Training for the Uphill Athlete – Review – a new milestone in quality and thoroughness in a training guide for the endurance athlete

summary

The book Training for the New Alpinism by Scott Johnston and Steve House set new standards for thorough, science and coaching-based training advice for alpinists and endurance athletes alike. Although focused on fast and light alpinism (aka “new” alpinism), Johnston’s background as a coach in cross country skiing permeated the book and, as a result, much of the book could be easily applied to other endeavors- like cross country skiing, mountain running, and ski mountaineering (SkiMo). With support from Patagonia as publisher, a large emphasis was placed on clear, high quality, information-dense graphics that were far superior to anything else available at the time. I highly recommended this book when it was published and continue to do so today.

Enter this new volume from Johnston and co-authors Steve House and Kilian Jornet that is focused on mountain running, ultra running, and  SkiMo. Along with the same science and coaching-based guidance, similarly superior graphics, a unique focus on strength development, and an excellent handbook to developing your own training plan, “Training for the Uphill Athlete” represents a new milestone in quality and thoroughness in a training guide for the endurance athlete.

In this book one will find a nicely presented approach to training for “uphill” endurance sports such as mountain running and SkiMo. Throughout, the authors provide a scientific and/or coaching-based foundation for the specific training programs being described. Of particular note are the sections on ATP production and lactate metabolism- the best presentation of this material that I have been exposed to. All of this gives the reader the basis for (or a starting point for) development of a personal training “philosophy”- something that is critical to the success of any training regimen. As is pointed out frequently in the book, each individual presents a unique combination of physiology, biomechanics, life situation, and personality. Provided with a basic foundational approach and the specific tools needed to enable successful, progressive training , the reader is well positioned to be able to design and execute upon a training program that is aligned with his or her abilities, time, commitment, and goals.

The overarching mantras laced through the material are:

aerobic base development, “progression, progression, progression”, and the critical importance of substantial integrated strength training elements

Too many athletes and recreationalists ramp training up too quickly, incorporate intensity too soon, suffer injury, and, potentially, burnout. By properly progressing training load and intensity and integrating strength sessions into the program such “training errors” can be largely avoided. These themes are regularly brought forward and discussed throughout the book and recommendations are provided to help the reader incorporate appropriate progressions and strength programs.

Although of limited value, the book is punctuated by sidebar stories and opinions from representative uphill athletes- both elite level and some well-known sub-elite athletes. I find these individual essays to be more of a hinderance to the authors otherwise successful goal to provide clear guidance but I know that many find such stories inspirational.

Also included are “Kilian’s Notes”- short sections where Kilian describes his training history, training methods, and some specific workouts. Again, I find these of limited value as they are coming from an athlete who has been in intensive endurance training since he was 13 years old, with a 90+ VO2max, mental fortitude that is similarly off the charts, and has raced thousands of times. Having trained with athletes with some of these attributes, I can say that what they do is not particularly relevant even to those with relatively high VO2max and long histories with training for endurance sport. If you have ever competed against or trained with someone with a 90+ VO2max you will know what I mean. I suggest that one take these Kilian missives as just that- an entertaining peek into what such an extraordinary and accomplished athlete does and not a prescription for anyone else. Unfortunately there is no warning to this effect in the book.

I have found little to disagree with in this book with the exception of the science fiction provided on “fat adaptation” and a “hook-line-and-sinker” devotion to the persistent hunting theory as a basis for understanding human endurance abilities. But these are minor items and thankfully nutrition is not a focus of the book so it is easy to let these go and concentrate on all of the truly valuable information and presentation in the book.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in understanding fundamental endurance training concepts, evolving a personal approach based on these concepts, and developing a reliable, flexible training plan that will, with consistency and commitment, lead to success and goal achievement in endurance sport.

DETAILED review

Clearly the vast majority of the material in “Training for the Uphill Athlete” is of high quality with valiant attempts to align current science and coaching-based experience into the presented training guidance and training plan development. There are, however, a few areas where unfounded or not fully founded concepts are presented as “fact”. I’ll cover these along with a more detailed look at the author’s proposed training program synthesis and associated training plan development guidance.

Chapter 2 “Physiology of Endurance”

This is an excellent chapter that presents a clear and engaging discussion with excellent graphical representations of the  metabolic, physiologic, and biomechanic factors that lead to endurance. The concept of the lactate “vacuum cleaner” is very useful in helping one understand the processes taking place that will lead to enhanced endurance performance. All of this leads to the statement of the Uphill Athlete Training Philosophy:

“You will never maximize your endurance potential without first maximizing your basic aerobic capacity (AeT)”.

If one were to take just a single thing from the book then this would be that thing. How you get there is covered in the rest of the book but absorbing the reality of this statement is fundamental to founding a training approach for endurance sport.

There are a couple of sections in this chapter that I think are in need of criticism. Although neither of these criticisms affect the sound training advice being given, they do represent areas where the reader needs to be vigilant in questioning everything that is stated and to not accept outright some of the proposed mechanisms. These issues are in the areas of the “Persistence Hunting” theory of human evolution and “fat adaptation”.

In the introduction to Chapter 2 “The Physiology of Endurance”, the authors end the  first section summarizing the popular “persistence hunting theory” of human evolution with the following:

“We are the product of an evolutionary heritage that has predisposed us to endurance”.

Although giving some latitude in the text to this being a theory, this final sentence has no substantial support in the form of conclusive (or even indicative) scientific process. There exist other competing theories and interpretations of what scant evidence there is that would allow any determination of how we, as homo (sapiens), evolved. The theory of Persistence Hunting remains an unproven, although appealing, postulate that will likely never be founded by data and analysis.  This is affirmed even in the reference that the authors provide to support their conclusive statement:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23227131_The_Relevance_of_Persistence_Hunting_to_Human_Evolution

David Carrier formulated the theory in 1984 and it has been “generally accepted”- how this has come to pass I have no idea but is nonetheless emblematic for what is happening in the “soft” sciences as it concerns unsupported conclusive statements and “generally accepted” hogwash.

For entertainment it is worthwhile to listen to a humorous short podcast by Scott Carrier (David’s brother and a former NPR “storyist”) that documents David’s and Scott’s attempt at putting the theory to work and run down some Pronghorn Antelope in Wyoming. This is a re-broadcast of a story Scott did for NPR in 1984. Look for the episode “Running After Antelope” on 3/19/2015 at his podcast website here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/running-after-antelope/id972388330?i=1000338087072&mt=2

Moving on to the “fat adaptation” material, the authors present some data on page 63 that shows point data for %fat and %carbohydrate use as a function of %max heart rate for three individuals with supposedly different training backgrounds- a high intensity intervals-focused athlete, a “well-trained” endurance athlete, and an elite cross country skier. Concern number one is that the authors provide no reference for this data so that the efficacy of the testing could be checked. One has no idea if these data were ever peer-reviewed by experts or if the data are published. Using unpublished data is not appropriate for supporting generalized conclusions published in a book. Concern number two centers around the relevance of cross sectional data on individuals to any generalized advice. Without an understanding of many other factors (some confounding) that will influence the results shown, these data really have no scientific basis. They are cherry-picked graphs used to support a point being made in the text- something that is not acceptable. Use of representative peer-reviewed data from published references is the only acceptable alternative and even this type of data can be very deficient in this field of study. Without longitudinal data as well as data on individual enzymatic profiles (profiles which are temporal) there is no ability to put any generalized interpretation on what is presented. This is not to say that the arguments presented by the authors cannot be supported, just that they do not provide the appropriate references to peer-reviewed publications- an unfortunate oversight.

The subject of “fat adaptation” is often confused with the low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) diet cult literature some of which the authors reference (e.g. Volek’s work). Here the authors use a simplified version of a graph from one such publication by Volek (who is one of the LCHF cult leaders). This is Figure 2.10 on page 62. The graph shows what apparently are average peak fat oxidation rates for two populations of subjects- “well-trained fat adapted” and “well-trained less-well-fat-adapted” (whatever these descriptions mean?). Searching out the reference (which was not given in the text but is as follows: “Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners”, Volek, et al., Metabolism – Clinical and Experimental, 65 (2016) 100-110.) and critically reviewing the article we find that all is not well. Firstly, this study is aimed at determining the difference in fat oxidation rate of well-trained (supposedly elite) athletes as a function of %VO2max with two populations- one that habitually consumes a high carbohydrate diet and another that habitually consumes a high fat-low carbohydrate diet (aka “keto-adapted”). The study is about the potential effects of diet on fat adaptation, not fat adaptation. Yet the authors are using the data to support a point in the text about how important it is to become “fat adapted” by lots of aerobic training (sometimes in a fasted state). Secondly, the graph presented in the book does not show the point data. Rather, the data are presented as large ovals with some whiskers on it. No explanation of the graph is given other than to point at a difference that the authors are using to make a point in the text. This is very poor writing and has no place in an otherwise science-oriented book. The figure from the actual publication shows large circles with whiskers as well as all of the point data from the individual subjects of the study. The text of the published article indicates that the circles represent the average value of peak fat oxidation and the whiskers are the 95% confidence intervals (CI). Further review indicates that the peak fat oxidation point data are generated at values of  %VO2max ranging from a low of about 38% to a high of about 81%. In the publication there is a companion graph that shows the %VO2max at the peak fat oxidation value for each of the study participants. Their data show that the LCHF group reaches peak fat oxidation values at higher %VO2max values (higher HRs) and the authors further argue that these LCHF subjects can therefore exercise at higher intensity whilst burning more fat than the high carbohydrate group, i.e. that their aerobic threshold (AeT) is higher because of the LCHF diet. Yet the book authors never even allude that the differences they are pointing to are supposedly based on differences in diet. In fact, the data and analysis (if you choose to put any credence in the dicey conclusions from such a limited and flawed study) partially unfound the argument that the book authors are making in the associated text. The authors of the published article propose that one can only maximize AeT by combining both substantial aerobic base work with a LCHF diet, whereas, contrarily, the book authors contend that AeT can be maximized by substantial aerobic base work in an often fasted or glycogen depleted state- no specific diet required.  These assertions are based on a definition of aerobic threshold HR as that HR where carbohydrate and fat are being consumed equally (the 50/50 point). Thirdly, the data in the Volek article is, again, cross sectional and lacks important data on enzymatic profiles and other potentially confounding variables; this is all in addition to the self-reported diet data (lowest quality of data). Fourthly, the authors of the published article assert that the study subjects are “elite” and use a definition of “elite” that I (and anyone else who understands the nature of elite performance) have significant disagreement with (e.g. a finish within 10% of the winner is definitely not elite). I suggest you read the article yourself as well as the many peer-reviewed published articles that have various levels of disagreement with Volek et al. One such article is:

