Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 12

On Tuesday in Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 11, I detailed my analysis of my performance at the Texas Road Rash and the conclusions I had reached.  In short, my endurance and sustainable speeds were good but my acceleration/top speed was weak as hell.  As well, I was lacking pack skills although, as I discussed on Tuesday, this was of less relative importance to me.

Today I’ll talk about the training I set up and why I did it the way I did it along with talking about the last 6 weeks of training (as I type this I’m finishing the first half of this macrocycle) and what happened good or bad.  I’ll note here that the pack skill issue was, to me, a secondary issue to the speed/acceleration issue.

Frankly, whether or not I had good pack skills wouldn’t matter if I didn’t have the top speeds and acceleration abilities to stay with the pack I wanted to be in in the first place.  So while it was something I clearly needed work on, improving my top speed and acceleration were of higher priority.  To be honest, some of this probably just represented the fact that it would be easier to work on physiological stuff in the short-term.

Fixing top speed meant focusing on two primary issues: sheer top end power output along with the neuromuscular skills needed to go fast.  The power outputs could be developed on the bike, the skill work would have to be done skating.  Again I had a final issue of trying to integrate the bike and skate training without blowing myself up.   Today I want to look at the plan I set up based on these goals, why I set up things the way I did and the results from my first 6 week block of training.

The Overall Plan

As always, I worked from the top down first outlining the entire block between the Road Rash and the Chicago race.    As it turned out, following my half-week/week of recovery following the Road Rash, the Chicago race fell 13 weeks later.  That would give me almost exactly 12 full weeks of training into a taper (the Chicago race was on the weekend at the end of week 13).  So I had 12 weeks of effective training and that represented my macrocycle.

As much for symmetry as anything, I split this straight down the middle into two 6 week mesocycles (I briefly considered splitting it into an 8/4 split for reasons I now forget).  During the first 6 weeks, I was going to focus on the bike in terms of power outputs (both functional threshold stuff along with top end) and cut back my skating durations to focus on speed work.

The focus on my skates would primarily be on shorter stuff more for neuromuscular skill than anything else.  Not only would this take less out of my legs (compared to skating 45-90 minutes at what amounts to tempo intensity), it was a nice mental break from just grinding mileage all the time.  I kept in one longer skate workout for endurance maintenance.

The second 6 week block would switch the focus more to skating (since I was preparing for a skate race, remember and still needed to put in the time/distance on my skates) moving back into more distance training and hopefully converting some of the improve power outputs from the bike and speed work into faster speeds and better overall, well…everything. I was also going to start including a local weekly race (a pseudo-crit called the Driveway Series) as a way to get not only some good quality work but also help with pack skills.

So in chart form, the entire period looked like this:

Date Notes Racing
A11 Road Rash Road Rash
A18 Recovery week No
A25-M23 Bike emphasis No
M30 Unloading week Hell no
J6-J11 Skate emphasis Driveway Series
J18 Taper/Chicagoland The big one

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Where the date indicates the Monday of that week.

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The Weekly Plan

So now I had to plan out the first 6 week mesocyle in terms of the weekly schedule.  Since I wasn’t lifting, the only limitation I had was the group bicycle ride that goes off on Sunday mornings from Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop).  Everything else I could schedule based on my own whims or needs.  The below is what I drew up; I’ll explain each of the days and the rationale for them below the table.

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Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
AM OFF IL: Sprint B: Aerobic w/sprint SB: Aerobic OFF IL: Sprint B: Group Ride
PM B: Low Tempo B: Interval B: High tempo

Notes: B = bike, IL = inline, SB = slideboard

Tuesday and Saturday morning inline: Sprint Workouts
As you can see the two sprint workouts on Tuesday and Saturday (the highest quality) come after a full day off so I’d be the most rested; this is crucial for not only high quality work but due to the technical demands of skating, especially speed work.  You simply can’t do good speed work tired.   These workouts consisted of 10-20 minutes of easy skating (1-2 laps of my course) as both an easy warm-up as well as some basic endurance maintenance.

After that I would do 5 rolling starts up a slight incline, the first two were fairly sub-maximal still warming up and I was going all out, running off the line, by the third.  Then I’d do 5 standing starts up the same hill.  Initially I took these out to about 40 meters but I stretched this out over the 6-week block to a full 80 meters which allowed me to get into full on sprint skating (and have time to slow down before the intersection so as not to get run over). This was just pure power/acceleration work with each repeat lasting less than 10 seconds.  I typically took 2-3 minutes rest between starts.

After that I did 5 intervals working on top speed.  These started as 20 second sprints from a rolling start with an all out initial acceleration trying to build them all the way through.  I increased the duration of these to 35 seconds by the end of it.  I took a full 5 minutes between these repeats.  This was a long workout (90 minutes minimum) although most of it was just standing around in the heat looking like a doofus.

