles

There are four courses that will be used at Klosters-

  1. Doggiloch – an easy “geezer” 5 km couse for the M10-M12 and F09-F12
  2. Aeuja – the 5km relay course for M01-M09 and F01-F08
  3. Schwaderloch – a 10 km course for the distances races for M01-M09 and F1-F08
  4. Schindel Boden – a 15 km course for the distance races for M01-M09 and F01-F08

I did my best to translate the elevation/distance data from the website .pdfs and made some .xls files that could be plotted with comparison courses that are available here in Sun Valley. The data are presented in “normailzed elevation” form* to facilitate comparisons. Distances are in km and elevation is in feet. Sorry for the mixed units but I am helping some fellow competitors here in Sun Valley (USA) and they are most comfortable with elevation expressed in feet.  Peak actual elevations (in feet) are noted where appropriate.

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I will not comment on the “geezer” 5km course but the Aeuja 5km relay course would appear to have a “crux”, nearly continuous, 170 ft climb starting at about 1km and ending at about 2.75km. This climb should do a reasonable job of spreading the teams out but it could also lead to some very hard individual efforts to keep teams in contention- should be exciting to participate and watch!

The Schwaderloch 10 km course is the same as the relay course for about the first 3km and then begins to climb a second and third time to a peak elevation of 4179 feet. Likewise the Schindel Boden 15km course is the the same as the Schwaderloch 10km course for about the first 9km (to about the highest point on the Scwaderloch course) and then continues to climb steeply to a peak elevation of 4267 feet before descending back to the start through a few small hills.

Although possible, it is difficult to get a feel for a course just from the elevation profile so it is informative to plot a race course along with a local training loop at one’s home area. From such a comparison one can evaluate the steepness of the climbs and descents, the lengths of the flat sections, and the sequencing of the course challenges. Plotted below are comparisons of the Schwaderloch 10km course with a loop at the Sun Valley Nordic Center, known as the White Clouds-DiamondBack Loop and the Schindel Boden 15km loop with another loop at the Sun Valley Nordic Center known as the Trail Creek-Boundary-Proctor-SideWinder Loop.

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As can be seen, the net elevation change and absolute magnitude of total elevation change are comparable with the Klosters courses having a bit more corrugation (short ups and downs). However, there is nothing in the Klosters courses that is as steep as some of the climbs in Sun Valley with the possible exception of the last 75 feet of ascent on the climb to the high point on the Schindel Boden course. None of the Klosters climbs are as long as a number of the climbs in Sun Valley. With the exception of the super fast descent off of DiamondBack, the downhills are quite comparable. The Klosters courses are also about 2000 feet lower in absolute elevation.

This analysis enables one to do some simulations and familiarization of the Klosters courses on one’s home trails. In our case, the TC-Boundary-Proctor-SideWinder-TC loop is a good proxy for the Schindel Boden course from both a total elevation change perspective and in steepness/length of climb (the SideWinder climbs are very similar to the steepest parts of the Schindel Boden course).

Another functional comparison is the Schwaderloch 10km with the 7.5 km Lake Creek Loop in Sun Valley. The Lake Creek trails are the primary trails that the local nordic team trains on, including the National-level athletes. It has a big mix of terrain and a stadium area where competitions are staged. Nearly all of the climbs at Lake Creek are as steep as or steeper than those on the Scwaderloch course but the climb lengths are similar and the total elevation gain is similar. In a different way, the Lake Creek Loop is also a good proxy for what we will see in Klosters.

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Another analysis is to look at elevation/distance data for some interval loops and hills that one does regularly and then compare to the race courses. One interval hill we use regularly is a steady climb that takes about 6-7 minutes, depending on effort level and conditions. This hill is plotted below along with the Schwaderloch course. The ascent grade of this hill is the same as the grade in the start of all of the courses out of the stadium area at Klosters. Given that I use the local hill as a double pole workout, it looks like I will be double poling for at least the first 4 km in the classic races (and all of Aeuja 5km relay course)- and probably 80% of the rest of both the Schwaderloch and Schindel Boden courses as well. I’ll need to consider going without kick wax, or maybe going with skate skis and combi boots.

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A local interval climb vs the Schwaderloch course. The interval is done as a double poling workout- looks like much of both the Schwaderloch and Schindel Boden courses will be double pole in the classic races! But we will have to wait until we get there to ground truth and confirm.

Of course there is no substitute for training on the real courses and I am certain we will be surprised by something once we get to Klosters, but it is worth the effort to develop some level of feel for the race courses prior to arrival.

peaking

As any experienced endurance athlete will know, developing a robust peaking program for an “A” race is critically important. Young athletes have great difficulty with this because takes time to discover the type of peaking progression that works best. And “best” is a very individual thing, a thing that requires some experimentation. Having been active in competitive endurance sport for over 40 years, Team Bumble Bee has pretty much figured out what type of peaking program works for us as individuals. Given that we are both “high responders” to interval training, our peaking program is tailored around this advantage. Without going into the details (as it is highly individual and not reliably transferable to others) the basic program includes the following steps:

  1. cut training volume about 4 weeks out from the “A” race and
  2. increase the intensity until about 10 days out from the “A” race, then
  3. cut both intensity and volume for those last 10 days
  4. focus on being fully rested as we are seated on the plane to Europe
  5. minimize interactions with others and wash hands regularly
  6. glue your feet to the floor

Team Bumble Bee is now well into the increased intensity portion of the program where we are doing intervals every other day until about 21 February. Then everything is easy skiing and resting until we toe the line at the first race. This program has worked well in the past so we are going with it for the World Masters.

