THE VALUE OF GOING LOOOOONG
I just got back from my weekly 3 hour run. Each Wed. is the big day. With our shortening days up here in Alberta one needs to develop some nocturnal habits and the willingness to train in the dark (that is if training isn't your full time job!). Starting out this a.m. a good hour before sunrise gave a whole new perspective. The moon shining off of the snow covered mountains was beautiful. The stars were shining brightly and with Orion now in the sky, winter is sure to be here soon!
In the past I've had good results from long training workouts. In the mid to late '80's the Norwegians were starting to get spanked pretty good in the xc ski world. They decided to throw a bunch of Kroner into research and went about asking, then ultimately answering the question, "what makes a skier go fast?" Their conclusion? Hi VO2 max. That pretty much summed it up....was the bottom line, etc. So the next logical question was, "how do we get high VO2 max's?" Their answer: long training sessions. They found that the heart size began to increase with training over 2 hours. With a bigger heart, each stroke volume pumped more blood....result: higher VO2 max. My coach at the time, Ahvo Taipala, learned this information from coaching clinics in Europe. He added that they showed videos of the Norwegian Nat'l team going on low intensity, but very long (5-6 hr. ) hikes, roller skis, etc. The results over the next decade and a half truly bore out their findings. They dominated the World!!
At the World XC champs in Thunder Bay in '95 I had an interesting conversation with the Norwegian team Dr. and one of the athletes. With this previous knowledge I began to inquire as to the veracity of the physiology and the training methods. The Dr. wasn't too loose lipped, but the athlete spilled the beans that their team's VO2 max average was an astounding 92!!! I think the highest ever recorded is 94. When you consider that several of the US team's best skiers had VO2 max values around 68-78 at that time, you can see they weren't exactly playing on a level field (I'm not making ANY accusations of doping either).
So now, when I look at how the Norwegians seem to be getting away from this type of training and seem to be emphasizing high intesity training you have to wonder, what are they thinking? Sure, they are the best in the world when it comes to sprinting...by far. But what about the other traditional distances? They really seem to have lost their dominance.
A little closer to home... one of our local skiers that grew up in Canmore and is now on our nat'l team had an usual way of peaking for major events that really seemed successful. Several times he qualified for trips, teams or events, that no one thought he would. It seems that a week or two out, he'd do 2 back to back 5 hour skis (one each day). Apparently it brought to him a new level of fitness.
In the summer of 2006 I won a running marathon (ok, it wasn't the most competitive event, but a win is a win!). When a friend stated the next week that I must run a lot I realized that I was only running 2 times a week (with some swimming and biking too). However, each wed. I got my 3 hour run in.
Now, I'm not saying super long and slow is all you need to do, but I am saying it should be the foundation to any training program. Don't neglect it. The optimum is 2 long ones each week. I try to get in a 4-5 hour workout on Saturdays in addition to my 3 hour run. The Saturday workout is often a cross trainer. My last one I ski skated on roller skis for 2.5 hours followed by a 1.5 hike up a mountain. The idea is to keep that heart working. By cross training, I don't exhaust my muscles, but give the best workout to my most important muscle....my heart.