Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Northshore Inline Marathon

I was seriously tempted to title this in the Why the US Sucks at Olympic lifting nomenclature to make people think that that series wasn’t over but it is (I might do a short addendum, not sure yet).  But  among all of the other reasons I wanted to finish the mega-series on Friday one was that it was time to move back to self-indulgent prattling about my inline racing, primarily my final race of the season along with an end of season wrap up (I was actually travelling the day I posted the final part of the OL’ing series) .  Today I’ll talk in overview of what I did following the Tour of Chicago leading into my final race the Northshore Inline Marathon along with a race report.

Following Chicago

Even without having raced the marathon on day 2 of the Tour of Chicago, I was still pretty wrecked.  The 10k and time trial along with the travel had taken it out of me and I took a solid 3 days of doing nothing to recover before sort of jacking around for the rest of the week, just getting back on the bike and on my skates.  I did do the Driveway that Thursday expecting to be fresh for a change but I was just flat and stiff.

At the time I had been focused on entering at least part (if not all) of the 4 day Tour of Austin bicycle race.  It was local, it looked like fun (at least two of the days were at the Driveway where I had been racing) although the two actual crits did scare me since I haven’t done one of those (with true 90 degree crit corners).  With that on the schedule, I had 4 weeks to prepare and I was sort of thinking about how best to do it (especially to handle the multiple days of racing).

There was still a potential inline race on the schedule, the Northshore Inline Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.  As it turned out my friend Eva Rodansky from SLC was going to be skating it and that gave me some impetus to do it.  But frankly, I didn’t want to travel again and really had the bike race in the back of my mind. However, as my mentor, who I sometimes wish I didn’t keep around (because he keeps me honest) pointed out if my goal is skating then it makes little sense to put my focus on cycling (even if it’s local and hence ‘more convenient’) pointing out that I had only done one full distance race this season and that it would be better to do the inline marathon.

I wasn’t happy with it but ultimately he was right.  It also gave me 6 weeks to prepare although it would mean not doing any of the Tour of Austin .  I’d simply do the Driveway series a few more times to finish up my introduction to bike race and then skate and then take my transition period.

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Setting Up the Program

Given my experience in Chicago, it was still clear that while my endurance was good my top speed and acceleration and pack skills were lacking.  And while 6 weeks wasn’t a tremendous amount of time, I saw no reason to at least keep working on my weak points, really looking at 2012.  Effectively I just set up a truncated version of my previous 12 week cycle (split into 6 weeks sprint focus and 6 weeks endurance focus) and did it in 6 weeks split into two three week blocks.

The first block was just a repeat of my previous sprint block with two sprints days (with starts and acceleration/top speed work) and a couple of slideboard days along with the bike.  I was also doing the Driveway series on Thursday, trying to get more experience and get out of the Cat 5’s.   Originally I planned to go to indoor inline as well to get some pack experience; I went exactly once, caught shit for leaving after warm-ups and just didn’t need the hassle.   I did feel a lot better in the pack that day though and that was enough.  In my skating workouts, I would note that I hit a new top speed PR, 26.8 mph on my 100mm wheels, beating my previous 26.6 PR on my 110’s.  That was promising and told me that at least something about my training was working.

And that was translating to the bike racing anyhow, I kept forcing myself to move up, get into the mix, etc. every time at the Driveway.  And I was starting to get more comfortable in the pack.  I still wasn’t trying to achieve more than just finishing (and not getting tied up in crashes), it didn’t help that the bike race came on my last of a three day block; it was my 5th workout in a row.  So I didn’t have much to give by that night.

After that block ended, I switched to a 3 week endurance block though I did some different things.  If I’m honest, the Northshore race was sort of an afterthought race as it was; I figured I’d try something different and assumed that the worst I’d do was the same as the previous races.  This was facilitated by my involvement in a cycling study at UT Austin that I got recruited for.

It didn’t really fit my training but I got a free VO2 max test and was getting paid to do essentially the same training I’d have been doing anyway.  But it meant that I could only fit in one long inline skate per week, for a total of three (I was doing all of 20 minutes warm-up before sprints) before the race. The rest of my work was on the slideboard, two sessions of 12X5’/20″ rest or an hour of down time.

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Tapering for the Northshore

I started my taper 10 days out for the Northshore as always, skipping the Driveway that week (there had been a huge crash the week before and I’d already gotten my 10 Cat 5 races so I dodn’t care) and reducing volume.  My last long skate was Saturday, I had the UT bike ride (a hour all-out time trial) on Monday and then cut volume as I went.

I managed to get an ankle blister the Saturday before the race which was annoying and then I ran into other problems.  I had ruined my good bearings on wet pavement and simply could NOT get a set to spin right.  I serviced three sets of bearings and whereas I could generally get 45 seconds of spin time previously I was getting 10-20 seconds now if I was lucky.  And I couldn’t figure out the problem.

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The Disaster in Duluth

I had one of my typical blitzkreig trips planned, I flew out of Austin Friday morning to Minneapolis, drove up to Duluth to get my hotel with the goal of racing first thing in the morning before driving straight back to the airport for my flight back Saturday afternoon.  I had no intention of staying a second night in Duluth and, even though I have friends to do dog duty, I don’t like to be gone too long.

Shockingly, my travel went perfectly, both flights were on time and outside of some headache with road construction and traffic on a Friday, I got to Duluth fairly early.  I got my race packet, hung out a bit with Eva and that was pretty much the last thing that went right.   I got lost looking for a grocery store, I still couldn’t figure out my bearing issue and I just gave up and went to sleep.

