From the Rink to Denali

Author Cory Fagan

From the Rink to Denali!

By Coach Cory.

One of my favourite jobs at TCR is helping people get information that is specific to them. Over the years, I have seen a lot of "ex-athletes" come into our lab and ask for some direction. They are used to succeeding in their previous sport but have now hit a wall and no longer have time to waste. I usually sense some frustration in their training routine but also a willingness to learn.

Recently, a former Junior A hockey player, Jeff Wildeman, turned accountant came in for some help as he had set some goals for the future. Jeff told me that he wants to climb the highest peak in Alaska in a few years, Mt Denali. Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. Denali is the third most prominent and third most isolated peak on Earth, after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. A great goal for the former anaerobic power athlete!

Jeff needs to turn from a talented sprint athlete into an endurance machine. It's the opposite end of the spectrum but doable. I was excited for him as I was in the same boat 20 years ago! After testing thousands of athletes, my claim to fame quote is "the best endurance athletes in Canada are hockey players that don't know it." They have the genetic engines and skill. It just needs to switch into a different format.

One of the main reasons Jeff came into TCR was to figure out what his specific aerobic heart rate (HR) ranges were. What was his Zone 1 and 2? His coaches concluded that he needed a VO2 assessment to get dialled in. The plan he was following had him staying below a HR of 130 for his long skis. This is a typical HR of an accomplished endurance athlete that grew up doing endurance sport. But Jeff grew up sprinting with many years having his legs filled with lactate. A HR below 130 basically meant he should not ski with any exertion and just walk...slowly. That's tough to do for a competitive person, but Jeff wanted to train properly.

Heart rate zones for everyone should be treated individually and not set off formulas regardless of age. Anaerobic athletes like hockey players can have very high heart rates with maximum ranges between 190-215 beats per minute. Often, they can have a conversation with you at HR's in the 160-170's! After the VO2 assessment, we determined that Jeff could aerobically work efficiently in the 150-160 range and still develop his endurance base. A great sign of relief for him as he could now go back country skiing and running without being dead last!
Today, Jeff said "I have adjusted my zones and feel a-lot better training now." We hope Jeff's story helps you get motivated this summer and train smarter!

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