Murray Banks is a master ski racer, motivational speaker and Nordic ski coach. He has competed for many years in cross country skiing and most recently competed in the World Masters Championships last year in McCall, ID. Murray can also be seen racing in New England as well as coaching skiers from the Mt. Mansfield Club in Vermont.
1. Murray, you are on the road a lot with your career, motivating others. I know how challenging it can be to stay focused on training when you travel so much…how do you find the time and what gives you your own motivation to do it?
While I travel extensively and it is time consuming, my time is very flexible; when I'm not traveling, I can work or train any time. I often work several hours at my desk, then train, then back to the desk. If the weather is super nice, I can work at night. So, the key for me is to look at the week ahead, block out when I can't train, then pack in as much as I can the other days! I think my primary motivation is that I enjoy being active outdoors and rarely find training arduous.
2. Do you practice any time management techniques that you find particularly helpful?
Not as well as I should… I'm a little too spontaneous to do time management well. I try to look at my week, determine the times most advantageous to get good training in, then do the best I can to make it happen.
3. You have been coaching juniors and masters for the Mt Mansfield Nordic Club. Your enthusiasm is contagious and ha a very positive effect on these skiers. What do you personally take away from coaching that you feel helps you in your own racing and training?
When you teach something, you learn it. Coaching has forced me to understand training & racing at a much higher level than I would otherwise. Also, I really enjoy teaching and coaching injects energy into my training that might otherwise become monotonous.
4. Do you train differently now than say, 15 or 20 years ago? How has your focus changed over the years?
As every master's athlete has realized, we don't recover as well. Where I used to be able to do the old “hard-easy” schedule, now I have to pay more attention to integrating easier training with harder speed, strength & power training. It takes more work, but my training is more balanced than before. I do more specific strength & power and more technique work than in the old days. While it takes more planning & coordination, it makes training more interesting and diverse. I have really enjoyed an increased emphasis strength training and I utilize easier days to focus on technique, which I didn't do much of 10 years ago.
5. Will your training differ this summer and fall from last year?
Slightly… because the McCall course at MWC was flatter, rolling terrain, last year I emphasized upper body strength for a good start, speed for the stadium sprint finishes and v2 for drafting and cruising in the pack; while that all worked out well, I did not feel as strong in the hills late in the race. so, this year I will incorporate more leg strength and long hill work and spenst.
6. How many hours do you train per year?
Not sure, I don't keep an accurate log. A big week would be approximately 12 hours, an average week would be 8-9 hours. But it varies significantly with my work… I might get 4-5 hours in a busy work week, but 13-14 hours in a week I don't have to travel. I've tried to keep a log, but I'm not consistent about it.
7. What percent of that is specific ski training, compared to bike riding, running, etc..?
Summer: mostly biking, trail running, hiking, swmming, with 1-2 days ski specific while coaching; Fall: 2-3 ski specific, with roller skiing, spenst & specific strength; Winter: 4-6 ski specific including tele skiing and backcountry touring.
8. Do you do a lot of strength training? How much of it is core/ functional strength vs work in the weight room? What does your typical strength session look like?
My strength training is varied because of my travel schedule. When traveling on business, I often use free weights & machines at the hotel fitness center. At home I try to do at least one uphill dp fartlek/interval session a week and one core strength session. At home I have a vasa trainer and leg press machine (vintage yard sale special!) and try to include spenst with that. A typical session might have a 30-60 minute trail run with natural spenst in the last 20-30 minutes; 5 sets on the vasa & leg press; 15 minutes of core with medicine balls & fitness ball. The second session that week might be a 90 minute out & back dp in rolling terrain, easy on the way out, natural hill intervals on the way back.
9. What still keeps you motivated for racing after all these years? Are there any special techniques you use before an important event, that get you psyched up and ready to race hard?
I think some people have a natural desire or inclination for competition and that seems to be a driver for me… I love competing. I truly enjoy being around healthy, fit, positive people like you find in a ski race environment. I also love being really fit and the years I decide to race seriously I enjoy the month-to-month improvements. i've always been very goal oriented, so in the racing years, I enjoy setting a long range goal and the process of getting there. That said, I don't enjoy gearing up for serious racing every year… maybe a couple years in a row followed by a couple years of doing only 1-2 favorite races like the Stowe Derby, no log, no goals, and lot's of tele skiing. '07-'09 is a good example… I turned 60 last year & MWC was in the U.S.; this coming winter, MWC is in France near where our son lives, so this is a perfect alignment of circumstances to gear up and get in top shape over a two year period. Half way into it now, I love it, but look forward to a change of pace in '10.
