Updated: Apr 28, 2022
In 2019 Katharina, my then-fiancée was preparing for her annual season of cross country (nordic) skiing competition. This is something of a tradition for her, racing in both the Engadin Frauenlauf and Ski Marathon frequently since her teens, so she knew how to prepare and eat for the events. Last year was my first winter living in Switzerland, so she took full advantage and asked me to manage her prep for the 2019 season.
We went to town and drew up a plan that covered aerobic training, strength and conditioning, recovery, nutrition and mental preparedness which ran into a detailed peaking and competition plan in the final weeks.
As the ski season is soon upon us I thought this might interest some of you, so here‘s an outline of some of the things we did…
Strength & Conditioning
Katharina started to follow a gym program 6 months prior to the ski season we focused on general conditioning, being mindful of the muscles she would need most during the marathon. There were three full-body sessions a week planned, which could be dropped down to a minimum of once a week depending on Katharina’s busy work schedule.
Cardio & Endurance
Katharina is also an avid runner, having competed in 5k, 10k and half marathon events and therefore running was added to her program to build and maintain cardiovascular fitness. Again, the ideal situation was 2-3 sessions a week, following a typical half marathon schedule with running being prioritised over gym sessions if time was tight as the competition grew closer. Swimming was also used in case of bad weather or just as a break from the road.
Generally speaking, the further out from the competition, the higher the emphasis on strength and conditioning, the closer the competition came, cardiovascular work took priority.
Luckily the winters in Switzerland are pretty long potentially having 5 months of snowfall. We started Ski training in November with the competition in February by replacing the running and dropping the gym time down to once a week maximum as a recovery aid. The skiing intensity and distance increased throughout the winter.
Nutrition & Recovery
You might have noticed this was a pretty intense amount of training - 6 days a week on average, including weekly travel to Graubunden for skiing, so Katharina's recovery had to be pretty on point.
For nutrition, we didn’t need a super detailed calorie tracked plan. Katharina was already eating a good balanced diet and recovery was fine, though I did keep an eye on her protein intake to make sure adequate amounts were eaten. There were no issues with soreness though there were occasions where protein and carbs saw an increase to aid recovery after periods of heavy volume. We didn’t supplement during pre-competition beyond a sports multivitamin and some EAA’s during the toughest gym sessions.
We worked heavily on flexibility and injury prevention with a lot of the gym time dedicated to stretching, range of motion work and general preparedness. The program had some downtime allocated each week, often by watching a movie, reading a fiction book, Yoga and meditation and generally trying to create a calm space in the flat following long days of work and training.
By 8 weeks out we had stopped the weight training. The training sessions were spent running or swimming during the week with skiing sessions over the weekend. Over the Christmas holiday, all training time was dedicated to skiing, meaning a week of straight ski training, give or take Christmas day.
At this point, we began incorporating tailored intra training nutrition in the form of specific amounts of EAA’s, carbohydrates and electrolytes. This had the dual effect of helping maintain performance during the prolonged bouts of skiing and assessing Katharina’s response to the mix before the competition.
One week before the marathon was the annual Frauenlauf Ladies Half Marathon, which was an excellent opportunity to taper the overall volume of training whilst still allowing Katharina to experience the intensity seen in competition. We tapered cardio in the three days before the half, maintaining flexibility work & Yoga with a rest day on the final day before the event.
Diet was already pretty high in carbs and calories and the shorter distance of the half marathon meant no massive changes in nutrition strategy other than an emphasis on carbs in the final meals of the day.
Half Marathon Race Day Nutrition
On the day of the event, the aim is to keep the tank topped up with enough fuel whilst not loading the digestive system to the point of discomfort or feeling sluggish during the competition.
The race was a morning start so Katharina had a medium-sized breakfast consisting of a couple of slices of toast with jam, two eggs and a banana plus a cup of coffee and a glass of water.
Around 1hr before the race, Katharina took a sports gel.
