Tara Geraghty-Moats won the Nordic Combined Continental Cup in the previous season and is set to be a podium contender for the overall standings in this year’s cup as well. Now she finds herself in Lillehammer ready to jump in this weekend’s World Cup. FasterSkier met up with her to hear her thoughts on training, what it’s like to compete at her level and the future of nordic combined for women.
Today, a Monday, she opted for a 7×1 minute hill intervals up the first hill on Lillehammer’s course. This particular hill is the first challenge the skiers tackle as they race the 1994 Winter Olympics. Some 15-25 seconds after the gun goes off, the skiers will find themselves battling it out on the steep hill, which offers a slight break midway through. This break, however, does not offer much of a pause, as Geragthy-Moats’ heart rate will tell you. one hundred and ninety seven beats per minute during her intervals places her just over 96 % of her tested max of 205 and sent her lactate level relatively high above threshold levels. Anyone with knowledge of sports physiology knows what this means: your muscles will be sore.
“Fast when I need to”
Geraghty-Moats explains why she puts herself through a workout like this by saying “the idea is to install a super-boost in your legs”. This top gear, as she also calls it, is something she’s been working on this year. When asked about her workout of the day and why she did it, she explains: “so if I’m skiing in a pack I’ll be able to sprint away from the pack and make a clean break, something that’s really useful in mass-start racing and the nordic combined pursuit format.”
She goes on to say that she’s hopefully in good shape, with good endurance and good conditioning for a race and that “this is sort of the cherry on top of my conditioning for the year, where I’m trying to get my speed up so I have the ability to go fast when I need to.”
How do you feel like a workout such as this one prepares you for an upcoming race?
“Basically those one minute sprints are sort of warming up my engine and making sure that my legs can move quickly, I feel pretty in shape and I feel in good condition this season but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to race so this is sort of the last prep to race, also for me I have to balance between ski jumping and Nordic skiing, so I have to focus on quality over quantity.”
And how are you able to improve on both?
“For me, the most effective way is to take training blocks where I focus on jumping and different training blocks where I focus on skiing.”
The training block for this week started with seven sprints in the morning and seven jumps off the big hill (HS140) in Lillehammer. When it comes to deciding what to do in training, Geraghty-Moats considers her competitions. She writes her own training plans and explains that she has an overall plan, which stretches for 2-3 months. As she gets closer to competition, she specializes her sessions. When asked about how she factors in yesterday and tomorrow when deciding what to do today she says: “I decided to do my longer intervals yesterday and shorter intervals in the morning and then have some rest and get ready for jumping. But really I look at when my competitions are and when I’m going to want to be feeling fast and good and then build sort of backwards from there.”
She explains that an important aspect to this process is knowing how long it takes to recover and how long it takes for the intervals to have an effect on overall skiing speed. On December 13-15, the Continental Cup comes to Park City, Utah and the effect she speaks of will show if things are going according to her plan or not.
Below is a lightly edited and condensed version of an interview with Geraghty-Moats.
Aleks Tangen: For your workout today what were you doing?
Geraghty-Moats: So today I was doing one minute sprint intervals something I’ve been working on a lot of this year is really just improving my Top Gear so if I’m skiing in a pack I’ll be able to sprint away from the pack to make a clean break something that you really useful in mass start racing and the nordic combined pursuit format
AT: The reason why you’re doing your workout like that at this time of year is because you want to be able to sprint past the other racers?
G-M: Hopefully with this year’s training I’m in pretty good shape, I have pretty good endurance, good conditioning for a race and this is sort of the cherry on top of my conditioning for the year where I’m trying to get my speed up so I have the ability to go fast when I need to. And I was doing it on the hill, obviously it’s a little bit harder there, where are you get a lot more lactic acid in your legs and preparing my body for that really helps when I’m in a race where I’m already going fairly hard and have to put on the gas and really sprint.
AT: How do you feel like a work out such as this one prepares you for an upcoming race?
