My training “year” follows a December to December pattern due to a transition from trail running to nordic skiing right around late November- early December. It is a good time to tally the numbers, do some critical review, compare with 2012, 2013, and 2014, and put together a training plan for the coming year.
Note: I am putting up this post primarily for my own use as an easy to access depository of the information and analysis. Writing such a post requires that one go through the exercise of analyzing, reviewing, summarizing, and deriving some sort of direction from the year of training and racing results. This analysis was typically in my training log journal but since there is a chance that others might find some value in this, I am putting it up here. If you have any questions/comments feel free to post such in the comment section.
This summarizes the fourth year of focused training and racing for mountain ultra trail running and Nordic skiing. There is good progress in most areas with one continuing and major deficiency- fueling for ultramarathons. More on fueling later.
The, now started, fifth year is a critical one for me as the primary long term goal I established at the outset of this return to racing is:
Starting in the fifth year of the program to have attained and maintained a high level of fitness combined with a calm competitiveness that I once enjoyed as a “prime-time” athlete back in the Pleistocene.
The metrics that I will gauge myself against for this goal are:
- Being no more than 10% back from the winning time in races that include National-level athletes, and no more than 15% back in races that include International-level athletes.
- Establishing age group course records in trail running.
- Always winning my age group.
All of these are challenging goals- the 10%/15% back challenge of #1 in particular. After considerable thought it has become clear that as a 60 yo trail runner and Nordic skier it is difficult to gauge one’s performances as there are so few participants in this age category. However course records, where kept, do serve as an all time, all comers metric against which one can evaluate performance in a more competitive and complete way. So doing some races with age-group course records in mind will be a focus. Course records in skiing are not generally kept as they are not a good benchmark since the snow conditions on race day play a major role in speed. Now on to the 2015 Numbers and training recap.
2015 started off with a big set-back. I crashed out while skiing on a rutted hairpin turn at West Yellowstone in late November 2014 and injured my right rotator cuff. After a denial period it became abundantly clear that the injury was not going to heal with continued training and it may even not heal without surgery. Any level of cross country skiing was not possible given the dependence on shoulder strength. Even running was quite painful as the impulse response in the shoulder is significant (something that I had not realized until this point). So I needed to attend to this with some sort of treatment plan.
As I have fundamental distrust of the medical “profession” in the United States, I minimize any exposure to the soothsayers and profit-mongers. So after the requisite “evaluation” session with the orthopede, where, before even an MRI had been obtained, I was being scheduled for surgery, I put the brakes on that and proceeded to work with a PT to ascertain if healing could be accomplished without a surgery that is only, at best, 50% successful in the long term. The PT indicated that, based on her experience, it was apparent that there was either a severe strain or a tear in the subscapularis muscle and that, given my response to PT in the first couple of sessions, may allow for recovery via compensation (as tears do not heal without intervention) and that I might end up asymptomatic in a 9 to 12 month period. This is the path that I took and, with a focused PT treatment plan that I fully and enthusiastically executed upon, by April I was running at full volume with only minor shoulder pain and by June I was able to also re-start advanced strength training, including substantial upper body work. By November I was entirely asymptomatic, although I do not know exactly how durable I will be. Time (and crashes) will tell.
Of course this injury totally eliminated the 2014-2015 competitive cross country skiing season as I was only able to ski with no poles or only lightly use poles. So the Winter of 2015 was all about running, snowshoeing, and low level cross country skiing. I re-developed a taste for Winter running that, given that 2015 was a low snow year, was enjoyable mainly due to the fact that many of the summer trails were either “open” entirely or had been well packed. This allowed for a smooth transition into the running season without the painful “impact accommodation” period that always follows the very low impact cross country skiing season. Of course the early-March to early-April “ice” season was still extant and without the Salomon SnowCross and SpikeCross shoes conditions would have been lethal. Comparison of the 2015 numbers with 2014 numbers shows an increase in number of running sessions and a similar reduction in cross country skiing sessions reflecting the early switch to running.
The disappointment associated with the early season skiing injury was major. I had worked throughout the summer and fall of 2014 to build upper body strength, particularly max strength. This was spurred on by my realization years ago from observations made at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver (actually Whistler) that the largest lever to improvement in cross country skiing is to develop a powerful double pole capability. The double pole technique has equal impact on both classic technique skiing where double poling is a fundamental stroke and in freestyle technique skiing (skating) as the classic double pole motion is nearly exactly replicated in the V2 (or 2-skate) and to a lesser extent in the V1 (or 1-skate). So improvement of this ability has impact across the spectrum of motions that are used in cross country skiing. I also realized in the 2013-2014 season that I could double pole away from my fellow masters competitors and that, even at age 58, I was able to stay with the leaders particularly easily in double pole sections of races. I was doing this with a base that only included double pole roller skiing in summer and fall, dryland hill bounding, and on-track double pole workouts in season but with no specific strength training. After reading Training for the New Alpinism I realized that a max strength program as described in the book would likely result in significant increased capability for double poling. I followed a plan similar to that presented in the book and realized significant increase in double poling power and was very excited to see how this would play out during the 2014-2015 competitive season. Well, that season never happened but I am pleased to report that given continued focus on strength training, and max strength in particular, the 2015-2016 competitive season is looking good. Estimates from time trials and three races indicate that I am 2-3 minutes faster per 10 km (8-10% faster) in equivalent conditions this season even though I am now just weeks shy of 60 years of age. This just goes to show that there is always room for improvement, at least at this point.
