What do you do when you can’t keep up with Andy Newell?
For most of us, the answer is that we continue on with our normal lives, content to compete for a spot in the elite wave at the American Birkebeiner rather than the top spot on a World Cup podium. But Steinbock Racing’s Chris Cook was not so easily deterred. Instead of giving up, he turned to a sprint workout: sets of all-out 30-second intervals.
“We were pretty similar in a bunch of other workouts, but in this [one], I found he was really getting away from me,” Cook said of Newell. “That’s when I realized I needed to work on them a little more.”
Cook spent a number of years on the U.S. Ski Team, sprinting at the World Cup level, and he had plenty of chances to mix it up with Newell. The two would do this workout together “all the time,” Cook said.
The duration and the number of sets of Cook’s sprint intervals are similar to Simi Hamilton’s speeds, which FasterSkier described earlier this summer. But Cook said that his workout was different, because each effort was longer.
“It kind of prepares you for that last surge in a sprint heat or mass start race—really charging, building up some fatigue through the set,” he said, describing the session as a “speed workout mixed with, basically, a lactate tolerance workout.”
The pace of the repeats should be all-out—a “hard sprint effort, as hard and fast as you can go,” Cook said. He’ll do three sets of six, with about two minutes of easy recovery between each interval and ten minutes between each set.
It’s good to vary terrain and practice on flats, gradual uphills, and gradual descents, but Cook said that he’ll do many of his repeats from the same starting point on the same stretch of road, which helps him gauge each one. Cook will mark out the distance of his best interval, which then allows him to measure subsequent efforts. It’s a good way to judge fatigue—if Cook starts bogging down and missing his high mark, he’ll call off the session. But it’s also a good way to chart progress.
In the fall, Cook said, he’ll be going further down the road during each 30-second effort than he was in the summer.
“As I get close to the race season, I should have my furthest finish point marked off,” he said.
This time of year, Cook said, he’ll do the workout once every few weeks, then more often—sometimes in back-to-back weeks—as the intensity of his training begins ramping up in the fall.
He said the session doesn’t quite qualify as a speed workout, since each effort is a little too long, but neither is it demanding enough to keep Cook at threshold.
Nonetheless, he said, “it’s pretty gnarly…it doesn’t seem like a hard workout until you get into it.”
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.