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an offseason. It’s a time to back off the volume and intensity from running, and retool, rebuild and refresh yourself before getting headlong into your next high-mileage training cycle or race-specific buildup. It doesn’t mean you have to stop running entirely—and nor should you—but it’s a good time to engage in other activities that will build strength, use slightly different muscle groups and give you a mental and physical break from the specificity of running.
We caught up with trail-running coaches Mario Fraioli and Ian Torrence, who are both big proponents of offseason cross training as a means to recover and retool after a hard season of training and racing. Both coaches stress participating in activities that mimic or complement the motion of running as best as possible, but only after considering an individual runner’s athletic skill set, injury history and personal preferences.
“I’m an advocate of a couple of months of no racing at all with lower volume of mileage and lower intensity,” Torrence says. “You don’t want to wind up burnt out or injured, and taking a break can help strengthen, repair and recover. Cross-training is important, but do things that complement your running.”
Donning skis with climbing skins and skiing uphill, then “ripping” the skins off, shoving them in a pack and skiing downhill has been a popular sport in Europe for decades. While exploring snowy terrain with traditional backcountry skis and skins is called “alpine touring” (AT) or randonnée skiing, the fast-and-light sport of “ski-mo” (short for ski mountaineering) has become a small but growing competitive-racing trend among trail runners who live in cold, mountainous regions, both as a form of cross training and as a way to exert competitive fire during the winter.
In either case, the uphill motion of free-heel uphill skiing is similar to power hiking during the steep section of a trail race. Your skis stay on the ground as you pick up your knee and lift your leg in a forward direction similar to a hiking stride. Both AT and ski-mo racing allow for massive vertical gain and great cardiovascular fitness without the detrimental impact of running.
“There’s no pounding involved,” Fraioli says. “You can actually train more hours on skis with less impact on your body.”
Ski-mo gear differs from traditional AT gear in that it’s much lighter, more minimal and built for speed. And ski-mo races are just that—races, where athletes ski uphill, transition their gear, ski downhill (and sometimes up and down multiple times) as fast as possible.
The LaSportiva Raceborg ($1,800) is a top-of-the-line ski-mo boot that tips the scale at just 1.7 pounds that pairs well with the Gara Aero LS race skis ($999). For alpine touring, Scarpa’s Maestrale boot ($695) weighs in at about 3 pounds while the Meier Heritage Tour ($895) is a classic ski.
Find a good slope for uphill skiing (either in the backcountry or at a resort) and spend a few hours yo-yo-ing up and down. Depending on the conditions and weather, you might only complete one long loop or you might get a chance to rack up more.
If you’re in it for the workout, shorten the climbing portion considerably and do a modified 8 x 100 hill workout with super-fast ascents coupled with easy downhill sections.
“If you live in an environment where you can ski on a regular basis and get a lot of climbing in, you can get really, really fit without running,” Fraioli says.
“You can maintain or even improve your fitness over the winter without pounding on your body, so you can get to spring feeling physically and psychologically refreshed. Aside from the physiological benefits, you’re kind of suffering when you’re going uphill the same way you are in a race. That’s a good way to callous your mind as you start to prepare for your next big race, even if it’s months away.”