The Stall…

That is just sort of where life is at the moment.  Stalled.  Training is at an abrupt halt, except for the body weight Bulgarian Split Squats I do with my office chair at work at my standing desk.  As we are settling in to life here, training of all kinds is on the back burner in favor of keeping the kids alive and staying on top of work.  I did acquire a new barbell that I am looking forward to reviewing in the near future.  Beyond that, I haven’t meaningfully skated in a couple of months.  With the weather getting colder and indoor practices now only being on Sundays, I don’t anticipate inline skating until the spring.  I may get to ice skate around Christmas, though.  This is where training and fitness are right now, though:  Stalled.  I am planning for the future, and that will probably never stop.  Until then, the new garage gym is outdoor and gets take apart after every use.  My programming is pretty limited, power cleans, front squats, hack squats, dead lifts and Romanian dead lifts.  It is grip intensive.  The new bar is very helpful with that, though, as the knurl just sticks to your hands.

the stall

Race Report: Chicagoland Inline Marathon 2015

This report is a bit stale at this point.  As I mentioned previously, this was my first and only race this year because of everything that had been going on in life and in my family.  Training was decidedly on the back burner, and I had only skated a handful of times before this race.  The delay in this report is also a result of the craziness of life.

Going into this race, I was aiming for a time less than 1:45:00, but would have been happy with anything under 2 hours.  As usually, this course is difficult because of the hills, and the road conditions are typically an unknown.  This year didn’t disappoint when it came to conditions.  It wasn’t terribly hot, but it was humid.  Earlier in the day it threatened rain, so we had a bit of a breeze and the clouds kept it from getting too hot too early.  The sun did come out later in the race, and the temperatures noticeably increased.  The road conditions were only slightly worse than last year, with the already rough roads seeing some expected degradation, particularly on the long hills on Central Avenue.  The pace was noticeably slower in the pack than prior years too, likely because of the conditions.  And we had to watch out for strange hazards, like misplaced cones:


Off the start, the pack formed quickly.  The advanced group for this race is usually made of experienced skaters and elite masters that drop down to the advanced group because the difficulty of the course.  Off the start, we had the usual sprint to Central to thin out the pack.  By the time we got to the stop light at Huntington, we were moving around 20 mph and had a good group working together of about 30 skaters.  this group stuck together for a good part of the first pack, but those not able to manage the hills started to drop off on Central and on Huntington.  I lost the pack in the same place I have lost them in previous years.  The pace wasn’t terrifically fast, but it was consistent.  Even losing the pack about 6 miles in, I still finished the first lap in about 30 minutes.  I connected with another guy on my team, Tom, and a skater from Iowa, Brad.  The three of us skated most of the rest of the race together.  Tom has been skating for a long time, and he can pull up hills like no one I have skated with.  Brad is a great skater, and definitely took his turn in the lead.  I managed to stay with them until the last couple of miles of the race.  We also picked a nice smooth line down the s-curve hill that is always a lot of fun as a downhill.  For example:


I skated this race on a new set of Matter G13s.  I had to see what everyone was raving about.  I also used a fresh set, like just out of the wrapper maybe 15 miles total skating, of ILQ9 Pro bearings.  I have a good history with these bearings.  They come pre-lubricated with a gel style lubricant.  After skating this race, I can say that they require breaking in as they didn’t feel like they rolled as freely as my set that has been cleaned and re-lubricated.  That is totally subjective, though.  I also skated this race on softer wheels, F1s, to be exact.  That is Matter’s footprint system for wheel hardness or durometer.  It measures the size of the footprint patch made by the wheel under load.  This is probably the hardness equivalent of 86a in other wheels.  I went or something softer because of this typically rough course.  They roll well, but they didn’t feel meaningfully different than the 87a WRW Truths I skated last year.  The Truths are cheaper, and as long as that continues to be the case, I will probably continue to race on those in the future once I wear out this set of G13s.  I did notice that my top speeds were lower, but my averages were consistent with prior skating performance.  I can’t tell if this is due to differences in the wheels, though.  This set up is supposed to be lighter than with the Truths, but I couldn’t tell specifically.  The G13s are good wheels, but, for the money, I will probably stick with the Truths.  After all, WRW is a smaller company that makes a good product, and I am only racing myself.  If tenths and hundredths of a second mattered in a time trial or lap race, then maybe $25 per wheel would be worth.  However, for the weekend warrior, it probably isn’t.

