Surprised

Well, I was not prepared for the response my last post generated. After a fairly voluminous comment and email barrage, I have now been calibrated! I had no idea how many readers actually found value in these posts, how many would like to utilize past posts for reference, and how many cannot find similar material elsewhere (particularly for cross country skiing). So, I have reposted all of the prior material to make it readily available to any who want to use it.

In addition, due to many requests, I will likely be posting a training series leading up to the 2019 World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Beitostolen, Norway next March. I have a couple of ongoing projects that will be taking a significant portion of my time so I cannot say how frequent these posts will be but hopefully what is put up will be of value.

Best in training to all of the readers!

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Five Year Project- Finished!

At the outset this blog was envisioned to be a place for me to deposit my thoughts, approaches, research, and evaluations for a program to move a semi-decrepit former athlete on his way toward excellence. The time horizon was five years and that is where this project is. So this will be the last post.

I hope that at least a few of those very few who have read the drivel on this blog have gotten something from it. I subscribe to the tenet once explained to me by my PhD thesis adviser as it pertained to the weekly seminar series put on by the department- “Always go to the seminars- you will always learn something- either something of substance or that the speaker is not very good at what he/she does or perhaps something in between. But you will always learn something and that will serve you well going forward”. It was in this spirt that I posted what was here and I do really hope that readers got something out of it.

It has been an enjoyable and fun journey to wrangle this old body back into shape and I thank all of you who have taken an interest in the process and particularly to those who commented and asked insightful questions. Good luck to all who tread a path toward their version of excellence!

Shallow Thinking, Weak Thinking

There have been a numerous published articles and podcasts where authors, interviewers, and guests have expounded upon their opinions as it relates to the use of “technology” for training guidance (a couple of the many examples can be found here and here). Specifically, it is argued, that such use can often be a negative influence on an athlete’s training progression and that the use of devices and calculations “get in the way” of “real” training. Often, these opinion-holders recommend the exclusive use of “perceived exertion” to gauge effort in training sessions. Often, these opinion-holders have degrees in Sports Physiology and either are doing or have done research in the field. Often, these opinion-holders have never successfully coached, trained, or even have (or had) relationships with Olympic and International level athletes. Often, I just shake my head in disbelief and disappointment at how “pseudo” the pseudo-science of Sports Physiology and endurance training seems to be progressing.

shallow thinking

This sort of thing is the equivalent in the hard sciences of not just ignoring a an entire channel of relevant data but not even bothering to measure it- the sort of thing that will also make your work irrelevant if not embarrassing if you tried to present it to colleagues in the field (not so, apparently, for the pseudo-science of Sports Physiology where many in the field are derisive toward the use of heart rate monitors and gps watches and depend on the highly flawed concept of (and use of) rating of perceived exertion (RPE)). As an example, if I were to be measuring the influence of temperature on some phenomenon where temperature is known to hold relevance (like the reaction rate of most chemical reactions) and presented data on the “perceived” temperature when I could easily measure the temperature in the experiment, my hard science colleagues would find it laughable. Same goes here in understanding and directing endurance training for the measurement of things like heart rate, pace (or graded pace), and blood lactate. Yet there is increasing derision of the use of such measures among certain segments of the “profession”. Of course the measured temperature for a chemical reaction rate in the above example is much more accurately defined than the relationship of instantaneous heart rate of an exercising individual to training work load but ignoring the heart rate data channel altogether (as many profess one should do) is just throwing away important data- data that many of the most successful elite endurance athletes (and their coaches) depend on for training plan structure, monitoring, and adjustment.

I call Sports Physiology a pseudo science because, just like medical science and nutrition science, the researchers in the field are left almost entirely disabled by the fact that they are unable to conduct the experiments that would allow for any sort of reliable insight into a concept let alone develop a firm base for causality (something that requires a detailed understanding of the associated mechanism(s) that are in play). Given the high variability of the response of the human body to training stimuli, the difficulty in measuring anything linked to a mechanistic process that would describe training progression, and that there exist significant ethical issues associated with experiments that likely would provide the beginning bits of causality (i.e. taking subjects (aka “specimens” in the hard science world) to failure), all of these conspire to make any attempts to discern even major, large effect, differences in efficacy of training programs or processes essentially impossible.

Perhaps there will be experimental breakthroughs in Sports Physiology by utilizing the increasing understanding of genes and gene expression that may lead to better guidance on endurance sport training for individuals, but that sort of thing is a ways off in my opinion.

Where does this leave us? Well, there is one approach that at least has a basis in sound correlation between program/process and results- the group analysis of the years of documented training of elite performers such as described in numerous studies published by Stephen Seilier and his colleagues (among others). By analyzing the data in training logs and the training progressions employed by these high-performing endurance athletes one can develop a sense of what works and what does not work as it is related to success in a given endurance sport. These studies lead to some general principles and guiding precepts that can be adopted by individuals for development of their training programs.

Unfortunately, some in the field derisively call these general principles and guiding precepts “dogma” and project an attitude of just brushing away the only defensible source for training program guidance. In it’s place they provide “true” dogma- dogma in the religious sense, i.e. entirely unsupportable assertions apparently fabricated out of some sort of other-worldly “vision” they seem to have experienced. As a trained scientist I find this to be, on the surface, laughable, but also, in a deeper way, very much insulting and, more importantly, troubling for the field. It has been damaging enough that the Journals in the Sports Physiology (and Medical “Science” and Nutrition “Science” fields) produce reams and reams of unsupportable “conclusive” findings to now see “religious” arguments being made. It is a sad state of affairs. It is a state of “Shallow Thinking, Weak Thinking”, and we should expect much more from those actively engaged in the research in this field.

As an example of some of these training principles derived from actual experience with elite athletes, here is an article that analyzes an elite athlete’s entire competitive career. This athlete just happens to be the most successful winter endurance athlete of all time- and she has steadfastly and rigorously used heart rate training throughout her career.

Marit Bjorgen, the most successful endurance winter athlete of all time (and most successful winter athlete, period) winning a roller skiing race in the summer of 2017. Note the heart rate monitor strap and watch- something that Bjorgen has used continuously throughout her career to structure, monitor, and adjust her training program. Note also that Bjorgen came back to racing after having a child in 2016 to win numerous World Cups and to win two golds, a silver, and two bronze medals at the 2018 Olympics.

weak thinking

Ok, so back to the use of “technology” in training. For runners, cross country skiers, and other endurance athletes, the heart rate monitor has been a central piece of “technology” that has been used to monitor and enable structured training. From the first clunky devices (Team Bumble Bee had a Polar Tunturi Pulser model- you had to lift your shirt to see the display on your chest) to the first wireless model (the Polar Sport Tester 3000 (Team Bumble Bee upgraded to this model in about 1984)), to the current models of heart rate monitors from many manufacturers, the heart rate monitor has become a common tool used by professional and amateur athletes alike. The use of a heart rate monitor in conjunction with measured physiologic “thresholds” has allowed athletes and coaches to accurately measure and structure training to allow for reliable training progression toward important goals. The key word here is “tool”- a device or implement used to carry out a particular function. The function of the heart rate monitor and the associated watch is to allow for real-time monitoring of heart rate, pace, and time as it relates to the training session structure and goals. It is not a task master or an evaluator of training or performance. The athlete (or athlete and coach for those fortunate enough to have a coach) is the task master and the one who evaluates the efficacy of any training regimen.

Given the large (and to some extent undefined) number physiologic variables that can play a role in how a training session goes, data channels other than heart rate are essential to understanding the results of the work undertaken. These include breathing rate, muscle comfort, restedness, among others. Taking account of all of the available data is critical to ensuring that one’s training is progressing as planned. The relationship between these many other variables and heart rate can be established by the individual athlete with good accuracy and this combined with use of one’s lactate threshold heart rate value gives an athlete a powerful toolbox to monitor, structure, and adjust training. How can this be “bad”?

Well, from some accounts you might think that the modern heart rate monitor/timing device is an evil actor that is preventing you from getting the most out of your training. Many of the issues that are brought up as it concerns heart rate-based training are the direct result of weak thinking on the part of the user. The concept that the use of a watch or heart rate monitor could be the origin of a bad workout is laughable. Rather it is clear that the issue with those who allow a specific pace or a specific heart rate to drive their workouts is a mental one not a “technology” one. With such weak thinking not only will the training be difficult (and likely not successful) but the mental fortitude required for effective racing will be highly compromised. No wonder there are so many reports of failed races by competitors who choose to use heart rate as a single controlling parameter rather than as a data channel to be taken together with a number of other factors (both measured and perceived) to regulate pace and determine in-race strategies.

