Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Wrap-Up

So having looked at the absolute disaster that was the 2011 Northshore Inline Marathon and subsequently survived my final hour bike ride at UT Austin, it’s time to put the 2011 season to rest with a year-end wrap up, look back, and post season analysis along with some general plans going forwards.

The Season Overview

First and foremost, comparing to 2011 to 2010, if nothing else good happened the fact that I didn’t find myself cratered into a near life ending depresssion can only be seen as a good thing,  Frankly, compared to last year, anything would have been an improvement.

Beyond that, I came into this season with the plan to move up both in distance (from the half to the full marathon) along with level (from the open to the elite).  My preparation was a bit truncated, by maybe a month coming out of the mess that was 2010 but I can’t honestly say that was the big issue.

Somehow the season managed to start disastrously with the Ronde Von Manda (where I got dropped right away and spent 2 hours riding through the cold, gray countryside) and end almost identically in Duluth (where I got dropped right away and spent 90 minutes skating through the cold, gray countryside).   I am obsessed with cycles but this is why: my life seems to run on them.

In between those two things, it was a little more variable.  I was happy with my performance at the Texas Road Rash although it identified some differences in the racing I had moved to; even though I didn’t do the final race, breaking a decade+ old issue of mine (cracking 20 minutes) against the 10k in Chicago was a high point.

I even got involved in bike racing, something I had managed to avoid for the near decade I had ridden and that not only provided another outlet for my mediocre ability and competition drive but I got some good experience, got some good training, avoided the crashes and started to get more comfortable in the pack.

So let’s get more specific

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Overall Training Response

Mind you, I did have one close call with the spectre of overtraining and depression during this overall season.  It came in something like week 13 of my first block of training and pointed out something important for me: I’m good for about 12 weeks of continuous (and progressive) training before I need to take some recovery.  This simply points to my needing to structure my training exactly along those lines, 3 months of training followed by at least 1 week (and possibly 2) of easy recovery.

I also realized that training a maximum of 5 days/week but with most of them double sessions works for me in a way that trying to train 6 days/week (even if some of them aren’t doubled) does not.  Cutting out that one extra day (and making at least one day per week piss easy, talking 125 HR on the rollers or whatever) made a huge difference in terms of staying mentally and physically fresh.

But that’s basic training, what did my racing tell me?

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Bike Racing Analysis

I don’t have a ton to say about this at this point.  Getting into bike racing this year was sort of a reflection of the lack of inline races.  There are a total of about 10 in the country and all but one require travelling which is hard to justify on a lot of levels, not the least of which given my dog anxiety and not liking to be away from home for extended periods.

The existence of a big local cycling community (and weekly racing at the Driveway series) is a big help.  Not only does it let me get competition experience but there is no better training stimulus than competition, it forces you to a level that you just can’t reach on your own.  That cycling dynamics are fairly similar to skating dynamics (big pack of guys, drafting, tactics) helps as well, it gives me a way to cover a bunch of needed factors (physiological and psychological) conveniently.  I can literally race weekly from about early April to Mid-October if I want.

Certainly the Ronde Von Manda was a big shock to my system, I wasn’t prepared for the distance or the dynamics of the race, especially when everyone went off like a bat out of hell off the start (I’m told this is common to shake off stragglers; it sure threw me off) and I even ran into that issue during the Driveway series and I will be far more prepared next year.

The shortness of the Driveway, 25 minutes means pretty high speeds and not a lot of pacing although there are quite a few speed changes going on.  Even moving up to the 3/4 next year (said race being 50 minutes) will mean similar dynamics.  But that’s not a bad thing since the duration is closer to my skate races and the dynamics will be the same as well.  But even there a lot of speed changes, surges and slowdowns, etc.  And while finishing the race was never an issue it was clear that my overall approach to preparation did leave me unprepared for some of it.

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Skating Overall Analysis

In hindsight, moving up both in distance and category in the inline races was probably a mistake.  But given my performance in 2010 I had no real indication that it would be.  The first observation I’d make is that the marathon is longer than the half marathon.  Someone should check my math but I think it’s about twice as long.

Of less idiotic relevance is that the duration of the races (jumping from 40 minutes or so for the half) to an hour twenty completely changes the nature of the races as I learned.  A 40 minute event can be done all out because you’re done before you’re cooked. The race dynamics changed significantly moving up the full marathon as there is more pacing, speed changes (especially surges) going on.  And that was something that my mostly steady state training just hadn’t prepared me for, just as on the bike.  I went into the marathon expecting it to be just a longer version of the half-marathon but it was not.

