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Hired Gun, Part 8:
A Long Talk with Torbjorn 
& the September Training Plan
September 29, 2002 - By Mike Muha

Sorry this is so late everyone - The Dryland Race Camp
ate up all my time in September.

To: Torbjorn Karlsen
Sent: Friday, August 23, 2002 8:05 PM
Subject: Help!


I had a frustrating time with the "Quality" Rollerski Time Trial for a PR session in the rain tonight. I struggled to get my heart rate up into Zone 4 and eventually struggled to even keep it in Zone 3. I was 26 seconds slower than last month when we did an easier pace session. My legs felt heavy and the arms didn't want to move.

Any ideas why I'd have this bad result - it's the first really "negative" workout I've had?


August ended with a huge question on my mind: Why was my attempt at a 5 mile rollerski time trial PR so bad? I had the evening all planned out: get in a nice warm up, stretch, do the first two-and-a-half miles just a touch on the easy side, then really hammer the last half.

What happened was totally different. The warm up went well and I had a nice stretch even though it was raining. Set the stopwatch...GO!

Or not. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my heart rate to stay at race speed. During the second half of the time trial, I couldn't get my heart rate anywhere near my targeted range. I crossed the finish line at what felt like a snail's pace.

I was very discouraged - this was my first "quality" session to go totally flat.

Something to Worry About?
I was worried. Was this simply one of those days? Had I trained too hard the previous few days? Was I over-training? I sent Torbjorn the e-mail above, plus a list of my recent training sessions. His response was heartening:

Torbjorn: All that time trial told you is to be a little more rested before the next interval session and a little more rested before your next time trial if you want progress.

He said that if this continues or if my resting heart rate stays high to adjust the quality sessions to be easier or replace a few endurance sessions with weights or to walk instead of run, or simply take an extra rest day. 

The National Team Does What?!?
I think I just had a bad day from skiing too hard the day before, because a couple days later I felt great:

Whew! I was worried!

The next day, I also felt off, and called it quits after an hour of easy rollerskiing. I went to the gym and had a pretty good hour strength session.

Today, I went out and had a great 4 hour rollerski in Zone 1, with a little zone 2 on some steeper uphills. But I can tell that it'll take me a couple days to recover before doing anything "quality".


This e-mail led to a surprise response:

Hi Mike, 

4 hours! Don't do that too often! Most distance workouts for National team member is 1.50. My longest one ever might have been 3.5 hours. 

Anyway it builds mental toughness and those 1.5 hour sessions seems short after that! 


I thought long distance was a staple of elite skiers! And here Torbjorn is saying the national team is only up to 90 minutes!

Answers Over the Phone
I'd sort of built up a set of questions to ask Torbjorn and, since I was working on my September Training Plan, I decided to arrange a phone call with him - Faster and easier than an exchange of e-mails.

I sent him my plan, then called that evening. Here's a greatly abridged and paraphrased version of our conversation (errors in interpretation are mine) :

  • Q. Why not do long rollerski sessions?
    A. Long sessions are fine, but can lead to elbow or foot pain, especially if your average rollerski sessions are only 1.5 hours. Same with long foot sessions. You will absolutely see results from those rollerski sessions but maybe you should limit them to 2 x 3-3.5 hours for the month and leave room for a little 30-40 minute recovery run, bike or swim that same afternoon?

  • Q. In the past, my interval sessions have always been at a high heart rate. Under your training philosophy, the interval sessions are much easier - at least they start easy and the only hard interval is the last one or two. Why?
    A. Several reasons: It teaches you the ability to change gears in a race -You don't want to be a one gear person. Second, going too hard kills
    motivation and can make you peak too early. There's plenty of time in the fall for hard intervals once you've guilt up your base.

  • Q. I tend to do weight sessions immediately after a quality [hard] session. Is this O.K.? I sometimes think doing weights the day before a hard session makes the session lower quality.
    A. No, you should do weights on non-quality session days. If you find that weights interfere with the next day's quality session, try building up the the weight sets: Make the first weight set pretty easy, the 2nd one a bit harder, and only the third set hard. This will make you less tired for the quality session.

  • Q. You seem to stress weight training, and fast movements when weight training. Why?
    A. To be a good skier, you need to be strong. Master skiers in particular need to focus on weights because with age, strength and speed tend to lessen. Weights need to be done at "ski speed" - slow speeds used by weightlifters create bulk and slowness. Weights at ski speeds create small, powerful muscles. And you don't want a lot of weight when climbing hills!

  • Q. So what's a good training week?
    A. Two quality sessions, one distance session, one weight session - that's the bread and butter of training. If I get these four sessions in, I've had a good week.

  • Q. I don't see much running with ski poles in your suggested training. Why?
    A. It tends to make distance sessions too hard. Save for interval sessions. 

  • Q. You want us to do ELEVEN quality sessions this month!
    A. Yes, eleven are recommended, but don't feel forced into doing all of them. If you can't do some because of non-skiing time commitments, don't worry about it. If you start out on one and your body just won't go, skip it. Do as many as you can practically do.

This conversation caused me to make several changes to my September Plan, particularly the length of my long rollerski sessions and when I do weight training. For the most part, I've moved my weight training between quality sessions, although I reserve the right to do weights after an "easy" quality session if it turns out be be convenient timing for my lifestyle (e.g., when my wife is busy that night so I can combine a couple sessions and free up an evening to be with her).

And the eleven quality sessions? They're in my plan.

Wonder if I'll survive September - particular with the extra time I'll be spending on the Dryland Race Camp...