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Preparation for Roller/Loppet Racing

As I write this article, after another night shift on Eurosport’s Olympic news, I’m very aware that many of you may be thinking that improvement in sport has more to do with the knowledge of your pharmacologist than the quality of your training. For the likes of Kenteris, the weight lifters, and who knows how many athletes that are yet to take their marks, that may be true. It is also true to say that those in Athens who are guilty of cheating are also excellent athletes with thousands of hours of training and mental preparation behind them. Therefore I feel justified in writing about training rather than drugs. Besides I hate needles and know nothing about designer steroids [or clothes].

Training should include both a physical and a psychological performance profile. In this article I want to discuss some of the psychological aspects involved and suggest how you might train your mind to improve your performance. Too many athletes dismiss the mental side of their sport as irrelevant but we’ve all seen tennis players tighten up on the verge of victory; only yesterday Zhang of China used distraction tactics to stop the British pair running away with the deciding set of the mixed doubles badminton final; it worked. Today, Gebrselassie will have to think positively about his experience and status if he is to overcome his age and injuries to win the Olympic 10000m for the third successive time. His opponents will undoubtedly use the champion’s problems to their advantage.

Psychology affects the results of every athlete at all levels, especially skiers who face elements of skill, fear and physical pain. This is a massive subject so we’ll limit this article to motivation and improving mental toughness.

The first key is to ensure that you stay motivated from the moment you decide on what you’re trying to achieve to the second you collapse across the finish line. Turning up to a race in tight lycra with a shiny new pair of Fischers is only 1% of it. You have to be prepared to put in the hours and suffer the pain before race day. The solution is simple; give yourself as much incentive as possible, have monthly targets, challenge or make a wager with training partners, promise yourself a bottle of malt, a week at Kvitåvatn, or retirement if, and only if, you achieve your target. High achievers in all walks of life are highly aware of what they want to achieve and always thinking of what they need to achieve it so make sure you have plenty of visual reminders stuck up around the house and the office. Finally make sure the last bit of every training session is positive and fun to ensure you comeback for more.

Now for the hard bit: increasing mental toughness. By which I mean improving your ability to cope with the inevitable pain, the distractions and disappointments suffered during training and racing. Limiting the effects of all the psychological factors that have a detrimental influence to an absolute minimum and maximising the positive ones.

We no doubt inherit certain psychological traits and are all exposed to varying degrees of pain and fear as youngsters that condition us one way or the other. If you’ve missed out on these two there’s more bad news in that it is generally accepted that we get less tolerant to stress as we get older so try some of these techniques a.s.a.p.

Here are some suggestions how to cope with some common problems


See above and take objective measures of your improving fitness and figure and commit yourself to races.

Unable to push when training or racing alone

Do time trials and intervals against the clock monitoring work rate on pulse watch. Focus on thoughts that help you maintain a high work rate whilst maintaining your most efficient technique. I use a pain scale and regularly check the body for any unnecessary tension.

Coping with chasing, leading and being overtaken

Do fartlek (speedplay) sessions where you take it in turns to lead the speed sections. Try intervals with staggered start: slowest going first and vary the stager. Train with faster athletes.

Suffering Lactate build-up and nausea

Do intervals with the first two at maximum, survive the rest; (take a bag!!)

Dealing with dangerous, technical downhills

Practice. If you fall go back and try it again, and again, and again, and then do it faster until you feel so confident that you’re thinking in terms of the quickest line to take rather than the possibility of falling.

Hitting the wall (hypoglycaemia)

You can get used to the feeling of running off fat rather than sugars but it’s never as quick, so learn to consume carbohydrates en route.

Training in foul weather after work

Commit to training with someone else and remember how good it feels when you get back to the bar.

Pushing through pain

Firstly learn about the body’s defence mechanisms that are there to stop you pushing too hard: lactate production, nausea, overheating, dopamine production, tight breathing, headaches and thumping heart. Many of these can be delayed if you eat, drink, train, and sleep well. Others can be partially overcome if you train hard enough to experience them regularly and then train even harder. Establish a pain scale, 1-10, establish how much you can take, and then repeatedly ask yourself what level you are at and can you take more.

Bad Wax

You’re toast as far as winning goes but try and get something out of the experience: change your technique; too sticky, keep skis in contact and fly up the hills, too slippy, work the arms and gain on the downhill. Think positive.


Train the body parts that aren’t injured and produce enough prostoglandins to keep depression at bay.

Pre-race nerves

It’s natural and certain levels of arousal are a good thing but it does use energy. Establish how much time you need for preparation and develop a routine for waxing, warming up, stripping off etc. If you like to be serious and contemplative avoid the team jester. Repeatedly remind yourself of the race plan and what you’re trying to achieve.

Try some of these, monitor your progress, and always remember what you’re aiming at. Using your imagination to simulate race situations in the summer will help cope with the stresses of racing and hopefully better results in the winter.

Expose Yourself

Get used to the sort of stress and pain that you are likely to encounter. Swimming lengths under water is a great example of how quickly you can adapt to stress. In this case the stress caused by the fact that you’re out of your natural environment and the ‘CO2 drive’ (excess CO2 in the blood which activates the brain to press the panic button and tells you to breath, Now). Half an hour of training will see dramatic increases in the time you can spend under water without resulting in any physiological change. The improvements are a result of reduced stress/increased relaxation and slower oxygen consumption. Adaptation may not be so quick when it comes to skiing but if you’ve been in a situation before, and survived, you’ll know how best to cope next time round.

author: Patrick Winterton
publish date: November 2004

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