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Bee finishing up a VO2 max fartlek-style interval session with a smile- we love intervals!!

training update

In part 7 of his series I put a goal in place to add weight- a lot of weight, like 8 lbs or 6% of my then extant body weight of 128 lbs. This goal came about after an analysis of the racing weight of competitive cross country skiers summarized in the part 7 post. I realized from this analysis that I am way underweight for a competitive skier and that my performance is likely being negatively affected. Adding 8 lbs would just get me onto the charts for the competitive athlete group of my height- but this 8 lbs cannot be fat, it must be lean muscle mass.

So I continued the strength progression program rather than going into “maintenance” mode as planned. I also upped calorie intake by about 500-700 calories per day (20-25% increase) whilst ensuring that protein levels were more than sufficient. What happened? Well, I gained just 2 lbs in six weeks but I also became even leaner, reducing body fat from about 8% to about 6%. Though I succeeded in adding lean muscle mass, the rate at which this can happen (for me anyway) is too low to allow the original goal to be achieved in the timeframe that I have. But I am stronger and I can feel additional power on skis so it would seem that I have done what can be done in the time allotted and I will just have to play those cards at the Wolrd Masters races. However, I will continue the program for increased weight (in the form of lean muscle mass) after a short hiatus from the strength work for the competitions in Klosters.

I also had the opportunity to work on technique with a couple of current World Cup skiers and it was very valuable. We worked on double pole and V2, did some video, and had some longish skiing together. I managed to put some tweaks in place that have led to increased power and efficiency.

Overall the training has gone well with no injuries or chronic issues other than a minor hip flexor strain (while shoveling the copious amounts of snow that have come down this year). It took about a week to come fully back but the strain occurred just before a rest week where I was slated to do a bunch of ski testing and feeding during a race, so there was no real set-back.

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Near-record snows in the Sun Valley area has led to great training and racing conditions… yet we still hear people complaining here- #getalife!!

The two per week interval sessions have been very high quality and the results are obvious. Hopefully that continues in this last stretch of interval work concentration in the peak progression.

Downhill skills have also improved although this is still a weakness and one that I continue to focus on in every workout. I have found “my edges”- both on the skis and in my current skills. Most of the work is in proper body position and I am slowly getting there- but not without some scary moments!

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Bumble testing his ski skills on a fast downhill turn!

travel and travel stress

Travel to an international venue can be very stressful, perhaps even more so than a lot of one’s training. Therefore it is important to manage this stress and minimize the impact it might have on your performance. Everyone is different but what works for me is to consciously go from “control freak” mode that works well for day-to-day training to a much more relaxed “whatever happens happens” mode whilst traveling. You cannot, in any real way, take much control over what happens once you are in the “transportation channel” so it is best to concentrate on relaxing as much as possible and making good decisions along the way. So, put some time buffers into the travel schedule, take some reading, some headphones, and take an interest in watching what’s happening around you to make the best of a fundamentally stressful time.

packing

We are taking 8-10 pairs of skis, 8 pairs of poles, and four pair of boots so packing is going to be a challenge. If I have time I will put up a post about how we managed to get everything into suitable ski bags and carry-ons… and within the weight restrictions.

final thoughts

It’s been nine months of concentrated and focused training for the Klosters World Championships. There have been significant gains in VO2 max, LT pace, max strength, and power on skis. I’ve learned that even a 60 yo can do “elite-level” training both with respect to volume and intensity- albeit at a slightly slower pace and with significantly reduced accelerations. Averaging in excess of 15h of “certified” training per week with peak volume at 24h on a diet of blocks of intensity and endurance follwed by a more traditional race season structure convinces me that there might be yet another, even higher, level to which this training can be taken.

As far as the efficacy of the “block periodization” approach, we will have to see as the results come to fruition at Klosters. I certainly enjoyed the “block” approach as it allows one to focus on a singular aspect, fully develop that ability, and then move on. Bringing it all together for the race season has gone smoothly from a cardio, strength,  and endurance perspective as my position in races has been right there with former top National performers and retired Olympians that make up the competitive group in the citizen races. My biggest challenge- sticking with the lead pack on the technical downhills… I’m getting there but there is still work to do.

I will write up a full training analysis after the World Masters, but I feel very fit, well rested, and ready to attack the starts and accelerate on the climbs- hopefully with good results!

*the elevation data are transformed to reflect a starting elevation of zero feet