From late June into early July, U.S. Nordic Combined hosted a major training camp in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Among the sessions was the Fish Creek Time Trial, a skate rollerski race first held in 2007. That year, Johnny Spillane set down the first in a series of course records that would be improved by different athletes in the next decade.
The time trial is 8 kilometers and gains 885 feet of elevation, starting just south of Steamboat Springs and ending up in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
National team member Jasper Good is a Steamboat Springs native and remembers the first time he participated in the now-annual time trial.
“In 2012 Ben Berend and I miscalculated how long it would take us to get to the start,” he wrote in an email. “We proceeded to show up and were getting yelled at by everyone saying, ‘You’re starting right NOW, GO GO GO!’ Not the best first impression at a time trial with the National Team.”
OK, that first start was a snafu, but that’s one of the points of the time trial: getting young racers like Good and Berend were then on the same pavement with the national team veterans and staff. Good is now 21 years old and collected his first Continental Cup top-10 last season, so he’s on his way to being one of those veterans that juniors can measure their progress against.
“We do the annual Fish Creek Time Trial with everyone from national teams down to young guns,” Good wrote.
The time trial is a suffer-fest, starting with rolling terrain that must be worked very deliberately, and also featuring a few walls.
“The first half is a gradual but hard rolling uphill with a lot of V2 gradient, an important part to keep your speed up and use momentum over hills,” Good explained. “About [5.5 k in], you hit the first wall of the race. After the wall there is a false flat with another segment of rolling uphill V2 gradient before you hit the final climb. As it starts to kick up more and more, you hit the second wall where you really don’t want to bonk. Because after the top of that, you only have about 250 meters to the finish. But the last 250 at the very top is a false flat that hurts oh so much. The race finishes with all the racers sprawled out all over the parking lot.”
Because there are now ten years of data, performances can be compared both between athletes and from year to year for any individual racer.
“It has been helpful to see the results from this time trial over the years,” Good wrote. “With it being a mid-summer uphill time trial, it is good to see overall fitness and willingness to suffer, but it’s not always a key indicator of how an athlete may race in a NoCo race come winter. It’s more of a checkpoint mid-summer.”
Other things can change over the years, too: as the “suffer-fest” becomes more and more like a normal race effort over the years, athletes can change how they approach it. For instance, Good’s warmup has changed a lot since that first year when he nearly missed the start.
“My warm-up now resembles my winter time warm-up more than ever,” he wrote. “When I was younger it was mostly just warmup to the start of the race from downtown and then just send it into the race.”
How To Make a Great Time Trial Course
There are a few things to keep in mind while putting together a rollerski time trial course: just finding the biggest hill with a paved road is not enough. Here are some reminders from Good, who has done Fish Creek for several summers in a row now.
- Not All Uphill. “The first part is all about pacing it right and not going out to hard,” Good wrote. “If you go too hard at the beginning the two walls [at the end] are absolutely brutal. Technique and momentum is key in the first half.” Choosing a course with a big chunk of rolling terrain will require athletes to use good technique, execute on their transitions, and maintain momentum. That means that finishing times will reflect not only the athlete with the biggest ‘motor’, but also to some extent that they are skiing well.
- Overall Time. “Taylor Fletcher set the time trail record this year at 23:02,” Good writes. “But most of us race it in 23:30 to 26:00, so it is very similar to our typical 10 k times [in nordic combined competitions]. I think it is key that it is in a sense the same time as our typical race, and the same sort of mentality.”
- When the Gun Goes Off. How will you set up your time trial? Mass start? Interval start? For Fish Creek, there’s a very deliberate seeding strategy. “It is an interval start with reverse order and the best skier starting last,” Good writes. “In that regard, it is good for every athlete to have someone to chase, and perhaps a stronger skier to go by them. This is good because everyone can try their best to hang on to faster skier and learn how they ski the time trial.”
- Pick a Location. If your club is big, this isn’t a big issue — you will always have people to race. But potentially consider whether you can locate your time trial in a place where athletes from surrounding clubs might consider commuting to, or a spot where regional or national teams sometimes host camps. “It is important for all of the NoCo crew to do this time trial together so that every athlete can see where they are at in comparison to the best (i.e. Taylor Fletcher the last few years),” Good writes. “It is also an annual thing so everyone can go out and try and best their time from previous years.”