Skating, Fitness, and Some Science

I have previously mentioned that I want to post on the topic of fitness as it relates to skating.  Since I don’t have a degree or formal education of any kind, and the science specific to speed skating is so limited in terms of research and publications, consider this your lawyerly disclaimer that the remainder of this post is purely my opinion based on the arm-chair internet research I have done on the topic of sport science and how it may or may not apply to speed skating, specifically inline speed skating, and my experiences in training for inline marathon races.  Take this for what it is worth, something to think about and consider, discuss and dispute, dissect and analyze.  I hope this post can be used as a starting point for more conversation.

After my VO2 Max test in April, I realized that my physical ability, in terms of being an endurance athlete, is in the average range.  My goal is to skate faster, and one way to focus my training to achieve that goal is to consider what weaknesses I need to reinforce to insure I am getting the most of the engine that drives my hobby, namely my body.  Unfortunately, there is very little science specific to speed skating, and even less dedicated to inline speed skating.  Most of my research looked at similar endurance sports, like cycling, for simulacra that could be used to understand what happens to the body during intense exercise.

Cycling and running are both good sports to compare with speed skating, at least, from a physiological health and training perspective.  Mass start speed skating, like anything in inline speed, and some events in ice skating, rely heavily on the pack dynamic during the race similar to cycling.  Running provides a lot of analogies in the context of physical fitness.

In the vein of analyzing similar sports, Joe Friel, triathlete coach and master cyclist, has a wealth of information on his website that is helpful in understanding how the body works during endurance sport.  We should start with the premise, as he does, that being a good endurance athlete requires three things:  Aerobic Capacity, Lactate Threshold, and Economy.  Some posts on Joe Friel’s blog break down these concepts in detail.

First, aerobic capacity is basically your body’s ability to process oxygen and use it for helping your body generate and consume fuel.  Oxygen is the catalyst for the biochemical mechanisms that make the body operate, especially during exercise.  Unfortunately, aerobic capacity is dictated by, in large part, genetics.  However, you can train your body to increase your capacity.  Scientifically, this capacity is measured using a VO2 Max test, and it is one of the reasons I was so interested in participating in this kind of test.  It provided a benchmark for me to compare and analyze my fitness for the purpose of skating.  Realistically, there are a couple of things you can do to increase your VO2 Max without getting new genes.  Weight can be a factor, and I have been fighting with mine lately.  I am always looking to drop an extra 15 to 20 pounds, but now that I am past the ripe age of 30, that has proven to be more difficult than I expected.  The one big piece, though, is endurance specific training.  That sounds ridiculous.  I skate long distances all the time, so I should be getting enough endurance training.  However, what makes endurance training important has more to do with heart rate than distance.

There is a lot of scientific support for the proposition that most of an endurance athlete’s time should be spent training in heart rate zone 2, roughly 60%-70% of your max heart rate.  It makes sense that you train in this zone to build endurance because in this zone you are “teaching” your body to burn fat for energy, and your muscles respond by increasing the mitochondrial density (and see also) in your slow twitch muscle cells.  Before we go off the scientific deep end here, this really just means that the portions of the muscle cells that produce and consume energy during a workout are increased as a result of this kind of training, making the athlete more efficient at burning calories for long periods of time, thereby increasing your endurance.  In addition to Zone 2 training, intervals are important, especially at a pace that is at or near your VO2 Max.  What we see here is a coordinated way to increase your aerobic capacity by spending a lot of time training in Heart Rate Zone 2 and doing intervals, in addition to losing some weight.

The second piece of this puzzle is Lactate Threshold.  I won’t belabor the science here, as Friel’s post does a great job on that point.  This is literally the “red line” for your heart, or the percentage of your maximum heart rate you can hold for 60 minutes of high intensity exercise like a race.  This is sport specific.  My Lactate Threshold based on my most recent inline marathons suggests that my threshold is about 165 beats per minute (bpm).  However, take that with a grain of salt because I have never undergone any specific lactate testing.  For more information on this terribly misunderstood topic, check out Training Peaks discussion on Lactate Threshold.  The conclusion in this article is very interesting.  In order to increase your LT, you need to do more Zone 2 cardio because it is the slow-twitch muscles that clear lactate from the fast-twitch muscles.  However, it is also important to work those fast twitch muscles so the body can recruit all of the muscle systems to maximize its efficiency in clearing lactate.  Bottom line, spend more time training in cardio Zone 2, and do intervals, also.

