Kikkan Randall is on some sort of skis nearly every day of the year. Training season begins around the first of May each year and doesn’t end until the following April, at which time there is a two or three week break from the action.
“You really only have a three to four week window where you are at your fastest point of the year.” “We’re planning to have that window right during the Olympics," said Kikkan.
The daily routine amounts to a total of about five or six hours of training if you include stretching and preparations. The actual, intense training lasts about three hours a day, six days per week.
One thing that separates cross-country skiing from other endurance sports is the variation of courses and conditions the athletes must perform in. Everything from temperature, to snow conditions, to severity of hills on a particular course can greatly effect finishing times in a race.
Where a runner, for example, can gauge their training progress by simply timing their runs over a consistently uniform track, a cross-country skier cannot rely on such data. They are forced to rely and focus their attention on internal data, such as heart rate and blood lactate levels.
Each skier has a training profile and each training season starts off with such internal data in mind. So, in Kikkan’s case she has a max heart rate established, usually somewhere around 200 beats per minute, and her training involves a constant monitoring of her heart rate.
A typical training day for Kikkan will usually begin with skiing. In the summer you might see her on roller skis, cruising along on the asphalt. She will spend the first part of the session warming up with her heart rate reaching only 65-70 percent of her max heart rate. This may continue for a few kilometers just to get the muscles warm and ready for some tough work known as interval training.
Interval training is where Kikkan will reach 90-95 percent of her max heart rate, going hard for 1.5 kilometers, being so exhausted at the end of one interval that she will be hanging over her ski poles. After five minutes of rest, she will be recovered enough to do another interval.
“At the end of the day, you will tend to wobble a little bit on your way back to the car. It is a pretty hard process,” said Kikkan’s coach, Erik Flora.
Kikkan’s day is not over at the wobbling point. She will rest for a couple hours and then hit the weight room three afternoons per week. Her weight room sessions will last around an hour and a half. Kikkan is known for impressive weight room sessions, out lifting all her peers.
One key training advantage the Alaska Pacific University team has is the glacier they ski on during the summers. They drive a bus to Girdwood and take a six-minute helicopter ride up to a glacier nearby. They will spend about seven days per month each summer skiing on the glacier which puts them literally miles ahead of their competition.
“If you want to be a swimmer you have to swim. You can’t expect to compete on an international level if you don’t ski as much as your competition,” said Flora. “Alaska allows us to train in two years time the equivalent of three years of a New England winter. We certainly have a sweet setup.”
Kikkan and Flora both agree that the primary reason Americans have never been very competitive in cross-country skiing is simply because the top competition from around the world spends more time on skis. The APU program is changing that and is a big reason Kikkan is perhaps the best shot we have ever had at a medal in cross-country skiing.