Work and Skiing: Martin Rosvall Challenges the Pros

Inge ScheveAugust 9, 20103

This is the first of a two-part profile on Swede Martin Rosvall, who recently completed hi post-graduate degree at the University of Washington.  Rosvall finished 15th in the 2010 Vasaloppet, challenging some of the world’s top skiers.

Most of his competitors train full time; Martin Rosvall, 32, works full time. In March, Rosvall was 15th overall at the Vasaloppet, after having led the podium finishers large portions of the way from Sälen to Mora. No small feat for an amateur.

Rosvall became quite a celebrity among the Seattle-area skiers and beyond while doing his post-graduate research at the University of Washington from 2006 to 2008. Rosvall won just about every local race, was 9th at the 2008 US Nationals 50K in Fairbanks and delivered a long list of solid Nor-Am results, as well as placing 2nd in the 2009 Ski2Sea Nordic leg in Bellingham. This year he was 4th at Ski2Sea, beat by Ivan Babikov, Brian Gregg and Eric Bjoernsen, but edging out Olympians including Torin Koos. That following a season where he had skied alongside World Cup skiers such as Axel Teichmann, Jörgen Brink, Jerry Ahrlin and Mathias Fredriksson in several FIS events.

World Cup talent

Rosvall, a native of Umeå in northern Sweden and a member of Lycksele IF ski club, grew up training and competing with former Olympian Per Elofsson, as well as World Cup racers Björn Lind and Björn Ferry. While nobody could challenge Elofsson, Rosvall outskied Ferry and Lind on several occasions during his last junior season, and the success changed his perspective on racing.

“After chasing the podium for so many years, beating Björn Ferry and Björn Lind gave me a chance to feel what it was like to win. But it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It didn’t feel any different than before. That’s when I realized I love skiing for the sake of skiing. It’s not about winning. So for an underchallenged high school student, choosing a university degree over a World Cup career was not hard. And it’s a decision I have never regretted.”

The benefits of a career

Now Rosvall works full-time as an assistant professor in physics at the University of Umeå and finds that ski racing and a professional career are not mutually exclusive.

“I’m always the underdog. A pro should beat an amateur, so whenever I beat a pro, it’s a victory in itself,” Rosvall says, noting that having a career adds another dimension to his life.

“I notice that the moods of my full-time pro skier friends entirely depend on their performance. When they ski well, they’re happy. If they’re not having success, they’re grumpy. If I have a bad day on the trails or a bad race, I can always come back to my career and my research, and vice versa,” he says.

Furthermore, Rosvall thinks his lifestyle lets him get the most out of his training hours.

“Every workout is fun and feels like a luxury. If I were to increase my annual hours by 30 percent from 600 hours to just below 800 hours, I’d have a 50 percent chance of becoming 2 percent fasters. I’d also have a 50 percent chance of training too hard and becoming 10 percent slower,” Rosvall says.

Martin Rosvall at the 2010 Ski2Sea in Bellingham, Wash. Photo: Debbie Kolp

Less is more

So how does a full-time worker with time constraints, extensive work travel, conferences and hotel life in non-skiable places keep up with World Cup racers? The answer is simple, according to Rosvall: Less is more. Less hours means feeling fresher more often.

“I trained less this year than before. Every skier knows when to take a day off, but they don’t. This year I did. The result is that I start every intensity workout feeling fresh, and I recover better. I get the most out of every workout. I logged fewer hours overall, but better hours. I didn’t do any more intensity than before, just better quality,” Rosvall explains. And the strategy paid off.

“The only bonk I had was teaching a class. I ran out of things to say, my brain ran out of glycogen and class ended early. I tried to teach for five more minutes, but I realized that I couldn’t even understand what I was trying to say myself,” Rosvall recalls.

Then what separates the World Cup racers from a 15th place Vasaloppet finisher? Mostly, speed and sprint capacity.

“I couldn’t do well on Olympic courses compared to the pro skiers. There are no short cuts. 50 percent more training hours in the log makes you on average 2 percent faster. That equation doesn’t work with a full-time job,” Rosvall explains. “They’re sprinters and can burn lots of fuel in a short time. I get too much lactate sooner than they do. But in long races, it’s all endurance. In a flatter, 90K race, they don’t have that much of an advantage from being good at 15K courses with lots of hills.”

Changing the recipe

“Having a different strategy was certainly part of the success this year, but also I was stronger than I have been before,” Rosvall says. The secret to more strength? None. Rosvall simply started doing strength workouts on a regular basis.

“This was my first year in the gym,” Rosvall says with a laugh. He completed one or two max strength workouts in the gym each week, focusing on a few key exercises.

“I went in before work and did an hour of few reps and high weights. I focus on my weak parts, which is hamstrings and core,” Rosvall says. Dynamic/ explosive lunges with a weighted bar, chin-ups, dips and hamstring kick-back on a machine was the mainstay of the diet, in addition to a healthy dose of core drills.

Rosvall also changed the way he did intervals.

“No more pushing beyond threshold. I did mostly nine to ten minute intervals at race pace, or right below my lactate threshold,” Rosvall says, noting that he believes max effort intervals tend to increase recovery time while adding little to the capacity for marathon racing.

Additionally, Rosvall is convinced that countless hours running through wetlands with poles pay off.

“For a strength workout, there is nothing that really compares. It’s a full body workout, both strength and cardio, and all with very little impact on the joints compared to running even on trails,” he says, adding that running in sand might deliver similar benefits.

More than one basket

Rosvall didn’t put all his eggs in the Vasaloppet basket. He built up to the race by doing a number of other high-profile events, including the 42K Dolomitenlauf (skate) in the Alps, followed by the 70K Marcialonga (classic) in Italy the week after, and a handful of Swedish FIS-sanctioned races. Of the Swedish races, the 45K classic Åsanespelen stands out. Rosvall skied neck a neck with Jörgen Brink, Jerry Ahrlin and Mathias Fredriksson – Swedish World Cup and full-time racers that he would encounter again at the Vasa in March. Rosvall was 4th overall in Åsane.

“Åsanespelen was a great opportunity to ski with the best. I realized that I really could ski with them. I was right there for 30K, when we hit a long uphill. That’s where you recognized that they are World Cup skiers and I’m not. World Cup skiers start out fast on the hills and they continue at the same pace, even when you can’t see them anymore,” Rosvall explains.

Martin Rosvall at the summit of Cutthroat trail as it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo: Kent Murdoch

Inge Scheve

Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.

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  • kamikaze

    August 9, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Great story- comforting to hear that the brainy ones can still train and race fast

  • highstream

    August 9, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Best quick explanation of training and racing from an overall perspective I’ve read.


    August 9, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Super article! Thanks

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