[Another great article from XC Ottawa! See their training section for more.]
It took me awhile to get out the door to rollerski this morning. I found myself asking why it is always like this. Rollerskiing isn't really a better sport in the heat of July when the pavement is practically melting and you are wearing boots designed for winter.
Basically, I think it is because the fall is just tough for cross country skiers. We have to train with diligence, because racing starts soon. At the same time, we don't even actually get to do the sport we are training for. Instead, we punish ourselves at activities which are not as much fun as skiing. Nobody would find it hard to understand if, a month before the peak of the triathlon season, you had to do all your hard workouts on an ill-fitting exercise bike, a Vasa swim-trainer, and a treadmill, and this didn't leave you feeling completely fulfilled. This is, essentially, the predicament we are in as cross country ski racers in October.
Somehow, I think this situation contributes to all kinds of mistakes that skiers make during the months of fall. My explanation for this is that we never have a real measure of how fit we are for the sport we are training, because nothing on dry land can really replicate it. A runner can run on a track and have a pretty accurate measure of how he/she is progressing. A cyclist can measure wattage. A skier tries to measure performance with things like roller skiing time trials and uphill running tests, but nothing is really skiing. No matter how fit we are, we tend to be a touch insecure about how this will play out until we actually get on snow. The result is that we tend to pound away at our training until we run into some kind of wall: sickness, extreme fatigue, injury, or some other obstacle that has to be the equivalent a small army blocking the way out of the house before we will stop. For sure, this is counter productive.
For what it's worth, here are a few thoughts on things that might help to avoid this “predictable predicament”.
Resist the temptation to make dramatic changes to the training plan that you thought through so carefully months ago. You were probably more objective about things then than you are now. Talk it over with someone who is good at exercising restraint.
Ascribe very little value to the results page of things like roller ski time trials and running races. You are training for skiing, not either of the above. This is not to say the these events don't have value. Basically everything about them is valuable, but placing undue emphasis on the results page doesn't make much sense.
Make sure that you are familiar with the feeling of being well rested. Sometimes we get tired and stay that way for so long that we don't even realize how tired we are because we have nothing to compare it with. Make sure that you make time in your training plan for days and weeks which are devoted to being rested. Get lazy! Be disciplined about it!This is actually more difficult than you might think.
Save your absolutely best efforts for the races. Sure, we all hear the stories about great athletes who “pour on the coal” day after day after day. My guess is that it is more likely that we are so desperate to improve that sometimes we forget that the furnace can only take so much coal.
Respect illness. Didn't your mother teach you that? Missing a few days or even a week of training is not likely to do much damage to your racing season. Training much when you are sick is certainly much more costly. Getting sick happens to everyone sometimes. Relax. It's ok if you deal with it the way you should.
Limit the number of really tough workouts you do. When it is time for one of these, show up well rested. Every day cannot involve gut busting workouts, especially when you are starting to do some fairly tough, high intensity work. This approach, on the surface, looks commendable: “what a disciplined athlete, look how hard she trains”. Save the gut busting for the Nationals or, maybe the “if you finish the steak the whole family eats for free”deal.
Actively look for elements of fun in the workouts you are doing. One day that might mean going “plate for plate” in a pancake eating contest after a long workout, and on another it might mean night orienteering in the rain with a paper map.
The bottom line is really to trust yourself. If you have completed intelligent training throughout the year, all you really have to do is continue that pattern through the fall and into the early season. You have the right to be confident about your abilities based on this fact. Use that confidence to both have fun and make smart choices. Good luck!