As runners in the Truckee-Tahoe region, we are often faced with the challenge of how to train for running during the winter months. One of the best options we have in this region is cross-country (XC) skiing. We’re blessed with some of the greatest trails and numerous options for XC skiing. It’s also a great way to train for running.
Some of the best ultramarathoners and trail runners in the world have strong backgrounds in Nordic skiing. There’s a long list of current and former cross-country ski racers (Courtney Dauwalter, Sophia Laukli, up-and-comer Anna Gibson, to name a few) filling the top end of results pages. But, why and what can we learn from these athletes?
Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, encompasses both skate and classic techniques and is a great way to cover a lot of varied terrain in the winter. Skiing itself has an incredibly high aerobic demand and requires muscular endurance. It also requires the ability to efficiently climb up hills with proper form and then descend downhills with technical demands. Does that sound familiar? Like the demand of running in the mountains to be able to run efficiently up hills and then navigate steep, technical downhills on foot? XC skiing uses both arms and legs, helping increase the aerobic demand. This also translates well to using poles in trail running races. XC ski training also provides a great approach to ultramarathon training in that it focuses on spending most of our time in aerobic base building. It prioritizes a variety of training methods and develops whole body strength. So how can we incorporate Nordic skiing into our run training?
- Aerobic development. Using Nordic skiing as the bulk of our volume training in the winter is a great way to improve our aerobic base. We use all four limbs which helps challenge our cardiovascular system and allows us to use a greater percentage of our aerobic capacity. There is a reason that XC skiers have some of the highest V02 max values ever recorded.
- Muscular endurance. The strength and power demands of XC skiing help us develop core stability, single-leg power, and shoulder stability. These all help us in trail running on uneven surfaces. The technical demands improve our ankle and lower-leg strength, translating directly to power in running. It also makes stronger, more resilient, and more injury-resistant.
- Aerobic Capacity. We can use interval training on skis to help build our aerobic capacity. If you are newer to XC skiing, you should focus more on your technique and keeping the effort at 70-80%. Intervals can be in the 5-7 minute range, with 3-4 minute recovery. This allows for the focus to still be on technique and maximize time and max velocity. If you are more experienced in Nordic skiing you can work in some short intervals as well. The effort on these can be in the 90-95% range. Shorter intervals can be 1-3 minutes, with full recovery.
While XC skiing provides a great, low-impact, alternative to running or snowshoeing in the winter months, it does have one main limitation. We can’t get the impact or cadence we get in running from XC skiing. While we can get the bulk of our volume and/or intensity on skis, it’s still important to maintain our running in the winter months to still get the specific physical demands of training on foot. Running on pavement helps maintain our footspeed and also get our bodies ready to ramp up the mileage in the spring.
Have questions you want answered by a coach? Reach out to Martin at email@example.com. If he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll find someone who does! The goal is to be a stronger and healthier runner, so you can put as many miles in as you want.