Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 11

Ok, time to get back to self-indulgent prattling mode, hopefully this won’t screw up my training again.  Previously, in Texas Road Rash 2011: Race Report Part 1 and Texas Road Rash 2011: Race Report Part 2 I gave a detailed description of my performance in the elite marathon division of the race (my first time racing elite or at the marathon distance).

While I was ultimately happy with my performance, in that I skated to the best of my ability, it did identify a number of weaknesses in my skating in terms of that type of event.  I had been aware of some of them going in but nothing brings out strong and weak points like actual racing.

I had originally planned to take the week following the race as a recovery/transition week anyhow; I was so wrecked from the race that I wouldn’t have been able to train even if I’d wanted to.  And after my brief flirting with overtraining only weeks prior along with the effort of the race, I didn’t particularly want to.  So I sat around for 3 days and did no training and ate too much.  I had finished my first full macrocycle and wanted to be completely recharged going into the next one.

This was followed by 2 very easy bike rides on Thursday and Friday.  I dicked around on my skates Saturday morning checking some stuff out on my course (I’ll talk about this a bit more on Friday) and then did a group bike ride on Sunday. These were just to shake out the cobwebs again as I started the next macrocycle to my next major race.

That was the Chicago Inline Marathon where I intended to do the Tour of Chicago, a 3 race event across two days including a 10k pack race Saturday morning, a 2 mile individual time trial Saturday afternoon and the full marathon on Sunday morning with points given for placing in all three to determine the overall winner.  Not only would three races that weekend justify travelling but it would let me get the 10k out of my system that I’ve been wanting to do for years without having to go to Atlanta (that 10k interfered with a bike race I wanted to do in Austin Labor Day Weekend).  As it turned out, the Atlanta event had gotten cancelled this year anyhow so it all worked out.

If nothing else, having a week to sit around before starting my next block of training gave me a lot of time to analyze the Road Rash in more detail, my training to date, and what I perceived to be strengths and weaknesses, especially relative to the types of races I was now doing (note again that this was my first full marathon and I really had no frame of reference for it).  That was the first step in determining how to go about fixing them.

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Strengths, Weaknesses and Addressing Them

As I discussed in Texas Road Rash 2011: Race Report Part 2, I had identified 3 major weaknesses at the race, two of which I was fairly aware of going in.  They were:

  1. Pack Skills
  2. Acceleration/Starts
  3. Top Speed

Given my lack of a top end, neither number 2 or 3 were a big shock.  I had done what little I could in the time I had had leading up to the Road Rash to fix them but it was clear that I needed a longer approach to fixing my top end problems.  As I mentioned, with basically 14 months of pretty much steady state aerobic work, my lack of a top end was no surprise.  And the Road Rash had pointed out that the elite marathon not only meant higher top speeds but a fundamentally different type of racing with more speed changes.

And in that I do all of my skating alone (and only recently started riding bikes in a group), my lack of pack skills was no big shock either.  We had done a bit of work in a pack on the ice but since the sport is really individual when it comes to racing, it was never a real priority.

Basically, over the past year plus, I had trained myself to do an individual time trial, a long bout at at high steady-state level with very little ability to go above that level.   The races I’d gone to in 2010, half-marathons lasting about 40 minutes, allowed me to get away with it.  And given that that’s what metric long-track ice speedskating is it’s not shock that my training was still geared towards that.

But clearly that wasn’t going to get it done at the marathon level surrounded by pros and elites.  Between higher top speeds, constant accelerations and the need to at least get off the line to stay with the fast pack (the only real reason starts are relevant at this distance), I needed to make some major changes to my training to shore up my weak points.

So already the targets of my training were starting to fall into place.  Amusingly, about this time, I had picked up a copy of Eddie B’s old cycling book Bicycle Road Racing: Complete Program for Training and Competition.  While a bit cookie cutter in terms of the actual training program, one thing that stood out was his comment on weak points where he stated:

First get clear in your mind exactly what is wrong.  If you are having trouble in the hills, it means you have a power problem.  If you try to win primes or the finishing sprint and are not really in contention, you have a speed problem.  If during the last 10km of a road race you feel worse and worse, you have an endurance problem.

So simple, so to the point.  Since my 20’s I’ve always sucked at climbing (on the bike), I get dropped like nobody’s business.  As noted above, clearly I had a top speed issue and my sprint was more or less non-existent. Endurance, on the other hand, was no problem; I had endurance coming out of my ass (so to speak).  What I needed was speed.