So take those recommendations from so-called experts to “ditch the watch” with a fair share of doubt and determine for yourself exactly what it is that might be limiting your progress. I think that if you think hard about this you will find that the heart rate monitor or GPS watch or whatever other technology you are using to help with your training is not the culprit. The culprit is you and your ability to absorb and factor all the data channels available to you into an effective training and racing program. Don’t blame the technology it is simply a tool and not a “bad actor.” If you can’t out-think your watch you certainly are not going to have the mental fortitude to chip away at that wall between you and your goals.

A good review article (specific to ultra marathon training and racing) of the elements involved with heart rate training and some suggestions on how to integrate heart rate monitoring into a training program can be found here.

 

The Road to Minneapolis 2018: Masters World Championship – Review and Path Forward

The 2018 Cross Country Skiing Masters World Championship in Minneapolis has come and gone and I have not posted much in the run-up to this series of “A” races for Team Bumble Bee. This is because we were focused on the training, broadening our exposure to current World Cup-level training approaches (more on that later), doing “B” and “C” races, and traveling.

The winter in Sun Valley has seen historically low snow (lowest December, January and February snow in over 15 years) and this has necessitated that we actually drive (!) to go skiing. We live right on the ski trails in town and in a typical winter we walk about 100 m to groomed track starting sometime in early December and ending sometime in late March. Unfortunately this entire 40 km trail system did not open until 4 March this year after we (finally) got a 24″ snow dump in town on 2-3 March. This means that starting on 8 November we spent 100% of our training time about a 20 minute drive “up the hill” on the Harriman Trail and at Galena Lodge thereby adding about an hour a day to the time spent training. Normally we would have been on the Harriman and at Galena about 65-75% of our training time. In retrospect, this reliance on the higher ground has been very productive since we were training at a higher altitude (at about 7000-7500 ft (2100-2300 m) vs. about 6000 ft (1800 m)), on much hillier terrain, with more challenging downhills, and with a better selection of interval terrain types. This all added up to a nicely incremented larger training stress from past years. It took some adaptation, but we were able to successfully accommodate the additional altitude stress even with a focus on LT and VO2max intervals. We noted that sleep naturally extended from about 8-9 h per night to 9-10 h per night with a 45-60 min nap in the afternoon on interval and OD days. The calculated recovery time provided by our FirstBeat-driven Garmin watches was about the same for equivalent workouts from past years although Bumble saw a noticeable decrease of about 2-3 h in calculated recovery time. This could be due to enhanced aerobic fitness given an increased volume of base work throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2017. Bee did less of the low intensity volume- and more of the high adrenaline, white knuckle, gritted teeth, class IV-V whitewater kayaking.

The ski season started on November 8 this year and we have been skiing just about every day since. Thankfully we are within about 20 minutes of the real mountains where copious amounts of snow accumulate throughout the season- every season. Sun Valley had historically low snow amounts for December, January, and February so having the 80 kms of daily-groomed trails just 20 minutes away is critical for training and technique development.

Tucks, turns, and tenacity

The competitive mantra for this season has been “tucks, turns, and tenacity”.

Tucks: After looking into the literature it was surprising to learn that a cross country skier in a tuck is 3-4 times more aerodynamic than a standing equivalent. This is huge and brings home the reality that, for racing, whenever you can you should be in a tuck. So our tuck frequency was maximized in all training (and racing, of course) and tuck stance was refined to allow for comfortable and efficient tucks for long durations. Holding a proper tuck can have a significant effect on the comfort of your quads and hamstrings and if one does not train this ability it will be deficient in races.

Turns: After being dusted on the downhills at WMC in Klosters last year, a primary focus for this season has been improvement in downhill skills and speed development/maintenance on downhills. Team Bumble Bee spent at least 2-3 sessions per week where downhill skills were repeatedly challenged and practiced. This did not transpire without incidence as Bumble ended up in the “salad bar” on numerous occasions and earned a new nickname: “Fireball”! Fortunately no trees were involved.

Tenacity: This is the mental side of pushing during a race or an interval and is essential to staying in contact with the lead group, making a break away from a group or individual, and bringing it all to the line in a sprint finish. Tenacity is something that Team Bumble Bee has always been good at but it never hurts to get better. So we focused on challenging tenacity during intervals and in races. The carryover of mental state from intervals to racing is quite transparent.

Improving on downhill skills doesn’t come without at least a few direct interactions with the trail- this one a result of being too aggressive in an icy high speed corner and gliding out on my chin!

training progression

I published my training plan for the 2017-2018 year in an earlier post and basically stuck to it. This plan included a similar “block periodization” approach in the summer and fall and then transitioning to a traditional mixed periodization during the race season (late December through March). The plan is shown below:

There were a few deviations (shown graphically and discussed later):  I modified the second VO2max block from 2 weeks to 3 weeks and lengthened the subsequent LT block from 4 weeks to 5 weeks. I also lengthened the third VO2max block from two weeks to four weeks shortened the last LT block to 2 weeks and replaced the last two weeks with VO2max work. I am finding that the increased VO2max stress has very positive effects on the quality and level of the LT blocks. The VO2 max work before the last block of LT made the subsequent LT work surprisingly easy and that is why I switched the last two weeks to VO2 max. Even though the “theory” is that as one approaches the race season the LT work should be dominant (since this is race pace effort), increasing the VO2max work has made the LT work even more productive- at least within the bounds of the timeframes utilized here. So more VO2max work overall and also an intense VO2max block leading into the race season to prepare for the LT race pace efforts.

Breakfast of Champions! … on the way to our annual Thanksgiving training camp at West Yellowstone we picked up a nice, warm cinnamon sugar one at the quaint Picabo (ID) Store. Sugar, fat, and flour- a great combination!

A couple of the races in Sun Valley did not happen due to lack of snow (and enthusiasm on the part of the local Nordic community) so Team Bumble Bee inserted a couple of time trials that we treated as races and managed to badger a couple of others to partake in. It ended up being quite a bit of fun and productive for all of those who participated.

A post-race smooch after a successful training race in early December 2017. It’s always good to participate in these races with an appropriate goal- in this case a steady effort at and below LT. Great fun!

detailed training monitoring

In December of 2016 I switched from a home-grown excel spreadsheet that I developed for training monitoring to a Training Peaks (TP) premium account. Now that I have used this system for over a year, I can heartily recommend it for your training log and analysis. Given the automatic training session uploads from my watch and the enhanced and automatic analysis tools, the TP system has made monitoring and adjusting training a very straightforward process. Once you understand and get calibrated to the TP metrics I think you will find it to be a valuable tool in your training.

Presented below is my TP dashboard showing the time period from 1 August 2017 to 9 March 2018. TP calls this the Performance Management Chart or PMC. There is a lot there but it is worth explaining what is shown and how it maps onto the training plan shown above.

Training Peaks Performance Management Chart (PMC) dashboard for 1 Aug 2017 to 9 March 2018. The Blue graph is Chronic Training Load (CTL or “fitness”), the Pink graph is Acute Training Load (ATL or “fatigue”), the Orange graph is Training Stress Balance (TSB or “form” (fitness minus fatigue value)), the Red dots are the daily Training Stress Score (TSS) (in this case based on heart rate R-R data), and the Blue dots are the Intensity Factor (IF) for that days training load. Note: Red dots at zero value of TSS indicate days of no training- there are two in this time period on 25 October and on 4 March- probably should have had a few more days off but I have never been one that needs or thrives on days off in the dryland and on-snow ski season- in mountain running I need many more days off to allow for musculoskeletal recovery from the impact stresses. The IF (Blue dots) are not a very functional metric for certain activities like cross country skiing (both on snow and dryland) and mountain running- this will be explained in the text. In general the Blue dots should be ignored. The ordinate value scales are color coded to the associated graph where CTL and ATL are in accumulated TSS, TSB is on a scale of -50 to +50 (for this training period) where 0 is perfect balance, daily TSS is in units of TSS/day, and IF is to be ignored for these data.