Burke et al., Science 362, 781–787 (2018)*

There is no more defective literature than that of the field of nutrition (perhaps such defectiveness is only exceeded by the literature in the field of psychology) and add this to the already deficient situation in the literature in the field of exercise physiology and you have the recipe for gibberish cake coated with statistical frosting. Much of the data is observational and self-reported and therefore represents the weakest of all data types. And what about replication? Replication? Replication is a rare bird in these fields, yet it forms the essential starting point in the hard sciences. I do not want to minimize the difficulty associated with studies of the human body and mind as these difficulties are substantial, but the fact that something is hard to do does not give one license to make unfounded conclusions as is rife in these fields.

chapter 3 “The METHODOLOGIES of Endurance Training”

This is another excellent chapter that attempts to put some structure on how one might go about training and recovering to maximize performance in endurance sport. The primary issue I have with this chapter is that the authors present yet another, slightly different, intensity zone system to add to the confusion facing anyone who decides to get serious about training. While functional within the context of the programs described in the book, the presented zone system differs in number and range with other widely used systems (like Friel’s). I had hoped that this book might be the first to present intensity zones in the much simplified format suggested by Seiler in the past couple of years. Seiler argues that there are three zones for endurance training- aerobic base, lactate threshold, and VO2max. Theses zones are defined by the aerobic threshold (AeT) and the lactate threshold (LT or anaerobic threshold (AnT))- two easily measurable physiologic markers (the authors also use these markers to assign intensity zones, but choose to develop a system with 5 or 6 zones). Yes, these markers may move about by a few HR beats depending on individual exposure to training and other stressors, but they provide the only reliable basis for setting up a functional intensity zone system. The Seiler-proposed three zone system has a zone 1 that is defined by HRs at AeT and below (aerobic base training), a zone 2 that is defined by HRs at LT to -5% LT (lactate threshold training is at the high end of this zone and tempo work is at the low end) and a zone 3 defined by HRs at LT to +5% LT (VO2max work). No training is to be done outside of these three zones. This is essentially what the authors propose but just make it a bit more complicated by having other zones- zones that will not be used. I continue to lobby for the simplified three zone system.

The other issue with this chapter is the material on recovery where an ordinate list of the important recovery pathways is presented. I suggest that one read the book “Good to Go” by Christine Ashwanden. The author, a staff member at FiveThirtyEight, the well-known data-based journalism outfit, goes about using all the available data on efficacy of the many recovery methods and essentially debunks them all except sleep and floatation. Have a read- you will never foam roll or be massaged again! That is unless you want to take advantage of the placebo effect for mental issues.

chapter 4 “Monitoring your training”

This chapter does a great job at putting a framework around what an individual should be monitoring throughout a training plan, particularly as it relates to the potential for overtraining. This is an important subject and one that typically gets very little coverage in books on training for endurance sport. Yet overtraining is likely the single thing that derails or ends many careers in these sports. The material here is well placed and thoroughly presented.

chapter 5 “the application process: where theory meets reality”

Here the authors detail how to use their intensity zone system in a plan to maximize one’s aerobic base and then begin adding in high intensity work (tempo workouts, LT intervals, and VO2max intervals). Further reiteration of the importance of aerobic base capacity development is drilled throughout the chapter. It is difficult to come away from these first five chapters without the basis for a strong commitment to, first and foremost, ensure that your training includes a sufficient base period that allows for substantial aerobic base capacity development (and maximization for experienced, long term endurance athletes). This can take years to develop and it is pointed out that such longer term timeframes are an appropriate lens through which one should approach endurance training. It is refreshing to see this viewpoint as so many other training guides try to push shortcuts or supposedly “more efficient” ways to aerobic base development. Clearly there are no shortcuts and the physiologic processes that need to take place for maximization are on the “years-long” timescale. Absorbing this fact and incorporating this reality into one’s planning and goal setting will lead to a successful result rather than rushing the process into abject failure.

I applaud the authors for bringing uphill bounding to the fore in intensity sessions. This is a woefully overlooked tool for not only intensity workouts but in the development of specific strength and muscular endurance. Arthur Lydiard used hill bounding extensively in his training programs and cited how important this activity is in providing his athletes with the strength and power needed to perform on race day. Bee and I use uphill bounding with poles extensively in our training for cross country skiing with 2-a-week sessions from early August until the snow flies in late November. We find this work to be essential to high performance in skiing and I find it leads to great advantages in uphill sections in mountain running races. Bee similarly finds these bounding sessions as enabling for difficult kayak moves in powerful class IV and V whitewater.

chapter 6, 7, & 8
“strength training for the uphill athlete”
“General strength assessment and improvement”
“specific strength – training methods”

One of the features that distinguishes this book from the many others on endurance training is the integrative approach the authors take toward strength training. In the proposed training programs strength is not an “add-on” sub-activity or a “suggested” enhancement, it is at the core of the program and therefore strength is conceptually and actionably integrated into the training schedule.

Well placed arguments about how strength elements are critical to injury prevention as well as how properly designed strength elements ensure good technique and allow development of important specific strength capacity are provided and allow the reader to fully appreciate the importance of this area.

But founding a basis for strength is just the start. The authors provide a simple and straightforward plan for assessing your individual strength needs and then outline simple strength programs to address one’s deficiencies. We all have deficiencies (even the best of us) and attention to these will be critical to ensuring progression and, eventual, success with a training plan. For older athletes this section is of primary importance as detailed elsewhere on this site- strength is one of the “big three” limiters for performance as one ages. Sarcopenia does not sleep!

chapter 9, 10, & 11
“programming”
“transition period training”
“introduction to the base period”

These chapters detail out how one can go about developing an individual training plan. Understanding the essentials of training plan programming along with considerations for the very important transition period between seasons will enable the reader to put together an effective training plan and the knowledge of how this plan will inevitably be modified as one executes upon it.

Significant sections are devoted to understanding and properly programming the base period as this is the essential platform upon which any other endurance training is based. This base development then leads to additions of intensity all whilst a parallel strength program is being pursued.

The authors present a meso and microcycle process using the tried-and-true weekly focus approach that distributes work into base (B), intensity (I), recovery (R), specificity (S), taper (T), and goal (G) weeks. Bee and I have been using this system in one form or another since the late 70’s, with the exception of my experiments with “block periodization” in 2016 and 2017. We have had good success with this training plan protocol and con confidently recommend it. Now we have a book that we can recommend as well.

Chapters 12 & 13
“special considerations for SkiMo and ski mountaineering”
“special considerations for mountain running”

These two chapters elaborate upon some of the specific and unique aspects of the two sports and how to adjust your training to meet those unique needs. These sections are well written and provide valuable information for those just getting into these sports but the material is also valuable for even experienced competitors.

bottom line

A well written book that is worth your time and will pay back big dividends in successful endurance training so long as you make the commitment and ensure consistency.

 

*Some relevant quotes from the Burke article:

Short-term fat adaptation strategies, or even long-term adaptation to ketogenic LCHF diets (80% fat, <50 g of CHO/day), which can increase normal rates of fat oxidation by two or three times (21, 22), are limited in application to a small range of sporting events in which utilization is low enough for muscle energy to be provided by fat oxidation (21, 23). To date, it appears that protocols that substantially increase fat oxidation also decrease metabolic flexibility by reducing CHO substrate pools and/or the ability to rapidly oxidize them. The bottom line is that when elite athletes train for and compete in most sporting events, CHO fuels are the predominant and critical substrate for the working muscles, and the availability of CHO (22, 24), rather than fat, wins gold medals. We propose that the increased rates of fat oxidation observed after endurance training and “train-low” strategies (see When less is more) are a proxy for an increase in mitochondrial density; for competition success, this machinery is best utilized by harnessing it to enhance the oxidation of CHO-based fuels.