My official finish time was 1:38:45.56.  This was far from a personal best, even on this course.  Overall, it wasn’t a bad finish.  I can’t complain as I basically came off the couch to this finish, without any meaningful training for almost a month in advance, and maybe 2 skate sessions in July prior to this race.  The fact is, I need to get back to training, for reasons that really have nothing to do with racing or skating.  I look forward to that happening soon.  In the mean time, the video of my race follows.  Watch out for cones, though.

Crickets and Tumbleweed…

For anyone that actively follows this blog, you are probably wondering what happened.  For those that are here looking through the archives, you may be wondering whether this blog has died the typical death of anything posted by a hobbyist on the internet.  Hopefully, this post will prove that this blog isn’t dead, at least not yet.

A lot has been going on in my life lately.  My wife and I welcomed our second child.  Within a couple months of that wonderful expansion of our family, we moved from Minnesota back to Chicago.  I started a new job, we sold our house, and I sold a considerable amount of my exercise equipment, but by far, the hardest item to sell personally was my barbell and iron plates.  I kept the standard plates, dumbbells, and bumper plates.  The other big stuff, including my bike, trainer, my dip stand, floor mats, Bosu, and some other items are in storage, but did make the trip.  My bigger items, like my plyo box and squat stands, went with the barbell set and iron weights.  Since the move at the beginning of July, I have skated a couple of times, but haven’t had the chance to lift.

As a result of family, a job change, and big move, training has hit the back burner.  My race season has been cut significantly based on what I had hoped for the year.  I have a presentation in the Twin Cities the weekend of the North Shore.  That means that my entire season is the Chicagoland Inline Marathon.  This race is hard.  I am looking forward to skating a familiar course.  My lack of training this year will make a good result difficult.  I have a low bar, hoping to finish the race in less than 2 hours.  At the same time, I have finished at least one other race with an unexpected result racing unprepared.  However, those were different circumstances, with a very different course.

For this race, I am looking to stick with the lead pack as long as I can and then to find a good, consistent pace line to roll with through the finish.  Pain stays at home tomorrow.  I can suffer for a couple of hours to know I put everything into this race.  My legs are strong enough to skate hard for that distance.  My lungs are decent enough to keep a manageable pace.  The skates are in good shape.  I have a brand new set of Matter G13 wheels and a full set of TwinCam ILQ9 Pro bearings fresh from the package.  I will, at the very least, have a good review of the wheels after tomorrow.

I hope to have a reasonable report and a video that is not too boring to share after the race tomorrow.

Changing Cycles…

Seeing as it has been a quarter since my last post, and seeing as we are walking into the start of the outdoor inline season, I thought it was time to post here again.  Really, life has been kind of hectic.  We went to Hawaii over Christmas in 2014, meaning I got to skate outdoor in 70+ F weather on Christmas.  That was pretty cool.  After that, I spent a lot of time being busy around the house, taking care of our toddler, and eventually helping to take care of a newborn.  With two kids and a lot of personal and family changes on the horizon, this outdoor season looks to be a bit of a transition year.  Regardless, I am already skating outside, which means it is time to get fitness focused on my races this year.

First, I currently plan on attending the Chicagoland Inline Marathon and the NorthShore Inline Marathon this year.  If the stars align, I might be able to make it to the Minnesota Half, but right now I do not expect that to be a possibility.  With a truncated race schedule, this presents the opportunity to have a more focused early season build phase for training.  As such, as I am considering how best to organize my training for this season, I am taking this opportunity into consideration.

Before digging into the details of the training plan for this season, though, I want to review the off-season.  I had a couple of specific goals beyond what was mentioned in a previous post.  Specifically, my goal was to add 15 pounds to my heavy lifts before the start of this inline season.  My goal was to rear squat 200 lbs. and dead lift 250 lbs.  I hit those marks at the end of March, pretty much right on schedule.  Beyond these goals, though, I spent a lot of time on the slide board, but not enough time on the bike.  As a result, my lack of cardiovascular fitness reared its head while I visited Team Rainbo last weekend for the last team indoor training session of the year.  Even skating on wheels that have seen a lot of miles outdoor, I was able to push the pace, but didn’t stay with the pace line because I didn’t feel like I had enough grip to not be a danger to everyone else in the line when pushing deep in the corners.  What stood out, though, was the diametrically opposed burning chest and spry legs.  Lifting heavy has been good this off-season, but I didn’t get enough cardio.  Slide board and jumping on boxes alone isn’t enough.  I wasn’t consistent enough about spending any kind of time on the bike this winter, and that is something I absolutely must fix for next year.  This notwithstanding, my early season skates have been slightly faster on average than at the start of last year, but I haven’t been quite as efficient, meaning my heart rate is a little higher than my similar work outs this time last year.  I feel stronger, though, and that helps the mental game.

