TrainingDistance Training That Makes You Better

FasterSkierOctober 6, 2003

The purpose of this article is to make skiers think about the pace and length you should chose in distance sessions. I hope to point out some important factors to consider, make suggestions to help you add some variety, and change your routines and attitude. I think in the end you will ski a lot faster. Some of the quotes and examples I use are at times contradicting, but it all comes down to one thing: developing a feel for the right pace. Here is how you can do just that: 

“Listen to your body”

Successful skiers have a feel for the right pace in both distance and intervals.

The expression “listen to your body” and the idea of letting you body make the decisions has been around forever. World Champion Per Elofsson even included it as a final advice in a interview on October 1st. when asked how to approach training.

It sounds very simple but it's the single hardest thing to do and understand in training. Too often what we feel we “should” be doing or what's on the training schedule often makes one blind to the body's signals. Your body might tell you that you are tired but you still go out and do hard distance training or intervals. How stupid is that? The end result is simple: you make no progress and are now even more tired. You didn't listen!

Start changing this approach. Back off and rest when the body tells you it needs rest, and pick it up and train well when you feel good. The training plan is only a guideline. How you feel and respond to the training should matter the most!

Most skiers that I have known with a certain level of success have a “built in feel” for how hard they can go and still be ready for tomorrow’s distance or interval session. This skill is developed through (hard) systematic training in their junior years and as adults. Sometimes training too hard or too much and leaning from it was a part of developing this “feeling”. Now that these athletes are elite skiers they now make good choices. They can push hard in some distance sessions, go very easy or medium in others. They feel what's right. It's never all hard or all very easy – it's a mix.

This mix also develops good strength and technique since the speed or pace in the uphills often is good enough to build specific strength and improve the technique. They might occasionally walk up the hills, but that's not the average session. Most sessions happen with a certain degree of good technique.

Here are some different perspectives about training intensity:

Moroccan Olympic champion runners

Last year we posted <one of the most exciting articles I have ever translated. It was about the Moroccan runners, including Olympic and World Champions in the 5000 and 10000 meters. They trained with five to six weekly hard sessions year-round, and distance sessions up to 50 minutes–but never longer! They did not talk about “jogging” but only running at fast pace. (This is something to think about for those who want to always go long and slow!)

So should you go hard or easy?

There are (as you can see) numerous theories for how long and how hard distance (and interval) sessions should be. Some theories suggest that they should be easy, with heart rates of 60-80% of maximum heart rate. Others talk about keeping the lactic acid below certain levels. Some point out the need for going fast enough to develop proper specific muscle strength and technique. Before heart-rate monitors were used, the advice was (and still is) that it is important to be able to talk (comfortably) to your training partner. The list goes on.

Training theory changes from year to year. Some years lots of very easy distance is “in,” and other years its lots of medium hard distance training that dominates.

In other words, the theories go in cycles and will very much be affected by what are said and heard about successful Nations and individual skiers with recent success.

To me the distance pace should be affected by many factors like the number of hard sessions done per week, the total hours trained per week, the terrain used for training (easy or hard) the intensity of hard sessions, time available for recovery and rest.

Young skiers and juniors often wrongfully copy what the elite skiers are doing and their programs become miniature versions of the adult program.

The result is often “burn-outs.” Instead they (the coaches, parents and kids) should look at what successful skiers did as kids and juniors not what they are today when all they do is train, eat, rest, train, and recover.

Master skiers often gets into a habit avoiding interval training and doing distance sessions at a “comfortable” hard pace -it's not as hard as racing but harder that regular distance training. The problem with this approach is that the intensity is never high enough (like in medium and hard interval) to develop the best Max VO2. The muscles and mind get used to always skiing at a medium pace not to (really) go hard and fast.

My advice to both young and old skiers:

Use a little bit of all the advice I included and mix up your training. Include intervals and use different paces in your distance training – easy, medium and hard. Choosing the right distance length and pace can be as easy or complicated as you want to make it.


Choosing a pace or heart rate that will work for you will in my opinion depend upon factors like:

1. How many hours per week are you training: 6, 10, 15 or 20?

2. What type of terrain are you using – mostly flat, rolling or lots of tough rolling terrain with lots of long uphills?

3. How many interval sessions are you doing per week and how hard are they?

4. How many sessions per week are you training: 4, 6, 10 or 12? 

The 4 points above adds up to the “total training load” and the key in all training seems to have the perfect training load – a load, intensity or stress level that is pushing the heart, lungs and muscles to a stress level where changes and maximum progress occurs while at the same time the skier can recover.

You see that an exact formula for the perfect distance pace is therefore impossible to create for any sport, and especially for XC skiing, due to all changing factors—both known and unknown. For example, some of those factors are changing terrain, rollerski speed, slow or fast snow, and absorption of previous workouts.

Key rules for final distance pace decisions:

– In some longer distance sessions keep the intensity down and get tired from the length of the workout not from a high heart rate

– Think about how you felt yesterday and what you are doing tomorrow when you decide the length and intensity of your distance session. Don't go too hard if you are tired or are planning on a hard interval session the following day.

– Back off if you are tired.

– Reduce the intensity and even the length of distance sessions in weeks where many harder interval sessions are a part of the plan.

– Reduce the intensity of distance session in very high volume training weeks.

– At the same time, don’t be afraid to use more shorter, harder distance workouts as part of your training. However, make sure that you have balance and that you avoid the trap of training too hard, too often or spending too much time at the same pace!


Looking For a Complete Training Program?

To learn more about all training methods and programs for any age group used in cross country ski training see the book ”

How to, When to, Why to – A Norwegian Model Training Guide and Programs for Cross Country Skiers” available from

< – look under books and videos.

Three chapters cover excerpts from Bjorn Daehlie's book.

Please check out our personal coaching service available at if you are looking for detailed weekly and monthly training suggestions. This program is suitable for anyone needing help and guidance in putting together a good package of distance, intervals speed and strength as well as time-trials. It also covers peaking for important events.

We are coaching athletes raging from World Cup racers to masters and citizen skiers at all ages and levels – check it out!


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