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Athlete Diary: Season Review 2007
By:  Tom McCarthy   (2007/04/24)


This is probably a bit late in terms of a season review; the Ďseasoní Ė race season Ė has been over for just under a month. Thatís indicative, though, of how this season has gone Ė a bit haphazard, unplanned, and hoping that things will work out. In the end, they did; they always do. My general impression is of a satisfying season Ė a season where the rewards more than justified the opportunity cost. Thatís a big deal, as thatís the key decision factor influencing whether or not to keep Ďdoing thisí. That, and the physical number of minutes in a day relative to minutes spent at work. More on that later.


I had a good summer of training; my work wasnít THAT busy during the summer, and I love the late light, allowing rollerskis to start late and finish later. I developed a much stronger affinity for the Ottawa-Gatineau bikepath networks than I had before, allowing me to save on travel time by rollerskiing straight from home. For the most part, commitment and motivation were right there; the frustrations of a race season are far off in the summer, and the endorphins and emotions of a fun season past are still fresh.

I tried to work on my running speed, but that wasnít highly effective. I do think my strength was high during the summer. I spent a lot of time on the rollerskis, and was happy with the way my skate and classic technique were put together, for the most part. Double-poling didnít feel super-sharp, but the legs felt useful in skating, and I was happy with my classic body position. Sprint training felt good; I found some nice places for sprint rollerski intervals, and felt pretty sharp. I wouldnít say my volume training was anything stellar, but I was able to do some long zone 1 sessions when required, without (too much) complaining Ė though the 2006 Rideau Lakes Tour is a notable exception.


The fall was a bit more of a challenge. I was working (a lot), and though my job was flexible enough to make the important team training sessions, the lack of quality recovery (couch time as opposed to desk chair) started to wear a bit. We started hard interval sessions on Penguins, and I did a few sessions with the guys. I got dropped Ė hard Ė and got pretty disheartened. Perhaps as a cop-out, I asked John to see if we could put together a sprint-specific interval on Penguins. We tried something Ė a mix of full-out sprint and zone 3 Ė and I loved it. I really enjoyed the zone 5 work this involved, and I think the lactic acid adaptations it involved were big helps during race season. On the other hand, those other guys Ė Ed and Gavin particularly - just kept getting stronger on the straight zone 4 intervals, and compared to them I was falling farther behind. I began to worry the season would be a total distance bust, as my lack of volume caught up to me a bit more.

The fall training camp in Montmorency highlighted a technique concern Ė I have an abnormally loose right hip. It has a tendency to over-rotate in both classic striding and all the skate techniques. In classic, this results in a funny leg-swing during the backwards extension, and a loss of stride cycle efficiency. In skate, it means I have problems keeping weight on that side of the body. This whole thing is coupled with what Andy had called a Ďslipped discí in my lower back Ė he gave me a self treatment, which seemed to work when my back was really hurting, to the point where it didnít hurt as much and me, like an amateur, quit doing the exercises. Well now, at the end of the winter, my left hip feels like itís grinding sometimes, and my back is super-tweaked from some hockey and other non-conventional activities. I need to re-commit to back strength and on-going rehabilitation.


As we moved into what started as a snowless winter, I changed jobs and moved over to the Department of Finance. We did one pre-Christmas time trial (I believe), on the little parkway snow we had before it melted. I felt surprisingly good; I skied behind a super-strong Karl that race, and started out fast, dropping the others, before fading in the second half of a 10k. To me, this meant that things were on track; no distance base, but strong high-end aerobic capacity for short periods. The early races in Montmorency were ok; felt quite good, but the results werenít quite there. Then we lost our snow, and rollerskiing in January sucks. I did manage to find some weekends on snow, but it was a bit of slog.

The beginning of the racing season brought a bunch of mental frustration: I had to get back into taking care of equipment, broken poles, busted bindings, waxing. I had to think about travel a lot more frequently, and this meant Friday afternoons off, trying to squeeze away for a weekend. I didnít feel comfortable at the new workplace to ask for work time off for workouts, so I missed the mid-week intervals. In mid-January, I flew out to Canmore for two classic sprint races that most of the big guns were at. The racing was awesome; I sucked. I wasnít in the race on either day. My big problem was the classic start; though fast on rollerskis, I couldnít figure out the timing to stick the grip into the snow and kick right when the gun went. I ended up half-doing the weight transfer and slipping, giving up two strides to the other guys. I really need to figure that out.

I skied at night a lot. Intervals are tough at night, and so are sprints; not so much training at that time of night, as Iím used to that, but itís more just physically being able to see when youíre going fast. Some workouts were stellar; others were wasted.

