On Nov. 1, the clocks turned against a skier’s favor, especially if you are used to training after an already-lengthy day at school. For many, this time of year brings about tough battles with motivation. The desire to even get out the door is often more difficult to swallow when the sun goes down, and cold weather combined with a lack of snow can add even more aggravation.
Mansfield Nordic is incredibly fortunate to train at one of only a few paved, car-free rollerski loops in the country at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho. “The Range”, as it’s known colloquially, also features lights along all 5.5 kilometers of trail, making it ideal for training in this tough shoulder season.
Although The Range is an amazing place to train, we don’t spend every workout on rollerskis. Recently we found a creative way to make our own lighted trail system in the woods with the help of some battery-powered infrastructure.
In this article I’ll share two workouts we’ve done this fall that were enhanced by the darkness rather than limited by it: A rollerski sprint time trial and bounding intervals in the woods.
Event 1: Skate Rollerski Sprint TT
After a late-summer timetrial with the Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS) in East Warren, coaches Garrott, Katrina and I began talking about the next time we could get the group together. The GMVS crew would not be able to get to the Range until 5 p.m. on weekdays, Garrott noted, when darkness would be coming up fast. Instead of changing plans, we decided to turn this into the plan!
A few weeks and a bit of outreach later, a hearty crew was up at The Range on a Tuesday night for some sprinting action. The competitors included athletes from Mansfield Nordic, GMVS, St. Michael’s College, and the University of Vermont (UVM) Club team.
A qualifier was held in grainy, fading light, and by the time the heats began the lights along the trail were the only glow in the area as racers sped around a hilly 1 k lap. Organized in a modified “King’s Court” style, everyone got to race multiple heats against similar competition. With some diligent recording, every racer was tracked for every lap so that times could be compared. Pizza delivered after the final round was key, as the event wrapped up around 7 p.m.
Event 2: Bounding by Headlamp
Although rollerski tracks with lights are not common, many racers are probably more familiar with training by headlamp, especially masters racers who are looking to train before and after long work days. We were able to do some bounding intervals at a popular training location, the Jericho Research Forest, with headlamps and more to light the way.
The location for this was key to enabling safe, effective training in the woods at night. This stretch of forest has a few great features that made the night workout possible:
- Hills of varying length and grade (of course)
- Snowmobile trails, which are wide and well-cleared of obstacles that could trip you up
- A relatively short 1-2 k loop to avoid getting lost and help track athletes
MNC skiers alternated jogging and bounding on portions of a 6-8 minute loop that included steep uphills, rolling terrain and flats. By doing the workout on a set course over and over, athletes became familiar with the terrain in the fading evening light. This made it easier to navigate the loop when the complete darkness arrived shortly thereafter.
The loop made a figure-8 style, and in the middle, a branch was posted into the ground with a LED light dangling off — the center hub and meeting spot, as well as the beginning and end of every interval. This made it easier to know where and when to find athletes … and to know where the water belts were.
Headlamps were donned to allow better visibility, and also give a pretty cool motivational boost. Is the competition outside training in the dark right now as well, or are they home watching “The Walking Dead”? Concluding the workout with some extra hard bounding with a partner, under the light of teammates’ headlamps lining a short section of the trail, made for a great finale.
The dark and cold days of autumn will always bring a tough challenge to skiers, especially before the snow has fallen. It doesn’t have to mean a lack of motivation or variety, though. If you can get creative with your workouts, you may even find a way to dig deeper and end up with a more memorable session than you planned.
Adam Terko is the assistant coach of the St. Lawrence University Ski Team