Monday, December 2, 2013

Me (#60) coming up on my final lap, just behind my buddy Rich in red. More on that below. Check out that POW!!!

Well, the Wolf Creek Pass skimo race was just over a week ago and I very selflessly waited until all the folks who are actual legit racers had a chance to post before I started looking at it from my totally NOT legit point of view!

Ive got a few things I want to cover so, as my English teacher told me, list the topics up front.
  • Race performance analysis based off training plan
  • Training advice from the pros
  • Pole shortening update
  • Goggles analysis
  • Race suit analysis
  • Fuel thoughts

Race Performance Analysis

So no shit, there I was, entered in the Race class for the first time. As I mentioned before, I was psyched but kind of worried Id be "the last guy". I had a plan for mere mortals going into the race and my goal for the year was a mid pack finish. Based off my training run 2 weekends ago I was going to ratchet it back possibly 10 bpm on the heart rate monitor and try to keep my muscles from failing on the final 2 laps.This meant staying in high zone 3 or low zone 4 for the first lap or two then if I had any energy left bumping it up for the final 2 laps.

Well, Mother Nature got in the way of that plan and dumped a foot or so of snow on the pass in the days preceding the race. The course got altered, shades of last year. There were 3 ups (plus the 300 ft vert uphill finish) on the Race course for a total of about 3,700 vertical ft vs the projected 4,500 vert. This was kind of a bummer since I thought Id be able to catch more folks on the longer race.  Oh well, next time.  Im not complaining about the pass getting up to 100 inches for the year so far!!! Here are some perspective shots. Plenty of smiling skimo racers in both locations regardless!

The Wolf Creek snow conditions on race day

The snow at the Wasach Citizen Series 5 days later from
Anyway, so it was a shorter course and also, something I had totally forgotten to think about, was that Id actually rested for almost a week prior to this race as opposed to training right up to the day I did my practice run. Doh! Yeah, Im a noob. Or maybe it was my kids violin lessons, wrestling, working on an online course and trying to pack for a climbing trip that we went on right after the race? Life!

When the race kicked off, I was trucking along feeling good and not looking at my heart rate.
Look ma, this is me at threshold heart rate!
 When I realized I was at threshold HR and feeling fine, I was worried but then decided Id just not let myself go those few BPM over it and see how it went. I kept it right at threshold (180 for me) for the first uphill, 176 for the second, and 174(ish) for the final lap.

My buddy, Rich (red legging guy in the top picture) hung with me on the first uphill, passed me on the first downhill, and stayed ahead for the second ascent until just shy of the top. Then, passed me AGAIN on the downhill, and on the final ascent, right after this picture, I passed him for good as I pushed to keep my HR at 175. It is a great motivator to race with a buddy you have been talking trash to all summer!

That last lap I was glad I had the monitor as I kept slipping to a 172(ish) HR and the monitor kept encouraging me to push it just a little harder. It worked great and I think that the real conclusion here is that a "close to" threshold HR is the ticket even for us "less than awesome" racers. I think that as the season progresses I will be able to keep it at or near 180 for more laps. Pretty exciting!

Once again - the poor man's HR graph. Only the peaks and valleys matter. Key here is fairly consistent heart rate for all ascents.

The result was I was just shy of mid pack! Man was I psyched. I was basically at the same rate of ascent and mph as I was at the January Crested Butte Rec race last year on a slightly easier course (rec course was ~3,200 vert over about as many miles as this Race crs). Woohoo!

So, it seems my 3(ish) hours of training per week consisting of two 1 hour zone 2 runs, one threshold workout about an hour long, possibly a 2 hour run in there on the weekend and a little leg strength training worked out (with light weight racing gear of course!) to let me achieve my goal earlier than expected.


The next thing I wanted to do was see what that "mid pack finish" really meant so here are 3 ways of looking at it.

1.  I finished 24th of 39 so just behind mid pack. I must be an "average" racer. Great but not necessarily all that informative.