Eastern Canadians were good: I was very happy with the classic race, which meant a good double-pole effort, in practice. My back was sore, but I gutted it out. The 30k brought a pleasant surprise. I was strong enough throughout not to die, and though didnít finish super-high up, was quite happy for a longer-distance race. Keski a couple of weeks later was a bust; helped at the front a bit at the start, enough to burn the legs off for a few kilometres, enough to lose the guys that made a good train, and enough to pick up an annoying Estonian who wouldnít lead. A real good bonk at the end sucked too. After Keski came our XC Ottawa race. I always do this; organize, and then race. For whatever reason, I felt tough that day, and gritted out the classic portion chasing Chris and Karl. The chase pack (Ed, Mamen, Sven) caught me in the skate leg, and I sat and waited for the finish sprint. I didnít set it up very well; Sven came by early and made a good push, and Mamen couldnít respond, and I was stuck behind him, unable to get by. I was patient though, waited for the finish flat, and burned past Mamen. I didnít think I could catch Sven given his gap, but I was able to scoot by him at the end. I know itís a little race, but I was really happy with the finish push, and that was satisfying.

Then came National Champs. The sprint relay was only a semi-final Ė we didnít advance Ė but I thought I blew up too quickly. I did go hard, but recovery wasnít as fast as I wanted. On the other hand, thatís a hard race and recovery in those is always a challenge. One nice thing about the week was getting some serious couch time, and a solid 9 hours of sleep a night; by mid-week, I was starting to feel quite rested and ready for racing. The first distance day was a skate day. I felt quite good; able to step through the soft course nice on the offset, and able to push hard on the flats without burying the needle. I was happy the result too, but man Ė it was a Deep Field!! The classic race was also decent Ė able to maintain a consistent red-line without burying it anywhere. The sprint day was a disaster Ė another classic sprint, another near miss (32nd finish in the qualifying round). Not sure how to evaluate that, coming after an amazing sprint at Nationals. The course conditions were very tricky, and changed during the race so that it was hard for me to know how to ski. My start was poor. Regardless, not a good sprint day, and I was pretty low after that one. But the distance day brought it all back up; the Nationals 50 was, Iíd say, my best race of the season. A super-fun day, I felt great, the skis were nice, and I held on (by the skin of my teeth) to a group that was just cruising. Again, I was able to maintain a consistent high aerobic level without picking up excessive lactic acid.

So when the seasonís done, my sprint races were busts, and I had some good longer-distance races. The opposite of where I thought my season was going after the fall and after my early results. How do I figure that happened? Hard to tell Ė perhaps more rested than some of the other guys. I think the stronger legs (I did a bunch of plyo strength in the summer/fall) may have contributed more to the distance racing than to the sprint explosiveness. I think the Penguin intervals, though sprint-specific and anaerobic in nature, may in fact have helped me hit and find a nice aerobic red-line.

Mentally, itís pretty safe to say that this season was tough. Really tough to get into the groove when the snow started to fly Ė usually thatís when Iím most excited, but this year it felt like there was too much stuff to think about Ė too many skis to wax (or unwaxed skis to re-prep from last year) Ė too much travel because of our low snow situation Ė etc. Perhaps that means the will to compete is starting to wane.

Next year:

But I think Iíll start another season off, and see how it goes. Based on my last year of training, here are some things for next year that Iíd like to focus on:

    • Double-poling: I have to bring that back up. In previous years, Iíve felt that this has been a real advantage for me; this year, it felt just slightly above average. I think I have a good upper-body strength base to be able to make it a strength once again, particularly in sprints. I think a lot of it is technique and power phase application, and Iíll work on that. In particular, need more time double-pole rollerskiing; didnít do enough of that.
    • Volume training: I need to do some nice longer volume sessions. Iím excited about those for some reason, this spring. Iíve missed out on volume the past few years, so itíll be an effort to pick it up again, but I really enjoy that stuff. Not too much (work is still a significant constraint), but Iíd like to work on volume during the weekends.
    • Interval training: Iíd like to mix up the straight zone 4 intervals with the zone 3-5 alternates I was doing this past year. I think they both have benefits, and I think there are ways to be creative about doing this Ė both at Mooneyís Bay in the summer and in the Park in the winter.
    • Core and injury prevention: This needs to be a focus; Iím not getting any younger. The number of little annoyances I have in my joints seems to keep growing; back; one sore hip now; knees, though thatís an old problem; elbows; and Iíve sprained a couple of ankles recently. I need to do what Andy tells me for my back, and do some maintenance work for everything else; that means a stretching routine and some specific core and stability strength work.
    • Classic sprint start: This was a frustration this season, and I need to figure it out. But I think Iím ok on rollerskis; itís the switch to wax I have a problem with. I donít think explosive speed is the problem; my skate starts are ok. Itís just a timing issue.
    • Rest: Of course. When is that not an issue? Just keep doing the best I can with this one.

So those are some training ideas for next season. Weíll see how well I follow through. In short, this was another fun season past; weíll see how motivated I am throughout this summer and fall. Skiing takes up a lot of time, and thereís lots of other fun stuff to do.

See you on the trails!

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