DAVOS, Switzerland – Time trials, treadmill workouts, strength testing: all of these are ways to measure an athlete’s progress over the course of the season, or across several years of training.
But Swiss national team coach Guri Hetland uses another tool, too. She has several workouts that she asks skiers to repeat several times over the course of a training year, not as races, but to compare times and see how they feel. One is a threshold workout that Dario Cologna, Roman Furger, and Seraina Boner completed on a recent Wednesday, skiing the 7.5 kilometers from Frauenkirch to Sertig Sand twice with a quick break in the middle to ride down to the bottom of the hill in the team van.
“It’s not a test session, it’s just to get a feeling of how things are working,” Hetland told FasterSkier. “We also have some test sessions with full gas. But this is sort of different.”
In many ways, it wasn’t an ideally designed workout, either. During that break on the downhill, which is too narrow and twisty to safely rollerski given the possibility of oncoming traffic, athletes have to just sit tight. That means very little clearing of any lactate they have accumulated. It might also mean tightening up.
Not every workout has to be perfect, though. In fact, the flaws might turn out to be an advantage in some other way.
“It’s not the best thing, but they are used to it,” Hetland said. “And I think, also in competition, especially in sprints, you are also not always allowed to be recovering. For sure it would be more ideal if they could ski in between, because it’s hard to start again. But it’s good for them to practice.”
To be sure, times are important in these repeated submaximal workouts: Hetland noted them down at two intermediate checkpoints and the finish of the intervals.
“They’re for sure a little bit faster than in the spring,” she said. “They should be better now than in June. But it’s also that some days are good and some days are not that good. The average should be improvement.”
But it’s not a race, against either themselves or other athletes. Unlike testing in a lab, Hetland is not measuring VO2Max. She also doesn’t take lactate measurements in these “fixed” workouts. The main goal is to look at the times, look at the heart rates, and help the athletes understand how their speed corresponds to how they are feeling and what this means about their physiological development. She also takes video to analyze technique, which can be brought into the equation with speed and effort level. Video is reviewed with each athlete separately at the end of the day.
“We aren’t controlling the sessions with lactate… we just use heart rate and speed and feeling,” Hetland explained. “They like to know that they are developing from spring until now, and also to compare to the other years. But of course they know it’s not the maximum session.”
The Swiss team has four such workouts, and Hetland estimated that this was the fourth time the skiers had completed the Sertig workout this year. The first three times were classic skiing, and this was the first time skating. Also, not every athlete does it every time – for instance, this time around, only two of the team members showed up, since many were getting ready for an upcoming training camp.
It wasn’t an easy decision to have so many repeated workouts. But after a few years, Hetland thought that it was a good way for both her and the skiers themselves to keep tabs on their training.
“The first years I was coaching I thought, no, I don’t want to have so many fixed sessions, but then I saw that it’s a good thing,” she said. “You can compare. You shouldn’t do it too often, but sometimes it’s good.”
This time of year, what’s the main thing she’s looking for? The ability of a skier to show up and do the workout right.
“The most important thing is that they can do their sessions, that they are healthy, and that most of the trainings are high level,” she said. “If they are some seconds slower or some seconds faster, that’s not so important.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.