How to Taper and Rest Between Marathons

Q: I’m an avid ski racer and most of my races throughout the ski season are marathon (~50km) skate races. This season I have been thinking more about how to properly taper and rest between marathons without loosing fitness. For example, ski the Birkie, followed by a two week break until the Yellowstone Rendezvous. I’m hoping to feel fast at the Birkie, and peak for the Rendezvous. What types of workouts do you recommend to make sure I recover from the Birkie but peak (instead of loosing fitness) going in to the Rendezvous? I’m very comfortable with interval training, but am not sure what types of intervals (duration/ intensity/ reps), if any, are appropriate in this late phase of the season.


A: First of all I am impressed that you are prioritizing a race in your schedule. It is easy to want to do well in every race you enter, but prioritizing one race each month can help you to have a truly great race rather than a bunch of so-so races.

I would recommend maintaining your average training load up until Tuesday before the Birkie, then I would recommend reducing your training load by 50 percent for the next three days.

Keep the training frequency the same, but just make each workout a lower load. If you normally ski for an hour, just go for a half hour. If you normally do 6*4 minute intervals, do 3*4 minute intervals. Maintaining the workout frequency will help you to still get the hormonal and physiological benefits of the training but the lower load should help you feel good and fresh for the race.

You will not loose any fitness over three easy days. After the Birkie, feel free to take a day or two off, or better yet get out for a super slow recovery ski, walk, bike, yoga or jog. Keep the intensity super low as the purpose of any training is to help your body recover. Hopefully by Wednesday you will begin to feel good again. Resume your normal training load and frequency.  Since you have already had a hard race effort, I would recommend threshold interval workouts with burst of speed thrown in. A favorite of mine is 6*8 minutes at level 3 with 2*15 second bursts in each interval. The focus of this workout is helping your body to buffer lactic acid and to improve your comfort and technique at speed. If you still feel the load from the Birkie, just do easy distance skiing with 10 x 8-12 second bursts of speed at 10 km race pace. Give yourself a good 2-3 minutes between each burst. The entire week of your target race drop your training load by 50%. If you get that restless feeling, that is a good thing, just save that energy for the race.

March is one of the most fun times to be a skier as you can essentially rest and race.

Good luck,

Brian Gregg

Brian Gregg

Are specific races included in the training plans?

The plans are written to be a blueprint and a guide for your training, and not written knowing in advance what event priorities you may have with training in any given week or month.

With that said, – over the last couple of years we have received a fair amount of feedback regarding target races/weeks.

Nearly all who responded indicated that the Birkie/Korte (in the US) was their primary focus event. Others were looking to “tune up” and race well at either the Noque, Boulder Mountain Tour, or the City of Lakes.

With this information:

– We have planned to work back 6 weeks from the Birkie (end of February) to be our best. 

– Five (5) weeks out would be a big volume training week for the winter, weeks 6 and 4 would be stout medium weeks for the winter and can include some tune up events.

– Weeks 3, 2 and race week we would gradually cut back the training volumes and let people get sharp, rested and fresh.

We also had a few responses that target races are World Masters or the Iceland Marathon. If this is your program, train more weeks of our lead up to the last 6 weeks in either 3 or 4 week blocks (3 week going Medium volume, Big Volume, Recovery, or 4 weeks going Small, Medium, Big, Recovery) and then take our last 6 weeks and put it in so our Birkie/Korte Week lines up with your events.

Below are extra thoughts on tapering and peaking:

Hope this helps!

Surviving Sub-Zero Marathons (and other chilly encounters)

By: CXC Team Member, Andy Brown 

The 2013-2014 polar vortex taught me several, quite literally, painful lessons about what works and what doesn’t when the temperatures really bottom out. Everyone is an individual and has a different internal furnace and circulation, but these are the things that have worked for me.