Tuesday and Saturday Bike:Tempo Workouts
Tuesday and Saturday evenings were tempo workouts since I wanted to keep building my FTP from the bottom as well.  Low tempo had a goal of 90 minutes at an average heart rate of 150 and I included some low cadence (80 RPMs or lower) work in there since that shifts more of the stress to the muscles away from the cardiovascular system.

High tempo was done at 160 average heart rate and was a progression of 2X20 minutes, 2X25 minutes and then 2X30 minutes (with 10 minutes between sets) and then I’d bump the wattage and start over (I didn’t actually stick to this exactly since I progressed faster than I expected to).  Again, I did some low cadence work in there which is awfully grindy and made my knees ache a bit.

Wednesday Bike: Aerobic Maintenance w/Sprint
The Wednesday bike ride was just easy aerobic, heart rate of 135 beats per minute with a goal of 60-90 minutes (it was usually 60 minutes).  It also provided a very easy day after Tuesay.  The ‘sprint’ work here was purely leg speed work.  After 20 minutes of riding I would do 15 seconds of high cadence work every 5 minutes for 6 total repeats. I’d keep the same wattage and just focus on cadence.

This is pretty much just basic neuromuscular training, teach muscles to turn on and off rapidly, that sort of thing; we had done them in SLC to help with starts.  I did these a few different ways, starting from a dead stop, or shifting gears as I spun out, or simply trying to get my leg speed up as high as I could. I think my best was 182 RPM’s. This is a type of training you make pretty rapid gains in and then that’s it and I only ended up doing this for the first 4 of the 6 weeks.

Thursday Slideboard: Aerobic Maintenance
The Thursday slideboard workout was just aerobic maintenance.  As I’ve noted, I can slideboard with a heart rate in the mid to high 130’s and although it’s boring, it gave my legs a much needed break from Tuesday and Wednesday and left me fresh for the HARD bike workout on Thursday night.

So I’d warm-up on the bike for 10 minutes, put in an hour (as something like 10X6’/30″ rest or 12X5’/30″ rest) on the slideboard and then spin for 10 more minutes.  Again, this was just aerobic maintenance and to keep my low back adapted to the skating position for longer durations.

Thursday Bike Ride: Interval
Thursday’s workout was arguably the most important one for what I was really trying to improve.  I decided to spend most of the first 6 weeks focusing purely on topmost end power with what amounts to strength training on the bike.  After a thorough warm-up, I performed 10-15X6-10″ (that’s 6-10 seconds) all out against high wattage and I did that on 2 minutes (so every 2 minutes I’d go again).  This was anywhere from 12-20 total revolutions depending on how long I went and how well I kept my cadence up.

The idea was that by first driving up my very top most power outputs, I’d bring up other stuff (such as my 1 minute power) by extension.  In weeks 4-6 of the first block, I finished this day off with 3X30″ at my goal 1′ pace (470-480w up from my previous 1′ best of 400w) to start getting ready for the shift to glycolytic anaerobic work in the next 6 week blocks.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t do more of this work on the bike, keep in mind that my two skating sprint workouts had a lot of overlap with this workout physiologically speaking.   With three sprint workouts per week, I was already stretched pretty thin so I decided to only do one of these per week.

Sunday Bike: Group Ride
Finally was the Sunday group ride which lasted anywhere from 2-3 hours.  This got me a long bike ride in, got me in a pack and was a lot more variable than my other training.  It alternates from an easy start to some faster pieces (when the guys up front get rambunctious), you can sit in the pack, there are climbs, you get the idea.

This was also a way for me to get some pack experience, surrounded by other maniacs on metal machines at high speeds.  I’d force myself to sit close to someone’s wheel or ride on the shoulder with someone outside of me, or next to someone just to get some exposure to being in a pack at high speeds.

This type of riding offends my control freak sensibilities (especially when what is meant to be a ‘mellow’ ride turns into a dick swinging contest by the guys at the front) but is far closer to what happens in a race than most of my training since it contains all the different elements in one workout.

It also allowed me to keep some track of progress from the more isolated work since our courses were usually similar and the riders were more or less the same week to week.   And while I was usually pretty trashed by Sunday morning after the Saturday high tempo ride, this is what I’ll be dealing with in Chicago where I’ll have to skate the marathon on Sunday following two races the day before.  So I had to just suck it up.

And that was my weekly cycle for the 6 weeks.  And with the exception of one skipped Wednesday bike ride in week 4 (my legs were just too trashed), and one missed group ride in week 5 (we ended up on the freeway and I was just too tired to deal with it so I went home and spun on the trainer), I completed them all.

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And How Did it Go?

Overall, the cycle couldn’t have gone any better.  I made the progress I wanted to make and hit or surpassed all of my goals in terms of power outputs on the bike (I actually achieved them all by week 5).  I’m still off of my body composition goal but I also still have 7 more weeks.  As I finish this, I’m taking the unloading week I indicated up above.  My legs were feeling pretty beaten up and since I’d already hit all of my goals it made sense to unload before the next block starts.  I’m maintaining a bit of intensity but cutting my volume by about half on all workouts and am already feeling recovered and ready to go.

