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How to Survive (and Enjoy) Your First Cross-country Ski Race Series

Race Resources Monday, January 16, 2017

You’ve been training steadily, feeling good, and zeroed in on an event or two that seems like a fit. So why not go for a race series?

After all, racing throughout the season is a great motivator to carry you through. And instead of starting from scratch each race, you’re building on previous training. “When it comes to training, anything you do now in terms of big training ideas is kind of irrelevant,” says Brian Seppala, a former collegiate racer who coaches the Devil’s Thumb Ranch junior Nordic club as well as track and cross country in the Cherry Creek School district. “Your training throughout the summer and fall will dictate how well you do for the most part. Any training now is all technique and making your weak points better.”

Here are some of Seppala’s best tips for surviving and enjoying your first race series:

1. It’s not too late for a lesson

As Seppala notes, now is not the time to build your base training from scratch, but to tweak and fine-tune your form for ease and efficiency. “Take a lesson, and then go out in the afternoon and work on one or two things the instructor told you to work on. I think the more you can do that, the more gains you will make, not just in the races, but overall.”

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2. Prepare mentally

 

“I would try to actually ski the distance you are going to race before you actually race it. A lot of people and coaches dispute this, but I think mentally, knowing you can finish 30 km, even at a snail's pace, helps you way more than never ever having skied that far before,” he says.

3. Work on a pre-race routine

Seppala likes an easy warm-up ski, then a few pick-ups (25-50 meters all out on the flats), with some stretching thrown in. Try to actually re-create what you will do before the race. Work backwards from the start time. Says Seppala, “I always did a 15 minute run, then changed into race gear with warm ups over it. Then 10 to 15 minutes of easy skiing, then stretching (10 minutes). Then some quick pick-ups (5-10 minutes) to get the heart rate up, then stretch some more (5 minutes). Mental visualization after that, then saunter over to the start line. My whole routine was about an hour. Try to dial in your warm-up when you do not have a race looming over you. Then you can stop, evaluate, and figure out what works best for you.”

4. Avoid rookie mistakes

“The biggest mistake I see people make is over-worrying and over-thinking. Everything from wax to what to wear in the race to how many feeds to take. The best racers are usually the most confident racers, and they are not necessarily confident because they are the best racers.” In short, Seppala says, if you just believe that what you have done is the best you an do, and leave it at that, then that is best. And then be done with it. Glide wax the night before, and forget about it. Eat a normal breakfast, and forget about it. Drink your normal Gatorade, wear gear you are comfortable with, ski at your pace, and then don't worry about it. The less stress you have in your brain, the better you will race.

5. Don’t forget your lodging logistics

The first thing Seppala nails down? A condor or hotel room with a kitchen. “No joke, that is something a lot of people overlook. Having to try and find a spaghetti joint at the same time 200 other people are in a town looking for the same damn spaghetti is not my idea of fun. Or at least make a reservation at a place to eat well before you get there. The less you have to worry about before a race, the better, and food and shelter are the number one worries!”

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