What does all of this data mean? Lets start with some definitions:

  1. Acute Training Load (ATL) (Pink Graph): this is the exponentially weighted average of the last seven days of training load and is an discrete estimate of the fatigue you are carrying at a given time.
  2. Chronic Training Load (CTL) (Blue Graph): this is the exponentially weighted average of the last 42 days of training load and is an discrete estimate of your level of fitness at given time.
  3. Training Stress Balance (TSB) (Orange Graph): this is the balance of your training stresses and is equal to the CTL value minus the ATL value. Positive values indicate that you are fit and fresh- and potentially ready to race.

All of these metrics are based on the Training Stress Score (TSS) derived by TP from your workout sessions. These TSS values are calculated from the time series data of pace (for running), power (for cycling), or heart rate R-R (for sports that include significant terrain ascents and descents- such as mountain running and cross country skiing) combined with defined “zones” for your individual cardiovascular capabilities. The default HR zone system utilized for TP is a seven zone system developed by Friel and described in detail in the book Total Heart Rate Training. TP uses TSS algorithms that account for the time one spends in each zone during a workout, so it is important that you have your zones pretty well defined. Based on regular field measurements of lactate threshold (LT)* my zones are as follows:

Screen on TP for input of zones for a heart rate-based TSS for sports such as cross country skiing and mountain running. My values are shown as an example. The zones are calculated via input of a lactate threshold (LT) HR measurement (a max HR value is estimated from the LT HR). LT HR can be determined empirically with field tests or from VO2max testing in an exercise physiology laboratory on specialized equipment. The zone calculations follow the Friel system outlined in the book Total Heart Rate Training. Note that just as LT can move around depending on your training status so will aerobic threshold (AeT- transition from zone 1 to zone 2). At peak of condition my AeT is about 141 with a LT of 155 off a 170 max. The values above are baseline starting points- refinements can and should be made as appropriate.

Cross country skiing (and mountain running) requires the use of heart rate for TSS since the sport involves variable terrain and there is currently no reliable way to measure power at this juncture. TP indicates that HR TSS is the least accurate of all the allowed TSS calculations but I have found it to be sufficiently accurate to allow for precise monitoring and adjustment of training plans. Consistency is king in training and independent of whether or not the accuracy of the TSS is high, the precision of the measurement is quite good and the TP program does exceedingly well at putting accurate metrics on the precise data.

Given the importance of strength training in cross country skiing it is imperative that any training load associated with strength training is captured in the daily TSS calculation and therefor reflected in the derived CTL, ATL, and TSB. It is not possible to accurately estimate strength training TSS from HR R-R time series data during the work session. This because the training stress is highly focused on muscular stress not cardiovascular stress. Scott Johnston (experienced coach and a principal at Uphill Athlete) has, over many years of coaching, developed  estimates of TSS for the strength and max strength workouts (and other workouts) that he uses (these workouts are described in detail in the book Training for the New Alpinisim by House and Johnston). Johnston estimates for his general strength and max strength workouts described in the book that the TSS is about 50-70 and 80-90 per hour of workout time (including rest periods), respectively. These are the estimates that I use for input of strength training to TP. I do three max strength sessions per week year round- this is partly because as a 62 y/o I (and anyone over the age of about 45) have reduced testosterone and HGH production and it is a losing battle with maintenance of muscle mass and strength so critically important in cross country skiing. The magnitude of this losing battle can be minimized (or reversed) with a substantial integrated max strength and general strength program. Just be prepared, if you are an oldster like me, that the same progression you had in 3 months as a 20 something will now take in excess of 18 months! That is if you stay clean and do not get some corrupt MD to prescribe “therapeutic” testosterone or some other HGH analog to allow for unfair advantage in competitions. Based on anecdotal accounts and personal experience this cheating is much more rampant in the masters ranks than one might think.

After maxing-out at about 170% of body weight for pull-ups, Bumble made a bad move with the weight vest that ended in a bout of sciatica. Bee locked the vest up to ensure that it was not used until he fully healed. Be careful when you get significant weight in a vest- one wrong move can place a large concentrated load on your spine.

With all those definitions and estimates understood, let’s go back to the Performance Management Chart (PMC) and see how the training plan and the associated block periodization is reflected in the TP metrics. Presented below is an annotated version of the PMC from 1 August through 9 March showing where the various training blocks and races (or time trials) occurred.

Annotated PMC showing associated training blocks, periodization, and races (or time trials) for the 2017-2018 season from 1 August to 9 March.

The periodization is essentially “textbook” with interval stress through the summer and fall followed by a final highest volume and highest intensity push in the 6 weeks before the race season, then a reduction in volume by about 50% ending with a two week “peaking” period of every-other-day intervals and then 7 days of easy skiing leading into the first “A” race at World Masters. This was followed by a “B” race, another (mini) build-up, a volume cut, an every-other-day interval peaking program, and, finally, easy skiing leading into the second “A” race at the West Yellowstone Rendezvous. The training is shown diagrammatically in the annotated PMC below along with a graph of weekly training hours throughout the training period:

Annotated PMC showing training progression and race preparation for two “A” races: World Masters (a 4 race series (10 km, 15 km, 30 km, and a relay leg (all classic technique)) in a one week time period and a 25 km classic race. At the bottom of the PMC is the corresponding training volume in weekly hours for the period analyzed as a function of training week in the period (32 weeks total). Training volume was targeted at 14-18h per week depending on the weekly focus with a low of about 11.5h and a high of about 22h. As indicated, the training shown in this graphic was preceded by a 12 week period of endurance training (aerobic fitness development) with 14-18 h per week of mountain running, mountain biking, hill bounding with poles, general strength, and max strength. General and max strength continues throughout the year at 3 sessions per week for max strength and 5 sessions per week for general strength.

Training volume was targeted at 14-18h per week depending on the weekly focus and training block type. This resulted in volume for the 32 week period having a low of about 11.5h and a high of about 22h as shown in the graph at the bottom of the PMC.

One thing to note is that there is not any significant variation in CTL (“fitness”) but there is in both ATL (“fatigue”) and TSB (“form”). This is because of the 42 day exponential weighting in CTL compared to the 7 day weighting in ATL- changes in CTL are “buffered” by the preceding 41 days of training load.

Although CTL is a good metric for fitness and values above 100 are considered to be expert to elite level, once one is above about 100 CTL on a consistent, long-term, basis, the most informative data for monitoring training progression are ATL and TSB. These metrics respond quicker to changes in the training and they allow for help in determining whether you are ready to race and therefore can add to confidence going into an event. For instance in the example above you can see that ATL and TSB go through maxima and minima (ATL of 152 and TSB of -27, respectively) coincident with a CTL maximum at 130 at the end of the final build block. Prior to the first “A” race (World Masters), the program we followed prescribes a volume cut and then a peaking program of every-other-day intervals for 10 days to 2 weeks followed by 7 days of easy skiing/travel. What this does is allow for full absorption of the final build work by decreasing the stress-to-rest ratio whilst still maintaining intensity work. As a result, just prior to the “A” race (World Masters), ATL goes to a minimum value of 80 and TSB goes to a maximum value of +34 while CTL is diminished only slightly to 118. This is “fit and fresh” and is the state one wants to be in at the start line of an “A” race.

There are other ways to achieve a “fit and fresh” condition but Team Bumble Bee has been using the “volume cut and peaking program after final build” successfully since the pleistocene when we were pink-lunged youngsters competing at the elite level. Well, it also works with old scarred and polluted lungs and tickers that can only get to 85% of previous capacity. It works for us and were sticking with it! TP does a nice job of graphically displaying how the program works and, if things don’t go right, when it is not working.

Team Bumble Bee had a good tune-up race (1st for Bee and 2nd for Bumble) at the Seeley Hills Classic in Hayward, Wisconsin one week before the World Masters “A” races. A couple of trophies and a great final LT session on the Birkie “roller coaster”. It was bit cold- -13F (-25C) at the start but we bundled up and had a fun time! Bumble was going to bail due to the low temps but Bee locked the car to force the issue- thankfully it worked out.

world masters championship

The World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships was held from 19-26 January in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA and was the main focus race series for the season. The championships have three individual races (for M07 these are 15 km, 10 km, and 30 km and the same for Bee’s F06 group) and a relay (if chosen by the USA Race Director). One can choose  technique (free or classic) for each race as well as do both techniques for a single distance, but only three individual races can be selected.

