September-October Training

Can you feel the tingle in the air, the hint that summer is over and fall is here and winter is coming?  Is your training transitioning to fall just the way you want it to, or are you like Petter Northug, who is planning to race the Ski Classics marathon series and says, "I need more speed and more endurance.  I need 200 more hours of training."  You and me both, brother.  Lots of information below, so wherever you are on the training spectrum, hopefully you can find something that resonates and gets you out the door as the days grow shorter and cooler.  See you out there!

Professional coach, mid-pack marathon racer nationally and internationally


Last weekend I was coaching at a high school cross-country meet in Salt Creek when I noticed a student athlete with a T-shirt that said “attitude is free”.  This made my day as the shirt speaks volumes for all of us trying to live our best lives!  The point is, each day and all day long you decide what your attitude is going to be.  When you wake up for your morning run, swim, bike or ski…you decide what your attitude is going to be.  However, there is evidence that should you develop a trend of bad attitudes towards training you may be over-training and fatigue is impacting that attitude.  As I have mentioned in a previous writing, cherish the journey and do it with joy!


Front of the pack, overall and age group podium, all distances


Work has been crazy the last 2 weeks and I'm barely hanging on.  Honestly, my focus is similar to August. I have started running a little bit [after an injury] and my goal is to jump into some short trail running races in November (5k). Strength - 8-10 sessions a month, yoga- 4 or more sessions a month, one long 2-hour plus hiking session a week, and I'm hoping I can start with short runs with some quality added in (short hill repeats and strides).


Middle of the pack overall, age group podium, World Masters distances


 I am basically still following my summer plan (see June training, i.e. walking, biking or running every day, walking and running often with poles; going long one of the days and hard at least two of the days each week) but now one of my three higher-level activity days per week includes an interval workout: 5 -7 times up a steep 90-second hill, and I am adding in one ski erg workout each week as I head for serious ski erg activity by the end of October. And I am river/stream fly fishing off and on this month and next month and I include that as a workout (hah!!).


Completely mediocre marathon mom


As I sit down to write this, I am seven weeks from my first day on skis for the season.  Since my training motto is "only do it if it is fun", I tend to think of fall as the season for getting stronger and fitter so I can ski longer and faster as soon as I get a chance.  Here are some things I'm glad I did this summer and some things I'm thinking about for fall.


I got over my terror of roller skiing (sort of).  Did I really just anonymously confess to the internet that I'm terrified of roller skiing?  "Real skiers" aren't supposed to be scared of roller skiing, but it's true -- roller skiing is intimidating.  That pavement is hard when you fall.  And when you go out, all the people you see on roller skis are intense dudes with tons of muscles and no body fat.  Not a ton of middle age mamas, that's for sure.  But here's the thing....  roller skiing is a great way for mediocre athlete mamas like me to get ready for the season.  A) it can be fun, B) it is a great way to work on technique, and C) it helps you build strength that is hard to build in other ways (unless you are a masochist who actually uses a ski erg).  This fall I'm using roller skiing as another option on my low intensity days.  And on days when I just can't get over the terror of the tarmac (the panic of the pavement?), I find it helpful to just do a double pole workout because it helps me feel much more stable (less prone to death) while still being a productive workout.


I really worked on building strength and mobility to improve my balance.  Some of this was adjusting my strength workouts to include more single-leg plyometric exercises that involve jumping and landing on one leg from various angles.  Some of this was yoga to open up my hips and shoulders so I can transition from my desk life to my outside life better.  As we get into fall, I'm increasing the length and (when I can) the frequency of strength workouts. 


I'm starting to add bounding back into the rotation on my high intensity days. Bounding -- especially uphill -- is a great way to get your heart rate up during high intensity intervals.  I started with four two-minute intervals and am gradually increasing the number and duration of the intervals as I get stronger and fitter.  The key to success is stopping before you get to the "junky interval" stage when you are too tired to actually keep up form and speed.


Now that snow is on the horizon, I'm trying to pick up the intensity and duration of my training when I can.  And I'm really just thinking about "no junk workouts".  That means using high-intensity days for intense workouts, and using low-intensity days to recover and work on roller skiing technique (and terror management). As long as I follow my motto of "only do it if its fun", I feel like I can be ready to go when the snow hits the ground.

Middle of the pack overall, Kongsberger skate races only (for now!)

I'm mostly going on long hikes (over distance training?) 1/week and gym 3-4 x/week.  I'm afraid my "nordic ski training" is not terribly disciplined, and is mostly just about trying to get a semi-regular work out in -- not really geared to nordic skiing! 


