The 2018/2019 skimo season was my best ever. I finished the season sixth in Canada and went to the World Championships in Switzerland. A lot of factors contributed to that outcome, luck included.
My 2018 training cycle was a big factor. It was much different than in previous years with several helpful differences. And it went almost according to plan. In July of 2018, I laid out my macrocycle for the season. My plan had 14 areas that I wanted to improve on. By the end of the race season, I had success with eight of them, improved three, and three collected dust.
|Success||Some Improvement||Gathered Dust|
|More rest||Be more social||Have more fun|
|More specific||More LME||More altitude|
|More easy volume||More strength||More stretching|
|More shuttle training||—||—|
|Hire a nutritionist||—||—|
|Bonus: More intensity||—||—|
What was a success?
Take more rest
This was a big improvement over previous years and a big part of how was I able to stay healthy for so long. I made two big changes that helped a lot. I made training my top priority; and I focused on maximizing my sleep, both at night and with regular naps.
I went 425 days with no more than some brief sniffles. Minor cold symptoms disappeared with a day or two of rest. As a result of my increased consistency, my training volume was much higher than ever before. With more volume, I was able to tolerate a lot more intensity. More sleep, more rest, and less stress were all big supporting factors.
Be more specific
I was on skis much more last year. In the summer, I did a lot of uphill roller skiing and more skimo skiing in the winter.
In hours, my absolute time on skis increased by 101%. As a percentage of my total training hours, my time on skis increased by 46%.
Do more super easy volume
I did a lot of 1 mM training last year. Training at 1 mM of lactate may be the hardest intensity to train at because it is so damn easy. Training that easy makes running even more tedious than it is on its own. It made for a good mental challenge and made for a very solid training base.
In hours, my time at 1 mM increased by 183%. As a percentage of my total training hours, my 1 mM training increased by 94%.
Do more lactate shuttle training
This was the second season where I included MLSS bounce intervals. Last year, I couldn’t tolerate the full progression; it was too intense. But this year I got through all eight weeks, and I felt strong throughout.
The MLSS bounce progression is eight workouts long with ten intervals each. Each session includes a hard warm-up (to get things firing) and an all-out power test at the end.
Within the workout, the work interval is above anaerobic threshold. The “recovery” interval is at anaerobic threshold. Over time, the work interval gets longer while the recovery interval gets shorter. The workouts are brutal. Without the precision of a treadmill or track, the same workout wouldn’t be possible.
By alternating between these two intensities, it forces the body to reabsorb lactate. As the capacity of the “lactate shuttle” increases, high-intensity training becomes more aerobic. As it does, the athlete can maintain those high-intensity paces for longer.
These workouts are intimidating and hard to finish. But the benefits are profound. By the end of the series, my anaerobic threshold pace was much more manageable.
Comparing the warm-ups for each session is revealing. Each warm-up ended with six minutes at anaerobic threshold or above. Over eight sessions, my lactate values at the end of that period dropped from 3.7 mM to 2.5 mM.
Be precise with intensity
This was a home run. By buying a treadmill, I trained by very precise paces. I used a training system based on Renato Canova’s marathon training. The system uses very gradual and very slight changes in pace throughout a macrocycle. By the time I got to race season, I could tolerate a lot more race pace in my workouts.
An unexpected benefit was the mental component. The more precise I could be, the more I could experiment with small changes in intensity. At that level, small changes in intensity have big changes in perceived effort. Pace increases of 1 or 2% can change a workout from manageable to impossible.
And the more time that I spent there, the more at home I felt. The perceived effort of that intensity lessened. That helped a lot once race season cam around.
Now I have a much better feel for different intensities. And I’ve become very skeptical about high-intensity heart rate training. (Not to mention training by RPE which is a joke…) For those new to training or only focused on long durations, heart rate training is close enough. But for athletes that need high intensities, specific training paces are necessary.
This was a big win as well. I tested a lot and across a broad range of workout types. I tested across basic capacity tests and high-intensity progressions. Seeing the changes in lactate was super helpful and a great education.
Hire a nutritionist
This was a success. I hired Rebecca Dent to review my nutrition and build a custom plan for me. It was well worth it.
Rebecca confirmed things that I was doing right and made several improvements. She made some periodization suggestions, recommended some supplements, and prescribed more protein. I raced well and recovered faster.
How did I structure it?
The Canova-style periodization worked well. My training paces were very specific, and I progressed workouts week by week. The only workouts I repeated were recovery sessions. Otherwise, each workout was different than the last. This forced constant adaptation and kept things interesting throughout the year. It’s an awesome way to train.
Working from both ends of the spectrum throughout the macrocycle was a huge help. On one extreme was pure speed; on the other, effective duration. And many small steps in speed make new intensities easier to handle. By the time I got to race pace, I was comfortable, less intimidated, and more efficient at it.
(But by “a lot of high-intensity” I mean more than I had done in years past. The proportion of high-intensity training relative to low-intensity should always be small. In the neighborhood of ~5% of total training time is a good target. Mine was 4.42% over 735 training hours.)
What was a surprise?
Much more high intensity
I hadn’t planned on it, but I did a lot more high-intensity training. I suspect the credit goes to more easy volume and being precise with intensity.
What went okay?
Be more social
My training was more social this past season, but not by much. Again, resorting to convenience often pre-empted scheduling training sessions with other people. I shouldn’t, but I still default to efficiency over the training experience. Toward the end of a season, the monotony wears. Over the course of a multi-year cycle, it’s exhausting.
Do more Local Muscular Endurance
The LME work worked well. I did less than I planned (only one 12-week series rather than two 8-week series), but it helped a lot.
One of my key limiters was leg strength. I could only do a couple of high-end intervals before my peak heart rate would start to fall. I didn’t have the leg strength to demand much of my heart and lungs at high intensity.
But this past year, after I was through with the first LME series, my legs felt much stronger. It felt like I was running on springs. And by the time I got to super-anaerobic efforts, I had the leg strength to be consistent at them. I could finish a series of hard intervals and keep my heart rate up throughout.
Do more strength training
I didn’t do as much strength training as I had planned, but I was consistent enough. I kept a regular program of max strength workouts throughout the season.
What didn’t change?
Have more fun
I had planned on more variety and listening to more music, but old habits die hard. I resorted to convenience a lot of the time, repeating objectives that I’ve done a thousand times. For music, I usually forgot about it until I was out on the trail. And I hate dealing with headphone wires, so that doesn’t help…
Get up high more often
This was a total fail. I had planned several training trips to high altitude, but I cheaped out. I wasn’t willing to pay for the flights and hotels.
Super fail! I am Bad At Stretching!
Today, I’m near the end of a six-month recovery. Instead of training, I’ve just been exercising…and losing fitness and gaining weight. Doh. I needed a break, but it’s getting a little long in the tooth.
I’m trying to decide what I want to do next. The usual problem for me is having more interests than time or energy. More skimo? Climbing? Cycling?
Whatever I decide, I’ll try and take what I learned from last year, keep what worked, and improve where I can. At 45, I can feel that my physical window of performance in endurance sports is closing. I want to use what I’ve learned before it’s gone for good.