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

 

 

 

 

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The Road to Minneapolis – Course Profile Analysis – Prelude to a Double Pole Derby?

 

As mentioned in the first post in this series on preparations for the Masters World Cup (MWC) in Minneapolis on  19-26 January 2018, I expressed concern about the courses in Minneapolis being flat. Well my concerns have been confirmed now that the organizing committee have published the course maps and profiles. With a dynamic range of less than 100 feet (30 m), all of the Minneapolis MWC courses are “golf course flat”- which is, of course, expected since the courses are all on a golf course! Now, “golf course flat” is not actually flat, in fact such courses can be highly corrugated as the Minneapolis Masters World Cup courses are. There is just a significant lack of extended “steepish” climbs that are an essential part of competitive cross country skiing (as defined by the FIS in the Cross Country Homologation Manual (FISCCHM)). I was hopeful that my memory of the terrain whilst running around the golf course and surrounding woods in Theodore Wirth Park for many years was inaccurate; unfortunately, memory, in this case, serves well and the lack of sustained climbs and the associated diminished challenge of the Minneapolis courses for the MWC has prevailed- bummer.

There have been some changes to the courses from the initial descriptions outlined earlier this year. According to a recent publication of the American Cross Country Skier organization (AXCS), in an effort to facilitate a likely need for man-made snow and to eliminate a road crossing for some of the races, many of the courses will be on the northern-most part of the park, north of the Parkway entrance road. The first four days of racing that includes the 15 km/30 km free & classic, and the 10 km free & classic will be conducted in this part of the park. This means that, as currently planned, the 15 km course for these races will be two 7.5 km loops, the 30 km will be three 10 km loops, and the 10 km course will be a single 10 km loop. For the longer races, the 30km free & classic and the 45 km free & classic will utilize, with multiple loops, a 15 km course that is composed of the first half of the 10 km loop followed by a very flat 5 km section of the venue south of the park entrance road and then crossing back over the road and finishing on the second half of the 10 km course. The relays will be held on a 5 km loop that will also be utilized for the “geezer” (or “C”) course for races with the 75+ men and 70+ women.

To be direct, if you are a competitive skier and plan to participate in the classic races at the MWC in Minneapolis, I recommend, depending on your double pole skills/abilities, that you might not bother bringing your classic skis and kick wax- none of these courses will require striding for those with good double pole technique and fitness. Double poling on skate skis and boots will likely rule the day. I elaborate below.

course profiles

The analysis that follows has been based on the “course maps and profiles” materials linked above as provided by the organizers via graphical media. For replication of the profiles (to facilitate comparison with other courses) I estimated distance/elevation data optically from the website .pdfs and, as such, the profiles will have some errors and be of lower resolution than typical digital data (digital data (e.g. .gpx or .tcx) files of the courses are not currently available). However, the profiles presented here will be representative and largely applicable to any comparison exercise. Also between the time that I downloaded the course profiles in early-mid September and now, the Organizers have changed the profiles. Originally the profiles indicated a maximum elevation of 278 feet and a minimum of 249 feet. Now the recently updated profiles (which also provide a table of height difference (HD), total climb (TC), and maximum climb (MC)) show a maximum elevation of 285 feet and a minimum of 255 feet. This represents a uniform upward displacement of 6 m. Since I had already gone through the task of translating the data to a spreadsheet and producing graphical representations with the original data, I have not corrected the comparison data below to reflect the 6 m uniform upward displacement. All comparisons are conducted utilizing normalized elevation so they remain valid. The analyzed individual course profiles utilize the new, corrected data that the organizers have recently provided.

Also note that the new data show a maximum climb of 35 m (115 feet) which I cannot derive from the provided data (the highest maximum climb that I can discern is about 30 m (98 feet). There may be some corrugations that are not resolved in the provided profile data but that collectively add up to an additional 5 m on one or more of the major climbs (It is also possible that the organizers are interpreting maximum climbs differently than I am). In the comparisons below, given the significant magnitude of TC differences with other courses, a 5 m error will not affect any of the observations or conclusions.

Some errors in the course profiles have also been observed. For example the provided profile of the last approximately 1.5 km of the 7.5 km and 10 km courses is different even though these portions of the two courses are on the same exact trails. Presented below is a comparison of these two sections of trail showing the 7.5 km profile exhibiting a much steeper (and shorter) hill in the same location as the 10 km profile. This does impact the following analysis in that in the 7.5 km course this hill is classified as a short uphill or  “B” climb  whereas in the 10 km course the same hill is classified as a major or “A” climb (climb classifications will be defined below). I have held to a protocol whereby the provided profile for each course is utilized for analysis of that course. In this case it results in one less “A” climb for the 7.5 km course and one more “A” climb for the 10 km course.

It seems odd that this difference would be reflected as it is likely that the same digital data was used to produce the profiles and maps. It is possible that the hills are so finely topologically corrugated that the profile will be sensitive to exactly where you draw a cursor over a digital map that contains the elevation data layer. In any case, there are obviously errors in the mapping/profiles but as far as I can tell they are relatively minor ones that will not impact any analysis or any of the considerations given below. Note also that the 10 km course is slightly short and the 7.5 km course is slightly long.

Maps and profiles of the  last 1.5 km of the otherwise identical Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km and 10 km courses showing how the profiles differ for the same trail (the elevation scale is not shown but has the same magnitude). The orange dotted line shadows the last 1.5 km of the two courses.  This is not a large error but may be indicative of short scale topological corrugation on the hills on the course. Note that the 10 km course is slightly short and the 7.5 km course is slightly long.

One further note:

There could also be additional adjustments to the courses prior to the competitions, particularly since Minneapolis has such unreliable snow.

background on course profile requirements

Both the FIS and the FIS World Masters Cross Country Ski Association (FIS WMCCSA) have specific requirements for competition courses that are described in detail in the respective FIS Cross Country Homologation Manual (FISCCHM) and FIS Rules of Competition for Masters Events (FISRCME), respectively. Presented in Table I is a summary that compares the FISCCHM to WMCCSA requirements for course profiles including total climb (TC), physical height difference (PHD) ranges (and maximums), “A”, “B”, and “C” climb definitions, and expected quantities of each type of climb in number count and percentage of total climb. There are a number of typos in the FISRCME tables and text. I have done my best at correcting those and they are incorporated in Table I.

Table I. Summary and comparison of requirements for course profiles for the World Cup FIS and WMCCSA competition courses. *WMCCSA 5 km couse TC is for the “geezer” or “C” course utilized for 75+ men and 70+ women and, in Minneapolis, also for the relays for all ages. Typically MWC competitions have a separate, more challenging, 5 km course for the “non-geezer” athletes with an allowed TC of 52-75 m.

The courses are intended to be made up of of a general profile that includes approximately 1/3 climbing, 1/3 undulating terrain, and 1/3 down. This is further refined by definition of three climb types- “A” climbs that are referred to as “Major Climbs”, “B” climbs (“Short Uphills”), and “C” climbs (“Steep Uphills”). The “A” climbs include longer continuous “steepish” terrain that is intended, as stated in the FIS manual, to “separate the best skiers”. Although no specifics are given in the FISCCHM for the length of “A” climbs, inspection of many FIS homologated courses reveals that “A” climbs should be a minimum of about 250 m in length. The “B” climbs (short uphills) are utilized singularly or in conjunction with other climbs to increase the difficulty of an “A” or “C” climb. Again, although no specifics are given in the FISCCHM for the length of “B” climbs, inspection of many FIS homologated courses reveals that “B” climbs should be a maximum of about 250 m in length. The “C” climbs present sections of very steep but short lateral and vertical length terrain, testing the skiers ability to perform on such terrain. For “C” climbs the FISCCHM does specify a “C” climb length guideline of a maximum of 30 m.

Combinations of the various types of climbs in a race course is intended to test the fitness and uphill and terrain transition ski skills of the competitors. Similarly the downhills and undulating terrain are specifically designed to test abilities in these types of terrain. From the FISCCHM:

“The steepest uphills are not necessarily the ones that separate the best skiers from the others, since the steepness often limits the speed regardless of technique and athlete’s capacity. The best courses are those that include all kinds of uphills, with a variety of lengths and gradients. The ideal solution is for example one majoruphill with an average gradient of 6%, another with 12%, and a third with 9%”.

FIS Cross Country Homologation Manual (June 2017 Edition), p.19

And the FISCCHM also speaks to the specifics of the location of the major climbs:

“The location of the major climbs should be spread out along the course, and the course should optimally start with a shorter climb (B-climb). The most critical climb is towards the end of the course, where the strongest skier can “win the race”. 

FIS Cross Country Homologation Manual (June 2017 Edition), p.23

What one will observe in Table I is that the WMCCSA competition course requirements  are essentially “dumbed down” FIS World Cup courses with reduced allowed grade ranges, reduced maximum individual climb magnitude, and reduced total climb magnitude. The  FIS WMCCSA rule book states that the goal for the MWC courses is to be:

“about 40 – 60 % below (the) standard of International Ski Competition Rules (ICR) of the International Ski Federation (FIS)”.

Such reduction in difficulty are fairly well adhered to in the MWC requirements summarized in Table I. (Note: for the M10-M12 and F09-F12 the courses (“C” courses) are supposed to be about 75% below the standard of the FIS ICR).

Additionally from the FISRCME:

“Cross-country courses must be laid out in such a way that they provide a technical, tactical and physical test of the competitors’ qualifications. The degree of difficulty should be in accordance withthe level of the competition. The course should be laid out as naturally as possible to avoid any monotony, with rolling undulating sections, climbs, and downhill sections. Where possible, the course should be laid out through woodland. Rhythm should not be broken by too many sharp changes in direction or steep climbs. The downhill sections have always to be laid out in such a way that all racers areable to manage them. At the same it should be possible to ski the course even under fast conditions”.

FIS Rules of Competition for Masters Events (October 2014 Edition) p.11

Personally, even at age 61, I would prefer to be on FISCCHM-type courses as the challenge to perform well on “real” cross country courses is at the center of my motivations in training for skiing. I realize that there are many others who have no interest in trying to perform on difficult courses and that if the courses are of substantial difficulty they may choose to not compete at all. I will only point out that in many other sports courses are not “dumbed down” to accommodate the “lowest common denominator” or older competitor. For example take the road running marathon- Boston (and any other road marathon) does not have a separate course for older athletes. Everyone races the same course- elites, competitive age groupers, and oldsters. In fact I would posit that the participants in these marathons would be displeased if the organizers did have a “dumbed down” course for older athletes**. However, since cross country skiing is an endurance sport that requires significant skill and involves relatively high speeds, racing presents a real potential for significant consequences for those that falter. So the “dumbing down” is somewhat understandable and serves a real purpose for some competitors.

Although the climb combinations are very important, it is the major climbs that will define the difficulty of any cross country skiing race course. For masters, as specified in the FISRCME, major climbs are defined as:

“PHD > 15 m, gradient 5 – 9 %, normally broken with some short undulating sections less than 100 meters in length or a down hill that does not exceed 5 m PHD”.

So there is some “interpretation” involved with assessing what are major climbs (“A” climbs) in a MWC course. I will provide my assessment (“virtual homologation”) in the analysis and comparisons presented below. I will apply the data summarized in Table I combined with  the “A”, “B”, and “C” climb length definitions noted above- i.e. “A” climbs must be at least 250 m in length, “B” climbs must be less than 250 m in length but greater than 30 m, and “C” climbs must be shorter than 30 m.

Note that this “virtual homologation” analysis is a “best efforts” exercise given the data that is available. Clearly, an accurate homologation needs to be conducted on site with high resolution GPS (or a calibrated measurement wheel) and an accurate barometric altimeter. However what is presented below (including all accumulated estimation errors) should serve any racer well in their individual preparations for the competitions. Additionally, I will not call out any of the “C” climbs and will only call out the significant “B” climbs. There are many “C” climbs in the Minneapolis 2018 terrain and a number of minor “B” climbs that will need to be discerned by the reader from the profiles or when actually skiing the courses this winter.

Minneapolis 2018 Course profile analysis and comparisons

Presented here are profile analyses of all of the Minneapolis 2018 courses. Additionally, comparisons are made with the Klosters 2017 Masters World Cup courses as a means of comparison to another MWC event and for those who (like me) raced at Klosters. Table II presents summary data for the primary course metrics for the Minneapolis 2018 courses and the Klosters 2017 courses. Shown are the height difference (HD), the total climb (TC), and the maximum climb (MC) in meters and feet.

Table II. Summary comparison of the Masters World Cup courses from Minneapolis 2018 and Klosters 2017. Compared are height difference (HD), total climb (TC), and maximum climb (MC) in meters (feet).

The course metrics indicate that, from a TC perspective, the Minneapolis and Klosters courses are very similar. However, in reality, the courses could not be any more different. This is hinted at by the MCs which are from 24% to 54% greater for the Klosters courses and the HDs where this value is 1.4 to almost 4 times greater for the Klosters courses. These differences will be best described utilizing profile comparisons which are graphically presented below for each of the Minneapolis courses and also compared with the Klosters courses.

The course metrics indicate that, from a TC perspective, the Minneapolis and Klosters courses are very similar. However, in reality, the courses could not be any more different.

5 km Course

This course will be used for the relays for all ages and all of the “geezer” (75+ men and 70+ women) races and is referred to as the “C” course by the WMCCSA. At MWC competitions there is often a separate 5 km course for the relays (as there was in Klosters) that is more difficult than the “geezer” course.

Minneapolis 2018 5 km course profile. TC = 87 m (285 feet); Maximum climb = 18 m (59 feet). This course is above the recommended TC for both the “geezer” course C maximum specification (52 m (170 feet)) and the 5 km course specifications for other age groups (75 m maximum TC). However, the 5 km course is within specification for maximum climb PHD (15-25 m (50-82 feet)). The grade of the maximum climb (av. = 4.3%) is within the maximum allowed average value of 9%.

This 5 km course exceeds the maximum allowed total climb (TC) for both the “C” course and for a 5 km course for other age groups (see Table I).

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course.

There is only one major (“A”) climb that starts at about the 2.6 km point and is within FISRCME specified PHD and allowed maximum grades. Note that the 5 km course uses the same route as all the other courses for the first approximately 3.3 km- however, the provided course profiles for the race courses are different in this section leading to slightly different “homologation” classification of the climbs in some cases (see for example the same “A” hill in the 7.5 km and 10 km course profiles below).

For a “geezer” course the 5 km course is a challenging one and compares as more difficult  to the “C” course in Klosters 2017. Presented below is a comparison of the two courses.

The Klosters 5 km “C” course has a lot less corrugation, a lower TC of 61 m (200 feet), and lower average grades on the two major climbs (the climb out of the start and the climb that begins at about 2.6 km) but the course presents much longer continuous climbs that can be difficult for older skiers. Just for calibration, our 83 year old friend and neighbor (coached by Bee) double poled the “C” course at Klosters and took three silver medals. I do not think that she could double pole the Minneapolis 5 km course because of the higher average grade on the one major (“A”) climb, the steepness of the “B” and “C” climbs, and the larger TC.

Another informative comparison is of the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course and the Aeuja 5 km course from Klosters 2017 that was used for the relays.

Quite the difference- as expected given the mountain location of Klosters and the prairie/glacial moraine location of Minneapolis. The difference in HDs is huge, not to mention the difference in absolute altitude (1180-1300 m for Klosters and 255-285 m for Minneapolis). Although the TC of the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course and the Klosters 2017 5 km Aeuja course are the similar (87 m (285 feet) for Minneapolis and 100 m (328 feet) for Klosters) the first of the two “A” climbs in the Klosters course is radically more difficult with a MC of 39 m (128 feet) compared to 18 m (59 feet) for the Minneapolis course. Also the long relatively steep downhill off the last hill on the Klosters 5 km course allowed for high speed descents (I hit about 50 kph (30 mph) on that downhill during the races in 2017) that can be difficult for some skiers.

The Minneapolis 5 km course will ski very fast for freestyle races and competitive classic skiers will likely choose to double pole.

7.5 km course

This is a unique course that is the result of constraints in Minneapolis to minimize the crossing of an entrance road into the venue. For the first four races all courses will be north of the entrance road. To accommodate the 15 km and 30 km races multiple laps of the 7.5 km and 10 km loops will be utilized. The 7.5 km Minneapolis 2018 course profile is presented below. This course will be used for the 15 km classic and freestyle races on days 1 & 2.

Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course to be used as a loop for the two loop 15 km races. Estimated TC = 173 m (567 feet), major climb PHD maximum of about 30 m (95 feet) and steepest major climb grades of about 5%.

A “virtual homologation” analysis of the 7.5 km course is presented below. With two “A” climbs and four “B” climbs the 15 km races on days 1&2 (which use two laps of this 7.5 km course) will have four “A” and eight “B” climbs. Once again this course will ski very fast due to the corrugated accumulation of TC (rather than from a few large PHDs), the very short hills, and the otherwise very gentle nature of the terrain. As with the Minneapolis 2018 5 km course, for competitive classic skiers this course will likely be skied fastest by double poling. Freestyle and classic skiers should have fast times if they can handle the many transitions with the numerous small hills and u-turns.

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course.

It is worthwhile to compare this 7.5 km course with the 10 km course from Klosters 2017.

Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 10 km course (red).

TC of the Minneapolis 7.5 km course is 173 m( 567 feet) with two “A” climbs (both have lower PHDs than the “A” climbs in the Klosters 10 km course) and a maximum “A” climb average grade of about 4.5%. The Klosters 2017 10 km course TC is 229 m (751 feet) with five “A” climbs, and a maximum “A” climb average grade of about 6.6%. The maximum climb grade for both courses is about 12%, although the Klosters course has more climb sections in this grade range. The 12% grade for these “A” climbs is well above the specified grade range outlined in Table I where the maximum allowed “A” climb grade is 9%.

Again the nature of the terrain in Minneapolis is radically different from Klosters as is expected given the locations of the two venues. It is obvious that the Klosters course is much more difficult. I will note here that Bee and I both double poled the 10 km course at Klosters. Bee won by over two minutes (-7%) and I placed 14th (+10%) after a mishap in the last downhill corner and loosing about 7 places. So, if the Klosters 2017 10 km course was double pollable, clearly the Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course will be.

Another good comparison is of the Minneapolis 7.5 km course with the Sun Valley Ski Educational Foundation (SVSEF) Lake Creek course (following a perimeter route). The Lake Creek course (in numerous different trail segment combinations) has been used for many senior, senior national, junior, junior national, and Super Tour races over the years.

As is obvious, the dynamic range is almost 2.5 X greater for the Lake Creek course as compared to the MWC Minneapolis course. The 6 major (“A”) climbs at Lake Creek are about twice as long and generally with a higher average grade. The Minneapolis courses (the 7.5 km course here as well as the other courses reviewed below) are of substantially less difficulty. Given that the Lake Creek course is considered an acceptable course for junior racers, and therefore, in my opinion, acceptable for masters racing,  it seems apparent that the Minneapolis courses are deficient as it concerns difficulty. Note: for the junior races at Lake Creek, the courses will often exclude the highest climb, shown here starting at about 4.1 km through about 5 km. Instead the race courses will go up to the first peak (at about 4.4 km) and then return down.

Additional comments on the Minneapolis 2018 7.5 km course are offered below in the 15 km course section since it will only be used as a loop for the 15 km races on days 1&2.

10 km course

Now on to the “meat” of this course profile analysis as the 10 km and 15 km courses are the heart of the competitions and are arguably the most important challenges at the MWC.

The Minneapolis 10 km course will be used for the 10 km classic and freestyle races on day 3 as well as a loop for the 3-loop 30 km classic and freestyle races on days 1 & 2.

Minneapolis 2018 10 km course profile.  TC=256 m (840 feet) with maximum major (“A”) climb grades of about 4.5-6%. There is a high speed u-turn downhill corner leading into a “A” climb at about 6 km.

A “virtual homologation” analysis is presented below and shows that the 10 km course has five “A” climbs (all of which are short) with an average “A” climb grade of about 4.4-6.3% and a maximum “A” climb grade of about 8.5% (for a portion of climb A3). All of the “A” climb PHDs are in the lower quartile of allowed values for such climbs. There are four “B” climbs with an average climb grade of 4.8-8.4% with a maximum climb grade of about 12% (for a portion of climb B2). The 12% grade for this “B” climb is well above the specified grade range outlined in Table I where the maximum allowed “B” climb grade is 9%.

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course.

One aspect of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course that will make for some challenge is the succession of four “A” climbs in the second half of the course. This will provide a test of a skier’s ability to recover (i.e. metabolize lactate) after each climb and should lead to high lactate values going into the final two climbs thereby making the last climb critical given the primarily downhill nature of the remainder of the course into the stadium. Without a substantial gap at the top of the last climb even the fastest racers might be caught by the finish, particularly if there is any adverse wind- and wind can be a big factor in Minneapolis.

Comparison with the Klosters 2017 10 km course shows, again, how very different the terrain is. Presented below is a graphical comparison of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course (blue) with the Klosters 2017 10 km course (red).

Minneapolis 2018 10 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 10 km course (red).

TC of the Minneapolis 10 km course is 256 m ( 840 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 8.5% and for the Klosters 2017 10 km course TC is 229 m (751 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 12% (which, as noted above, is above the specified allowed range summarized in Table I). The Klosters 2017 10 km course has four “A” climbs all of three of which have lengths exceeding 600 m with the longest being 1000 m.

As noted above, there is a substantial lack of extended “steepish” (i.e. “A”-type) climbs in the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course. For example the longest “A” climb for the Minneapolis 2018 10 km starts at about 2.75 km and ends at about 3.3 km (550 m long) with about 24 m (79 feet) of PHD for an average grade of about 4.4%. This is to be compared to the Klosters 2017 10 km climbs starting at about 2.2 km ending at 2.8 km (600 m long) with 40 m (131 feet) of climbing and starting at about 3.8 km ending at 4.5 km (700 m long) with 46 m (151 feet) of climb. The climbs have an average grade of 6.6%- about 130% of that of the longest “A” climb in the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course. These Klosters 2017 10 km course “A” climb average grades of 6.6% are slightly above the FISRCME maximum allowed average of 6%. Note that the average grade for the longest of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course climbs is in the lower half of the minimum FISRCME  grade range values and the PHD is  in the lower quartile of the FISRCME standard for “A” climbs- and this is for the longest climb on the entire course. There are, however, some very steep (12%) albeit short sections on some of the hills. In the “Race Data and Video” section below you will see that these sections are uniformly herringboned by even national-level competitors. Double poling into and out of these steep sections will likely be the fastest way through the hills.

Note that the average grade for the longest of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course climbs is in the lower half of the minimum FISRCME grade range values and the PHD is in the lower quartile of the FISRCME standard for “A” climbs- and this is for the longest climb on the entire 10km course.

And then, of course, there is also comparison with the longest of the Klosters 2017 10 km course “A” climbs that starts at about 5.3 km and ends at 6.3 km (1000 m long) with a PHD of 43 m (140 feet) and an average grade of 4.3% and a maximum grade of about 12%.

As noted above both Bee and I double polled the Klosters 10 km course without difficulty. We expect that the Minneapolis course will clearly be “double pollable” even for masters skiers and will also be very fast given the ability of proper double pole technique to efficiently carry speed over the many short hills.

Another comparison (perhaps of interest to New England readers) is the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course with the Craftsbury Marathon 2017 12.5 km loop course.

Minneapolis 2018 10 km course (blue) compared to the Craftsbury Marathon 2017 12.5 km loop (red).

Note how much longer the major climbs are in the Craftsbury course as well as the very continuous nature of the climbing in general. The Craftsbury loop is a challenging course but it is also “double pollable”, as Kris Freeman did to win the marathon in 2017. This also indicates that the Minneapolis courses will all be “double pollable” and that DP will likely be the fastest for the classic races. This conclusion will need to be ground tested, but based on experience I think that DP will rule the day in the classic races. The big question is exactly how steep are the many short hills at Minneapolis and whether or not competitive grip waxed skiers are herring boning; if they are, I expect that double poling will win. The video presented in the “Race Data and Video” section below essentially answers this question- there is no doubt that all skiers will be herringboning the many steep sections.

As far as freestyle is concerned, the hills in the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course will ski quickly as there are no “long slogs” and therefore ski speed should stay high and, with the right ski surface treatment and reasonable snow conditions, race times should be very fast. This will highlight the importance of cadence and glide length for this course.

Another likely outcome is that this course (and all other courses at Minneapolis 2018) will lead to races with packs of competitors since there are no long climbs that would otherwise spread out the field. As a result the races will be much more like criterium bike races where gaps will constantly open up and be closed throughout and not allow for anyone (or two) to get away. There will likely be quite a few sprints into the stadium for podium positions.

15 km courses

The Minneapolis 15 km course will be used for the 30 km and 45 km classic and freestyle races on days 5&6. The course is composed of the first 5 km of the 10 km course followed by a very flat 5 km section south of the Park entrance road and then finishes with the last 5 km of the 10 km course. So the comments above for the 10 km course all apply here with the 15 km course.

Minneapolis 2018 15 km course for the “distance” races on days 5 & 6 for the M01-06 and F01-05. TC=380 m (1,246 feet).

The “virtual homologation” analysis is presented below. The Minneapolis 15 km course, as with the 10 km course, has 5 “A” climbs (all of which are short) with a maximum “A” climb grade of about 8.5% (for the climb at about 10 km) and an average “A” climb grade of about 5-6%. Again, all of the “A” climb PHDs are in the lower quartile of allowed values for such climbs. The six “B” climbs have an average climb grade of 4.8-8.8% and a maximum climb grade of about 12% (for a portion of climb B2). The 12% grade for this “B” climb is well above the specified grade range outlined in Table I where the maximum allowed “B” climb grade is 9%. The 15 km course is just the 10 km course with two “B” climbs added in the middle 5 km. So this course should ski like the 10 km course except that there will be an extended flat section prior to the last four “A” hills making it even more difficult to “get away” before those last hills.

“Virtual homologation” of the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course.

The Minneapolis 15 km course, as with the 10 km course, has 5 “A” climbs (all of which are short) with a maximum “A” climb grade of about 8.5% (for the climb at about 10 km) and an average “A” climb grade of about 5-6%. The course is just the 10 km course with two “B” climbs added in the middle 5 km. So this course should ski like the 10 km course except that there will be an extended flat section prior to the last four “A” hills.

Comparison with the Klosters 2017 15 km course shows how very different the terrain is. Presented below is a graphical comparison of the Minneapolis 2018 15 km course (blue) with the Klosters 2017 15 km course (red).

Minneapolis 2018 15 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 15 km course (red).

TC of the Minneapolis 15 km course is 380 m ( 1246 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 8.5% and for the Klosters 2017 15 km course TC is 337 m (1105 feet) with maximum “A” climbing grade of about 12%. The Klosters 2017 15 km course has six “A” climbs all of which are as long or longer than the Minneapolis 2018 course and all of which have average grades that are as steep or steeper. As noted above for the Minneapolis 2018 10 km course, there is a substantial lack of extended “steepish” (true “A”-type) climbs in the Minneapolis 2018 15 km course. For example the longest “A” climb for the Minneapolis 2018 15 km (the same for the 10 km course) starts at about 2.7 km and ends at about 3.25 km (550 m long) with about 24 m (79 feet) of PHD for an average grade of about 4.4%. This is to be compared to the longest Klosters 2017 15 km climbs starting at about 7.5 km ending at 8.9 km (1400 m long) with 50 m (165 feet) of climbing (3.6% av. grade) and starting at about 5.5 km ending at 6.2 km (700 m long) with 46 m (151 feet) of climb (6.6% av. grade).

The longest of the Klosters 2017 15 km course “A” climbs have an average grade of 3.6% and 6.6%- one being more than 2 X the length of the longest Minneapolis 2018 “A” climb with about the same grade and the second having a grade that is 1.5 X that of the longest Minneapolis 2018 “A” climb and about 1.25 X as long. This illustrates how much more difficult the Klosters 2017 15 km course is.

Reiterated from the 10 km course section: Note that the average grade for the longest of the Minneapolis 2018 15 km course climbs is in the lower half of the minimum FISRCME grade range values and the PHD is in the lower quartile of the FISRCME standard for “A” climbs- and this is for the longest climb on the entire 15km course. The Klosters 15 km course has grade range values for some of the climbs that are at or exceed the FISRCME guidelines.

For days 1&2 a different 15 km course will be used- a two lap 7.5 km course reviewed above. The “virtual homologation” analysis of the 7.5 km course is presented above and reveals that there are two “A” climbs and four “B” climbs. this means that the 15 km course will have four A” climbs and eight “B” climbs. The organizing committee does not provide a separate profile for the two-lap 15 km course so please refer to the section on the 7.5 km course above.

Comparison of this 15 km course with the Klosters 15 km course is presented below. Once again, it is clear that the Klosters 15 km course is much more challenging. However, the two lap Minneapolis 2018 15 km course is more difficult than the day 5&6 single lap 15 km course since the very flat middle 5 km in the single lap course is replaced by a much more corrugated and dynamic middle 5 km that includes some “A” climbs (the single lap course has no “A”  climbs in the middle 5 km section).

Minneapolis 2018 two lap 15 km course (blue) compared to the Klosters 2017 15 km course (red). The TC for the Minneapolis 2018 course is 380 m (1246 feet) and the TC for the Kloster 2017 course is 337 m (1105 feet).

Although more challenging than the single lap Minneapolis 2018 15 km course, the two lap 15 km course will still ski fast and it is likely that competitive classic skiers will choose to double pole the races.

Race data and video

With a little searching I was able to piece together some additional data that serves to be very informative.

Firstly, there was a Super Tour 20 km classic race on the Wirth Course in 2013 from which some video is available. These races were not on exactly the same routes as the MWC Minneapolis 2018 will be held but the Super Tour race video footage represents an accurate reflection of the terrain and the associated skiing by these twenty-something national-level athletes in the Wirth Park terrain. Note that on virtually all of the hills shown, the skiers choose to herringbone with very little striding. This race was almost 5 years ago and since that time double poling in classic races has come into the forefront. Between double pole technique development and enhanced (double pole-specific) strength focus, today many of the skiers in the video would be double poling much of the hills leading up to the herringbone sections, herringbone the steep section, and then revert to double pole as the hill grade lessens. One would likely see nary a stride on these hills. Also note the fast downhills leading into either sharp or u-turns followed by immediate steep uphills or just leading to another steep uphill. Being efficient in such transitions will be an important part of racing these courses.

Secondly, there is some race data for the 2017 City of Lakes Loppet “32 km” skate race this past January. I found some Strava data for the Loopet Loop used this past year. Due to low snow the race was run on a 5 km loop that includes some of the same terrain as will be used for the MWC Minneapolis 2017 (the first 3 kms and the last 1.5 km). The data below is from the “segment” that was created on Strava for the race and is associated with many Strava registered athletes. The top two segment times are from the athletes that finished 3rd and 4th in the 2017 race. The average pace for this skate race for these skiers is about 2:25/km. For additional data, select an athlete’s activity and you will be able to choose an analysis tab that will give time series pacing and other data. Presented below is a screen shot of the Strava  Loppet Loop segment.

2017 City of Lakes Loppet 5 km loop course. Click this link for live data and additional analysis. You can also get instantaneous grade data along the course utilizing a cursor and this shows a maximum grade of about 12% in short lengths which is consistent with the “virtual homologation” data presented above.

As the “virtual homologation” presented above indicated, the maximum grade is about 12% but only in very short lengths (<ca. 20 m). There is one very short section of 15% just after the 2 mile point in the data for the 2017 Loppet Loop. All of the steep (>8% grade) sections are less than about 150 m in length. As the video shows, most of these steep sections will be herringboned and the rest of the hill will be double pollable.

 

summary and reflections

As expected, the courses for the MWC Minneapolis 2018 are “golf course flat” and much less challenging than the courses at the MWC Klosters 2017. A “virtual homologation” analysis of the courses results in four primary considerations:

  1. The Minneapolis races will ski very fast (even in difficult snow conditions), require high tempo efforts, and place a premium on technique efficiency and transition skills.
  2. The races will likely be composed of packs of skiers that will string out on the climbs and come back together on the downhills and flats (thereby frustrating the hell out of the climbers). Strategy will reign supreme and those of us with a road cycling background will be right at home- although not necessarily comfortable!
  3. Classic races will likely be best skied as double pole efforts on skate skis and boots. The combination of the short hills, relatively low grades interspersed with steep herringbone sections, and the winding nature of the courses (with numerous u-turns) places a significant advantage to those who can efficiently double pole the courses.
  4. Although not as challenging as the Klosters courses, the Minneapolis courses will none the less challenge the masters racer. A race is a race and those who can go fast will, independent of the terrain- it just might be a slightly different group of competitors who excel on these courses.

I make the following comments in the spirit of maintaining the challenge associated with the sport of cross country skiing and ensuring that MWC competitions are reflective of the abilities, fitness, and skill required to excel at the sport as a masters skier.

Review of the FISCCHM, the FISICR, and the FISRCME reveals specific attention to making competition courses challenging enough to “separate out the best skiers”. This is specifically addressed and shown to be accomplished by using major climbs and their position to allow for the fittest and most skilled skiers to perform and prevail. Based on the analysis presented above and comparison with the Klosters 2017 courses and numerous other cross country skiing courses in the US, I assert that the Minneapolis courses are deficient as it concerns the intent of the FIS for MWC competitions.

Of particular concern is the requirement by FIS for masters courses to adhere to the following precept from the FISRCME Manual:

Rhythm should not be broken by too many sharp changes in direction or steep climbs”.

FIS Rules of Competition for Masters Events (October 2014 Edition) p.11

The Minneapolis 2018 courses are almost entirely composed of “many sharp changes in direction and steep climbs”. I think that this will detract significantly from the MWC competitions.

Many have expressed concerns over the demise of the classic striding technique due to both double pole technique development and less challenging courses that allow competitors to efficiently double pole entire races. The Minneapolis 2018 courses only add to these concerns and do little that would otherwise allow a striding skier to have a chance at winning. In the classic races at Klosters 2017 the striders prevailed specifically because of the extended climbs with substantial vertical. I suggest that the MWC Competition Committee place greater emphasis on awarding MWC competitions to those organizing groups that will provide the potential for challenging courses with extended major climbs. The concept of a MWC competition being held entirely on a midwestern US golf course is adverse to ensuring that the best skiers will prevail.

 

 

**And also, in cross country skiing, we have the long-lasting chauvinistic ridiculousness of shorter courses for women. At some point I hope that we can get through the 19th century attitudes toward women that still seem to be in force in European and Scandinavian culture. Things are changing elsewhere; for example (but only recently) in cross country running and in mountain running the women are now competing at the same distances as the men- it’s about time and perhaps this will represent a standard to which cross country skiing can aspire to.

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 – final update – I can’t wear these shoes out!

As an initial impressions review, a 300 km update, and a 1200 km update have documented, the Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 has been an outstanding performer on just about any trail in just about any condition. Let’s now add to that list of superlatives with the words: incredible durability.

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 after about 2000 km of trail use on a 50/50 mix of buffed and rocky/technical Rocky Mountain terrain. Other than wearing through one of the diamond-shaped lugs at the rear on the right shoe, the outsole is showing only minor additional wear- super durable! The shoes are fresh out of the washing machine in this (and all other) picture(s)- they have been washed in my Bosch Axxis+ washer and spun at 1200 RPM about 15 times all with no damage or excessive wear.

I now have in excess of 2000 km (1200 miles) on the S Lab Sense Ultra and these shoes are still going strong. Past experience with S Lab shoes has lead to excellent outsole and upper wear but as 1600 km is approached the midsole and ProFeel Film begin to loose performance- the shoes typically loose significant fractions of initial cushioning and the ProFeel Film deteriorates to the point where sharp rocks become increasingly difficult to step directly upon. None of this decrease in performance has yet appeared- even with significantly more mileage on the S Lab Sense Ultra when compared to previous S Lab shoes (S Lab Sense, S Lab Sense 3&4, S Lab Sense Ultra (original model), S Lab X-Series, and S Lab Sonic).

Close-up of the outsole of the right foot S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 showing hardly any wear other than wear-through on one of the diamond lugs at the lateral rear. These shoes have lost none of their initially superior traction in virtually all conditions- wet, dry, muddy, rough rocky, slick rock, submerged rock, etc.

The midsole cushioning is holding up very well and although there is a slightly noticeable difference in cushioning when directly comparing these used shoes to a new pair of the same, it is not dramatic and it is not affecting the on-trail performance of the shoe. The shoe remains ultra-comfortable even for longer runs (20-30 mountain miles (3-5 h depending on vert) for me). There might be a tad bit of sharp rock coming through but it is minor and certainly not significant enough to put the shoes aside and move on to a new pair.

The S Lab Sense is holding it’s structure quite well and still runs identically to when the shoe was new. The upper is also showing excellent resistance to wear. 

The upper has held up exceedingly well as they show no excessive wear in any of the high strain areas that have been issues in past S Lab shoes. In fact without the dust-decoration of the edges of the SensiFit overlays, the uppers look as new. The heel counter shows the typical wear-out at the expected place (top edge of heel counter at the furthest aft position).

View of the S Lab Sense Ultra uppers after 2000 km- no excessive wear anywhere. Minor wear-out at the heel counter is typical at this mileage.

This type of overall low wear in a racing shoe after 2000 km is singular in my experience and demonstrates what a great product this S Lab model is.

Another view of the S Lab Sense uppers after 2000 km of trail use showing virtually no wear-out and continued durability.

Salomon may have made that rare mistake of putting out a trail shoe that is over engineered from a durability perspective but still, even at high mileage, retains all of the trail performance expected in a racing shoe. I look forward to even more miles on this pair and know that I will be well served by the two additional pairs that I have “stocked” in the shoe closet!

bottom line

Probably the most comfortable, highest performance, and durable shoe yet in the S Lab line. Highly recommended and look for sales this fall as the S Lab Sense Ultra 2 for 2018 is adding weight- not a good sign.

Salomon Sense Ride – not impressed

The Salomon Sense Ride trail running shoe was pre-announced at the Summer 2016 OR  and became available in June 2017. I received a pair a couple of weeks ago and have put about 150 km on them in a 50/50 mix of smooth buffed singletrack and rocky technical trail. After reading a review by some trusted users I was looking forward to a potential lower cost shoe that had much of what the S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 offers and could be used for the bulk of training, saving the S Lab Ultra for races and more technical efforts. Well, miracles are fantasy and that is what has prevailed in this case. Based on my running mechanics, style, and terrain the Sense Ride is no S Lab Sense Ultra.

Salomon Sense Ride is a cushioned trail running shoe with some new anti-vibration technology (Opal inserts across the footbed). The colorway shown here is a dark blue with orange accents- the orange is much deeper in hue but the sunlight in Sun Valley is currently being filtered through a bit of smoke from fires from the north and south and this affects the color sensitivity calibration of my camera image sensor for directly reflected light. A truer color representation is evident in the indirectly reflected light pictures below.

construction

The Sense Ride has the typical “rocker” profile that is common among shoes with higher cushioning.

