Monday, April 29, 2019

Training for the Uphill Athlete - Review

Just last summer, a long time ski buddy, someone who seems to make a point of doing mountain activities for their enjoyment rather than fame and bravado started acting funny. Max heart rate tests, climbing hills with weight in his backpack, breathing through his nose. Something must be up.

Turns out he had been reading "Training for the New Alpinism", a training manual for climbing written by Steve House and Scott Johnson. I took a flip through the book, read off a couple of key phrases and his girlfriend goes "that's the book you've been reading, that's why you've been talking funny lately! I need to hide that book from you!"

Steve and Scott noticed that a lot of mountain runners and skiers were reading the book and they should write something more targeted to them so they brought in Kilian Jornet and wrote "Training for the Uphill Athlete". As someone wanting to eke out more speed in ski mountaineering racing, I bought the book. Anyways here is my review.

A bit of a background for those that don't know me. While normally a quiet person, I'm a bit of a shit disturber on the internet. But I'm also a decent ski mountaineering racer. With a mountain biking background, I was able to get up to a level where I was barely hanging on to a spot on the Canadian national team (not nearly as competitive as the US team). I spent a winter in Canmore, skied a bunch (ski touring, downhill, cross country) and got pretty fast, well 42nd at World Championships, less than 10min behind the fastest North American. Then I moved back to Edmonton where real life sunk in and I went back down to the plateau I was at before. After an injury, I came back with extra motivation, did intervals using what I had to work with in Edmonton (indoor bike, short hills, XC skis) and have climbed past the level that I achieved while living in Canmore. While I wish I could work on my weakness of downhill skiing, I have achieved some decent results in the vertical races at World Championships. Getting fast while living in the prairies has required some creativity on my part.

Now back to the book. It's a 300 page book. It's opinionated It's full of stuff that probably worked for Mike Foote, Luke Nelson, and Erik Bjornsen. It has an excellent muscular endurance circuit progression. It keeps it simple by suggesting just a couple of workouts to cover the range of durations. It has a bunch of sample seasonal training progressions and sample weeks which I will find very useful. Then there are a couple of sentences that if you are actually thinking while your are reading, your jaw will hit the floor. 

The first inconvenient truth: the book states that ALL aerobic training should be weight bearing, aka no bike riding. I know it's April, but I'm watching John Gaston, aka the fastest North American male ski mountaineering racer EVER crushing bike rides. A bunch of the European skimo racers I follow on Instagram regularly post pictures of bike rides: Damiano Lenzi, Laetitia Roux, Anton Palzer, Remi Bonnet, etc.. These men (and woman) are all faster than anyone ever coached by the Steve and Scott duo. I have certainly benefited from adding more weight bearing activities to my training, but I'm not sure I would ever completely eliminate biking. Biking is a good way for some to fit in volume and intensity and it is unfair for the reader to walk away thinking that they are verboten for successful skimo athletes. I am coming off of a winter that was plagued with IT band issues where I had to do a lot of my workouts on the indoor trainer.

Maybe the goal was not to overwhelm the reader, but the list of suggested workouts was quite limited. Not everyone lives in the mountains, not everyone has access to an office tower or an incline treadmill for longer intervals but maybe some sort of hill longer than the suggested 15 second hill sprint. I, personally have found some success fully utilizing whatever terrain I have available to me. Maybe they don't have experience with a wider variety of workouts, but a larger supply of workouts would allow the reader to pick a handful that work with the terrain that they have.

There is nothing on how to improve downhill skiing and running aside from improving muscular endurance. There is definitely a way to maximize the benefits of a downhill ski day, which terrain to target, how to ski it, or even suggested drills in order to get faster. Maybe someone else will write about this.

Lastly, the book completely ignores the sprint discipline. This is a fairly new discipline, and a good spot for North American athletes to find success, in fact they already have with podiums at World Championships and World Cup victories (Nina Silitch, Quinn Simmons, Melanie Bernier). Maybe someone else will write about this.

So overall, not a bad book, I just don't see it on the same level of completeness as Joe Friel's Training Bibles which has more sample workouts, and suggestions for races over a wider range of intensities. "Training for the Uphill Athlete" contains a couple of excellent tools to add to my toolbox in addition to stuff that I have found that works for me. I am motivated to add more weight bearing activity to my training and flip through again when it comes time to lay out my season.