Transition to Running

Each ski season ends with a transition to running that, for many, can be difficult and exposes one to potential injury. For me, the six month ski season results in not taking a single step running even though I mentally try to convince myself to put a regular run schedule together. The skiing is just too pleasurable and the race schedule dictates a rather structured training regimen that, at the level I am skiing at, does not allow for much non-ski-specific activities. Younger athletes will often put an easy run as a second workout in their schedule, particularly if the skiing conditions are marginal. But as an oldster and being in a place that always has good skiing in good conditions from about early November to well into April, it just does not make sense to try and mix in running.

So, there exists this delicate transition from primarily skiing to primarily running where the body must fairly rapidly absorb an abrupt change in skeletal-muscular impact forces. The problem one faces after an active ski racing season is that you can come into the running season in exceptional cardiovascular condition and therefore with an engine that can support high volumes and intensity. Unfortunately one’s body will not be ready to abruptly accept all of that pounding. If one is not careful, pesky and sometimes long-lived injury can prevail and disrupt the running season-and even next year’s ski season. It is well worth taking such a transition slowly and methodically toward a running volume that will support a race schedule. Having ramped up volume and intensity too quickly in the past I now subscribe to a transition process that, over a three week period, takes training from 100% skiing to 100% running and only then begins to add substantial volume and intensity.

The lower south-facing slopes are clear of snow but anything on the north sides still has many feet of snow. It is always a challenge in early spring to find a “loop” of dirt to start training on. It often involves a convoluted “hamster-wheel” of ups and downs but it’s all we’ve got and it’s better than taking chances on ice.

This year I will be doing a trail marathon race in early May- as early a race as I have ever done after an active racing ski season. This means that I need to transition from skiing in late March to a 100% run schedule and get prepared to run 26 trail miles (42 km) all in about 6 weeks. This is not an easy task, but I will outline my approach below.

The reason I chose to do this early trail marathon is that it is on a course I have always wanted to race and I have some excellent competition for my age group. Normally there is no one in my age group that will give me good competition, but this race attracts a runner my age who is still training hard and putting up very good times. He is a very accomplished mountain runner, has held overall course records for the Pikes Peak marathon and currently has numerous age group course records on both the Pikes Peak course and the race course for this trail marathon in early May. I have my work cut out for me and it will be a valuable experience to race this guy, independent of the outcome. I will be hard pressed to put out a peaked effort and may have to settle for a paced effort instead but the calibration and experience is worth it. We can also take advantage of some great whitewater kayaking on the Arkansas where Bee will try out some new boats.

I have two other mountain trail races scheduled this spring- a 35 km 1400m vert (4500 feet) race in early June and a 25 km 750m vert (2500 feet) race in mid-June. Below you will find my proposed training schedule for this period- late March-June. I generally take July for adventuring in the mountains and then get back to ski-specific training starting 1 Aug- such will be the case this year.

training progression

This training progression is fairly aggressive and as such the first race (the trail marathon) will necessarily be a training race with a conservative pacing strategy. Avoiding overuse injuries is crucial to a successful running season so at any sign of a developing musculo-sketetal issue in the first race will require backing off, stoping and stretching, or even walking if necessary.

Bee climbs up Proctor Ridge on the last bits of snow on the south-facing side. Looking good (and good to have her back on the trails) after figuring out some ankle and knee issues.

Presented below is the planned running training for the last week of March 2018, April 2018, and May 2018. One will note a significant amount of strength training- this is because of the central importance of upper body strength and core in cross country skiing and the fact that at 62 y/o (with T and HGH declining), I cannot afford to lose a single fiber of the strength that I have developed over the last 5 years. Without the continuous stimuli, strength will diminish and it will be difficult (i.e. time consuming) to re-establish prior to the ski season. Keeping up the strength work year-round just goes with territory of an athlete who competes in cross county skiing at the top of the international masters level. Although not yet reflected in this plan, I will be adding some double pole roller skiing starting in May- likely 2-3 times a week starting at 45 min and progressing from there. This work maintains the neuromuscular adaptations and muscular endurance necessary to be efficient in double poling. It will also allow for further refinements in technique.

