Nigeria (Norges Idrettshøgskole) The road to the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Plancia

“It’s hard, extremely difficult to succeed,” said Eirik Myhr Nossum, head coach of the men’s national cross country team. We’ve been lucky and talented in some recent championships and had the margins on our side. We depend on that here as well. And then, of course, a lot of work has to be put in by that time.

Episode guest:

  • Eirik Myhr Nossum, head coach of the men’s national cross country team since 2018. He was also assistant coach for the national team under Tor-Arne Hetland and Arild Monsen from 2016 to 2018, and before that he was coach in Lyn ski and for Petter Northug during the period Northug chose to stay outside the national team. Nossum holds a master’s degree in sports physiology from the NIH. In this episode, he shares his and the national team’s thoughts and plans regarding preparations for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in February 2023.

Master’s degree in sports physiology from NIH

Before we get back to how the cross-country guys’ preparation job will be done, Eirik is asked about his NIH background. How is his master’s degree in sports physiology used in his work as a cross-country coach?

“I don’t explain my training philosophy on the basis of cell biology or neuromuscular biology, but the knowledge is there. My own calculations and calculations, thoughts and mindsets around my own training philosophy are basically based on knowledge I have brought with me from NIH.

Not least, Eirik highlights the importance of practical training during his studies. He had practice at the same time as he was a coach at Lyn and for the world’s best skier at the time. Learning and experience from this period provided a good foundation for his further coaching career.

“The NIH students very easily got a practical picture of things we read or learned in school. Indirectly, I think I use this knowledge a lot. The methodology, the ability to be critical and never jump to conclusions.

It is a paradox that research and training theory are based on big data with results that mirror an average.

“And then the thing is, the people I coach aren’t average. They are statistical outliers, and there is little research relevant to them, because they are X-men. I have seven individuals on the team who are completely different. It’s not an answer to how they should train to be the best.

Collections and training plan

How often does the team meet at a gathering to prepare for the 2023 World Cup? How do you set up a training plan for a whole team with different needs for individual training?

“On average, we have one gathering week a month, from May until the season starts. That’s on average. We have a little more a few months, and no gatherings in July. When we’re at the gathering, it’s one plan fits all. Individualization occurs at home. Mutter’n has taught me that it’s the most weekdays, and that also applies to the world’s best skiers. If you are on a session 10 out of 30 days, you have 20 days of individually adapted training between sessions.

One of the main reasons the team gets together and trains together is to help each other have better sessions than they would manage individually. In this way, x-number of sessions over the course of a year is raised to something slightly better than the athletes had managed alone.

“Elite sports are marginal. There are a few tenths that can be the difference between becoming historical, with financial gain and the whole package, until you are forgotten. So it’s margins that count.

90 percent are calm exercise

The most important thing in cross-country skiing, if you are going to go fast, is to have a high aerobic capacity in terms of good fitness and endurance. At the gatherings, it is therefore training on aerobic endurance that counts. Eirik Nossum runs a few types of intervals and leisurely long walks. Over 90 percent of the training is leisurely exercise.

“It’s extremely traditional and ‘boring training’. I’m a big believer in training volume, and an important training principle called continuity. We train from intensity zone 1 up to threshold, and then we do extremely little over threshold, because it requires a lot of recovery. There are some athletes who train more strength than others, but it is done on home soil. Then you’re onto an individually tailored thing, because some need more strength than others. What’s for sure is that everyone needs aerobic endurance, so that’s what we’re working on at the gathering.

Course preparations

In addition to physical preparation, it is important to prepare for the different trails the athletes will go on the different distances. All the trails are different and then the technical preparation is important. Not least, one must pay close attention to the weather forecast.

“Having a trail in mind, and being well prepared for the trail that’s coming – I think that’s a good prerequisite for success on that particular trail.” And a trail is different from day to day. One day it’s fresh snow, the next day it’s raining, so holke. If you walk the same route, there will be three different ways to solve that particular trail. It presents different challenges.

Practitioner-led training

Each athlete has some strengths and weaknesses that are different from the others on the team. But how much of the training they do outside of gathering does Eirik and his team affect compared to the athlete himself?

“The expert on Simen Hegstad Krüger is Simen Hegstad Krüger. What often separates those who become the best and those who become good is the ability to make these sometimes tough choices. To make the assessment that “enough is enough, now it’s recovery”. Or “yes, I’m tired, but I have a gut feeling I can push a little longer.” Hitting time and time again over time with such assessments puts you a horse’s head ahead. Those decisions are more practitioner-driven than I think people realize.

“I need to have independent athletes who are good at evaluating themselves, and I’m good at playing well and giving me an insight into themselves. Then I’ll be good too.

Sky-high ambitions for the World Cup

“The dream, of course, is that we will be in the gold medal game in Planica every single day. In addition to hard work, it takes a lot of meatloaf for dinner, tailwinds and sun in the back to succeed. However, if you work hard and accurately enough, you often have more luck than if you take a few shortcuts.