21. J. S. Volek et al., Metabolism 65, 100–110 (2016).

22. L. M. Burke et al., J. Physiol. (London) 595, 2785–2807 (2017).

23. S. D. Phinney, B. R. Bistrian, W. J. Evans, E. Gervino, G. L. Blackburn, Metabolism 32, 769–776 (1983).

24. J. A. Hawley, J. J. Leckey, Sports Med. 45, S5–S12 (2015).

Within their repertoire of training nutrition strategies, athletes can now include practices that augment adaptive processes in skeletal muscle; these include commencing training with low exogenous CHO availability (fasting overnight and/or withholding CHO during a session) or the more potent trainload strategy of deliberately commencing selected training sessions with lowered muscle glycogen stores (e.g., using a first session to deplete glycogen and then training for a second time after withholding CHO to prevent glycogen restoration) (29, 30). Although studies consistently report augmented cellular responses as a result of trainload strategies, the translation to performance enhancement has been less clear (29, 30). Early investigations failed to detect superior performance outcomes; this was attributed to the overemphasis of such sessions within the training program and their resultant impairment of training intensity (44). These sessions need to be appropriately placed into a periodized program to complement high quality training (7). A recent, clever sequencing of practices (Fig. 1) integrates a performance-promoting session and an adaptation-focused session while adding the benefits of a prolonged increase in exercise-stimulated cellular signaling and posttranscriptional regulation during glycogen-depleted recovery and exercise (45). In subelite populations at least, better integration of train-low and train-high sessions into the training sequence (Fig. 1) has been associated with superior performance compared with the same training undertaken with normal CHO availability (46). So far, however, this does not seem to be the case in studies involving elite populations (22, 47), although it is often incorporated into real-world training sessions (48). Although further studies are needed, part of the challenge in advancing this area of research is the lack of agreement with regard to the terminology and implementation of the practices involved; we have tried to address this in a separate commentary (7).

29. S. G. Impey et al., Sports Med. 48, 1031–1048 (2018).

30. J. D. Bartlett, J. A. Hawley, J. P. Morton, Eur. J. Sport Sci. 15, 3–12 (2015).

44. W. K. Yeo et al., J. Appl. Physiol. 105, 1462–1470 (2008).

7. L. M. Burke et al., Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 28, 451–463 (2018).

45. S. C. Lane et al., J. Appl. Physiol. 119, 643–655 (2015).

46. L. A. Marquet et al., Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 48, 663–672 (2016).

47. K. D. Gejl et al., Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 49, 2486–2497 (2017).

48. T. Stellingwerf, Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 22, 392–400 (2012).

Also, a good read on the lamentable situation in science today:

The Inevitable Evolution of Bad Science:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/09/the-inevitable-evolution-of-bad-science/500609/?single_page=true

 

 

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The Road to Klosters – Fleet Evaluation

This is Part 6 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3 , 4 and 5 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes, and a critical assessment of the efficacy of Block Periodization, respectively.

equipment matters – a lot!

Whether one accepts it or not, in cross country ski racing, equipment matters… it matters a lot! Having the right ski for the conditions on race day is critical to performance and will make all the difference in the race. Ski design and  technology has become complex and the functional gradations for conditions-specific ski performance has lead to the fact that, independent of successful training and proper peaking, one must have the right ski (and grind and wax) on race day to be competitive- there is very little margin for error. This is the sorry state that the sport is in at this juncture. By this I mean that there is a very large economic barrier to ensuring that a competitive, well-trained athlete has the right equipment on race day.

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Consider the ski fleets of elite skiers where some have over 100 pairs of skis comprised of multiple base compositions, flex, and grinds for each snow temperature,  each snow condition, and each deck condition.  In addition these athletes must keep track of all of these skis and be able to efficiently pick the right one for a given race. Hence, many elite competitors have full-time technicians that take care of the skis and help in the selection process on race day. In addition such fleets are added to and modified regularly (new ski models, new flex patterns, and new grinds) throughout the year. It is abundantly obvious that having a “complete” fleet of skis for today’s racing can cost upwards of $50,000 to $100,000 US (most elite skiers are sponsored by ski companies that provide skis so the ski cost is essentially zero for these skiers), plus the cost of a technician, plus the $5,000 – $10,000 per year for maintenance, modifications, and additions. And then there are the increasingly expensive waxes… poles…. and boots! Even some elite skiers have difficulty keeping up with these demands with National Teams and certain sponsored athletes with essentially unlimited budgets. Although needs are significantly smaller for a competitive masters skier, the cost associated with developing and maintaining a basic ski fleet for modern masters racing is substantial. We estimate that a minimum fleet would consist of three classic ski types (hard wax, klister, and zeros (or “hairies”) with perhaps some different grinds for the “wet” skis, and three skate skis (cold, wet, and softground) again with perhaps a couple of different grinds. This means a minimum of 10 pairs of skis at about $700-$800 US each (with bindings), so about $7,000-$8,000. While this price tag is about the same as current racing mountain bikes like this and this and this the referenced mountain bikes are not “minimum” models. These bikes are well suited to the most demanding cross country mountain bike race courses. Although a masters cross country MTB racer may have a second bike, one of these will certainly be a primary race bike used throughout the season.

Add to this that it is rather straightforward to double the number of fleet skis noted above for additional race conditions and this takes the cost for skis alone to well beyond anything that can even be bought in the mountain biking world. Lightweight, nimble race-level cross country mountain bikes are considered expensive (same with road bikes) but they are not as critical as skis are in cross country ski races. In ski races with optimally trained athletes, the ski can make all the difference in performance whereas in mountain biking with similarly trained athletes the bike rarely makes the difference. The same goes for many other equipment intensive sports. Cross country ski racing stands out as one of the most expensive sports to participate in at the competitive level, even for masters skiers. And this is not taking account of the $100 ski base grinds required, the $100 single race wax jobs, the $400 poles, the $500-$1200 boots, etc., etc.

Except for a very few, very wealthy individuals who compete as masters (and they do exist), a comprehensive fleet of skis and the needed assistance is non-existent in the masters ski world. But, one will need to have at least an approximately appropriate ski for the conditions on race day- which leads to the “minimum” fleet described above. So, as masters athletes, it is important to figure out how to efficiently cover all of the likely conditions one might meet on race day with a minimum of investment and this is where ski selection advice is important and, we assert, critical. You may have noticed in the Annual Training Plan (ATP) in part 2 of this series, a row for data input on “equipment preparation”. This is what that row is all about and is an essential part of your training.

Ski Experts, Ski advisers, ski Gurus, and the “Ski Whisperer”

Team Bumble Bee works with this fellow for ski advice, ski supply, fleet evaluation, ski grinding, and waxing. I cannot sufficiently stress, as a competitive ski racer, how important it is on race day to pick the right skis, the right grinds, and the right wax, in that order. For a given set of conditions, no grind or wax will make a ski with the wrong flex characteristics fast. Similarly, no wax will make a ski fast with the wrong grind for the conditions. So start with the right ski and go from there.

As it concerns skis, I have one basic rule- never ever buy a race ski from a rack in a shop. The details of your specific needs are rarely, if ever, accommodated by a ski that just happens to be on a rack in a ski shop. If you are serious about racing you need a ski with the right flex characteristics for your weight, height, and skiing style. This involves more than a “ski fit” with a thin card slid under the ski or even with the so-called “ski fit” machines that have appeared over the years. You need an experienced, highly informed, and enthusiastic ski expert to help with ski and grind selection. If properly chosen, you will be using these skis for many seasons. For the small additional fee (about $100 US) over and above the retail list for a given ski that ski gurus charge, you will get a hand picked ski from racing stock that will continue to perform.

Nordic skis are the Lambos of the ski world— precision and details 
matter— while alpine skis are a bit like your stock Mustang.
Jason Albert, Outside Magazine

What is racing stock? Well, it is the portion of so-called “race ski model” production that have uniform, smooth, and paired flex characteristics (the number of skis that meet these criteria typically make up less than 20% of all race model skis manufactured) . These critical ski characteristics are variable since the production process and materials are not sufficiently controlled to allow for high consistency. After production the race-quality skis are screened out and set aside for sponsored athletes, race teams, and “pickers” to choose from during visits to the factory. The other 80% of the manufactured race model skis go to the shops, and it is not likely that you will find a good “race-quality” ski among these skis. This is why we advise any one who asks us, that they find a ski expert that makes summer visits to select skis at the factories. The “ski whisperer” is one possibility and one that we highly recommend. Such ski advisers can not only pick the right skis for you, they can also help you build and develop a workable fleet (skis, bases, and grinds) for the racing you intend to do. Depending on your bandwidth for spending money, it may take a few years to fully populate a minimum fleet of skis, but since you are working with an expert these skis will be right for you and should perform well for years. After the initial fleet building period, modifications (e.g. grinds) and additions (e.g new technologies like the Salomon Carbon skate ski) can be made annually without significant economic impact. But you need to be methodical and efficient about the process.

annual “ski therapy” session

It is important to annually meet with your expert and conduct a fleet evaluation to ensure that you will have the correct selection of skis for the races you intend to do in the upcoming season. The “ski therapy” session will remind you, in detail, of what it is that you have, what gaps there are, which of the existing skis are working well (or not), and, likely, you will get some additional education on how when to use each ski. It is a great thing to do, especially with an expert; although you could go through the process by yourself if you are sufficiently knowledgeable and experienced enough. The point is to make sure you do this exercise- it is just as critical as the training if you want to be able to perform at your highest level.

We have recently had our annual “ski therapy” session with the “ski whisperer” and, combined  with some ski additions communicated earlier this summer prior to factory visits, we have decided to update a few grinds on existing skis. Working off a spreadsheet with all of the available flex, base, and grind data on each ski and with historic notes from racing, we discussed the entire fleet in detail, our “A” races and the likely snow conditions, and which skis are going to be “top of mind” for each race.

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We also took advantage of the extensive European racing, World Cup, and Olympics experience that the “ski whisperer” has to discuss what we will likely find for ski conditions in Klosters in March. This will help when packing since we will not be bringing our entire fleet with us and we will be in contact at that point when the conditions are more defined.

We ended our session with the feeling that we should have what we need for all but the most unique snow conditions and confident that we can concentrate on athletic preparation and not equipment acquisition going forward. It is definitely a good feeling. We highly recommend that any serious masters athlete consider developing a working relationship with someone like the “ski whisperer” or perhaps “ski whisperer” himself- he comes highly recommended.

