Wednesday Workout: Over & Under Marathon Prep with Holly Brooks

BrainspiralOctober 29, 20142
Holly Brooks skiing up "Wall Street" near the top of Spencer Loop-Hillside trails, which some racers may remember from the 30/50 k at SuperTour Spring Series last March. (Courtesy photo)
Holly Brooks skiing up “Wall Street” near the top of Spencer Loop-Hillside trails, which some racers may remember from the 30/50 k at SuperTour Spring Series last March. (Courtesy photo)
This week’s workout comes from U.S. Olympian Holly Brooks, who’s about to embark on the four-month FIS Marathon Cup/Worldloppet series with a goal of finishing in the overall top three. While she’s done marathons before — including the American Birkebeiner (which she won in 2012) and Switzerland’s Engadin twice  — this will be the former U.S. Ski Team member’s first season exclusively focusing on uber-long distance races.
This season I’m preparing to compete in the FIS World Loppet Marathon Cup.  I will compete in eight races as short as 42k (La Sgambeda – Italy & Engadin – Switzerland) and as long as 70k (Marcialonga – Italy). This is a notable change from the World Cup circuit which includes lots of sprints, prologues, and 10ks.  The regular Wold Cup has one 30k per year (Holmenkollen) and a second 30k at Championships. Consequently, I don’t have a ton of marathon experience and I’ve certainly never kicked off the season with a 2 hour race!
Holly Brooks post workout on the Girdwood trails on Tuesday. (Courtesy photo)
Holly Brooks post workout Tuesday on the Girdwood trails just south of Anchorage, Alaska. (Courtesy photo)

One of my go-to workouts is quick and simple: Over & Under, L3 pace workout with surges

The purpose of this workout is raise aerobic threshold and build the capacity to respond to surges in speed. All of the marathons I will compete in this year are mass start format. Thus, I need to be comfortable going fast and going fast for long period of time. Often these races come down to a break in the middle (when someone sprints to break the pack) or they may end up in a 10-30 person sprint at the end for the victory. The ability to make or respond to a surge is critical for this style of racing. Hence the “over (speeds) and under (L3) title to this workout.  

How it’s done: 

  1. Warm up easy (25 – 40 minutes) and make the warm up progressive. Keep the pace low & save your juice for the interval!  This workout can be done on snow, roller skis, or even foot with poles – choose your method based on what you’ve got.
  2.  1 hour L3, threshold, or “fast distance” pace.  The idea is to keep the majority of the workout aerobic… think 30-50k race pace. Well above distance pace and below hard race pace. Pick some technique goals to focus on for the session. One thing I like to think about early season are transitions. There is lots of time to be gained or lost in the twists and turns of ski courses. After a summer of roller skiing on street terrain actual ski courses are more dynamic and complicated. Don’t be complacent! 
  3. Adding intermittent speeds ranging from 10-30 seconds are a fun way to mix up this workout and good practice for mass start formats. The best way to do this is with other people, taking turns “attacking” the group at choice places. (Rather than the predictability of a speed every five minutes keep the format open.) In a race you never know when some one’s going to make a move – you just need to be ready to respond. It’s fun to replicate that in this workout if you have a comparable training group. 
  4. Fun additions – wax your skis (if you’re skiing!) …. cause good boards for a good workout make a difference. Wear a race suit – because you’ll feel faster, I promise. There is nothing worse than attempting a fast high quality workout in old, baggy fleece! Bring a snack – good recovery foods are key and near the end of this workout your stomach may start to grumble. 
The APU women training Tuesday in Girdwood, Alaska. (Photo: Kikkan Randall)
The APU women training Tuesday in Girdwood, Alaska. (Photo: Kikkan Randall)

Today I skied 20k in this format and next week I’ll ski a 30k pace workout. We’ve had snow skiing in Anchorage for about a week now and it’s good to make the transition from fall training to full on, winter snow-skiing gradually. (Tired shins & balancing muscles!)  I’m not doing any 2-hour/50k threshold workouts because the recovery time takes too long to maintain a productive training load.

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Yesterday morning [on Oct. 28], the APU team drove south to Girdwood to take advantage of near World Cup conditions on their 5k loop.  The trails are wide enough for 2.5 skaters, groomed immaculately, and are homologated for high level competition. (Meaning they are hard and have hills!) Thanks so much to the Girdwood Nordic Ski Club for putting so much time and energy into their trail system. Access to snow and good trails is huge for those of us that have important early season races! 

Good luck & happy training,


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  • muskegflyer

    October 29, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I think you have made a great decision! The long distance series in Europe are growing and the Swix Classics Series is overtaking the Marathon Cup in popularity. There are overlaps with some events in both series but the SCS is demonstrating huge growth. Check it out – pro teams with full year round training programs, excellent support and good prize money. The top 100 skiers in each event reads like a who’s who of former and current national, Olympic and world championship level skiers.
    Our problem in North America is getting into the most popular events. I have tried to register for the Vasaloppet and Marcialonga without success several times. So this season we are heading over to do the Jizerska race; the La Diagonela; the Konig Ludwig Lauf and another couple of races in Italy. For fun and different; check out the Seiser Alm Midnight Classic. We qwill wrap up the year with the US Birkie.

    Best of luck to you and maybe we’ll see you at the events.

  • nordicmatt

    October 31, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    For the record, Girdwood 5k is still in the homologation process and has a provisional certificate for the 2014-15 season.
    Thanks, Matt Pauli (FIS TD, FIS Homologation Inspector)

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