MarathonsNewsRacingTips From the Winner – How to Ski a Marathon

FasterSkier FasterSkierFebruary 9, 20101
Zack Simons stretching for the win over U of U skier Didrik Smith.
Zack Simons stretching for the win over U of U skier Didrik Smith.

By Zack Simons, 2010 Boulder MT Tour Champion

This past weekend marked another spectacular weekend in Ketchum, Idaho- home of the Boulder Mountain Tour.  The BMT is an exceptional race. The weather is typically perfect, the snow abundant and the scenery is unbeatable.  The 32km, point-to-point course, trends downhill and the gradual terrain provides ample challenge for the novice and an exciting, high-speed finish for many of the country’s top racers.

This past weekend I skied my 6th Boulder Mountain Tour and successfully defended my title from the previous year, my third BMT victory thus far. As a marathon specialist, I’d like to offer a few ideas on how to maximize your potential the next time you line up for a long distance event.

The front pack at around 3km which has been very stretched out due the course having narrowed there.
The front pack at around 3km which has been very stretched out due the course having narrowed there.

Conserve-

Conservation is the name of the game in marathon skiing. You want to use as little energy as possible over the course of the race so that when it comes time to sprint, you still have plenty of power. Anytime I am skiing behind someone, I find ways to use less energy.   Sometimes this means tuck-skating to give my arms a rest.  Other times it means moving right or left relative to the person in front of me in order to stay out of a headwind/cross wind.

Madshus/Oregon XC Marshall Greene leading the pack, just before Baker, which has been whittled down to 6.
Madshus/Oregon XC Marshall Greene leading the pack, just before Baker, which has been whittled down to 6.

Positioning-

Positioning is crucial in marathons. It is only a matter of time before the field breaks up. Once those gaps are formed, it will be nearly impossible to bridge to the next group ahead of you.   Get a good warm-up in before the race and start aggressively. Keep your eyes up and watch for gaps forming in front of you. If you have the energy, jump those gaps as soon as they start to appear. As you near the finish, move forward in your group and try to avoid being passed.  If there are only three lanes into the finish, you will not win the sprint from fourth place.

Steinbock Racing's Andrew Johnson leading the pack at Prarie Creek.
Steinbock Racing's Andrew Johnson leading the pack at Prarie Creek.

Passing-

Passing people takes a lot of energy but done in the right place, you can limit your expenditures. I like to try to pass on downhills. The best way to do this is to give yourself a little room over the crest of a hill and accelerate as you go over the top.  Stay in your competitor’s draft as long as possible and slingshot around your competition with little effort. If done right, you can pass several people in one quick shot.

Zack Simons and U of U skier Didrik Smith approach the line.
Zack Simons and U of U skier Didrik Smith approach the line.

Sprinting-

Most marathons will come down to a sprint, one way or another. While natural speed and power play a big part, the ability to hold your technique together throughout the homestretch is critical. I work on finish speed year-round, once a week. Below is an example of my speed workout.

Carl Swenson competing for Steinbock Racing made the trip from southern New Hampshire.
Carl Swenson competing for Steinbock Racing made the trip from southern New Hampshire.

Marathon Speed Workout-

I like to find a nice downhill that leads into a couple hundred meters of flat.  I use the downhill to get up to speed without having to work too hard. Once I hit the flat I do 12 seconds of sprinting.  Early in the season, I start with efforts around 75% and 8 repetitions.  This allows me to focus on using perfect technique.  Once I feel like I can hold it together at 75% I will step it up to 80-85%, and so on…  I like to do this workout after a few hours of distance skiing and later in the year, after an interval workout.  This will force your body to learn to sprint late in a race.

Good luck and have fun in your next marathon adventure!

Andrew Johnson kept the tempo high for Zack the last few kms and gave him a nice leadout helping him to the win.
Andrew Johnson kept the tempo high for Zack the last few kms and gave him a nice leadout helping him to the win.

Zack Simons of Steinbock Racing is a former American Birkebeiner Champion and three-time winner of the Boulder Mountain Tour. This year he and teammate Andrew Johnson worked masterfully together to defend his title.  Steinbock Racing and their latest addition, Carl Swenson, chose Toko HF Blue covered with Toko Jetstream blue enroute to 1st, 5th and 8th place.

Comments on waxing during the Midwest SuperTour races by CXC Head Coach Bryan Fish.  CXC dominated the podiums.

The last two weeks have been polar opposites in conditions.  The weekend of the 23rd included pouring rain and temperature in the mid-30’s.  The overnight lows for last weekend (Jan 30th) plummeted to near 20 below zero.  The temperature Thursday night sunk to 26 degrees below zero.  Cold is all relative – right??  This past weekend was clear, sunny, low humidity and no wind.  I’d like to consider last weekend a “warm-cold.”  The sun beat down on us and resulted in conditions that seemed a lot warmer than the thermometer registered.  On the contrary, I spent the night of Saturday, January 23rd skiing through episodes of torrential downpours, which left me damp and cold to the core.  Good thing I brought rain gear.

Following are some recommendations in these more challenging situations:

Weekend of the 23rd:

We tested base glide and pure fluor.  The snow was wet, old and dirty.  We are alarmed to find that the warmest waxes were not the fastest.  Toko HF Grey (moly) outperformed the mixture of HF yellow and HF grey mixed 1:1.  HF grey was utilized all weekend as our base.  We found the same in the top coats.  We had an identical tie in the speed trap between Jet Stream red and Jet Stream old snow when tested on Friday afternoon.  JS old is the product from years past.  The new Jet Stream yellow created for wet conditions was not in the ballpark, which goes to show that testing is always necessary.

I kept my fingers crossed for rain for the classic race.  It seems counter-intuitive to hope for rain, but one can find waxes that work in wet, dirty and old snow.  The waxes are few, but they do exist.  The forecast was for rain turning to snow, which presents the greatest waxing challenge.   Typically waxes can not be found in these scenarios and hence a good pair of zero skis are required.  We waxed both zero skis and klister skis for each athlete to cover our bases.  We typically only wax 1 pair of skis for each athlete.  We were “lucky” for the weather to remain wet and we were able to find kick.  Toko silver klister is excellent is these conditions.  We had to add orange and multiviola to silver to speed it up, but we had plenty of kick in these adverse conditions.

Weekend of the 30th:

Glide is the major concern in cold conditions – glide as it relates to both classic and skate events.  Kick is relatively easy to conquer, so the emphasis was to develop good glide.  I am often asked, “Is it a pure Fluoro day?”  My continual answer is, “It is ALWAYS a pure Fluoro day.”  At least this is true for the past 4 years of coaching with CXC Elite/ CXC Team Vertical Limit.  We have found in testing that there exists pure fluorine that is faster than base paraffin regardless of temperature or humidity.  Therefore, our question is not IF, but WHICH fluorine will present optimal results.

We had received a foot of snow last week.  The snow set up firm and relatively fast for cold condition.  We tested bases and found that Toko HF blue alone was quite slow.  However, the blend of HF blue with a high percentage of Toko X Cold powder resulted in our top performer.  This is a common blend for us when temperatures plummet.  Jet Stream blue powder was the quickest powder on Saturday and we found that fluorine in a block form rotocorked atop the powder accelerated our skis.  We covered JS blue powder with JS blue block.

Best wishes,

Bryan

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