Arthur Lydiard was a runner and coach in New Zealand who is widely considered one of the best distance running coaches ever. His style of coaching was based upon runners logging many miles at a slow pace. He would have his athletes run high mileage for weeks at a time. He calls this the base period and he showed that it is the secret to eventually running fast times. Over this base period, the runner takes the road running very easy and over the time improves cardiac efficiency. I was reading an article written by Arthur Lydiard about why running at a relaxed pace is so beneficial aerobically. In the article, he mentioned that the only activity better than easy running in building aerobic fitness is Nordic skiing. This came as a little bit of a surprise to me as I assumed that a coach of this caliber and training strategy would be all about running. Along with this, I just didn’t think that Nordic skiing was as beneficial aerobically as running. This led me to wonder why Nordic skiing was supposedly so much better at improving cardiac efficiency than running. Did it have to do with the sliding or skate technique on the snow, or maybe it was because of the more exaggerated arm movements and the force used to help drive the body forward using the poles. Also, there are the demanding uphill sections, but there are also downhill sections where the skiers can just tuck and conserve energy and recover. How does this balance out? I was a little skeptical about admitting that Nordic skiing is better aerobically than running, but I was able to gain more insight about the difficulty of Nordic skiing today.
Earlier this morning I had the chance to attend my first Nordic ski race. This weekend, Colby hosted a ski carnival on the Quarry Road trails, which are located less than a mile from campus. The race that I attended today was a 20k race consisting of multiple loops all through the area. The event had a very “cross country” feel to it. Many people lined the trails, ringing traditional cow bells and cheering on the Colby athletes. Even with the low temperatures the atmosphere was electric when Colby skiers sped by.
The race began with a mass start. All the skiers took off and the field separated. The race was a system of loops mainly featuring constant ups and downs. Going up the hills looked excruciating, especially after covering so much distance over the course of the race. Although challenging, it was also rewarding, as the skiers were able to tuck down hill and ride the momentum at the bottom of the hill to cover more distance while saving energy. The race ended with a sprint to the finish. Over the course of the race, I could see how physically exhausting the skiing was, and although I can’t really comment about how it compares to running aerobically, I can say that based on the race today, it seems that, at the very least, Nordic skiing is even with running in terms of aerobic gains.
Today was kind of an eye opener to me. I had never been to a ski race of any type before and I had only seen Nordic races on television. The races that I’ve watched on television did not do Nordic skiing the justice that it deserves. After watching the race today, I can see why Nordic skiing is a great aerobic workout. I’m not quite ready to crown it the king of aerobic fitness, but I will say that it looked challenging and I could definitely see myself getting into skiing at some point in the future.