The  three month progression shown here, if successful, will likely serve as a spring season template going forward. I like templates that can easily be adapted but have an underlying approach that has been proven to work for me. Everyone will be different so be sure to obtain advice from professionals before applying any training plan that someone else is following.

Treading lightly on early season dirt hoping to build up the eccentric loading capacity without any consequential injury. It’s always a challenge!

The first run was on March 29- and I had not taken a single run since early November 2017. So it was imperative to ramp cautiously as is clear in the run distance progression shown in the training schedule (8 km – 26 km -66 km -72 km – 110 km) prior to the trail marathon on 5 May. Although I could easily support some significant miles cardiovascularly, it just takes time on the trail to get the musculo-skeletal system “hardened.”

Elevation profile for the trail marathon race on 5 May. Not much flat and some good extended climbing- basically my wheelhouse. Care will be taken on the downs as I will not have sufficient time to truly “harden” the systems that will be eccentrically taxed. The last 7 miles are all downhill so it will be imperative to support a good pace throughout this final section. Total elevation gain = 900 m (3000 feet).

Through April, a steadily increasing progression of distance/time, vertical ascension, and level of effort are planned. However, due to the short time for preparation (5-6 weeks), no interval sessions are incorporated prior to the first race. This is for two reasons: first, there is risk of injury and second, I am carrying significant fitness, both aerobic and high-end, from the just finished ski season. Although intervals might allow for more comfort during the race, they will not make any substantial difference in my ability to perform. Rather, holding the muscles, tendons, and bones together will be the primary determinant of performance.

Last week of March 2018:


and May:

As can be seen, there is a slight break the week after the trail marathon and then a quick ramp up to two weeks of max levels of time and distance. This is followed by a “taper” week leading up to the second race on 2 June. I have also brought back intervals into this training period in the form of two-a-week sessions where one is a LT workout and the other is a VO2max workout. Hopefully I will be fully conditioned for the additional stress that these workouts will place on my body. Getting back to some intensity will be important in being able to properly perform on the major climb in the 35 km race.

Specifically, the 35 km mountain trail race has a very long, continuous climb with some significant steep sections and similarly steep downhills. It also has a couple of “kickers” in the last 10 km. I have done the 60 km version of this race, the last 35 km of which is the 35 km race. So, having run the route I know what to expect and should be able to get the pacing right. But I will note that the “kickers” are much more difficult than they look from the profile.

Elevation profile for 35 km mountain trail race. One significant and long climb followed by a couple of “kickers” that turn out to be more difficult than they look. The first climb starts out at 7% average grade, mellows to 3.5% and then goes to 10% to the top. The first of the “kickers” is 13% followed by the second one at about 8%.  Total climb = 1400 m (4500 feet).

The third race is a 25 km mountain trail race that has one long, continuous climb and then one long, continuous downhill. I have raced this in the past and hope to improve on my time. The last time I raced it I had quite a bit left at the finish and realized that I did not push the uphill hard enough. Not this year!

Elevation profile for 25 km mountain trail race. One long, continuous climb followed one long, continuous downhill. Looking to improve on my time at this race. The climb is a steady 10% grade with a few steeper parts up to about 15%. Total climb = 750 m (2500 feet).

The training period leading up to this race will have a short rest period followed by about 10 days of max training including two interval sessions (one LT one VO2max) and then a 3 day “taper”. Given the shorter length of this race (about 2h at race pace) a shorter “taper” should be fine.

So that’s the progression and, hopefully a successful one that I will be able to apply going forward. Results will be the determinant on that.

There will be some very easy running for the last two weeks of June and then begins the mountain adventures! Perhaps we will see you out on the trails if you are in the mountain west!

Best in training to all.


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