Skiing the Lydiard way
Back in 1979, about when I fell in love with cross-country skiing, I knew absolutely nothing about ski training except that we didn't get many skiing days in southeast Wisconsin. So, to be good a skier from our area, you had to roller ski. Luckily, the idea of roller skiing was implanted in my head by the books and articles of John Caldwell. (Skating had not yet arrived onto the Nordic skiing scene, so that meant we did the double pole, kick double poled and the diagonal stride.)
But how to train was a complete mystery. The Norwegians, who American writers seemed to accept as the gods of skiing, were no help. They believed that roller skiing was only good for developing upper body strength. They also claimed that you would develop a late kick on roller skis that would make it impossible to set the wax on snow. Well, videos of skiers Caldwell coached, such as his son Tim and Bill Koch, proved that to be a superstition. The solution to avoiding a late kick on snow was to mimic snow skiing as much as possible. Using videotape as a major tool, we studied the great skiers and analyzed our own technique.)
In addition to nay saying striding on roller skis, the Norwegians were proponents of extremely slow skiing for hours on end, for many years, to build a base. It would be years still before Years Bjorn Daehlie broke the mold by training more intensely than any other Norwegian and became the best cross-country ski racer in Norwegian history.
With our limited snow, the Norwegian approach just wasn't practical for we neophyte American skiers. Unlike the Norwegians, we didn't grow up on skis. Most were raw beginners.
So in desperation, I turned to running for training ideas and immediately found the book Running the Lydiard Way, conveniently published in 1978. I was immediately drawn to Arthur Lydiard for a number of reasons. First, he took a handful of runners from his local area of New Zealand and developed them into some of the best runners in the world, winning a fistful of Olympic Golds along the way. Secondly, he believed in training all of his runners on a marathon running program, including athletes whose longest race was a quarter mile.
This distance based system seemed tailored for cross-country skiing where the shortest races were over three miles. At a personal level, I remember envisioning running on ski trails, with poles of course, as I eagerly turned page after page of Lydiard's book. And his marathon-based training program seemed a perfect fit for enjoyable roller and snow skiing.
I immediately realized that I would have to make some changes in order to apply Lydiard's principles to cross country skiing. I will get more deeply into that next issue. But for now let's look at Lydiard's general training principles I found to be a perfect fit for our purposes.
First of all, Lydiard broke the tradition of training distance runners mainly with intervals. He had two reasons for that. First, intervals tended to produce a lot of lactic acid, which actually tears down aerobic capacity. Secondly, he believed that the best way to develop aerobic power was to run in the zone just under marathon race pace. In other words, fast but not fast enough to develop significant lactate. Thirdly, he felt that it only took four weeks of intensive intervals to develop maximum anaerobic capacity and race readiness.
Interestingly, Lydiard was not in favor of long slow distance (LSD). He thought it was less effective than fast aerobic running and it irritated him that some considered him to be the father of LSD. In fact, he only saw LSD as a tool for slow recovery running, above and beyond the main workout.
So what did the Lydiard marathon program look like? It was centered around two workouts a week. The first was just under marathon race pace (now called the lactate threshold) and was the shortest workout of the week. His runners spent 15K (about 45 minutes) in that zone on a flat course. This allowed them to maintain steady aerobic pressure without huge variations in pulse rates from running hills.
The second major workout was slightly slower but still in the high aerobic zone. In addition, it was over hilly terrain to develop leg power. These workouts were 20K long.
The other five workouts of the week were at a lower intensity, but quite a bit faster than LSD. The effort was kept low enough that the runners were able to recover but still build up their aerobic capacity. The total weekly distance was 165K, which is about 100 miles.
Frankly, it is difficult to translate Lydiard's terminology into modern terms. There were no heart rate monitors in those days, so everything went by feel. I'll admit that at the time that posed no problem. We just called his hard aerobic day Medium Plus, the second hardest day was Medium and the other days Medium Minus. Next month I'll further explain the differences.
This much we knew: If you had to slow down during the workout, you went out too fast. If you were beat at the end of a workout, you started too fast. Lydiard himself said you should run "at a pace that leaves you tired at the end, but knowing you could have run faster if you wanted to. In other words, you should be pleasantly tired."
Next issue we'll look at the changes needed to adapt the Lydiard method to cross-country skiing. These changes are significant because skiing demands a lot more lower and upper body strength. In addition, the technique requirements of Nordic skiing are infinitely higher than running. And finally, cross-country ski courses tend to be a lot hillier than a quarter mile track.
Lee Borowski is a past USSA Nordic Coach of the Year, Badger State Winter Games Athlete of the Year and the coach for several junior, senior and collegiate skiers of the year. He has also coached many master skiers who have won both national and world championships. Borowski is the author of several books and articles, and producer of four videos on cross-country skiing technique. He runs the website thesimplesecrets.com. To order Borowski's "NEW Simple Secrets of Skating" or "The Simple Secrets of Striding," demonstrated through footage of Olympic and world champions, and available on VHS and DVD, send $25 plus $1.75 shipping to Lee Borowski, 4500 Cherokee Drive, Brookfield, WI 53045. Wisconsin residents add $1.27 tax.
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- ABR, the upper Midwest's Nordic bellwether
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