As both an elite team member and coach at Alaska Pacific University (APU), Holly Brooks knows that in today’s racing environments, the ability to ski well with the breakaway is essential.
“You have to hang in the pack but also have some speed in your legs for when the pace picks up,” said the 2010 Olympian.
To practice the high speed tactics of mass starts and sprints, Brooks and her teammates at APU will do their favorite “Over-Under” workout: six by seven to nine minutes at level three with bursts of level five at the middle and end of each interval. The name refers to the workout being under race pace, at threshold, for the majority of each interval, and over race pace for the short speeds.
“The sprint in the middle is for about 10 seconds, to simulate someone making a really strong move in a race. It’s great because you have to go full on, but then keep going afterwards; you’re only half way,” said Brooks.
The second sprint is for 20-30 seconds at the end of the interval to practice finishing speed. Brooks loves the workout not only for the physiological gains but also for the team benefit: doing the workout in a group is a key component, allowing her and her teammates to practice maneuvering within a pack, take turns leading, and learn the strengths and weaknesses of each other.
“At APU, we’re lucky to have so many skiers that are at least similar enough in speed that we can do these workouts together. It’s important being comfortable skiing at a high speed close to someone else, and people who don’t have a lot of training partners lose that benefit,” she said.
In the summer, Brooks and her teammates will usually do these intervals on skate rollerskis on the bike path leading into Kinkaid Park. The terrain is rolling, though more uphill on the way in, so the first interval of each set is around nine minutes long, with the one going back out of the park about two minutes shorter. Recovery in between intervals is three minutes.
Brooks will do six of these intervals for about 50 minutes of total work, but the workout can be adjusted to meet the needs of younger skiers doing shorter races. For juniors, she recommends shortening the amount of total threshold work to 20-30 minutes, or five to six minute intervals.
“It’s good practice no matter what age you are,” said Brooks, who has also coached juniors, masters and women’s training groups at APU. “It really works on endurance, and being able to do this with other people is really valuable. I think sometimes training with other people is underrated.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.