Worldloppet Coach


1. Increase the intensity.  For skiers of all abilities, doing two interval sessions per week is ideal. One can be longer and more focused on your lactate threshold (think sustainable effort for 45-60 minutes). One should be more focused on high-intensity and shorter intervals. Think 10-15 minutes of total time spent in the high-intensity zone or on speed work. For a longer, slower interval session, aim for 30-40 minutes of time spent at a higher intensity to start. Build up to 45-60 minutes over the fall. Maybe even longer depending on your goals! Two intensity workouts I really like: 1) 4-5x 8 minutes at Lactate Threshold with 4 minutes of recovery. 2) 6×2 minutes at Maximal Effort with 2 minutes of recovery. If you live at higher elevation, I would recommend slightly longer rest.

2. Structure your training around your planned races  Is your primary race the Vasaloppet China in January? Or is it the Fossavatansgangan in Iceland in April? Depending on when you are targeting to be racing your best will influence how you structure fall training. If your primary race is later in the season, you want to keep high volume late into the fall and even into the winter. That means doing 2 sessions some days and using the weekend to still get some longer workouts in. If you are planning to be at your best in January, you should increase the amount of high intensity you are doing in the fall months. That will help your body be more prepared to go hard early on in the winter!

3. Use your upper body more.  It is easy to get out to run, bike, and hike during the summer and when it is warmer. Definitely keep doing those things! But whether you are doing a freestyle marathon or classic marathon, upper body endurance is important in fall training for skiers. This comes from doing double pole workouts and strength workouts. In the gym, pull ups, tricep dips, plank, and other upper body exercises should be included in your program. If you have rollerskis, using them for double poling is a great workout. You can use skate or classic rollerskis to double pole on. If you don’t have rollerskis, or don’t like it, do a workout on a SkiErg or Ercolina at least once a week. If you are planning on double poling a race, you should definitely be doing more than just one double pole session a week!

4. Increase specificity.  In the fall, it is good to do more exercise that is similar to skiing. Do intervals on rollerskis or running with poles. Add specific strength exercises. Do jumps that are similar to skate skiing. Or add some plyometric jumps into the start of a running workout. There are plenty of good options to add specific ski work into your training sessions. Strength and speed work are good ways to effectively incorporate ski-specific movements in your training.

5. Stay healthy.  This might be obvious. But when the weather is cooling down and we are exercising outdoors it is easier to get sick. Wear warm clothes to workout in. It is better to be a little too warm than too cold. It takes energy to keep ourselves warm. If you don’t finish a workout at home, make sure you have dry and warm clothes to put on. It also is good to refuel after intensity sessions or longer sessions (longer than 90 minutes). This helps our body replenish energy and be ready for the next session.

Generally, make sure you are eating a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you do feel like you are starting to be excessively tired or run down, take a day off. It is better to take 1-2 days off for rest than to get sick and have to take a whole week off to get healthy!

Olympic Cross Country Skier

In last month's August post I introduced the idea of power training.  Well, September IS power training. It's all about INTERVALS. Days are getting shorter, leaves are changing color.... heck, there may even be some frost on your windshield in the morning.... If you haven't already gotten out your bounding poles, this is the time to do it!  
Typically my strengths lie in medium to long aerobic efforts (give me a 30-minute slightly uphill race and I'm happy!) but my desire is to improve things like my double pole finish or my jump skate for skate sprints.  Raw speed and power is becoming more and more important as there are more mass start races and sprint races.  The days of the old, traditional interval start racing seem to be disappearing and it's important to adapt to the times if you want to perform well. 

Okay, so what kinds of workouts am I talking about specifically? Here are a couple of interval sessions that we've done lately: 
•    10 x 1.5 minutes bounding with poles (speed/L5)
•    4-6 x 4 minutes bounding with poles (Vo2max/L4)
•    10 x 1 minute skate roller ski uphill (speed/L5)
•    4-6 x 3 minutes skate roller ski, rolling terrain (Vo2max/L4)
•    12 x 45 seconds uphill double pole roll (speed)
•    Fartlek/rolling intervals, 15, 30, 45, 60 seconds x 4 with the aforementioned interval every three minutes (speed) 

A typical power week will have 2-3 speed sessions and 2 L4 sessions. Often, the speed session comes before the Vo2max session with the theory that faster work needs to be done when the body is freshest. So, Monday could be speed, Tuesday could be L4, Wednesday is active recovery (L1) and then Thursday is speed, Friday is L4, etc. Our team chooses to lift in the afternoons after hard interval sessions, ie, the L4 days.   Our strength workouts have three primary components: jumping, strength and core.   

With the additional stress of more intervals, it's usually necessary to bring down one's overall volume. Sometimes this can be hard to swallow as I know that some athletes, myself included, have a tendency to want to train MORE all the time.  But it's important to note that more is not always better, especially in the case of heavy intensity blocks.  While the training itself is important, making sure that your body is physically capable of doing the specific work is equally, if not more important.  If your foot is hurting (for example) many skiers will have a tendency to "work through the pain" rather than address it.  Unfortunately this is the exact wrong thing to do. It's imperative to differentiate being gritty in races and workouts and being proactive when it comes to pain that may inhibit you further down the road.