I waited until the last minute to sign up for any races because I wanted to see which races would have the best competition. For some reason none of the top international free-technique (skating) skiers in the M07 decided to come to Minneapolis. However, on the classic side many of the top international skiers did sign up. So, given that the primary purpose of these races is to challenge oneself against the best in the world, I chose to compete only in classic races where the competition would be at the highest level. There is no sense in racing against a diminished field in the skate races as even a victory would be hollow since there would be considerable doubt as to how one might have fared against the best international skate skiers- almost all of whom did not come. So my schedule had the 15 km classic on Saturday,  20 January, the 10 km classic on Monday, 22 January, the M07 relay on Wednesday 24 January, and the 30 km classic on Thursday, 25 January. All of the top M07 classic skiers in attendance also chose these races.

the venue

The races were held within the city limits of Minneapolis (a major metro area with 3.5 million residents in the city and suburbs) at the Thomas Wirth City Park. The local Loppet Foundation was the organizer of the events and planned to have the races on 7.5 km, 10 km, and 15 km loops within the park. Given the decades-old issues with sufficient snow in Minneapolis, the City and the Loppet Foundation have installed snow making facilities over about 7.5 km of trails in the park. This was good thing because, as expected, Minneapolis did not get sufficient natural snow to be able to hold the races. Instead the races were held on a 6.5 km loop of man-made snow. The organizers called this a 7.5 km loop, but my Garmin and many others that I checked with had the distance at 6.5-6.7 km. So the 15 km and 10 km races actually 13 km and 6.5 km. For the 4 X 5 km relay the race distance was closer to 5 km at about 4.7 km using parts of the 6.5 km man-made snow loop. For the 30 km race, a snow storm arrived on Tuesday and allowed the organizers to set track onto the 15 km course loop (which also measured short at 13.8 km).

Unfortunately, the Loppet Foundation had hoped to have finished building a large new lodge building at the start/finish but the building was clearly way behind schedule and was an active construction site throughout the championships. As a result, the facilities at the start/finish were woefully deficient and detracted from the event. Although some tents were provided, there was no pleasant place to change, store equipment, or wax. There also were no food vendors and the “party” atmosphere that was so delightful at WMC Klosters 2017 was absent. I felt sorry for all of the international competitors and their family and friends coming from so far away to a first world country only to be offered a third-world start/finish venue. Others may have had a different experience as ours is but one view.

A view of the start/finish area at the Minneapolis WMC, showing the finish and timing cabin at middle left, the unfinished trailhead building middle, and the blue fence on the right is the edge of the start area. All of the starts and finishes went well but the experience would have been greatly improved with a better base facility.

The race courses on the other hand were very well laid out and groomed to a high standard. Given the lack of snow, the organizers did a great job of making snow and spreading it out onto a nicely varied 6.5 km loop. There was very little natural snow as could be clearly seen in the woods surrounding some of the loop, but the race course had at least 2-3 feet of snow. Grooming and marking for each race was as good as could be expected and there was a reasonable amount of time to familiarize oneself with the course. It was not until the day before the longer races (Wednesday, 24 January) that the 15 km (actually 13 km) loop was opened. This was due to a snowstorm that put down about 6″ of wet snow on Tuesday. So there was limited opportunity to investigate the middle 5 km of the 15 km loop (the other “10 km” of the 15 km loop used primarily the 6.5 km loop with a bit of added trail with a couple of steep hills that were groomed on Wednesday for inspection), but this was not an issue because the middle 5 km was very flat.

Fortunately, Team Bumble Bee and a small group of other US competitors brought in the Ski Whisperer and Whisperess to handle all testing, ski selection, and waxing. They brilliantly rented two trailers and connected them together using one as a changing/warming room for the athletes and the other for waxing and ski storage. It worked out perfectly!

Bee and the “Ski Whisperess” in the team wax cabin at the Minneapolis WMC. Once again, kudos to Caldwell Sport for doing such a great job- there is nothing like “World Cup-level” service to allow for concentration on the racing and not the waxing!

There was also a very limited warm-up and wax testing area. Everyone ended up breaking the rules and did ski wax testing on the course- there really was no other place to do it. Realizing this limitation for warm-up, we developed a warm-up routine at the very nice gym at the Hyatt which we did just prior to leaving for the 20 min ride to the venue. A Concept 2 rower, a cycling trainer, some pull-ups, garhammers, and box jumps allowed for a reasonable warm-up combined with a few pick-ups prior to the race on the snow.

Bumble on the rower at the Hyatt trying to get at least a reasonable warm-up prior to going to the venue which had a very deficient warm-up area.

All lodging was remote from the site and required either a rental car (or personal car) or a tedious 15-20 minute bus ride to and from the venue. The busses were classic (and uncomfortable) American yellow school buses and were supposedly on a 30 minute cycle. This did not work very well the first couple of days, additional busses were added, but then there were other issues on other days. In all, the busses detracted from the experience.

Bee and our good friend Charlie French on the school bus headed to the race venue. At 92 y/o he’s still going strong winning everything in sight at the WMC. Charlie is a very positive person and a role model for Team Bumble Bee.

We were in the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Minneapolis which was a nice hotel but was being over-run by the advance people associated with the Super Bowl which was the following week. This created additional inconveniences as the entire hotel lobby area was being redecorated and set up for the Super Bowl as the Hyatt was the base for the entire NFL organization. There was only breakfast service and we were all on our own for lunches and dinners. We tried a number of restaurants but struck out on all but one- and they were very expensive even with medium to low quality food.

Bee teaming with the local nordic juniors in a relay race on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. As part of the Super Bowl, the event organizers brought the Birkie International Bridge to downtown Minneapolis (this is the bridge that is used to get the Birkie skiers from Lake Hayward over Rout 63 and to the finish of the American Birkiebeiner in downtown Hayward) to showcase Nordic sports popular in the area. The Minneapolis metro area has the largest population of Nordic Skiers in the US.

Being in an urban area for the WMC was not a pleasant experience and did little, if anything, to enhance the experience. We are hopeful that the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Association (WMCCSA) never puts a championship in such a venue in the future. Stick to ski resorts and walkable or ski-in ski-out venues that actually have reliable snow.

double pole derby?

I noted in an earlier post that, based on analysis of the course profiles, that the races at Minneapolis may end up being “double pole derbies”. Upon arrival I was questioning this conclusion as there were a couple of steep hills that appeared to be strideable but a bit inefficient for double poling. As a result I kick waxed the first two races (15 km and 10 km). However, after discussions with, and encouragement from, the Ski Whisperer, I decided to embrace the challenge and double pole the classic relay leg for the US M07 team and also double pole the 30 km race. In retrospect I should have double poled all of the races as my original analysis was correct- the courses were very much double polable for competitive skiers. No one else in the M07 double poled but a couple of the podium winners in M06, M05, and M04 double poled numerous races- short and long.

As I have said before, double poling is the future of the classic technique as long as organizers do not put together challenging courses with real “A” climbs of sufficient length. Unfortunately, the WMCCSA are boxed in with adopted standards for “A” climbs that should allow for any WMC course to be competitively double poled by the top athletes at the championships.

race summary

I am not going to go through a detailed accounting of the races but just give a summary and some reflective thoughts. We arrived at the start lines fresh, fit, and rested with about as thorough a preparation as could be accomplished- our expectations were high.

Bee, again, dominated the F06 winning all races by minutes and even lead the US F03 relay team to a gold and the overall best time, independent of age. It is unfortunate that the competition is not sufficient to challenge Bee and we hope that at WMC 2019 in Beitostolen, Norway some good competition shows up.

Bee showing the youngsters how it’s done on the first (classic) leg of the Women’s relay. The relays are run in groups of classes, so for the females F01, F02, and F03 went out together. It was great for Bee to finally have some competition to spike the competitive spirit for a fun race. Photo credit: Skinny Skis

Bumble took it up a notch this year. At Klosters, I was usually in the mid-teens in placings. Even with an equivalently deep field at the front, I was 9th (15 km), 7th (10 km), 5th (30 km), and lead the US M07 team to a silver medal in the relay. Percent back improved and I now find myself in the lead group for much of the races. At Klosters I would get spit out the back after the first challenging downhill and struggle to make it back to the lead group. Now, with better (although far from perfect) downhill skills I can take advantage of the engine and stick with the lead group (or lead the lead group) on the downhills and end up much closer to the winners. Given the additional work I have done on downhill skills since the WMC, I expect that this will no longer be holding me back and I can go into the races at Beitostolen with confidence.