Third, we need to consider the economy of movement to maximize the use of energy over a long race.  Joe Friel, again, notes in his post, that science knows very little about how this impacts fitness and sports performance, but that it is basically defined as how much oxygen the body uses per specified amount of exertion, or milliliters of oxygen per mile.  When speed skaters think about economy, we usually also think about movement efficiency, and for good reason as they are basically the same for our sport(s).  Friel talks about different ways to improve economy by pointing to examples on how to reduce external friction (like aero bars on TT bikes) or work on pedaling technique for cyclists, and reducing gear weight for runners.  However, he also notes that explosive exercises like plyometrics can make the body more efficient.  For anyone who has been to a skating clinic, this probably all sounds very familiar.  For speed skaters, this really boils down to something very straightforward, technique.   This is something we can work on until we think we have it perfect, watch video of our skating, and find 10 new things to change.  For skaters to excel on this level, it requires drill after drill to perfect technique and form, something most of us don’t care about as much as we should because we just want to get out and skate.

Knowing that efficiency is part of the game is great, but there also has to be a way to measure economy so we can see when it is having an impact on our skating and potential results in a race.  Friel commented in a Twitter post that the method of calculating efficiency over the duration of a work out is speed/HR.  If you are looking at an overall workout, for example, you can take average speed divided by average heart rate to get your economy for the entire work out or race.  My recent race at the MN Half Marathon would look like the following: 18.7 mph avg/165 bpm avg.  I think this serves to show speed over effort, and there are a lot of factors that influence this kind of data.  For example, in a pack sport like outdoor inline marathon racing, drafting is a big part of the tactics and should be considered a required skill.  It reduces the amount of wind resistance and can conserve energy by up to 30%.  However, when you are out on a solo skate, pounding away at the pavement, the real terms of economy come down to stride and glide length, underpush, weight transfer, and knee bend.  I also think that weight lifting has a role here, particularly in skating.  By lifting weights as part of training, you are capable of putting more power to the ground under max effort, which should translate to being able to put a larger amount of power to the ground through the push than if you are not weight training.

What does this tell us about training?  First, this analysis doesn’t seem very far off base.  Sutton Atkins from Sk8 Skool Online recently dissected a post from Training Peaks on these points.  Generally, we seem to agree that much of this scientific study from other sports applies to speed skating.  Second, and most importantly, it gives skaters an idea of how to train.  Joey Mantia said in the Minnesota Clinic he did in June that some skaters are tremendous physical athletes, while others have perfect technique, but the best skaters in the world have both.  I think anyone who seriously trains for speed skating should strive to be a great athlete with great technique.

Clearly, there are three things that need to be in a training program:  Long HR Zone 2 work outs, Intervals, and Technique practice.  However, we also see the need for supplemental exercise to support overall fitness and increase skating performance.  Plyometric exercises, skating in groups for drafting practice, weight lifting, and tempo skating all have their place in a well structured training plan.  Also, it shows we can rely on science supporting other endurance sports to help direct how we should be training as speed skaters.  All of a sudden, there is a lot more information and a lot more training options out there.

What do you think?  Am I right, or so wrong I should go back to the basement and spend 5 hours on the slide board?


Race Report: 2014 Minnesota Half Marathon

A lot of people question the value of the Minnesota Half Marathon.  However, after the race this year, this event should be considered a staple of the Midwest outdoor racing circuit and anyone within reasonable driving distance should put this race on their calendar.

I have often felt that this race rejuvenates my confidence as a skater after the Chicagoland Inline Marathon, as I haven’t been able to keep up with the main pack at that race since I have raced it.  Coming out of the Chicagoland, I was aggressive with the two weeks of training I had getting ready for this race.  I like this race, generally, even if it is only a half marathon.  The road conditions are decent, there aren’t a lot of big hills, and the pace is pretty fast.  This is a local race for Minnesota skaters, and it usually draws a big crowd from the local speed skating contingent here.  This year was no exception.

I got out of the house and on the road by the time I had planned, but didn’t get to St. Paul, where the race took place, until 7:15 AM.  The race was scheduled to start for the Open Wave at 7:33 AM, so I was very late.  The line for parking was long, and I still had to get to packet pick-up and get my skates on before getting to the start line.  The gear drop was also in an odd place.  Thankfully, one of my teammates from Team Rainbo was kind enough to drop my gear bag for me at gear drop while I got my skates on.  When I checked in and got my bib, I didn’t get an ankle chip.

