Thursday, May 16, 2013

Scott Simmons, one of my racing heroes and member of the 2013 US Natl Ski Team.  You dont get there without training!
Skimo racing is a demanding sport.  Ive never suffered so long at a high level as when Im in a race.  I guess that is part of the fun.  It sure feels great to have moved so far so fast!  After the inevitable first race smackdown where you realize traditional backcountry gear is not going to do it for you and the gear mayhem settles down, you probably realized something like a 8 ft/min or stated another possibly less useful way .5 mph gain.  For example, in my first race I completed the course in 2:11 on traditional gear.  Based off my speed in the second race I entered which was on light (enough) gear I would have completed that first race in 1:51.  Or at least that is what happened to me. 

Let me go on a tangent here and state one of my goals is to get fast enough to compete in the Crested Butte Skimo race in the Race class.  And I don't want to be last!  You gotta have goals and they should be ambitious but attainable!  Why this race and the "race class" caveat?  Well, look at any picture of racers going up the Guides Ridge and who wouldnt want to race up that?  You only get to do it in the Race class though.

Back on track, I looked at my times in other races after I had the light gear and was doing some skimo-specific days in the mountains.  My race finish times were ones I was pretty happy with (3rd in the rec class at Crested Butte, 13tth out of 57 in the Vail Mtn Gamed "Advanced" (aka Intermediate) class. I thought I was on track to my goal.  THEN I was crushed to see that my times, assuming I could keep them up for a race half again as long, would place me either dead last or close to it in the Race class for these races.  Closely examine the previous pace assumption and Im guessing Id be cut part way through the Race class races at the time cutoffs.  Ouch!

I decided if I had to train, Id better train smart since I don't have the luxury of time. Here is what I found.

After a LOT of surfing, it seems that Id better train for skimo races in the summer and the best way to do that is following a general training plan for ultra runners.  Skimo races are about as long (time wise) as marathons but all the up/down is more like trail running.  Most ultras are a lot longer so at lower intensity but do include up/down running and then there is the fact many accomplished skimo racers are competitive trail runners in the summer.  Good enough for me!

Most (of the few blogs and sites that discuss skimo) are written with an eye towards competitive finishes in the Race class. I seem to see two types of advice that obviously apply to them but not me.  First is a training rule of thumb Ive seen on a couple of sites states that you should spend 15 hours per week training if you want to maximize your race results as a mere mortal.  If I followed that advice either my boss or wife would kill me.  Don't get me wrong, it would be wonderful to train that much but completely not realistic for me.  Since I don't want to podium that isn't a big deal.  However, it does emphasize to me that more is better.  I try my best to do as much as I can and know its never enough so don't skimp if I have a choice.

The second type of advice deals with periodization.  I just dont have the bandwidth, time or schedule to take that on.  Or maybe Im just a slacker?  Who knows.  Bottom line, I want to be fit enough all the time to do anything I get the opportunity to do.  I need a workout that is easy to remember and accomplishes this.

One other thing I see on most of the sites Ive come across is a focus on heart rate based training.  This is GREAT advice for mortals!  I was amazed how inconsistent my running pace was.  Ive run most of my life and thought I had a pretty decent feel for how I run.  Turns out I was wrong.  The focus of the workouts below all rely on a lot of low intensity training to build endurance.  It is pretty cool.  You finish these longer runs feeling like you really did some work but its sustained effort, not agonizing effort.  THere are a lot of concepts that factor in to the run plan such as lactate threshold and VO2 max and such but Ive fount that the one thing you have to do is figure out your max heart rate with a running test (arm chair formulas are VERY inaccurate).  Basically, with heart rate monitor strapped on, warm up, burn a lap on the track, recover, burn another, recover, burn another.  Each one as fast as you can.  You will reach a heart rate you cant get past.    Simple. 

Get your resting heart rate some morning, remember how old you are and go to this page to calculate your heart rate zones.  You will see there are choices.  Heart rate zones are apparently an inexact science no matter how authoritative the book or web guru is...
Next, try your workout within the appropriate heart rate zone and kind of see how it "feels".  Sounds weird but this blog,  Endurance Training In Progress has a good explanation.  I used it to determine which version of heart rate zones were right for me.  It was totally not where I thought it would be but it "feels" right.

Next, the workouts.

First, one from SLC Sherpa which I really like as a general guide and rarely follow anywhere near perfectly.  However, it has the structure I need. I have modified it some from the original.
  1. Easy: 60-90 min @ zone 2
  2. Hard: Intervals (4-6 min x 4-8 sets OR 100 ft vert x 4-6 sets) @ zone 5
  3. Easy: 60-90 min @ zone 2
  4. Hard: Threshold 2-4x20 min @ zone 4 with 10 min recoveries
  5. Easy: 60-90 min @ zone 2
  6. Long: 1.5 to double race vert/time (minimum 90 min) @ zone 1
  7. Rest
Second, one from SLC Samurai (I guess SLC guys like skimo blogging more than others???) is another good workout.

  1. Monday - rest
  2. Tuesday - 1-2 hrs, intensity (intervals or lactate threshold ie zone 4 or 5)
  3. Wednesday - 1-2 hrs, endurance/recovery (zone 2)
  4. Thursday - 1-2 hrs, intensity (intervals or lactate threshold ie zone 4 or 5)
  5. Friday - rest or endurance/recovery (zone 2)
  6. Saturday/Sunday - 8 hrs mixed endurance and intensity or race
There you go, the two best plans Ive seen for the everyman/woman. 


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