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Get a Head Start for Next Season's Loppet Races

Back in April this year Sylvia Mercer talked to me about the benefits of being associated with your distinguished ski club and without drawing breath reeled off a list of articles and coaching that I could provide.

The idea is to produce a series of articles over the next few months that will help all those who have set their sights on competing in one or more of next seasons Loppet races. Whether you’re aiming for the Marcialonga with that torturous finish, or you fancy a go at all 92000 metres of the Vasa, I hope you’ll find something of interest and a few training strategies that put you a little closer to the front page of the result sheet. These articles are not intended to be the definitive guide on ski training, and some of what I say is based purely on my own experience, but I hope they get you thinking, focussed and fired up for 2005.

Winding the clock back to 1983 I remember the introductory words of my first international coach: “my job” he said, “is to teach you to coach yourself”. Coming from an institution in which only the ‘boss’ was allowed to think, and where a vocabulary of two words was sufficient, “sir” preceded by “yes”, we thought we were being short changed. Twenty years on it’s clear that Christer Eriksson was ahead of his time. We all differ in so many ways that a coach should not attempt to write a complete programme for one athlete, let alone an entire team. He is there to give guidance, make suggestions, encourage and educate.

Now that it is clear that you, as the athlete, have to do both the training and the thinking, here are a few tips. The first thing is to establish a goal: something challenging but achievable. Times and positions in Loppet races are useless indicators of form as the conditions and the field vary enormously from year to year. It’s better to use the average time of the first three and work out the percentage behind. This works OK if you’re doing three or four races every year but not if you’re a one race wonder. The best method is to make a comparison with a few people whom you have raced against before and who intend to be at your selected event. Your target should become your main motivation so don’t keep it to yourself.

The next step is to break your sport down into all its components: physical, psychological, nutritional, material. Improve all the components and overall performance will improve. Work on your weakest components and performance will improve faster than if you focus on the aspects that you can already do well. For now we’ll concentrate on the physical components but will deal with the remainder in the next article. Balance, power (speed and strength) in upper and lower body, core strength, endurance, oxygen uptake, technique are a few of the ‘must have’ qualities. Expand on this list and work out exactly which muscle groups you require to do what. Once your list is written, establish a means of assessing yourself in each of these components, grade yourself so you know where your weaknesses are, and set yourself a target for the race date. See the table below for an example.

ComponentTestTargetMeasurementCurrent Grade
against Target
Oxygen uptake1 mile uphill run
2 mile uphill run
7min 10sec
5min 20sec
8min 30sec
5min 35sec
BalanceSingle leg balance, bare feet, eyes closedleft 90sec
right 90sec
left 25sec
right 19sec
Leg powerSki bounding up steep hill.
approx 50m
26 bounds33 bounds5/10
Arm powerDouble pole uphill on rollers,
approx 400m
1min 1sec1min 21sec7/10
Leg Speed100m track run10.8sec10.8sec10/10

The more components you have the better the chances of ironing out all your weaknesses. Think of all the muscle groups, including the costal muscles and core stability, work on lung volume and peak flow, and flexibility. However, if you’re short of time having just three major components is better then none. Choose exercises that simulate skiing or the requirements of skiing and reassess every three weeks or so. This should only take forty-five minutes or so and is a good way to start a club session. In between testing sessions you have to do training that is designed to improve specific components. Those of us who run the same five mile route every day at a steady pace get better at nothing other than running a steady five miler.

Here are a few Golden Rules to summarise
1. Break down your sport into its component parts.
2. Identify your weaknesses and improve on them first.
3. Establish varied training sessions that focus on specific components.
4. Remember your body will only respond/improve if it is pushed beyond what it is used to.
5. If you’re training hard but getting worse then you need some rest.
6. Dare to be different. What’s good for X isn’t always good for you so invent your own sessions and exercises. I’m a big fan of shock cord resisted exercises!
7. It’s never too early to start the strength work as it takes a long time to develop the network of capillaries that supply the all-important oxygen.

Finally, remember to think about the psychological, nutritional, and material components and establish targets.

author: Patrick Winterton
publish date: September 2004

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