1. A light hat and a buff are basically mandatory when things are 5 degrees or colder. If things get really cold, a single buff is generally too thin and I like to switch to a thin balaclava. Balaclavas are shaped to fit your neck better and don’t bunch up quite as bad as two buffs. You don’t need much of a hat when it’s doubled up with a buff/balaclava and too thick of a hat will just make you sweat.

2. Breathing cold air, especially during hard exertions can hurt your lungs. The worst my lungs ever felt was after a 10k at zero degrees in which I wore a headband. Keeping your throat warm with a buff or balaclava really can help to prevent this. If it is truly arctic conditions the AirTrim breathing masks are the best solution. They look dangerously uncool, but it beats permanently damaging lung tissue.

3. Glasses are a no brainer and a must for cold conditions. They not only keep your corneas from freezing, but protect a fairly large portion of your face. Plus who likes getting snow in their eyes?

4. For the parts of your face not protected by your buff of glasses, Dermatone/vaseline and Warm Skin are great. For many people they are enough to keep frostbite at bay. If you have gotten frostbite before, I highly recommend moleskin at least on your cheeks. It looks weird but really does work. Put it on dry skin before any lotion to ensure it sticks. You can generally find it in the footcare/orthotic section of a store.

5. If you are prone to cold feet, boot covers are great. I generally don’t race in them, but they are nice for keeping your feet warm before the race. Don’t go crazy trying to jam extra socks in your ski boots, you’ll just restrict circulation.

6. For gloves it’s all about windstopper. Having normal size windproof gloves beat bulky mitts all the time. If you really get cold hands, Toko has sweet overmitts that block the wind and go on over your pole straps so they don’t mess up your strap adjustment. Also be careful at feeds not to splash liquid your gloves or you’ll freeze a finger or two.

7. To keep the rest of your body warm, windproof baselayers are great and can eliminate extra clothes that otherwise will make you feel bound up and inflexible. Craft makes several nice models. If all you have are normal long underwear adding duct tape to the front for the knees and over the groin makes a huge difference. It is under the suit and no one will notice

8. For guys, windbriefs. You want two layers of wind stopping material somewhere in your layers, especially for skate races. Ignore this rule at your own peril (and maybe that of your future offspring). An extra buff can also be stuffed down there in an emergency.

9. Feeding during a race in cold conditions can be problematic. I’ve poured boiling water into a drink bottle at the start of the Vasaloppet, only to have it turn into a solid block of ice by 30k. Energy gels also become impossible to eat if they freeze. For the most part I no longer bother trying to keep a bottle with me when it’s below zero. Instead I depend on aid stations and team support along the trail to give me warm fluids. I still carry energy gels, but I tape them inside my waistband where they stay warm enough to eat.




Ski the Birkie More Efficiently – Tips That May Make You Faster, Too.

Igor Badamshin & Charlie Dee
Thursday, February 06, 2014

Editor’s note: On January 24 ’14, CXC Head Coach Igor Badamshin suffered a fatal heart attack while skiing on the Birkie Trail near Hayward. He was 47.


Igor Badamshin

“It is really impossible to try and make sense of it, because it makes no sense,” wrote Peter Graves, a television sportcaster and former cross-country ski coach for Harvard University, in a tribute to Badamshin, an Olympic medalist on the Russian National Ski Team member, posted on the CXC website. “What we all know is that in his 47 years, he led an extraordinary life, from his own racing career to the countless acts of caring, hard work, enthusiasm and most of all his time, to help make the sport grow, but also how to have fun doing it. His love of people and the sport knew no bounds.”

Badamshin’s Facebook page was inundated with memories and well wishes for Badamshin’s family back in Russia. A memorial was held in Cable, Wisconsin, on February 8 and a fund in his name was set up to help junior Midwest skiers compete on the world stage. Donations can be mailed to CXC Skiing, P.O. Box 930442, Verona, WI 53593.

At the time of Badamshin’s death, the February issue of Silent Sports, including the following second installment in a series of conversations on Nordic ski technique between Badamshin and Charlie Dee, had already come off the press but had not yet reached subscribers and newstands.

