Endurance Training: A View From Norway
The following translated and summarized article by Johan Kaggestad originally appeared in the Norwegian Ski Association's Coach's Club newsletter. Many thanks to Inge Scheve for providing this information in English exclusively for AXCS media.
Johan Kaggestad was the head coach for some of Norway's top long-distance runners for nine seasons. In 1998, Kaggestad also coached road cyclist Thor Hushovd to produce Norway's first U23 world champion (who also raced the Tour de France multiple times). Kaggestad has also served as a coach to world class cross-country skier Oddvar Bra in 1987 and 1988, when Bra earned a national title and his top Olympic placement. In this paper, Kaggestad proves that training principles in endurance sports are universal across the disciplines. The differences in training programs, he argues, typically occur in the strength programs.
I believe that the same principles guide training methods in the various endurance sports: running, cross-country skiing, cycling, orienteering, to mention some. Traditionally, there are few coaches in Norway who work with elite athletes across the disciplines. Elsewhere - particularly in Italy - coaches frequently employ the same consultants and the same support staff for several different teams. Athletes from cycling, cross-country skiing and long-distance running all work with the same staff. Top athletes such as Moser, Bugoni, Bartoli, Bordin, de Zolt, Fauner, and Baldini share the same coaches, physicians and experts - among these are Conconi, Roza, Ferrari, Cecchini and others. The same phenomenon exists in Spain where for example Tour de France legend Miguel Indurain and world champion marathon veteran Martin Fizz share the same support system.
Coaches must realize that athletes are different, both in specific abilities, and most importantly, in their potential to achieve top results. I firmly believe that "you can't turn bed rock into gold," - regardless of the athlete's desire and motivation, and despite efforts from the coach. But, through systematic, correct and thorough efforts, coaches can help realize each athlete's potential. I also believe that the foundation for endurance sports is laid during early developing years. Children with varied and active backgrounds are more likely to become successful endurance athletes. Organized sports once or twice a week does not contribute much in this respect. The basis for endurance sports is built through daily activities outside. People often ask me why Kenya produces such great endurance runners. My simplified answer is that they don't have school buses in Kenya. Lots of daily activity in fresh air builds a great foundation for specialized endurance training later.
Forget early specialization. Each and every one of the truly successful athletes I have coached were "outside kids" with a varied athletic background. It is alarming that the top 10 Norwegian 5,000-meter runners averaged 13 minutes and 42 seconds for the distance in 1987, while 10 years later, the same average time for the 5,000 meter is 35 seconds slower. In practice, the 1987-runners would beat the 1997-runners by five laps if they engaged in a 10 x 5,000 meter relay! That Ingrid Kristiansen's top 10,000-meter finish (a former world record) has been beat only by a handful Norwegian men since then further porves my point. In 1960, Olympic 1,500-meter champion Herbert Elliot said something to this effect: "Hungry wolves are the best hunters." It makes me wonder if there are any hungry wolves left in our Western world of plenty.
The deciding factor for capacity is the athlete's ability to work with increasing intensity without a build-up of muscle lactic acid, granted the athlete has a good base. Muscles produce lactic acid when the work load becomes so great that the amount of available oxygen is too low and the muscles have to go anaerobic. A solid endurance base is a premise for a high anaerobic threshold. There are no short cuts in endurance sports. Large training volumes is in my experience the only way to achieve this. The anaerobic threshold (percentage of max capacity) varies according to how hard the muscles must labor to perform the work. For well-trained athletes with optimal bases, the anareobic threshold will be in these areas: for long-distance runners: threshold about 90 percent of max capacity. For cross-country skiers, the anaerobic threshold will differ in classic and free style. The anaerobic threshold in free style is typically lower because this style of skiing tends to produce more lactic acid in the muscles. For road cyclists, the anaerobic threshold is generally around 85 percent. Accordingly, periodic lab testing that establishes anaerobic threshold and VOmax values is crucial to ensure the most beneficial training. In short, pushing the lactate curve to the right means that the athlete can work harder without going anaerobic and is better prepared for hard races. Thor Hushovd's lactate curve made a huge step to the right during the winter 1997-98.
Source of Energy/Fatburning
Understanding the sources of energy is important in endurance sports. During intensity work, the body favors carbohydrates for fuel. At lower intensities, fat is important as a source of energy. A 400-meter sprint runner burns carbohydrates only. Cyclists and long-distance runners rely on their bodies' ability to burn fat for energy. However, when the pace increases, fat alone does not release sufficient energy and the body increases the amount carbohydrates burned. In long races, it is important for athletes to use fat for energy at as high intensities as possible. When working with a high percentage of the energy coming form fat, the body saves carbohydrates. In well-trained athletes carbohydrate stores typically last 60-90 minutes, depending on the intensity of the exercise. If the carbohydrate stores are not replenished, blood sugar values drop.
If training correctly, endurance athletes can use fat as a source of energy longer. Top athletes can use fat as the main source of energy up to 80 percent of their capacity before carbohydrates take over as the energy source of choice. In the general population, carbohydrates typically replace fat as the main source of energy at 50 percent of capacity.