I made it to the start line, but just barely before the National Anthem.  I got in with the group of skaters in the open group, but was shuffled a couple of skaters back from the start line.  The conditions were tight, and it took a bit to get across the start line.  At the start, the pace was predictably fast through the turn around.  The main group filtered out after a couple of miles.  We had a solid group through the first half of the race.  Oddly, at about mile 5.5, I was pulling the line and found myself alone.  I looked back to see the line dropping off behind me.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold that pace through the rest of the race, and opted to let the line catch me.  We rotated out, I continued to draft, and as we approached the turn around a couple of skaters got away.  Cale Carvell gave chase, and caught the group on the flyer.  The line broke up a bit up the hill to the turn around, and I opted to see if I could catch the flyer. It took about a mile, but I managed to reel them in.  Unfortunately, the rest of the pack came with us.  The last couple of miles were very fast.  I managed to duck in behind Roger Olson and hang on to the finish.  We were cruising into the final sprint, and I looked to my right only to see one of the other skaters closing, so I shot my right foot out to cross the line first, finishing in the top 5 for the wave, first for my age group, and 33rd overall, finishing in 42:02.30.  Full results can be found here.  The open wave was lead by Matt Melanson, Cale Carvell, Roger Olson, and myself.  However, the official results list Dan Stietz as finishing first, though I don’t know we ever saw him in or around the main pack, and he finished about 3 seconds ahead of the pack.  There was some great racing in the open division this year.

Inline Skate Minneapolis‘s race report from the overall event can be found here.  Kelin Dunfree pulled out the overall win, followed by Rob Bell and Alex Fadek with Hernan Diaz and  Team Rainbo’s Steve Meisinger rounding out the top five finishers.  Kaari, over at the Longtrack Life also pulled out her inline skates and raced the event.  Her race report can be found here.

My technique was better in this race, but after watching the video and observing some of the other skaters, I can say that the big problem with my technique is where my center of gravity sits over my skates.  The other fast skaters have their center of gravity further back over the heels of their skates.  Mine tends to be over my skates.  I noticed this after the Chicagoland, but this certifies the problem.  I have been working on this aspect of my technique.  I need to get my balance and weight farther over the heels of my skates, and I will continue to work on this body position.  The big benefit of doing this is it forces me to push out to side more effectively, thereby transferring power to the ground more effectively to generate more speed.

The race was a little slower than last year, but my finish result was better in the main pack.  While there was a little hiccup with the timing because I didn’t have an ankle chip, the race organizers were very accommodating to add my time to the final results.  My helmet camera video follows:

I used DashWare to make the gauge overlay for this video.  This process is shockingly more cumbersome than using CycleCam.  CycleCam creates the gauge videos with just the use of the Garmin TCX file.  However, it doesn’t have very many options for gauges.  DashWare has considerably more gauge options, and the gauge designer is very powerful, though not entirely user friendly.  DashWare, though, is designed to make the entire video, start to finish.  DashWare has options for titling, but isn’t very capable as an editor.  I had to make a background to make the green screen so I could use chroma key to overlay the gauges on the camera footage.  I like the gauge options, but you have to render the video with audio in DashWare then edit the camera video and gauge video in Lightworks.  I am going to keep working with DashWare to see if I can construct a viable workflow.  I will have a review of DashWare specifically in the near future.


Race Report: 2014 Chicagoland Inline Marathon

This year, the Chicagoland Inline Marathon took place on July 20, 2014.  The weather is usually a source of concern for this race because, as one friend and fellow racer of mine put it, its like racing on the surface of the sun.  It is usually brutally hot and terribly humid, but that is what you get when you schedule a race in the Chicago area in July, basically the dog days of summer.  This year, though, the race start for the Advanced division at 8 AM, the weather was reasonably pleasant.  The temperature was in the mid 60’s and the humidity was around 70%.  The Elite group had a little tougher time weather wise, but it never got much more humid.  Generally, pleasant conditions for skating, all things considered.

The race started shortly after 8 AM, and the group came off of the line typically quick, with the speed of the lead pack jumping quickly up to 20 MPH.  As the group thinned to the 20 of us, or so that could hold that pace.  The pace stayed in that range, and for the first half of the race, we were averaging 18+ mph even over the hills.  Last year, I got dropped after the the hills on Central, headed up Huntington toward Lakewood.  This year, I managed to stick with the lead pack through the entire first lap, and through the long outbound stretch on Central to the turn around about 12 miles in to the race.  For this race, it is the longest I have managed to stick with the lead pack.

Like previous years, we lost half of the pack on the hills on the return on Central.  This group got together and hung together for the rest of the race.  The lead pack put some good distance on them in the half of a lap or so after we got away.  However, it wasn’t too much longer before I lost the lead pack.  At the turn around, I got shuffled to the back of the pack.  When we came around the corner back onto Central, I had the opportunity to jump up the line, but, mentally, I wasn’t there, and miss the opportunity.  The guy in front of me lapped the line, and I got stuck in the accordion effect of the sprint back toward the hills on Central.  I couldn’t get my legs under me and sprint after the pack to stay in the draft.

