Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Training Block Trial

I’ve previously noted that my results seem quite stagnant. I made a joke recently about always being 17th in the City of Lakes Loppet Skate Race. Indeed, when I looked up my 2020 results, I was 17th.

There’s one thing I’ve never formally done with my training and that’s periodization. Sure, I’ve had some natural periodization over the years, but I’ve never trained in purposeful blocks.

This can be really hard to do with a 40 hour work week and that’s been my excuse in the past but after returning from the Boundary Waters and having a couple 5 day weekends in October, I decided to give this idea of training blocks a try.

The other reason I haven’t done these intense training blocks is that I’ve been afraid to bury myself. There have been a couple periods in my life when I was overtrained and these were completely awful. My response was initially to not do any speed work. As I’ve added back in speed work, I’ve always been careful to not do too much. But in not pushing my limit, building up and resting, building up and resting, I’ve been losing out on this building up and as a result haven’t gotten faster or stronger.

So I tried a couple training blocks, tried to bury myself, and see what happened.

Block One: 

After a rest week (technically week 1) in the Boundary Waters (not that I wasn’t averaging 20 miles a day of paddling and portaging) I decided to do three consecutive weeks of increasing hours. My typical training week is about 12 hours for reference.

Week 1: Canoeing and portaging in the boundary waters with two additional runs.

Paddling in the Boundary Waters

Week 2: Goal hours: 15 (actual 14.4); goal interval sessions: 3 (actual 2)

I had some difficulty getting in all my hours. Looking back this seems a little ridiculous but I wasn’t yet in the mindset of getting in hours. I’ll also make the excuse that with it getting darker earlier, I had less time after work to squeeze in an extra roller ski.

Week 3: Goal hours: 17.5 (actual 17.65); goal interval session: 3 (actual 3)

By now I was more into the idea of getting in hours. I still wasn't tired, even with 3 interval sessions, which seemed a bit weird. Maybe it was because my sprint interval session didn’t feel very “sprint-like.” I just couldn’t find my sprinting gear that day- not that I ever really “sprint” but at least go fast for me. Maybe it was because I was more tired than I thought:).

Week 4: Goal hours: 20 (actual 19.1); goal interval sessions: 3 (actual 2)

I skipped my “sprint” interval session because I was tired and didn’t think I could do it effectively. Finally I got into the groove of getting in the hours. At the same time, I decided to take a two week hiatus from running to see if I could get a foot injury to heal (or at least for the swelling to resolve). Instead I biked more. Despite a 19.1 hour training week, after two higher than average volume weeks, I still didn’t feel tired- maybe because I did more biking than running? My last session of the week did make me pretty tired- a 3.5 hour, 32 mile roller ski, some of which I skied with some of my speedy guy teammates. After that I still needed another hour for the week. I had planned to bike but Erik was diligently working on fixing up our garage, I was intermittently helping, and thought if I did anything it should be to rake some leaves. Overall it didn’t seem like I’d get much out of an hour bike ride and so I helped Erik and raked the leaves. Only high caliber cross-country skiers don’t count leaf raking as actual exercise:)

So how did block one go? Well, I don’t think I could have done this without a couple extra days off from work. Overall I was surprised that the high volume weeks didn’t kick my ass, but likely because I wasn’t doing much intensity and perhaps because I wasn’t running much.

Long Afton rollerski

Block Two: 

With daylight savings time and decreased daylight, I figured that three weeks of increasing volume would be a sure way to bail on the block so instead I chose a different approach I think I got from reading something by Tara Geraghty-Moats: one week of high volume, one week of frequent intensity, and one week of high volume strength. So after a “rest” week of my approximately normal hours, I was ready to start ramping up again.

Week 1: Recovery

I can’t say I needed too much, or really any, recovery time from the previous training block. Again, likely because I didn’t do much running or high-quality intensity. Or am I really that well trained???? The whole point of this is to work myself hard. Hmmmm….

Week 2: Goal: high-volume, 20 hours (actual 20); goal interval sessions: 2 (actual 1)

I snuck this in again on a week where I had one day off and before daylight savings time. Unfortunately this was also the week where the weather flipped and we got 5 inches of snow. Despite this, I was pretty determined to get my hours in which meant a fair bit of roller skiing while there was snow on the ground. Often the skiing isn’t so good when the ground isn’t frozen and so I just opted for roller skiing.

Our weekly Vakava interval session was cancelled due to too much snow to roller ski or hill bound but not enough to ski. Dave cancels practice like once every two years for weather extremes and this happened to be one of them. I ended up roller skiing by myself from my home on city streets and didn’t have the motivation to do any intervals.

