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Five tips on how to ski a marathon

Tips from the Winner

Thu, Feb  11, 2010 - By Zack Simons

This past weekend marked another spectacular weekend in Ketchum, Idaho- home of the Boulder Mountain Tour.  The BMT is an exceptional race. The weather is typically perfect, the snow abundant and the scenery is unbeatable.  The 32km, point-to-point course, trends downhill and the gradual terrain provides ample challenge for the novice and an exciting, high-speed finish for many of the country's top racers.

Zach Simons winning his 3rd Boulder Mountain Tour

Zach Simons winning his 3rd Boulder Mountain Tour

This past weekend I skied my 6th Boulder Mountain Tour and successfully defended my title from the previous year, my third BMT victory thus far. As a marathon specialist, I'd like to offer a few ideas on how to maximize your potential the next time you line up for a long distance event.
1. Conserve

Conservation is the name of the game in marathon skiing. You want to use as little energy as possible over the course of the race so that when it comes time to sprint, you still have plenty of power. Anytime I am skiing behind someone, I find ways to use less energy.   Sometimes this means tuck-skating to give my arms a rest.  Other times it means moving right or left relative to the person in front of me in order to stay out of a headwind/cross wind.
2. Positioning

Positioning is crucial in marathons. It is only a matter of time before the field breaks up. Once those gaps are formed, it will be nearly impossible to bridge to the next group ahead of you.   Get a good warm-up in before the race and start aggressively. Keep your eyes up and watch for gaps forming in front of you. If you have the energy, jump those gaps as soon as they start to appear. As you near the finish, move forward in your group and try to avoid being passed.  If there are only three lanes into the finish, you will not win the sprint from fourth place.
3. Passing

Passing people takes a lot of energy but done in the right place, you can limit your expenditures. I like to try to pass on downhills. The best way to do this is to give yourself a little room over the crest of a hill and accelerate as you go over the top.  Stay in your competitor's draft as long as possible and slingshot around your competition with little effort. If done right, you can pass several people in one quick shot.
4. Sprinting

Most marathons will come down to a sprint, one way or another. While natural speed and power play a big part, the ability to hold your technique together throughout the homestretch is critical. I work on finish speed year-round, once a week. Below is an example of my speed workout.
5. Marathon Speed Workout

I like to find a nice downhill that leads into a couple hundred meters of flat.  I use the downhill to get up to speed without having to work too hard. Once I hit the flat I do 12 seconds of sprinting.  Early in the season, I start with efforts around 75% and 8 repetitions.  This allows me to focus on using perfect technique.  Once I feel like I can hold it together at 75% I will step it up to 80-85%, and so on...  I like to do this workout after a few hours of distance skiing and later in the year, after an interval workout.  This will force your body to learn to sprint late in a race.
Good luck and have fun in your next marathon adventure!

Zack Simons of Steinbock Racing is a former American Birkebeiner Champion and three-time winner of the Boulder Mountain Tour. This year he and teammate Andrew Johnson worked masterfully together to defend his title.  Steinbock Racing and their latest addition, Carl Swenson, chose Toko HF Blue covered with Toko Jetstream blue enroute to 1st, 5th and 8th place.