We considered briefly ending the dialogue there on account of Badamshin’s passing. But because he lived to coach skiers, it seemed more fitting that readers continue to benefit from his instruction and legacy.

So this dialogue will continue in the March issue with a focus on classic ski technique. Dee says he has one more conversation to share in which Badamshin offers skate skiing tips. By April, many of us will have put our skis in storage, but we will include that piece in that issue as a coda, our tribute to the man’s life-long contribution to a sport we love.


Charlie Dee: I’ve been working on everything you gave me last month, Igor, and now I have only a couple of weeks to get faster for the Birkie.

Igor Badamshin: Faster, faster. Everybody wants to get faster. But speed is dependent on more factors than I can deal with at once. So let’s concentrate on a few things to make you and others more efficient between now and the Birkebeiner.

Increasing efficiency will mean you use less energy to get to the hills and up them. Let me know after the race if that makes you faster!

CD: The Birkie is such a hilly, physical course. What’s the most important technique tip to get to Main Street in Hayward without bonking?

IB: Let’s start with two principles that apply to both skaters and striders: Stay on your toes and keep your upper body tall.

CD: The more tired I am, the tougher it is stay on my toes. When I took my first skating lesson 20 years ago, after years spent developing all kind of bad habits, I was taught to push off my ski with the rear third of my foot, essentially my heel. I’ve been working for several years now – and improving – on pushing off with and landing on the balls of my feet. But when I get fatigued, I regress back and push off with my heels.

IB: You and a lot of other people. In the next few weeks, you need to concentrate on consciously catching yourself when you start slipping back to your heels so you can remind yourself to get on your toes. When a boxer is “back on his heels,” he’s not attacking. He’s just a slow moving target for a knockout. The same goes for a skier approaching Bitch Hill on the Birkie course.

I can prove this to you. Stand on skis on a flat portion of the trail. Keep a good athletic position with your knees bent and your shoulders slightly rounded. Very gradually, shift your center of gravity ahead by flexing forward at your ankles, rolling your foot towards your toes and moving your chest forward without bending at the waist.

Just this little weight shift propels you forward. Now, shift your weight back to your heels. That stops you.

CD: Since you’ve been preaching to me to stay on the balls of my feet, I’ve discovered that thinking about my thighs and knees being more forward as I skate really helps me stay on my toes.

IB: They all go together. While it’s not efficient to skate while looking down at your feet, sometimes during clinics I’ll ask skiers to look down to check out how much of their boot they can see when they’re skating. If they only see the toes, their skis are too far back. They should see at least the front two thirds of their boots. This achieves the same purpose as you concentrating on your thighs and knees being forward.

Toe consciousness is crucial for classic skiers also. When you’re fatigued, you may not extend your kick all the way through the toes, like we talked about last month. This cuts down on your power and makes you work much harder for each kilometer.

When you don’t finish the kick with the toes on your right foot, you’re not completely transferring your weight to the left ski. The more body weight you have on the left, the more powerful your kick will be. If both skis stay weighted, you won’t get much power from either.


CD: As long as we’re on classic, let’s talk about upper body position when climbing hills on classic skis. It has always felt natural for me to bend forward at the waist as I climb. My high school cross-country running coach used to yell, “Way to lean into those hills, Dee.”

IB: Was that guy ever on skis? When you bend at the waist, you stick your butt out the other end. So you have upper body weight in front of your wax pocket and lower body weight behind it. That doesn’t leave you much power to kick off with, does it?

It may seem like a natural tendency to lean into the hill, but you’ve got to fight that instinct. Again, train yourself to notice consciously when you start to lean and then correct yourself. Every time you see a climb coming, tell yourself, “Stay tall.”

A key image is to concentrate on your chest. Think of a spot in the middle of your chest and keep that spot facing 10 to 15 feet down the trail where you want to go, not two feet in front of you.