2. If you look at the chart below, with finish times grouped on 2 minute intervals, Im in the 150-152 min group (red arrow) along with a guy who kept crushing me on the downhills while I caught up or almost did on the uphills. I finished on his heels- grrr! To me this grouping says that while I may have finished mid pack, the racers ahead of me visually appear fairly evenly distributed while after me it becomes a bit more erratic. My conclusion here is that I was probably near the tail end of solid Race class racers even if I was mid(ish) pack overall. Everyone after 156 minutes is probably a bunch of my "everyman" bros (who have not diligently followed my incredible advice on this blog...)!

3. OK, now Im gonna pull out the statistical analysis.  I warned you- wonkishnes ensues... Back in junior high school, I learned about the median and how it eliminates the effect of outliers which can affect the mean or average, something all too often encountered with real world data. Face it, real life is messy! I also learned about the "box and whiskers plot" which lets you look at distributions of data by "middle 50%" or interquartile range aka the most common numbers along with the upper 25% and lower 25% and visually depicting how significant the outliers are.  SORRY for the math headache but I am determined to use math to make life easier, which along with informed training is just another way to work smart not hard. Or thats what I tell myself. Anyway, the bottom line in the chart below is that Im just above the median time-wise and pretty near the middle of the middle 50% or about as middle of the pack as it gets. You can see the super tight distribution of the top racers times and the relatively large distribution of the slowest racers times here. I *think* this means that while its impossible for someone training as much (little) as me to place really high, by structuring my training to address deficiencies I could likely get up into the faster half of the interquartile range.  How cool would that be to finish a little ahead of mid pack?

So what? Well, Im interested to know what others think beyond the fact that Ive obviously got too much time on my hands and should stop typing and go train if I really want to get better.

My takeaway is that my observation above is pretty solid. A person with 3 or slightly more hours of time to work out in their average week can, with a little thought, compete at a level that puts them on the heels of some very fit folks. This is good news because the Race class courses are always way cooler with boot packs, crazy terrain, and in the case of Crested Butte, the Guide's Ridge (one of my goals!).

Additionally, I should be able to do a little better with about the same level of effort by focusing on high payoff areas. There is only so much time out there! Of course everyone else will improve too so we will see how this pans out. Ill let you know after the next race and maybe Ill do it with a bunch of graphs again...

Training Advice

 There were two phenomenon I observed during the race.

First, was the LARGE number of folks who crushed me on the first uphill who I never saw again. OK, I got it, some of them are completely amazing athletes who train 15-20 hours per week, but the speed with which so many folks left me in the dust was interesting since I knew I was going at my threshold HR and they must have been as well. How do they get so fast?

Getting left in the dust at the start which was back behind the lodge on the left.
I had the good fortune to talk to a couple of the top finishers which is one of the cool things about skimo- these folks are super friendly. Sensing I was not a threat (joke there) they threw out a few pieces of advice. The common one was lots of intensity (sprint and threshold) training such as Scott Simmons saying he does 3 days a week for different lengths sometimes AFTER a 2 hr workout. Nothing but respect.

Scott Simmons in blue putting his sprint training to good use (he finished 2nd). Note all these guys pole lengths- fairly short.

It makes sense thought that after a summer of base building, you have to focus on speed to get it dialed in. One thing that I like about doing your zone 4 and 5 intensity stuff on skis is it is WAY lower impact than running.

My second observation was that while I began passing folks on the uphills about 2/3 of the way through the race, I kept getting passed on the downhills throughout the race. Now, Im not any type of amazing skier but Ive been skiing my whole life so Im also not a beginner. One of the big reasons I got passed a lot was I had to stop here and there to give my legs a break or I was gonna die or maim myself! As Ive seen mentioned in any difficult endeavor of any kind, you kind of know what you have to work on and it was obvious I have work to do here. Once again, Scott echoed what a number of others have said in the past which is that you can make a lot of gains in skimo by improving your downhill game. One guy whos name I wish I could remember at Crested Butte last year mentioned that he spends a crazy amount of time lift service skiing and doing runs without stopping. That makes for some butt kicking days as I found out when I tried a friend's Thumper Thirty challenge of skiing a moderate bump run (named Thumper of course) 30 times in a row at Wolf Creek this past weekend. I think there can be a lot of creative ways to make workouts like this and it's something that indicators keep pointing to for folks like me as a high payoff skill to train on.