For a 4:30am wake-up call. The race course was point to point, down beside the lake and that meant that we had to go to the finish line and get bussed up to the start line.  I do thank god that I thought to check the weather, because it was COLD up there, 40 degrees or lower and I did pack sweats.  But it wasn’t nearly enough.

We’d sit at the start line picking our butts for about 1.5 hours with everybody freezing their asses off.  I waited a bit too late to get into my skates (because I didn’t want to get cold) and out of my sweats and that truncated my warm-up.  And it hadn’t even occurred to me to pack the tights I have that I can wear under my skinsuit.  I don’t currently own armwarmers; it’s been 90+ every day in Austin, why would this occur to me?

And I never really warmed up during the race.  But that was the least of my worries.  Assuming that the race would go off like my previous races, I had signed up for the elite open, there were also A and B waves (and then masters) starting behind us.  This was a different structure from other races but the only cutoff for elite was finishing a marathon in 1:30 or less.

I’d done the 28 mile Road Rash in 1:24 and I figured for 1:20 at the marathon distance (i.e. 3 minutes/mile, subtract two miles means a 1:18 marathon).  I also figured that the pro pack would splinter into faster and slower packs like previous races.  And boy was I wrong because at this race the slower packs were in the A and B waves.

Off the start the entire pack went off like a bat out of hell, dropping about 4 of us literally within the first mile which was also uphill.  This was not good.  I worked with one small group for a while, one guy lost his front wheel at mile 3 (he’d skate without it for the rest of the race) and from mile 3 to about, oh, mile 14 I was doing an individual time trial.

And it was going badly.  My bearings were completely wrecking me, I had also thought that the course would be smoother than it was and the wheels I had chosen to run were too hard for the majority of the pavement.   One consequence of this was that I just got my teeth rattled out for most of the race, causing my low back to lock up early (I rarely have problems even with hour-long skates on smooth pavement).

But the combination of the two was completely screwing my technique.  Skating is one of those sports (like swimming and Olympic lifting) where one problem causes a host of others.  But whereas a swimmer can change his technique on the fly and an Ol’er can try to fix the deviation on the next set, my issue was equipment and course based.  And I was screwed.

I was thrown up on my toes (I could feel the pressure and both of my big toes were bruised after the race) which meant I couldn’t push off my heel and carve properly which meant that my toe was turned out at the end of my push which meant that I couldn’t get an outside edge which meant that I lost a lot of my hip drop.  I also had to sit up and higher to try to get my weight back which meant more aerodynamic resistance.  It was one big disaster and I wasn’t even hitting speeds I’d hit in training easily even putting everything I could into my skates.

At one point I had to pull over as the road conditions were rattling my wheel bolts out, thankfully I had packed an allen wrench.  My hands were so cold I could barely work the wrench, my hands just wouldn’t work. I hit the halfway mark in a time and at average speeds slower than I cruise in training and never have I been so close to just abandoning a race as I was just then.  But I didn’t even see sag or support to get me back to the finish.  So I just kept skating.

The only thing that kept me going was knowing that somewhere behind me were the later packs who were going to catch me that I’d be able to get into to get some rest and draft.  At about mile 14 or 15, the first pack came past me and I couldn’t begin to stay with them.  The second pack blew past me too.  The third pack finally caught me and they were dicking around enough that I was able to finally sit in.  I had given up on racing by this time, I just wanted to finish at this point.

So I sat in for the next 9 miles, finally we got to some smooth pavement where my skates ran at least a little bit better.  Then it would rough up again and I’d run into problems.  I’d just sit in for the next 11 miles or so, at mile 25 we got into this weird grooved pavement and my skates became a problem again.  The pack took off for the finish and I couldn’t be bothered.  I just skated it out.  It wasn’t as if it mattered.

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Post-Race

At the finish line I was still cold, I had never really warmed up and even after 90 minutes of hell my heart rate monitor wasn’t even wet with sweat.  I was shaking from fatigue, had a headache, I was already getting sore muscles (the change in technique had thrown stress to all kinds of new places) and my low back was just destroyed.   My hands were still numb.

I wanted to just collapse out of exhaustion but now I had to go back to the hotel, clean up and drive back to Minneapolis for my flight back.   Thankfully, again, the flights were on time and I got back home at 10:30.  I badly needed dog lovin’ after that and I slept the sleep of a dead man.    As I type this on a Sunday, my low back is still nuked and I can only hope I’m semi-recovered in time to give something approximating my best in the lab tomorrow.

But the race was simply a disaster from start to finish.  If I’m honest, I went into it with a bit of the wrong mentality, I was underprepared physically and mentally but even there I didn’t expect it to go that badly.  On my worst day I should be able to skate a 1:20 marathon and clearly the course was plenty fast as evidence by the speeds of the pro pack.

Mind you, even with gear that was working, I wouldn’t have stayed with the main pack on my best day (they’d finish in a blazing 1:12 with a European pro apparently taking a flyer at mile 8 to finish by himself in 1:07).   I haven’t looked up finish times for the A or B wave but with gear that worked and starting with them, that’s the group I should have been in (again, I didn’t realize that the split packs I had experience at other races were dealt with here by the waves).

But I am not one to sit around and mope and make no mistake, I’m not trying to blame anybody but myself for the race.  I went in unprepared in a lot of ways and I paid a hard price.  And rather than sit around and complain about my results, I’d rather learn from the experience and fix the problems going forwards; that way I can just make new mistakes next year.  And that’s what I’ll talk about on Friday when I do an overall 2011 season wrap-up to look at what this year taught me about love, life and racing and what I’m going to do going forwards.

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