Methods of Endurance Training: Putting it Together

I generally don’t like writing out specific workouts, there are exceptions mind you but I find that when you give people programs, even if you’re clear that it’s only meant as a sample or example, they take it as holy writ.  Oh the questions I’ve gotten from time to time.  However, I do find that sample workouts can be useful to give folks an idea of how a given set of principles might be applied in a given situation.  Just keep that in mind: the workout is only mean to illustrate how the principles might be applied given a specific set of circumstances.

And having just finished up the seemingly never ending series on Methods of Endurance Training last week, I wanted to show folks how all of that information might be put together practically given a specific set of circumstances and needs.  More specifically, I’m going to lay out what I’m doing.  But rather than just writing out my training and leaving it at that, I’m going to try to explain why I’ve chosen to do certain things.  Essentially, I’m going to show you how, given a set of specific parameters, the information in that series might be applied.

Just keep in mind what this is supposed to represent.  I’m not saying this is how you should train or that it is the only way to apply this information.  Rather, it’s meant as an example of one way to do things.  And if you’re wondering why I seem to be hammering this point over and over it’s because I know without fail that someone will read this article as “This is how to train.”


.The Background

Now, for background, I’ve been in Utah for the past several years toiling away at ice speedskating, by far and away the hardest, most confusing and frustrating activity I’ve ever done in my life.  For reasons irrelevant to this article, that particular chapter of my life is coming to a close.  And the long and short of it is that I’m currently targeting outdoor inline racing for next summer.  Now, while they are superficially similar, ice speedskating is a fairly different sport than outdoor inline racing.

If nothing else, the energetic demands are fairly different.  Ice speedskating races are generally at the shorter end of things (ranging from 35 seconds for the 500m to 15 minutes for the 10k with most events between those two) and current outdoor inline, at least what I’m targeting, is at the longer: marathon distance is 42km taking an hour to an hour and 20 minutes or so.

And while I’ve said previously that anything over about 2 minutes is predominantly aerobic, ice speedskating is a weird exception to this.  The way we skate, the importance of corners make it massively more anaerobic dominant.  So some of the ‘rules’ that apply to other more traditional endurance sports just don’t seem to apply to the ice.

Quite in fact, it is a near physiological impossibility to do true aerobic work on the ice. If you bend your knees enough to be skating properly, regardless of how fast or slow you go, you will go far above 4mmol lactate and be anaerobic.   In fact, skating even 20 minutes continuously on the ice is a near exhausting effort and few do it regularly in practice.  You couldn’t do 2 hours of continuous work on the ice; maybe if you were Dutch (a comment I’m not going to explain).

In contrast, outdoor inline racing is far more akin to road cycling.  The higher knee angles mean that you can skate aerobically and continuously.  A 2-3 hour inline workout is doable, your low back may fall off but it can be done aerobically.  And in recent years, with a general move to longer distances (generally 42-50 km), the racing is very much like pack style cycling.  The events take between an hour and an hour twenty minutes and there tends to be a lot of drafting, teamwork, breaks and recoveries, etc.

Which is a long way of saying that while ice speedskating is it’s own unique and peculiar world, training for outdoor inline skating is more or less like training for other endurance sports.  You need a big endurance base/aerobic engine (on top of good technique, mind you) with the other physiological parameters I discussed in the article series.

Overall speed and the ability to sustain it is crucial along with the ability to not only breakaway but also cover breaks (apparently current race tactics has folks making breaks constantly to try and tire out the pack) along with sprinting at the end are all key.  But the big aerobic engine combined with proper technique is key.  And that’s what the training I’m going to describe below will reflect.

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Building a Base in Winter

Sucks.

If there was one ‘nice’ thing about ice speedskating it’s that, as a winter sport, most of our volume was done during the summer when it’s warm and sunny.  We could do long workouts on inline (and while I only had an indoor bike, many ride or run outdoors) and it’s sunny and pleasant and stuff.

In contrast, training outdoors in the cold is kind of a drag.  Especially as I truly hate being cold.  And while you might ask why someone who hates the cold would pursue a winter sport, the fact of the matter is that the Utah Olympic Oval where we train is indoors and about 65 degrees inside.  The coldest part of my day in the winter is walking from the car to the oval; it’s fairly warm inside despite being a 7 acre sheet of ice.

