Keeping up in the winter |

Keeping up in the winter

Melanie Wong
special to the Vail TrailJosiah Middaugh, a local professional triathlete, doesn't abandon his bike in the winter. If the roads are clear, he bikes or runs outdoors; otherwise, he runs up the slopes or trains indoors.

When many of her competitors are riding their bikes in much warmer weather, cyclist Linda Guerrette does a different kind of training ” she puts on her skis.

She’s not too picky about the style ” telemark, classic cross-country, backcountry, alpine ” she does them all to train for Race Across America, a bike race that covers 3,044 miles coast to coast.

Guerrette has competed in the Race Across America three times, and this year she will be doing the half-race, from Oceanside, Calif., to Taos, N.M.

Guerette is one of many local endurance athletes who find creative ways to keep training during the valley’s long winter.

Because it is hard to run on icy trails or bike in sub-zero weather, Guerrette, a Vail ski instructor, said her winter regimen is a mix of different activities to keep up her aerobic fitness.

Skiing a day of moguls can be a good strength and power workout, but generally alpine skiing is not really a good cardiovascular workout, she said.

After a day on the slopes, she often cross-country skis or skins up the mountain on her telemark skis.

She does backcountry touring, too. To mimic the style of the Race Across America, in which team members take shifts riding, she will compete in the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, a 40-mile backcountry skiing race from Crested Butte to Aspen that is done in teams of two.

Not that she is completely off her bike in the winter months. She commutes to work every day on her mountain bike from West Vail to Golden Peak, and she spends a few days a on an indoor training machine hooked to her road bike.

Riding in place can be both tiring and monotonous, so Guerrette maximizes her training sessions by focusing on technique, such as doing one-legged pedaling drills.

“It’s not always a pattern I prefer,” she said of her training schedule. “But you have to adjust. Traditionally, a lot of cyclists pile on the miles (in the winter), but we can’t always do that.”

Many endurance athletes trade the pavement for the snow in the winter, said Nate Goldberg, director at the Beaver Creek Nordic Center.

Skate skiing and classic skiing draw many elite cyclists and triathletes, and the mountain’s snowshoe races draw many top runners, he said.

“Cross country skiing is really the exercise of choice of a lot of endurance athletes,” he said. “It’s a great cardio workout, and it complements many of the other sports because of the balance involved.”

He sees a mix of people on the mountain, from professional athletes to 5K runners to recreational skiers.

“In the winter, you can be running or riding on the road, but why not enjoy the environment you have?” Goldberg said.

Mia Stockdale, a retired professional mountain biker and co-owner of the Vail Nordic Center, said she used to skate ski from November to February to stay in shape.

Skate skiing helped her keep great aerobic fitness and was a full-body workout, she said. The skating motion keeps the legs strong, and the poles work the core muscles and the arms.

She did skate ski racing and snowshoe races throughout the winter. Uphill running in snowshoes carried over especially well to mountain biking, she said.

At the Nordic Center both classic and skate skiing can be great cross-training sports, but most athletes seem to lean toward skate skiing because it’s faster, she said.

“The classic style is more similar to running, so that’s good for the runners. But then you get your heart rate up higher in skate skiing, so both can be equally valuable,” she said.

Kerry White, a Race Across America cyclist and mountain biker, said she relies heavily on skate skiing in the winter.

It is almost impossible not to get a good workout, and she can condense her workout time, she said. A couple hours of skate skiing can equate to what might be a few hours or more on the bike.

“With skate skiing you have no choice. You’re in (a high heart rate zone) for 90 percent of the time. With Nordic you actually have to be careful not to overdo it because it’s so much more exertion,” she said.

While snow sports can help keep up fitness, some athletes find ways to do their sports of choice despite the weather.

Josiah Middaugh, a professional XTerra triathlete, cross-country skis and snowshoes, but he also runs and bikes year-round. If the roads are clear enough, he runs outside. If they are not, he runs up the slopes wearing snowshoes or crampons. He rides his road bike with modified tires throughout the winter, too.

This winter he was also training for a mountain bike stage race in South Africa, so he trained indoors using a CompuTrainer, he said.

A CompuTrainer is a machine the rider can hook their bike to and do a simulated ride looking at a screen that projects the speed and wattage numbers.

“It’s a great way to train. I normally would be outside more, but because of the stage race, I’ve put quite a bit of time in on the CompuTrainer,” he said.

White said she also continues to run outside with studded running shoes and even commutes to work sometimes on her mountain bike simply because she likes being outside.

“I might have to cut my time down a bit, but (the weather) shouldn’t stop you,” she said.

Still, being an endurance athlete in the valley has its disadvantages.

In order to compete at the professional level, Stockdale said she would leave Vail in February to train in more temperate places.

Even then, living in a place with a longer winter meant that when races started in March, she was never in top form, she said.

Training in Vail, she expected to “peak” ” or reach her top racing form ” later than some of her competitors.

“I was usually good by June, but you really couldn’t expect the riders who lived in the mountains to do well in the early season races,” she said.

Guerrette said that spending more time on skis and less time on the bike during the winter has its good and bad points.

“What you end up lacking is time in the saddle. You can end up with early season saddle sores, and that’s never nice, she said. On the other hand, we have freshness from not riding the bike all winter. When we do ride outside in the cold, it’s good for mental toughness.

Melanie Wong can be reached for comment at 748-2928 or at

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