I lost the pack after 12 miles, and then skated the remainder of the entirely alone.  I tried to pick up a skater or two on the way, but wasn’t able to find anyone to skate with.  Another skater was on my tail, but not closing fast enough to allow us to work together.  I think we both may have done better if we managed to connect and work together.  Regardless, after seeing one of my team mates with a bit of a lead, I was hoping to catch him.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t close the gap and I spent the rest of the race in no-man’s land, skating solo in the wind, fighting for every minute I could manage.  I finished the race in something of a disappointing 1:35:20, 5th in my division and 16th overall in the wave, as I hoped to finish around 90 minutes.  However, I do think this is one of my highest overall finishes at this race, which does give me some hope that the work I have been doing on technique and fitness are helping.  This time was better than last year, but not better than the year before, which was a personal best at this course, if memory serves.  The advanced division race results can be found here.  The rest of the results by category can be found here.

This race is challenging.  While the road conditions get a lot of complaints, that isn’t what really makes this race hard:  it’s the hills.  To race Chicagoland, you have to be ready for hills, intervals, and hot weather.  Without that combination, you won’t last.  The road conditions are just another layer that will separate those who are comfortable skating on any surface from those who aren’t.  I will keep attending this race because I like the challenge.  I wasn’t prepared mentally, and could have used a little better physical preparation, but I learned a lot (like how my form on hills falls apart when I get tired, leaving me with heel blisters to remember the experience).  My hips were pretty sore after the race, too, which also gives me confidence that my work on technique is helping as the kind of soreness and fatigue I came away from the race with is a good indication that my technique wasn’t as bad as my feet would have me believe.  That said, the goal for next year is to hang with the lead pack through the entire race.  I have a better idea of how to train now, generally, and will be adjusting my off season work to accommodate a lot more base cardio, something I missed this last winter.  Mixed with a strong helping of weight lifting, a little bit of ice skating, and a mix of other things that I will probably discuss more at length come October, I am hoping for a stronger finish next year.  Overall, I can’t complain much about this race.  I did better than last year and placed higher, overall, than I have at this race.  My time wasn’t spectacular, but given the other gains, I can’t say that this race was a total loss.  I know now what I need to work on, and if I am not learning something in this sport, I am doing something very wrong.

From a gear perspective, I have been messing with my frame placement, and I think it was a little off on both skates, but more so on my left skate. That is where the biggest blister was after the race.  I skated some earlier this week and noticed the placement issue.  I moved the frames in a couple of millimeters, and they feel dialed in at the moment.  I am going to stick with this placement for the near future, probably through the end of the season.  While cleaning my bearings before the race, it became apparent that my Adam’s Swiss bearings were dead after not being properly clean after getting wet during the Apostle Island race.  It was a stupid mistake that forced me to replace the bearings with ILQ9 Pro bearings.  I like the ILQ bearings from TwinCam generally.  They are a good product, but I wish I had more break in time on them.  They roll very smoothly, and I couldn’t complain about the team price.  It is also what a lot of the guys that skate in Minnesota run, too.  The WRW Truth wheels seem to be doing reasonably well, but they are wearing more quickly than I anticipated.  I will have to see how they fair over the next two races to provide a better review.  Any experience I had at Chicagoland this year will be colored by a lot of other gear changes that contributed to my struggles in this race.

The next race is the Minnesota Half Marathon on August 2. I don’t feel ready for this race, but I didn’t feel ready for Apostle Island this year or the Minnesota Half last year.  My goal is ambitious, though I don’t know if I am capable.  Last year, I accomplished my goal of staying with the lead pack.  This year, I am shooting for a top 10 finish in the open division.

My race video follows.  I am switching to DashWare to create the gauges, but building custom gauges in that program takes some time.  I hope to have that program in the mix for the NorthShore in September.  Beyond that, I used Lightworks to do all of the editing, rather than having to create the titles with an image editor and importing them into the video.  The new version of Lightworks is great.  If you need an NLE video editor, check it out.  As for the video, judge for yourself:

 


Event Report: Roll for the Roses 10k

Roll for the Roses is a local event in Roseville, Minnesota, that is basically a 5k and 10k run event with a 10k skate event tacked on to the start, probably because there are so many inline skaters in the Twin Cities.  Total, there were 57 skaters signed up for the 10k, with more than half of them in the Pro division.  There are two divisions, Pro and Recreation.  Pretty much everyone in the pro group is skating on low cut speed boots.  The start is a group start, so everyone in the event starts together.  It is legitimately an event less so than a race as this kind of event should attract a lot more recreational skaters.  For the speed skaters in the bunch, though, this event is pretty much a sprint.  A 10k is a warm up for skaters that usually race 42k.

