Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Getting that last 5% better

    I’ve been training hard to get faster at skiing for many years now. While I hold my own in citizen races, if I were 5% better, I’d be closer to the top of the results list- about 45 seconds faster in a 5 km, 4 minutes faster in a 25 km, and 10 minutes in a 50 km. But getting that last 5% better is really really hard, much harder than getting the 10% before it better. 

When I say getting better, I really mean faster. And I mean this in the most straight-forward sense of raw speed. I mean gliding on snow faster. I know my fitness is good and what I'm missing is technique. How do I know this? By comparing my 5 km and 25 km ski times on the same relatively fast course at Elm Creek. Now, I know.. I know... I know... conditions are always different but consider I've only ever broken 15 minutes once in a 5 km and compare that to my 25 km time and it's a no-brainer that I should be able to ski 5 km faster. And that just might make my 25 km time even faster!

           So last year I didn't make any technique changes other than trying to use my abs more and a motto of “no pole push shall go without power” after realizing I could probably put more force into my pole pushes. But this year I've made a technique change in double poling, V1, and V2. 

It was frustrating to not make any technique changes in the double pole last year which was again evident in the Mora Vasaloppet when I could NOT respond to Kathleen's surge. After a video session with Vakava early in the training season where Ahvo told me I needed to bend my knees more at the start of my poling, and a week later Nate telling me the same thing, I was double poling along when one time I changed my technique a bit and felt the knee bend. I adopted this new technique. Zoom ahead a couple weeks to our 1 km slightly uphill double pole time trial at Vakava practice: using my new double pole technique I was the same speed as my last double pole time trial. Now, I was a bit sad to not be faster, but took it as a good sign that I was at least the same speed. A couple months later when we repeated this time trial, Kathleen came flying by me, but this time, I could respond with my new technique and stay with her (and eventually even pull ahead as we neared the finish).
Working on really bending those knees at the start of the double pole. Photo: Erik
Over the past couple years I’ve made some changes in my V-1 technique, mostly involving my arm positioning (elbow closer to my body and less bend in the elbow). I’ve also been playing around with foot position a bit and trying to keep my skis a bit more parallel to the direction of movement. Despite making these changes, I’ve been struggling to feel the power go through my abs as I drive the force from my poles to my legs. I’ve kept at this though and am finally starting to feel some power.
My new V-2 change is my fault. When I didn’t have a coach, I changed my technique by bringing my leg down farther in front. On one of those long skate rollerskis out in Afton, Dave Bridges (thanks Dave) told me not to do that! Fortunately because I was somewhat consciously doing this other technique, I was able to make the change and go back to not setting my foot so far in front (this also crosses over to V-1). After reverting back to my old technique, I managed to have my fastest net uphill skate 5 km time trial in Afton which was encouraging!

           Other than focusing on a couple running races and doing hard running intervals, my training has been mostly the same- running, rollerskiing, a little strength, a bit of canoeing, and biking to work. In terms of the strength, I always vow to do more, especially in the leg department. I’m good at getting myself to do abs, push-ups, and pull-ups 3 days a week. This year I have started doing one legged air squats which I figure is good for both strength AND balance but other than that, I haven’t made many changes.

    In October we went on a 2 week trip to Italy. Now while this may be prime fall training (and we did do a fair amount of training in Italy), this was somewhat intentional to have a break from our usual fall routine. In particular we needed a break from Sunday morning Afton rollerski sessions and the shoulder season which can often be cold and rainy. 

    We started off our time in Italy doing some Via Ferrata routes which is where cables, pietons, and ladders have been placed to help climb rock that would otherwise require rock climbing skills. A harness and cables (Via Ferrata kit) are recommended for these routes.
Working on the upper body strength on the Via Ferrata. Photo: Erik

And some mental toughness training:) Photo: Erik
    Next we headed to the Cinque Terre region of Italy, which while mostly known for its picturesque, colorful, vertical, seaside villages, provided plenty of stairs and vertical for us to get in some good training. 
The town of Riomaggiore where we did L4 intervals- it wasn't too hard to get the heart rate up just by running up the main street or doing some stairs!
Stairs anyone? Finally getting in that leg strength in Cinque Terre!

    Our last 4 days were spent in Venice getting seriously lost, kayaking, and battling the crowds. 
Not quite sure why I thought running intervals would be a good idea in Venice! Photo: Erik

Finding a bit better area for the intervals. Photo: Erik
Finally finding a place to do intervals. No disrespect to the MAC track, but this is probably the most picturesque place I've ever done L4 intervals.
One of our running routes through Venice. You can see where we took some wrong turns!
 The hope was once back to regular training in Minnesota, this break from usual activities would leave me hungry to get back to rollerskiing and continue to work on implementing all my new technique changes. In reality, the transition back was a little rough with temperatures in the 20s and no snow. But after a week of this (and thanks to some warmer weather) I was once again excited to be rollerskiing and working on my technique. I was glad all those technique changes I had made over the summer and fall came back naturally after my rollerski hiatus while in Italy!
Getting in a strength workout at the Amsterdam Airport. There is no excuse for people to not exercise:) Photo: Erik