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How to train when the conditions aren’t postcard perfect

How does a skier stay motivated when faced with poor skiing conditions or the same few artificial snow venues for training?
I am a relatively serious masters skier.  I usually compete in about 4 marathon length races each season, including the American Birkebeiner, and I might do 1 or 2 shorter races if they fit into my schedule.  I do some amount of skiing or roller skiing throughout the year.
Over the last two years, I have started using the CXC plan as the starting point for my training in order to improve the structure of my workouts.  Here in Minnesota, following that plan or any regimented training plan can be a challenge, especially during the transition seasons (late Fall into early winter) when the snow is sparse but the paved trails are icy, or during bad snow years.  The challenge of a training plan is not merely physical. Fluctuations in our circumstances can chip away at our motivation.
I try to approach this problem from a few angles.  First, one has to keep overall goals in mind.  Is the season’s goal to significantly improve race performance(s), maintain or just to be in adequate conditioning to enjoy the race experience?  The level of necessary commitment to getting in those Level 3 and Level 4 intervals and getting in a weekly over distance (OD) is going to be determined by those goals.  If the inputs aren’t there (including getting enough sleep) the race performance will not follow.  So the goals need to be realistic relative to the amount of time and commitment one is willing to invest.  There are no ‘break out’ performances without a lot of preparation.  Make sure your goals match your time, energy and level of motivation. Setting unrealistic goals is just a recipe for frustration.   If the snow stinks, how committed are you to getting in your ski workouts at the manmade loops to hit your goals?
Second, one has to be flexible.  This can take many forms.  If the winds are howling and the air temperature is -10F, perhaps this is a good day to do an indoor strength workout. Use the bike trainer (or even take the day off if you haven’t already used that weekly chit).  If work or family demands (or sickness – this is wintertime after all) crop up, this might also force a departure from your preferred training schedule.  That’s OK.  You aren’t a professional athlete. This is supposed to be fun. A few missed workouts are not going to determine your season.   However, flexibility also means that sometimes other things in your life might have to be rearranged so that your ski workout is not always the first to get compromised.
Third, you might need to do some cross training.  General strength is good to keep up throughout the season (although at lower intensity than in the summer and fall).  During particularly cold days, indoor training might be better for your body than getting frostbite on your face or taxing your lungs in the extremely cold air.  If the snow is marginal, you probably do not have the time to drive to Hyland, Elm Creek or Wirth every evening, so some outdoor running and indoor training might be the key to keeping peace in your house and perhaps keeping yourself motivated when you are skiing the artificial snow loops.
A training group or group of friends can also be important for keeping you accountable for getting in some of the higher value workouts each week (intensity intervals and long over distance – OD skis), push you to ski harder than you might individually and keeping you company during longer OD workouts.  Comparing notes with like-minded skiers also might yield insights into your own approach to the sport, whether it be overcoming training obstacles, waxing and technique advice or which races to enter.
While skiing is a fun and fulfilling sport that let’s you thumb your nose at old man winter, it can be a tough sport.  If you want to excel, you need to be willing to train in sometimes unpleasant or subpar conditions and show mental and physical toughness.  Sisu is a defining characteristic of the sport and at some level, you need to be able to take joy in training and skiing even when it’s 0F outside or the snow is less than ideal or you have to drive 30+ minutes to Hyland.
In closing, enjoying competitive Nordic skiing and having some success in the sport depends on making one’s goals match with a realistic training plan, being flexible around other life commitments, using cross training to keep it fresh, and ultimately, on having the meddle (sisu) to train even when conditions are less than ideal.
Now get out and ski!
Jim Carlen, Finn Sisu Test Team

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