As we transition into the season, though, it is time to change training cycles. This transition will implement some of the things I learned after last year, like maintenance weight lifting needs to be in the schedule during the season.  Going back to weight training during the off season in 2014, proved to be more challenging than it should have been, requiring a 35 pound deload before building up to a 15 lbs. personal best on all my lifts in March.  I lost too much in that time period, and I hope to preserve these new personal bests through the season so that is my starting base weight in the fall.  While there is one day of weight training built into the schedule, I expect to also use it as an occasional rest day, since you maintain strength gains longer than cardiovascular fitness gains.  I have a lot of rebuilding to do with cardiovascular fitness, but that will eventually come back, too.  The season of technique last year also proved helpful, so I am planning on dedicating a day for the first month of the season to work on technique, using cone and double push drills from the Mantia Clinic last year.  So, this is what the outdoor training schedule will look like this year:

  • Mondays:  Maintenance weights
  • Tuesdays: an easy recovery skate
  • Wednesdays:  Cone Drills and intervals
  • Thursdays:  longer intervals and/or hill skates
  • Friday:  a recovery skate
  • Saturday:  Long Tempo Skate, and
  • Sundays:  Long Trail skate in the afternoon

Hopefully, this will maintain my strength baseline and build my cardio back to where it was toward the end of last year.  This plan will change a little bit once we get to June, as I will likely cycle out the technique day for more intervals, hills, or duration skating sessions.  Regardless, with only two races in the relatively distant future, patience will be necessary.


Do you even lift??

Admittedly, the title of this post pokes fun at bro-science (see also), but the post itself has a serious point:  lifting weights as cross-training for speed skating.

In the last couple of years, I have been in off-season situations where there wasn’t a good replacement sport for inline speed skating.  Generally, this is because I lived in locales where long track or short track ice speed skating weren’t viable options, or because the indoor inline skating options are limited for speed skating.  Life also tends to get in the way, as it does for many non-professional (read “I don’t work out for a living”) athletes.  As a result, I have always looked for a way to spend my time in the off-season that will benefit my on-skate time during the summer months.  In addition, I was looking for options for building strength and power that would support my speed skating and, ultimately, make me stronger.  The answer was lifting weights.

When I talk about lifting weights, I am talking about any kind of resistance program that will help with skating.  For me, right now, that is predominately barbell training.  Historically, it has also included dumbbell training, and body weight training.  Previously, I lifted to get stronger, simply doing lifts that would result in greater physical strength.  I have noted in previous posts that part of the point of weight lifting for speed skating is to put more power in the push.  The idea here is that the more strength your legs have, the harder you can push.  I have been experimenting and researching this idea for a little over a year now, and I can affirmatively say that lifting heavy stuff is good for skating.

Other endurance athletes know that lifting weights is good trainingRecent research supports these ideas.  Just because it is good for cyclists, though, doesn’t make it it good for skaters.  However, for a lot of reasons, it is true with skating.  Lifting weights helps with the economy of movement, which I examined in my last sports science post.  The idea here is you aren’t working as hard to get as much power transfer into the implement of forward movement.  For time on the bike, more push power in the legs against the pedals means you can maintain power for longer, or exert less energy for the same power as previously.  For skating, economy in this context means more power to the ground with less effort.  While there are a host of other factors involved here, notably technique, having the strength to push into the ground is one of the major components of skating.  That is, after all, why skaters have those noticeably larger butts and thighs.  Lifting weights with a focus on speed skating will help build those butts and thighs so you can leverage your technique and put more power to the ground.

So, should you lift?  It sure sounds like it.  Now we know why, the next question is how?  My answer to that query is however you like that will get you stronger.  Joey Mantia says he doesn’t lift weights, but prefers isometric body weight and plyometric exercise to build strength and power.  He can also do a wall sit for something like 10 minutes (his own estimation from the Minnesota Mantia Clinic).  He isn’t alone, Chad Hendrick and Shani Davis have also stated they don’t lift weights in interviews.  However, Apolo Ohno lifts, and so do a lot of other speed skaters, like Sven Kramer and Kevin Jagger.