The Road to Klosters – Block Periodization?

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This is Part 5 in a series of posts about training and preparation for the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters Switzerland in early March 2017. See Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 for an overview, specific training plans, strength training, and an evaluation of the required pace to podium in the M07 and F06 age classes. This post will begin a critical review of “block periodization” as applied to cross country ski racing training for masters skiers.

As stated in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I (Bumble) have adopted a “block periodization” approach to training for the cross country skiing race season this year. The other half of Team Bumble Bee (Bee) has decided to stick with the traditional (linear) training periodization that got her to two Olympics and many National Championships and National Championship podiums. Perhaps a wise choice but since we have almost 40 years of history of training together in many sports (road cycling, mountain biking, cross country skiing, road and trail running, and adventure racing) it will be an interesting season to see what the effects of a block periodization approach can have for an ageing athlete- both good and bad.

block periodization

To obtain a detailed understanding of Block Periodization you will be well served to read Issurin’s book on the subject. The following is a brief synopsis of some take-aways that I have found useful in adapting Block Periodization (BP) to cross country ski racing training and specifically for a 60 year old experienced endurance athlete. I am assuming that the reader has a basic grasp of periodization and training plan development. For a good introductory-to-intermediate exposition on periodization I will suggest Chapter 8 of Friel’s book Total Heart Rate Training or Chapter 2 of House and Johnston’s book Training for the New Alpinisim.

Traditional periodization is comprised of a Macrocycle that is a year-long or many month-long sequence of Mesocycles called Base, Build, Peak, Race, and Transition. Here Base is “General Preparation”, build is “Specific Preparation”, “Peak” is Pre-Competition, “Race” is Competition, and “Transition” is the period between seasons (or between “A” races) for rest and recovery (both mental and physical). Within the Mesocycles are the individual workouts or series of workouts and they are called Microcycles. The “periodization” of this sequence has to do with not just the macro sequence of periods but also the length of each training period and the workout progressions in each period. Many athletes will have multiple Macrocycles in a calendar year to target multiple “A” races.

The distinguishing aspect of traditional periodization is that in each of the mesocycles all relevant abilities are exercised in parallel, although with varying focus. So a traditional periodization mesocycle will have appropriate levels of endurance, high intensity intervals, technique, speed, and strength stimuli to achieve the desired training effect.

It is important to point out that cross country skiing has a 10-12 week racing “season” where world-level competitors will be racing  every week (and possibly more than once each week). Typically there are a couple of rest periods (a week of no racing) distributed during the season. This leads to a long “Race” Mesocycycle and this period needs to focus on staying sharp and rested for the entire season (or most of it). Some athletes choose a few races and develop a “race” mesocycle that allows for numerous peaks along with “B” races mixed in. The best skiers, however, are able to race competitively for the entire season with perhaps a short break before the most important “career” races like World Championships (every two years) and Olympics (every four years).  For masters competitors the racing density is typically much lower (perhaps as often as every other week) and recovery between races is less challenging, although the slower recovery rate for ageing athletes can make such recovery just as challenging as for the World Cup competitors.

This long race season is the reason that the oft-heard quote “successful cross country skiers are made in the summer” holds so true. There is no making up for training once the season starts; so your fate as a competitor is essentially sealed by mid-December- just about the time that reliable snow is on the ground. It is critically important to do the general work from May-August, the specific work from August-November, and the Pre-Comp work in November-December. Once there is snow on the ground you will be racing.

The period sequencing allows an athlete to develop abilities (for instance, muscular endurance) and then maintain these abilities with reduced stimuli in subsequent periods that have a different focus. The macro progression needs to be sequenced in a way that is particular to one’s sport, the type of racing that is targeted, the timing of the races (or race season), and the time and commitment of the athlete. In the case of cross country skiing racing, endurance is the focus of the base period, VO2max development and Lactate Threshold pace are the focus of the build period, the peak period focuses on speed skill, technique, and getting sharp and rested, and the race period is focused on staying sharp and rested. This can be fairly complicated given all of the individual particulars for each competitor and is the reason that having a coach to help is a good idea for any committed athlete, including masters. But you can develop an effective training plan yourself if you are sufficiently motivated and knowledgeable.

A very common traditional periodization approach used by cross country ski athletes is based on 7-day microcycle within a 4 week mesocycle. This approach includes stimuli for many  energy systems (abilities) in each week of training. For example, a typical traditional periodozation week might have a mid-length endurance workout and strength session on Monday, lactate threshold intervals on Tuesday, another endurance workout on Wednesday, a technique focus workout and strength session on Thursday, VO2 max intervals on Friday, a Tempo workout on Saturday, and an over-distance (OD) workout on Sunday- then rinse and repeat. This pattern is then adjusted within weeks to accommodate a 4 week cycle that includes one or more volume weeks, one or more intensity weeks, and, typically, one recovery week. For instance, in the “build” period an emphasis will be put upon VO2max and Lactate Threshold sessions and endurance, technique, speed, and strength will, to varying degrees, be de-emphasized. Multiple similar 4 week mesocycles can be scheduled to elicit the desired training stimulus (e.g. a longer endurance focus in the “base” period). The 4 week mesocycles are then planned such that as the race season approaches the training focus is shifted to the abilities that are most important for racing excellence, in the case of cross country skiing these are VO2max and Lactate Threshold pace.

Block periodization (BP) does not attempt to keep all abilities equally developed, rather each mesocycle has a singular focus (or, at most, two) that allows the athlete to fully develop a given ability. A basic tenet that drives the assertion of the efficacy of BP is a particularly strong argument for what some call “advanced” athletes. These are individuals that have been in rigorous periodized training regimens (typically in a traditional periodization protocol) for many years and have either reached or come close to their ultimate athletic potential. For advanced athletes following such a protocol, it is asserted by BP proponents that the traditional periodization approach has essentially taken the athlete to a performance plateau that is either the end-point for this athlete or represents a platform from which further performance improvements can be made by additional focus on the ability and/or intensity (or abilities/intensities) that are critical to racing success. So, in contrast to developing all energy systems (abilities) together on a weekly basis (traditional periodization), BP utilizes multi-week “blocks” of singular focus on a given intensity (or ability) to attempt to lift the athlete off a performance plateau by “fully” developing the energy system that drives that ability at that intensity. For example a common BP approach will have a 4-6 week VO2max mesocycle where the athlete does 3-5 VO2max workouts per week and essentially nothing else but rest and recovery. This could be followed by a 4-6 week Lactate Threshold pace mesocycle where, similarly, the workouts are singularly focused on maximizing Lactate Threshold pace. It is claimed that traditional periodization cannot do as good a job of ‘fully” developing such energy systems since efforts and time at intensity are diffused across a number of abilities and energy systems during the weekly training plan. Numerous studies have shown such a “block” protocol to be superior to traditional periodization in numerous endurance sports including cross country skiing.

Makes sense right? Well, there is a lot of data and substantial World and Olympic Championship history to support the efficacy of traditional periodization. This is the reason why an overwhelming majority (I estimate greater than 95%) of the best endurance athletes use some version of traditional periodization. However, BP is relatively new to endurance sport having only been incorporated in a meaningful way in the last 1-1.5 decades by a comparatively small number of world-level elite athletes. Perhaps the results of well-designed BP programs have yet to be highly publicized partly due to the highly secretive nature of many coaches and athletes when it comes to the specifics of their training regimens. Additionally, given less experience with BP, coaches may have difficulty with dosing, particularly with the highest intensity work. One of the primary negative feedback issues that I have discussed with a number of advanced and elite athletes that have tried BP is that they felt like they had perhaps too much intensity prior to the race season and then felt flat at important races. This is where the all-important 3 D’s come in- density, dose, and downtime. You need to get this right or you may well go over the edge- that perilous edge that defines the difference between success and failure that highly developed athletes face on a daily basis- a situation that a training program and associated coaching is supposed to avoid. This is yet another reason to have a coach. It is still early days for the application of BP to cross country skiing (and other endurance sports) but there is promise, particularly for “advanced” athletes.

block periodization for masters athletes

Many serious masters athletes are “advanced” athletes, that is they have been competing at a high level in their sport(s) of choice for many, many years- perhaps as many as 30-40 years- like me. Such athletes have likely reached performance plateaus and may be looking for a training approach that will allow them to break off the plateau and begin to see significant performance increases. This is one reason why BP is a good choice for advanced masters competitors.

A second reason for a masters competitor (not just advanced masters) to give serious consideration to BP is based upon a critical assessment of Friel’s “Big 3” performance limiters for masters athletes. Recall that these are:

  1. decreased aerobic capacity
  2. decreased muscle
  3. increased body fat

BP is ideally suited to address both the aerobic capacity issue and the muscle mass issue by allowing the athlete to focus on these within appropriately scheduled blocks in the periodization. Not only could BP break a masters athlete off a performance plateau, but those blocks focused on VO2max (aerobic capacity) will give the masters athlete the chance to beat back the foreboding effects of age and stop reductions in, or, hopefully, increase their VO2max.

These are the reasons that I am going with a BP program this season.

Training update – the first VO2max block

As you can see from my ATP, I spent July and August in a 9 week endurance “block” and entered into a 4 week VO2max “block” in late August through late September. I did some mini-block training this past spring while training for two ultramarathon running races and that seemed to work well, or at least as well as a traditional periodization. So with a bit a of familiarity, I went “all in” on a difficult block in September. Having not done any real high intensity training for over 10 weeks I eased into the workouts by starting with 1 minute duration efforts for the first week, 2 minute for the second week, 3 minute for the third week, and then ladders for the last week. This made the workouts less monotonous than some BP workouts I have seen and they were quite challenging as well.