Once you dial this in, you’ll have much more power with each kick because all of your body weight will be over the wax or fish scales you’re compressing against the snow to move you forward.

An added benefit of staying tall is that this allows you to initiate each poling motion with your abdominal muscles. If you’re leaning your upper body into the hill, you’ve totally taken your abs out of the game.

CD: That same dynamic is true for skating up hills. If I lean forward when climbing in V-1, I get very little power from my poling.

IB: And when you’re bent at the waist, your weight is back on your heels, slowing your climb and tiring you out more.

CD: In working on this stuff over the past month, I’ve noticed that when I’m struggling up a hill, I can usually identify that it’s because I’m bent too much at the waist and not transferring weight well, so I’m getting no glide and working harder.

But when my upper body is “tall,” I can see and feel that my knees and hips are more forward, I’m on my toes and I’m actually gliding.

IB: These two principles apply to everybody, but each skier will implement them a little differently. All skiers have to find their own sweet spot that works best, as well as adjust to changing conditions.


CD: Adjusting for different conditions sounds like a conversation for another time. Let’s finish with two tips on double poling you’ve given me that are minor adjustments but work for both classic and skating: The “heel squirt” and “pole tips forward.”

IB: Everybody concentrates on all the uphills in the Birkie, and rightly so. But a skier can gain valuable time and save energy by carrying more speed from the downhills to the next uphill or rolling section by double poling longer and with more efficiency.

The double pole is a compression of the upper and lower bodies at the same time, “falling” on your poles to propel you forward. At the moment of compression, your full body weight should be on the balls of your feet. Imagine there are tennis balls under the balls of each of your feet, and with each double pole you are squashing them with your feet. At the end of this compression, roll your body weight from the balls of your feet to your heels.

CD: That’s “the squirt.” My skis squirted forward with the heels so fast I almost fell on my back.

IB: You have to do it a few times to feel comfortable with it. Think of this as a super charger at the end of each double pole. But don’t stay on your heels. As soon as you initiate the next poling motion by swinging your arms up and stretching your abs, roll back to the balls of your feet for the next double pole.

CD: It’s like getting high fluoro wax for free. An extra foot or two on each double pole with no additional energy expended.

IB: Here’s another freebie. When you double pole on down hills, flats or gradual uphills, plant your poles at slightly more than a 90 degree angle to the snow, say 95 degrees, though of course this isn’t exact. Simply use your hands to swing the pole tips slightly further ahead of you than vertical.

CD: That’s easy enough to do as long as there’s not much of an uphill grade, but what does this accomplish?

IB: You pole by compressing your abs and knees while powering your arms down into your pole straps. You get the most power from doing this at the exact instant the pole tips are right next to your feet. But skiing isn’t static; you’re moving all the time.

Since skis move faster on downhills and flats, many people unconsciously pole too late, actually compressing when the pole tips are behind the feet, thus not getting full power out of the energy they expend on the poling motion. This is easiest to show people through slow motion video.

In these speed situations, planting the tips at greater than 90 degrees (while maintaining 90-degree angles between your forearms and upper arms as well as between your upper arms and your torso) compensates for the speed and perfects the timing, so you’re powering down on the poles at the moment they’re next to your feet. The great Norwegian racer Vegard Ulvang was not just strong as an ox, but he got the most out of every pole because he used this trick.

CD: To summarize: since double polling is less taxing on lungs, heart and legs than any other stroke, people should spend more time double poling during transitions between hills, and these two tips will help us do that more efficiently?

IB: Right. When I was racing, if someone was ahead of me and started skating on a run out after a downhill before I needed to, I knew I had that guy. He was using energy that I wasn’t because I was still double poling. So he was toast, burnt toast.

CD: If your tips keep me from becoming toast, I’ll buy you a beer and brat on Main Street in Hayward, Igor.