This is what determination looks like

I roller skied four days in a row despite snow on the streets, bike paths, and grass. I ran and roller skied in the rain and snow. It was dismal weather, but I was quite determined. The focus became on getting in hours and when I made this a priority, I got it done. I will say that I am proud of myself for those 20 hours!

Boo-ya! This is a snippet from my 20 hour training week!

Week 3: Intensity

I didn’t know exactly what this week would look like. Leading up to it, I didn’t have the time to make a good plan. I figured I should do 4-5 interval sessions this week and ideally do two interval sessions in one day with a mix of L3, L4, and L5 intervals. I didn’t set myself up terribly well for this week because I did intervals the day before this week began.

My first day of the week, a Sunday, I was amazed at how much I could get done (Christmas letter, blog post, cleaning) when I only trained for 1.25 hours since I was no longer on my high volume week!

Some days I feel more on and other days more off. My last few attempted sprint sessions on roller skis I didn’t feel as peppy as I wanted. I vowed to make my first intervals of the week- classic roller ski sprints- highly energized. I’ll admit I almost wanted to give up when one of my ratchets broke early on in the roller ski. Instead I told myself to use this to my advantage to do double pole only. And I did and had a great workout- both working on super high tempo double pole and slower but stronger double pole on some decent uphills. And I threw in a few on the flats which felt good, too. It also helped that Erik has been diligent as of late to keep our roller ski poles nice and sharp. This makes a huge difference, at least for me.

Two days later I took the opportunity to double up on intervals. I ran 30 minutes of consecutive Level 3 on my way to work, then followed that up in the evening with Level 4 classic roller ski intervals with Vakava. I didn’t go quite as fast as I was hoping at Vakava but don’t think that was necessarily due to the morning interval session.

After this double interval day I fell off the bandwagon. I really should have done more intervals on Friday or Saturday but we had a planned Vakava 5 km skate followed by 5 km classic roller ski time trial slated for Sunday. This meant that although I would only be doing three interval sessions during my “intensity” week, I would do five interval sessions over nine days. Then our time trial got called off due to cold weather. I really should have done another interval session on Saturday but just didn’t have the motivation to do it:(

I’ll add here that my week 3 training time was just 11.7 hours.

So I didn’t get in many sessions, but I did do a double interval day and vow to do better next time so I’m giving myself a break:)

Getting my dolly, Molly, all ready for Halloween!

Week 4: Strength

Leading up to this week, I had been rocking the strength including loads of pull-ups and even weighted pull-ups. I was feeling strong but by the time I hit this week, I had some right shoulder pain that decreased my motivation. I also had never done a “strength” week before and didn’t know what this would look like other than more strength volume and doing a strength workout on roller skis.

Prior to starting these training blocks, I never diligently kept track of my time doing strength and just kind of guestimated. Once I entered my training blocks and high volume weeks, I tried to remember to look at the clock. My guestimates left me with about 0.9 hours of strength per week. This clearly isn’t much but consider this is all “on” time as I do circuit strength with abs, push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and step-ups, some of it with additional weight. Once I paid attention to actual strength time, my guestimates were likely under estimates.

In my first training block, in weeks 2-4 I did 1.1, 1.85, and then 2.15 hours of strength. During the high volume 2nd week of block 2, I did 2.25 hours of strength. In my “Intensity week” I did 1.4 hours and during my “Strength” week I did a dismal 1.2 hours; however, this is largely because I skipped my strength workout session on the last day of the week as I was tired from 5 km skate and classic roller ski time trials and the next day, what typically should have been my “off day,” we did strength on roller skis with Vakava.

I trained 13.5 hours the “Strength” week.

Again, I didn’t have a clearly defined goal but it’s safe to say my “Strength” week should probably have been closer to 3 hours based on previous weeks and I was nowhere near that.


This was an interesting experiment. It’s crazy how hard it was for me to hit 15 hours when I first started and yet how relatively easy it was to hit 20 hours when I tried harder. I will say the 20 hours was obsessive. I think I’d only go for 20 hours again if I was on a ski trip. The 20 hours at home, even with an extra day off from work, was way too contrived.

So if I did volume again, I’d probably build up with 14, 16, and 18 hours, or maybe even just 14, 15, and 16 hours. Based on adding in some more strength training this year, I think my biggest bang for my buck would come with more time doing intervals and strength. In other words, more high-quality sessions.

Will I do more training blocks in the future? I think yes. It doesn’t seem fun to do these continuously like the professional athletes do, but seems realistic to do a few blocks per year.

For now I’m giving myself a break as shoulder season mostly keeps throwing me the cold shoulder between snow that really isn’t skiable but makes the roller skiing difficult, my ongoing foot issue, and a persnickety shoulder. But, as I look towards holiday vacation time, I’m thinking about doing another couple training blocks. Stay tuned...

Getting the house all ready for the holidays