Beyond that, here are some observations on the individual components of what I was trying to improve:

I still suck at starts.  I felt like an absolute spasm on my skates the first few weeks of returning to starts.  I was always pretty awful at them on the ice but having been away from them for 14 months didn’t help.  It wasn’t until about week 3 that I started to feel comfortable on these at all.  My hip flexors also got very sore from doing them (hip flexor pulls are not unheard of in speed skating because of how you drive the knee through).

It was impossible for me to really track progress on these due to the short time period.  My Garmin won’t record speeds well over short distances and I found that I spent too much time worrying about the start/stop button than sprinting so I stopped trying.  I just tried to go all out and get some semblance of technical competency back.

The speed work on skates did improve although my speeds were all over the place.  I skated three different ‘parts’ of my road course; that along with highly variable wind conditions makes it difficult to compare my actual speeds (though I did see at least one 25mph top speed which makes me happy).

I will however note this: in Texas Road Rash 2011: Race Report Part 2 I mentioned that something was missing from my skating during the race (pressure) that I couldn’t really explain.  Well, I found it again.  The combination of skate work plus, I suspect, the low cadence stuff on the bike, got me developing pressure on my skates again rather than just spinning my legs at too high of a cadence.  I got back to loading up the skate as I dropped the hip in to get a solid push again.

The tempo workouts on the bike just sucked.  They are long and miserable and grindy and the time just ticks by so slowly.  But I finished the block doing a full hour (including 2X15 minute blocks at a low cadence) at a power output that I could only sustain for 10 minutes a few months ago (and could do for maybe 8 all out minutes in Salt Lake City at a much higher body weight).  So it was worth it: my sustainable aerobic level is even higher than it was.  This was the main place that I actually surpassed the goals I’d set for myself (I had readjusted them in week 3 when it was clear I would).

Then there was the bike interval workout.  I had my first indication that this was working in Week 1.  After punishing out 15X6″ on 2 minutes the night before I woke up that Friday sore as all hell.  I don’t mean “My legs are tired” sore.   This was sore as in “First week back squatting after months off” sore.  From a bike ride.  Where there’s no eccentric.

My quads, glutes, the glute/ham tie in…just trashed from this.   Not only does this prove that I can get sore from absolutely anything, it told me that some muscle fibers had definitely gone totally untrained to date.  I had no other explanation for this.

This would continue throughout the cycle and I got sore almost every week but I made continuous progress, adding nearly 100 watts to my best 6″ time.  Some of this just represents how poorly I was starting out: my top end is still pretty sucky but it sucks a lot less than it did.  This gives me hope that my 1′ power outputs will make the improvement I was hoping for as I move into that phase of training.

My initial 30″ repeats at my goal wattages tell me that I will hit my goal which is currently 480 watts (which would be up from 400 watts right before the Road Rash); this would also be better than my best wattage (at nearly 8kg heavier) in SLC.  It’s still nowhere close to where it needs to be or where I’d like it to be but I’m happy with the improvement for only 6 weeks of work.   Clearly in the long term this is something I need to put more focused work into.

Finally there was the group ride and this is where I got perhaps the most positive reinforcement that the change in training was working.  Because even at the end of week 1, I had found an entirely new gear.  In a group ride where I had gotten pummeled on the climbs and dropped when it got fast in previous weeks, all of a sudden I was hanging in and hanging on.  And this happened on the first Sunday following my first interval bike ride.

Suddenly, I wasn’t blowing up when I had to put some real pressure on the pedals, started staying with the group on the climbs (climbing better than I ever did in my 20’s) and even hung in when it got fast.  I was able to make some quick jumps (or even sustained efforts) to bridge gaps and saw some real improvements.   And I saw progress weekly until week 5 when my legs were just destroyed and we got split up (and didn’t have a female ride leader keeping the guys in front under control).  All of which told me I was on the right track.

And as I finish my recovery week, not only do my legs feel good but my heart rates are dropping for each workout.  I was in the 120’s on the slideboard after having spent the block in the 130’s and everything on the bike is a solid 5 beats lower at a given wattage (since I still do too much training indoors, I can compare workouts).

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Finishing Up

And as I finish my recovery week, not only do my legs feel good but my heart rates are dropping for each workout.  I was in the 120’s on the slideboard after having spent the block in the 130’s and everything on the bike is a solid 5 beats lower at a given wattage (since I still do too much training indoors, I can compare workouts).

So I’m recovering and adapting and plan to be ready for the next 6 week block of training to the race.  I’m even kind of excited about doing some more bike racing in the Driveway Series now that I have some sort of top end; I’m not afraid of getting blown out like I did at the Ronde Von Manda so many months ago.

And now I’m looking to the next 6 weeks of training where I’m going to try to keep building on this progress leading into Chicago.  I still haven’t worked out everything I’m going to do except for a handful of things.  More time on my skates, some racing in the Driveway series, the bike rides are still the big question mark for me.    You’ll hear about it in, oh, about 6 weeks I imagine.

Read Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 13.

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