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XC Ottawa Training: Snarling in September
By:  Karl Saidla   (2008/08/28)


So, it’s the end of August…..where are we at with our training? Hopefully, we are at a place that allows us to reap full benefit throughout a well-planned fall of serious ski training and show up to the first races healthy, fit, and ready to conquer the beast that is a racing season.

Assuming we are where we want to be, how did we get here? Let’s take brief look back at the general plan that XC Ottawa followed over the summer. For sure, we all did variations on the theme, but as a group, we have arrived to some degree of consensus about what is effective summer ski training.

Starting in May, we focused primarily on  large volume of easy distance training, various types of strength training, and a relatively limited amount of intensity training (much of it in Z3). As the summer progressed we did tougher four week cycles, and we incorporated more and more ski-specific activity.

The Lake Placid training camp was a culmination of sorts for this portion of the training. Most of us are taking a bit of planned rest at the moment, and when we get back to the books in September we will see a switch to 3 week cycles, harder and higher percentages of intensity, as well as, generally speaking, a slight decrease in training volume. You could say that the emphasis has shifted from looking to get generally tougher and fitter over the course of the summer, to translating that into actually being faster on cross-country skis over the course of the fall

What is the rationale for this type of fall training? My answer won’t have much to do with physiology, as I am far from an expert here. It has more to do with what we have found actually seems to work. So here are what I consider to be a few key elements of the XC Ottawa pre competition season plan, as well as brief explanations for why we do what we do:

1-Break at the end of the summer: As mentioned, we are taking a bit of a break right now. Mainly, this ensures that we are not carrying any residual fatigue from the summer into the fall. It also provides good mental break and allows to show up “snarling” in September.

2-Three week cycles: Given the higher percentages of intensity and the emphasis on being “faster” as opposed to “tougher”, the three week cycles seem to be a good way to keep people a little more fresh. A three week cycle, with one week relatively easy followed by two weeks relatively hard, gives us more rest than if we were doing 4 week cycles with one easy week-pretty simple.

3-Higher percentages of high-intensity training: It’s quite clear that in order to race fast, you have train fast (and also as Coach John has been known to mutter,HARD) to get there. We don’t do a lot of hammering in the summer, because trial and error has told us that this kind of training, while bringing up performance levels quite quickly, has been found to be less sustainable. For this discussion I include “speed” or sprint training as part of the “high-intensity” training.

4-Intensity training that incorporates progressively higher intensites.: Usually, in September we tend to spend a bit more time on things like continuous Z3-4 intensity, and a bit less on harder, shorter intervals. In October we get into the hard stuff (for example 4 by 4 minutes Z4 ski striding). By November we are usually into even shorter intervals and the racing beings.

5-Moderate reduction in volume: While we still do a fair bit of easy distance training, we try to keep it at such a level that it does not interfere with doing the high intensity workouts well, as these are the main priority at this time of year. If we trained the same amounts that we do in the summer, it would be difficult to show up feeling ready, willing and able to do all that fun lung searing that we do in the fall. Given the pattern of our intensity training as described above, we tend to do less volume in October than in September, with a brief increase again when we get back on snow in November.

6-More specific strength training: While too complicated a subject to get into detail with here, generally speaking, we spend more time on exercises which are more specific to skiing. This includes strength on rollerskis, plyometric drills, and weight room workouts which begin to emphasize faster movements than what we were doing int the summer.

So how does this all look when you break it down into hours and workouts?

A typical three week September training cycle for me might look something like this in terms of total training volume: 11, 16, 19

An example week might look like this. Bear in mind that there are acknowledged weaknesses in my planning which I have accepted, mainly because they represent the best compromise I could come up with given commitments like work etc. This would be a medium-hard week by my own standards.

Monday: OFF


AM: Easy jog-15 minutes (helps me to feel more “with it” for the afternoon workout)

PM: XC Ottawa workout including various types of plyometric exercises, and 30 minutes of continuous Z3 ski striding. Total: 1.25


AM: 3 hrs Z1 ski walk/run

PM: Weights. Total 1.25


AM: Skate Rollerski to work, Z1, total 1.5

PM: Skate rollerski home, including 4 by 10 minutes legs only. Total 1.25


AM: Double pole hill repeats (double pole uphill for 5-10 minutes in Z1-2, repeat 3-5 times). Total: 1,5

PM: Weights, total: 1.25


AM: Skate rollerski including 30 minutes of sprints, followed by 1.5 hours of easy running, ski walking Total: 3.5 hrs.



AM: Classic rollerski, Z4, 6 by 2 minutes with 3 minutes rest, double pole and kick double pole. Total: 2hrs

PM: Core strength workout at home, with some jogging to warm up, cool down. Total: .75.


So, overall for the week, this would leave me with the following:

1 long distance workout (3hrs run/ski walk)

2 intensity workouts (Continuous Z3, and Z4 intervals)

2 specific strength workouts (double pole hill repeats, and legs only skiing)

2 weight workouts

1 sprint workout

Total Time: 17.5 hrs.

 Here are a few  pictures from a summer  to keep me Snarling in September.

Getting ready for some kayak training

Rollerskiing at our Lake Placid training camp

Lake Superior shoreline

The  Sleeping Giant near Thunder Bay

With one  of my heroes

East Coast Trail, St. John's  Newfoundland

With my new friend, Lucy Turk

Interesting Reading. . .
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