This year, there was actually a race.  The weather was hotter, in the mid to upper 70s, and it was humid.  It has been raining a lot, and the forecast called for more thunderstorms, but thankfully, they ended up holding off until later in the afternoon.  We didn’t get any rain during the day in Rochester, and it didn’t start to rain until later in the evening.  The humidity could have been worse, though.

It is a fun local race that is worth the drive from Rochester. I am glad we have a local short course race. I think that we need a lot more of these all over the country. Since this race is in the Twin Cities, all of the really fast guys come out to race. I was hoping to jump in with the lead pack and hold on as long as possible. However, I made it to the event late because of some road construction and started probably 30 seconds behind the last skaters.  As I was skating toward the finish line, the gun went off for the start of the race, and the main pack went flying by me as I was skating the other direction.  I made it to the start line, turned around, and sprinted to catch up.  I bombed from the start through the rec group and caught the the chase pack that had fallen off of the leaders within the first mile. The main pack was too fast, and we weren’t able to catch them.

The course is a road course that has blocked off sections of local roadways that starts near the Roseville Skating Center and finishes in the oval.  The road wasn’t in the best shape, and part of the course went through some subdivisions with road work, that resulted in loose stone on the roadway.  It almost took out one skater in the group I was racing with.  There is also a good number of tar snakes and hills.  On the whole, though, the roads aren’t rough, or they didn’t feel very rough.  I raced on my World Record Wheel Truths, 110mm wheels at 87a hardness.  These are the same wheels I raced the Apostle Island Inline Marathon on earlier in June.  The hills proved to be a challenge as there are a couple of big ones.  We almost caught one of the guys that fell off of the main pack, but the hills proved to be the great equalizer.  The final couple of turns include a 90 degree left hand turn and a narrow downhill right hand turn that leads onto the main level of the Roseville Oval.  The oval surface is amazingly smooth, and once on that surface, I was able to put the hammer down for a 300m sprint to the finish around the corners and along the back straight away.

I was hoping to have video, but in the rush of trying to get to the start line, I must not have set up my Contour properly as it didn’t record. Hopefully next year.  Chris Lomen of SkateLove did get helmet camera video of the lead pack, though.  Official results can be found here, and Inline Skate Minneapolis has a good write up of the event, also.  I finished 24th out of 30 in the pro group, and 26th overall out of 57, in 23:02. Not bad considering I started all the way at the back. Average pace wasn’t great, 16.2 mph. It was a gun start, so when the horn went, I started with a good 30 seconds to make up.

I learned a lot during this event.  First, I need to skate more hills.  Second, I haven’t been working out hard enough during my training skates because I woke up sore this morning.  Third, technique is king, and I need to get a lot lower while skating.  I talked to Chris Lomen after the race and he and I discussed how best to go about this as I train for the Chicagoland in a couple of weeks.


Looking For Speed…

I have previously mentioned that this is the year of technique.  In reviewing all of the media I found from the Apostle Island Inline Marathon, I found two really interesting photos, and an pretty good video.  First, the photos (sorry, links only, photos by Ed Monroe):

http://www.edmonroe.com/p266220601/e19d4a69d
http://www.edmonroe.com/p266220601/e93d8db1

The second comes from a helmet camera video shot by Pat, another advanced division skater and all around good guy.

All of this skating was toward the beginning of the race, at least, as far as I can tell from the pictures and video.  This means this is what my technique looks like in the early part of a race when my legs are still fresh. You only need to really watch the a couple minutes of the video.  First, the good things.  I have a good strong glide.  This is evident in the video and the pictures.  It looks like I have good control early on of my glide foot and I am controlling the skate well on one foot.  Second, my hips are staying pretty level.  This is where the power comes from.  At this point in the race, from the video, we were moving around 2o miles per hour.  I was able to hold that pace within reason in the draft (something I probably couldn’t do solo).  Generally, I don’t have a lot of upper body noise, so there isn’t a whole lot of movement, which is ideal.

