Short and Long-term Skimo Training: Training to Train vs. Training to Compete?

It’s appealing to follow the top athletes in our sport as many post all of their training on social media like Strava. It can be also incredibly tempting to try to mimic what Kilian Jornet or  other skimo stars are doing but it would be at a very high risk of failure, injury, or burnout.

While a few select athletes might be able to match the training of the pros, the vast majority of us have jobs, families, and other activities that occupy the portion of our life that pros dedicate to training and more importantly to recovery.

Aside from having the time and resources available to train and recover, it’s important to remember the training base that a professional athlete has to support their current training load. Training is cumulative, especially if volume is maintained consistently.

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Damiano Lenzi (left), age 30, is the current World Champion in both individual and team races, consistently challenging the legendary Kilian Jornet, age 30. Both have accumulated lots training volume over the years. William Bon Mardion (right), age 34, has been known to focus more on quality over quantity and has also reached an impressive collection of victories – but remember he still accumulated a lot of volume in the process.

A 30-year-old professional endurance athlete has probably been training between 700 and 1200 a year for 15 years! The average recreational competitive athlete may have less than half that number of hours in their “training bank”. The accumulated hours provide a support system for the training currently being completed – imagine a pyramid with all the training hours building the base, and the current training load as the very top.

The training bank needs to be maintained both on a long-term scale (many years of training) and on a smaller scale within the training year (maintaining consistency and using sound periodization throughout the year).

Long-term Progression

I’ve found a concept developed by the Canadian Cross Country Ski Federation for their long-term athlete development program to be very useful. During their development, athletes go through stages, one of which is “training-to-train”. This is the process of building a large training bank and is followed several years later by the stage “training-to-compete” where the athlete is focused primarily on training to be as fast as possible.

Ultra-running athletes often find that the volume and intensity of training required to merely complete their first ultra-marathon is considerably more than that needed to complete successive races and also find the recovery period post-race to gradually decrease. This is a good example of transitioning from training-to-train to training-to-compete on a multi-season scale.

Janelle Smiley, racing to first place, spends lots of time moving in the mountains thus by default accumulating big training volume. Photo by Eric Hoff.

Janelle Smiley, racing to first place here, spends lots of time moving in the mountains thus by default accumulating big training volume. Photo by Eric Hoff.

I find it is also important to keep this concept of progression in mind within a single season. For athletes focused on skimo as their primary sport, the summer is primarily base building. At the end of the summer and beginning of the fall, it’s time to build up the intensity training (training-to-train) that will allow you to complete the workouts done when winter begins, that will actually build your race fitness (training-to-compete). Once the race season begins, you enter a new phase where fitness is maintained and racing itself becomes the main priority!

Early Season and How to “train to train”?

Hopefully you’ve been building your training volume through the summer so that by the time fall comes around, you are at a good amount that you don’t need to build too much the rest of the year. It can however be a good time to put in a few final big volume building periods to get up to the level you’re expecting. It’s also a good time to start to focus on skimo specific type training – prioritize uphill training and consider adding roller skiing!

Finally, this is the time to add the interval sessions that will enable you to do even harder intervals in the training to compete period. Focus on longer tempo efforts in the 10-30 minute range with a few short threshold sessions.

Winter Season and How to “train to compete”?

This period is no longer about building volume. Instead focus on adding longer intensity workouts at threshold pace and above. Training should be 100% sport specific and carried out on skis as much as possible. Strength training should be focused on max strength tolerance for downhill skiing.

Training Smarter

Train smarter, not harder. Plan your training progression and give yourself time to train-to-train and then train-to-compete. You will not only be better prepared but also be less likely to experience an injury or setback.

Remember that the pros have also had a lifetime of training-to-train and that matching their training plans is not advisable.

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