App Gap Challenge: View from the Back


On Saturday, 3 August, I raced the App Gap Challenge, a 7.25 kilometer roller ski race in Fayston, VT.  Starting near German Flats Road on Vermont Route 17, the race goes westward, finishing on top of Appalachian Gap.  You know it’s steep when there are signs advising danger to trucks and buses in winter conditions.

Simi Hamilton and Katharine Ogden won; I covered the race for Faster Skier.  My own race took rather longer.


App Gap exchange area at Mad River Glen.

In races since my VO2 max test in April, I’ve been training with revised heart rate zones.  So far, in the races I’ve done this spring, I’ve managed to not blow myself up. But an uphill rollerski race like App Gap Challenge is a different animal.  First of all, it’s a duathlon:  you start the race on skate roller skis, and at Mad River Glen, you swap out to classic roller skis for the final 2.5 kilometers or so.  From the men’s / elite women’s start, the first four kilometers are a gradual grade; mere mortals can V2 much of it.  The bulk of the elevation gain is in the last 2.5 km, just below Mad River Glen, to the summit. 

With an early start time, I set off, skiing a smooth V2.  On the two short downhills, I recovered a bit: in spite of my best intentions, my heart rate was higher than I would have liked.  Two kilometers down the road, organizers put in a short double pole zone to accommodate the women’s start.

The road kicked upwards a bit after the women’s start, and I focused on diaphragmatic breathing to keep my heart rate in check, changing from V2 to V1 technique.  Maybe 500 meters from the ski area, the grade jumped up to 10 or 11 percent.  Between the grade and dodging cracks in the road, I slowed to a crawl.  

When I arrived at the exchange zone, I struggled to release the skate bindings and get into my classic skis.  I took a long drag on my water bottle and set out for the second leg.

From the Mad River Glen exchange, the road undulates, writhing back and forth on itself as it hurtles upward. When I drove over the gap earlier that morning, I’d counted the switchbacks down to the ski area.  That last 2.5 km, there’s no respite, only varying grades between 7 percent and as high as 18 percent.  

After a few hundred meters I gave up trying to count turns; In couldn’t remember how many there were anyway.  I began to reel in a junior woman who’d rocketed past me in the skate section.  She was moving slow and clearly suffering.  When I pulled alongside her, I saw that she was crying.


View west from the App Gap Challenge finish.

After ascertaining there wasn’t anything medically amiss, I said, “Think about how hard you’ve trained.”  I coached her to breathe diaphragmatically: inhale through your nose, big belly breath, then exhale through your mouth.  Get your breathing under control, get your heart rate under control.  Mind you, I was also on the limit.

“You’re stronger than you realize,” I said.  “Say it.”  

She gasped out the words.

“Now say it like you mean it!”

With more conviction, she repeated the mantra.  Then she skied away from me towards the finish.  My own race wasn’t stellar, but I was glad to have helped someone pull out a decent race.


Post-race: looking more refreshed than I feel.

It’s taken me three starts at the App Gap Challenge, but I think I’ve figured out how to approach this race.  Nest year, I’m just going to try to hang on in the skate portion, then drill it after the switch to classic.

Heart Rate Variability – A New Training Approach 

When I was here two years ago, my morning heart rate variability (HRV) was below normal.  And I had a correspondingly difficult day.  This year, my HRV was within normal range and I did well.  

When I began systematically training for endurance sport, resting heart rate was the standard by which one measured recovery.  Today, HRV appears to have supplanted resting heart rate as a recovery metric.  Harvard Bioscience and  HRVCourse have good, layperson-accessible articles on HRV.  

There are several applications available to measure HRV, I’m using HRV4Training.  They have an app for your mobile device and a desktop app as well.  I prefer to use a chest strap with a Bluetooth transponder, but you can also measure wirelessly.  I chose HRV4Training because the HRV app I used previously wasn’t giving good information. 

If you’re an endurance athlete and you’re not using an HRV application, it’s worth investigating.  Disclaimer: I paid for the HRV4Training desktop app with hard-earned Yankee greenbacks; no sponsorships here.