ResourcesWorkoutsWednesday Workout: Russian Intervals with a Canmore Master

FasterSkier FasterSkierJuly 4, 2018
Author Everett Fee racing at his first Masters World Cup in 2008 in McCall, Idaho. (Courtesy photo)

(Note: The following workout was submitted to FasterSkier by Everett Fee of Canmore, Alberta. If you’d like to share a workout of your own and the story behind it, please email alex@fasterskier.com with the subject line: ‘Wednesday Workout submission’.)

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Competitive cross-country skiing is a great lifelong sport. I came late to the party, skiing in my first Masters World Cup when I was 63. I am now 73 and looking forward to being in the thick of things in 2021 when the Masters World Cup races will be in my hometown of Canmore — I’ll be a youngster in the M10 (75-79) age class!

I got into both XC skiing and rock climbing soon after moving to Winnipeg in 1972. They were complimentary sports — we used skis to explore the SW margin of the Canadian Shield in search of unclimbed granite cliffs that we approached by canoe on climbing trips in summer.  I enjoyed skiing the occasional loppet but, in truth, climbing was what I was keen on; when there was no snow on the ground I didn’t think about skiing.

((Some accounts of those days are available online (ELA climbing guide) or in the Canadian Alpine Journal (CAJ v. 65 (1982), p. 24; 66 (1983), p. 98).)

After a sabbatical year in 1979 in distant mountains (the Pyrenees, the Alps, Morocco, and Chile), the remainder of my Winnipeg years were focused on climbing trips: Mexico, Yosemite, the Red Rocks, the Dolomites, Ecuador, Nepal, and, most frequently, the Canadian Rockies.

My two Masters World Cup experiences. Left: On the starting line in McCall, Idaho (2008). Right: Mid-race in Autrans, France (2009). (Photos: Dave Rees (l) and purchased/courtesy photo (r))

When I retired in 1997, moving to Canmore in the heart of the Canadian Rockies was a given. Now, 21 years later, the focus of my summers is training for and thinking about XC skiing. This transformation happened for several reasons. First, because I’m a lazy fun hog I couldn’t resist the five months of carved-in-marble grooming at the Canmore Nordic Centre, which is only 10 minutes from our house. The venue for the 1988 Calgary Olympics XC races and a regular stop on the World Cup XC circuit since 2005, it was so easy to ski there 100 days each winter. And all that skiing gave me the fitness I needed to tackle long-held climbing objectives such as Mount Alberta.

Another thing that drew me to XC skiing is the people I met on nordic-centre trails.  A lot of them were masters skiers who trained seriously during the dryland months for racing in Canadian Nationals Masters and Masters World Cup in the winter. They encouraged me to dream big, too. In considering this, it became clear that I would have to seriously upgrade my haphazard approach to training (basically, a lot of random skiing in the winter and climbing in the summer).

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Canada’s Graeme Killick representing the Banff Ski Runners at 2007 Canadian nationals. (Photo: Anders Lenes)

So in 2007 I joined the Banff Ski Runners (BSR), a small Norwegian-style club coached by Anders Lenes and signed up for the club’s six-days-per-week training program. Anders had skied on the Norwegian National Team for seven years, won Junior World Championships gold, silver, and bronze medals and had several top-10 finishes in World Cup races. He came to Canada in 1975 to prepare the national team for the 1976 Olympics and was on the Canadian national team coaching staff until 1984, during which time he worked with many great athletes, including Shirley and Sharon Firth, Burt Bullock, Esther Miller, and Angela Schmidt. He started coaching the Banff Ski Runners in 2000 and by 2007, the year I joined, he had transformed this small neighborhood Canmore club into a dominant force nationally. The juniors were ripping it up at Canadian nationals and shooting for the big leagues., and two of them (Graeme Killick and Jesse Cockney) went on to ski on the Canadian national team for two Olympic cycles. 

In a recent FasterSkier article on his retirement from the Canadian national team, Cockney highlighted the importance of Anders and BSR in his development as a junior.

It was a real treat to train year round with this small group of about a dozen elite juniors. Although I started training with BSR too late in life (at 62) and had too little natural talent to finish above the middle of the pack in my Masters World Cup races, training with BSR was essential to getting me to the starting line in those events.

Anders’s BSR dryland program was highly varied — we rollerskied, hiked, trail ran, road biked, and (my favorite) ski walked. The unquestioned heart of the program was weekly intensity workouts. Among the different intensity workouts that we did, the one that had the most positive effect on my fitness is what Anders called “Russian intervals”: three sets with each set having three approximately one-minute, maximum-effort sprints separated by 30-second rests. This workout builds lactate tolerance:

The workout: Russian Intervals

The course: A hill 45-60 meters high (or stairs if that’s all that’s available)

Warmup: 15 to 30 minutes of easy (Zone 1-2) jogging (striding hills to keep heart rate low) followed by a nonstop lap or two of the intervals course in Zone 2-3

The intervals: Three sets of 3 approximately 1-minute, maximum-effort sprints separated by 30 seconds of rest and a minimum of 2 minutes rest between sets

Warmdown: 30 to 45 minutes jogging at a very easy pace (zones 1 to 2)

Here’s my heart-rate record in a typical Russian intervals workout.

The goal of this workout is to train the body (and mind!) to go hard when flooded with lactate. Done properly, this workout hurts (bent over gasping after each of the three sprints in a set). 

Be aware that this is an extremely demanding workout that should be introduced into the dryland season only after building a solid aerobic base. When Anders retired from coaching in 2013, I decided that it was also time for me to move on and I’ve been training on my own since then. I generally follow the BSR dryland program, with a bit more rest to accommodate my aging infrastructure. I make sure to do an intensity workout every week and occasionally make a mistake. Last year, overly keen to get started, I started doing Russian intervals in May and was ambushed in mid-summer when my iliacus hip muscle seized up so bad that just walking was a problem for most of a week! This year, the first third of the dryland (May and June), I’ve been doing “building intervals” as recommended by Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt in another Wednesday Workout.

This fun workout, which just tickles the AT threshold, really hits the easily neglected, sub-threshold AT zone. The past month’s three-, four-, five-, and six-minute building interval workouts have me to the point where I now feel it’s time to start doing Russians. 

Left to right: Gunde Svan, me (even standing on a step I’m shorter than Gunde!), Mari, Rob Mackenzie, and the Svan kids, Ferry and Julia, in Canmore in 2006. (Courtesy photo)

[As an aside, the great Swedish champion Gunde Svan brought his family to Canmore for the summer in 2006. Through my friend Rob Mackenzie, who had met Gunde during the 1988 Olympics, I was able to spend most of a day hanging out with Gunde and his family. This amazing experience added fuel to the fire building under my growing passion for XC skiing.]

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