Run In The Off Season And You’ll Fly In The Ski Season

Linnaea KershawJuly 1, 2010
Running, especially races, can provide a great speed or interval workout for skiers sick of rollerskiing. Photo: Mark Dewan

Tired of going out for a rollerski in the rain only to come back with soaked boots that need to sit for a day and a half trying to dry, stuffed with newspaper? Tired of rollerskiing in the hot sun? Tired of rollerskiing already, period? Running may be the answer, according to Dick Moss of Sudbury, Ontario. He’s been a coach for 29 years, working primarily with runners, but he has seen the occasional Olympian sneak into his workout. His athletes have also competed in other sports such as basketball, hockey, soccer and cross-country skiing.

He believes cross training is very important to any athlete because of the benefits to general fitness. “That improved athleticism ultimately gives the physical, mental and coordination base to become better,” said Moss.

According to Moss, running is probably the best activity to use as cross training for skiing, behind roller skiing. “Running in an outdoor setting, especially if there are uphills and downhills [is great for skiing].” The cardiovascular output and dealing with changing terrain is similar, and the benefits that running offers are almost unbeatable.

Many of the physiological requirements for skiers can be met through running. It has been established to help athletes improve their VO2 Max—the volume of oxygen the body can consume while exercising at its maximum capacity—which is a key component of fitness for any elite athlete. Skiers have been known to hold the highest VO2 max records in the world–Bjorn Daehlie holds the record for the highest at 96 ml/kg/min, achieved out of season, while Lance Armstrong was measured at a mere 88 ml/kg/min. Running also helps to improve a skier’s lactate threshold, balance and specific muscle endurance, which are other key ingredients to attaining an elite level.

There are some disadvantages to running, of course. It’s a higher impact activity compared to skiing, so there is more risk of suffering overuse injuries like shin splits and muscle fatigue. To avoid this, don’t overdo running, and make sure to change your shoes every 300 to 500 miles (500 to 800 kms). Also, though running has a similar motion to classic skiing, it does not engage the arms nearly as much. There are also added hidden dangers to running. “You’re more likely to get chased by a dog,” joked Moss. “But all in all, I’d think it’s an effective cross training method.”

XC Ottawa alum Ed McCarthy agreed that running is ideal for cross training for skiing, but made a distinction between road and trail running. “Road running, though good for building base or easy recovery, is not terribly specific. Trail running, on the other hand, is one of the most ski-specific dryland workouts you can do in every sense except for the strict technical motion.”

According to McCarthy, the effort and heart rate profile of a typical trail run will follow that of a ski race: sharp spikes during climbs, sustained tempo on flats and a bit of recovery on the downhills. “The mental discipline to keep pace over the tops of hills and to push the downhills is similar to that I use in ski racing,” he said.

McCarthy’s coaches always put a strong emphasis on running during the dryland season. “I think it’s no coincidence that many strong skiers are strong runners. The fitness level required for both is the same,” he said.

Running is also a great recovery workout and social activity. Taking an easy run with a friend is the perfect way to do active recovery and catch up on the latest skier gossip. Photo: Dick Moss

Moss shared a good workout for skiers to use for cross training from the former University of Wisconsin running coach, Peter Tegen. Try it out if you are tired of rollerskiing, if it’s raining out, or if you don’t have enough time to jump in the car and get out to where there’s good pavement.

“Dynos” are a form of controlled fartlek, or speed change, training. They focus on continuous running, even if the rest times are just a survival shuffle pace. The workout begins with a longer, aerobic interval around a 5 k race pace,  which gradually becomes shorter and faster and ultimately ends in a series of short sprints. These sprints develop speed under stress and simulate the finishing kick in a race. They improve both the aerobic and anaerobic systems, the ability to surge and kick and stimulate the fast-twitch fibers that a skier like Northug, which his huge finish, must use. This workout can also be adapted in many ways to emphasize aerobic, anaerobic, or finishing kick abilities. If you run the recovery sections at a faster speed—almost lactate threshold pace—you’ll develop the ability to flush lactate out of your system more efficiently.

  1. 15 mins easy warmup run
  2. 1 x 5 mins (3 min slower pace to recover)
  3. 1 x 4 mins (3 mins slower pace)
  4. 1 x 3 mins (3 mins slower pace)
  5. 1 x 2 mins (2 mins slower pace)
  6. 1 mins (2 mins slower pace)
  7. 2 x 30 sec (60 sec slower pace between)
  8. 4 x 15 secs (30 secs slower pace between each)
  9. 15 mins warmdown.

Linnaea Kershaw

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