I lift a barbell.  I find that barbell training works well for me.  It may not work well for others, so consult your coach or your doctor to make sure it is something you can do, and do safely.  My current favorite lifts are rear squats, power cleans, dead lifts, and Romanian dead lifts.  All of these exercises target the posterior chain, basically the muscles from your upper back through your heels.  These are also a vast majority of the muscles used in skating.  I mix these up with other exercises for power (like kettle bell swings), and upper body (like dips).  Another change that I made this year was training specifically for power.  I lift faster with a little more volume in my lifts, while still focusing on good form to build more powerful muscle.  The goal here is explosive lifting.  This should sound a lot like plyometrics, another terrific way to build power for skating.  In addition to lifting, I am still cross training with steady state cardio and plyos with some dry land and slide board, because you can’t neglect the skate specific stuff for cross training without losing out on skating performance.

If you are wondering about programming, you could do just those four exercises above, but you would end up a bit uneven.  This is why I have incorporated some upper body work in my strength training this year, notably over head presses and dips.  For basic lifting, consider Strength Camp’s big four, front squats, dead lifts, dips, and pull ups.  If there is interest I can share more about how I am presently programming my strength training.

So, do you even lift?  If not, maybe you should be.

Off-Season 2014-2015, Get At It!

The NorthShore has passed, my chest cold thing is finally gone, I have skated maybe three times, the race wheels have been put away until next year, and now we have nothing to look forward to but the long, cold, dead Minnesota winter.  There is a reason, besides keeping warm, Russians drink heavy.  If I lived in Siberia and had to look at that much snow, cold, and ice as that climate is known for, I would be driven to excessive consumption of alcohol also.  But, all of this time stuck indoors with not a lot to do means plenty of time to lift heavy stuff, binge watch bad TV while spinning on the bike, and think about whether I have enough clothes to keep warm while trying to ice skate.  That is pretty much what my off-season will look like.  Until the cold really sets in, I plan to try to skate on the weekends.  The sun sets too early to permit skating during the week right now.  As a result, training for next season starts right now, because your off-season is what makes or breaks your race season.  So, here is the plan:

After considering what I did for off-season last year, it wasn’t sufficiently structured, and my goals for working out during the week were based on an otherwise hectic life schedule.  This year promises to permit a lot more focus in my work out schedule.  Through the end of the year, I am going to continue to skate as much as possible, but realistically this will only last a couple more weeks until I convert my on-skates time to ice or indoor rink sessions/practices.  Since this will occur mostly on the weekend, that leaves me with 4-5 week days to fill with some training. Weight lifting provided some big gains for me over the last two years.  This was accelerated after I switched to an Olympic weight lifting set and built squat stands.  My goal is to get 3 days of lifting during the week from now until the middle of January, lifting heavy and adding weight weekly to every lift.  Every 4 weeks, I am going to deload, and give myself a rest to avoid overtraining.  I ended the off-season lifting 235 for my Dead Lifts and Romanian Dead Lifts and lifting 185 on my squats.  This year, I am going back to some older lifts and adding some new ones.  I am also changing up the way I am lifting.  Pat of the goal this year is to build power in addition to base strength.  One way of doing this is adding tempo to your lifts, or basically performing the lifts faster.  I am going to deload a bit at the start, and increase the pace of my lifts with the goal of adding power training to my base strength training, and, just maybe, spend a little less time lifting.  I am hoping to do the following three day schedule each week:

Day 1:

A1 Rear Squats
A2 Poliquin Step Ups
A3 Splits Squats

B1 Dead Lifts
B2 Romanian Dead Lifts
B3 Kettle Bell Swings (Set of 10)

C1 Core

Day 2:

A1 Over Head Press
A2 Curtsy Squats
A3 Power Cleans

B1 Barbell Row
B2 Weighted walking lunges (12 to 14 reps)
B3 Glute Bridges with Stability Ball

C1 Core

Day 3:

A1 Rear Squats
A2 Poliquin Step Ups
A3 Kettle Bell Swings (Set of 10)

B1 Dead Lifts
B2 Romanian Dead Lifts
B3 Dips

C1 Core

As you can see, it is a mix of standard lifts with some Olympic power lifting and, shockingly, some upper body work.  I am learning how important posture is to overall fitness, and seeing that I sit for 8+ hours a day at the office, I thought it would be good to add some upper body exercises to balance out my build.  These lifts are also, largely, compound lifts, meaning they work a lot of different muscles at the same time.  My goal will be to do 2 rounds of each super set, then follow it up with core work, likely P90X Ab Ripper X, because it hits everything in the core.