Getting psyched up prior to a race is easy when you have planned for more than a year… I think of how fit I am, how much fun it will be to ski with the lead pack during MWC and clarify in my mind my goals for that day. I also listen to the Moody Blues & Rolling Stones while I warm up… music can be a good mood enhancer. I also do a very thorough warmup with several 1-2 minute pickups & fast downhill corners which seems to be invigorating.
10. You taught some on snow sessions for our NENSA group last year out in West Yellowstone. I will mention your enthusiasm once more, because it had a profound effect on the masters in our group. Too often we get stuck in “training mode” and forget to have fun. Tell us some of the ways you add the element of fun during your training sessions.
My first career as an elementary teacher and high school track coach helped me realize the importance and knack for enthusiasm and creativity. I never really think about being enthusiastic, it's just there and it's easier when you are doing something you love. Specifically for skiing, coaching our local BKSL group brings great pleasure & youthful joy. We have some top racers in our group as well as fast skiers who don't race, so we are always trying to create fun & fast activities to make them better skiers and to love “training,” although you would be hard pressed to call it training. We do downhill intervals with challenging turns and skiing side by side with them in tight, fast turns is exhilerating.
Secondly, I love going fast and enjoy workouts with tough hills, fun turns and invigorating terrain.
Thirdly, I don't focus on racing every year, so when I do train hard it isn't boring or tedious. Other activities that make my training stimulating include: training with friends and enjoying conversation as we ski/bike/run; tele skiing can be a great OD session and great fun; skiing (or biking/hiking) point to point makes a long session enjoyable: I also acknowledge that somes days are just arduous, but once you get out the door, you always feel better.
Finally, Janie & I share the passion for fitness & being outdoors, so it compliments my personal life, not detracts from it.
11. What do you think is the most important aspect of your training as a master ski racer?
Focusing on technique & strength… it is not as enjoyable as just going out for a relaxing workout, but it has made a big difference in my racing. as my son jeff said, “you've got 50 years of aerobic fitness, you need strength & style.”
12. You obviously spend many hours on skiing, racing and coaching. For some it's it difficult to balance all of this with family life. What is your secret to managing all of it?
Being married to a wonderfully patient, forgiving and participating woman! (Do I get points for that?) Because Janie is athletic and is a skier, biker, hiker, paddler, we can often share time outdoors. She appreciates the enjoyment I get from it because she lives it as well. I pursue it more aggressively than her and she gives me plenty of space to do it. Also, with a little planning, we can always make time for what's important and it is as important for us to be outdoors, be fit, volunteer to coach local kids and share time with friends who value the same. Now, people with children at home have a more complex challenge… when Janie & I were both doing triathlons, our boys were in grade school and we became the masters of creative training time. I remember sharing biking or running time to & from little league games and training early on weekend mornings so I could spend the rest of the day with them. When they went to ball practice, we squeezed in as much training as possible in those two hours.
13. What is on your agenda for this upcoming winter? You mentioned you will be going to France for the masters world championships – anything else?
We are going to France… our son is a mountain guide in Chamonix so we decided to do MWC again, after the races we will extend the trip for backcountry skiing in the Alps. also, Bob Gray said it was a beautiful place with wonderful trails (past Olympic experience) so we decided to gear it up and go for it. Also, I truly enjoyed a rivalry with a Frenchman and a Russian at McCall last March and look forward to going at it again with them.
14. Anything else you would like to add for any masters who want to either give racing a try, or improve their race performance?
Reason to give it a try… being in the company of so many positive, fit, healthy people. And, skiing is easy to improve in because technique & strength are such key components. In sports like running & cycling, improvement mostly comes from more miles & quality miles, but in skiing masters can make significant improvements by spending time on strength & technique. And finally, living in a Northern climate is easier when you have an appreciative relationship with the outdoors.