But now that I’m targeting a summer sport, that means building a base in the winter.  In Utah.  Which means it’s brutally cold outside. Did I mention I hate being cold?    This is a reality of a lot of summer endurance sports, and another very real consideration for the types of training that might get done for building endurance; if you live anywhere with anything approximating winter and can’t or won’t train outside, that means doing a lot of time indoors.   And indoor training, while it has it’s advantages (notably control over intensity, avoiding traffic, no bad weather, etc.) tends to drive people a little bit nuts over time.

For cyclists training indoors, there is a real limit to how much time that can be put on a wind trainer or stationary bike.  That limit is maybe 90-120 minutes (with 2 hours being at the high end).  Now one nice thing is that, since you’re never coasting or drafting, shorter periods indoors actually approximate longer periods outdoors; 90 minutes on a trainer might equal 2+ hours outdoors.  But it’s still boring.  Sure, there are videos and things to watch (I watch a lot of tv programs and DVD’s) but you still go a little bit crazy.  So the amount of time you can actually train is very limited.

The same goes for treadmill training more or less.  While the differences in outdoor vs. indoors (in terms of energy cost, you can’t coast running) isn’t the same as with cycling, running on a treadmill is relatively boring compared to running outdoors.  But unless you’re willing to brave the cold (and make no mistake, I’ve seen runners running on ice pavement in the dark with a flashlight because runners are all apparently nuts), that means training indoors (many runners actually train on the track that surrounds the Oval in the winter because while it’s indoors, at least you’re moving).   And that limits how much training time you can realistically put in.

But the above is another consideration that goes into choosing a training method from the previous article series: not only may there be a limit on how much time you can train (set by work, family, etc.) but how much you’re willing to train given the situation.  If you can only sit on the wind trainer for 90 minutes at a time, you better pick a method of endurance training that will give you a training effect.

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Setting Intensities

Since I train with a power meter, I actually base my on-bike training on power rather than heart rate.  I’ve replicated my own power numbers, using the zones outlined in Dr. Coggan’s book Training and Racing with a Power Meter and based on a current functional threshold of 235 watts.  I haven’t actually formally tested this recently but I know it’s in that range.  So my power training zones are shown below.

I’d note that, a couple of years ago I actually did some lactate testing with one of the commercial lactate meters; as it turned out, my 1.5-2 mmol lactate range was actually around the tempo range; I’ve found that working in the endurance range does nearly nothing to improve my fitness (measured by functional threshold improvements).

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Training Zone Wattage Range
Active Recovery Less than 129 watts
Endurance 132 watts 176 watts
Tempo 179 watts 212 watts
Threshold 214 watts 247 watts
VO2 Max 249 watts 282 watts
Anaerobic Power/Capacity More than 284 watts

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As you’ll see, I’m also doing some running and, for that I’ve used the scheme set out in Daniels Running Formula although, for the most part, I just use heart rate.  Treadmill speeds don’t really correlate exactly to outdoor running speeds (Daniels provides conversion charts) and, for the purposes I’m using it, being more specific than that doesn’t really matter.

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A Week of Training

So I’ve drawn out my current weekly training schedule below.  As noted above, all aerobic work is being done indoors.  The cycling is done on a Cycleops power bike and the running is done on a treadmill.  I’ll explain the whys and wherefores of why I set things up this way after the table.


Day AM PM
Monday Run: 60′ @ 145-150 HR (Easy) Long-track
Tuesday No workout Bike: 60′ @ 200w (Sweet Spot)
Wednesday Run: 60′ @ 145-150 HR (Easy) Long-track
Thursday Bike: 90’@185w (Low Tempo) Short-track
Friday No workout Run: 60′ @ 145-150 HR (Easy)
Saturday Long-track Bike: 60′ @ 200w (Sweet Spot)
Sunday Off

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I think the main thing to notice is that I have two key workouts on Tuesday and Saturday where I do my hard tempo/sweet spot workouts (it’s done near the cusp of tempo and threshold workouts).  These are my bread and butter workouts done at the top end of the tempo range to improve aerobic fitness and functional threshold power.

On those days, I’ll warm-up for 10-15′ at 150 watts and then push it hard for an hour.  Eventually this might become a 90′ ride depending on my tolerance for the trainer (with warm-up and cool-down, that’s a 2 hour workout).  But these are the main workouts to push my aerobic level higher.  One comes on a day all of it’s own and the other is before my day off after skating hours earlier in the morning.

