Friday, August 28, 2009

The Darkness of Ignorance

With so few people participating in ski mountaineering competitions in the US, there is essentially no published information on training for the sport. Last year I asked Steve Romeo, publisher of and one of the best randonee racers in the US, if he had any training suggestions for rando racing.

His answer was fairly simple. In summary: let your recreational backcountry skiing be your over-distance training and do some intervals for speed. I asked if he did any resistance training. Steve said, "only in the very early season." And the only exercise he did was to put on a pack full of weight and step up onto a stair.

Steve was kind enough to publicly ask on his blog for me if anyone had any workout suggestions for a knowledge hungry racer like myself. The responses were comically useless. It's safe to say that people suggesting massive amounts of push-ups have no experience with ski mountaineering racing. There were a few people that seemed to be selling their own copyrighted workout programs. One told me that if I did his program I would become "ripped in no time." Referring to his program, another ordered me to, "Learn it. Live it. Love it." For real.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to document what I'm doing to train and share what works and what doesn't. I want to accumulate a body of workouts for people to reference and to collect the wisdom that racers have collected with their successes and triumphs. Hopefully we'll find some Europeans to share. They certainly have training programs entirely specified for randonee racing.

For now, lets see if any Americans will share with us. If you have ever finished in the top ten at the National Championships in Jackson, Wyoming, these questions are directed at you. What sports do you borrow workout programs from? By programs I mean pre-season and season-long outlines for training. Marathoning and nordic skiing seem to be the most logical. What are the benefits and drawbacks from taking workout programs from these sports? Most racers that I've informally asked about training have told me that they like trail running and scrambling up peaks in the autumn to get ready to race. That's what I had been doing, but the most educated people I've met in sports science have told me that those things will only benefit a rando racer if done sparingly.

Successful racers, help pull the rest of us out of the darkness of ignorance.

Sweating in the Desert

It's hard not laugh at yourself poling along in the sagebrush in an effort to get fit for skiing. When I think of ski mountaineering I think of alpine terrain, above tree line, cold air and clean snow. Today I dodged cactus and sunk my feet into sand. I was dripping sweat in the near 80 degree air.

Sue took me to a trail that climbs about 1,500 ft in around two miles. We ski walked it at race pace. Sue logged a personal best on this course she uses as a "time trial," sort of a benchmark to assess her training. She came in at 34:15. I stunned myself and finished only four minutes behind her at 38:19. I think I did well because it felt so much like rando racing.

My favorite part of the workout came after our warmup and before the ski walking time trial. Sue and I did some sprints (just running, no ski poles), 10 seconds at about 80% max and then into 10 seconds at 95% of maximum speed. It was my favorite because it was the first time I beat Sue at anything in five or six workouts. I can probably beat Sue at anything that doesn't require any skill or technique.

Okay, technique... I have questions for the randonee racers out there. I noticed Sue and myself breaking with the nordic diagnol poling technique of poling with each step. When the terrain on the trail became too rocky or narrow we would move our poles independently of our legs. Our poles would come too far forward, breaking with another nordic technique rule. I've noticed myself doing this in competition on snow. I'm wondering whether this is simply a fact of working with uneven terrain which isn't encountered in nordic racing. Anyone else move two steps for each pole plant? Should this be avoided at all costs? Embraced? Used only when necessary?

Train in August, Win in January?

I gave myself the months of June, July and August as a mental break. I stayed active, mostly rock climbing, but never structured a workout. As of August 14th training is back.

I was making plans to go climbing with my friend Sue. I mentioned that I'd rather do some alpine climbing rather than sport cragging as it would be better training for randonee racing. She asked a lot of questions about racing and seemed really interested. Then she said maybe we ought to do a workout together and explained that she essentially lives for nordic racing. Turns out that she is a world class competitor at the masters level. She trains six days a week- often multiple times a day. We both realized on the phone that there was going to be a partnership formed here.

We blew off climbing and decided to go roller skiing. I was pretty sure I was going to be awesome at it in no time. I was the opposite of awesome. I looked like a new-born giraffe learning to walk. I fell when there was no reason to fall. I'm surprised Sue was willing to roller ski with me a second time. Teaching me to roller ski is a task requiring so much patience that it should be reserved for people with no employment, no friends or personal commitments and mastery of advanced meditative practices. I'll write more about our roller skiing workouts, nay- adventures soon.

I've been doing some light intensity trail runs to ease myself back into cardio workouts. I like them long and slow. And scenic. Without me telling Sue this she said to me, "You'll never get fast trail running." Hmm. That's disappointing because that's what I like. That's what I did last summer and fall to train for racing. That's what I planned to do this year as well. Trying to win some points for my program I told Sue about my big, long days spent running and scrambling up peaks. She informed me that those workouts lasted so far over what my races take that most of those long days were detrimental to my race performances.

So today I realized I'll probably be doing a lot of shorter, higher intensity workouts and I'm not really psyched about it. All modern sports science supports what Sue says so I'll be following her advice, but I don't plan on liking it. What I do plan is a lot of long trail runs on days where Sue's schedule doesn't line up with mine.

Today Sue showed me some ski walking techniques. She showed me a trail that she likes to use for ski walking workouts as it has a nice moderate pitch to work against. I thought I would be better at ski walking than roller skiing because last year I spent a lot of time power hiking and trail running with nordic poles. I was wrong. I suck at ski walking too. Here's Sue doing it correctly.

To better understand what I'm doing wrong I took some video and still shots of Sue ski walking and asked her to take video and stills of me. It's an awesome tool. I haven't even sat down with Sue to have her point things out and already I see a lot of things I can correct. Here's me ski walking like a goober.
We have a time set tomorrow for her to kick my ass on a ski walking "time trial." Sue said it takes her between 34 and 43 minutes. Hopefully I'll keep it under an hour.