NewsToko: Marathon Race Strategy from Chris Cook

FasterSkier FasterSkierMarch 9, 2011

Marathon Race Strategy from Chris Cook

With a marathon being such a long race, having a proper strategy can be quite effective at getting you close to the top steps of the podium. However, don’t expect a race strategy to be more effective than training and race preparation. This is just another area to fine tune your preparation for your race.

The first step is to know every inch of your course. If you are on a new course you haven’t been able to preview, then study the profile and focus on a few major areas to get familiar with and start there. I highly recommend some sort of preview of the course even if you can only see the final km, it’s better than going in blind. A common mistake is to use the time you have to simply preview the start. In a marathon, winning the hole shot and the first 5km are not really that important. Ideally try and ski the last 10km to the finish as this can be where the race generally unfolds, whether you are fighting for the top spots, trying to be the first in your group, or holding off a charging group. On race morning check out the start set up and just look to stay out of trouble.

Next is to figure out your own strengths and weakness and apply them to the course. For example, if you’re a better skier on the flats, don’t kill yourself going up hills, take a little off so you can charge on the flats where you are strongest. Another common mistake is to charge on areas you’re weaker and rest on areas of the course where you are stronger. However, this shouldn’t be mistaken as to fall off the group going up a hill but you should find your own rhythm keep the group close and once you get over the top, pick up the effort. By skiing your own rhythm you will conserve all kinds of energy and at the end of the day that is pretty much what marathon racing is all about. Conserving energy and skiing efficiently so you can pick up the pace in the end or continue a consistent high pace.

Finally, understand your competition. It is a valuable tool to understand the racers in your groups strengths and weakness. Is there a sprinter in your group, is there a climber, is there a breakaway threat? If you don’t know you may end of chasing down the wrong breakaways, wasting energy trying to hang with the best climber in the group, or dragging a sprinter to the line. This is also where your race strategy needs to be flexible and adapt to the race. Knowing that there is a racer that will try and break you on the hills, but if you can just handle the surges and stay close you can stay with them, or be aware that there is a sprinter in your group and you don’t want to take the last 5km easy, because that’s exactly what they want.

These are just the basics of developing a good marathon race strategy but if you use this tool you will be amazed at the success you will have.

Chris Cook, Steinbock Racing

Birkie Report from Bryan Cook

It usually takes at least a week to recover from my, “Birkie Fever,” and this year has been no exception. This year’s Birkie was, once again, a great event for all skiers. The reason I enjoy the Birkie so much is because I have been going to the Birkie since I was born. I have participated in everything during Birkie week, including the Barne, the Barne games, the sprints, Korte, and now the Birkie. I will always enjoy seeing so many skiers throughout the week, and especially watching so many skiers coming up Main Street every year.

I will remember this year’s Birkie in particular for a couple reasons. The first reason, which many will always remember, is the fact that it was SO cold. I am used to racing in the cold but not usually for 50km. I know it is always cold at the start, but every other year it has always warmed up to a really nice temperature by the finish-not this year. It started cold and remained cold throughout the entire day, which made for some tough cheering on Main Street after my race for sure. It was the same for everyone, but some things to always remember when racing in cold conditions is to dress properly. You have to make sure that you start warm and have clothes that wick the moisture your body creates once you get going in the race away from your skin. It is essential to invest in high performance under layers. My go to cold weather gear includes windstopper long underwear top over a lightweight, short sleeve undershirt, long underwear bottoms over wind briefs, wool socks, a buff pulled up over my ears, and the best cold weather gloves they make-Toko Thermo Windstopper gloves. I stayed quite warm using these items along with keeping my warm-ups on for as long as possible before the start. Another great way to keep warm is to invest in an insulated drink belt that will allow you to drink a warm beverage during the race. I love filling my Toko drink belt with warm Gatorade while out racing or training on cold days.

The second reason I will remember this year’s Birkie has to do with how things can change so often during a 50km race. One kilometer you feel great and the next kilometer you are barely hanging on to the lead pack. I learned that you just have to push through the hard moments and trust that you will be able to recover and start to feel better later in the race. You really have to be able to adapt to speed changes in mass start races because you are at the mercy of your fellow competitors. This year the Norwegian Team Birken pushed everyone to their limits in the lead pack, and taught me that the ability to deal with pace increases are something that should be worked on in training. Three of the Team Birken skiers hit the front of the lead pack just after Mosquito Brook and started to cycle through at a really high pace. This immediately strung out our lead pack that was still around twenty strong. I knew that the winning move was probably going to come out of this as you start to gradually climb for close to 2km from Mosquito Brook. I managed to stay near the front of the group and I was dealing with the pace increase pretty well. The Norwegians saw that their move was damaging a lot of the skiers, but they were not able to breakaway like they intended to so they pulled off and moved a little farther back in the pack. Then just as we were about to crest another hill, about a minute or two later and half a km or so from Bitch hill, the eventual winner attacked really hard over the top and this was one pace increase too many for me and everyone other than the French skier that ended up 2nd. They both were able to increase their speed just enough to hold our counterattack off and I was pretty spent from trying to bridge the gap to them. This is where I just had to trust that I could recover in the draft enough to sprint in for 3rd and I just about managed it. I was really happy with my ability to try to fight back to the lead and then recover enough to have a good sprint at the end; However, I know that I need to get better at dealing with fast pace increases and then decreases in the future.

I was happy with my finish as well as the high finishes of the rest of my CXC Team teammates, and I have to thank the numerous volunteers and workers that make the Birkie happen every year. I would also like to thank my coaching staff and supporting sponsors including: Lake Express, Salomon, Podiumwear, and of course Toko for keeping my body warm and my skis fast.

Bryan Cook, CXC Elite Team

(Bryan was the top American male finisher this year)

Razzle your Drink Belt Contest

Decorate your Toko drink belt and post the image on the Toko US Facebook Page. On 15 March, we will select our favorite. The winner will receive $500 worth of Toko product in the fall when we have everything in stock. Here’s the link to the Toko US Facebok page.

Race Wax Recommendations for the Masters Cross Country Ski World Cup 2011 will be posted on www.TokoUS.com. Here is a direct link to the page. They will also be tweeted (TokoUS) and posted to the Toko US Facebook page.

Junior Olympic Wax Tips will be posted on the Toko US website (Direct link to exact page here), Facebook Page, and Tweeted (TokoUS). They will not be sent out by eBlast though.

For Toko Wax Tips for Canadian Cross Country Ski Races, go to the Toko Canada Facebook Site.

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