In each race, going out of the start my double pole was superior to any of the other competitors in M07 as I lead the group through the first 2 km (including the first “B” climb) and then to the first steeper (“A”) climb (only double poling) and then took a place in the lead group that had formed. As noted above, after the first two races (15 km classic (actually 13 km) and 10 km classic (actually 6.5 km) where I kick waxed and did some striding, my performance at the starts gave me the confidence, along with encouragement from the Ski Whisperer and Whisperess, to double pole the 5 km classic leg of the relay and the 30 km classic race (actually 23 km) on skate skis with skate boots. Reiterating what was stated above, in retrospect I should have double poled all of the events as the conditions were favorable to give an advantage to double poling (i.e. firm, icy tracks and a less firm and slower deck). In fact in the 15 km race, it was a disadvantage to be waxed for kick as we were on klister and there was powder on the sides of the track. This took me down twice when I wondered over to the edge on a couple of downhills and the klister caught- my only crashes of the race series. If I were on the skate skis I likely would not have gone down and placed significantly higher- lesson learned.

My primary focus for the WMC was the 30 km classic race. After wrapping my head around double poling the event, I committed to either leading or staying in the lead group. After the same start sequence above, I continued to the lead at the 2.5 km mark and our group formed into five skiers- two Italians, a Norwegian, a Canadian, and me. We went 3 minutes off the front by the 7 km mark.

Bumble (right) in the M07  lead group of five at about the 7 km mark in the 30 km classic race. This group was already about 2-3 minutes off the front and these skiers ended up being the top 5 M07 skiers on the day.    Photo credit: Skinny Skis

By the 10 km mark the two Italians and the Norwegian managed a 1min 30 sec advantage after a couple of steep hills, where I fell back a bit. We then entered the flatter part of the 15 km loop. I managed to get nearly all of that back (and put a bunch of time into the Canadian) by the end of this 5 km section when we re-entered the hillier section of the loop and the three leaders were about 100 m ahead. After some hills and twisty trail, I lost sight of the lead three and headed out on the second of the two laps. All was going well until I got to the point where the trail goes out onto the flat section where I was hoping to make up some distance on the leaders as happened on the first lap. But as I descended the hill leading to the flat section the course marshals had closed off the trail and directed me to go directly back onto the inner, hiller, part of the course. It turns out that a train had come and blocked the trail thereby disrupting the event. Hard to believe this could happen but it did and it totally messed up my strategy of gaining back time on the flat section where double poling was much faster than striding. Oh, well!

Bumble double poling up one of the last hills in 30 km (23 km actually) classic race with a Canadian (right, in red) in hot pursuit. Ended in a sprint for 4th/5th after Bumble lost focus and allowed the Canadian to close the gap just prior to the last downhill turn into the stadium. Something to work on for next season!        Photo credit: Skinny Skis

Although the Canadian was still within about 15-30 seconds of me, I had planned to put a couple minutes into him on the flat section, but now we went immediately into three consecutive hills where striding had a slight advantage. He got close during the last couple of kms and on the final downhill into the stadium he managed to get by me and we sprinted to the finish where I lost out by a second. Bummer! I lost focus coming into the last section of the race and I need to work on that for next season- more on that below.

The WMC races went well for Team Bumble Bee and we continue to enjoy this level of racing with international competitors. We just hope that some competitive F06 women start showing up to challenge Bee. Bumble has significantly improved in downhill skill and has now crossed that line into the ability to competitively double pole anything. With additional strength work and a bit more steady focus during races, better results will be possible.

Bee crushing it in the 30km classic race. To put her performance in perspective, Bee was among the first to run into the train on the course. She was 3-4 minutes off the front of the rest of the F06 field and was directed to go around the, now stopped, train and find the trail on the other side. Meanwhile the rest of the F06 group was directed back toward the start finish area on a shortened loop. She skied across a field, got back onto the race course, and continued the loop. After an extra 3-4 km she eventually caught the rest of the F06 field, worked through to the front and then won the race by over 2 minutes- amazing and a job well done! Photo credit: Skinny Skis

Focus, finesse, and finishes

The mantra for the 2017-2018 season was “Tucks, Turns, and Tenacity”, moving forward the mantra for 2018-2019 is “Focus, Finesse, and Finishes”.

Focus: I know from my past racing as a youngster at the elite level that fitness is necessary but not sufficient to win races at the highest level. All of those that can win are fit; the winner ends up being he/she who has rock-solid focus throughout a race, constantly looking for advantages, openings, and timing for critical moves. It is not easy and it takes practice and commitment, as well as an open mind to be able to respond to in-race variables. I need to sharpen my focus, make opportunities, and ensure strong responses to any moves by fellow competitors.

Finesse: Not being a life-long skier and only competing in cross country ski races for the last five years, I have been basically clueless about how to handle the trail during a race. This year and in the coming year I am putting an emphasis on being trail-smart and making the most efficient choices during races and in training. Some call this “trail-craft”, e.g. knowing when to be in or out of the track, when to switch tracks, approach arcs in turns, skill in staying in the track at high speeds, and a host of other things. I had reasonable finesse as road cyclist and I expect I should be able to further develop a good sense for cross country skiing as well.

Finishes: All three of the individual WMC races ended in sprint finishes for me. I lost two and won one. I need to change that. Combined with focus, ensuring the best finish is important and makes for a more exciting and satisfying end to a race. So I’ll plan on being a bit more strategic going forward with finishes being top of mind both in strategizing before the race and in the last couple of kms.

path forward

The season was definitely a success, the training went well, and the racing was satisfying and fun. We also had the opportunity to train for 10 days in February with a World Cup skier. This helped in preparation for the final “A” race where we had good (Bee) and great (Bumble) races at the Yellowstone Rendezvous. It is nice to end the racing season on a high note.

During a 10 day mini-camp, Olympian and World Cup skier Caitlin helped Team Bumble Bee with technique and to fine-tune our final preparations for the last “A” race of the seasson. It was a great camp that was productive for everyone. Even after 15 years of practice Caitlin still uses a lactate monitor to ensure her intervals are on target- Team Bumble Bee is not quite that “hardcore” anymore!

The training plan going forward includes lots of long (2-4h) aerobic skiing sessions with an emphasis on technique for the remainder of March and then begin a transition to mountain biking and kayaking (Bee) and mountain running (Bumble).

A late season snowstorm at 0 C is always a pleasure. It was pink day for Bee- including the excellent GF Pink kick wax from Vauhti, a super-fast wax in new, warm snow!

Bee goes into “play” mode with the spring runoffs and the world-class kayaking here in Idaho and Montana whilst Bumble gets ready for a mountain trail running race season from early May through July. So transitioning to longer and longer runs will be important and then to add some interval stress going into the trail races in early May, early June, mid-June, and early July. The rest of July will be endurance (aerobic) training (trail running, hill bounding, and mountain biking) and then we start with a plan similar to the one for 2017-2018 on 1 August. I’ll be updating with a series of posts on “The Road to Beitostolen” for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championship in Norway March 4-15, 2019 so stay tuned!

*LT will change as a function of your training load and training distribution so periodic field tests are useful to ensure that your zones are correctly set and therefore that the TP calculation of TSS is consistent.

Book Review: Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

This book is amazing!” – Not! 

Starting with a Malcolm Gladwell quote (above) on the dust jacket and an overly aggrandizing foreward (also written by Gladwell), and then further to the contents of the book, I am very disappointed in Hutchinson’s final product.

I guess I expected more from Alex. Given his training as a physical scientist one would expect a high standard in critically reviewing, parsing out, and summarizing the raft of research he investigated on the subject. Rather the reader is offered an almost trite treatment with little evidence that the data and analysis utilized by the quoted researchers is relevant or even valid. Although Hutchinson does express some doubt about the conclusiveness of some of the research he references, it is weak, not sufficiently critical, and certainly not thorough.

Having taken the time to read the book twice and to read numerous important references, I find it unfortunate that we have, once again, a book that just repeats the mostly unsupported claims of the authors of much of the research in this field (the study of human endurance and psychobiology). Do yourself a favor and take a look at some of the references that Hutchinson uses, and particularly at the methodology and the statistical analysis, and you will find studies that have fundamentally flawed underpinnings with little or no statistical power. Add to this the “replication crisis” in the entire field of psychology (where less that 40% of all studies can be replicated) and other fields (here is a link to an upcoming webinar on the subject), and you have a situation that leads to crippling uncertainty.