Now the bad things.  The pictures show this pretty harshly, I am not any where near as low as I should be.  Drafting in the pace line or not, I need to bend my knees and get my but down more.  I think I was doing a better job of this later in the race, and sprinting at the finish, I looked pretty good and low, but generally, skating in the pack, I look like I am standing strait up.  I need to work on that for sure.  Ideally, I should be working on this in my shorter technique oriented skates and tempo skates.  I am getting to the point where I have good power.  In a full sprint with solid double push and arm swing, I hit 24 miles per hour on my tempo skate last week.  It is a work in progress, and I am happy to see results so quickly.  Something else I could work on based on these videos:  more under push in my double push.  The video shows I am really just carving on my glide leg.  I thin this is something I need to work on longer term to build strength in my my legs where needed.

By way of training and race schedule update, I haven’t been able to skate or train much in the last week because of life circumstances that have taken precedence.  I did spend a very short time lifting this week, and increased my power clean and rear squat lifts by 5 pounds for new personal record lifts, the power cleans at 145 lbs x4 reps and the rear squats at 185 lbs x6 reps.  I think I am also ready to increase my dead lifts, but didn’t get a chance to try because of time constraints.  New personal best wall sit to failure is up to 105 seconds.  Training, though limited, is on-going.  Roll for the Roses may be off the race calendar this year, but I have to play that one by ear.  I hope I get to make it and that it doesn’t rain.  Watch for updates.


Race Report: Apostle Island Inline Marathon

I wasn’t planning on attending the Apostle Island Inline Marathon, but when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance.  My wife and I decided to make the trip to Ashland, Wisconsin, around mid-morning, and tried to set plans in motion to leave at the end of the work day the day before the race.  I hurriedly prepared gear and registered for the race while my wife found a hotel for us to stay at on Friday night.  The race was scheduled for the morning of June 14, 2014.  For those that are not familiar with this race, it takes place on Madeline Island which is off the cost of Wisconsin in Lake Superior near Bayfield, Wisconsin.  You get to the race by taking a ferry from Bayfield to the Island.  Once on the Island, it is a short walk to the start/finish line and the event location.  This area of the North woods of Wisconsin is beautiful, and we happened to be driving through a national forest on the shore of Lake Superior just in time to see the Honey Moon.  It was a fun, though impromptu, road trip to be sure.  We got to our hotel in Ashland, Wisconsin, late Friday night, and, after reviewing the schedules, determined we needed to be up early Saturday morning in order to make it from Ashland to Bayfield (a roughly 30 minute drive) and catch the ferry to the island.

Packet pick up is typically held on Fridays at the Amory in Ashland, and it stays open pretty late.  However, we didn’t arrive in Ashland soon enough, and opted for race-day packet pick up.  It wasn’t hard, and everything was very organized.  We got on the ferry and made it over to the Island with about 30 minutes prior to the start of the first race wave.  I signed up for the recreation/fitness wave because most of the guys I usually race with in the Advanced divisions signed up for that wave.  It was cold, probably high 40s for the temperature, and it felt like it was going to rain prior to the start of the race.  By the time I was dressed and took about a mile or so skate to warm up, I was ready for the race.  We lined up by division in our different waves, and the race organizers started the event promptly at 8:30 AM, with each consecutive wave leaving about 30 to 60 seconds behind each other.  The rec/fit men lined up behind the pro women.

The race is a three lap circuit around the island that is just short of 9 miles per lap.  The weather was mostly dry, a little cool, and I was worried it would rain during the race after looking at the weather.  We did get a little bit of rain, but only enough to wet the pavement.  It wasn’t hard or steady, and it didn’t seem to change the course conditions.  I chose to race on my 110mm World Record Wheel Truths that are 87a hardness.  This is stiffer wheel, and I was hoping to get good roll.  They rolled very well, with good grip, even in the wet conditions.  It wasn’t wet enough to get a good feel for how they would work in a steady rain, but they stuck during the race, and that is all I cared about.

We got the call for the start of our wave, and, as the gun went off, a group of about 1o of us came off the line and took the first tenth of a mile to figure out how the line would start.  One or two guys got out front, and as the line formed going up the first hill after the first left hand turn, we caught up and formed up in the line.  The pace started pretty quick and stayed there.  We eventually caught up with the chase pack for the pro women’s group and, at some point, the advanced skaters from the 50+ group.  There wasn’t anything really exciting that occurred during the race.  There weren’t any real attacks, but the faster skaters did pick up the pace when they reached the front and pulled the pace line.  The action didn’t heat up, really until the last lap.  There was a lot of anticipation in the pace line on that lap.  The pace didn’t start to pick up until about 4 miles in when people from the back of the line started to move up.  Those of us in the front of the pace line kept pace, and the attacks built until we were 6 miles into the lap.  At that point, the line broke up and everyone was skating for the finish, hoping to gap the group and lead a flyer to the finish line.  We finished as a pretty solid group, all within about a minute of each other.  It made for an interesting pack sprint in the last half mile.  Unfortunately, my helmet camera died and I didn’t get video of the pack sprint.  My wife did get finish line video, though.  What makes the finish on this course hard is the 90 degree right hand final turn.  It is narrow and sharp, and only leaves a couple hundred meters to the finish.  Once we got through that corner, which everyone seemed to take wide when I cut right at the curb, it was a full sprint to the finish.

