It may sound trite, but in cross-country ski racing, you can never have too much speed. If you want proof, ask any of Emil Joensson’s opponents in recent World Cup sprints.
The ability to accelerate quickly and reach high maximum speeds, be it in a sprint or during a surge in a mass start race, is critical to racing success.
For Brian Gregg, a member of CXC’s elite team, his favorite workout focuses on just this sort of speed.
The workout is relatively simple, but incorporates different elements. The basis is three sets of six high-speed intervals, each 10 to 20 seconds long.
The goal, says Gregg, “is to go as fast as possible while being as efficient as possible.”
He describes this level as the point “before the hurricane starts.”
In the first set of speeds, skiers start from a standstill, often emulating the start commands and roll-up of an official sprint start.
Gregg likes to do the first one or two efforts on his own to get the feel, then go head-to-head with teammates. He will time the first one, and then mark the finish line for each successive repetition.
Full recovery between each speed is key, and Gregg generally takes a two minutes, skiing easy back to the start line, grabbing a drink of water, or just hanging out.
“You need to make sure you aren’t bringing fatigue into each interval,” he says.
The rest is even longer between sets – ten minutes – as the group usually changes locations.
The second set features moving starts on rolling terrain, preferably with a corner.
The best way to ski these is in a small group, and with a leader for each interval. At some point, while skiing along easy, the leader will take off, leaving the rest to follow as best they can.
This simulates the attacks that are frequent in mass start races, as well as the critical points on a sprint course.
The final set ratchets the pace even higher, following the classic “drop-in” protocol – start the interval on a downhill and push the limits of your technique at high speed.
“You want to maintain really solid technique,” says Gregg. “It shouldn’t be too taxing.
“Actually,” he adds, “they are more technique intervals than speed intervals.”
The workout is usually done skating, but it can easily be adapted for classic, striding from a standstill for the first set, double poling the second, and sticking with the downhill starts on the third.
In the past, Gregg has added this workout in the fall, but says he would like to use it on snow as well.
On rollerskis, a favorite version is to find a large parking lot, complete with lined parking spaces.
It can be fun, Gregg said, to line up in the parking spaces to simulate sprint starting lanes, but it can be even more valuable to start perpendicular to the lines.
Gregg sees a critical aspect of the session as evaluation of one’s efficiency, and the white markers every five meters are a perfect opportunity for this.
“You can see where you are losing and gaining time in small increments,” he says. “At high speeds, inefficiencies show themselves exponentially.”
Despite the short time and the long rest, Gregg considers the workout an intensity session, albeit an easy one.
“We will throw it into a distance workout…often in an easy week to keep sharp,” he says.
Gregg prefers distance racing, and his top results have been in the longer events, but he is no slouch on the sprint course. And whether you are charging down the finish stretch at the end of a 30 k, responding to an attack in a 50 k, or battling in the sprint finals, you need the speed.
— Nat Herz contributed reporting
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.