An Unlikely King: Ski Classics Champ Eliassen on the Secret to His Successful Rookie Season

Inge ScheveApril 21, 2015
Petter Eliassen after double poling his way to a victory at the Norwegian Birkebeiner on March 22. The 29-year-old Norwegian went on to win the 2014/2015 Ski Classics title in his first season on the circuit. (Photo: Kent Murdoch)
Petter Eliassen after double poling his way to a victory at the Norwegian Birkebeiner on March 22. The 29-year-old Norwegian went on to win the 2014/2015 Ski Classics title in his first season on the circuit. (Photo: Kent Murdoch)

How did Petter Eliassen do it? A month ago, the 29-year-old Norwegian from Trondheim double poled his way to a victory in the Norwegian Birkebeiner and went on to win the final Ski Classics race of the season — Sweden’s Årefjällsloppet — to claim the overall 2014/2015 Ski Classics title. It was his fourth-straight win on the circuit, making him the first racer to do so in Ski Classics history.

FasterSkier recently spoke with Eliassen, a Norwegian national team member two seasons ago, on the phone, and he happily shared his training strategies. The following interview has been translated from Norwegian to English.

A rookie to the long-distance circuit, he was content with the opening of his season, placing among the top 10 in the first five races of the Ski Classics series.

But Eliassen did not expect to close the season with a four-race winning streak — starting with the König Ludwig Lauf in Germany on Feb. 2, then a Vasaloppet win in his very first attempt at the legendary 90-kilometer classic race in Sweden on March 9. He won the Norwegian Birkebeiner on March 21, and finished the season off with a final victory in the Årefjällsloppet on March 28.

And he certainly didn’t expect to win the overall circuit crown in his first try. Eliassen beat established elite racers, such as the Aukland brothers of Norway, and former Vasaloppet champions, like Norway’s John Kristian Dahl and three-time Vasa Champion Jörgen Brink of Sweden, as well as a long list of merited marathon specialists, including Sweden’s Jerry Ahrlin, Oskar Svärd and Daniel Tynell, and Czech super-veterans Lukáš Bauer and Stanislav Řezáč.

Seraina Boner (l) of Switzerland and Team Coop and Petter Eliassen of Norway and Team LeasePlan Go won the Årefjällsloppet on March 28, the last of nine events in the 2014/2015 Swix Ski Classics marathon series. (Photo: Ski Classics)
Petter Eliassen (r) of Norway and Team LeasePlan Go and Switzerland’s Seraina Boner (l) of Team Coop won the Årefjällsloppet on March 28, the last of nine events in the 2014/2015 Swix Ski Classics marathon series. (Photo: Ski Classics)

What’s your key to marathon success?

“I definitely benefit from years of racing experience,” Eliassen said, adding that the support and depth on Team LeasePlan Go made a difference. “We have a support crew and a race team that is very experienced and very well run. That’s huge both prior to the races and also in the offseason.

“Training-wise, I have done much the same leading up to this season as I did when I was on the national team. We do a lot of volume and some strength, but I have focused a bit more on double poling than I used to and much less on skating,” he said, adding that he does miss skating.

“I enjoy skating, and I still do some skate workouts throughout the season, but it’s definitely not the main part of the volume.”

While the Ski Classics organizers have not ruled out including freestyle events to the race schedule in the future, Eliassen doesn’t see that happen in the near future.

“So many of the established long-distance elite racers are highly specialized and spend so much of their training effort on perfecting their double-pole technique and strength that I think they would object,” he said.

Practice your weaknesses, race your strengths

While double poling isn’t his specialty, Eliassen is constantly trying to improve that aspect of his classic technique. He explained his team spends many of its group workouts focusing on tight finishes and does a lot of intense intervals in all kinds of terrain to prep for those.

“My favorite terrain is uphill. But many of the Ski Classics events have flat or even slight downhill finishes, so we spend a lot of time on that,” he said.

His race strategy is to determine how the race will play out well ahead of the finish line to avoid a double-pole showdown.

“I always go into the race with the intention to stay with the lead group as long as I can, but I try to pull away while there is still some distance to go and preferably in terrain that I’m good at,” he explained.

Skiers are made in the summer

During the season, Eliassen generally puts in one or two double-pole workouts per week, which last from one to three hours depending on how he feels and how much time there is between the races. When there are several weeks between events, he does longer workouts, and when the races come like rapid-fire, his main focus is recovering from one event to the next.

But the bulk of his double-pole training is completed even before the snow falls. During the dryland season, Eliassen and his teammates log several long rollerski workouts each week, with two to four hours of double poling.

“I am definitely not the one who logs the most volume on our team, but in the summer, I do at least two of those each week,” he said.

While rollerskiing isn’t his choice dryland workout, he loves running and also puts in a fair amount of time on his bike.

“I have to admit that my favorite summer workouts are long runs in the mountains. That’s where I really feel at home,” he said.

Strength and recovery

Eliassen stressed that plenty of variety was the key to staying injury free, along with a healthy dose of general strength, flexibility and recovery.

“It’s really important to do a lot of core strength in order to protect your back, shoulders and arms,” he said. “Also make sure to stretch. When you do a lot of ski-specific and double-pole specific training, you tend to get very tight, especially in the front of your body.

“And definitely make sure you allow yourself plenty of recovery time between the hard and long workouts, especially the rollerski double-pole sessions,” he added, pointing out that tendinitis issues often are a result of overuse and under-recovery.

In terms of building double-pole specific strength, he believes in simply double poling a lot.

“I don’t do any of the double-pole machines … I know a lot of skiers use them, but I believe there are several training methods that will lead to success, and so far, I haven’t used those,” he said.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Based on his experiences and results from his rookie season on the marathon circuit, Eliassen planned to continue with his training plan from last season.

“I will train mostly the same way as I did prior to this season, but of course, I will try to improve my test results even a little bit more,” he said.

Generally, Team LeasePlan Go does a one-week training camp each month during the dryland season, and in between, its athletes train independently.

“We live all over the country, so it’s nice to meet on a regular basis, but I also enjoy the flexibility of setting my own training schedule,” Eliassen said.

“I think the marathons really is my arena,” he added with a smile.

Inge Scheve

Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.

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