When I was a junior, I developed this metaphor that I applied to race preparation, and I still like to reflect on it today. I think of my race ability as being like a knife. During the summer and fall, and throughout the years, we work really hard to build up the strength and durability of the blade. Then, as we move into the colder months, we start to sharpen the blade. We shorten our workouts and focus on our speed, and by race season you should be feeling like a sharp knife, fast and mean. Throughout the race season, as we use the blade of the knife, itís going to dull, and so we have to continually sharpen that knife.
Hereís one workout I do to keep the knife sharp. Itís a running workout. In the last couple of years (mostly in Vancouver when running in the winter is very easy), Iíve discovered that running speed workouts during race season are an effective way to keep the leg speed high. It has another benefit, too; running at least once a week through the winter makes the spring transition a bunch easier, and reduces the chances of impact and over-stress injuries when we suddenly switch to running once the snow leaves.
I like to warm up for about 20/25 minutes. When warming up, I like to focus on feeling efficient with the stride, keeping the shoulders relaxed. When I get to my chosen flat, soft surface (a field unless thereís lots of snow, in which case I retreat to the Carleton U fieldhouse), I stretch for about 5/10 minutes, focussing on the hamstrings and calves. Then I do a set of running drills, called Aís, Bís and Cís. Each of these drills involve a running/skipping motion with very little forward movement. Aís throw the knee as high up towards the chest as possible, bringing it straight down. Bís do the same, but extend the foot forward and whip it back under the body on the way down. Cís keep the knee below the body, but whip the foot back towards the butt behind you. I usually do three of each, the first of which is a walk/jump, building towards a more dynamic skip/run in the third one. I leave about 30 seconds between each.
Then I do my striders. These are 5 or 6 speed pickups, starting at a jog and ending after about 60 metres at a full-out high-tempo sprint. I usually focus on extending the stride and speed quickness on each one, and get a few strides longer with each one. I leave about 40 seconds to a minute between each. After the striders, I finish with either a short warm-down or, if itís still early in the night and Iím feeling good (i.e. I wasnít at work until 7), Iíll do a longer 40-minute cool-down.
As with all workouts involving dynamic movements, be very careful. You need to be warmed up before attempting the drills, and very warmed up before attempting striders. The drills are technically and muscularly demanding, and you will almost surely have sore hamstrings and hip flexors after your first attempt. You WILL pull muscles with the striders unless theyíre very warm- if you feel a tweak, donít continue. I canít tell you the number of times Iíve tweaked my weak right hamstring doing striders.
I find this workout, although short, helps me keep the blade sharp. You can also do striders on skis- you have to be a bit creative with the drills though!