Aside from weights, I am planning on spending a lot of recovery time on the bike, grinding away on my heart rate Zone 2 target rides.  The gola here is base cardiovascular fitness, something that gets neglected over the winter months.  Beyond that, I am developing an off-skates program that will include plyos, dry-land drills from the Mantia Clinic, and slide board.  Ideally, I will take one to two days off per week.  I hope it will make for a productive off-season.

Reviewing the Season

Looking back on my training and racing season this year, there are a lot of positive results and mixed experiences.  My ongoing goal was to skate a sub-90 minute marathon, stay with the lead pack as long as possible during the Chicagoland, finish at the front of the pack in the MN Half, and set a personal record in the NorthShore.  At the start of the year, I planned four races:  Roll  for the Roses, Chicagoland Inline Marathon, Minnesota Half, and the NorthShore.  I ended up skating five races, adding the Apostle Island Marathon the day before the race because the stars aligned to allow me to attend.

My plan for the year was to train focusing on technique, working the basics of form and focusing on base fitness to build my race day performance.  I had a slow start to the season, with a very short skate.  The Mantia Clinic was a great experience, and I have been working on everything I learned during that clinic since April.  My VO2 Max test was an interesting and eye-opening experience, and forced me to re-evaluate my cardiovascular training.

In reviewing my goals, I beat my 90 minute goal by finishing Apostle Island in 85 minutes.  I stuck with the lead pack longer than I ever have for the Chicagoland, but didn’t finish with the pack.  I had my first top 5 finish at the Minnesota Half Marathon in the advanced pack, and suffered through a cold in Advanced Wave 1 for a course personal best at the NorthShore.  It wasn’t a bad season, overall.  I could have done a lot better for a lot of reasons, but I can’t write this season off as a lost year.  I was stronger than I have ever been, thanks in large part to my strength training.  My cardiovascular fitness still needs work, though, even though my less than stellar NorthShore was largely due to an ugly chest cold.  So, this year, while not a banner year in my skating, it was still full of valuable experiences.

As Aryton Senna once said, “[t]he past is just data, I only see the future.”

This season provided a lot of good data.  I can, and did in two races, hang with some of the fastest advanced skaters in the Midwest.  I didn’t prepare properly for the Chicagoland.  Tactics are everything in a race with a large pack.  All things considered, I was in very good physical condition for the NorthShore.  The mental component is significant, and the second the thought of “I can’t” crosses my mind, I have lost the race.  Strength is good, power is just as good if not better.  Cardiovascular training can’t be sacrificed over the off-season.  Finally, technique is 70% of speed skating.

In reverse order, I was only able to keep up during the Apostle Island Marathon because I had been working on technique.  Efficiency kept me in that race without enough training to get to the finish.  My first couple of on-skates workouts this year were painful, and, while I was more efficient because of my technique focus, I didn’t have the fitness I would need for the upcoming races.  I got to the point of thinking “I can’t” twice this year, first in the Chicagoland and second during the NorthShore, but there was a time during the Minnesota Half that I thought “I can” where I chased down a break away and pushed the pace while pulling the line.  The fact that, with a brutal chest cold, I kept pace with the main pack of Advanced Wave 1, the fastest of the non-pro skaters, at nearly 20mph average for 11 miles, meant I was in very good physical condition, and, had I not had a cold that prevented adequate breathing, I could have kept up with them.  Tactics in a large pack are all about smart drafting.  I didn’t stay with the front part of the pack during the Chicagoland or the NorthShore, got caught in the accordion of the pace line, and couldn’t keep up with the repetitive intervals that result from rolling hills at the back of the pack.  I didn’t skate enough hills or do enough intervals for Chicagoland, period.  I hung with the fast skaters at Apostle Island and at the Minnesota Half.

It was a good year and I learned a lot.  Now it is time to take this data and look forward.

Looking forward, the off-season is here, and with it comes a couple of weeks of planning, a lot of weight lifting, time on the bike, and off-skate technique work.  But more on that in another post…


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