Add to that a big jump in speeds from the half marathon (which is not really raced by the top guys) to the full marathon.  Even in the slower divisions, the speeds are faster and everybody’s game is raised (average speeds jumped from about 20mph to 21-22mph or higher).  Not to mention that the true elites are in the marathon division and some of those guys are just blazingly fast.

This isn’t helped by the smallness of the sport; in something like cycling, folks tend to move up by Categories (there are 5 categories before you even get to National level) so the speeds tend to increase more gradually.  In skating, it’s pretty much either age group or the open (though Northshore did have the wave thing going on).  So the speeds just take a big jump and I found myself without a pack to skate with.

That was on top of having a general lack of pack skills since I appear to be about the only outdoor inline skater in the city and I do all of my training alone.  And while indoor is always a possibility, that raised other issues that I didn’t want to deal with.

Recognizing this early on, that prompted me (along with other factors) to go ahead and get into the local cycling scene.   Skating and cycling have always had a lot of crossover, the mechanics and physiology are the same and I’ve used cycling as a form of conditioning for years now.   Give the large Austin cycling community, it just made sense to get into bike racing.

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So What Does This All Tell Me?

Along with other indications (such as my overall power profile on the bike during indoor training), it was clear that this year was marked by good overall endurance and a lack of a top end.   I even did some OCD level race analysis after Chicago, I’ll spare you the numbers but basically, as the race distances went UP (as did speeds) so did my performance and placing went down.  And vice versa: as the distance goes up so does my performance.

Given my inherent physiology, the type of training I tend to be drawn towards, the type of training I tend to default to (and have done for the majority of the two years coming out of the SLC ice experience), this all makes sense.  If I’m built to be anything, it’s to be an aerobic animal and anaerobic type stuff has never been my strong point.  Mind you, not working on it for so long didn’t help.

But that was all part of the learning that came out of this year.  So how do I fix it.

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Looking to 2012 and Beyond

Going forwards, my overall plan, which I have only generally mapped out is to:

1. Continue working on building the aerobic engine.  This is always a priority for this type of racing and will always make up a majority of my training no matter what I’m doing.  Since I’m still targeting races towards the shorter end of things, having the sheer endurance to go hours is less relevant than raising my functional threshold power.

2. Put a lot more concentrated effort into building my top end.  This includes short neuromuscular efforts, longer anaerobic stuff and VO2 max efforts.  It’s all relevant for the type of racing that I’m doing and can only help to pull up my aerobic capacities as well.

3. Move to a more mult-tiered approach to my endurance training.  That is, rather than long blocks of pure aerobic work followed by the anaerobic stuff, I’m going to keep a small amount of top end work in pretty much throughout the general prep period.  This is simply a reflection of the years of aerobic work I’ve put in (meaning less ability to improve it by much) on top of the greater general difficulty in improving anaerobic capacities.

Mind you the above has two factors: general physiological development along with specific improvements on skates (where the technical aspects of going fast are just as important as the purely physiological).  The combination of starts and varying distance sprint work on my skates coupled with high intensity conditioning on the bike seemed to be a winning combination this past season once I implemented it.  I’m basing that on the increasing top speeds I was seeing on my skates.

Honestly the only thing I haven’t really resolved is how to optimally balance both skating and cycling.  Certainly there is overalap between the two.  Skaters have always used cycling to build physiological capacities and ice speedskaters often switched to cycling after their ice career ended and did quite well (Eric Heiden was part of the 7-11 Team I mentioned briefly towards the end of the Why the US Sucks at Olympic Lifting series).

But most don’t try to race both at the same time and figuring out how to prepare for both types of racing along with develop anything (without trying to do everything at once) still hasn’t made itself clear to me.  I may end up doing something akin to what I did this past year, alternating blocks of focus.  That seems the best approach.  Time will tell.

And that brings the 2011 skating season to an end. I’ve spent the entire week following the Northshore disaster not training and eating too much, already I’m getting that inactivity soreness setting in and I may spin on the rollers today.  I’ll have an easy break-in week next week (and hope to ride the Velo in houston) before moving back into normal training and aiming towards the 2012 Road Rash in April.  I’m sure I’ll be prattling about this stuff soon enough.

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