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 ha ea 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 bearing 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…


Race Report: 2014 NorthShore Inline Marathon

This year’s NorthShore Inline Marathon took place on September 13, 2014.  I have been on the fence about how to approach this race report.  I have been training hard, tweaking work outs and spending a lot of time on skates, doing intervals, adding volume, and generally trying to train as hard as I can.  The hope was I would move up to Advanced Wave 1 from Advanced Wave 2, where I raced last year.  A lot has happened in the last year, and I registered early in 2014, not thinking I would be able to move up and stick with the guys in Advanced Wave 1.  Then, the first race of 2014, I stuck with the lead pack all the way through the race.  I also had a top 5 finish at the MN Half in August.  This ultimately lead me to sign up for Advanced Wave 1, moving from Advanced Wave 2, because most of the guys I have been skating with all year were planning on racing that wave.  My thought after the move was simply “I hope I can keep up.”  This mindset provided one of the very important lessons for me for this year’s NorthShore.

So I moved up a wave, and I increased some of the intensity of my training, working on getting my average solo pace up to around 16 miles per hour on my “slow” wheels and bearings that I spent the summer skating.  My last training session was, basically, as planned, at the end of three days of increasingly intense tempo and distance skates including one of my usual hill routes.  This trip was, basically, my typical volume trail skate, but I only went 15 miles, and the pace wasn’t ridiculous, but for a typically unruly trail after some rain earlier in the week, I was happy with the pace.  When I got home, though, my legs were totally dead, and I felt like I could barely stand up for about an hour.  I actually spent much of that hour eating a little here and there and sitting, because my legs, and really the rest of me, felt so exhausted.  This should have been a warning.

The following Monday, I woke up with head congestion and a sore throat, the sound indicators of a looming head cold.  That head cold turned into some ugly chest congestion, and my attempts to ward off the illness with Zinc supplements and sleep didn’t save me from a wet, chesty, cough that persisted through the remainder of the week and into the morning of the race.  Basically, I skated the NorthShore this year with one of the worst chest colds I can remember.  In fact, a week after the race, I am still struggling to overcome whatever this bug is, and I really hope to get over it soon.

Before race day, I had been watching the weather.  Friday, the weather said we could look forward to start time temps around 40 degrees, with a 5 mile per hour WSW wind.  That WSW wind is, unfortunately, a headwind on the NorthShore course, as the course travels South from Two Harbors to Duluth, Minnesota in a Southwest direction.  Still, 5 mile per hour winds aren’t much to worry about.  However the forecast did call for an increase in the winds to 10 miles per hour through the morning, which meant skating into a wind that would be getting stronger the closer we got to the finish.  Not the best conditions, but certainly not the kind of wind we fought in 2013.

The morning of the race, my wife dropped me off at the bus stop to the start line around 7 AM.  My race was scheduled to start at 9:35, but I didn’t want to be rushed getting ready for the race like I have for just about every other race, especially Roll for the Roses, this year.  The bus I happened to board was the first bus for the full marathon event, and included most of the roller-ski competitors who were scheduled to push off at 8:30.  I was very early, and it was pretty cold, but it certainly wasn’t the end of the world, as I had plenty of time to jog a bit, catch up with some other skaters, find some of my Team Rainbo teammates, and get my gear on for the race.

We lined up at the start line in time to see the Elite Women take the course.  After a 5 minute wait that felt like forever, the horn sounded, and Advanced Wave 1 was on the course.  The start of this race is notoriously down hill, though not in the sense that it is steep, but just that the grade decreases over the first couple of miles.  It was a fast start, as I expected, and it took about a mile before the pace line really started to form.  I spent a lot of time trying to position myself well in the pack and not waste a lot of energy, as I couldn’t breathe very well with my chest cold.  From that point, I felt the race was pretty predictable.  Lots of little attacks here and there, but nothing really significant happening.  About 7 miles in, I started to get tired, and as the line flexed and compressed going up and down the rolling hills on the course, the line began to accordion.  This lead to a lot of sprinting on my part, and reminded me of the all the interval work I spent doing getting ready for the race.

Right around mile 9, we had the first, and thankfully the only, crash in the line.  I am not clear on what happened, but what I saw were flailing limbs all over and the line exploding with people jumping and weaving to get out of the way of the tumbling bodies in the path of the skaters toward the back of the line.  I managed to avoid the carnage, and kept skating with the main pack, though a couple of skaters had broken away from the main group and were opening a gap on the pack.  I continued to struggle with the accordion of the line until just short of mile 12, where my chest congestion and poor mental state got the best of me.  At that point, I couldn’t close a gap, and the main pack of Advanced Wave 1 skated away from me.

