Q: I am a citizen racer and completed my second Birkie this year. Both last year and this year my legs started cramping up during the second half of the race. I never cramped any other time in my life, including during ski training, triathlons, etc. I know the Birkie is a grueling race, but what suggestions do you have that can improve my off season training? I am a skate skier; do you have any specific drills I should do? – Cramper

A: Cramping most often comes from muscle fatigue. Your muscles need to get used to the 2,3,4 hours of marathon skiing. I do not know how much you train now or what your long days are and if you do intervals, etc. But the only way to hope to avoid cramping in next year’s Birkie is to replicate your Birkie effort in training leading up to the Birkie, to train your body for that effort.  You need to get some long days in skiing replicating the efforts that you will be racing the Birkie. Up hills, down hills and balancing on one ski over uneven terrain and in sloppy Birkie snow.

I think the unusual nature of the Birkie with the often sloppy snow and the stop and go nature of maneuvering around other skiers adds additional strain on your muscles. So you should try and replicate that effort. If you do not already do it, you should start rollerskiing in the summer, and increase your long days come fall. In winter do one long distance day a week and increase that throughout the winter. Race other ski marathons before the Birkie and then peak at the Birkie. There are no secrets. It just takes time.

The difference in a ski marathon to a triathlon or a running marathon is the unpredictability of the snow condition. On a bad/sloppy snow day it takes a lot more muscle work to remain balanced. That, plus skiing in a huge crowd wears on you. And this is why I believe you may be cramping at the Birkie but not at a triathlon. So work on technique so you can ski more relaxed. Skiing faster, easier can be done with fitness and also with technique. Many people focus on fitness not enough people focus on technique. So learn how to glide farther faster.

I hope this helps!
Andy at SkiPost


Pre-Race Prep

by Reid Goble, SkiPost


One thing I have learned a lot more about this year and gotten better at is how I prepare for a ski race. Beyond the hours of training and prep you do all year long, there are a lot of small, but important things that can maximize your success for race day in the week before or even minutes before you cross the start line. If overlooked, it can mean all the time and prep you have done all year long means nothing. This is something I have especially put a lot of emphasis on this year as I felt like I was not great on it in the past. I honestly didn’t have a consistent race day warm-up routine or plan for how I was going to prep. This year with help from coaches and teammates, I have really dialed it in and have a plan for what I am going to do the week before and morning of race-day.

Before I get started on pre-race warm-up, there are a lot of other things off the skis you can do to optimize performance. In my opinion one of the most important things is sleep. Obviously, the ideal athlete would always be on top of their sleep schedule and be fully rested every day, but this just isn’t a reality with everyday stresses and things such as travel. One habit I try to very hard to do is even when I do not have any races coming up anytime soon, I still don’t let myself change my ideal sleep schedule I would use before races, such as thinking “I can stay up late for these few nights”. As we all know it is easy to throw off our schedule, making it hard to get good rest when the time comes that it is very important. The most common major disruption to my sleep is travel. I think it is smart to always expect a travel day (especially air travel) to be many hours longer than planned with potentially little to no good sleep. Although this is a bummer, I have gotten good at never being stressed about this since if you take advantage of sleeping well when you can (such as the week leading up to travel), you can afford that one bad day. This is the exact same for the night before a race. Whether it’s because you’re in a new bed, anxious for a race and just can’t sleep. The rest you have gotten leading up to that is way more important than that one night and you shouldn’t even have to worry about it on race morning! Sleep and rest are incredibly important, but never something to stress about if you are consistent and smart about.

The other major thing you can do off-skis to optimize performance is food and hydration. Beyond just eating pasta the night before a race (a skiers favorite meal), it is important, like sleep, to be fueling your body well the week before a race. It is actually proven that the meal two nights before your race is even more important, so don’t just focus on that night before meal. I also like to make sure I always eat a snack right after every workout I do as soon as possible, even if it is cheap and small (I bring a banana to almost every workout). Getting back to the night before the race, my coach Andy Newell always urges us to eat a protein loaded snack before we go to bed. His favorite is a bowl of cereal. Hydration goes along the same lines, it’s not just what you do on race day, the days before are just important.

When it comes to actually putting the skis on there are many things to consider for pre-race. As a general guideline one should do some sort of intensity workout a day or two before race day to make sure the body is awake, but what you do and when you do it can change. My preference is usually to do intensity the day before the race. For this, a standard pre race I would do is 3-4min L2/L3, then 3-4min L3, and then another 3-4min L4, with plenty of rest in-between where I fully recover. Sometimes for a variety of reasons, such as conditions and timing, I may do intervals two days before. I like to make this interval set a little longer since I’ll have an easier day between this and my race. I usually do 2x8min L3, 2x3min L4, and 5x30sec speeds, focusing on some technical parts of the course. I’ll then keep the next day easy and maybe throw in a few quick speeds. Again, this is what I like to do and everyone is different so it is good to experiment around with something like this and find what works for you.