Pole Update

 Just an update on my pole musings from the other week. It sure looks like moderate pole length is common out there as in the photo above. I was very happy with them both from a performance point of view and from an increased blood flow to my fingers point of view.  My conclusion- when in doubt, whack off an inch. Repeat if still in doubt!

Goggle Analysis

Out in the races you definitely see those fancy eye shields on some helmets but they seem like not enough protection when its snowing and you really need protection. I had a unique opportunity to ski in Europe last year and saw a lot of goggles duck taped to helmets. Then I fount this older post from Brian Harder's Getstrongergolonger blog on the topic and used his zip tie mod which works great in all conditions (I was waiting for a snowy day before making any comments on this and the Wolf Creek race was snowy! Dont forget to cover the helmet vents under the goggles with tape. The one down side is that you have to find a nice soft cloth bag to put your helmet in or your goggles get scratched. A pillowcase would do too. Anyway, I highly recommend this mod.

Race Suit Analysis

Getting some lycra action! Even in cold temps its pretty warm (note the two other folks layers). On a side note, it was a couple that stuck together for the whole race- pretty darn awesome!

Late last year I got a CAMP race suit but never got to use it. I was influenced by the ease of transitions I observed amongst others, the ability to easily carry fuel and spare skins, keeping snow out of boots as well as the ease of boot buckle management. Anyway, I tried it out once during my afore mentioned race training session and was super impressed even with this one stupid snowboarder yelling, "Hey suit guy!" every time he passed me (It was actually pretty funny- I mean come on, its lycra!). Temps were mainly in the mid to high 20s with a little breeze on the ridges. I had on light poly tops and bottoms plus the suit and was very comfortable the whole time with a LOT less fabric on than traditionally dressed folks. Also, skin management is so much easier than with some jerry rigged setup. Finally, and one of the reasons I got it was because it was less expensive that a comparable separate top and bottom. I look like I know what Im doing and I saved money too! Anyway, I highly recommend it. Just immediately seam seal or shoe goo the seams around the under foot stirrup. Id imagine they could wear quite fast if left alone.

Fuel Thoughts

Going as close to my limit as I was made ingesting gels hard, even with Power Gel which is way more liquidy than the rest. I think I have to re-think my fuel plan. Fueling throughout the race was definitely important to keep me going at the consistent level of output you see in the HR chart above. It takes discipline as I wanted to just skip it for convenience a few times and am glad I didnt do that. I won some Tailwind endurance drink mix so Im super interested in trying to get all the calories I need from a drink.  Probably total noob alert for folks who know what they are doing but hey, you get the idea I am learning by hard knocks here! Bottom line, as I try harder, I have to re-think how to still get the calories I know I need in a more efficient manner.


I hope this has been informative for any of you mere mortals out there!  As always, if anyone has their own thoughts from their own hard knocks or sees that I dont know what I dont know and should re-think some of this, please feel free to post up. All comments are welcome. These are a bunch of opinions and not fully formed so the more thoughts and comments the merrier.

Thanks to my buddies Troy, Pat, Rich and Jeff who all participated. You guys rock. And thanks to Rich for letting me beat him in the Race category so I can talk a bunch of smack and live in fear of him kicking my butt next time- great training motivation!

Rich on the left thinking- "Next time...", Jeff on the right happy to finally have light weight gear. Me just happy Jeff bought me some cocoa while I try and get my boots off!

Finally, a big thanks to my mom who took all the pictures at the race. I may not be that good at skimo but I was the ONLY guy there with a race mom!!!! Family rocks and its neat to see my mom still super psyched to check out what Im up to no matter what it is while my wife and kids whooped and hollered from the lifts and I slogged up the ski hill!

Moms rock.


  1. Jesse, I truly enjoy your posts and passion for our sport. Keep it up!

    1. Sari, wow! Im honored that you have enjoyed this. Seeing folks like you crush in skimo and keep a family going is pretty inspiring! Best of luck this season.