Some skiers love to run; others tolerate it. The U.S. Ski Team’s Liz Stephen is the former. And while uphill running intervals present plenty of challenge for most, Stephen not only wants a solid grade and 20+ minutes of active time – she wants a steady downpour, mud, slippery footing, and whatever else nature can throw at her.
“For me it is always more fun when it is raining out,” said Stephen. “It is muddy…your hair is all matted down. There is rain in your face, your glasses don’t work, feet are slipping. You have to figure it out. I like that kind of stuff.”
Her workout of choice consists of a relatively standard set of intervals – six four-minute repeats of hard effort building to maximum over the course of the session.
The optimal hill is long enough that you don’t have to go all the way down after each effort, keeping the rest period in the target zone of three to four minutes. The grade should be challenging but run-able. These are not bounding intervals.
Bounding may be more specific and powerful, but running gives Stephen a chance to work on quickness.
“It should be a fun feeling,” she said. “A hard feeling, of course, but not bogging down.
“You want to feel like you can be fast!”
Staying light and quick is a regular theme in ski technique, and this is a perfect dryland opportunity to apply those concepts.
At the end of the day, however, it is the rain that makes it for Stephen.
“I just like that feeling – being muddy, coming in and showering, drinking hot cocoa and sitting by the fire, stretching and reflecting on ‘I just got some shit done today,’” said Stephen.
And part of getting it done is learning to deal with the adverse conditions.
“Whether you are on the World Cup or at some Eastern Cup, there is still shitty weather and the rain still falls, and the course is still not groomed the way you want it to be,” she said. “There is always going to be something that is not ideal for you. You have to know how to do that, too.”
The rain may not raise your VO2max, or increase your foot speed, and mental benefits are hard to quantify – but Stephen sees real value.
“Honestly, did it make you a better athlete than if it was sunny out? Maybe, maybe not, but in terms of your mental approach, you feel you really accomplished something,” she said.
Stephen has been working on evaluating every workout – what went well, what could have been better. And, she concludes, “with running intervals in the rain, the positive is always that it is raining!”
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.