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Tom's Reflections on the 2004/2005 Racing Season
By:  Tom McCarthy   (2005/02/07)


It's April, and in Vancouver we haven't been skiing for over a month. The snow here has been awful this spring, although those in Ottawa are enjoying an extra-long spring thaw. As I write my final papers for the year (and for my degree!), I'm reflecting on my race season this past year. It was a very short season, but it was a highly successful one, certainly my best season since the 2000-01 season. And not only that, but it was a successful one on little training and not a lot of racing. I thought I'd write a few notes on what went right, as much for my own records as anyone else's reading pleasure.

I only raced 10 races this year. I skied at the World Championship Trials in Ste. Anne before Christmas, and had a fun 15k MS classic but a terrible 10k skate race the next day. I skied a time trial at Nakkertok in late December which I consider a very good race. I raced three Tuesday-night races in Vancouver in January and February, and managed to win them all. I felt great in every single one. Then I went to Nationals and surprised myself with a 25th in the classic race, a 19th in the pursuit, and an 18th place in the sprint. After Nationals I did the Sovereign Lakes loppet and finished 2nd.

Mental Notes

So what did I do right? Well, the first thing to note is that I consider the above results good! Not everyone would; the key lesson here is to be realistic with respect to your goals, based on your other activities. This is not a defeatist attitude. At some point you need to pat yourself on the back for good races, even though you didn't win. I wasn't going to beat the National team guys this year given my other activities; so why consider it a bad race if I didn't beat them?

The other key mental thing I did right was to be able to have fun at every single race. Having fun, for me this year, involved not thinking about skiing too much, so that when I did think about it, and when I did ski, it was fresh and new and not old and tired. I loved every minute on snow this year, even though there weren't many. I think part of the reason for this was that skiing was a less important part of my life this year. I always skied with friends who ski for fun more than anything else, and this let me escape the intensity that often surrounds racing and training situations. I hope I can keep this attitude.

I also was able to relax during the race. This is related to technique, which I'll get to in a second. But for me this year, relaxing meant telling myself when to go hard and making a conscious attempt to ration energy output, saving it for sections of the course where I needed it. Other years, it was balls-out the whole time.

Skiing was a break from work and from school this year. In that sense, it was always something I looked forward to, because it gave me that break. And every time I went skiing, I didn't do junk hours; I did something specific because it was fun, and it paid off.

Mono Recovery

My dad wondered if I'm now finally recovering from what was a very difficult bout with mononucleosis in late 2001 and winter of 2002. I wasn't on death's door or anything, but no-one knows much about mono, and no doctor really knew how long the effects last; one doctor suggested some on-going fatigue for several years. I don't think I gave myself enough time to recover that year, and overtrained the next year as well. Since mono was also the result of over-training and lack of rest, I dug myself a pretty deep hole. Three years later, I think I'm starting to get out of that. Not only is there a mental freshness, but my body just feels that much more 'jumpy'. I'm not filling up with lactic acid as quickly, and when I do it clears easier. I can push harder than I have been able to the last couple of years. What is the lesson here? If you have mono, make sure you get over it!


The final section of my notes has to do with more training-related and specific stuff. The most important lesson from this year is one that I know I should have listened to years ago when coaches told me: listen to your body! If you feel tired, it's does not mean that you are in the middle of a hard week; it means that your body wants rest before it can take full advantage of training. You have to have energy to train effectively.

I did not do many hours this year because of time constraints; I estimate maybe 400 hours this year. As a result, every time I went out, I tried to do something specific. Even if it was an easy ski, I was thinking about a technical aspect; ankle bend, knee bend, shoulders forward, hip position, putting gripwax into the snow, pushing off from the mid-foot in skating, staying on top of my ski during the skate push phase, etc. And most workouts were not all easy; I would usually throw in sprints etc. Rollerskiing was always specific, whether a pace workout, intervals, or some specific strength such as double-poling. My rule for training this year was: no junk hours! I didn't have enough time for junk hours.

I also skied a little faster in my easy skis than I usually do. Many people will argue that this is bad; I say that I already have a big base, and so I can handle a little higher speed and more specific stuff on less base. Plus, my summer base was decent. Actually, I skied my easy skis at very different speeds; when skiing easy with Erin and Liam, it was very slow, but with Vesa, it was quite fast. I think this variation was a real help in avoiding falling into a rut with technique etc.

I'm a little lighter than other years as well. I think this helped my speed on the uphills a bit. Speaking of speed, one of the technical things I think about all the time now is shortening the snap-phase of the push and lengthening the relax-phase. In one stride, whether classic or skating, there is a power and a relax phase. The longer that relax phase is, the more rest your muscles get. BUT, the shorter the power phase, the more power you need at that time. The key work here is snappy.

Next Season

Anyway, whatever I did, it worked well for me. I'm still learning about my body, and I'm still enjoying skiing. So for next season, I think I'll try and frame a program like this:

  • The summer will be a bunch base and strength training (maybe a little more than this season, despite meaning I'll carry a little more weight into the winter.) I also want to try and run fast, but I won't do tonnes of intensity, just enough to handle some running races. Whenever possible, long runs and rides and rollerskis. Or at least, as much as my new job will handle.
  • The fall will see a dramatic drop in base and a focus on specifics. This will fit with the small amount of time I will have.
  • The winter will see a continued lack of base and an on-going focus on specifics, technique and strength and continued snap, to focus on racing. I'll have to pick my races carefully.
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