Keep in mind that i have been cycling in some form or fashion continuosly for the past several years, so I didn’t need any time before jumping straight into the sweet spot training.  Had I been a complete beginner to cycling, I’d have performed 4-6 weeks of extensive endurance training first.

I keep Thursday morning as an easier ride for two reasons.  First it lets me get a bit more volume in (I can jump straight in without a warm-up and do the full 90 minutes at low tempo) while still generating a training effect.  Second, it doesn’t destroy my legs completely for short-track ice that evening.  It also decreases the overall stress of the week.  Were I not skating, I might have done 3 hard tempo rides but since skating is still part of the program, I had to make a concession to that.

You may be wondering why the Tuesday and Friday aerobic workouts are evening instead of morning.  Part of it is that I’m still not in the habit of training in the mornings (I tend to put it off on the other days) yet.  Part of it is being tired from the previous day’s double workout (on Thursday morning I have no choice but to ride in the morning since I have ice that evening).  The main reason is actually that Tuesday and Friday mornings are when I update the site.  And by the time I’m done doing that, I want to eat breakfast, so the workout gets pushed back to later in the day.

You’ll also notice that I’m still skating but I should mention that these are not really workouts in the true sense of the word.  I’ll jog 20′ (adding a bit of aerobic volume) for warm-up before each of the 4 workouts, do off-ice drills and then basically work on technique on the ice.  The most training I’ve done in a few weeks is a 7 lap warm-up with teammates, that takes about 4 minutes.  I’ll do starts and then just technical work to keep reinforcing what I’ve worked on so hard for the past 5 years with my coach giving me feedback.  I’ll often spin on the bike for 20 minutes afterwards for more aerobic volume.

So the skating is primarily technical although I’ll do short stints of speed work (250’s at high speed which take maybe 20 seconds) so it serves some of the function of neuromuscular training I mentioned in Methods of Endurance Training Part 5: Interval Training Part 2.  You don’t ever want to get too far away from top speed and the ice workouts have an element of that.

My point being that skating is not a huge key workout for me although I do try to avoid having completely worked legs going into skating.  Running by and large doesn’t take much out of my legs and part of the reason I put the easier bike ride on Thursday morning was to avoid wrecking my legs for Thursday night short-track.

I’d note that I am not currently lifting weights.  While weight training is hugely important for ice speed skating, for the durations involved in outdoor inline racing, it’s unlikely to improve performance much.  But if I were going to lift weights on the above schedule, it would be done for a short full-body session on Monday and Thursday after skating before the two single workout days.  This would be another reason to have the Tuesday/Friday workouts in the evening, to let the adaptations to weights run their course before shutting them down with aerobic work.

The easy runs are there for two reasons.  The first is to maintain a nice daily aerobic stimulus, keeping that gene expression/etc. going all week by alternating the relatively harder bike rides with the easier running work.  Also, due to the differences in metabolic strain, the hour is, as I’ve noted before, perhaps equivalent to roughly 2 hours of cycling.

Now, you ask, wouldn’t it be better to do more bike work.  And the answer, at least from a specificity standpoint would be yes.  Cycling is closer to skating in terms of mechanics, posture and muscles used although both running and cycling have traditionally been used by ice speed skaters to develop a general fitness base.

But there’s a sanity issue and I go a little bit nuts being on the trainer too much during the week.  Running may not be ideal but it’s workable and it allows me to alternate what I’m doing day to day.  This also keeps me from hitting the same muscles day-in/day-out.  So I get three bike workouts and three running workouts with the additional work done before and after ice.

Now, I mentioned specificity, wouldn’t skating be even more specific?    And, of course, the answer is yes.  But see above: training outdoors in Utah winter is problematic on several levels not the least of which being my aversion to freezing my ass off.  Inlining in the cold is not my idea of fun.  It’s also why I’ve kept the ice training in.  It may not be metabolic in nature but it does maintain technique on the base of the other aerobic work.

Essentially, due to the constraints (weather and facilities) since I can’t (ok, won’t) inline outdoors, I’m limited to doing general aerobic conditioning right now and then keeping skating in with the work on the ice.  As you’ll see below, when the weather improves, inline skating will become a far bigger component of the training.

I would note that there is a type of workout called dryland conditioning that speed skaters use to develop skating specific fitness in the off-season (summer for the ice).  It alternates technical imitations of varying sorts with easy jogging or cycling and has an aerobic type effect while getting some semi-specific skate training.  Were I not on the ice, I’d be doing that a couple of times per week but, from a technical standpoint, any skating is better than no skating and if I have ice, dryland doesn’t fit into the program.