Getting back to the “3Ds” (density, dose, and downtime) mentioned earlier, I was careful about how much intensity to start with and what to build up to. As far as density, although I wanted to do three VO2max workouts per week, I scaled that back to two in this first block to ensure that I did not go over the edge. For dose, after doing a bunch of research on the subject, I settled on starting at around 12-15 minutes of L5a-b work*** progressing through the block to about 25 minutes of L5a-b work***. I did more recovery (downtime) than I thought I needed, just to be careful at this point. Specifically,

All workouts are hill bounding with poles on steep (10-15% grade) to very steep (20-30% grade) hills with active rest periods:

week 1/workout 1: 10 X 1 min on 1 min rest on an uphill (10 min total work)

week 1/workout 2: 20 X 1 min on 1 min rest (20 min total work)

week 2/workout1: 7 X 2 min on 2 min rest (14 min total work)

week 2/workout2: 10 X 2 min on 2 min rest (20 min total work)

week 3/workout1: 5 X 3 min on 3 min rest (15 min total work)

week 3/workout 2: 7 X 3 on 3 min rest (21 min total work)

week 4/workout1: ladders- 2 X (1-2-3-3-2-1 min) on equal rest (24 min total work)

week 4 workout 2: ladders- 2 X (1-2-3-3-2-1 min) on equal rest (24 min total work)

Here is a typical heart rate trace and elevation profile from one of the ladder repeats:

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Heart rate trace and elevation profile from a 1-2-3-3-2-1 min hill bounding interval ladder on equal active rest. LT is 155, L5a 155-158 bpm, L5b 159-164 bpm, max HR is 170 bpm***.  In the graphic, gray is heart rate and green is elevation. The first 1 min interval does not get into range but the rest do including the first 3 min interval where I hit max HR- something I tried to avoid but so be it. I would prefer for these to have more “flat tops” (i.e. longer time at higher HR) but these are pretty good for VO2max intervals- LT intervals will have nice” flat tops”. The total elevation change for the 3 min intervals is about 50 m (165 feet).

I was getting 18 -24 hour recovery indexes from my Garmin 920XT after these workouts so I probably went into the block with good rest and seem to be absorbing the work fairly well, meaning that the downtime I implemented was sufficient. I will put up a separate post on why I think the FirstBeat recovery index that you get on a Garmin 920XT (and other models) is a valid assessment. One concern that I have is that I did an easy 10 km run today (September 30) during this recovery week and I got a TE (FirstBeat training effect) of 3.6 and a recovery index of 27 hours- not good for an easy run. I will be taking things very easy the next few days before embarking on a 4 week LT block.

I am also curious to find out if this extended VO2max block has had any impact on the FirstBeat measurement of VO2max.  My VO2max has peaked at about 72 according to the 920XT over the past 2 years of use. If one has confidence in the FirstBeat algorithim this value would be only about 13% less than a “real” VO2max assessment of 82 done in 1979-1980 at the OTC at age 24. I am highly skeptical that such a small decline in VO2max is possible after almost 40 years, so I question the accuracy of the FirstBeat algorithm. However, based on the analysis protocol, VO2max trends are probably quite accurate and worth following. Prior to the recent VO2max block the watch had detected a peak of 63 during the summer endurance block. So I will be looking to see if this has changed significantly as I proceed into the LT block where the watch will be regularly detecting circumstances that allow for a calculation of VO2max. This should prove to be interesting.

Concurrently with the VO2max cardio block, I have been going through a max strength build program (“block”) as described in Part 3 of this series and on the ATP. All is going well and the build continues for another week where I should terminate the progression at over 150% of body weight for the pull up work. I met with a stubborn plateau at the 3/4 mark of the progression but with a bit more rest I was able to push through to the next weight increment. The hypertrophy is clearly in evidence- hopefully that slows down as it is a fine line for an endurance athlete between muscle mass and efficiency. A second max strength build progression will start sometime around November 1 (shifted from October 1 due to the stubborn plateau in the first progression), but I will have to get yet another heavier weight vest as I have maxed out the heavier one I got in August for the current block. That will make three increasing weight weight vests purchased over the past year. I do expect a hard plateau to come with this next heavier vest.

So having made it through the first high intensity block without any issues things are on a positive vibe- but being just at the beginning of this experiment I will defer any assessment until the first races in December. Having not ever done that much high intensity (VO2max) work over such an extended period ( 4 weeks), it seems that the protocol is “doable”, but the real question is: is it better than traditional periodization? – we will be finding out!

*** important note on heart rate zones

I utilize Friel’s heart rate zones which are enumerated in the back of his book Total Heart Rate Training. The values are based off percent of lactate threshold (LT)- a method that is derived from this easily measured physiologic variable. Many other systems utilize a percent of maximum heart rate- something that can be difficult (or dangerous) to reliably measure. I include three heart rate zone charts below to illustrate the differences that are yielded when using three different protocols- Friel’s based on LT (I give approximate % max HR values as well), “Nordic Elite” (an historical categorization typical among Cross Country Skiers) and the categorization shown in the book Training for the New Alpinisim. Friel (and many others) break up Zone 5 (Level 5) into three sub-zones (a,b,&c) and has workouts designed around these additional demarcations within Zone 5. The US Ski Association (USSA) also does this now where Zone 5 is split into sub-zones called 5, 6, 7 which are equivalent to Friel’s Zones 5a, 5b, and 5c. However, the USSA (USST), in their coaches training manuals, use very different zones than those typified by the Friel system. For instance, the USSA Level 3 is too broad and encompasses most of Friel’s Zone 2, all of Zone 3, and all of Zone 4. For instance, the USSA Level 3, for me, is from 139 bpm (90% of LT) to 155 bpm (100% of LT). So for my LT (155 bpm) the USSA Level 3 goes from low aerobic pace to race pace. Therefore proper segregation of effort into Friel’s (and many others) aerobic Zone 2, the “no man’s land” of Zone 3, and the very important steady state-tempo-lactate threshold Zone 4 is not defined. The USSA “Level 3” ends up confusing many athletes familiar with traditional five and seven zone systems- systems that are highly ingrained into the endurance training literature. In addition, in the manual, the description of and example workouts in “level 3” refer only to the upper end of this level (Friel’s Zone 4) and no mention is made of the ill effects of spending much training time in the lower end of the USSA level 3 (the traditional “zone 3” no man’s land). So why have such a broad categorization?  It does not make sense. For these reasons I recommend not using the USSA system and that one consider the Friel-type protocol as a primary operative and intellectual construct.

But remember that it is critically important that one accurately define heart rate zones to efficaciously utilize heart rate as a training tool. This is the principal mistake that many athletes make when using heart rate monitoring for training- they do not take the time to set the zones accurately. Also, if using LT as the basis for the zones, one must update the zones regularly when you are in intensive training because LT will move around a bit depending what the focus of the training is. For example, my LT typically moves from 153-155 as a function of whether I am in an endurance focus (153) or an intensity focus (155).

HR Zone charts based on Friel, Nordic Elite and New Alpinisim protocols for a few max HR and LTs:

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The Road to Klosters 2017 – How fast do you need to be

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This is Part Four in a series on preparing for the World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships in Klosters Switzerland March 2017. Part One gives an overview of the training program, Part Two puts structure upon the fundamental training approach, and Part Three outlines the strength training portion of the program. Here in Part Four an analysis is presented that determines the required average race pace needed to be in the top three in the M07 and F06 age categories.

background

Although snow conditions and weather can play a significant role, average pace per kilometer for races is a good indicator of where an athlete needs to be to be competitive. The annual World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships has kept generally good records of the finish times for all competitors over the years. This enables one to analyze their particular age group finish times over the various distances and techniques of competitions for many years. I have done this for Team Bumble Bee for me (Bumble) an M07 and for Bee an F06.

data collection

The data for this is available using a combination of data from the World Masters Cross Country Skiing website and the FIS website. Generally the data is not in .csv or other excel-compatible formats so it needs to be collected in a manual format that will be prone to typos and other issues typical of manual transcription of numeric data. So the data presented here might have a few mistakes but it will be indicative of the needed skiing pace for placement in the top three for each age group. There are issues with some of the datasets. For example, all of the men’s results for the 2012 Oberweisenthal Championship are not available. Over the past year I have sent numerous emails to the World Masters organization and to the FIS giving them a detailed list of the missing results but have received no response nor have any of the datasets been fixed. So these data are just left blank in the analysis shown below. The data are shown in a format of h:m:s:base 60 fractions of seconds. So the fractions of seconds value should be divided by 60 to get the fractional seconds. Of course the fractions of seconds value is of no consequence to the overall trend analysis of pace. For those who want a fractional second understanding I suggest you go to the databases listed above as I have rounded the finish times to the nearest minute or second depending on the race finish time length.

data analysis

Table I and Table II present the times  and calculated average pace for the top three M07 and the top three F06 finishers for the World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships from 2011-2016. As noted above, some data are not available. Also included in the tables is the average time and pace for the top three finishers.

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Table I. Finish times and calculated average pace for the top three finishers in the M07 (60-64) age category for the World Master Cross Country Skiing Championships from 2011-2016. Also included is the calculated average time and pace for the top three finishers. Note: some data are not available via the World Masters Cross Country Ski Organization or the FIS.

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Table I. Finish times and calculated average pace for the top three finishers in the F06 (55-69) age category for the World Master Cross Country Skiing Championships from 2011-2016. Also included is the calculated average time and pace for the top three finishers. Note: some data are not available via the World Masters Cross Country Ski Organization or the FIS.