On race morning, as you know it is super vital to get in a good warm-up. For something like a sprint race I actually do a longer warm up and get in a decent amount of L4 so I am ready to go as fast as I can for the qualifier. An example would be at least 20min easy skiing and then 5min L2/L3, 5min L3, then 2x4min L4, with full recovery in-between these sets. I try to get this done with 15min left before the start and then I’ll do some short sprints in the starting pen on my feet and fire my muscles up with things like squats, jumping, pushups, etc. For a distance race, my warm-up is very similar, but I’ll do a little more L3 (such as 2x8min L3), then some shorter L4 intervals (such as 2-3x2min). Of course, it is important to realize that race morning doesn’t always go as planned and I often must change this routine if I am running short on time or races get delayed. Another thing I always do for races is take some caffeine about 30min before the start, my favorite is Science in Sport’s isotonic caffeine gel packs.

Stay warm,


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!

Alterations to Training and Racing in Light of COVID-19

Q: There may or may not be races this winter. World Masters are definitely cancelled and other regional events are in the air. That’s fine, I will look to the following 2021/22 season for serious racing and take this unique opportunity to focus on continuing progressive training through a full 5-6 month ski season. I will race any events that do arise but just a rest day or so prep, no peaking plans. Would you suggest any alterations to the upcoming CXC training plan over the winter with this objective in mind?

A: Our training plan is generally set up to race on and off throughout the winter maintaining our base and building speed on snow, with a 5 week focus on the American Birkibeiner, since that is the event so many of our athletes focus on. Our understanding is that the Birkie is planning to offer some sort of festival/challenge/competition the last weekend in February, so we will continue that focus. If once we get to mid February and we start dropping our volume, you want to skip the 2-3 week taper we have going on and instead want to keep enjoying a higher training volume, go for it and look back to January for weekly ideas. At the same time, some time in April/May, I think you will want to take some recovery time and recover from a good year of training prior to jumping into your 2021-2022 training.  

Selecting a Pair of Race Skis for a Ski Marathon

If you are fortunate enough to only have one pair of classic/skate race skis, you can skip this section. If not, please continue on.

If you are selecting a pair of race skis (either skate or classic) for a ski marathon, your first and foremost concern should be the flex of each pair you own. Flex is the most important, yet most commonly overlooked element of your race ski, yet most racers get bogged down with which grind or wax is being used. Assuming all things are equal and you have the correct flex, grind, and wax on a ski, the flex will do roughly 70% of the work in making your skis feel fast. In other words, even if you get a new grind and we nail the wax job, if you brought a warm/wet-flexed ski to a 10ºF marathon, you’re going to feel like we lathered your ski in candle wax and klister.

So, how do we find the right ski? Hopefully, you’ve had a hand in your own ski selection when you purchased them and have a good idea for what conditions to use them for. If not, most specialty ski shops have a flex board where they can use the paper test to determine your ski’s contact zones. If you wanted something more technical, Pioneer Midwest has a flex test machine that will graphically display your contact zones and Matt Liebsch could determine the optimal conditions for your ski.

In selecting the right ski for the right races, both your job as a racer and our job as wax techs get much easier, as we will all know the skis won’t be fighting you or the wax for 40+ kilometers.

Thoughts on Tapering and Peaking


by Joe Haggenmiller

There are many approaches to peaking for the big race. Personally, I think it is better to keep it simple and not go searching for the “secret”. My approach to “peaking” or “tapering” is not to do some secret voodoo style major adjustments to an athlete’s training plan. It is more about continuing to train consistently and work on the little details to be at your best – eating right, sleeping well, promoting recovery, reducing outside stresses, etc. The adjustment for me is to make sure to focus a bit more on rest and recovery leading into the big race(s).

A volume drop to about 80-90% of a normal small/recovery week in the week or 10 days prior to the big day is also in order, unless past experience tells you that you need to continue to do regular small weeks of training to not feel stale.

I also like to do prescribe some intensity workouts that are a bit shorter in duration with a slightly higher skiing velocity than goal race pace and plenty of rest. This should have an athlete feeling technically good at speed, may be even finding a new gear for your tool box, in the week or 2 before the big race and help an athlete feel sharp and confident.

More than finding the best ever secret intensity session before your big race to perform some magic, I think it is important to feel confident you have prepared well for the last year (or months if you got a late start) and you can come in with a little swagger from the preparation you have done.

If you haven’t done the proper preparation work in the weeks, months and years leading up to the event, there is no rabbit to pull out of the hat from the training or nutrition standpoint in the last days before the event. The best you might be able to do is invest in upgrading to some top of the line well fitting skis, poles or boots a few weeks out and then hoping your race waxer knocks it out of the park with your wax job – both risks that are better off avoided by good consistent preparation.


Joe Haggenmiller | Sport Development Director
U.S. Ski & Snowboard – Central Cross Country Skiing