How did I train to become a world champion in running?

Winner mentality

Many people are asking me how I was training when I was one of the top runners in the world for long runs during the 1980’s.
Actually, there is no magic formula for this, but mainly one thing: hard work over a long period of time.

Boosts and downturns

I started training systematically at the age of 14 – 15, and at that time primarily as a cross country skier. In the years after this I became a member of two different Norwegian national teams, for cross country skiing and for track & field. This was of course an important boost and motivation factor for me towards training and competitions. However, during the years as a top athlete, I had many downturns, and these downturns actually made me to become a top athlete. If you are able to keep up your will and motivation to reach your goals during resistance and downturns, then you can really achieve something great. Remember that, all of you who are struggling from time to time!

Long term approach

When I am travelling around and telling the story about how I became a world champion in running and how I was training, many have a problem to believe me about rthe training part. They believe that I must have been training much more intensive than I actually did. Most also believe that I lived an ascetic life, both in relation to training, nutrition and lifestyle in general. The truth is that I had children and a family life, and lived a normal life as many other mums, although I had a special job: “Long distance runner”.

The last 10–12 years as an active runner, I ran approximately 8000 kilometer per year (which was longer than my yearly car driving). It took around 15–20 years before my body could take this amount of training. This is important to have in mind if you are training athletes who wish to become good in endurance sports. Long term goals and steady progression over long time, both when it comes to intensity and amount of training, are the most important success factors.

Distribution of easy vs intense training sessions

My training was distributed like this:

  • 67 % easy long runs, aerobic
  • 20 % medium speed long run, aerobic
  • 3,5 % fartlek, aerobic
  • 3,5 % competitions, aerobic, with some touch of anaerobic
  • 3 % fast long run, aerobic, with some touch of anaerobic
  • 2 % long interval, aerobic
  • 1 % short interval, aerobic

As you can see, I was dominantly training aerobic. The anaerobic sections were mainly something that came at the end of competitions and during fast long runs (mainly performed as test runs). Fast and intense threshold sessions did not comprise more than 13% of my total training, including competitions.

Important factors for endurance sports

I have been in the training and sports environment for more than 50 years, and have made myself some reflections on how work is going on within the different types of sports. In general I would say that a lot of the work is done without sufficient understanding and focus on the following factors:

  1. A training sessions consists of two equally imortant components: training and rest. The importance of rest is very often underestimated. Many have a strong resistance towards skipping a training session if they are tired. This is often due to rigid training programs put up by ignorant athletes themselves or by incompetent trainers. A training program shall only works as a general guideline. My own biggest breakthrough as an athlete came after understanding this. Unfortunately it took some years before it happened.
  2. Training volume and intensity. It is the intensity of the training which is the most important factor for getting overloaded and overtrained. It is very rare that training volume alone leads to overload, provided that you get enough liquid and nutrition.
  3. Difference between training and competition. During training it is important to be growth oriented. If every training session is performed like a competion to be “The Winner”, you will soon hit the wall. Those who “win” the training sessions are very often underperforming when it is important – during competitions.
  4. Progression is often insufficiently understood. There will always be a limitation for how fast you can progress, depending on how fast your body is able to compensate for the training load. This is important, both in order to reduce the risk of injuries and to reach the peak fitness level at the right time.
  5. Training measurement. Many are measuring their training with a stop watch. It is strange that so many do not reflect over the fact that a watch can only measure one thing: time. We know from the above that more is not necessarily better. Be critical towards the use of stop watches (and running watches) for training, there are too many who get obsessed by the use of it.
  6. Goals and planning based on analysis of today’s status. Without a good plan the training has a tendency of getting randomly performed.
  7. Diversity in interests. A variety of interests, family, friends, work, studies or hobbies, will give stability in you life. By this you avoid to be “narrow-headed”, and you will not so easily lose your mood if you have downturns or meet resistance. Spread the risk- don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  8. Being analytic. Some do not have an analytic approach in what they do. This will lead to a lot of trial and errors. A basic knowledge about what happens in the body and mind will always be an advantage. I miss a more holistic approach, and I am surprised that so many athletes are not concerned about this in their efforts.

Read more details about physical and mental training here:

Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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