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Memo: Fall Training Considerations
By:  Karl Saidla   (2012/09/29)


With this article I am killing two birds with one stone. Over the course of this year, I have been trying to provide skiers on XC Ottawa with some general advice for whatever training period we are in. This advice is not related to particular expertise in coaching. Mainly, it has to do with practical considerations that have been gathered from my own experiences in training for skiing over what is becoming an extended period of time (don’t remind me!). Briefly, I have tried a lot of different training methods with widely varying degrees of success, and I have also made many mistakes, both in terms of training and in terms of other aspects of life that can affect training along the way. The following represents "my take" on some of these things.

Providing some counsel based on these experiences is one of my humble attempts to contribute something to our ski team and to reinforce my firm desire that these lessons do not go to waste. In this case, I am providing them to everyone who reads this web site.

September-November training considerations.

The weather and nutrition:

As they say in Estonia, we have bad weather for cross country skiing all year round. While you wouldn’t think that grownup don't know that it can get pretty cold and rainy in the fall, the number of people wearing shorts while out rollerskiing in 10 degree rain convinces me that yes, a reminder doesn’t hurt. For sure, check the weather before you leave the house and dress accordingly. Bring extra clothes for unanticipated weather, and for after training as well. It goes without saying that you should be well fuelled with the right kind of nutrition before, during and after training.

Training priorities:

Most ski training programs shift focus in the fall towards more high intensity training, and more ski specific training. Generally speaking, you want to do these workouts relatively rested so that you get the most out of them. This means that you have to plan your training week so that you don’t, for example, spend 90 minutes lifting heavy weights 12 hours before a Z4 ski striding workout. This is important all year, but it is more important as racing season gets closer.

Another important issue in terms of training priorities is the fact that there are only so many types of workouts you can do in a week. In absolute terms, 3 hard intensity sessions might be a very smart thing to do sometimes. But it is arguably not so smart to do those 3 hard intensity sessions and also include 3 speed workouts, 2 weight room workouts 2 ski specific strength workouts and 2 4 hour distance days. You do have to pick and choose based on what you think is most important at particular times of year in order to make sure that you do the most important workouts with the highest quality.

Training intensity:

In keeping with the training priorities, it makes a certain degree of sense to play close attention to the intensity of all your workouts, and to adjust them accordingly based on what is coming up. A 90 minute Z1 workout can be considerably harder if you do it with slow rollerskis in big hills than if you were to do it in easy terrain with fast rollerskis.

There is an obvious tendency, given our excitement about a coming racing season, to do workout after workout a little bit too hard in the interest of feeling “fit” for the winter. The fact is, however, that there are good reasons (so they tell me) for all the physiologists telling us  to keep our lactate levels in prescribed zones. In other words, as counterintuitive as it is, you will quite frequently find that training easier in certain workouts will actually make you faster in the long run.

Nagging injuries and soreness:

It is very tempting to simply accept that nagging injuries are a part of training for elite sport and that they are something you have to put up with. A smart person (Julie Shearer-Physiotherapist) reminded me that ideally, you would not be starting your ski racing season with a body that is ‘beat up’ from a season of dryland training. There does seem to be a certain logic to that. The bottom line therefore, is to look after any injuries you have and take it easy on yourself in the right ways so has to avoid injury. For example, if your elbows are really sore from doing repeated double poling sprints on hard, cold pavement, you are probably best off to stop doing that particular exercise for a while and concentrate on something else.


Skiing is a sport that requires and incredible amount of fitness, but also effective technique to make use of it. Of course, it goes without saying that being an efficient skier will likely improve your racing. For whatever reason, I think ski technique is kind of an afterthought for many skiers (like sure...the coach told me to do this or that....but it doesn’t feel as good as my old way....so it couldn’t be right...so I won’t think about that too much). My take on it is that it is one of the few areas where we can all make considerable improvements. It might allow you to ski faster than someone who might, strictly speaking, be physiologically more gifted. Who doesn’t want that?

Time trials and races and hard workouts:

It seems like just about every time people do rollerski races or ski striding time trials there are those ho think that these are a crucial measure of relative fitness (as in....so and so beat me by 3 minutes in today’s rollerski time trial....I must be out of shape....I should start doing my intensity workouts harder......). First of all, rollerskiing (and ski striding, and running races etc) isn’t skiing. With respect to rollerskiing in particular, wheel speeds can make very big differences. It also seems to me like even the same rollerskis will roll considerably slower or faster on particular days as a result of weather, or perhaps as a result of the wear you have put on the wheels since the last hard workout or time trial.

All this is not to say that informal training "tests" aren’t worth doing. They are a valuable exercise in many ways...but whatever the result is should not cause you to panic or, conversely, to assume that everything is going exactly as planned.

Having a plan:

So often, ski training mistakes are made because of a lack of forethought or planning. In hindsight, it is often very easy to figure out where you went wrong. In some case, if you had been thinking ahead with a proactive mindset you might have avoided some rough days on the racing trails. It involves regularly asking yourself questions like: What workouts am I doing on what days this week? Which ones are the most important? What do I need to do to make sure that when I show up for those workouts I am ready for them, both physically and mentally? What else is going on in my life that is likely to interfere with those plans? Can I adjust my training accordingly? What is tomorrow’s workout? What I am I going to accomplish? What is the weather going to be like?

Sharing some laughs:

Cross country skiing is a ridiculous sport. We rollerski in July with boots for winter, we run around in the bush pretending we have skis on, we ski on the grass, we ski on 2cms of snow over pavement, we ski on 50 metre patches of snow back and forth, and we race at temperatures from plus 20 to -20. Some of us run around the tundra all summer by ourselves . These are only the very first things that came to my mind! You are bound to have some rough days where you really think you have completely forgotten how to ski, or lost your mind entirely. It is virtually impossible to survive for any length of time if you take it all too seriously.

Look forward to seeing you all out there!

Interesting Reading. . .
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