Ski-Mountaineering's Power of Four Race Training, Week 4: Cross-training Matters

Ultrarunner Rob Krar ascends the Twin Trees Chute at New Mexico's Taos Ski Valley while competing in the U.S. Ski-Mountaineering Association National Championships in early February Credit: Photo courtesy of Kurt Schmidt / Taos Ski Valley

Writer and former Skiing Magazine editor-in-chief Sam Bass is competing in the Audi Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race in Aspen, Colorado, on February 25. He’ll be documenting his training here in weekly articles. Check out his posts for week one (on why this race matters) and week two (where he learns to cooperate) and week three (on gutting out progress). 

So this week’s topic is cross-training — but first I need to tell you about the two-piece fried chicken dinner with mashers, gravy, and green beans I just grubbed on the bus. Grabbed it for $4 at the supermarket on the walk from my office to the bus station. Usually I can make it back home in time for family dinner, but this training has seriously increased my appetite. Yep, tonight I was the guy stuffing greasy chicken thighs into his dinnerhole on the packed evening commuter. But we’ll talk food in a later installment.

When training for anything, you’ve obviously got to spend time doing the sport you hope to get good at, but building fitness with complementary exercise is also essential. Elite ultrarunner Rob Krar, a multitime champ of the grueling Western States 100, told me that he discovered the benefits of ski-mo as a cross-training pursuit early in his running career. “I did a lot of it and I came off of it not really understanding how fit I got,” he says. "I’m like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ”

In my case, I’m cross-training for ski-mo racing, but I anticipate that my partner, Hende, and I will be able to parlay our efforts into spring and summer athletic goals, like bike or running races, or — dream of far-off dreams — a volcano skiing mission in the Pacific Northwest or Southern Chile. Our fitness overlord, coach Connie Sciolino of The Alpine Training Center, has organized each week of our six-week regimen thusly: three home-gym workouts, five hours of cardio, and one interval workout.

The first three weeks comprised the volume phase, where we built a fitness base. Now we’re in week four, the first week of the intensity phase, where we affix ski-mo fitness capacity onto that base by building power, strength, and the ability to sustain and then recover from increasingly longer periods of intense anaerobic exertion.

Had we gotten our shit together earlier, we’d have signed onto Connie’s full remote-access ski-mo program, which you can do at any gym with basic equipment. Because we were limited even from local gym visits by job and family schedules, Connie adapted her ski-mo program into simpler terms for us, with the only required equipment being dumbbells, a step-up box, and running shoes.

Here’s a workout emblematic of Connie’s program design from week one, in the volume phase — ‘twas a doozie:

Warm-up

Eight minutes of jump roping, with 3x burpees for every miss.

Sam’s note: This sucked. I’m such a terribly uncoordinated jump-roper that most of this warm-up consisted of burpees.

Training

50-40-30-20-10 of each of the following:

· Dumbbell Thrusters (squat to push press).

· Dumbbell Step-ups (per leg).

Sam’s note: This was mentally bruising, but I felt good when I got through it. The squats and step-ups mimicked the skinning and hiking I’ll be doing over 24 miles and 10,000 feet, and the oppositional movement of push-pressing built arm and shoulder strength for pole planting and pushing.

Eight minutes jump roping, with 4x burpees for every miss.

Sam’s note: See above. Even suckier.

Cool-down

Five minutes easy running.

Sam’s note: Ahhhhhh.

The next three weeks went along like that, with strength-building exercises coupled with the weekly five-hour aerobic requirement and the interval workout. Layered over the pre-existing aerobic base I’d developed over a few months of lunch runs along the South Platte river trail in Denver, this phrase prepared me well for the intensity phase, which began on January 30. Here’s a workout representative of that phase — it’s the third workout of week three.

Workout

Perform with a pack loaded with 20 percent of body weight.

Sam’s note: For me, that’s about 40 pounds. Rotty.

· 50x step-ups (total)

· 10 walking lunges (total)

· 60x step-ups

· 20 walking lunges

· 70x step-ups

· 30 walking lunges

· 80x step-ups

· 40 walking lunges

· 90x step-ups

· 50 walking lunges

Sam’s note: Dying. Legs a jelly-like mess. Dog barking at me from porch.

Cooldown

Five rounds:

· 60 seconds of 5x sit-ups + 5x push-ups.

· 30-second plank.

· 30-second rest.

Sam’s note: Sweet relief.

As Coach Connie explains, the intensity phase is designed to prove to your body and mind that they can be extremely uncomfortable for periods of time and then be able to recover while moving — which mimics the Power of Four race format: skin, ski, run, skin, hike, ski, skin, ski (then beer, burger, bed) with transitions in between each segment.

Connie purposely has us redlining during these intensity-phase workouts, going harder than we ever will be during the race — the thinking being that is if we’re going 80 to 90 percent during the workouts, we’ll be going 60 to 70 percent during the race, and will consequently feel relief and mental confidence because we’ve become accustomed to feeling really terrible during training. It’s evil genius.

As I’ve said before, I have a job, a family, a life. Here’s how I fit in Connie’s training schedule: I usually do these three-per-week cross-training workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., then work with my wife to get the kids up and out to school and ourselves off to work. As for the aerobic sessions, I’ll do hour-ish lunchtime runs during the work week, plus a three-to-five hour ski tour on Saturdays.

We’d prefer to do our interval workouts at Eldora on the Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday mornings when the resort allows uphill access, but that hasn’t proven feasible, so mostly we run them from home or office — usually 10 minutes of warm-up jogging, followed by five to six hard four-minute segments punctuated by easy four-minute segments, capped by 10 minutes of easy cool-down jogging.

Basically, we’re trying to pack the hurt in now, so we feel less of it during the race. Tune in next week, when I’ll get into the gear we’re using for cross-training, on-snow training, and racing.