My goal for this race was to hang on to the lead pack in my division.  I didn’t train for this race, had only done one interval skate, and was coming off of a training week that included a heavy lift and a tempo skate.  Even with 2 days off before the race, I didn’t feel 100%.  Also, sleep the night before was a bit elusive thanks to a fitful toddler that couldn’t seem to get comfortable.  So, with little or no preparation, I signed up for this race, and just hoped to finish, ideally with the lead pack in the wave.  I couldn’t be happier with the result.  I ended up pulling the line a couple of times and finishing with the pack in the pack sprint.  I used a lot of what I learned at the Joey Mantia Clinic the week before, and the changes in technique helped to insure I had the energy to finish with the group.  I plan on doing a lot more technique training, too, in hopes of increasing my average pace and have solid finishes in the rest of the races this year.  My finish time was 1:25:08, a new personal best marathon by nearly 7 minutes.  I also managed to win my division and finished in the top 10 or so of my wave.  It was a great race.

I can’t extol the virtues of this race enough.  The course is amazingly smooth.  I don’t think there is another Midwest race that has tarmac in such good condition.  This meant the pace was fast the whole race since we weren’t fatigued from rough road.  The weather was not as great as it could have been, but it was far from terrible.  The race was well organized and in an spectacular location that is only rivaled by the NorthShore for its scenery.  While the race can be a little hard to get to, it is a must for any skater that wants to skate a full or half marathon.  I had spent a couple of years trying to make it to this race, and now I never want to miss another one.  My helmet camera video follows.  Check it out:


Event Report: Mantia Clinic

There have already been two very good reports on this Clinic here and here, and I don’t want to regurgitate a review of the entirety of the event.  However, I do think it is worth posting what I learned, in addition to a little about the event, and some pictures/video.

This was a unique clinic, as I understand the clinics that Joey typically run are optimized for indoor racing around a 100m flat track that typically take place in roller rinks on coated wooden floors.  Pretty much the entire group in attendance at this clinic skated outdoor over marathon distance.  His original intent was to run the clinic at the Roseville Oval in Roseville, Minnesota.  However, the weather didn’t cooperate, and we ended up using the back-up location at a nearby elementary school.  While the venue ended up being indoor, the clinic focused entirely on technique, including the double push.

Joey Mantia working with skaters in Roseville, MN.  Image courtesy of www.inlineskatempls.com

Joey Mantia working with skaters in Roseville, MN. Image courtesy of www.inlineskatempls.com

We did two sessions, and at the start of each session we started off with dry land training.  Joey showed us the basics of body position and focused heavily on weight transfer.  He said that the core of efficient skating is weight transfer, and many of the drills dealt with balance and weight transfer.  We spent a lot of time off-skates in the skater squat, which looks something like this:

IMG_2212 IMG_2211

I say something like this because I am not as low as I could be.  If you look very closely at the picture from the front, you can see that my knees are collapsing in a little bit, notably on the right side.  I shot these pictures after a heavy lift/plyo work out, so I was a bit rickety.  Everything in skating basically starts from here.  The only significant variation in body position is how deep you sit in the skater squat.  As for the actual weight transfer, there were a couple of terms that kept coming up that are good points to focus on.

First, “leading with the hip” is something often said by coaches, but something I didn’t really understand until asking for clarification during the Clinic.  The idea of leading with the hip is really a way of communicating where your body position should be when balancing on one leg in the skater squat.  The hip should be positioned to the outside of the foot on which you are standing.  The idea here is all about where your center of gravity is to distribute your weight so you can remain balanced and used weight transfer to generate push power.  It should look something like this:

