How to Avoid an Early-Season Peak and not be the ‘Thanksgiving turkey’

By Santi Ocariz

Nov 06, 2014

As summer transitions to fall, the morning air begins to have a slight crisp chill, the leaves turn from dark green to fiery reds and golds, and the bikes and running shoes are put aside a little more often. The summer training toys are replaced with fall toys -- roller-ski gear -- in preparation for the much-anticipated ski season. By easing into roller skiing, you can avoid the nasty tennis elbow associated with poling on hard pavement. By mixing in two or three endurance roller skis a week in-between bike rides and runs, you can avoid these nagging injuries and get a head start on training for the upcoming season.

 If the goal is to race well toward the end of the ski season, then endurance skiing and threshold workouts should dominate in both the fall and early winter (September-December). Racing in the early season can be a great way to help build speed and endurance, but don’t place too much emphasis on these races. You can ease off on intensity a little a few days before the efforts, but you should not reduce your training volume. I have seen many college and high school athletes taper early and place too much emphasis on being well rested for fall time trials and the early season races. They end up racing very well at the very beginning of the season, but they lack the base to continue that level of performance into the important races at the end of the season.

Racing peaks are associated with a large reduction in training volume and increased effort in intensity workouts. A good way to view peaking is by drawing a pyramid. The larger the base levels (endurance and threshold training), the higher the attainable peak can be. In order to advance up the levels of the pyramid, you must reduce volume and increase intensity. With a larger base, you can take  a longer taper, ultimately providing a longer racing period at a high level of performance. You will also experience a higher performance peak.

Because of this, most professional athletes build up a massive endurance base in the summer and fall. With all the training under their belt, they can maintain a high level of performance through a much longer taper than the average skier. This means that they can also achieve a very high level of performance when they peak. However, even the professionals focus on racing very fast at a couple of different times in the season.

For some people, the goal is to race fast mid-season and at the end of the season, for example the U.S. Nationals in January, then a late-season major marathon like the Birkie or the U.S. Distance Nationals. In these instances several peaks can be achieved.

About three weeks prior to these competitions, training volume is gradually reduced and more and more emphasis is placed on intensity workouts. Depending on the race of focus (10k vs. 30k or 50k), intensity might come in the form of VO2 max workouts or long threshold interval workouts. Immediately following the first set of competitions, you should emphasize increasing the training volume again. This helps rebuild the base and set the stage to have an even higher second or third peak later in the season.

With an understanding of the peaking process, you can form your own plan of attack for the racing season. With specific races in mind, you can plan out one, two, or even three peaks. Just remember, if you don’t place too much emphasis on the earliest season races, you will feel great and be ready to shine when the time is right!



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