Obviously course conditions and weather play a significant role in finish time/pace for a given race and that can clearly be seen in the data presented. However general guidance on required pace ability for a top three finish can be reasonably gleaned from these data and is presented in Table III below. There is also some influence in this analysis on exactly who was in each race but observations will confirm that it is a fairly consistent group of top performers (like Italians Gianpaolo Englaro in classic races and Guido Masiero in freestyle races in the M06-M07 age group) so the times  and paces should be representative.

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Table III. Estimated pace range for a top three finish at World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships as a function of race distance, race technique, and race snow & weather conditions for M07 and F06 age groups. Estimations based on finish time/pace data for WMCCSC 2011-2016.

bottom line

Based on the data presented here, for a top three finish in the M07 age group, it is necessary to be able to ski a short free style race (5-10 km) in good conditions at a 2:30 min per km pace and a short classic race (5-10 km) in good conditions at a 2:55-3:00 min per km pace. At the longer distances (15km-30 km) a freestyle pace of 2:30-2:40 and a classic pace of 2:50-3:00 minutes per km will be necessary for a top three finish in good conditions.

Also for a top three finish in the F06 age group, it is necessary to be able to ski a short free style race (5-10 km) in good conditions at a 2:35-2:50 min per km pace and a short classic race (5-10 km) in good conditions at a 2:55-3:00 min per km pace. At the longer distances (15km-30 km) a freestyle pace of  2:55-3:05 and a classic pace of 3:00-3:15 minutes per km will be necessary for a top three finish in good conditions.

"What's measured improves."
Peter Drucker

In preparation for the competitive season it is important to understand where you are with respect to pace so that you can monitor your improvement and also to enable reasonable expectations come race day. This is why it is important to include in your training program regular time trials at known distances conducted on the same course. Note the time/pace, the course conditions, and where you thought you might be able to be a bit quicker (and why). These data feed back into your program for identifying areas of needed improvement and to validate the efficacy of your current training load and interval protocols. Regular time trials are one of the most powerful tools one can easily self-generate to guide your training.

 

The Road to Klosters 2017 – Training Plan Structure- macro, meso, and micro

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As indicated in the first post in this series, in this second post I will describe the training plan structure that I have put in place to prepare for the Klosters Masters World Cup Cross Country Skiing Championships in March of 2017.

Just to review some of the content of the first post, first and foremost, the training plan is constructed around a few guiding principles and an overarching training “philosophy”. The fundamental base of the training approach is consistency and recovery (the Big “C” and the Capital “R”) since without such a base, it really does not matter what else one does, your preparation will be compromised. Training rule #1 is strive for consistency even if the session might be compromised and strive for recovery even if you end up “over-recovered”. It is best to at least do some work and to do such work in a recovered state. Skipping scheduled training sessions or pushing through training sessions whilst not recovered end up having non-linear regressive impact on your overall training progress. Just like building an investment account where every little ends up being a lot, in athletic training every little adds up to much more than the arithmetic sum due to non-linear compounded training progress.

The second input to the training plan is to accommodate the unique needs of an older (50+) competitive cross country skiing athlete. These areas of focus (the “Big 3”) are to increase muscle mass (or at least stop or minimize loss of muscle), to increase aerobic capacity (VO2 max) (or at least to stop or minimize loss of aerobic capacity), and to reduce body fat (or at least to stop or minimize increases in body fat).

The third input to the training program is to develop a Lydiard-like periodized structure incorporating the concepts of “block periodization” (BP).

Training Plan Macrostructure (aka Annual Training Plan (ATP))

The overall training plan structure based on a 12 month cycle starting 4 July 2016  through March 2017 is depicted below in graphical form.

ATP 2016-3

Macro view of “block periodized” training plan for peak at World Masters Cross Country Ski Championships March 2017. More detail to be added and modified as the season progresses, e.g. peaking sequence in January-February, additional ski races, equipment details, actual recovery days/weeks, and a fall trail race (TBD).

As you can see, the overall structure begins with a 9 week endurance block followed by a 4 week VO2 max block, a 3 week LT block, a 4 week VO2 max Peak block, and a final 4 week LT block just prior to the 10 week race season. Also shown are proposed recovery weeks, some of the planned races (others TBD), the  strength plan, technique development, and equipment preparation. The Mesostructure section below will explain the reasoning behind this overall structure for the cardio portion of the plan. Strength, technique, and equipment plans will be covered in separate posts.

Training plan mesostructure

Each block in the the training plan has a physiological and logistical basis. Endurance training, although necessary for an older athlete is pretty much secondary in the overall build-up to the race season as explained below. Of primary importance are the VO2 max and LT blocks and the associated abilities/energy systems that will play a fundamental role in optimal racing condition.

In my case, the endurance preparation is actually quite a bit longer than depicted as I started training in mid-March for two ultra running races in June. Since I was just coming off of the ski racing season I had a fully developed LT ability/energy system after a 2-per-week LT/VO2 max interval session diet from October-early March along with 6 races mixed in. So I started the ultra running training in mid-March with endurance-level (L1-L2/low L3) efforts gradually leading to twice weekly 4 hour mountain runs with reasonable vert (5000 ft / 1200 m) over a 10 week period with a 2 week LT block in the middle (about mid-April). This fed into a two week taper, a 60 km mountain race on 4 June, a week of recovery-level running, then a 1 week taper and finally a 50 km mountain race on 18 June. I was a bit fried given the 5-8 hour race efforts just two weeks apart. I took an extra long recovery until 4 July and have now started a new endurance block depicted above. So my endurance base is substantial, others may not have such an endurance base to work from and would need to have a longer endurance block to establish a sufficient endurance base for maximizing the VO2 max and LT blocks that follow. The other point here about endurance is that older (50+) athletes who have been in competitive endurance sport continuously for a long time will not get much gain in endurance nor will such athletes loose much endurance ability by taking some time away from endurance focused training. This is because all of those years of training and developing endurance pay off later in life in the form of highly developed musculo-skeletal, cardiovascular, and economy systems that do not decay much with time. Just as Friel points out in “Fast After 50”, although something you need to maintain, endurance is one element that you do not have to put much focus on as an older athlete. The “Big 3” (muscle loss, decreased aerobic capacity, and increased body fat) are where you should put your main foci. In my case with continuous endurance training and racing for over 40 years, I am not going to have a lot of endurance gain for the time spent doing the training, however, gains in aerobic capacity and muscle gain can be substantial and they can play a big part in successful cross country ski racing. In particular, as will be covered in detail in the next post, strength development and associated muscle synchrony for increased skiing power are critical for improvement and will be a big priority going forward. Upper-body and core strength are increasing as dominant elements in the sport of cross country skiing as has been witnessed this past year on the World Cup and elsewhere.

Sundby double poling

Sundby after winning the World Cup 15 km classic race in Toblach by double poling the entire race, December 2015. photo credit and link

After the 9 week endurance block I have a 4 week VO2 max block the purpose of which is to develop VO2 max on an upward progression through the fall interspersed with substantial LT blocks. This development of VO2 max is early in the training plan because in cross country ski racing most races are raced at or around the lactate threshold level (high L4-L5a-b) and having a highly developed aerobic capacity will enable maximum gain in the LT blocks- the most race-specific training blocks. So in the training plan you see a VO2 max block followed by a shorter LT block and then a 4 week VO2 max block to work toward a peak in VO2 max leading into a critical 6 week LT block. I am looking forward to seeing what transpires as my measured VO2 max as a young competitive road cyclist was in the low 80’s. My Garmin 920 watch has a VO2 max estimator*  that tells me my VO2 max is now about 72- a figure that I think is way too high- but at least I have a baseline of VO2 max estimation from a traditional periodization protocol to compare with what happens with this block periodization.

The final pre-race season block is a 6 week LT block to bring LT ability to a near maximum level. In this block I will be working toward about 1 hour in total LT work per LT session. I have regularly completed 3 X 15 minute LT workouts in the past year but I would like to work toward 3 X 20 minute sessions. All of these sessions will be either uphill running at about 10% grade or as bounding sessions up steeper hills with poles. At the beginning and end of this 6 week LT block there will be a LT test to monitor any gains. Having a fully developed LT ability/energy system is critical to going into the race season prepared and confident. The plan is designed around ensuring that this has a high probability of coming to pass.

L1040343

This race season I hope to be racing approximately every weekend in one form or another (either at a competitive race or in time trails on race courses). Between races will be training sessions focused on fitness maintenance and “sharpening” for individual race-specific “needs”. More on in-season training will be presented in a separate post.

Training plan microstructure

The daily planning is critical to succeeding with any otherwise well-conceived training plan. This day-to-day grind planning and attending to the necessary adjustments is what makes a coach valuable. Having a coach is an advantage that a “lone wolf” athlete does not have. One should, after an evaluation of all aspects of an individual’s situation, consider engaging with an experienced coach. The time commitment alone may justify any cost. Just something to consider.

The types of individual pre-snow training session workouts that are utilized here include activities such as trail running, trail mountain biking (MTB), roller skiing (primarily double pole), mountain hiking and adventuring, hill bounding with poles, uphill running repeats, and on-trail rolling interval runs and tempo runs.

I find that,  from a musculo-skeletal perspective, running workouts are best suited to classic technique and that MTB workouts are best suited to skate technique . This is because the whole-body motion in each of these is most similar to a particular technique. For instance typical mountain trail MTB involves significant transient high power application just as is extant in skate technique skiing and mountain trail running involves a more steady and uniform application of a lower level of power as is extant in classic technique skiing. So mixing these types of workouts will allow for a equanimiable progression in musculo-skeletal development and associated cardiovasular support. Likewise for a specialist in, say, classic technique, sticking with running-type workouts might be a prudent path to improvement under circumstances of limited time to train.

