Getting a Great Start
Is a Good Start
By Gary Dranow
Originally posted on the Nastar Forum, October 2003.
I've read in some of the tips some good comments on the start. Good Points. The start in Sprint Racing or Pro Format Racing is EXTREMELY important. Why? Because you do not have a 70 second course to make up for mistakes. Most Nastar courses are around 16 to 20 seconds long (too short in this racer's mind). Its a full on sprint. Tactics are simple, get off your ski fast, go full out from the start wand to the finish. How to get the most out of your starts depends on three things. 1) Your ability Level and 2) the terrain for the first 3-4 gates and 3) the Course Set for the first 3 - 4 gates. I consider your start not just how you get through the wand but what you do in the first several gates until you are up to what I call "Race Speed". I believe the start should be broken down into two classes, 1) mid to high handicaps and 2) Expert Racers. This is not written for the expert racer, he/she knows intuitively whether to use a kick start or what I call a Rocking Push Start. If you are in the first group here are some tips on how you might size up the start/first gates to make your tactical decision.
1) First, unless you have mastered and practiced the Kick Start - forget it! It more times than not will throw you off balance and cost you two to three skates - the skates are WAY MORE IMPORTANT. One good Push Start will get your head and shoulders out over the start hill and start your forward momentum while your feet lag behind just a tad. Once your feet are on the snow and you are moving forward you use your first powerful double pole push to get up to speed. IF then you are aiming the right direction to move past the first gate and you have room, get in a quick, but compact skate in conjunction with your second pole plant. If the start hill is particularly steep, don't skate, two strong pole plants and make a good clean turn at your first gate is most important. If the course set allows you to get a skate in at the first gate, in between the first and second gate and even at the second gate, do it, but only if it nets you speed, not compromising your line and not messing with your balance. Again, if the start hill is steep enough and you get rolling real good tuck with pure carve turns will get you going surprisingly fast and set you up for the middle part of the course where the race is usually won or lost.
A comment on Kick Starts. If you can do a kick start and get right into two or three more skates, you can take a few 10ths off your time. The Nastar course for time is not where you learn or practice the kick start and if you don't have anyone to teach it to you - again, forget it. If you watch the World Cup, the racers rarely use BIG Kick Starts. The use more of a rocking start to get out clean and get a few good skates in. In pro racing, where you are racing against the other guy and differentials, you can't afford to time a kick start, you've got to rock out anticipating the gate opening. Again, the Skates after the wand is broken is key - and that comes from being in balance and over your skis.
2) How steep is the start hill and how long or high is it? I've already addressed this but ca! n't be s tressed enough. If you've got a flat start area you must get up to "Race Speed" actively with poling and skating (must be in balance, practice starts outside of the course a lot. If you can ever have someone time your starts, try different techniques and see what gains you 10ths and costs you 10ths).
3) What is the set like? If the gates are stacked (close together) Tuck it, if you they way off set, make a clean turn and pole rather than skating (unless you have impeccable balance and very quick feet). If the gates are reasonably far apart and straight - ATTACK! Always look for Rhythm changes out of fast straight start sets, don't get fooled going too straight, getting up to race speed then blowing a cranker and lose all of your momentum.
4) Pre Start routine. Go through the same routine as much as possible before each start. This will prepare your mind to GET OUT OF THE WAY while your body does what it needs to during the race. Get in the gate, move your feet up and down to loosen the big muscle in your legs, bend at the waist, do some neck rolls, get loose and then concentrate on your breathing. You're ready to go.
5) Your start will set the tone for your whole run in the sprint. Get rolling and make strong, compact movements and you will be in balance and looking ahead middle of the course. If you hit the middle of the course at race speed, carving both skis, in balance you can continue to pressure your skis, get bigger angles - ski a higher more powerful line.
In most Nastar courses there is one or two critical turns, nail those and you'll have your best runs. The start will set you u! p for th ose turns as you will be at race speed and in balance when you get there, not recovering from early compounding mistakes.
Skiing a clean run, carving two skis, even in a tuck (only if you can make the carve turn while in the tuck) will beat the racer who's arms are flailing, skating and getting late and low, jamming their turns as they get lower and later, every time. Go for smooth and fast first, then add dimensions to your technique after you can ski the course tactically the way you plan. And it all starts with a good start!