IMG_2215

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The picture on the bottom shows the concept of leading with the hip better than the picture on the top.  You can see my hip position is beyond the outside of my foot.  This also helps to line up my nose, knees, and toes.  That is the second term that is often used in describing technique, and something that came up over and over again during the clinic.  The concept of “nose-knees-toes” describes the position your body should be in during the glide phase of the push when skating.  The idea here, when looking at your body position from the front, is to see your nose, knees, and toes aligned vertically.  Neither of these pictures show this position adequately.  The picture on the top shows good knee-toe position with my head a little far to the right.  The picture on the bottom shows good alignment of my nose, knees, and toes, but my balance is off.  Ideally, your nose-knees-toes should align perpendicular to the ground, or as Joey says, “imagine a line from your foot to the ceiling lining up your nose, knees, and toes.”  This is a great way to think about where your body position should be, even if these aren’t the best examples.  Weight transfer is the next part of the drill, and this basically requires you to shift your weight between these two positions stalling on one foot.  As a check for balance, it helps to lift the opposite foot, or recovery foot, off of the ground.  If you are well balanced, you should be able to lift the opposite foot off of the ground, but do so without a jerk or jump.  It may look something like this:

20140610 Dry-Land

This image was created from some video of my dry-land skating.  You can see the the nose-knees-toes alignment here, but another important technique issue comes to light when reviewing the video.  The hips and shoulders should remain steady and on the same line.  I discussed this in my post about slide-board earlier this year.  This is accomplished by engaging the core and focusing on lateral movement through the hips.  You can also see here how leading with the hip works, as my hip on each side moves past the center-line over the foot.  It isn’t perfect, though, as there is still some weakness in my right knee and a slight hop on raising my foot off the ground that causes my hip to shift up slightly on each side.

Weight transfer is what allows you to put power in the push without expending extra energy.  It is pretty much the Holy Grail of skating.  So much so that you could skate only with weight transfer on classic push and add the double push to average 18 miles per hour.  Well, at least he can.  These drills provided me with very concrete examples of where my technique is failing.  You can see this stuff in books and on the internet, but it never really sinks in until someone coaches you and/or you see it demonstrated first hand.  The key to fast skating over marathon distances is efficiency.  Something I have known and been working on, but these drills are the tools that will hopefully make me more efficient, and, as a result, faster.

After all of the off-skate work, we got on skates and basically did the same set of drills standing and then rolling.  We also did a lot of drills to make us aware of our edges.  The idea here was to get better on our skates, work balance, and be more in control of the skates rather than having the skates be in control of us.  Joey mentioned that Justin Stelly doesn’t have to train very hard to be fast because he is so good at controlling his skates.  He makes a good point, and being able to control my skates is something that I need to work on.  I am planning on adding a lot of these on-skate drills to my training.  Looks like I will be in the market for some cones.  I was only able to capture video of the first half of the day, but you can see the drills in the following video:

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Joey and a couple of the guys that organized the clinic.  He had some really interesting insights on the sport, on the coaching situation for US Speed Skating on the ice side, and his plan to race indoor and outdoor nationals this year.  I am glad to see he is staying so active in the inline community, as it seems that some of the Olympians that have made the switch to ice haven’t done much for inline since finishing the Olympics.  Of particular note, Joey says he doesn’t think inline should be trying to be in the Olympics because of the limited number of medals.  I think he is right, too.  His analogy was that if it were a winter sport, it would already be in the program, but since the summer program is so packed, you would be taking medals away from other sports, and “if wrestling isn’t safe, no one is.”

The afternoon started with more dry land and then back to skates.  The dry land session was a rehash of what we did in the morning and was very helpful in solidifying the drills to memory.  The afternoon on-skate session dealt with double push.  He showed us a lot of drills originally designed by Eddy Matzger.  It was a great session, and I realized, in the room full of local skating luminaries, that we all have things we need to work on.  Following Joey’s philosophy, you have to work hard at the things you are bad at doing in order to get better.  There are a couple of videos floating around YouTube of the event and there are several posted in InlineSkateMPLS that are worth checking out.

After the afternoon on-skates session, Joey did some question and answer and then demonstrated some drills and technique on the slide board.  The most shocking thing I learned during the Q&A was that Joey doesn’t lift weights.  He has legs like tree trunks, but doesn’t lift.  I was, and still am, shocked.  The secret to his strength is isometric and plyometric exercise.  He does wall-sits to failure, which, for him, is 5 to 10 minutes.  He also demonstrated some very basic plyos, many of which I am doing, but some that I am working into my workouts.  The biggest new change, though, will be wall sits to failure.  I am not going to replace lifting weights with plyos and isometric work outs because I am too far behind to work up to that level of strength, and I don’t see any negative effects from weight lifting on my skating.  This also was another interesting lesson, just because it doesn’t work for Joey doesn’t mean it won’t work for me.

Overall, this was a great experience.  I would highly recomend that anyone who has an interest in becoming a better skater attend this kind of clinic, taught by Joey or any other world class skater.


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