Developing the ability to use fat as the main source of energy longer is a deciding factor for success in long races such as marathons and cycling stage races. A well-developed fat burning ability also aids in restitution. Generally, the farther into a race athletes can rely on fat for energy, the lower the wear on the athletes. In other words, just another reason to train high volumes. I have never experienced that high volumes negatively affect athletes' speed performance. And I have yet to see high volumes produce overtrained athletes. I have, however, seen athletes who train fewer hours become overtrained. These "undertrained" athletes tend to favor quality and high intensity on an insufficient base. That is not a short cut.
Athletes with solid bases resulting from large training volumes and anaerobic threshold percentages that follow from such training, tend to last longer into the race before going anaerobic. Simplified, these athletes can enter the final stages of the race with lower lactate values than their opponents. Naturally fast racers who enter the final stages with high lactate values are more vulnerable regardless of pace. Due to an insanely high anaerbic threshold, Ingrid Kristiansen was able to beat sprint-guns such as Maricia Puica during the final laps of fast-paced 3000-meter races.
I became aware of this anaerobic threshold/lactate value relationship as early as during the 1960 Olympics in Roma and the 1964 Games in Tokyo. That time, Peter Snell from New Zealand won the sprint in the 800-meter final, even though he had the slowest personal best in the 400-meter among the 800-meter finalists. Even so, Snell was so well-trained that he sustained the speed of the first 600 meters after which he was able to enter the sprint phase with lower lactate values than his opponents. I am surprised that so few Norwegians - maybe particularly among the 1,500-meter runners - who have grasped this relationship. I believe this relationship is the reason for Lars Martin Kaupang's 22-year-old 15,000-meter Norwegian best is still standing. Kaupang trained much like 5,000 and 10,000-meter runners, and also had a 800-meter personal best of 1:50. British athletes Steve Ovett and Steve Cram are other perfect examples supporting my "Peter Snell theory."
The anatomy of a training program:
The following factors are critical when composing a training regimen.
- Analysis of the discipline
- The time and place of the most important race(s)
- The athlete's strengths and weaknesses
- The need for specific preparations
- Analysis of external limiting factors
In my experience, analyzing the athlete's abilities and potential related to training and racing is helpful whe determining areas of improvement. These abilities are rated on a scale from 1 to 6, where 1 = horrible and 6 = excellent. The following lists factors I find useful to rate.
Analysis of an athlete's specific abilities:
Endurance - VOmax
Strength - divided into specific exercises
Support system - medical, physiological, therapeutic
Time constraints (time available for training)
Training/ terrain accessibility
Analyzing the athlete in this way maps out where training time is best spent, how to help the athlete find answers and how to build a rational organization around the athlete. This chart is a critical tool in constructing an individualized, targeted training program.
Regardless of endurance sport, I divide the training year into the following phases:
Phase 1: Base building phase 1
Phase 2: Base building phase 2
Phase 3: Pre-competition - ease into racing
Phase 4: Competition 1
Phase 5: Restitution/ base building
Phase 6: Competition 2
Phase 7: Active rest
Camp Content - breakdown of the various sessions:
Distance run + Plyometrics + Speed
First session for everyone, Saturday afternoon. Easy distance run about 1 hour 30 minutes total. Stop to do for example 6x10 second - moosehuf (without poles), sprint relay (where each skier runs at least 3 or 4 times 50-60 meters), various bounding exercises (say, 3x15 skate bounds, one-legged jumps, two-legged jumps and so on).
Time trial run, 6 or 7 kilometers in rolling terrain on trails.
Skate Roll Distance with Speed Bursts
Distance with lots of technique work and instruction.
Add a small section with speed bursts (5x10 second sprint or sprint relays). Total workout: about 2 hours.
Easy distance run in active terrain, orienteering also possible.
Total workout: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Easy Foot Overdistance
Keep it low key!!!! Skiwalk the hills, use plenty of wetlands, varied terrain. Total workout: 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Classic Roll Distance with Speed Bursts
Distance with lots of technique work and instruction.
Add a small section with speed bursts (6x10 second sprint or sprint relays). Total workout: about 2 hours.
Fun and Games
Competition among the groups, all afternoon (4 p.m. - 7 p.m.), bbq/ social evening
Skate Roll Intervals
Uphill. 2-3-4-5-4-3-2 minutes intervals, active recovery: 1.5 min/2/3/4/3/2 min. Bonus last interval 4 minutes. All intensity upper level 3 into level 4.
Cool down. Total workout 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Easy Distance + Plyometrics + Strength
Easy distance run or ball game (soccer, rugby etc) 1 hour
Plyometrics: moosehufs, one-legged jumps, frog leaps, skate bounds, etc. 15-20 minutes
Strength: body resistance circuit (abs, arms, back, other core exercises) 15-20 minutes
Easy Distance + Strength
Easy distance warm-up run 1 hour
Stabilizing exercises/ core 25 minutes
Stretching 15 minutes
Mountain Bike Ride
Trail ride in the mountains, total workout: 2 hours 30 to 3 hours
Lake kayaking, total workout: 1 hour 30 to 2 hours
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