Pre-Olympic (or any big race) Training

Posted by Gus Schumacher on Jan 27th 2022

Pre-Olympic (or any big race) Training

I’m typing this from Livigno, Italy, where most of the U.S. Olympic cross-country team is doing our pre-camp. The location was chosen because it’s at a similar altitude (6,000ft) and has similar weather (cold-ish, sunny) to the Chinese venue. It’s definitely a privilege to be in a representative and beautiful location to prepare for races, but it’s really not that necessary. Most big races I’ve done before have been good not because of where I was, but because of the preparatory training I did before arrival.

Photo Credit: Julia Kern

The fundamental idea behind this training, usually called a taper period, is that you’ve already done the work to get fit, and now you just need to sharpen that fitness into race shape. Our coach Matt Whitcomb made the analogy to a pyramid, and you only need to put the cone on top. To do this, we basically lower our training volume, and increase the repetitions of intense workout, without increasing the volume of them. We start changing the structure about 2-4 weeks from the big race(s). That means our camp is full of mostly short, slow skis, some light strength, and speeds or intervals. It also gets more specific to the races you’re doing as you get closer. For me, as I’m only racing distance at the Olympics, I’ve done speeds, 6-8 minute L3/L4 intervals, and a skiathlon time trial. For the sprinter boys, it’s looked more like speeds, some threshold, 1-4 minute intervals, and a sprint time trial. We push the intensity of these intervals, but try to not do enough to really bury ourselves.

For different races (anyone doing the Birkie??!) this training should be based in a similar foundation, but the intervals could be manipulated to reflect your race pace more accurately. For a marathon race, I’d probably do some L3 workouts at that pace, up to 30-40 minutes of time at intensity. Some speeds might help, too, the idea is just to let your body recover a little, and prime the engine to fire!

Photo Credit: Jessie Diggins

I really enjoy this type of training plan, as it’s actually kind of easy, and you feel better and better as it goes on (if you do it right). If all goes well, you should feel sharp and ready when the race comes around! The biggest thing to remember is that you’re not going to get significantly fitter in that 2-4 weeks, but you could make yourself too tired to race fast. Take it easy, and enjoy the sharpness!