I typically target about 700 hours of training as this volume has served me well for preparing for endurance sport competition over the past 40 years. At 908 hours, the year turned out significantly higher but this is because I am logging “active recovery” as part of training as my coach insists that it is critical to know what, if any, active recovery is taking place to ensure competitive health. Excluding the “active recovery” I have a total of about 700 hours in sports-specific (nordic skiing and running, and associated strength training) training. Of course, these volume data are only of value when viewed through a “time in zone” optic as will be reviewed below.
As for distance, it is remarkable that I have run almost exactly the same yearly total distance the past 4 years in a row- 2098 miles (2015), 2087 miles (2014), 2065 miles (2013), and 2067 miles (2012). The differences from season to season have been in the zone distribution and the addition of significant (about 2 per week) interval sessions the past two years (2014 and 2015). In skiing the distance is of course way down (due to the injury) at 1211 miles (2015) vs. 1848 miles (2014) and 1796 miles (2013) but still significantly less than 2012 (2120 miles). Without the injury, the season total would have been in excess of 2000 miles with significant (2 per week) interval sessions. That’s the target for this season.
I kept a focus on vertical ascention again and succeeded in exceeding 500,000 feet. Equaling or exceeding last years 600,000 foot mark was not attained partly due to the lack of skiing, as the total vertical for running is about the same from 2015 and 2014. The total this year is an average of about 1400 vertical feet per running workout which is about 350 feet less of vertical per running workout in 2015 vs. 2014. 2016 includes a goal to get the average vertical ascention per running session up to about 2000 feet as I continue to focus on very mountainous races.
I have extracted out the interval session data. I kept up the “Tenacious Tuesday” and “Ferocious Friday” weekly interval sessions with mostly lactate threshold workouts on Tuesday (hence “tenacious”) and VO2 max workouts on Friday (hence “ferocious”). Such intensity work was critical to performance and maintenance of VO2 max and I am finding validity in this approach as summarized and detailed by Joe Friel in the book “Fast After 50” . Friel reiterates over and over how important the intensity work is, particularly for “senior” athletes. I can feel the very positive effects of committing to consistent inclusion of these sessions, both in running and in skiing. The intervals have a different impact (excuse the pun) in running than in skiing but it is all positive and necessary to be competitive. I note here that I have always enjoyed intervals- something that is not common. There is something about the structure and sense of accomplishment that comes with a regular diet of interval sessions.
On the subject of structure, I continue to find a regular weekly pattern to be most effective for training. This is something that I have adhered to for much of my athletic life, and when I tried other, less regular, approaches my fitness has fallen off.
So I will continue with the general weekly structure that I have had in place since the Pleistocene:
Sunday – long (endurance)
Monday – easy/off + strength
Tuesday – lactate threshold intervals (“tenacious” Tuesday)
Wednesday – long (endurance)
Thursday – easy/off + strength
Friday – VO2max intervals (“ferocious” Friday)
Saturday – FLEX: catch-up for missed stimuli, tempo efforts, long (endurance) to provide back-to-back efforts when appropriate w/Sunday long (endurance), etc.
This leads to a 14-20 hour week which I find manageable from both an energy and time perspective. In practice I end up looking forward to these workouts partly because of the weekly variety but also due to The Power of Habit (a book I highly recommend).
I am not going to present the full suite of microscopics (time series of distance, time, vertical ascention, and TRIMP) as I have in the past. I have not found the results to be of much use in analyzing and planning forward-going training. The microscopics are of value for context and other, more general information, but they do not play a significant role in planning, particularly in the ultra running season as races play such havoc with training flow given the significant taper and follow-on rest.
