19 December, 2010

Inside The Pain Cave: Javier Martin

Ski Mountaineering Racing has always been a hard sport to get a large amount of training and racing information and/or advice.  For a long time ski mountaineering racers have been forced to look into other well documented sports to gain training insight, and draw conclusions as well as form new ideas to apply towards ski mountaineering racing.  Information has been closely guarded, as a way of keeping an 'edge' on the competition.  There will be always 'secrets', and different formulas, many similar.  However, to shed a bit of light on these secrets, I've contacted various coaches and athletes in the World Cup, to see how they've been training.  My focus has been to create an bigger picture of what is being done, and to help provide more skimo specific racing information, to build a more effective training schedule.  

So without further adieu Ski Theory presents, Inside The Pain Cave, a series of interviews with athletes and coaches starting with Coach and Athlete; Javier Martin.  Javier is a member of the Spanish Ski Mountaineering Team, and Coach of the Junior National Team, as well as Coach of a few other elite athletes.  He is a member of the Dynafit International Team, completed the fastest Symphony Traverse on skis, 2nd in the 2010 Patrouille Des Glaciers, and countless Top 5 and 10 finishes in World Cup Races.  Check out his racing history here.  (Photo Left:  Javier Martin racing, courtesay of skimo.org)

AW:  How long have you been racing and coaching?  Who are some of your top athletes?
JM:  I started racing in 1998, first with the team in my region, Madrid. I grew up racing with them,  until 2003, when I joined the National Team. By then I was already coaching some of the Madrid Team Juniors, but it was in 2006 when I got really into coaching.  I took over the physical preparation of the Junior National Team, and was also responsible for the whole Madrid team. The year after, I became the manager of the Junior National Team focusing most of my work on technical skills.
It´s hard to say who my top athletes are, because I really feel proud of all of them.  I've been working with Marc Pinsach for the past 5 years, who is one of our biggest exponents at the moment.  In 2007 Mireia Miró asked me to be her coach and since then we´ve been working hard to achieve our goals. Until last year I also coached Miguel Cabellero, a member of the Senior National Team and an active summer racer too.
Now I focus my work as a coach, on the quality, and not in the quantity of racers.  Some years I´ve coached up to 20 athletes, but it doesn´t make sense any more, this sport is becoming more and more professional and athletes need a lot of attention.  At the moment I coach Marc, Mireia, Álvaro, and junior racers from Madrid.

AW:  There are quite a few athletes with different backgrounds and builds out there.  We noticed in Andorra that some people had an impossibly fast cadence, where others had an enormous stride, both going approximately the same speed.  What are some of the attributes that makes a great ski mountaineering racer?
JM:  Ummmmm, not an easy question.
This is something that we are researching at the moment in the High performance sport center of Sierra Nevada.  During the last World Champs we recorded the vertical race and since spring we´ve been working on the results. This days we are digitizing all single movements on a stride cycle (see video below, from Spanish Skimo Team Training).
These races are becoming more and more flat, so gliding is becoming one of the most important attributes; therefore long strides seem to be positive but on the other hand when we face a steep slope we need a lot of cadence to be more efficient.  I grew up with the concept of cadence, and I try to transfer this concept to my athletes, but always in combination with a great gliding technique.  Our races are never on the same conditions like swimming or athletics so we must build our racers with as much versatility as possible.

AW:  What types of strength training do you think ski mountaineering racers benefit most from, and how do you incorporate it into the training schedule?  
JM:  Endurance athletes hate strength training and even more the outdoor ones. I struggle a lot with my athletes to give strength the relevance it deserves.
End of Summer and Fall is for me the perfect time to do strength work-outs.  After a long period of endurance training our levels of strength are lowered to the minimum, this is the time to prepare our body for the hard training loads that are coming in the future.  Reinforcing joints involved in technique and mostly the ones related to downhill.
I like to work as little as possible in the gym and try to do all the strength sport specific.  For example, using downhill skiing for improving our lower body strength, and by downhill skiing I don´t mean going skiing with friends. no sometimes we´ll have to do fast long turns without stopping, other times we´ll have to do 10x1' short turns etc.  For the upper body training we will use xc roller-skating or cross-country skiing.  Most of the strength work we do in the gym is mostly coordination work. 

