Category Archives: Technique

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.

 

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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.


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 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: