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 4-6 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 a 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.

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. My position- if you want testosterone so you can have sex- then you are not allowed to compete. Make your choice: sex or competition, not both thank you!

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.

I got nothing from this book beyond further confirmation of the low standards for analysis in this field of study. Sure there are some interesting anecdotes and even some potential indications of possible breakthroughs in understanding, but neither of these are the basis for a book on the subject. A magazine article? Maybe, but why bother?

Salomon S/Race Skin skis – Pink Pomoca Paradise


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)


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





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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


$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.