Vasaloppet – the last two weeks

Vasaloppet – the last two weeks

Succeeding in marathons is all about being prepared. That process starts months before the event. However, what you do in the final two weeks can make or break the race.

Madshus marathon expert Petter Skinstad shares his top advice for peaking at the Vasaloppet, or any other major marathon for that matter: from physical and mental preparations to equipment, gear and nutrition. And often, the devil is in the details.

“The last two weeks prior to the event, there is very little you can do to improve your fitness but a lot you can do to ruin your experience,” Skinstad says.

“Your focus should be all about peaking. In terms of fitness and strength, the training you’ve put in throughout the fall and the winter is your foundation. At this point, you can’t do anything about that, so conserve your energy the last 12 to 14 days prior to the race.”

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This is the time to put all those training hours to work! Photo: Vasaloppet

Keep things in perspective
While Vasaloppet is a big deal, Skinstad points out that the Vasaloppet is just another ski race, and should be treated as such. There is always a lot of buzz and hype about wax, energy gels and bars, sports drinks and gadgets, and it’s easy to get carried away.

“Don’t do a lot of things you’re not used to just because you’ve heard that others do it. This is not the time to experiment. Stick with what you know works for you,” says Skinstad.

While most seasoned and elite skiers maintain their regular training schedule almost up until the day of the race, they generally tweak the workouts and shift their focus, often referred to as tapering. The idea is that less overall volume and more intensity will induce a fitness peak.

Skinstad suggest maintaining the number of workouts per week, but decrease the overall training load. For distance workouts, this means heading in when you feel like you could easily go another hour. For intensity sessions, you should quit when you feel like you could have done another interval or two.

“This is the general peaking recommendation from the Norwegian Olympic Development Center (Olympiatoppen). It’s backed by science and proven by experience over and over. In my experience, this is a reliable strategy for building that extra energy coming into the race,” Skinstad says.

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John Kristian Dahl (NOR) has won Vasaloppet three times, here from 2017. Photo: Vasaloppet/Nisse Schmid

Nutrition, sleep and stress management
The week prior to Vasaloppet, Skinstad recommends paying a bit more attention to nutrition, sleep habits and recovery.

“Don’t try to establish a bunch of new habits the last week before the race. Just eat a little more of the foods you like. Have some extra pasta at lunch, some more potatoes, bread or rice with dinner, and make sure you stay well hydrated. Also, avoid stuffing yourself silly at dinner the night before the race. That will just make it hard to sleep, and the food will still be in your stomach at the race start the next morning, where it won’t do you any good,” he says.

Skinstad also recommends having a strategy for feeding during the race. Know which products you will carry, and set a schedule for eating and drinking.

“Most humans are capable of skiing 90 kilometers, but if you fail to eat and drink enough along the way, it will be rough. Make sure you bring a selection of foods you like, and a drink you’re familiar with. Also, make sure you’ve tried taking these foods and drinks during a workout. Sometimes, your body will react differently when trying to absorb nutrition when in motion. And take advantage of the aid stations. Take a break, refuel and move on to the next.”

Related coverage: Fueling for marathons

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Take advantage of the aid stations along the way. Photo: Vasaloppet/ Henrik Hansson

Skis and gear
In terms of equipment, wax and gear, the last two weeks is all about making sure you have every thing under control.

“At this point, you should have tried out the skis and the waxes you are planning to use, and know how they work in different conditions,” Skinstad says.

However, it’s smart to spend some time checking your gear for wear and tear, and be sure that your kick zones are correct and your skis have the right grind and structure for the conditions. Most universal grinds will do, but sometimes a different structure can improve the glide. Feel free to stop by the Madshus booth at the expo and ask!

Speaking of the expo: While Skinstad definitely recommends checking out the deals at the race expo, he warns against gearing up for the race the day before.

“Don’t buy new boots at the expo the day before the race with the idea that you’ll ski 90 kilometers in them the next day. The same goes for poles. If you are using brand new poles in a marathon, you risk finding yourself unable to double-pole halfway through the race because the straps are still stiff and create pressure points that are bugging you,” he says.

But Skinstad doesn’t stop with the obvious. The devil is in the details.

“Don’t wear new socks or underwear you’re not familiar with. I always make sure I’m wearing underwear that I have used during racing before. You definitely don’t want your underwear to chafe in a 90-kilometer race.”

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Make sure your skis are dialed in well ahead of the race day. Photo: Madshus/Stefano Zatta

Mental preparation
Be prepared for a long day on the course, and be excited for the journey. The elite will need about four hours to finish Vasaloppet, the top amateurs typically use five to six hours, but a lot of skiers will need significantly more.

“Don’t step up to the start line thinking about the finish line. I divide the course into sections, making each of them a partial goal of their own,” says Skinstad, pointing out that for Vasaloppet, it’s convenient to use the aid stations to break up the race distance.

“Most people are able to ski the distance, as long as they start out with a reasonable pace. Every aid station is a party, with food, music and people cheering, so take a minute to enjoy each partial goal. All of a sudden, you’ll be in Mora.”

Petter Soleng Skinstad. Photo: Madshus/Stefano Zatta