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Season of David - Part XIX
By:  David Zylberberg   (2003/09/02)


The following "The Season of David" article is part of a weekly series by the "infamous" David Zylberberg, one of the original members of XC Ottawa. He is the writer of numerous amusing and sometimes controversial articles which have been the subject of much discussion within the Canadian cross-country racing community over the last 8 months. Hopefully, it will be the source of much entertainment while you are putting off work,school, or chores. David's articles will be candid and will not be censored by the editors of XC Ottawa. (At least not usually) Please address your comments and questions directly to David.

On August 29, 2003 I moved back to Ottawa. Since I am entering my third year of university in Ottawa and classes start September 4, the 29th seemed like a good day to return to the house that I vacated in April. The National Athlete Development Centre was conducting its seasonal testing on August 30, so the 29th seemed like an even better day to move.

The NADC's testing occurs every eight weeks from early May until the end of October, providing four different opportunities to perform the same activities and measure changes. Testing is often compared to elementary school track and field day and this comparison helps set the atmosphere. Skiers show up, warm up as they choose (like happens at any race) and then go to a number of stations around a field to perform different exercises at maximal levels. The first, and most important test, involves a 3000 m running race on the track. This is why I have often referred to testing as "running around in circles day." Other tests include a maximum chinup test, maximum situps in 90 seconds, a medicine ball throw (like soccer throw-in), 10 hops for distance and a sprint around pylons (in a Z pattern, with 3 or four turns in each direction). None of these tests are ski-specific but all reflect some physical attribute that Pavol Skvaridlo has found important to skiing fast.

I have been confident in my running lately and decided to follow Karl Saidla (our fastest runner and former Ontario high school Steeplechase Champion). The first km was faster than all-but 2 one kilometre intervals I have done in my life and was probably a little fast for a well paced 3 km, though Karl held this pace. As a result, Karl's more efficient running and better conditioning led to him slowly pulling away after 1400m. He then beat me by 14 seconds, though I ran a 20 second personal best to finish in 9:20. I probably would have ran faster if I paced the thing by running each kilometre in 3:03-3:05, but I tried to race and got beat. Racing, particularly in skiing where there are no methods to compare times from day to day, is about which person covers the distance faster. This involves some pacing and considerations for the optimal way to cover the distance, but largely involves taking risks and trying to stay with them to beat them late or forcing the pace to drop them. Anything else is just running hard. I took the risk and Karl was the faster runner that day, but I learned and progressed further by trying.

As a sidenote, I seem to notice that very few skiers run as fast as seniors as they did in high school. Training leads to improvements in the specific things being trained for. Training for skiing often leads to increased muscle mass and a lack of training specific to running fast, so that skiers are not running faster than before despite increased training, improved fitness and skiing faster. Karl is a very good example since he is still considered a good runner for a serious skier. He ran 8:38 in 1996 at age 19, some years has gone under 9:00 since, and ran 9:06 this week while in good shape. All of this while training more than before and progressing as a skier.

I seem to be an exception to the above rule since I was not great runner in high school and am naturally big enough that ski-training has not led to my getting bigger. I also put some emphasis while running on going faster at low intensities and this year developed a fairly efficient stride without training to run. By not gaining weight since high school (I was larger than most skiers then) and never having trained to run fast, my physiological adaptations for skiing have actually led to faster running.

The main topic I wanted to discuss this week is testing. Most coaches have some sort of testing protocol that they use periodically to evaluate progress. Some include ski-specific tests in order to monitor improvements that will relate to skiing and most include general tests to monitor improvements in some capacity. Testing has some benefits in that it can determine weaknesses and be used to adjust a training program. It can also monitor progress to ensure that the program is working but as with running tests, a successful ski-program may not lead to testing improvements from year to year. Testing can be overused. Testing is generally a maximal effort and is done instead of some hard workouts. The workouts that testing replaces are designed to make people ski faster and testing is not well suited to this, so we should always remember that testing is replacing one or two days of effective training. This is one reason to space testing out over the year; as well as giving an opportunity for improvements to occur. My main concern with testing is that I have very rarely had training programs modified based upon a test. I have sometimes been upset with testing in certain areas (like my tricep and stomach strength on this occasion) and added more focus to these but only once seen a need to shift a program. That time was in late October 2000, when a lactate test showed that my zone 4 fitness was not well developed and I should do more. Unfortunately, all fall I had done very little and we only had two weeks until snow fall when training went into early snow and then race season methods, so the test showed a problem too late. In conclusion, testing can be an effective way of monitoring progress and deciding how to modify programs but is done at the expense of other workouts. There is a proper time and a place for testing but doing it outside these times can lead to unnecessary stresses and a lack of effective training. The NADC's testing seems balanced in being every 8 weeks so that the negative effects are limited and the chances to monitor progress maintained. These are some thoughts on testing.

Interesting Reading. . .
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