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Lessons Learned at Altitude
By:  Ian Murray   (2002/01/18)

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I feel fortunate in many ways to have the luxury of traveling around the country this winter, with the main purpose of cross country ski racing. So far my travels have taken me to Foret Montmorency (Que.), Thunder Bay (Ont.), home to Cape Breton (N.S.), Dalhousie (N. B.), Canmore (Alb.), Silverstar (B. C.) and back to Ottawa. There are great things to mention about each of the trips but this article is about the lessons learned at the Canada Cup in Canmore and the Continental Cup Finals in Silver Star in the first part of January.

It\'s always nice being back in Canmore for the big races. It seem easy to get motivated to give your all when surrounded by awesome mountains in sunny weather. There\'s only one catch; altitude. Some just start to feel the cardiovascular effects of thinner air at around 1400m, while others feel it in a big way. The timing of arrival at altitude is a very large contributing factor to having successful races. Given lots of time, the best thing to do is to show up well in advance (1 week or more) so the body can adapt to the new environment. For those with constraints that don\'t allow for arrival one week in advance, it\'s better to arrive the night before the first race than in the window of about 3 days before. The ability to give\'er decreases for about the first three days, then gets better to the point where you\'re better prepared than when you first arrived. I have to apologize for the extremely technical explanation here but that\'s how she goes.

Showing up in Canmore the day before has worked out fairly well for me in the past at the 1994 (junior), 1998 and 2000 National Championships. In all cases, the first race was the best and the later ones were not quite as good. For travel arrangement purposes, I ended up traveling to Canmore three days before the Canada Cup races on the 12th and 13th of January. Bad idea, especially since the race on the 12th was a same day pursuit and I knew how much altitude had affected me in the past. With a top placing of 15th, there were no personal records set on the weekend but I\'ll take it. I\'m going to do things right and travel to Canmore at least a week before the Nationals this year for sure.

The drive from Canmore to Silverstar through Roger\'s Pass and Kicking Horse Pass was totally amazing. It\'s easy to forget how nice the area is when it has been 15 years since my last time through. On the last stretch of the journey up the mountain from Vernon to the village to Silverstar, it was amazing to see how we went from 5cm of snow to tons of snow in those few kilometers. All of the snow made for awesome skiing weather for the whole week leading up to the races on the 19th and 20th. Hats off to Justin Freeman whose two first place results clinched him the men\'s Continental Cup title. My finishing positions were 25th and 32nd in the classic race and skate race respectively. It\'s too bad that my races weren\'t as nice as the weather but what can you do.

The highlight of my time out west was seeing Per Elofssen ski around the Sovereign lakes trail system. His easy distance technique was noticeably different from all others on the trail. The start of every leg kick and poling motion was very short, in both time and distance, not extending as far out the back as he would at race pace. His seemed to bend less at the knees in his diagonal stride while flexing his ankles to a greater extent than I do. I could go on about his skiing style, and about the effects of altitude but that\'s all for this installment.

 
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