Once things settle down in the spring, I always like to spend a lot of time talking with skiers and reflecting on the season to figure out how we can keep getting faster. Plenty of good stuff to think about, and plenty of time to ponder now that the skiers have all scattered for the summer. Here are a few things we learned this past year:
Intensity: Threshold training is a staple of nordic ski training, and that’s certainly always been true for us. But these last couple years we’ve been edging away from threshold in the fall, and replacing it with lots of mid-length intervals just above threshold. There’s been some interesting research over the past few years arguing that threshold isn’t a particularly productive way to train - I don’t completely agree with this, but I’m starting to feel that we don’t need to do quite as much of it as we’ve done in the past. This past year we ramped up the intensity earlier than ever – starting in September, we did lots of threshold plus training, lots of faster race pace work, and not a lot of threshold. We’ve always had our best results in longer races, but these days we’re equally competitive in the 5/10k races. It’s hard to nail down the exact reasons for a whole team’s performance changes, but it’s doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to think that this is driven by more training at 5-10k speeds and intensities. We’re still doing fine in the 15-20k races, so for now it looks like a worthwhile change.
Peaking: One of the reasons I’ve been conservative with higher intensity training is because I’m super paranoid about peaking the team early. We’re pretty good at peaking on time – we’re generally on an upward trend for Regionals and NCAAs, to the point where I’m feeling like we’re actually a bit too cautious. Our NCAA qualifiers seem to have plenty in the tank even into late March (we do have some people who are pretty exhausted by the end of Regionals every year, but this seems to be distinctly about school and travel rather than training). So we were a bit more aggressive about peaking this year – less focus on maintaining fitness and more focus on getting fast and rested earlier in the season. Starting in late January we cut back volume more than usual and focused only on short fast intervals for the rest of the way. Seemed to work out fine – our last two carnivals were our best, and we had our best NCAA showing ever. Probably will continue to experiment with this approach going forward.
Good skis are good skis: Everyone knows that ski characteristics are way more important than wax or structure for determining if a ski is going to be fast on a given day. But I don’t think most people understand how vast the gap is between the importance of good skis and the importance of good wax. These last couple winters I’ve been borrowing a lot of athlete skis for testing while I slowly upgrade our old and sad test fleet. This has been pretty eye-opening. We have some great pairs of skis on our team! We also have some not great pairs. Wax can nudge things in one direction or another, but only within a narrow window. On a 1-10 scale, a fast pair is always going to be at least an 8 or 9 even if flex and/or grind aren’t perfect for the conditions, and even if we don’t have the best wax. You will always at least be competitive if you’re on a good pair of skis (I know this isn’t true at the World Cup level, where every pair is a good pair and differences are measured by fractions of a percent, but I strongly believe it’s true for college skiing). The inverse is true for a mediocre pair – you’re never going to get to 9 or 10, even if your coaches nail the wax. Again, this is nothing new, but it’s really hit home for me after experiencing first-hand the wide range of quality present in our quivers. We’re going to have to be more proactive about getting our people on good skis – sharing good pairs and ensuring that any new pairs are bought from a reliable source.
Communication: Although we had a pretty successful season competitively, the team didn’t have quite the same easy and joyful feel that we always strive for – for lots of different reasons, a few of our people really struggled with their enjoyment of the sport this year. I’m not foolish enough to think that we can overcome all the challenges that people are experiencing in their lives outside of skiing, but one thing we can do is be more proactive about communicating with people – recognizing earlier when people are starting to get burned out and working with them to rekindle the fire a bit. This is tricky – college skiing is pretty consuming, and it’s not for everyone. Even so, more communication is always a good thing – sometimes we can help turn things around and sometimes we can’t, but knowing how people are feeling is an important starting point in either case. I’ll be working hard this coming year to keep improving here.