Skiing the trail to running success

As winter finally starts to settle in, many runners use the chilly months to cross-train and experience the fun of winter sports.

When she was in her running heyday, Norwegian athlete Ingrid Kristiansen couldn’t wait for the the snow to fall. Before she became one of the most accomplished runners of all time, she was also an elite cross-country skier, competing on the Norwegian national team until she was 24.

How did her training on the trails pay off? Kristiansen dominated the world of running for most of the 1980s.

She won marathons in Chicago, Houston (twice), Boston (twice), and London (four times), along with a fourth-place finish at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

At the 1985 London Marathon, she set the new world record in the women’s marathon with a time of 2:21:06, a mark that stood for 13 years. She was also the first woman to break 15 minutes in the 5K and 31 minutes in the 10K.

After retiring from competition in 1993, Kristiansen began a second career as a personal trainer, which she continues to do today.

Run Ottawa caught up with Kristiansen and spoke with her about her running days and how cross-country skiing helped prepare her for running success.

According to Kristiansen, the biggest benefit of cross-country skiing as a cross-training method for runners is that it helps develop your cardiovascular endurance without the impact that comes with running.

“Cross country skiing activates more of the body’s skeletal muscles, thereby giving more stimulation and work for your cardiovascular system,” she said. “At the same time, the skiing will save your feet from all the foot impact your experience when running, so you are able to train more with less risk of injuries.”

Unlike other runners who would travel to warmer weather during the winter to continue their training, Kristiansen stayed closer to home and alternated treadmill running and cross-country skiing.

In her heyday, Kristiansen trained twice a day, skiing and running, with a mileage of about 160 to 200 kilometres a week. Nowadays, she still runs and trains more or less every day, but for fun instead of competition.

For runners, Kristiansen recommends learning the classical skiing technique, as opposed to the skating technique, because it more closely mimics movements of your legs and has a similar motion path to running.

For those worried about the negative effects of training in cold weather, Kristiansen said as long as you control the intensity, you’ll be a-ok.

“There’s a big difference between competing and training in cold weather,” she said. “When you compete, you are in a hyperventilation mode very often, and that can be dangerous when it is very cold.”

However, she said that a lengthy easy training session with a moderate breathing pattern should be perfectly safe to minus 15-20 degrees celsius and the dryer the air is, the better.

“You have to be very careful to control the intensity,” she said. “It is so easy to overdo ski workouts with a sharp progression in difficulty too soon.”

For Kristiansen, she believes her training as a skier gave her that extra edge when it came time to hit the starting line.

“By doing this mix of daily running and skiing, I both kept my running style and at the same time developed a better cardiovascular capacity,” she said. “Skiing can be so fantastic and joyful when the conditions are right.”

If you’d like to try out some cross-country skiing, check out the packed schedule of events going on in Gatineau this winter.