Training with Petter Eliassen

Petter Eliassen, the leader of Team LeasePlan, two-time winner of the Ski Classics marathon series, the man who won both Vasaloppet and Birkebeiner in the same year, has decided to retire after this season. Many will miss the Norwegian “Tiger” known for his ability to break from the pack in the race and pull away, as well as his exquisite, refined doublepoling technique.
Here, we look back in time and re-publish an original story from the summer of 2015, when The Daily Skier’s editor, Denis Kabanen, spent a week training with Eliassen in his northerly hometown of Alta, Norway:

…Finnmark is the least populous province of Norway, home to only 75,000 people. Yet it’s the place where some of the world’s top skiers came from: Kristin Størmer Steira, Finn Hågen Krogh, John Kristian Dahl and, perhaps the most famous of them all, an Olympic champion and the current boss of the FIS cross country skiing committee, Vegard Ulvang.
Petter Eliassen was born and raised in Trondheim, but moved to Alta, Finnmark, where his girlfeind Sigrid Aas comes from.
Alta is as close as it gets to being a paradise to settle in for an ambitious skier. Mile after mile of hilly and mostly empty roads, running paths of different gradient, a dedicated rollerski loop… the list goes on and on. The winters are relatively mild, considering what one might expect that far north– it almost never gets colder than -25 Celsius, with an average hovering around -10. Alta has an airport from where an ambitious Norwegian could conveniently fly you almost anywhere in Europe.
I have agreed to meet with Petter at the new rollerski track, where, just a week ago, he outraced all of the Norwegian Sprtingutta, the sprint team(!) – an incredible feat, given that the competition involved a skating style, that Eliasson hardly ever practices these days. Unfortunately, I misjudged the distance and was running 15 minutes late, thinking of the best excuse – but the excuse was not needed, Petter just went to do laps in the company of Øystein Rønbeck, his training partner, who was third at Vasaloppet in 1998 with a very respectful 3:38.
I joined them and we went for a few laps. The track is narrow and most definitely not meant for speed rollerskiing – even on slow wheels you have to be very careful on a couple of turns. But it is ideal for double poling, with several long, reasonably steep uphills and a bit of a flat terrain. Of course, most of the Ski Classics races are run doublepoling these days, so the training, technique, and gear of Eliassen are all heavily skewed towards that style in which he’s a recognised world leader and an object of emulation.
Petter told me that his poles are 152 cm long (his own height is 182 cm– the training/interview with Eliassen took place before the introduction of the FIS’ “0.83% Rule” – now Eliassen would have to limit himself to 151cm.) . Shorter poles allow for a “faster attack” and a quicker lift of the poles that helps to keep a very high tempo.
The world’s best ski marathoner prefers the classic ski boots to the skate ones because of the softer soles; he’s “not really into” getting up on the boot tips as many others do, only using that technique on very steep hills and during the sprint intervals (which we did about 15 of during our 2,5 hours training together!). The fans, the competitors and Eliassen himself know full well that sprint is not his forte – but I would never be able to tell, trying my very best to keep up with him as long as I could on that track. (Denis Kabanen is an elite ski marathoner and Vasaloppet Top-100 finisher)
The next day Petter invited me for a bit of mountain running. I’m a mountain biker, not much of a runner, but of course I couldn’t say no to such an invitation. Together we slowly run-walked to the top of a hill from which the whole of Alta was visible, then went for a loop of the local trails. Our average tempo was just under 6 min/km.
That’s how the double-Ski Classics champion trains most of the summer – 85% of the time, he tells me. 50-50 between rollerskiing doublepoling, and slow mountain running. No ercolinas (Ercolina Upper Body Power), no skiergs (Concept2 SkiErg) so popular among “advanced ski amateurs”.
Tomorrow we are going together for a 67 km training run on the smooth, empty local roads – but also over some scary looking steep hills. Wish me luck – I’ll need it…

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