The rest of the race was pretty boring, and if you are watching the video below, feel free to stop watching the video after the first 42 minutes.  That covers the first half of the race, and most of the racing action I was able to capture.  I spent most of the rest of the race skating alone, though did manage to hang with a group for a little while after I lost the main pack, and picked up another group with about 5 miles remaining, that I lost headed up Lemon Drop Hill just before taking the entry ramp onto I35.  From that point, I skated with an acquaintance of mine, Pat Stream, through the end of the race.  My helmet camera died shortly after we got onto I35, as I started recording far too early thinking I would be finishing the race faster.  As a result, I wasn’t able to film the last 3 miles, or so, of the race.  The only real highlights from that period were the finish and being passed by the leaders of the Combined Wave (they skate the Half Marathon early in the morning, and skate the full marathon starting after Advanced Wave 3), who passed us like a freight train yelling “Pineapple!” as they went by.  This was something that Pat and the leader of that group joked about the night before the race.

I crossed the finish line with a harsh burning in my chest, exhausted, and ready to take a nap.

Finally Finished!

Finally Finished!

My official finish time was 1:34:26, I finished 10th in my age group (men 30-34), at an average pace of 16.7 miles per hour, much of which was set in the first half of the race, as the average pace for the first half of the race was nearly 20 miles per hour.  In looking at my heart rate data from my Garmin, my average heart rate was 159, and once it went up, it never really came down.  I spent a lot of time in high Zone 4, and, even when skating on my own, never really allowed my heart rate to even out.  I think a big part of this was due to my chest congestion, which prevented me from getting good steady oxygen intake.  While I was in the best physical condition I could have been in for this race, having a chest cold held me back.

Looking back on this race, I learned a lot.  My plan was to skate in the middle of the pack of possible to avoid the accordion effect that happens at the back of the pack.  I didn’t skate aggressively enough for that to happen.  Lesson number one, that I think applies to all of my races this year, is to be more aggressive in the pack.  Lesson number two is that I can skate with the guys in Advanced Wave 1, even though I had doubts that I would be able to keep pace, absent a chest cold and skating more aggressively in the pack, I think a better mental and tactical approach to this race would see me keeping pace through the final sprint.  My head wasn’t in the right place for this race, something that probably doomed my Chicagoland race this year, too.  Lesson number three, I need to continue to work on my technique.  I noticed that my heel was bouncing in the back of my boot while skating in the pace line, which is a strong indication my technique wasn’t consistent, and meant I was losing power in the push.  This will continue to be something to work on in the future.

Overall, having a chest cold is what made this a tough race.  I lost the battle of mental toughness at about mile 11.7 because I determined I was in too much discomfort.  I didn’t want to keep up with the pack enough to tough it out.  This was a great event, and I really enjoyed the race.  I know what I need to work on for next year, and I am already working on a plan to get there, but more on that in another post.  The less than entertaining video from the race with GPS and HR data overlay follows:


A Moment on Intervals…

I have been thoroughly enjoying the Powerslide Powerskating Tutorials over the last couple of months.  The guys at Powerslide are doing some great educational videos to teach skaters about different elements of technique.  The framing of the tutorials is easy for everyone who is interested in skating to understand, but these tutorials are really focused on fitness and speed skaters who want to skate marathon events.

After the Chicagoland Inline Marathon this year, I heard a number of comments from skaters about how they needed to add more interval workouts to their training.  I totally agree and have been needing the same structure in my workouts, also.  Part of the problem is that this is a structured work out that really isn’t fun, and, realistically, we all skate because it is fun to go fast.  Intervals, though, are well worth the pain.  Bringing this post back to my comment about Powerslide’s Powerskating Tutorials, a recent installment was specifically about intervals:

This is a very basic explanation of intervals for skaters.  Simple is really the best option here.  There is a ton of sports science on intervals, and, honestly, all it does is add to the confusion.  Intervals, for work outs, should be simple:  go hard for a certain amount of time, go easy for a certain amount of time.  The question quickly becomes how long the intervals should be.  Different intervals will, in theory, accomplish different training goals.  Realistically, intervals help you get your heart rate up so you train at or above your VO2 Max, the goal of which is to increase your VO2 Max, thereby increasing your level of fitness.  Intervals are also important for racing because, in a good race, you will have to deal with a lot of attacks from the front, and chasing down a flyer, climbing a hill, or a finish sprint are basically work intervals.  Joe Friel (clearly one of my favorite sport science bloggers) had a recent post on a study from Norway about the different effect of interval duration on highly trained racing cyclists.  The results are compelling, but what was notable is that the test group who had shorter interval durations had bigger gains in their VO2 Max after 10 weeks of training.