The next step was to start sipping her competition fluids (essential amino acids (EAA’s), carbs & electrolytes) whilst warming up and sipping the mix as needed during the race.
Katharina completed the half marathon in a personal best time of 49.43 and qualified herself for the Elite group for next years race. A fantastic time and achievement ahead of next weekends’ main event.
After the competition, Katharina finished her fluids mix and followed that up around an hour later with a large banana and protein shake.
Following the competition window, we went right back to solid foods. I had given Katharina rough guidelines for amounts of each with the overall aim to include plenty of carbs and enough protein to get recovery rolling.
Marathon Prep & Race Day
At this point, with the marathon coming up seven days later, recovery over the next week was vital. We followed a structured plan which included training, flexibility work, stress management techniques and a tailored nutrition program.
Katharina would often train for 3-4hrs on the Ski’s and her recovery rate was pretty good by this point however we wanted to nail that marathon performance so the next day (Monday) was a full day off of training, including a 30-minute walk, 20 minutes of Yoga and a massage. We also made sure to include reading a fiction book each day.
By Tuesday Katharina had 48hrs of high carb and high protein meals in her and felt fully recovered from the half marathon so we maintained her normal pre-race diet and trained with some moderate 5 minute running intervals over 20 minutes, sticking to her standard 10k pace - easy to recover from but enough to get some blood flow. We included full-body mobility work and Yoga with meditation.
Wednesday was the turning point of the week. Katharina completed a slow-paced easy run to get some movement in and stay active rather than aim for milage or adding intensity. Based on Katharina’s recovery and how she felt we started to taper carbs and increase protein and fats in preparation for a 48hr load later in the week.
Thursday continued the carb depletion. Katharina trained with bands and lighter dumbbells, again keeping mobile with the added benefit of further depleting muscle glycogen without incurring fatigue.
By Friday Katharina couldn’t contain her excitement at increasing her bread intake. It was day 1 of the carb up! Again this was also planned out, with quantities of carbs, protein and fats calculated based on body weight and food sources selected from Katharina's existing diet, reducing the risks of digestive distress.
The meals were spread out evenly throughout the day, with three large main meals and three snacks. We included protein throughout the day and aimed to keep fat intake to a minimum. Carbohydrates came from mostly complex sources. The training for the day was a long walk followed by hip mobility and a movie night in the evening - an opportunity to de-stress and get in some extra pop corn.
Saturday was a pure rest day, with the only exercise being incidental walking and light Yoga. Nutritionally we kept everything the same as the previous day, complex carbs, lower protein and minimal fat.
Sunday - RACE DAY!
The main event. As with the half marathon, the objective was to keep glycogen topped up, maintain hydration but not overload the system in the run-up to the race. So, Katharina kept her breakfast to a banana with peanut butter on toast, a boiled egg with coffee and a small glass of water.
The race started around 8.30 am. Breakfast was between 6.30-7 am, followed by a sports gel Just before the race. The intra mix of carbs, electrolytes and EAA’s was sipped throughout, alongside taking advantage of the water stations during the course as needed.
Katharina nailed the race, knocking a whopping 20 minutes off of her previous best, with a time of 2hrs 09mins 55 seconds, maintaining her Elite B group qualification for the next year!
We followed up the race with a celebratory pizza, massage and well-earned rest for Katharina, having completed a brilliant job in prepping and executing her season.
Katharina, happy with her Elite qualification just after completing the Frauenlauf half.
The excellent results in both the half and full marathon are a testament to Katharina's approach to the competition, training hard and consistently in the run-up to the event and making sure her nutrition and stress management were on point throughout. She was tough but sensible and eager to try new strategies to better her performance.
We introduced changes to her nutrition and training early in the offseason to test out what worked best for her, both in training and competition and made sure to fostering a relaxed but prepared mental and physical state, which resulted in a big leap in performance.
If you have found this article interesting and want to learn more about performance nutrition and my services for athletes throughout the training year and competitive season drop a message into the comments box or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.