For example (this is just one exemplar of many others referenced in the book), here is the studied population and data analysis methodology utilized in one of the central reference works quoted by Hutchinson in the text:

studied population:

“Ten healthy male human subjects were recruited from Bangor University’s rugby league team.”

data analysis methodology:

“Data were explored for normality and homogeneity of variance, and are presented as mean § SD unless noted otherwise. The effects of exercise duration (0, 25, 50, 75, and 100% of time to exhaustion) on MVCP, heart rate, blood lactate concentration, and RPE were tested using one-way repeated measures ANOVAs. If the assumption of sphericity was violated, the Greenhouse–Geisser correction was employed. In such cases, the uncorrected degrees of freedom are reported between square brackets in conjunction with the respective epsilon values. The correlation between RPE at isotime (the highest common exercise duration achieved by all subjects during the time to exhaustion test) and time to exhaustion was assessed by Pearson product moment correlation coefficient. The difference between MVCP measured immediately after exhaustion and the power output required by the time to exhaustion test was tested using a paired-samples t test. Significance was set at 0.05 (two-tailed) for all analyses, which were conducted using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, version 14.”

Note the size of the studied population- 10 essentially uncontrolled subjects in a cross-sectional study! It does not take much understanding of data and analysis to understand that there is essentially no statistical power rendered by such a study design. This is why the authors resort to a “pretzel-like” contortion of statistical nonsense to try and derive something out of the poorly designed study. This is just one example- the quoted references that I reviewed are rampant with such poorly designed and obfuscatingly analyzed studies. Of course this does not stop Hutchinson (and many of the authors of the research he references) from making unsupported claims and then propagating this nonsense to a degree that is just embarrassing.

In this example the authors claim the following:

“These results challenge the long-standing assumption that muscle fatigue causes exhaustion during high-intensity aerobic exercise, and suggest that exercise tolerance in highly motivated subjects is ultimately limited by perception of effort”.

Based on a study of 10 rugby players- who are assumed to be “highly motivated”? How do the authors know that? There is no discussion of  what “motivated” is in the text- no definition, no measurement, no data, no discussion. Add to this the myriad of other confounding factors that any human subject will bring to a physical test (e.g. simple things like sickness (the authors rely on self-reported recent-past sickness data) or pre-sickness, emotional state, recent training history, recent or past injuries as well as much more complex factors such as biometrics, familiarity and efficiency with cycling on a trainer, participating in exercise in a lab, genetic and epigenetic factors, etc., etc.). Surely one cannot be surprised that there is a replication crisis in such studies that have woefully deficient samples sizes of under-characterized samples (subjects) being tested. You don’t have to have faith in my analysis- do your own; I have high confidence that you will come to the same conclusion.

The popular literature (i.e. the stuff of writers like Gladwell in books like “Outliers”) is full of science fiction derived from unsubstantiated claims of studies like the one above. The unaware but trusting readership goes “hook, line, and sinker” for the bravado and pushes this mis-information out in millions of lunch and dinner table conversations, all to the diminishment of the acceptance of the reality that there is no there there.

Separate from the lack of technical rigor in the writing of this book is the formulaic, “senior paper” nature of the structure of the storytelling. The unsophisticated technique of starting a chapter with a story (the bait), then digressing to some “technical” studies that attempt to address the protagonist “issue” of the story (the answers and the message), and then back to the unfinished story with a flurry of supposedly tied up loose ends (the happy ending) is so worn out as to be annoying. It’s as if the author took a course in “how to write” and used the teacher’s boilerplate directions verbatim.

I got nothing of substance from this book beyond further confirmation of the low standards for analysis in this field of study. As a life-long endurance athlete who has remained actively engaged with elite performers (e.g. training with, comparing training strategies with, and sharing experiences at the edge of capability with) I find the contents of the book to not add much to the subject of endurance other than some interesting anecdotes (and perhaps a few potential indications of possible breakthroughs in understanding) with some supporting evidence from inconclusive studies. But this is not the basis for a book on the subject. A magazine article? Maybe, but why bother?

Some readers, unfamiliar with elite endurance sport, or for that matter, elite endurance achievement in general (e.g academic, commercial, or governmental for instance), may find some bits of enlightenment here, but given the flawed basis of much of the work supporting any conclusions, said enlightenment may just be false “understanding”.

 

Salomon S/Race Skin skis – Pink Pomoca Paradise

introduction

One of the most formidable barriers to classic skiing for newbies and experienced skiers alike is the challenge one often faces to pick and properly apply an effective kick wax for the prevailing conditions. Now, this selection  is rather straightforward in what are known as “hard wax conditions” where the simple application of a natural or synthetic wax composition for the prevailing temperature range performs very well. In such dry, compacted powder, non-aggresive snow crystal conditions, no binder is needed and fussing with mixes of wax is of little value. Just apply the wax and go. However (except in the Rocky Mountain West and a few other places) such conditions rarely occur. Typically, a near-infinite number of unpredictable (and often changing) conditions are instead what the skier has to accommodate. To be successful in reliably waxing for such conditions requires years of experience and an increasingly vast encyclopedic knowledge of “what works when” and continued attempts at new solutions with a similarly increasingly vast array of wax compositions. It is a situation that deters many from classic skiing and is the reason we see such a predominant number of skiers in the sport who choose to only skate.

Unfortuantely, the “glacial-like” innovation and technology development rate that is extant in the cross country skiing world has led to very few kick/grip solutions for skiers. Way back in the 1970’s “fish scale” skis (or “Crown” skis) were developed that at least provided reliable kick in a wide variety of challenging conditions. However, ski glide with fishscale skis is highly compromised and as a result makes skiing with such skis not very much fun on the downhills- not to mention the handicap in improving and optimizing one’s classic technique with the deficient glide.

More recently, technology has been developed to facilitate good to very good kick and good to very good glide for conditions right around freezing (32 F, 0 C) and particularly when snow has recently fallen. This technology is called “Zeros” and utilizes a rubberized kick zone composition that can be “roughed-up” to allow for effective kick in conditions that typically prevail right around freezing. These skis were used extensively at the 2010 Olympics in Whistler BC Canada (also know as the “Rain Olympics” because of all of the rain and super wet snow that fell during the competitions). “Zeros” have since become an essential part of any competitive ski er’s quiver since there is still very little in the way of waxing technology that can effectively deal with such conditions. Both competitive skiers and recreational skiers are utilizing zeros at an increasing rate given the warming that is clearly evident throughout the world, i.e “zeros” conditions are becoming more and more common.  Even here in the relatively dry and cold Northern Rockies, we use our zeros about 20% of the time (or about 30 sessions in a 150 session season). Such skis are indispensable since there really is nothing that works as well in “zeros” conditions.

Even more recently, ski manufacturers have slowly developed a kick technology for Nordic skis that utilizes a “skin” material that has been in use in Back Country and Ski Mountaineering for decades. Such “skins” simulate what actual animal fur “skins” did for ancient skiers in preceding millennia and that currently do for BackCountry and Ski Mountaineering skiers today. Originally skins were made from seal skin (hence the term “skins”) but all current ski skins are man-made woven cloth (mohair) or synthetic derivatives (e.g nylon fibers) with better durability, climbing performance, and glide speed. These man-made and Synthetic “skins” have been developed over many decades and have been broadly adopted by cross country ski manufacturers in about the last 5 years.

Salomon S/Race Skin ski- a great option for training for competitive skiers and for general use by recreationalists.

All of the major cross country skiing manufacturers now offer skin skis. Fischer, Madsus, Salomon, Atomic, and Rossignol all are also now offering numerous models including those specifically for racing. Each has their own approach to accomplish good kick and glide in difficult conditions with different skin compositions and designs. In this post I review the Salomon S/Race Skin ski as it compares to waxed skis and other synthetic kick solutions i.e. “zeros”. I will not compare Salomon S/Race Skin skis to other manufacturers models as I do not have access to skin skis that have been hand-picked for my biometrics and skiing style. Since ski flex is so important in ski performance it is of little value to compare skis without matching such parameters. So what will be described here is first-hand experience with comparisons of hand-picked Salomon S/Race Skin skis to other hand-picked Salomon racing classic skis in various snow conditions. Similar observations are highly likely to obtain with other manufacturers products in similar conditions and comparisons.

salomon s/race skin ski

The Salomon S/Race Skin ski is a combination of the latest race ski structure and flex characteristics with a race base, universal grind, and a state-of-the-art racing skin overlay. By overlay it is meant that the skin material is glued to the base and is not inlayed into the ski base.

