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Archive for July, 2010

Hours: No Silver Bullet

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Last week we published an article featuring three opinions on the eternal question of the number of hours an elite skier should train.   This subject can become especially heated when you add the role of collegiate skiing to the mix.

It may not be particularly groundbreaking, but this article made one important thing clear – something that bears repeating, over and over – there is no simple prescription for excellence when it comes to training.

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, and as soon as anyone tries to say “this is what needs to be done,” there are 100 exceptions.

Marty Hall’s graph in that article is a great example.  While it shows a steady progression of hours that is reasonable, the numbers are in no way absolute.  The graph shows an elite male skier plateauing at 1000 hours.  But Petter Northug is only training 850 to 875 hours this year, similar to last year, and Marcus Hellner is even lower, at an estimated 750 to 800.

Maybe the two of them will hit 1000 hours, but most likely they won’t.

Hellner also told FasterSkier that he doesn’t pay much attention to his yearly hours, as he is primarily concerned with how much he trains in the summer and early fall.

Pete Vordenberg gives the classic example of Torgney Mogren, the great Swede who trained a high-quality 500 hours.

And rumor has it that Bente Skari pushed close to the 1000-hour mark at her prime.

Then there is the question of how to count training.  Some people don’t add strength workouts to their total.  Some count time on a bike as half.

Kris Freeman is renowned for his six-hour rollerskis and frequent overdistance workouts.  He has figured out what works for him. Others do interval block training, and it isn’t uncommon for an athlete to dramatically change training at some point during a career – Marit Bjoergen had great success early in her career with a plan heavy on intensity and interval blocks, but after years of health issues and subpar performance, she has toned things down a bit and dominated the Olympics.

There does seem to be a general consensus in one area: Juniors in the United States are not training enough, especially given that how much they train sets them up for their prime years as a senior.

In many ways the whole question of hours can be simplified to the following. Kids need to train more, and everyone needs to work with knowledgeable coaches to figure out the best individual plan. The worst thing any athlete can do is blindly follow general guidelines or someone else’s training regime.

Figuring out what works often takes trial and error – how does the body respond to different training loads?  Can you train intervals five days in a row? What happens when you do less level 4? Thoughtful experimentation with experienced guidance is the best and only approach training.

Sometimes Smaller is Better

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Cross-country skiing in North America lives on the fringe – a sport below the radar of mainstream media, and much of the general public. This presents many challenges as athletes and programs struggle to find funding and support, not to mention recognition of accomplishments.

Yet the low-profile nature of the sport is part of what makes it so great. I’m not saying that we don’t need to increase the visibility of skiing, and to try to generate funds to support elite athletes and development programs, but it is important to recognize the positives of what we currently have.

Any person who even casually peruses the sports section is likely aware of the recent spectacle that NBA star LeBron James created to announce his choice of team. (In case you missed it, James, a free-agent, orchestrated a one-hour ESPN TV special.) Such examples of narcissism, arrogance, and just a good old total lack of perspective permeate American sports, and the celebrity culture that the US embraces is at the root.

Skiing is too small for that. As a general rule, our athletes are humble, and rarely is there any sense of entitlement. They work extremely hard, and they are driven by their passion to succeed. Without the constant media attention garnered by celebrities, we can trust that when athletes give back, they are doing it for the simple reason that they truly care about the sport.

Chandra Crawford’s and Kikkan Randall’s work with Fast and Female, Kris Freeman’s visits to diabetes camps, Andy Newell’s many school visits – these are just a few examples of some of the best athletes in the world stepping up and trying to make a difference. And while I’m sure their sponsors are happy to see such things, there is so little publicity around the non-competitive areas of these skiers’ lives that the marketing value is often minimal.

The tight-knit community of cross-country skiing and the nature of the sport mean that kids see their heroes out on the local trails. They can race in the same races, lift weights in the same gym. Elite athletes are real role models because we can actually know them, not just some glorified image.

Hopefully, we can continue to grow the sport in North America – so that we can see more children scrambling over snow banks to ask their favorite skiers for autographs, and so that we can support those same athletes who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of excellence.

And while we do that, we should try to hold on to the advantages of being a small-time sport.

Taking on the celebrity culture may seem a bit ironic given that FasterSkier, along with a gaggle of Norwegian press, traveled to Las Vegas to cover Petter Northug and Marcus Hellner in a poker tournament and rather silly rollerski race. But the event was a novelty, and hence its appeal. We so rarely see such things in cross-country skiing, and for that it was newsworthy.

There is no obsession with such things here, and it seemed many people viewed the show for what it was: a humorous diversion, appropriate for midsummer. Ultimately, we care about the pursuit of excellence: the racing, the training, and the lifestyle that the pursuit of the sport brings – be it as a recreational skier, or an Olympian.