Are Modern XC Skiers Training Enough?
The following is a translated and summarized op-ed column by Otto Ulseth originally appearing in Norway's Adresseavisen. Translation/summary by Inge Scheve.
The opinions and comments contained in this piece are entirely those of the author/interview subject and do not necessarily reflect the position of the AXCS, xcskiworld.com, sponsors, contractors, advertisers or members.
We are taught to believe that cross-country skiers and road cyclists train insane volumes. What if the situation has changed and they don't train enough? What if the average competitive cross-country skier is becoming a sissy? At least in Norway, an increasing amount of "experts" claim this may be the truth.
That said, I will be careful not to credit big name experts for my view in case they don't agree 100 percent with my view. But I do want to name some of the big names who support my hunch about the traditional hustlers not hustling enough: Atle Kvaalsvoll, Oddvar Braa, Johan Kaggestad, and Oeystein Skaanes. Behind them are hundreds of others, who with equal grounding share that opinion.
I repeat Atle Kvaalsvoll's name. Recently, he was one of the pack leaders in the 2002 Mountain Bike World Championships who helped secure a Norwegian gold medal. He helped secure the medal because he has coached Thor Hushovd and Kurt-Asle Arvesen and because he is the elite endurance sport connection in Troendelag (Ed. -- Troendelag is a state in Norway). Kvaalsvoll knows what it takes.
What it takes is what these experts claim is increasingly neglected: a solid base.
A solid base is the several hundred hours, the daily grind if you will, the hundreds of miles, the steep hills. In short: the solid base is the average, run-of-the-mill routine distance workouts day in and day out, year after year.
On the other hand, what most athletes get enough of are the hard intensity workouts -- the interval sessions. These workouts tend to yield fast results, but those results don't last. The hard intensity workouts have to be in addition to the base. The current trend is to swap the long distance workouts for the shorter interval and intensity sessions. But this is a vicious circle since the hard intensity sessions require longer restitution periods. That in turn makes it even harder to plug in the distance and base building workouts.
In late August, athletes again flocked to the mountain trail run Vassfjellet Rundt. This is race was designed to be a race training event for elite cross-country skiers. The organizers joke that nobody can succeed internationally without first winning this race. But it seems as if elite cross-country skiers fear this event and bail. That they bail is one thing, but if it is due to the experts' hunch that they are not building sufficient bases, then this bailing is reason for concern. This event is traditionally the iron grid and the rock structure in the base of any cross-country skier.
Atle Kvaalsvoll, who is long retired, told me how sweet it was when he discovered that he, along with coach Elling Finnanger (who coached and trained by the same philosophy as world champion long-distance runner Ingrid Kristiansen) trained one hour intervals under the directions of Johan Kaggestad. That is pretty challenging: one hour uninterrupted at threshold effort and top speed. This is equal to a road racer's tempo-ride, or a 20-25 km race for a cross-country skier. I understand that this workout is no longer the top pick of the athletes. But it should be.
Those I have conferred with are concerned that training is becoming too dependant on heart rate monitors, too scientific while losing some of the wisdom of those who have "been there, done that".
A mid-August afternoon, three or four decent athletes were hanging out in Oddvar Braa's yard after Braa had demonstrated what he considers a threshold intensity session for someone with a solid base. The session was not necessarily created based on scientific studies, but as Braa said out while pointing at distance runner Vebjoern Rodal and Atle Kvaalsvoll: "Do you think what the three of us were doing as elite athletes is scientifically sound in the first place?"
On the other hand, Kvaalsvoll says: "I don't necessarily want to see athletes train 1,200 hours per year. I believe 800 could be just as beneficial."
But sometimes, Kvaalsvoll wants his athletes to run three hours uninterrupted, referring to his own experiences with runs that sometimes lasts three or even four hours, in rubber boots and through fresh snow.
In addition, all these legendary coaches and experts would like to see the elite athletes compete. The image is that track and field athletes tend to spend most of their time stretching rather than training and competing, that cross-country skiers tend to train sensibly throughout the summer rather than train and race in their off season.
Maybe we should take advantage of some of his experience for all it's worth?