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The Need for Speed

Continuing to beat this dead horse, in looking at my own race results versus the top finishers, I found it interesting that Joey Mantia, who was 5 minutes ahead of the pack (holding a blistering 22.7 mph by himself) holds world records ranging from the 300m (a track event) on up to far longer events.  For example, here’s video of of him inline skating at 39mph.  Now, part of this is probably his just being an amazing skater across the board but clearly there is something to the idea that a higher top speed can ‘trickle’ down to longer distances (assuming the proper endurance training is done).

For a guy who can top out at near 40mph, 23 mph is nothing.  It’s the whole speed reserve concept; up to a point at least, a guy with a higher top speed can race at any submaximal speed with less effort (again assuming the endurance work is done).  The same could be said for Jason Stelley and Harry Vogel both of whom are monsters both indoors and on the ice (Harry skated one of the fastest flying 400m laps on the ice ever) with massive top speeds and acceleration abilities (indoor also gives them mad pack skills).

That observation along with my own analysis of my racing told me that, at least for some period of time, I needed to train much more like a sprinter than anything else.  As I noted in the last part, my endurance was more than fine.   I needed speed and the logical approach to that was speed training.

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The Components of Speed

When you’re talking about pure unadulterated speed, there are, fundamentally, two major components: neuromuscular skill and sheer power output.  By neuromuscular skill I mean the ability to perform technically well in a way that allows you to go fast.  Things like technique, the ability to produce force rapidly, the ability to switch from contraction to relaxation, overall leg speed, that kind of thing is all part of the neural aspects of going fast.  And make no mistake it is a skill that has to be learned.

The other part of it is simply sheer power output.  In this vein, my power outputs on the bike were equally supportive of my analysis of my own strengths and weaknesses.  My FTP (functional threshold power, discussed in Predictors of Endurance Training Performance) and VO2 max power outputs were in the proper relationship, both giving me a solid Category 3 rating.  In contrast, my 5 seconds and 1 minute power outputs were in the ‘untrained’ category (this is based on the chart in Coggan and Allen’s book Training and Racing with a Power Meter 2nd Edition).  Which isn’t a huge shock given that I hadn’t trained them.

So my approach to fixing the problem was two fold: first off I wanted to improve my top end power outputs on the bike.  Since I still had some bike races planned, this could only help.  Second I needed to work on the skill aspect of going fast on skates.  Essentially sprint training.

Targeting the first was just about doing the work on the bike to improve my top end.  In a very real sense that was the ‘easy’ part at least in terms of planning.  The second was less obvious.  Now, in one sense I know how to train for sprinting, that’s most of what we did on the ice and, to a first approximation, all I really needed to do was apply what we had done in Salt Lake City.

But there’s a problem: corners.  On the ice, a great deal of speed and acceleration comes from the corners.  You can use them to roll into speed work and gain speed and even a 200m acceleration is at least half corner.  And that just doesn’t apply to outdoor inline where it’s straight line acceleration and top speed.  So while I could certainly apply some concepts from the ice, I needed some input into straight line speed.

And that’s when I got in touch with an expert.  My friend Derek Hansen, a sprint/S&C coach in Canada worked closely with Charlie Francis, sprint coach extraordinaire; in him I had an excellent resource to see about applying some of Charlie’s concepts to skating.  That Derek had worked with the Canadian speed skating team helped; it wasn’t as if he was coming to this with no background.

He helped me with some training ideas to take what Charlie had done on the track and apply it to my skating.  The dicking around I had done during my first skate back after the Road Rash had actually been figuring out some distances and times for some different components of the sprint training I planned to do.

So now I had all the pieces: I wanted to improve my top end power outputs on the bike, work on the skill component of going fast on skates, hopefully shore up some of my pack weaknesses.  Continuing to improve my functional threshold, of course, was always important but only if I could do it while fixing my top end issues.

And of course I didn’t want to sacrifice any of my endurance but that’s relatively easy to maintain, especially given my previous 14 months of training.  And, again, I had to figure out how to do all of this without blowing myself up again.  I actually set out some very specific goals (four related to power output, one related to body composition) that I wanted to achieve before Chicago and then set out putting together the program that I hoped would get me there.

And that’s what I’ll describe in detail on Friday.

Read Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 12

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