This season is the first season I have prepared (and I use that term loosely) and followed a structured training plan for skimo racing. Thanks to my world class endurance think tank, I have put together a structure that has been beneficial and has led to some improvement. My think tank and mentors include Bart "Apollo Creed" Gillespie, Billy "Olympic Gold Medalist" Demong (I see into the future -- trust me), and Bad A$$ Brian Harder. These guys are great athletes and more importantly have a good understanding of endurance training. They have reduced my learning curve dramatically.
Since skimo racing is a newer sport and a fringe sport, there really isn't a lot of written discussion on how to train. A lot is unknown and a lot of voodoo is required. But given the demands of a skimo race, for the most part, basic principles of endurance training apply. Here are a few of my thoughts and theories on how to train for skimo racing.
- Periodization. As with other disciplines like cycling, running and nordic skiing, a training plan should include a base period, build periods, rest periods, taper periods, and peak periods. In addition to working physiologically, mentally, it's nice to break up your season into periods so that you can have short term goals, have something to look forward to, and see improvements as you continue to build up and peak.
- Volume. In any period, whether it's base, build, taper, etc., there is always a volume component. There is always the question of how much should I do? This is a complex question for lots of reasons. How much depends on who you are, how much you can handle (fitness), and what phase you are in. Too much in any phase is bad. Too little in any phase is bad. More is not always better. If you are in a base or build phase, as much as you can handle is, for the most part, good. If you are in a taper or rest phase, doing as much as you can handle is bad. Amidst this uncertain calculus, however, one principle remains true: volume -- lots of it -- is required. As Mark Twight says, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Having a job and a family makes it tough for me to get all the volume I need/can handle. This season, I have generally tried to get 10-15 hrs per week. Rest weeks and race weeks I might get less. Build weeks like last week, I might get more. For example, last week I logged nearly 20 hrs. A few of those hrs were downhill hrs at the resort with my kids. One of those days was a 10,541 foot day.
- Intensity. Like volume, intensity is always a component of each period. There is always the question of how hard should I go? It is well-proven that going as hard as you can all the time is not the proper way to train. In fact, one thing Billy has taught me and one thing that I am learning to trust is that most volume should be at low intensity. I have tried to incorporate this into my plan, but sometimes going easy is not possible, especially if you tour with Apollo Creed and Alex aka Ivan Drago. On the other hand, it is important to do high intensity workouts. Brian recently posted an interesting article about how sprint workouts benefit endurance athletes who don't sprint. In my training, except for rest and race weeks, I try to do at least two sessions at high intensity. I like doing 4 minute intervals, between 4 to 8. I also like doing steady state 20 to 30 minute intervals. The former builds speed and lactate tolerance. The latter increases threshold and efficiency at threshold.
- Specificity. In order to ski fast, whether up or down, you have to ski a lot. While it looks pedestrian, skinning requires a special technique and employs specific muscle groups. It goes without saying that, there is a lot of technique in fast ski descending. Putting in ski-specific hours is an indispensable component of training. Those hours allow you to hone technique and ultimately become more efficient. Bart is a great example of this. Of course, he has a good engine, but very few are as efficient on a mountain bike or cross bike. One tough aspect of ski training is the fact that you have to have snow to ski train, which means you have to live in the right place or you have to travel a lot.
These principles may seem pretty basic to those of you who compete. Of course, understanding them in theory and actually applying them in training are two different things. I have found it difficult to apply and to trust them. For Type A, obsessive-compulsive, psychopathic, masochistic, over-achievers (like most of you) it's hard to force yourself to take it easy. It's hard to force yourself to cut your interval session short if you are not recovered. There is a tendency to go as hard as you can as much as you can. In the end, as Billy told me a few days ago before he left for Vancouver, "you have to learn to trust yourself; you have to trust your training." That trust component may be the secret of his success.
In conclusion, I think a weekly training plan for the weekend warrior should look something like this:
Monday - rest
Tuesday - 1-2 hrs, intensity
Wednesday - 1-2 hrs, endurance/recovery
Thursday - 1-2 hrs, intensity
Friday - rest or endurance/recovery
Saturday/Sunday - 8 hrs mixed endurance and intensity or race