This bring us to the question of how much training time. As noted, this is an individual thing and one that cannot be proscribed, particularly for older athletes. For me, I have found that a total training time (including cardio, strength, and technique) of between 15 and 22 hours per week is supportable and successful over the long term. Occasionally I will put in a 28-32 hour week but they are very limited. But everyone is different and one must figure this out for themselves since it is essential to know what is supportable in order to be able to plan.

I will not present any detailed daily training specifics here since any such information needs to be specific to an individual and their respective background, ability, and commitment. I will however point out a system that has worked well for me when it comes to planning daily training- a weekly training cycle that is repeated and becomes habit. For me this has meant a daily training plan that, with a traditional periodization, takes the following format:

Sunday: long run/long ski/roller ski

Monday: easy/off

Tuesday: intervals

Wednesday: long run/long ski/roller ski or Tempo ski

Thursday: easy/off

Friday: intervals

Saturday: Flex

The specific workouts are designed around the focus of the periodization cycle. Sessions can be easily adjusted for different foci in the periodization and the Saturday “flex” session is essentially a catch-up if anything goes wrong during the week.

In the case of Block Periodization (BP) here, a similar pattern will be used with the minor adjustment that, for example, within the endurance block the interval sessions will be replaced by “long run/long ski/roller ski” or “long MTB”, depending on what is best for the session goal. Likewise, during the VO2 max and LT blocks the “long run/long ski/roller ski” or “tempo run/tempo ski/roller ski” is replaced by a third weekly interval session. The specific endurance, VO2 max, and LT workouts can be varied to try to minimize any “burnout” associated with repetitive training. For instance, in the endurance block through August much of the training will be accomplished exploring the inner canyons of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. These “hikes”/runs involve a lot of off-piste way-finding up steep mountainsides above treeline for many hours- perfect endurance training for cross country skiing! … and not the least bit repetitive and boring. Similarly,  mixing up the VO2 max and LT interval sessions to include some very different locales and terrain will go a long way toward making all of these sessions enjoyable- even though they will be physically tough or even “brutal”.

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Sawtooth Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains – one of the gateways to the spectacular inner canyons and the “Sawtooth Traverse” from Redfish Lake to the Sawtooth Lodge.

Strength and technique training

Contemporaneous with the cardiovascular training outlined above are strength training and technique development. As these are very important elements, I will devote separate posts to these subjects. In fact, it is important to point out that the cardio portion of the training plan above will not be sufficient to get one to the starting line as fit and as competitive as one can be- this can only happen if strength and technique are separately, but in concert with the cardiovascular training, developed. So stay tuned.

*The Garmin/FirstBeat VO2 max estimator methodology is documented  in this white paper.

The Road to Klosters 2017 – Overview

klosters logo
"To plot, to take aim at something, to shape time and space. 
This is how we advance the art of human consciousness."
Murray to Jack in "White Noise" by Don Delillo

Note: This is Part 1 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 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 for 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, packing for an international ski race., and the wrap-up after the competition.

 

background

With solid plans (i.e. paid airline tickets and hotel reservations with deposits) to compete in the 2017 World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in Klosters/Davos Switzerland I will be putting up a series of posts over the next 9 months on my preparations for getting to the starting line as fit and competitive as is possible for this 60 year old rapidly aging athlete. This is the first installment. Look for others to follow.

I am not a professional coach, nor do I have any certifications (which I find to be dubious anyway). I do read a lot and I currently compete regularly year round in Cross Country Skiing, trail running, and trail ultra running. I have a coach, my wife (who is also not a professional coach), and we are both former elite-level endurance athletes (in Cross Country Skiing, Road Cycling, and Cross Country Mountain Biking). We are bringing over 80 years of combined knowledge and experience in training at the elite and sub-elite level for national, international, and Olympic-level competitions to bear on our individualized training programs. What we do, and what I might describe here, is not intended to be a recommendation for anyone else as we are all individuals with very different backgrounds, abilities, and commitments. As in any athletic endeavor, one should be fully aware of their capacities and have the consultation of a professional to guide them when embarking upon a training regimen. In fact, it is clear that no one should do what we do for training as all training programs should be personalized. My purpose here is to document the build-up to the Klosters Championship by applying known, sound physiologic principles to a training program designed for me. Others may find the information of interest to varying degrees.

As for cross country skiing, although there is some spotty information, numerous dated books, and a lot of disorganized thoughts available out in the published world, it does not amount to much. One source for thoughts on training for cross country skiing that has a good base of historical information is at NordicSkiRacer. Some of the links are broken but overall this is a good place to look around for some input on your own training program. The coaching manuals from the US Ski Association (Level 1 and Level 2) are also a good source but are, obviously, focused upon the developing and/or young athlete.

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developing a training program

Any training program should have an articulated conceptual “philosophy” and an overarching structure that addresses the approach. This is what I will describe in this post.

No reliable conceptual training “philosophy” can be conjured up out of  a vacuum of knowledge and experience; similarly, such a “philosophy” will be highly informed by the knowledge and experience of the author. Therefore my “philosophy” is a result of many years of competing as well as having read over 100 books on athletic endurance, strength, and mental training in numerous competitive sports. Expectedly, there are a few core books that I will refer to when speaking to training program development and execution. Given that I am a 60 year old competitor, the unique application of endurance and strength training physiology and protocols to older athletes will be central to a successful outcome.

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Photo credit: Teton Ridge Classic Ski Race – link

There is a singular book that I highly recommend for understanding the diminished physiologic capacity of older endurance athletes: Fast After 50 by Joe Friel. If you read but one book on training for older athletes, this is the one you should read. The content of this book has highly influenced the “philosophy” and the detailed specifics of the training program that we have developed for ourselves as we go forward toward the Klosters starting line.

Among other books that I have found invaluable and will frequently refer to are:

Lore of Running

Total Heart Rate Training

Training for the New Alpinism

Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

The Lydiard Foundation – free material no longer available

Racing Weight

The Power of Habit

In Pursuit of Excellence

Focus

80/20 Running

How Bad Do You Want It

Other books as well as peer-reviewed references will be used to support concepts, protocols, and detailed training progressions. Please comment if you have questions or if you have something to constructively add.

Training “philosophy”

Before delving into the specifics of the unique physiologic realities of an older endurance athlete and what sort of training “philosophy” might be effective, there is one overarching basic principle that applies to anyone who is engaging in a serious training regimen:

The Big “C” and the Capital “R” – Consistency and Recovery

Consistency (The Big “C”) and Recovery (The Capital “R”) are the foundational basis for any successful training plan. Progression will only result if one is consistent in their training and that sufficient recovery is observed prior to additional training stimulus. Seems obvious, right? Well, these are the two most difficult things for an overwhelming majority of serious athletes to adhere to. Maintaining consistency in the face of needed recovery is a difficult thing to balance for even the most highly motivated athletes with plenty of time to train and is particularly difficult  when one has other significant stressors in their life and/or is an older (50+) athlete. So while The Big “C” and the Capital “R” appear obvious and seem to be simple to do, reality has a way of making it one of the most difficult challenges in athletic training . This balance is magnified in training for endurance sports since the training stimuli can be very taxing to the endocrine system.

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For many, attaining good balance between The Big “C” and The Capital “R” essentially comes down to significant lifestyle decisions like commitment to things such as sufficient high quality sleep, limiting other “extracurricular” activities, “healthy” eating, limited or no alcohol intake, prioritizing down time, etc. For each there will be a different balance so no recommendations are offered here, nor has anyone perfected this- it is an infinite optimization problem that one can only continually chip away at. But this is not to diminish the importance of consistency and recovery- if you accomplish just one thing, being consistent in your training and ensuring sufficient recovery is that one thing. All that follows assumes training consistency and sufficient recovery.

Ordinal Training principles for older endurance athletes

Let’s start with a quote from Friel in the book “Fast After 50” p. 108:

“This brings us back to the big three- the primary determiners of
performance decline with age according to sport science. To refresh 
your memory, these are declining aerobic capacity, increasing body 
fat, and loss of muscle mass.”
Joe Friel in "Fast After 50"

In the book Friel uses a raft of peer-reviewed studies and basic physiological understanding to found this conclusion. His summary statement is also consistent with my own experience and that of many other older endurance athletes that I have interacted with. These are the “big three” training elements that any older endurance athlete needs to address- first and foremost. I further refine these and give them an ordinal character functional with a specific sport. For Cross Country Skiing I use the following order of importance for the “big three”:

  1. loss of muscle mass
  2. declining aerobic capacity
  3. increasing body fat

It is well documented that as we age we loose muscle mass, it is known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia has origins in decreased hormone production. Significantly lower levels of  testosterone and estrogen, growth hormone, and insulinlike growth factor are evident in most individuals. On the positive side there are studies that have shown that such muscle loss can be slowed, stopped, or even reversed if one engages in a strength program of sufficient volume and intensity- a “use it or loose it” paradigm. Including strength training in a cross country skiing training program is essential to progression since not only is one’s power production dependent on muscle strength, one’s technique and efficiency are also critically dependent on the same muscle strength (and endurance).

I will argue, assuming a highly developed aerobic fitness capacity, that in the past decade Cross Country Skiing has become an upper body and core strength-dominant sport. Not to say that leg strength is not important but rather that, building upon optimal aerobic fitness, upper body and core strength are the most important elements in successful racing. Among many other examples, this is evidenced by, for example, winning World Cup skiers double poling entire 10 km – 30 km classic races that contain steep hills. This can be achieved only with a ridiculously strong upper body and core. Here is what H. C. Holmberg has to say about the subject in a recent publication:

"The revolutionary increase in the use of the DP technique has many 
causes including better preparation/grooming of ski tracks, marked 
improvement of equipment (both the poles and gliding properties of 
the skis), greater upper-body strength and endurance, and substantial 
biomechanical improvements."

