The Road to Klosters – Wrap-up and Path Forward

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

overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the races

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

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

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

15 km Free – strategic error but good effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good side is two-fold:

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

Here’s the HR file:

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

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

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

10 km Classic – first double pole race effort

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

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

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

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

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

30 km Classic – going hypothermic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite disappointing but some good take-aways. Onward!

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

5 km Classic Relay – scrambler takes a faceplant

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

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

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

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

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

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

training review

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

and here is what actually happened:

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

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

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

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

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

summary

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

the path forward

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

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

 

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Road to Klosters – Wrap-up and Path Forward

  1. I don’t know what the exact elevation where you train is, but I am wondering
    if you found training at higher elevation beneficial. The general thinking is that
    training and living at 2400m-2700m has positive effects.

    Did you make an Excel training program overview yourself or did you use
    some template?

    What did you use to monitor your training progress (standardized tests?)
    and how fresh/tired you were (eg, HRV)?

    • Hi Ivan,

      I live and train at about 1830 m (6000 feet). I have had no problem over the years living and training at higher altitudes, but the work I am familiar with indicates it is best to “live high and train low” (Stray-Gunderson). But I seem to be fine with “live high and train high”- would I do better with including some training (particularly intervals) at lower altitude? Likely, but the trails here are just too convenient.

      I use excel and Training Peaks to monitor my training. However, after 40 years of this you basically get it ingrained into your psyche and you have a very good handle on where you are at any point without looking at a log; the log just reinforces what you naturally sense. I find the log important when ramping up volume where the day-to-day notations help ensure that I do not go too quickly. For me the most important log data are the HR files from the interval sessions and the HR files from races. These files and a recovery metric have reliably been the most accurate monitors of how my training is going.

      I use a few other metrics for monitoring as well- weekly or bi-weekly time trials on the same course and normalized graded pace (NGP) during intervals and easy training (as a measure of efficiency). As far as recovery, I use the Garmin Recovery Advisor by FirstBeat. Although they do not tell you exactly how it works, I have found that it is quite accurate and also gives a reasonable predictive indication that is otherwise difficult to discern when in the “fray” of training, particularly when leading up to an “A” race. I am pretty certain that they are somehow using HRV in the calculation, but I am not certain what the algorithm is.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Renato Canova, a well known running coach, who trains many top Kenyan runners
    says that train high – live high is very important for distance runners. However,
    he advocates altitudes between 2400 and 2700 to get the best benefits. On
    some running forums there are perpetual discussions about doping and EPO
    in running. Canova claims that for people who live and train high substances like
    EPO have no effect.

    Norwegian cross-country skiers (and biathletes) do a fair amount of training at
    high altitude (40-100 days) You can obviously go horribly wrong if you don’t train
    right at high altitude, Petter Northug in 2006/17 being a cautionary tale.

    I often thought that training at lower elevations was less risky in addition to being
    able to train at higher intensities.

    • Hi Ivan,

      I’ve read that too about Canova’s approach and the Kenyans seem to prove his point. There are most certainly some genetic factors in there. I spend a lot of time training at altitudes between 8000 and 10,000 feet, but I do the intervals at about 6000 feet. Most of the races (both running and skiing) are at 4000-7000 feet with the running races getting higher (in excess of 11,000 feet) for some portions of the races. This mix seems to work well for me- so long as I prioritize recovery… otherwise it could be a death spiral. Even with block periodization I have not had issues but I do not have parallel data for doing the intervals at lower altitude- perhaps performance would be different. Very little is truly understood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s