Training zone distribution is pretty much determined by the regular inclusion of significant weekly interval sessions, however it is important to monitor training zone during the “easy” training sessions as it is all too difficult to keep out of the zone 3 “no man’s land” that will sap one’s ability to truly embrace the intervals with the zone 4 and L5a-c efforts. Presented below is my training zone distribution for the 2015 running season.
and compared to 2014 and 2013:
As can be seen, in 2015 I managed to minimize time spent in zone 3 whilst maintaining significant fractions of total time in zones 2 and 4. This is the distribution of time in zones that I have been attempting to achieve for the past few years. The primary reason for attaining this result is the two-per-week interval session regimen that I held myself to. Another reason is that I increased the zone 5 work from about three percent to over 8 percent. I did this specifically to work on VO2 max as this is a capability that is continually challenged in older athletes, as reviewed by Friel in Fast After 50. As a younger athlete I had a very high measured VO2 max (low 80’s) so this is a capability that is important for me to maintain and, perhaps, develop. If one were to put any confidence in the algorithm that Garmin includes on the 920XT, it tells me that my VO2 max is currently 73, which seems a bit high but not outside of possibility. The 2016 program will continue with the VO2 max work but I will be adding some long, high zone 3/low zone 4 efforts to the mix as this is one capacity that I have not been concentrating on and may lead to a increased ability to respond in a dynamic way in races, particularly in the much shorter (30 min-2.5 hour) ski races.
As far as ultra running racing it was deja vu all over again with an inability to properly fuel after about 20 miles (32 km). I did two very mountainous races (100 km with 17,000 vert and 60 km with 11,000 vert). Both ended in disappointment even though I felt great about the training. The first 100 km was challenging because I went to the start line with a sore throat and although things went well for about 30 km once we climbed up to the high point of 10,000 feet at about 40 km, I started to loose consciousness and realized that racing was not a good idea. I was unable to consume anything from about 25 km on and this surely contributed to the consciousness issues . I made my way down to the 50 km point and dropped. In the 60 km race, once again an inability to fuel as a critical 3500 foot (1100 m) climb came up at the 35 km mark. Just as in the same race last year, I slowed down and let my stomach settle and then continued on to finish the race strong but not anywhere near what my potential is on that course if I can get the fueling down.
Based on my reading, the number one issue for competitive ultra runners is the ability to fuel throughout a race. As I said last year I need to either overcome this issue or move on. I have been encouraged by the content in a couple of recent podcasts on “Science of Ultra” specifically about fueling. If you have not checked out these podcasts I highly recommend that you do- they are very informative and the guests are respected scientists in their respective fields, not unqualified “experts” with very questionable “opinions”. These “posers” seem to have completely permeated the podcast world. I will be practicing fueling on all runs (even shorter runs)- something that I have not been doing and something that is said to be critical to allow your system to accommodate the discomfort associated with fueling whilst pushing. Such practice may also allow for “upregulation” of carbohydrate absorption- a good thing.
I continued with a specific strength training program this year. Included is a broad spectrum of units that work maximum strength, core, and what I call “stability” micro-muscle groups in the knees, ankles, and arms. The maximum strength program- a modified version of the program outlined in “The New Alpinism” book by House and Johnston- is designed to recruit and synchronize a number of major motor units. These exercises have made a big difference in power in double poling in skiing and has increased core stability on long runs. The protocol involves weight vested, max ability, low rep, pull-ups building to about 150% of body weight. I highly recommend such a program as it is a “strength not show” protocol to ensure that excessive muscle mass is not developed- an important consideration for endurance athletes where power to weight ratio is supreme. I also found that garhammers and weight vested step-ups to be very effective for power development in both skiing and running. The version of garhammers that I do includes a 90 degree hold in the arms (rather than just hanging from the pull up bar) whilst proceeding with the full sequence of raises, including the leg extensions. This produces additional tension and challenge right the way through from the shoulders to the calfs- all in synchrony- a critical factor often overlooked. All of these exercises can easily be done at home in a minimum of space- no need to join or go to a gym facility.
2016 goals include the three general goals outlined above to be facilitated by more racing than I have done in the past. In running I will concentrate on the 50 km-50 mile distance to try and develop an ability to fuel throughout a race. The plan is to do a 50 km race in April, a 50 miler in May, a 50 km in June, a 50 km in July, spend the rest of July adventuring in Idaho’s Sawtooths and White Cloud Mountain ranges, a 60 km in August, and 50 miler in the fall sometime. I will also be doing some shorter races when they coordinate with training. Hopefully this racing program combined with the fueling strategy above will work and I will be able to start finishing races on something other than wisps of carbohydrate vapor! Also a target of averaging about 2000 vertical feet per running session is in place since I will continue with a concentration on very mountainous racing.
As far as skiing, the plan is to finish this season strong with good performances in the February and March races leading up to Masters Nationals in late March where, based on results so far this season, I should be in contention for the win in the classic race and to be a threat in the freestyle (skating) race. Over the summer I will concentrate on specific strength, double pole roller skiing, and hill bounding. All of this is focused upon putting in place the best skiing fitness and tactical racing I can muster for the 2017 World Masters in Switzerland in late January.