Pre-Big Race Training

by Gus Schumacher

Most big races I’ve done before have been good not because of where I was, but because of the preparatory training, I did before arrival.

The fundamental idea behind this training, usually called a taper period, is that you’ve already done the work to get fit, and now you just need to sharpen that fitness into race shape. Our coach Matt Whitcomb made the analogy to a pyramid, and you only need to put the cone on top. To do this, we basically lower our training volume, and increase the repetitions of intense workouts, without increasing the volume of them. We start changing the structure about 2-4 weeks from the big race(s). That means our camp is full of mostly short, slow skis, some light strength, and speeds or intervals. It also gets more specific to the races you’re doing as you get closer. For me, as I’m only racing distance at the Olympics, I’ve done speeds, 6-8 minute L3/L4 intervals, and a skiathlon time trial. For the sprinter boys, it’s looked more like speeds, some threshold, 1-4 minute intervals, and a sprint time trial. We push the intensity of these intervals, but try to not do enough to really bury ourselves.

For different races (anyone doing the Birkie??!) this training should be based on a similar foundation, but the intervals could be manipulated to reflect your race pace more accurately. For a marathon race, I’d probably do some L3 workouts at that pace, up to 30-40 minutes of time at intensity. Some speeds might help, too, the idea is just to let your body recover a little, and prime the engine to fire!

I really enjoy this type of training plan, as it’s actually kind of easy, and you feel better and better as it goes on (if you do it right). If all goes well, you should feel sharp and ready when the race comes around! The biggest thing to remember is that you’re not going to get significantly fitter in that 2-to 4 weeks, but you could make yourself too tired to race fast. Take it easy, and enjoy the sharpness!

Source: SkiPost

Photo Credit: Julia Kern

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

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


Tapering: Definition and Duration

‘Tapering’ is one of those terms that you hear over and over, but do you really fully understand what it means or how to properly implement one in your training program?


In the context of sports, tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition. Tapering differs from event to event. In simplest terms, what you are trying to do when you taper is recover from all of your hard training, so that you are well rested and ready to put the training to the test. When you have trained and “peaked” properly, you should experience increased power, reduced lactic acid buildup and fatigue, increased blood volume, enhanced work capacity, increased fuel storage, and renewed interest in participating in your event (if at any point you were verging on overtraining). You should feel like you have plenty of “pop” or “spring” in your muscles, and you should also feel a bit antsy, as though you cannot wait to get going again.

The most common mistake people make leading up to their event is to think that “more is better” and to train hard right up until the day before the day of the race or climb. As difficult as it is to remember, fitness actually improves with rest, and you want to be well rested to perform optimally.


As a general rule of thumb, longer endurance events are generally preceded by longer tapering periods. Typically, tapering for relatively short endurance events takes as little as a week or less, but tapering for an event like the marathon takes at least two or four weeks. How long you taper will depend on how fit you are going into it, and what you are peaking for. If you have reached a high level of fitness, you probably will need a longer taper than someone in poorer condition who may want to continue training at reduced intensity to within a few days of the event.

If you are in the middle of a racing season with several “big events” planned, you may even choose to embark on a modified program of maintenance during the week (or month, or season, as the case may be), with mini-peaks and mini-tapers of 2-4 days before each race or event.

Adjusting Training on the Week After a Race and the Week Before

Q: Races are all marathon length. Specific question is: should I adjust my intervals the week before and after a race? Should I be doing Level 4 intervals the week before a race? If I had a race and don’t have another for 2 weeks, how should I adjust my intervals the week after a race? Should I do Level 4 intervals the week after a hard race?

A: Most of the time while we are in season, we are trying to manage our efforts and keep the body in a state of high work capacity. In the case of the back to back marathons, we can adjust the in week intervals to either a Level 3 intensity or a slight mix of both. When coming off a marathon, our body is most likely still in a state of recovery a few days later. Be aware of your recovery feeling going into the days with intervals and don’t be afraid to adjust to a lower intensity or even move the session to a day later. We still want to include some intensity in the week of the following race as we don’t want the body to lose the spark and high end feeling going into the next race.


In the case of having two weeks after the marathon, I would say you should back off on the Level 4 for the first week if you are in fact coming out of a 2 week block of marathons. Allow yourself to recover fully from those events and prep yourself for the later races or possibly goal race later in the season. For that goal race, the most important part is keeping things easy, getting energy levels high and doing a few short hard workouts to again get the body ready for the top end work that you will be doing.

Hopefully this helps and good luck with training going forward.

Andy Keller
CXC Team Head Coach

Taper Before the Race – Counting Down 7 Days to a Marathon

Assuming you have been training regularly, have your travel booked and know where to find your skis, boots, and poles the hard work in preparing for a marathon is done. Here is a general outline for a taper before the race and a few tips to help you make the most of your marathon.