The science is fun to read (for me at least), but what we really care about is:  1. Why bother doing intervals, and, 2. How long should they be?

There are two reasons inline skaters should be doing intervals.  First, it is one of the best ways to help build your VO2 Max, and basically get you in better cardiovascular condition.  Marathon outdoor racers participate in endurance events, at least in the sense that the race takes at least an hour to complete.  We need to be cardiovascularly fit.  However, any training plan that includes intervals should also include extended duration Zone 2 heart rate work, also.  The musculature used for speed skating are made up of reciprocal systems, and both need to be utilized to create a strong skater.  Intervals help build lactate threshold tolerance and VO2 Max by working fast twitch Type II fibers, but the slow twitch Type I fibers work to clear out that lactate during the rest intervals.  As a result, you need both to be stronger and faster.  So we do intervals to compliment all that mind numbing time on the bike or on the trail staying in HR Zone 2.  Second, it is the best kind of training that mimics racing we can get, not considering tempo/fartlek sessions, especially if you train solo.  All of the up and down of intervals help prepare you for the pack dynamic of a race.  Lets say you get stuck at the back of a long pace line of about 30 skaters at the NorthShore Inline Marathon and you get to that first really sharp feeling hill climb around mile 10 of the race.  The front of the line speeds up, the middle of the line lags, and pretty soon, you are looking at an accordion gap opening in front of you as the line pulls up the hill, potentially leaving you skating alone in no-man’s land.  The best way to make sure you have the gas in the tank and the power in your legs to race up that hill and stick with the line is to do intervals, because this is the kind of situation you will run into over and over again in race after race, especially races with hills like the Chicagoland.  Intervals allow you to train for this part of a race without actually being in a race during every training session.

The big thing to remember and consider when doing intervals is to stop immediately if you cannot maintain your technique.  Absent good technique, the exercise/drill is meaningless.

Now that we know why, the next step is to determine the best duration for intervals.  Friel’s post suggests shorter durations for work intervals, and even shorter duration rest intervals, something similar to 45 second work intervals and 30 second rest intervals.  He also points out, though, that these kinds of intervals work best for well trained athletes.  The rest of us mere mortals are better with a 1 to 1 interval duration ratio.  The Powerskating tutorial above suggests 1 minute by 1 minute intervals, and this is a great place to start.  This means skating hard for 60 seconds and skating easy for 60 seconds.  There are tons of permutations on these examples.  A recent favorite of mine is a 2 minute work interval followed by a 1 minute rest interval.  The better question when deciding on interval duration is deciding the kind of workout you are going for.  Different intervals will accomplish different things.  Readers of Barry Publow‘s book Speed On Skates will note he goes into great detail about the different types of intervals and what they will accomplish.  Publow has also added to the general skating knowledge-base on the issue of intervals, also.  His post on Inline Planet provides some explanation for the benefit of intervals and two sample work outs for intervals.

In my experience, there are three types:  Short intervals with very high intensity, equal duration intervals, and long duration intervals.  Short intervals at a high intensity are just that, 30 seconds or less at a pace that puts you at or near your max HR or max level of exertion.  These can be done in sets with a longer rest interval between sets or with shorter rest intervals.  These build your lactate threshold and lactate tolerance, and will help you when you are in the finish sprint with your legs burning and ready to give out from under you.  Equal duration intervals are, basically, the intervals discussed in the Powerskating video above.  They are great for helping build endurance generally.  Longer intervals at speed get you used to skating faster for longer periods so you can chase down a flyer in the middle of a race.  Intensity should vary based on duration.  Shorter duration work intervals usually mean higher intensity while longer work intervals usually mean less intensity during the interval.  However, generally, intensity for any interval should be above 80% max effort, or HR Zone 4.  My recent long intervals will have HR spikes above 160 bpm, where my shorter interval spikes will be closer to 170 bpm, if I can manage it.

Either way, it is clear that sport science suggests that interval training is an important part of training.  However, it is important to also note that while intervals are a necessary part of training, they should not be used to the exclusion of longer duration endurance work outs.  I have already started to think about what the off-season will look like for me, and what my macrocycle and microcycles will look like for training.  I will have more on that after the NorthShore Inline Marathon.


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