G-M: Those one minute sprints are sort of warming up my engine and making sure that my legs can move quickly I feel pretty in shape and I feel in good condition this season but that doesn’t mean necessarily, that you are ready to race. So this is sort of the last prep to race, also for me. I have to balance between ski jumping and nordic skiing. So I have to focus on quality over quantity. Yesterday, I did an interval session, ideally I would do another hard session if I was simply a nordic skier. But today doing a shorter interval session, my body is already tired from yesterday, I don’t have to ski for so long, I don’t have to do so many laps. I still get the training affect, and I still have the hours where I have time to jump and I can feel fresh for the jumping I’m doing later.
AT: It’s a Monday, you’re competing this weekend, what factors playing into doing this particular kind of workout?
G-M: This week I’m actually just competing in ski jumping World Cup, so I’m trying to get a good number of intensity workouts done early in the week so by the time the weekend rolls around I am pretty fresh. I’ll probably do some weights and plyometric workouts on Wednesday and Thursday to get my legs fresh and activated for jumping. But at the same time I still need to stay in shape for cross-country skiing, which will be the weekend after next, in Park city Utah, so yeah it’s always a balance with nordic combined, because you really want to be the best at both sports so you have to stay on top of everything, but also not overextend yourself.
AT: For a workout like this one, how do you structure the warm up?
G-M: For me warm-ups are really important, especially with one minute intervals, because if you’re not warmed up properly first of all you can’t really go that fast and second of all it’s a really big shock to your system, you can get sick or the lactic acid floods your system so you can’t do as many sets. I usually ski between 20 and 30 minutes for warm-up. I start pretty slowly and then I do 3 x 3 min. level III, threshold intervals, before I start the sprint – all out work out – so that gets my system going.
AT: Considering you are sprinting up the hill, it’s kind of tough, how do you prepare yourself mentally for such a work out?
G-M: Actually, I really like these workouts because they’re pretty quick, and I just enjoy going fast on skis, it’s fun for me. I just look forward to it. It’s kind of easy on a day like this when the conditions are perfect. I have the whole stadium to myself. I mean I don’t really need much motivation, and physically it’s nicer when I’m fresh and not tired. But realistically that’s part of the job, some days my legs are just going to hurt a little bit.
AT: How do you feel the workout you did today, what part of your performance does that improve?
G-M: Anything that short is definitely anaerobic, it really helps you deal with anything lactate flooding your system, and just gets your body moving fast. You see a lot of the women especially in skiing have a lot of high tempo even in the longer races and if you’re not efficient at that and don’t feel comfortable doing that you really have no chance.
AT: Strength training plays an important role in that if you’re strong then it’s easier to maintain high speed and high intensity.
G-M: For me actually it’s important to not do a lot of weight and strength session but make sure the ones that I do are really quality. I don’t necessarily do strength workouts after an interval workout or after a long day. I think that’s another thing most nordic skiers tend to do — they will slide in strength after an session or when they are already tired and it is really important to do strength when you are fresh. It gives you a chance to improve, and really focus on getting stronger, and not just maintaining.
AT: Being in the moment and not necessarily measuring quantity, but doing it as good as possible?
G-M: Right. And I think that’s nordic combine in a nutshell: quality over quantity. Because there’s no way I can train 800 hours like the cross-country girls on World Cup. It is not going to happen it’s not realistic so I have to have a paired down training plan for nordic.
AT: How many hours do you train every year?
G-M: This is actually my first full year of being a true nordic combiner, so I’ll probably do about 480-500 hours so it’s not nothing, but it is not sort of what you would expect of nordic skiers. I think it’s not really comparable, and you have jumping which is a completely different sport from long-distance nordic skiing. They can do somewhere between 700 and 800 or 900 but they don’t do as much explosive and plyometric work which requires a totally different recovery.
Also the time of the day I can do training sessions for jumping but I might not be that tired but I might’ve still been on the hill in training mode for five or six hours on that day because we usually warm up for about 45 minutes and then we are on the hill for an hour and a half and I can go for a ski in the evening and it means that I might be training close to seven hours that day.
Aleks is a freelance journalist based in Gjøvik, Norway, covering ski-related sports and track & field. He also works part time as a model and reads a new book almost every week.