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Competitive Advantage: Rollerskiing at Night

Thu, Dec  20, 2001 - By Mike Muha

Just because it's dark after work doesn't mean I can't train outside. Plenty of school teachers (and you know who you are...) get out early enough to train while there's light. If I don't keep on training - even though it's dark - I'm giving those teachers an advantage when racing season starts. 

One of my goals was to train as specifically as possible - I need to rollerski or ski walk/run with poles. And that means after dark if necessary.

In past years, my training went down the tubes during the post-daylight savings time "dark times". At best, I occasionally went to the gym. At worst, I did nothing during the week and simply rollerskied on weekends. This year, I looked forward to nights as a opportunity - every night I trained when one of my race adversaries did not increased my competitive advantage.

(Notice that I didn't write this article until well into December - all you folks who took weeknights off this fall can eat my snow dust during races this winter...).

You already train in the evening during the summer. Keep on going in the later fall and winter. The strategy to training in the dark is pretty simple:

Wear a helmet. A closed head injury can really ruin your season.

Pick a trail you're really familiar with. Nothing's worse than rollerskiing on unfamiliar terrain. You need to know where the rough, rocky or tricky portions of the trail are in advance.

Avoid lights. I don't like a helmet light - I find the light beam bouncing down the trail annoying. Usually, city lights bouncing off the clouds or the moon provide sufficient light to ski by IF YOU KNOW THE TRAIL. The key to rollerskiing without a headlight is to not enter into lighted areas. Going from a light area to a dark area takes way your night vision. Wear a hat with a visor under your helmet so you block car lights flashing into your eyes - the worst case of night blindness.

Or welcome the lights. Of course, if you live by a trail with plenty of light, lucky you! A group of us from the old Washtenaw Nordic Ski Racers used to rollerski in a well-lit hospital parking lot. We also did a loop in a research park that had a fair number of overhead lights and little traffic.

Don't go fast. I hate hitting one of the runners, deer, or occasional bikers found at Kensington Metropark at night. And there is always the possibility of branches down in the path. Going slow gives me an opportunity to see obstacles and let other people see me. To reduce my speed, I crank down on my speed reducers and do easy distance or distance strength sessions.

OK, so go fast. But only go fast up hills. I have successfully done uphill intervals in the dark. Again, speed reducers and the incline keep the speed relatively sane even though my heart rate is red-lining. And I always roll the interval area once to ensure the trail is clear.

Wear bright cloths. Bright clothes help others see you.

Wear knee and elbow pads, depending on how comfortable you are on the trail at night. I tend to don knee and elbow pads at night, particularly if it's wet or if there have been high winds (the winds tend to knock branches onto the trail).

Take a friend or a cell phone. If you're out alone, and you're not likely to see anyone else, a cell phone could come in really handy...

No excuse! If you have limited time to train, you have to train as specifically as possible to get the maximum training effect. Don't let a little darkness hold you back!