A mild but effective rocker is used on the Sense Ride.

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.

Flexibility is good whilst still including the ProFeel film technology for rock protection. The flexibility is accomplished with three lateral flex axes that traverse the width of the outsole. There is a similar flex axis at a slight diagonal across the lateral heel area. Proprioception is OK but is inferior when compared to the Sense Pro Max high cushion shoe, and is nothing like that found with the S Lab Sense Ultra.

The stack comes in at 27mm heel/ 19mm forefoot which is a nice “cush” level and 1mm more than that offered in the S Lab Sense Ultra. But this shoe also has Salomon’s new vibration-reduction technology called Vibe which, in this shoe, includes a full-foot insert of the vibration-absorbing Opal material. This is different than in the Sense Pro Max (and the S Lab Sonic 2) where the Opal is two separate inserts- one in the forefoot and one in the heel. The Vibe technology is nicely described in this review of the S Lab Sonic 2. I am not a fan of the Vibe technology and there will be more on that below.

The outsole utilizes the Premium Wet Traction ContraGrip material which is an excellent performer across the board for the highly variable conditions of trail and mountain running.

My size US 7.5 (40 2/3 EUR) weigh in at 233 gms (8.2 oz) which is well within 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, but it could clearly be used as a racer.

upper

The Sense Ride upper is constructed in a fashion that is very similar to the S Lab shoes and includes all of the fit technologies that have made the S Lab shoes such a near-optimal fit benchmark in trail running products. As mentioned above, these fit technologies include EndoFit, SensiFit, Salomon QuickLace, and a shaped foot bed. The Sense Ride also has a substantial OrthoLite foot liner which provides a bit more cushion.

The upper mesh is a reasonably light weight material but clearly heavier and less flexible than the mesh used in the S Lab Sense Ultra. This mesh does not drain as well or dry as quickly as the S Lab Sense Ultra- both of which are important considerations for broad use on trails.

The Salomon Sense Ride has a very large volume that does not accommodate smaller feet. The shoe is built on a very different last to that used for the S Lab Sense Ultra. It seems to be designed for bigger, beefy feet. Drainage and associated drying are OK, not great

I am not sure how this happened but somehow Salomon have managed to totally screw-up the fit of this shoe even with the superior fit technologies being employed. First off, the upper has too much volume and it seems that Salomon is trying to accommodate some foot shapes that are so voluminous that the standard fit technologies are not capable of providing a secure fit for lower volume feet. Second, there is a large difference in the shape of the last for the Sense Ride. This is exhibited when one puts the Sense Ride shoe on where it just easily slides on as if you were putting on a loafer- with support and fit on par with such a shoe (or a Hoka or Altra). The S Lab Sense Ultra is built on a very different last that leads to a fit more like a cross country ski boot where the foot slides in with a bit of constraint and then engages in a final position that is snug and fully supporting around the entire foot leading to a high level of control and proprioception. Control and proprioception are not strong points for the Sense Ride.

I thought that perhaps I needed to size down and I tried this with a US 7 (40 EU) and found no improvement in fit and the shoe at this size was close to being too short for long run comfort. So sizing down will not fix the problem.

midsole

With a 27mm/19mm stack this shoe should feel ultra-cush but such does not obtain. I find the “ride” of the Sense Ride to be firm when compared to the S Lab Sense Ultra and this is obviously due to the inclusion of the vibration-reducing Opal inserts. Just as I found with the Sense Pro Max, the Opal material leads to a somewhat jarring experience on trails and this is something that, for me, is undesirable. I still do not have, nor have Salomon offered, an explanation of why the mid-to-high frequency vibrations that the Opal supposedly eliminates are so important. I expect that there could be some correlation to muscle micro-tearing but that is going to be very much a function of individual biomechanics and biometrics that a lot of data would need to be collected to support any claim for broad efficacy. As a lighter weight runner I find the material to not be an improvement. A heavier runner might have a different experience.

outsole

The outsole has a design that is essentially identical with the S Lab Sense Ultra and uses the same Premium Wet Traction ContraGrip material. The lug design and material combine to provide some of the best broad-use traction performance available today. As mentioned earlier three shoe width wide flex axes are included in the forefoot with a smaller axis at a diagonal at the heel. These add flexibility to a shoe that would otherwise be very stiff, given the full foot Opal insert.

Salomon Sense Ride outsole. Nearly identical to the S Lab Sense Ultra in design and materials. One of the best performing outsoles currently on the market.

This outsole is very durable as i now have over 1500 km (1000 miles) on a pair of S Lab Sense Ultras with hardly any sign of wear- even in the rough, rocky training terrain that I use on a daily basis.

running performance

Primarily due to the very poor fit but also due to an overly firm ride, the Sense Ride exhibit a weird combination of lack of control with a somewhat jarring feel. The worst of two worlds. On any trail even hinting at “technical” these shoes start to detach from my feet and lead to a disjointed and disturbing trail experience. Although the Opal inserts begin to “break-in” after about 30 miles, the firm ride never seems to dissipate.  Compared to the super-high control, very high proprioception, and super-cush ride of the S Lab Sense Ultra the Sense Ride are embarrassingly bad. After 150 km of hoping for “break-in”, these shoes have been put to the back of the shoe closet where they are likely to gather a thick layer of dust.

price

$120US. A seemingly great price considering it is a Salomon shoe with all of the superior fit technologies and a new vibration reduction material. But given just the poor fit the shoe has zero value.

bottom line

A poorly fitting, low proprioception, firm riding shoe that cannot be recommended*.

*note: I am a lighter runner (125-130 lbs) with a predominant forefoot strike and a high cadence (190-200 spm @ training pace). A heavier runner with a midfoot-to-heel strike and/or a lower cadence may find a very different feel in this shoe.

 

The Road to Minneapolis (maybe)

 

Ordinarily a US skier might be quite thrilled to have the Masters World Cross Country Ski Championships (MWC) in their home country. The convenience, familiarity, and general ease associated with attending all add up to a positive consideration when deciding whether or not to compete. So when it was announced that the World Masters would be in the US in 2018, Team Bumble Bee was excited… that was until it was further announced that the MWC competition would take place in a major metropolitan area- right within the city limits of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Having spent a lot of time in Minneapolis from 1999-2009 in extensive consulting with a major firm based there, Bumble  got to know the city and it’s environs. While not a place that he (or Bee) would choose to live, many who do live there extol the long list of great attributes that the city has to offer. Unfortunately, these attributes do not include consistent snow. In fact good snow years have been the exception for at least the last two decades. Cancelled or moved races have been commonplace in the Minneapolis area and when there is sufficient snow it is often of marginal quality and coverage. The organizers have committed to a significant upgrade to their snow-making capabilities to ensure at least 10 km of tracked trail in the event of low or no snow (provided the temps are low enough to make snow). However, man made snow is not something that we look forward to racing on, particularly when there will be excellent snow conditions at numerous other US races in the same time frame.

