There are many reasons that the Scandinavian countries have been better than us in Cross Country Skiing for so many years. The shear number of citizens they have in the sport is staggering, the access to training facilities is unrivaled, and their countries are generally fitter and more involved in sport from a young age. When your national sport is Cross Country Skiing, it's hard not to be the best. However, there are other smaller details that set them apart from the rest.
For the past few weeks, I have been in Norway, training at some of the worlds best rollerski tracks with some of the worlds best skiers. The BSF Pro Team and I came over here in early June for our own training camp to get a taste of what its like to train in the worlds strongest ski nation. We spent the first 5 days in Sjusjoen (just outside Lillehammer) dryland training. Followed by another 5 days at Soggnefjellet (a summertime ski destination at 4700' where they groom ski trails as long as the snow sticks around). In both places, we trained alongside skiers such as Gjoran Tefre and Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg and were able to see, first hand, why they are so fast. Their technique is nearly perfect, they train smart, and have coaches there for them 24/7. Now, I am in Bø, Norway training with the newly established Aker Dæhlie team with my former University of Utah teammate, Guro Jordheim.
One of my biggest take away from this trip will be "Train slow to ski fast." Despite training with a team containing former Norwegian national team members and rollerski world champions, I was amazed at how slow they go in L1/Distance workouts. I always knew it was important to take the easy days easy, but this is on a different scale. Now, that doesn't mean they are out there walking around on their skis. It just means they are skiing with the best technique possible at a slower pace. There were days when my average heartrate after an easy session was below 115 bpm. So, a big goal of the summer will be to work that into my own training.
Similarly, when they do L3, it is also at a lower level than in the US. Often I find myself pushing into upper L3 during a threshold session. Here in Norway, many of these athletes never push past low to mid L3 during a threshold session. All of this slightly easier training allows for more training hours and higher quality intensity sessions (at least, that's the idea). And it makes sense! By decreasing the load of L1 distance workouts, all of your intervals can be of a higher quality that week. Additionally, when you keep the L3 slow and controlled with good technique, you can do more time in that zone. The amount of fitness you gain from pushing into high L3 or L4 during a threshold session is far less than the amount of fitness you gain from adding on one more interval in low L3 at the end of a long threshold workout.
Finally, technique, technique, technique!!! We see it all the time on TV when watching world cup races. It's not often that you see a Norwegian skier race a World Cup with poor technique. That's because to be at that level in Norway, you have to be the best. There is no room or wasted energy in the form of poor technique. Even when you look lower to high level domestic athletes, like the ones I am training with here in Bø, they have better technique than 95% of the skiers in America. And for obvious reasons, that makes you a faster skier. When the least amount of energy is lost through poor technique habits, there is more energy that you can put into moving down the track. I think that skiers in America need to spend more time with their coach looking at video, practicing technique in the mirror, and all around perfecting their technique to become better. It isn't an easy task, but it is so worth it!
I could write a book on why nordic skiers in Norway are the best in the world, but these are the three biggest differences I noticed while in Norway. I will do my best to implement them into my own training this summer and fall and hopefully get to race season ready to crush them at their own game. But for now, I'll keep training hard, and most importantly, smart for the months to come.