Salomon has been working with the Switzerland-based pre-eminent synthetic skin technology developer and synthetic skin manufacturer Pomoca to further develop and apply Pomoca technology for use in both racing and recreational cross country skis. Since it’s beginnings in the 1930’s Pomoca (incorporated under this name in 1957) has been challenging the performance boundaries of “climbing skins” for touring and back country skis. Initially utilizing mohair fabrics, Pomoca revolutionized the “skins” market with the introduction of synthetic, nylon fiber-based skins in 1975. Since then they have been evolving the technology to improve both climbing and glide characteristics.

For racers, the Pomoca Race Pro 2.0 Vertical skin composition has been a reliable and fast choice for Ski Mountaineer racers in primarily vertical races. With acceptable glide combined with sufficient grip for steep ascents, the Pro 2.0 Vertical product is a mainstay at all Ski Mo competitions where races involve only (or primarily) vertical ascending. Realizing that such skin compositions could be effectively used for cross country skiing, Salomon and Pomoca have collaborated to bring the S/Race Skin ski to the market.

Pomoca Race Pro 2.0 Vertical Ski Mountaineering racing skin. Pomona claims that this skin is a proprietary composition some details of which may also be used in the Salomon S/Race Skin cross country ski.

As already mentioned, the S/Race Skin ski from Salomon has a skin material that is very similar to (or exactly the same as) Pomoca’s ski mountaineering Race Pro 2.0 Vertical skin. This 100% mohair skin composition** is glued to the kick zone of the specially constructed ski. The skin material is pre-treated by Pomoca to ensure what they call “anti-glopping”. This is basically a hydrophobic coating that reduces or eliminates icing and should last the life of the skin according to the manufacturer. The S/Race ski itself is claimed to be the lightest classic ski that Salomon have ever manufactured and includes a unique construction specifically designed to maximize kick and glide with skin material.

Salomon S/Race Skin ski showing the Pomoca skin appliqué that is very similar to (or exactly the same as) Pomoca’s Ski Mo Race Pro 2.0 Vertical skin.

The Salomon technical product literature provides the following information on the specific design and material aspects of the S/Race Skin ski:

Here is a higher resolution image of the Pomona fabric structure showing the high density of multiple-fiber “beams” that allow for grip and lay down when gliding. The high density of “beams” is said to be a key element for attaining exceptional glide.

Detail of the Pomoca skin material utilized by Salomon in the S/Race Skin ski showing a high density array of directional, multiple-fiber “beams” and the underlying cloth structure through which the 100% mohair fibers are woven. There is conflicting information about the composition of the S/Race Skin skin material. Some in the US indicate that the skin is synthetic, others say it is composite of mohair and synthetic, and the information provided by Salomon above says the skin is 100% mohair.  Who knows? In any case it has very good glide compared with other competing skin materials.

The Salomon S/Race Skin ski brings together a number of technologies into a single product specifically designed for high-level training and, potentially, racing. I think Salomon have done exceedingly well in this venture as my on-snow use described below will support.

on-snow performance

We received a pair of S/Race Skin skis just before leaving for a training camp in West Yellowstone the week prior to Thanksgiving. These skis had been picked for us by the Ski Whisperer at the factory this summer. Our expectations were that these skis would be used on difficult waxing days when we wanted to classic ski and did not want to fuss with wax. The skis would also be used for teaching at the local resort. We only ordered one pair because other users of skin skis (from other manufacturers) noted that, in general, cross country skin skis had great grip but they were very slow on the glide side. We wanted to see how the Salomon product performed prior to making an investment in two pairs.

West Yellowstone had a decent snow pack when we arrived but the next day it rained all day leading to saturated snow conditions where zeros were working well. That night the temperature fell significantly, the snow dried out, and the excellent grooming crew in West Yellowstone did a great job of setting the tracks. We went out with the S/Race Skin skis and a pair of racing skis with a “covered klister” system that was (we were told) being utilized by all of the elite-level skiers who were training that day. Arriving at the trail system we found the tracks and decks to be nicely packed but with a substantial amount of ice and the tracks were clearly glazed. The temperature was about -10C (15F). Out we went on Rendezvous, Jerry’s Journey and then the Dead Dog loop. Both ski pairs were performing well for grip, although the skins were “bomber” and the covered blister was very good but not “bomber”. As far as glide, we were astonished when the skin ski was out-gliding the waxed racing ski in the track! This continued throughout the session where the skin ski was either out-gliding the race ski or they were even. Amazing! On the deck however the skin ski would catch whatever loose snow there was and slow down a bit- and also “sing” (make a high pitched sound) which is never a good sign for glide optimization.

A speed test on a steep downhill in the track showed that the S/Race Skin skis will support speeds in excess of 48 kph- about as fast as we currently go on our waxed racing classic skis. On the deck this reduced to about 35 kph on the same hill. But remember- skin skis are “grab and go”… no muss, no fuss and therefore yielding just that much more time on trails and no frustration with figuring out the “right” wax combination. We call the S/Race Skin ski “Pink Pomoca Paradise”!

We continued to use and compare the S/Race skin ski to other waxable classic skis that we brought with us throughout the changing conditions we encountered. We had some new snow that was set without glazed tracks and the skin ski was clearly slower but not by much. As noted above, the skins will catch and slow down on loose unpacked or loosely packed powder that is often found on the decks so staying in the track will maximize glide. However, even in the track in slightly loose snow conditions the skis will slow down relative to a waxed equivalent. The skins also do not exhibit “free” glide in striding and one can feel the resistance in the glide phase on each stride. It is a small resistance that is real and would add up over the course of a race. But this is a small price to pay for the “grab and go” convenience and the consistently “bomber” kick, particularly for training.

The S/Race Skin skis were in such demand that it was coin toss as to who got them on any given day, so we called the Ski Whisperer and secured another pair, which has since arrived and has been found to provide performance that is equivalent to the first pair.

how to use s/race skin skis

Although the Salomon S/Race Skin skis can be fast in certain track conditions, they will likely never be a “race” ski on race day. This is because any well-informed and experienced classic ski waxer should be able to put together a wax program that works for kick and has superior glide  for the conditions. However, for training the S/Race skis shine as they will enable a classic training session in virtually all difficult conditions where getting the wax right would be a significant effort. For me, training sessions are all about heart rates and the S/Race Skin will allow for a straightforward “grab-and-go” solution that ensures I can get the work done without any hassle. It may not be the fastest session but at least I can get the session completed and not spend time on the trails frustrated trying to get good kick. Rather I am just bombing up the hill repeats and challenging the limits of what the session is designed to work on.

Another primary use for the S/Race Skins is as a technique development tool. Here the “bomber” kick will allow one to concentrate on getting the split second timing right and therefore bring together all of the dynamic movements required to refine and optimize a good classic stride. Many skiers suffer from this on-snow development and refinement because they are on skis that are not kicking well. As a result the all-critical timing and dynamic movement coordination never come together for long enough to allow for the focused work, repetition, and myelination to take hold.

Finally, the S/Race Skin skis are ideally suited to those just starting out with classic technique- for all of reasons given above for classic ski racers: reliable “bomber” kick, “grab-and-go” convenience, and reasonable glide (and great glide in icy conditions). New classic skiers  consistently bring up all of these factors when discussing their foray into the classic technique. Hopefully the new generation of skin skis will encourage more and more skiers to give classic skiing a try and lead to a larger classic ski population out on the trails.

bottom line

“Grab-and-Go” convenience, “bomber” kick, and good to great glide in a lightweight, well designed ski for training for competitive skiers or as a daily ski for recreationalists. Highly recommended.

Update 31 Dec 2017: We have skied on the skin skis for a number of additional sessions and in additional conditions. A few days ago the snow conditions consisted of newly fallen warmish powder snow (20-23F) that had been groomed early in the morning. The air temperature warmed to about 29-31F and the tracks glazed over but did not ice. Bumble was on the skins and Bee was on Carbon skate skis with the same wax and similar grind. In the track the skins out-glided the skate skis- by a significant margin. On the deck the skins would catch any loose snow and slow down compared to the skate skis but they were still gliding well. So the lesson here is that there will be conditions where the skins may be in the running on race day and it would do one well to consider taking the skins along to any race where the waxing might be tricky. I know that we will be taking them.