View of downtown Minneapolis from Thomas Wirth Park, site of the 2018 Masters World Cross Country Ski Championship January 19-26, 2018. Photo credit: Richard Sennott/Star Tribune.

Additionally, having a Masters World Championship in a city is of questionable value given all of the inconveniences that a city environment places on a cross country skier. In Minneapolis, among these inconveniences are: horrendous traffic, poor public transportation (although the organizers are supposedly offering frequent shuttles to the race site from Downtown hotels), dicey neighborhoods, expensive food (and IMO hard to find “good” food independent of price), potentially super cold temps (ca. -20F), dirty snow, and flat competition courses. What are the positives for a competitive skier? I can’t think of any.

View of the start/finish area at the 2017 Masters World Cross Country Skiing Championship in Klosters, Switzerland. There will be no mountains, or particularly challenging courses, in Minneapolis.

Arguments for awarding the MWC to Minneapolis have been centered on the “uniqueness” of having a MWC in an urban area, the ease of travel, plenty of accommodations, “City”-type extracurricular activities (local cultural attractions and events), the fact that Minneapolis has the highest concentration of cross country skiers in the US, and a committed local organizing committee. I could provide a point-by-point argument against each of these reasons (with the exception of the last point- the cross country ski community in Minneapolis is likely the strongest in the nation), but such would not necessarily be constructive. I will, however, just point out the most critical factor for a successful MWC- reliable and good snow conditions on challenging courses. There are so many nearly ideal venues in the US where the MWC could have been held it is disappointing that none were up to the task of hosting the competitions. Well, that’s just the way it goes in cross country skiing in the US.

Although Team Bumble Bee has begun a structured 7 month training period with MWC Minneapolis as an “A” event in late January, we are seriously considering not going to the competition. We may just fly in for 3-5 days and do two or three individual races and skip the relay. There are a lot of other very well run races on exceptional courses during the WMC period and any one of these will be preferable to hassling with trying to race in a major metro area that has inconsistent to very marginal snow. We will keep options open until the last minute but as of this writing it is very much up in the air as to whether we will be attending.

But as Bee frequently points out: a race is a race, everyone has the same course, and we are not likely to find such high quality age-graded competition anywhere else in 2018. So it might be best to just grapple with the downsides of an urban championships and start developing “coping strategies”.

training

Independent of these operational challenges during the MWC, intensive, structured, training continues. With just a few tweaks we will be following the same training progression as documented in detail in the 10-part series posted last season in the run-up to the Klosters MWC of March 2017. The training structure worked well for both Bee and Bumble and this is summarized in the wrap-up post. Bumble has work to do on downhill skill development and this is well underway and will be the subject of a future post. We have also added a few new elements to strength training as well- specifically, plyometrics. This will also be the subject of a future post. Suffice it to say that we are finding plyos to be a critical element in the development of explosive power and coordination, particularly for us “old people”. We have developed a matrix of plyos that are targeted for old people who have somewhat compromised connective tissue. Although not as challenging as “standard” (young person) plyos, these exercises are very effective in maximizing available explosive power from typical “geezer” physiology. Stay tuned for details.

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 – 1200 km Update

This is a short, and final, update on the performance of the 2017 Salomon Sense Ultra. As indicated in an initial review and a 300 km update, The Sense Ultra has performed exceedingly well… and this has continued  in many additional kms. I can say without hesitation that if you are looking for a shoe with outstanding technical capabilities along with “long run” comfort, the Sense Ultra should be at the top of your list.

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 after about 1200 km of use on a 50/50 mix of rocky technical and buffed out single track in the Norther Rockies of Idaho’s central mountains. Even after this much use the shoes are entirely intact with plenty of remaining cushion.

In about 1200 kms of use on a 50/50 mix of rocky technical and buffed out single track in the Norther Rockies of Idaho’s central mountains, the Sense Ultra have held up very well and are still going strong with performance that has hardly diminished. From the excellent proprioception and outstanding fit to the optimized level of cushioning, I have experienced no significant changes. The outsole, as usual, shows very minimal wear even on the abrasive, rocky terrain that I typically run on here in the Northern Rockies.

Outsole of the 2017 S Lab sense Ultra after about 1200 kms of use. Hardly any noticeable wear except in the expected area of the lateral heel typical of wear with my running gait. Dry and wet traction is still at the highest levels and grip on rock continues to be excellent.

The shoe construction, materials, and fit are intact and continuing to perform at the highest levels. The Sense Ultra are the most durable shoes I have experienced in many years of about 3500 kms per year on rocky mountainous terrain. Very impressive.

I cracked out a new pair of Sense Ultras for a 25 km mountain trail race with 1000 m of climb and descent a couple of weeks ago and barely noticed the difference between the well used first pair and the new, out-of-the-box pair. Quite remarkable!

They were not as “rocker” to start with but the Sense Ultra exhibit a significant “rocker” after 1200 kms of use.

One concern I noted at the outset was a “wrinkle” that had formed on the forefoot upper mesh that looked like it might develop into an area that would see excessive wear and potentially develop a hole. That did not happen as the upper mesh material is durable enough to withstand the extra abrasion and strain of the “wrinkle”.

Area on the medial forefoot that developed a “wrinkle” early on. Associated concerns over premature wear-out have not materialized and the upper mesh fabric shows no evidence. of breakdown

If there is one issue that is worthy of note, it is the fit as it concerns steep (30%+ grade) and/or typical mountain grade (5-20% grade) fast (sub 6 minute pace) downhill running. I hesitate to bring this up as I question my abilities in downhill running, but I find that the larger toebox design of the Sense Ultra leads to excessive movement of the forefoot upon plant and concomitant loss of proprioception and increased frictional forces on the bottom and sides of the cutaneous forefoot. This is something that I have gotten used to but I think that the shoe would be improved if the forefoot fit was bit tighter. As the fit in the forefoot is quite a personal thing dependent on exact foot shape and other factors, my experience may not be generally applicable. I guess this is the type of thing that Salomon hopes to provide solutions to with the S Lab ME:sh program.

bottom line

I say with confidence that the Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 2017 is a “sweet spot” technical mountain trail running shoe suitable for both training and racing with excellent durability that retains significant fractions of cushion throughout the life of the shoe. The shoe is well worth the price of $180 US on a cost per mile basis. I expect to get even more kms out of this shoe as it is still very comfortable at 1200 kms. Highly recommended!

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.