MARQUETTE - There is always one question that Northern Michigan University Nordic skiing head coach Sten Fjeldheim asks an athlete that wants to go into cross country skiing. That question is, do they realize that they are entering one of the world's toughest sports that requires the most training, most dedication and the hardest work?
Most freshman skiers spend about 450 to 500 hours a year training and by the time they graduate they are training about 600 to 650 hours a year, Fjeldheim said.
"You have to be the kind of person that has that work ethic and wants to challenge yourself because it's really you against the clock," he said. "There (are) no referees and there (are) no timeouts. You just got to be able to do the training and withstand the pain."
Northern Michigan University sophomore Erik Soderman leads the NMU men’s Nordic skiing team around the Marquette Fit Strip Tuesday afternoon during practice. Team membership is physically demanding. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
NMU junior and Nordic team member Molly Burger trains in the mornings before class and week days at 2 p.m. on an area trail. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Training for the NMU skiers starts May 1 and runs six days a week, twice a day. Their summer training plan consists of running on rolling terrain, running on trails, roller skiing and strength training.
Strength training can consist of many different types of exercises from running or roller skiing for two to three hours or running up Marquette Mountain to help build their capacity to withstand the pain to ski race, Fjeldheim said.
They do a majority and volume of their training (in the summer), he said. Over the three months of summer they train for about a couple hundred hours.
During the fall the team cuts back on their volume of training but increases the intensity of it, Fjeldheim said. In the summer the athletes may do two days of hard training per week and come fall they may be required to do up to four days of hard training and the rest of the days are distance volume based.
"There's a little bit of science to it and we check our athletes real closely," Fjeldheim said.
NMU Junior Molly Burger has been skiing since she was a child, started race skiing in high school and is currently on the women's Nordic skiing team. Burger said a typical week of training consists of two morning strengthening exercises, and then at 2 p.m. daily the team heads out for a trail and practices on skis. On the weekends that there isn't a race they have training in the morning with a workout in the afternoon.
Come race day, most people get really excited and pumped for a race but Burger tries to stay calm and not stress out too much, she said. The teams get a chance to run through the course the day before a race.
That day during our warm up Ill go through the course in my head, Burger said. Where the tough parts are going to be and where Ill have to accelerate and pay attention to a tight corner
Every season since 1986, the men's and womens ski teams have competed in the NCAA Skiing Championships. NMUs skiing teams have produced 72 NCAA All-Americans, five NCCA National Champions and 13 Olympians. They also had many junior world team members, Fjeldheim said.
"So we must be doing something right," Fjeldheim said. "But really the beauty of it is, is getting your body to a fitness level where you can just fly through the woods like a deer and just attack every hill you come to and stay on your feet.
"It's just the greatest feeling in the world to feel like you're in charge and you're sort of controlling the terrain and there's no hill that's too big."