Smart Start

FasterSkierMarch 14, 2004

This article originally appeared in <SkiPost. Scott Loomis is a member of the Subaru Factory Team.

“I started out well, but then I died and lost a lot of time during the second half.”  I have heard so many people say this (including myself) when describing some of their races.  Of course, you should feel tired at the end of a race, but you should not necessarily be losing lots of time or places.  This can be avoided.

            One of the biggest mistakes racers make is starting out too fast.  It is easy to get caught up in all of the excitement of the competition.  However, you need to remember to ski your own race and ski within your own limits and ability.  If your body is shot after only 5 k of a 50 k race, it’s all over and you can kiss your personal best performance goodbye.

            If skiers you are usually competitive with put the hammer down right from the start, it’s OK to let them go.  Ski your own race.  Relax and know that you will probably catch them later in the race after they have blown up and are struggling to reach the finish.  The race is not won or lost in the first few kilometers.  The smart racer knows that the second half of the race is the time to break out the A-game.  It is like a game of poker — you don’t want to show all of your cards until the end, and if you show them early, well then chances are you’ll lose.

            Kris Freeman during the first leg of the men’s relay at the 2003 World Championships is a perfect example of a smart start and a brilliant race.  If you watch Kris over the first half of the 10 k leg he is hiding in the middle of the pack, waiting to play his cards.  Then, over the last 5 k Kris moves to the front, puts the hammer down and destroys the field.  Had Kris battled at the front right from the gun he might not have had the energy for a mid-race surge to break away like he did.  If you have yet to watch this whole race, I recommend that you do.

            If you are a frequent offender of starting too fast then make an effort to change this.  Try to feel like you are holding yourself back.  Start with a pace that is comfortable.  You may have to force yourself to do this.  Some of my best races have happened when I felt like I was skiing too easy and relaxed during the first half of the race.  If you do this in an interval-start race, be prepared to receive some slightly slower time splits to begin with.  Have confidence knowing that you will have a little more left in the tank over the last couple of kilometers.

            There are some situations when it may be smart to start a bit faster than normal.  In mass start races it may be necessary to get off the starting line quickly in order to avoid crashes.  Also, if there is an early break (of skiers near your ability) in the race then it may behoove you to pick up the pace to join the break and try to get a good gap.  These tactics are effective only if you can eventually back of the pace and recover before you go under.


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