It is mid July and do you know where your rollerskis are? If you are Team Homegrown’s Sylvan Ellefson, they will likely be found heading up the valley from the town of Vail, Colorado to the top of Vail pass, cranking out some long level three intervals.
Ellefson, a graduate of Bates College, native of Vail, and one of the founding member’s of the Ski and Snowboard Club of Vail Team Homegrown, likes to put the “long” in “long level three intervals” at this time of year.
Generally going with the classic technique, Ellefson shoots for a solid hour of working time, choosing either three twenty-minute repetitions, or four fifteen-minute repeats.
The goal is to build the threshold base that serves as the foundation for the intensity training and racing to come.
“I love to do it,” Ellefson said of the workout. “It is kind of a gradual climbing hill with some good steep sections where you have to ramp up the speed a little, and there are other parts where it is just good long striding.”
The varied grade is ideal as it allows for all three techniques over the course of the workout – double pole, double pole kick and striding.
Ellefson describes the pace as “level three, bouncing between race pace and threshold.”
Toward the end of each interval, he will pick it up. “I always love to crank it up at the end. If you are training at threshold you have the ability to ramp it up because you haven’t been pushing your lactate levels that high,” Ellefson said.
The attack in the last minute is fun, but also serves a purpose. Hailing from, and now training at the high altitude of Vail (the town is at 8,022 feet and the top of the pass at an oxygen-starved 10,617 feet), Ellefson is aware that he needs to focus on his speed.
“We are not used to having those quick twitch muscles firing all the time,” Ellefson says of himself and his high-altitude compatriots. “I like to exaggerate a lot of the movements, making them just a little bit quicker – to see if I can raise the tempo, and increase my speed for when I race at lower altitudes.”
Initially Ellefson struggled to control his heart rate with the tempo increase, but quickly learned to moderate power output to keep the pace similar and stay within the level three target zone.
Each interval is followed by five to seven minutes of rest – enough to get the heart rate back down to level 1 for at least a minute – then it is right back at it. Ellefson does not feed during the intervals, but uses the rest period to stay hydrated, generally eschewing sports drinks for straight water, and occasionally popping an energy bar on an off day.
While he tries to schedule harder level four intervals with training partners – wanting to simulate race situations, especially sprints, Ellefson prefers to make the climb up Vail Pass on his own.
“I can really get into the mindset of staying in my zone and not worry about how fast other people are going,” he said.
At this time of year he schedules such a workout as frequently as every week, and certainly no less than every other week.
And why intervals as opposed to a long level three pace? Ellefson sees the advantages of the format – allowing him to push a bit harder in each individual repetition than he would in a sustained effort, building capacity and stamina above his current race level.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.