* or “mohair” as some prefer, although mohair (a woven cloth made from Angora goat hair) is only one of a number of “skin” types e.g. some skins are made from synthetic fibers (e.g. nylon) or mix of synthetic and mohair fibers

**There is conflicting information about the composition of the S/Race Skin skin material. Some in the US indicate that the skin is synthetic, others say it is composite of mohair and synthetic, and the information provided by Salomon above says the skin is 100% mohair.  Who knows? In any case it has very good glide compared with other competing skin materials.

The Road to Minneapolis – ATP 2017

I have had a number of requests to put up a post reviewing my Annual Training Plan (ATP) for the 2017 ski season. Although I put up the plan for 2016, the intention for showing the 2016 ATP was to demonstrate how a plan could be put together using the principles of training that I detailed in a number of posts (here, here, herehere, and here). I noted at the time that the plan was only relevant to me and my specific training capacities, dryland and ski skill, race schedule, and the amount of weekly time devoted to training. Therefore the 2016 ATP was not a recipe (or even a template) for a successful training plan for someone else- likewise for this 2017 ATP. It is important be very specific to your individual circumstances- time available, intensity capacity, volume capacity, strength development capacity, local terrain and dryland situation, etc. Development of a personal ATP is most often best accomplished with an experienced coach who can intelligently adjust the various elements in the program to one’s specific needs and then make further adjustments as needed as one proceeds through the program.

“Canned” training programs are abundantly available but they are just that- “canned”. They are not well suited to advanced athletes, are typically out of sync for intermediates, and newbies should definitely steer clear of these plans. People love to buy them, download them, and then complain about how they do not work very well! As a result, there is very limited successful applicability for such products.

If you are serious about your training it is highly recommended that you find a suitable coach and develop an efficient working relationship. Your time and money will be well placed.

Presented below is my 2017 Ski Season ATP offered as an example of what a program can look like to support two peak race periods- World Masters Cup Minneapolis 19-26 January 2018 and for the West Yellowstone Rendezvous Race on 3 March 2018. The details of the training plan are specific to me and will not be elaborated upon except for some typical workout sessions that I use for the VO2max and Lactate Threshold (LT) intensity sessions.

ATP 2017

For the 2017-2018 ski season the training program began in ernest about a month earlier than for 2016-2017 because the first “A” race (World Masters Minneapolis) is in late January, about a month prior to the 2016-2017 “A” race at World Masters in Klosters. So you will see a shift in the beginning of the intensity work to the beginning of August. I have also decided to stick with the “block periodization” protocol for the pre-race periods. This worked quite well last year.

Prior to the period shown in the 2017 ATP I pursued a mountain trail running season from early April through late June. This trail run training included an initial four week block of endurance with high vertical gain (about 3000-6000 m (10,000-20,000 feet) per week) followed by three week VO2 max and LT intensity blocks and a rest week prior to a 25 km mountain trail race in mid June. Following the race I transitioned back to endurance training for the remainder of June and then throughout July thereby yielding a seven week endurance block prior to the start of ski-specific intensity (bounding with poles) in August. I prefer to not race in the summer mainly due to the heat stress but also due to other competing opportunities to get deep into the mountains when they are most accessible. And, as many know, racing just gets in the way of training!

There is one significant change for 2017 that is worth noting- I have gone with 6 week intensity blocks throughout the fall that start with two weeks of VO2max focus followed immediately by four week blocks of Lactate Threshold (LT) focus. I found last season that I could absorb more intensity than I was getting and this new structure should allow me to further define where my ultimate capacity is. Hopefully this structure will not go over the edge but I am pretty confident that it will not. I also have historically had a very good ability to accurately judge when training is getting close to the edge of overtraining; so, if experience holds, I will know when to back off if needed.

ATP 2017 – this year the ski season has two peak periods and intensity work starts about 1 month earlier than in 2016 due to timing of first “A” race. Presented as a training plan development demonstration example. Not recommended for anyone but me.

As in 2016, training protocol during the race season will revert to a traditional periodization with appropriately placed intensity weeks, volume weeks, and recovery weeks. Peaking periods will involve every other day intervals for about two weeks followed by rest prior to the “A” races.

Note that the Seeley Hills Classic 42 km classic race is inserted one week prior to World Masters. This race is on the schedule because we have wanted to do it for quite some time and it is located close to Minneapolis so it can be accommodated by just extending our trip to World Masters Minneapolis. However, we will be playing this by ear and may drop down to the 21 km race or not race at all depending on how we feel when the time comes. The race could be a good tune-up for World Masters since all of the WMC races are shorter than 30 km for us old people (M07 & F06). We should have no problem with 10 km, 15 km ,and 30 km races on the easy terrain in Minneapolis even after doing the 42 km classic race on the much more challenging courses at Seeley Hills that use the Birkie Trail System. Now let’s hope there is actually snow this year!

One will also note that there are recovery periods that overlap with scheduled races (e.g. the Teton Ridge Classic, Seeley Hills Classic, and the Boulder Mountain Tour)- this just means that these races are being used primarily for training and fall into the “B” & “C” race categories- they will essentially be LT sessions in an otherwise recovery week. It’s not ideal but we would rather race when we have the chance so long as we can have high confidence that recovery will be sufficient. There is no substitute for racing if successful racing is your goal. However, we will also be playing each of these races by ear, particularly the Boulder Mountain Tour as it is after WMC Minneapolis and it is also not a favorite race. Even though it is the “big” race here in Sun Valley, it is a downhill course with way too much boring flats and way too much V2 alt for our tastes. So if we miss it, neither of us will be particularly disappointed. Too bad we cannot have a more challenging race in Sun Valley on some of the great terrain that we have here.

Since many have asked, I give a few examples of VO2max and LT session structures below. For dryland these are done as bounding with poles. Both types of intensity work are best done on hills as repeats. You should expect about 600-750 m (2000-2500 feet) of accumulated vertical ascension during a session that has about 30 minutes of “on” work. An occasional flat-to-rolling terrain session will help with high turnover and associated neuromuscular development that comes with the much faster pace on such terrain. All workouts should be preceded by about 30 min of warm-up at aerobic pace with a few speeds (aka “pick-ups” in run language) and about 20-30 min of cool down at aerobic pace. Depending on the specific work these sessions will last from about 1h 15 min to 2 h.

These are simple examples that work well in a mountain environment where long steep hills are readily available. But be creative in accommodating whatever terrain you have to work with and make the repeats/rests efficient so that you do not get too much rest between repeats. The accumulated lactate and muscle fatigue is critical to obtaining an appropriate (and, hopefully, optimal) training stimulus. Also, be sure to max out on overnight sleep after these workouts- you will need the rest even if at first you don’t think so. On a regular diet of these intervals sleep is your friend- particularly for us oldsters!

VO2max session examples

10-20 X (1 min on/1min off)

10 X (2 min on 2 min off)

10 X (3 min on 3 min off)

ladders:

2-3 repeats of, for example:

1 min (30 s off) 2 min (1 min off) 3 min (2 min off) 5 min (3 min off) 5 min (3 min off) 3 min (2 min off) 2 min (1 min off) 1 min

Many books on the subject of interval training suggest a progression from about 12 min total work (i.e. on time) to about 30 min total work (at peak loading) at VO2max (100-107% of LT (zone 5a-b)). There will be significant heart rate lag on the shorter interval periods (i.e. you will not get to the target heart rate even though the effort level is correct) so having a good feel for rated perceived exertion (RPE) and how that maps onto heart rate is important.

  • with a LT of 155 this means heart rates between 155-166 bpm
Lactate Threshold session examples

3-6 X 8 min on 4 min off

5-7 X 6 min on 3 min off

3-5 X 10 min on 5 min off

2-3  X 20 min on 10 min off

1 X 40 min on

Again, many books on the subject of interval training for running and cross country skiing suggest a progression from about 20 min total LT work up to about 60 min total work (at peak loading) at 90-95% of LT (zone 4 with some brief excursions to 100% of LT (high zone 4-low zone 5a) allowed.

  • with a LT of 155 this means heart rates between 140 and 148 bpm with a few brief 150-155 bpm excursions allowed depending on the demands of the terrain