Michael Sinnott races for the Saab-Salomon Factory Team and is a member of the Sun Valley Olympic Development Team. More information on the Saab-Salomon Factory Team can be found at www.enjoywinter.com. This article first appeared in Ski Post – www.skipost.com
The first half of the season has come and gone. It was cold, warm, snowy, and dry, but it’s gone, and it’s not coming back. Now, we look forward to the second half and what may come. While the weather itself is unpredictable (forecast? HA!), there is a significant change worth preparing for- the longer races. For many skiers, the second half of the season marks the turn from shorter races, to the longer marathons. It’s rather strange, when you think about it, that the same athletes who race 1 km or 10 km also venture out for 50km. Imagine Usain Bolt jumping in against Bernard Lagat, or even Paula Radcliffe. Yet we, the brave winter warriors, do it all.
With a race so long, it’s worth putting in the extra effort to be sure you are ready. This may include trying some long OD skis of 3 or more hours. Go wild, and learn to ski smoothly for a long time. Try a 50 km ski at an easy pace, just to practice going that far. For the actual “going hard” part, I think one of the best ways to prepare is to do shorter distance races. Just as we practice intervals of 3, 5, or 7 minutes for a 10 km race, use the 35 or 40 minute races to build your body’s endurance for the marathons. There are a couple reasons for the practice. One, the body physiologically needs to adapt to racing. How many people do you know that “race themselves into shape?” It’s a great way to go, as far as endurance is concerned, although not in the long run. Imagine starting from a higher place of fitness. A person already in shape will continue to grow and evolve physiologically into an even more honed skiing machine. Thus, when its time for marathons, you’ve gone past the basic fitness of training and into the realm of race-shape. The bonus to doing shorter early season races is the mental practice. Races can be stressful, and taxing. It’s best to do a couple races just to work out the mental kinks of preparing yourself- calm the nerves. Then during the race, you can try different tactics, and learn just what you are made of.
So you are in shape, and ready to tackle a marathon, but you’re nervous because a marathon is daunting. And let’s face it, a 10 km hardly stakes up. I have found two things especially useful. First, do not be intimidated. Sure, the marathon is long, but you’re tough. There is a lot of race ahead, and plenty of time to make up for mistakes. There are feeds if you bonk; there are down hills to rest. There are hoards of other people to pace off of. Don’t be intimidated, just enjoy it. Second, start off easy. It can be tricky to find the right pace, especially in a mass of people who are all anxious. But as I said before, there is a lot of race to make up for the mistakes. Ski into the race, and try to ski the last half faster than the first half. There’s no need to overload on lactic acid with 48 km to go. It’s more fun to finish hard, beating that guy you struggled against all race, than to walk across the line.
Finally, if at all possible, use the first marathon to learn. Some people only do one, but doing multiple has its advantage. Learn what pace works for you, build confidence, practice feeding, learn to dress right, yada, yada, yada. There are innumerable things to learn during every second of a race. Think how long you are out there racing, then think how many seconds of learning that translates to.
The second, and longer, half of the season is here. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Ski a marathon. Go big.