I've been out the last two days cross country skiing. Yesterday evening I was out for 55mins and today I was out for 65 mins.
Last night I got back and was feeling, "Ah, that was not bad I barely noticed I did exercise," until I bent down to undo my boots. Then when I started to walk I was like a drunk. Doh, gotta let the body get used to the different bio-mechanical repetitive action of skiing.
Today was better (as in less like a drunken sailor after skiing) and I got a better workout over all. Yesterday I skied on the trail system (biking, running, walking, rollerblading in the summer) near (.5km) my house.
Today was way more fun, I went to the "Beaver Pond" as it is called, also near my house (about 5.5 k by running; yes I know the distance since I pass it often). The trails around the Beaver Pond are through rolling hills (ok, hills for Ottawa) so there were some fun downhill sections, lots of flat open trails through beautiful woods, and a little bit of climbing (ok a lot of climbing sometimes, man I am going to be paying for some of those climbs in the next day or two).
I think cross country skiing is a great way to cross train for running. I am using muscles in my back and core that I never directly attack on my runs. A key to strong long distance running are your core muscles (everything around your mid-section). These muscles keep you upright and allow you to run more efficiently. So one side effect of cross country skiing should be improved distance running once the winter weather abates and I get closer to the Marathon.
Other reasons I think cross country skiing will improve my running fitness. As mentioned, I am getting a total body workout while getting a good aerobic workout at the same time. I also strongly feel that cross training allows your body to balance out the overuse that a single sport can place on the key muscles required for that sport. So I think of cross training as a way to actively rest those hammered muscles while toning the stablizing muscles which will help keep me running further and faster.
Another bonus to cross country skiing is that research (yes they research everything it seems) shows that the same amount of time spent cross country skiing as running, at the same heart rate range, produced similar physiological effects in male (study was only done on men) test subjects. So for me, that means I plan to mix up some of my runs with cross country skiing as a way to optimize my time training and participating in two sports I love (running and cross country skiing). If the study is correct I should be getting similar improvements to my body minus the pounding that running produces.
So I figure with at least 2 runs a week and then 1-2 days of cross country skiiing (depending on the weather since when the skiiing is good I will out there more until the ice arrives on the canal, then it's time for some speed skating on the canal) I should be right on track with training through the winter. WItht he added bonus that my body will have taken a little less pounding but still be adapting to longer endurance activity.