AW:  Your athletes, and yourself, are without a doubt fast.  What training do you think has been the most beneficial to improving speed?
JM:  Sport specific training for sure.  Skiing fast, as much as possible, and trying to do it always on technical terrain.
I can´t imagine Lance Armstrong preparing for the Tour De France by running, so we must be ski-mountaineering as much as possible and be ski-mountaineers. 

AW:  In your opinion, do you think racers will benefit more from long duration intervals, or shorter faster intervals?  And at what intensity or level do you think they should be training?
JM:  This depends completely on your goals.  If you are preparing for the Individual World Champs you can´t have the same training as you would have for Pierra Menta.  It also depends on the timing of the season, we should be doing different intervals at the beginning of the season than on half of it. (Video Below:  Javier racing the Patrouille Des Glaciers)
AW:  When talking about skimo racing and training, we focus on uphill so much, do you think racers should be focusing equally on the downhill?  What can racers do to be more efficient on their downhill portion of the course, and what is your strategy for you and your athletes on the downhill?
JM:  In my opinion we must try to ski down as much as possible off-piste and do it fast, this is what will make us efficient.  Training downhill speed is also very important which will help us to control our fear for racing.  A ski mountaineering racer must be very coordinated and have a lot of technical skills to adapt to the type of downhill terrain the course has.  Most of the people can be fast on an open slope, but not everybody is fast in a forest or in a bumpy section. 

AW:  Ski Mountaineering is fairly low-impact, opposed to running, and also additively fun.  Because racers are able to train every day, how much rest do you think is needed to make the most significant gains, and do you think many racers are over training?
JM:  I don´t think that there are many racers over training because the level is growing year after year. Not long ago we have had professionals as the Italian army or Swiss border rangers that have full time for training and have to control much better the recovery. In my opinion recovery is the base for training.  (Photo Right:  Javier racing La Pyramide D'Ozcourtesy of skimo.org)

AW:  Talking about over-training, how many hours a week should an international level athlete should be training, and how many hours a week should someone interested in their first year of skimo racing be training?
JM:  As many as his or her motivation will allow. top athletes train up to 20h skiing but I guess the average is rounding 15h, and this includes only uphill aerobic training, but there's a lot of more things to train, technique, strength, downhill, and stretching.  I´ve never trained more than 10-12h a week, myself, because I have had to balance my training with university and work afterwords.
For a racer beginning to train for skimo racing, it will always depend on his or her training background.  If he or she comes from cross country racing I´m sure they can easily manage 12-15h weeks.  But for a real beginner, it´s hard to say, but 8h is a good starting point. 

AW:  This sport has so much emphasis and focus on gear, how much of a difference do you think the right gear will actually make, and what do you think is the heaviest amount of weight (per foot) a racer should have; should he or she want to be successful?
JM:  The best athletes always have the best gear.  When you´re competing on the top level you must have the best of the best.  However, on the other hand I think we may be giving the wrong message to our youngsters, who before purchasing the best gear, must improve many other skills that will benefit their performance much more such as the correct technique.

