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Good. Really good. Maybe too good?

Kris Freeman

Tue, Oct  16, 2007 - By Zach Caldwell

Today’s session was double-pole intervals - 5X3min with 4 min recovery, targeting 10mMol/L by the end of the workout. Kris’s plan was to sit-in on the sprinters for at least the first couple of intervals, and then see how it was going. He didn’t have the patience, and he went to the front mid-way through the first interval because the pace felt too slow. His lactate at the end of that effort was a little over 5mMol/L. From there he continued to start with the rest of the crowd, but skied his own pace - definitely more controlled than the very hard 3 minute skate effort at the beginning of the session on Saturday - but fast enough to leave the rest of the guys behind. By the end Kris’s lactates were climbing up into the 12mMol/L range - a little higher than the target, and certainly higher than the perceived effort.

Feedback on the session was good. Pete was very positive, and had no criticism of the way Kris was skiing - technically or otherwise. And as Pete put it “Kris handled those guys pretty easily”.

Today’s session continues to reinforce the picture that has been coming into focus in the past week. I’m going to lay it out historically in order to provide a bit of perspective. Kris has always tended toward a glycolytic fitness profile. It’s easy for him to build high levels of anaerobic fitness, and he responds quickly to that stimulus. Last year we worked with that assumption, and maintained an almost entirely OD-based training load straight through the first period of the World Cup, and even through US Nationals, in order to suppress the expected response. When Kris turned the corner last season (in late January) and started introducing some hard efforts, those efforts came at a time with a hectic travel and race schedule, and it’s not clear that they were optimally effective. Kris felt that they paid dividends, and he continues to be convinced that he was in tremendously good shape at World Championships and had quite a lot of bad luck. Fair enough - it’s water under the bridge. My observation was that Kris’s response to load removal and anaerobic stimulus was not as rapid as his previous history lead me to expect.

Based on that observation, we decided early on to try to carry more anaerobic fitness through the training season (by maintaining continuity in the sustained intensity efforts), and to turn the focus to lactate mobilization prior to the first period World Cup. We saw some evidence that this was “working”. Kris has put up higher peak lactates when we’ve had an opportunity to measure them throughout the Summer - right from the beginning of the training season. In hind-sight, it’s apparent that the shift in focus toward lactate mobilization about five weeks ago (see “Anatomy of a Focus Shift”) also yielded a rapid response toward easy lactate mobilization. Based on last year, I expected this response to be slower than it appears to have been. However, this is much more in-line with what we’ve seen from Kris in the past - prior to last year.

This also puts into perspective the amount of overload Kris might have experienced in the last block (with 8 intensity sessions). For example, Kris did two sets of very hard classic intervals - 3X10 minutes uphill at 15K race pace, with the last two minutes of each effort pretty much all-out. My expectation for that session was that peak lactates would be in the range of 8-10mMol/L. Based on his perceived effort in those classic intervals, compared with the lactates he’s putting up in training in Lake Placid, it’s reasonable to expect that those classic intervals were actually generating peak lactates in the range of 14-16mMol/L.

When lactate mobilization starts to increase, Kris doesn’t necessarily feel the effort in the same way as when he’s on a strictly distance load. He’s got some work to do to get a handle on pacing his efforts, and utilizing this very high top gear at appropriate times. It seems clear that his last Sunapee effort was a good example of what happens when the fitness profile changes and the sensations don’t adapt as quickly to keep up. Kris thought he could throw pacing out the window. Bad call, under the circumstances.

It’s very clear, based on suppressed heart rates and on overall sensations, that the load in the last couple of training blocks was very high for Kris. Unsustainably high. Working on the assumption that his lactate mobilization capacity would take a while to respond, it wasn’t clear to me during that last block, why the load was so high. Now that we can see how quickly his lactate mobilization capacity has come-up, it’s much more apparent why that load was so high.

Kris is feeling really good now. He really wants to start adding hours to the plan. The hours for this week have gradually drifted up from an original plan for 16, to a revised plan for 17 (with the addition of a flushing-run this afternoon) to an actual tally of 18, as a few workouts have drifted a little long. I just nixed adding some more. Kris will stick with the plan, and head into Saturday’s time trial as if it were a World Cup. In just over a month, he’ll be starting a real World Cup. It’s not a bad idea to have a dress rehearsal. Kris travels home Sunday after one final session with the team, and then he’ll run Sunapee on Wednesday. After that Wednesday effort we’re reassess. Given the signs that we’ve seen in the past week, all indicating very good progress toward excellent race fitness, it’s likely that the volume load will pile back on a little bit. In this case the point will be to suppress the anaerobic response a little bit. It’s quickly coming to the point where additional performance gains will have to come in response to tolerance training, a process which begins to whittle away at the capacity that has been built. Given Kris’s goals for mid and late season, none of us are prepared to start undermining the capacity that he’s built in order to claim a short-term gain. For the record, Kris predicted this eventuality a week ago. Kris knew he was walking close to the edge, but he also knew that he hadn’t gone over the edge. He’s been there, and he knows what it feels like. I still want to see a good effort Saturday, and a good Sunapee test Wednesday. But I think Kris has a good handle on where things are.

A couple of people have raised valid concerns in the comments about overtraining. Kris and Pete and I are all paying close attention to the signs that I’m passing along here. It doesn’t pay to be overconfident, or to assume that anybody is super-human. Kris has been operating pretty close to his limits for much of this year and we’re very well aware of that. Success, at his level, will not come with less effort or commitment, and it’s not always clear that the chosen path is the best path. We have to acknowledge that the picture will drift in and out of focus. Many athletes spend their entire career wondering whether they’ve got it right. Kris is remarkable in that he consistently delivers performances that meet and exceed expectations. When the picture drifts out of focus we can generally back up a step, let a little time pass, and gain the perspective to put it back in focus. The closer you get to the edge, the harder it is to see exactly where it lies. So you inch up to it, and then you back away, and get ready to go again.

It should be apparent to a careful reader that Kris could benefit from more consistent spot checking, especially during his hard efforts. If we had known, during that last big block, that his lactates were running higher than expectation, we might have known to lower the volume further than expected. That is definitely true, and something to take into consideration. But the trade-off is not simple. Kris is a New Hampshire native, and he’s happiest and most effective training in his home environment. He has spent long periods of time in Utah, and has made good progress training there. But at a certain point decisions need to be made, and Kris has placed a priority on a lifestyle that supports the quality of his training at the highest level possible. This comes at the expense of some contact with coaches. Because of this, we have designed a plan that features mostly sustained intensity sessions rather than intervals. A sustained effort is much more self-governing than an interval effort, and while the efforts themselves are very taxing, Kris is less likely to get himself running “too hot” unintentionally when he’s using a sustained format.

Right now Kris is as positive and optimistic as he’s ever been. It’s really good to train with some of the best sprinters in the world and come out looking fast over three minutes of effort. Andy Newell and Torin Koos are the real deal, and their training has gone well this year. Kris has a lot to be pleased about. I’m also pleased, and confident. Kris is in better racing shape now than he was at any time, aside from maybe World Championships, last year. Suppressing his response is not difficult, and if it comes to it we can hold him off for months. We saw that last year. I’m not inclined to blow a lot of smoke, but right now things are looking quite good.


Reprinted with permission from the Kris Freeman website at http://www.krisfreeman.net/. Copyright © Zach Caldwell and Kris Freeman

Caldwell Sport Specialities