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Looking at the Long-Term

So the above represents a current training week but obviously I won’t just do that all year. While the below schedule is subject to some flux, depending on issues of weather, etc. my general plan is to divide the year into some reasonable length blocks of training. Some of this is a sanity issue, some of it simply takes into account that different adaptations require different types of training.

For the next 8 weeks or so (through end January), the plan is exactly what I outlined above.  Building the aerobic engine from the bottom up with a combination of sweet spot work and running while maintaining some skating (technical/neuromuscular speed work) with the on-ice work.

Moving into February, I’ll be replacing the two sweet spot workouts with specific threshold workouts.  That is, warm-ups to 2X20 minutes at the threshold range (and I’ll probably retest functional threshold power prior to that) while maintaining everything else right where it is.  The running and Thursday morning tempo ride will maintain basic aerobic conditioning and endurance.

After 3-4 weeks of that work, I’ll top off the entire thing with 3 weeks of VO2 max intervals done again on Tuesday and Thursday.  That would entail warming up to 3 minute repeats at VO2 max intensity.   Since this is a general conditioning block, I wouldn’t bother with repetition work or intervals for anaerobic capacity to peak it out completely at the end.  That would culminate with an easy week and some type of fitness test (threshold or maximal aerobic power).  So that goes through the end of March.

The full block of training, lasting roughly 18 weeks appears below.

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Dates Length Key Workouts Frequency
Mid November-End January 10 Weeks Sweet Spot 2XWeek
February 4 Weeks Threshold (2X20) 2XWeek
March 3 Weeks Vo2 Max (6X3’/3′) 2XWeek

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The goal clearly being to build up the aerobic engine (if only in a general sense) over that time period.  It’s just a rather simply linear periodization program over 18 weeks (17 weeks training with a week recovery) with the goal of building general aerobic capacity (as measured by functional threshold power) as high as possible.

April is about when the weather starts to get nice enough to skate outdoors and the plan is to essentially move through another block very similar to the above but with skating as the primary workouts and cycling (outdoors) as the general low intensity work.  Inline skating can be tough on the low-back and skating daily may be out of the question at least initially (I’m being vague as it’s been years since I’ve trained for outdoor racing).

The plan would be 3 key skating workouts in tempo range alternated with easier bike work on the alternate days to maintain a basic aerobic/endurance stimulus.  There may or may not be second workouts on those days depending on facility availability.  Dryland could also be done for extra aerobic work that isn’t skating.

As above, a general focus on sweet spot training with 2 harder and 1 easier workout would be done for 8-10 weeks followed by specific threshold work for several weeks and then Vo2 max work.  Again, it’s just a repeat of the above training block but with specific skating work being done since training outdoors will be possible.

That block would go through August which is about when real racing starts anyhow (there are some races earlier in the season that can be used as workouts and to assess current fitness and weaknesses) and adjustments would be made to training based on what.  Since there are speed changes in inline racing, some anaerobic work would be required along with sprinting work (many races end in a pack sprint).  As well, technical work would be maintained for corners, etc.

During the actual racing season (most of which happens in August-September so far as I can tell), adjustments to training would be made based on racing performance.  Early races would be used to identify weaknesses in endurance, top speed or sustainability with training adjusted to reflect that.  Small fixes could be made but, with the focus on racing, full blocks devoted to fixing weaknesses would be difficult.  Of course, tapering into races would be performed with shorter tapers (2-3 days easier training) for less important races and longer tapers (up to 2 weeks) for more important races.

So, within the parameters I have, that’s how I’m setting up my training.  Admittedly some of it is vague, especially moving into inline as there are always questions about weather, where to train (finding roads without traffic and pavement nice enough to skate), etc.  We did all of our inline training on a small track in a parking lot for the ice since that better reflects the nature of that sport.  Outdoor inline racing is usually held on roads or much larger courses. Corners are far less critical and finding places to train can be a hassle due to traffic, etc.   And since I wont be living in Utah any longer, I can’t be sure what type of training will be available yet.

But hopefully the above has given you a rough idea of how the information I discussed in the Methods of Endurance Training series might be applied, again given the specifics of my situation and the nature of the sport.  Again, please don’t read it as me saying that that’s how training should be set up for all situations.  Rather, by looking at the parameters of my own training (weather, facilities, equipment), that’s how I’ve chosen to apply the informaton in that article series.