The taper should be between 45-55% of your average weekly training volume. For instance, if you are averaging 6 hours per week, you would cut that down to about half (3 hours) for the taper week. Depending on how your body is feeling, you can adjust that number a bit (hence the 45-55% range).

by Brian Gregg


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Brian Gregg

7 Days Out: Over Distance Ski (3-4 hours)
Get out for a long ski, 3-4 hours at a super easy pace. Use the same technique as you plan to race (i.e. skate or classic). Going longer than your predicted race time will make the effort on race day shorter and feel ‘easier.’

6 Days Out: Recovery Day
Let your body recover and rebuild from your OD workout. Hydrate well and make sure to replenish all glycogen stores by eating plenty of carbohydrates.

5 Days Out: Threshold Intervals 5*6-8m
You should be feeling pretty good after your rest day. You need to remind your muscles how to move quickly. Find terrain similar to the race course and ski just below your race pace. I would recommend 5 intervals of 6-8 minutes for 30-40 minutes of fast skiing. Focus on technique and stay relaxed.

4 Days Out: Easy Ski (1 hour)
Give your muscles a break by switching to the opposite technique of the race (classic or skate).

3 Days Out: Medium Distance Ski (1.5-2 hours)
If you are feeling good, keep the pace easy but go a bit longer so your body remains familiar with exercising for a long period of time.

2 Days Out: Easy Distance Skiing w/ Speed (1-1.5 hour)
Throw in a 5-10 ‘speeds’ of 10-30 second efforts at a pace similar to or just above race pace.

1 Day Out: 20-30min Ski
Try and stay off your feet as much as possible. Go for a short 20-30 min ski or jog to help keep you relaxed. Pack your bag; prepare you feeds/snack for tomorrow to be ready.

Race Day: Race
Treat this day like any other day. Get up have a normal breakfast and give yourself plenty of time to get to the start and enjoy the day.


Plan your travel to be as smooth, quick and stress free as possible. If you are flying look for direct flights and plan to avoid rush hours and minimize night or poor weather driving. Remember to get out for a walk or jog after travel or sitting for long periods of time.

It is always nice to have fast skis but a marathon is really the time to invest the time and money. Check online for service representatives recommendations and if you don’t have it in your wax box go out and support the local shops.


Find out what your body likes during your long training sessions. We have enough glycogen stores in our muscles for about 1.5 to 1.75 hours and a marathon is generally longer than that so it is a good idea to refuel several times midrace with something. Try different gels and sport drinks at varying concentrations. If you are particular to a certain brand, flavor, or mix you may want to consider carrying your own bottle. If you do choose to ski with a bottle practice drinking from it while moving. You may even want to arrange for a friend to hand you a bottle or gel during the event. Caffeine is something to play around with too. I enjoy a little flat Coca-Cola/Red Bull mixture with about 25 minutes to go.

Make sure your equipment is all in working order prior to race day. Check your poles to make sure that the straps are the way you like them. Also check that your baskets are the right size and have plenty glue. Try out any new gloves, hat, boots or skis in training sessions before the race.


When you finish the race there is a good chance that you will be a little out of it. A little planning can go a long way in making your post-race experience more enjoyable.

Warm Clothes
It is important to get into warm dry clothes as soon as possible. Hopefully you will be plenty warm when you cross the finish line but you will cool of quickly in your sweaty clothes. Many race organizers provide bags to put your warm-up clothes in at the start and will have them waiting for you at the finish line. If this service isn’t provided you may consider bringing a bag from home to ensure your clothes stay dry while you are racing. Remember how good it feels after a race to put on a pair of clean dry socks. A nice cotton sweat shirt is good too.

Cool Down
Ski around a bit after you finish the race to let your body flush out some of the lactate and hard work from your system. You may not feel like doing this but this will go a long way toward making you feel better in a few hours. At the very least get out and walk around for fifteen minutes and cheer on other competitors.

Replenish Fluid and Energy
Your body needs it and will likely crave it. Take advantage of the race food provided. It is also a good idea to throw a water bottle, snack and some cash into the warm clothes bag. I always enjoy a treat from the bakery after a long race effort. Try and get a meal in within an hour of the finish and make sure it includes some protein.

Communication Plan
It is fun to share the race experience with friends. Before the gun goes off, make a plan for how you will connect after the race. Do cell phones work at the race venue? Are you going to meet at the finish line or the food tent? It might seem like a silly thing to plan for, but it easy to get lost in the crowd at big races and have some people waiting at the finish line, others at the food tent and some at the car.

Great memories and best friends are made during marathons. Enjoy the process of preparing for, racing in, and celebrating your marathon experience.