Igor Badamshin was the head coach for CXC Team and a former Olympic and World Championship medal winner with the Russian National Ski Team. Charlie Dee is a retired professor from Milwaukee who, as a CXC Master Ski Team member, makes an annual donation to CXC supporting ski development throughout the Midwest and in return gets year-round, complimentary ski technique training and access to the CXC Academy.


Highest Priority Marathon Race vs. Other Races

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Q: In looking at the racing schedule, there are marathon distance races available each weekend (City of Lakes Loppet, Mora Vasaloppet, the Birkie, and the Pepsi Challenge).

The Birkie is my highest priority race. Can I manage a proper taper for the Birkie (I’ve been following a combo of the Intermediate/Advanced plans) and still participate in other marathon races earlier that month?

In January I will try to do a couple shorter races (10K-25K).

A: As you mentioned in your question, every weekend offers an opportunity to get in a marathon race effort. My suggestion to best prepare yourself for your goal race would be to do the City of the Lakes Loppet which is two weeks out from the Birkie. With the Mora Vasaloppet being the weekend before, this may be a little bit too close to this goal race to properly taper.

Our Taper Plan will have you doing a Volume Week four (4) weeks out from Birkie. The 2nd week will be an intensity week, which would be the week we would be adding the City of the Lakes Loppet. Then you will have a recovery week with 1 shorter intensity session, and then race week.

I think this would lend itself to being the best taper plan for you, if your goal race is the Birkie.

Hope this helps and good luck with training going forward.



What do you think is a good “long distance” ski to prepare for the Birkie?

Generally, you would want conduct a ski that is at least 2/3 of the total distance of the Birkie or at least 35 kilometers. On the other hand, evidence is starting to show that doing a full distance effort may not be necessary. Ironman triathlon training has showed us that a goal event can successfully be achieved without ever doing the whole event. A portion – yes, but the whole – appears not. Longer events take a lot out of the body and doing significantly long training bouts can take away valuable energy that might otherwise be best used during the goal event. Practical evidence and sport science has shown that frequency of training as well as ensuring a significant contribution of distance training is done at a low enough intensity can be more important. Level1 training truly attacks the aerobic system instead of medium and medium-plus efforts that recruit both the aerobic and anaerobic systems but this type of training really doesn’t maximize or push either system effectively.

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Marathon training in running has also begun to shift in this manner as well. The world’s best marathoners are consistently becoming the athletes that are great 10 kilometer runners. Some appear to do long distance efforts and others not. The commonality is that they vary their training intensities and they all train frequently.

In general, I would suggest a long over distance ski of at least 35 kilometers in distance to ensure you can maintain endurance for that duration. I would suggest that it not be shortly before the actual Birkie event though. I would suggest 2-3 weeks prior to be safe. The last week should be on capping the energy systems through recovery and good diet. Fuel and hydration during training efforts is also critical to train the body to take in nutrients more efficiently when active. This can be trained and needs to be a consistent aspect of training to minimize the potential of the dreaded bonk.

– by Brian Fish, U.S. Ski Team Continental Cup Coach



Should I be increasing the over distance time to ensure I can do the Birkie?

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Q: This month the training plan reduced the Over Distance (OD) workout… and I’m concerned that I won’t have enough distance practice to do the Birkie. Will the Novice plan get me to my goal? Should I be increasing the OD time to ensure I can do the Birkie?

A: The plan is set out to be cumulative so if you’ve been following the plan so far you have probably had a few long workouts that will definitely get you prepared for the Birkie. Going forward the plan will be decreasing in volume slightly but increasing in the amount of hard, intensity workouts. This is the normal set up for a typical training plan. Because of the drop in volume your long session will decrease slightly but they will always be long enough to stress the correct energy system that you need to train for a long distance event. In order to correctly peak for a race, this decrease in volume and increase intensity must happen. I can almost guarantee you that you will start to feel able to go harder and faster even with the decrease in these longer ski’s.