So, although there are other factors, upper-body strength and endurance are critical, and I would additionally argue that such strength and endurance is, in fact, enabling. Given that the double pole (DP) technique is critical to V2 skating and that the same bio-mechanics for superior DP also lead to superior V1 and V1 alt, the importance of upper-body and core strength cannot be questioned. In fact, the emergence of the US Women’s Cross Country Ski Team at the top of the World Cup in the past 5 years is directly associated with a focus by the team on upper body and core strength development following in the path of a similar focus that has been in place with the dominant Norwegian Men’s and Women’s team for over a decade. This is why I have “loss of muscle mass” as the number one training focus for older cross country skiing athletes- it is one of the capacities that is most detrimentally affected with age and it is arguably the most important part of successful competitive cross country skiing. This is also why all training programs  for older athletes need to address the fact that we are loosing muscle mass and to, therefore, include substantial strength training elements- elements that take precedence over even aerobic, aerobic capacity, and technique training. Without the upper-body and core strength one’s technique and efficiency will suffer. Just spend a few minutes looking around at your next ski race or at the Nordic Center in your area- you will see poor technique and the associated collapsing cores and noodle-like  “chicken wing” arms all around you. Currently, strength training does not play the central role that it should in cross country skiing, at least in the US.  I will have a separate post on cross country skiing-specific strength training for older endurance athletes.

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Moving on to the #2 most important factor for ageing athletes- aerobic capacity (VO2 max). Aerobic capacity is more substantially diminished with age than either lactate threshold (LT) or economy. Reduced aerobic capacity can be partly due to increased body weight but, for an experienced older competitive athlete, the greatest portion of the reduction  is most likely due to a slow progression away from high intensity interval training (HIIT) stimuli. It is rather easy to slowly reduce and, perhaps, eventually eliminate HIIT from your training regimen given the reputation such workouts have with respect to how difficult or “brutal” they can be. This, combined with concerns for injury during HIIT, has, in my experience, lead to a slow progression for reductions in, and for some athletes, elimination of, HIIT for many ageing athletes. But as you age, HIIT becomes of critical importance to ensuring that you slow the inevitable loss of your aerobic capacity. Studies have shown that VO2 max reductions with age can be minimized by inclusion of a regular diet of HIIT. So HIIT should play a central role in any training regimen for older athletes.

Finally we come to the subject of increasing body fat. As noted above, it is well documented that as we age there is a significant loss of muscle mass and unless we experience a coincident reduction in body weight as we age (very unusual), we are replacing that muscle with fat. There are few older athletes that maintain the same or similar weight to their most competitive days in their 20’s and early 30’s. I find that one can come close but never actually get there. In my case at 5’7″ with a slight build, I weighed 119-122 lbs (54-55.5 kg) when in the most competitive condition as a road cyclist specializing in races with lots of climbing. At 60, and competing in cross country skiing and mountain trail and mountain trail ultra running, this optimal-condition weight has climbed to 124-126 lbs (56.5-57.5 kg) for mountain trail running and, with the requisite added upper body mass, to 128-130 lbs (58-59 kg) for cross country skiing. Measured body fat in my 20’s varied from a low of 5% to a more typical 7%. These days I hover at 8-10%- a significant increase. I find that if I venture into the sub-124 lb weight range I become “crabby”, have difficulty sleeping, and become more susceptible to viruses. The same was true in earlier days when I ventured into the sub-119 lb range. I can highly recommend “Racing Weight” for guidance on this importanat subject. Weight is  a very individual thing and, for some, very personal (and bordering on “religion”), so I will not spend much time discussing the subject other than to highlight it’s importance.

So, I hope I have made a strong case for the primacy of consistency and recovery in training and for the over-riding importance, as ageing athletes, of the need to concentrate on maintaining or increasing muscle mass, maintaining or increasing aerobic capacity, and reducing body fat. Endurance and technique development are secondary to the “Big 3”. You don’t have to take my word for this, just take the time to read and absorb Friel’s book and I think you will be convinced that by focusing on the “Big 3” and developing your training plan around this concentration there will be a path to progress and improvement even as you age.

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Training plan structure
"The bigger the base, the higher the peak."
Arthur Lydiard

There are many different training plan structures that have been successfully used by endurance athletes. Many of these structures come and go in popularity but one in particular has survived the test of time- the simple periodized Lydiard approach. The basic tenet is “the bigger the base, the higher the peak” – meaning that any success is built on a substantial base of endurance training leading into more sport specific and finally, race specific training. This progression typically involves a long 12-20 week base (the “big base” ala Lydiard) followed by 8-10 week sport specific period and then a race specific period of 4-6 weeks followed, in cross country skiing, by the approximately 10-12 week “race season” of repeated race prep, between-race rest, and aerobic maintenance. I have used such a protocol for my entire life as an endurance athlete and it has worked well and allowed me to excel and regularly perform close to my best potential. I have been somewhat reticent to try any other pedagogy given not only my personal success but also the uniform acceptance of Lydiard-like training programs across the spectrum of competitive endurance sport. However, there is a recent (last 5 years) trend in endurance sports (including cross country skiing) that, along with accumulating supportive peer-reviewed studies, indicates that there may be a constructive and efficacious “tweak” that one can apply to a standard Lydiard-like plan for improved results- it is called “block periodization”. Among a number of recent publications, I reference one here that does a reasonable job at explaining what “block periodization” is as it relates to cross country skiing training as well as providing data that can be interpreted to support the advantages of a “block periodization” protocol.

Traditional Periodization (TP) differs from “Block Periodization” (BP)  in that TP mixes the development of abilities and energy systems throughout the training plan. BP has mesocycle structure that is made up of blocks of training that address, primarily, a single ability or energy system. For example while a TP plan might have weekly interval training sessions (in the sport specific training period) that mix a VO2 max session on say, Monday, with a Lactate Threshold (LT) session on Thursday, the BP plan would take a 4-6 week period and focus on VO2 max and then follow that up with a similar (or longer, depending on the sport and the specialization of the athlete) LT “block”. The argument for this being a better approach is that by concentrating on single energy systems or abilities one can wring out every last bit of improvement that would be possible with a given athlete. The other part of a BP program that is appealing is that the macrostructure is tuned to the race season where the block progression starts with the least race-specific work transitioning into the most race-specific work. So for cross country skiing you would likely see a progression that has an endurance block followed by a VO2max block and then finishing with a LT block. This progression makes sense because the endurance base is critical to giving the athlete the ability to handle the difficult VO2 max work and then the LT block provides race-specific preparation since cross country ski races are typically raced at threshold (or just above threshold). Similarly, for mountain trail ultra running an effective progression might have an early season VO2 max block followed by a LT block and finishing with a race-specific endurance block since ultra running races are typically run at endurance-level effort (L2-low L3).

I have been experimenting with BP this running season and have developed enough confidence in the efficacy of the approach that I am proceeding with a BP protocol for the upcoming ski training and racing season. The grapevine indicates that some of the top cross country skiing national teams are adopting, to varying degrees, BP-like training programs. Not that this trend with current elite athletes would necessarily make sense for a 60 year old has-been but, given my personal experience, BP does seem to potentially give enhanced results for the same training commitment. Only time will tell.

I will also note here that Jason Koop and Jim Rutberg in their book “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning” do a great job of outlining and applying the principles of BP for ultrarunning. It is straightforward to modify their approach to cross country skiing. This is the only current source of a comprehensive guide to BP for endurance sport that I am aware of and I highly recommend that, if you are interested in BP, that you read the book.

I have spoken with two recent US Cross Country Skiing Olympians and they have both experimented with block periodization and both have had issues with going into the long race season energized. The very challenging pre-race season VO2max  and LT blocks can, if not properly dosed, lead to diminished returns. Both have returned to traditional mixed periodization. I will be keeping a close eye on this going forward.

In the next post I will present the macrostructure of my training program and outline detailed training plans for the next few months (July-December) using a BP protocol with a Lydiard-like progression.

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A few words about “grit” and motivation

Any commitment of substance is based upon individual motivation and some will argue that completion of any challenging commitment will take “grit”.  You have probably read articles and commentary on the importance of “grit” in training for and competing in endurance sports. No one actually does a good job of defining what ‘grit” is- even Duckworth in her recent book “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance” fails to do so. I think this is because grit is a derivative descriptor and not an actual thing. For me “grit” is the actualization of motivation. It is not that one is “gritty” or that “grit” is genetic or that “grit” is learned, but rather that “grit” derives from motivation- either extrinsic motivation or intrinsic motivation or, likely, some combination thereof. The origin of “grittiness” is motivation and motivation is a very complex thing, one that may be the subject of future post. But suffice it to say that we know when we are motivated and we know what motivates us (so long as we are willing to be truthful with ourselves about the subject). The important point here is that motivation is another basic, foundational, part of any training program. Given the commitment needed to succeed in any challenging training regimen, it is well worth while to go about understanding what your motivation is and making sure that first, you are, in fact, motivated, and second, that you are fully behind those reasons that currently motivate you and, third, that these reasons are “durable” (meaning that the reasons are not subject to significant change in the foreseeable future). There will be little value in embarking upon a difficult and challenging training regimen only to find that your motivation is waning or that circumstances have lead to highly diminished motivational support for the daily grind. Be sure you are ready to commit and then commit. None of this is easy and it will always take a high level of commitment and enthusiasm that can only originate in authentic motivation- know yourself so you can freely release the energy needed to attain your goals.

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