AW:  Speed traverses are still fairly new in the ski mountaineering world.  You have some great ones already on your resume, what do you think are some of worlds best traverses that have yet to be done, and why?
JM:  There are infinite traverses, but I´m sure Alaska and Yukon territory have som really interesting ones.
I think that now-a-days we are facing, not only long traverses, but traverses with very technical terrain and steep skiing.
One example would be Mount Cook in a day. with Dynafit we have also some nice projects that join alpine countries. and of course there are many more mountains to discover with skis.  (Photo Above:  Javier Martin, Chacellor Hut, NZ, courtesy of Javier's Blog)

AW:  What can racers do in the off-season to get ready for the winter best?
JM:  First of all relax and recover from the season. Then they could start thinking about doing lots of aerobic work, on the discipline they like most, running, cycling. but I´m sure that roller skiing will become more and more important during the off-season. 
If I had to give a tip to ski mountaineering racers I would say that while training, they must always remember:
  • Goals: They must have very clear goals, long and short term.
  • Quality: When training they should focus on the work-out and have a very clear idea of what the exercise goal is. This has to do a lot with the Goals I just named.  If my goal is to be top 10 in the World Champs, I must accept that I will have to sacrifice a lot of things, and that training will be hard.  If my goal is to be fit, and enjoy the races, then I can be more relaxed while training.
  • Specialized Training:  We are ski mountaineers and we must ski as much as possible and we must train as much as possible with a specific pace.
Lots of ski touring for 2011!!!


  1. Great effort and great insight. Thanks. Javier is a true pro. And speaking of versatility, I once watched him run half an ascent carrying his ski in one hand (because it had fallen off) so he wouldn't lose his place!

  2. Great article and series! Love to hear what the top athletes are doing. By the way, I have seen Killian say he does 20-30 hours per week but in the summer with a lot of road biking. It takes years to build up to that level.

    I agree that a weakness with North American skimo racing (in general, of course) is less skill and less focus on the downhill. Racers need to train to be able to do 5,000 ft descents non-stop and very fast. In the shorter descent races over here, descents may not be as critical but in the PM a slow descender vs. fast descender can make up to 30 minutes difference in a race.

    For the downhill, I do "over-distance" downhill ski days - left-served 20,000+ vert days, skiing very fast with non-stop runs.

  3. Great material, keep it coming!
    (And love how the slow-mo racer is ascending at pretty much typical ski tourer speed...)

  4. A lot of very great info out there, such a complex sport requires so many different facets of training to concentrate on. Really looking into what ski mountaineering entails and training each specific movement, seems to be what everyone globally believes. I think each National Team which doesn't have as organized training camps (such as North America) need to organize more, and also make a point to train these techniques on our own time, in order to see bigger and bigger leaps in performance.

  5. Thank you Alex and Javier. Allot of very useful information in this interview that's really hard to find in North America. Now I better get out and work on my glide... ;)

  6. Alex,

    Posted a question a few days ago and it vanished, apparently, in cyberspace. I'll try again.

    First, it seems like those of us who opine about this stuff are not too far off on what these Euros are doing in terms of training volume. That's reassuring.

    It seems that North American courses run steeper so the gliding technique has less import than pure aerobic might battling up the fall line.

    My question, additionally, has to do with the skins these guys are using for flatter sections. Are they cut short/narrow in any way that would be meaningful? This, of course, is a "secret" but since we're sharing...


  7. Hey Brian,

    I would agree with you on the North American courses having to use more aerobic power than technique, versus the courses in Europe. That being said, I think a lot of courses are now trying to find a better balance of the two, especially with newcomers to the sport, so I wouldn't be surprised if this trend catches on more and more. That being said, there are quite a few guys, even here in North America, who have a quiver of skins for racing. Same as the Euro's, a shorter narrower skin does glide far better, than a wider full length skin.

    In years previous, people had been hot waxing, however that has stopped as it creates problems inside your suit, as well as dramatically shortens the lifespan of the skins.

    This year, I have a shorter slightly narrow skin, and a wider longer skin, on course for different section of the course. Not a huge difference between the two but fairly noticeable in the right conditions. I think pre-running the courses will be important for those of us who are using little skins for better glide, as if a funny switchback section appear with some ice, we're boned.

  8. Great article and interview Alex. Wow, so nice to read what Javier is sharing! I just discovered your blog and am so glad I did, very nice work. Can't wait to read more!

  9. Thanks Daniel! Lots more Inside The Pain Cave articles throughout the year. Next one should hit by early to mid February.