Methods of Endurance Training: Results Part 2
On Tuesday, in Methods of Endurance Training: Results Part 1 I went into some detail about how I finished my first block of endurance training and had structured my current training aiming at outdoor inline races. Today I’m going to move away from application and physiology and prattle self-indulgently a bit. Specifically, I’m going to give a detailed report on my first race.
Now, I had originally drawn up my annual plan with perhaps half a dozen races, one or two were overseas (which I may or may not go to at this point for reasons irrelevant to this article), the rest were in the US. Most were marathon or half-marathon races with one 10k in Atlanta on Labor Day. There’s a 10k series up north that I am considering.
Originally, I hadn’t planned to do my first race until late in May since that would give me a good 8-10 weeks of skating outdoors to get my legs back, get used to being outdoors, etc. But then, in goofing around online, I came across a race that was both early and local. Specifically, the Texas Road Rash event held on April 25th in Round Rock, Texas; that’s about 20 minutes north of where I live.
Now, even in my 20′s when inline racing was bigger, there were never local events. It sucked to drive 6 hours (we couldn’t afford to fly) each direction to race for 20 minutes. So ready or not, I really couldn’t turn down a local race that was just up the road from me. The event actually had two different races, an elimination (last man out) race on Saturday which did not interest me and both a full and half-marathon (actually 28 and 14 miles) on Sunday which did.
Since I’ve only done 20 miles in training, I opted for the half-marathon distance. I’m simply too far out from racing inline at this point to know what I’m capable of and would rather focus on the shorter distances this season and worry about moving to the full marathon next year (I may do the full in Houston at the end of the season). In any case I signed up early, something I’d never done in the past; I must have felt ready. Also, since I had no clue where I stood performance wise, I went ahead and signed up for the 30-39 age group rather than the open division.
I went up and scoped out the race course about 2 weeks before the event, another advantage of being local. It was basically a square ‘loop’ going around the Dell Diamond up in Round Rock. One gradual uphill on the front end to a long flat section, a long downhill and the another flat section on the main road back to the start/finish line.
The pavement was overall good with some sections with some rough black pavement. The half-marathon would be 3 laps, the full 6. Oddly, the race is nothing but right hand turns; I say oddly as most skaters suck at turning right. I’m currently still one of them though I’m getting better day by day.
For preparation, I did several things. One of them was to practice climbing, including several climbs on one of my training courses where the climb is on rough pavement. It gave me the opportunity to test out different approaches. Rex had told me that most start to chop their way up a hill and lose speed; if it’s not too steep you should sit back and carve. You do have to increase your tempo a bit, you decelerate sooner and gliding too long costs you speed.
I also did a bit of downhill work although doing it by myself wouldn’t really prepare me. The rest was just basic training to make sure I could cover the distance without concern; my workouts ranged from 17-20 miles or so done at an easy aerobic pace as outlined on Tuesday.
My only real concern preparation wise that having done zero race pace or threshold work, I wouldn’t know what my limits were. In my 20′s I had an uncanny ability to hit my threshold and stay there without blowing or going too easy. I wasn’t sure if I still had that ability, especially not over 14 miles.
I needn’t have worried.
Given how early it is in the season and given how little I know about where I stood, my goals for this first race were fairly simple. My main one was to get racing experience. Outside of a bit of paceline work on the ice, I haven’t been in a pack in over 15 years. I don’t ride a bike outdoors, I don’t know how to work in a pack or be surrounded by other people and not freak out. And skating is worse than being on a bike because of the push to the side and the recovery, it’s easy to click skates with someone and go down.
As well, longer races are skated differently than a 10k. At 20 minutes or less, you can time trial a 10k at threshold and not worry about it, you finish the race before you’re cooked. Longer races tend to be more like bike racing, it’d be rare to go all out from start to finish. You can sit in the pack, get some rest, work with others, breakaway, etc. I have no experience with this and wanted to get some. So my two primary goals were to get back in the pack and figure out current race dynamics and do so in a relatively ‘unimportant’ race.
I also wanted to go ahead and identify any early strengths or weaknesses for future, more important races. Basically, just see where I stood based on my minimal (about 5 weeks of outdoor) training to better adjust my training for later season races. Finally, I was just going to use it as a solid workout, this was another reason I had set up my training schedule as described on Tuesday. I would skate Sunday morning and do my tempo run in the afternoon. Just a normal training day where the skate ‘workout’ happened to be a race.
So those were the real goals; I didn’t really intend to ‘race’ in the sense of trying to win or place or even compete. Then again, I know myself, I had told people ‘Yeah, I just want to go skate the distance’. But as soon as the gun goes off and someone is going fast, I sort of knew what would happen.
Then I looked at the last year’s results. It turned out that the 30-39 age group winner had finished in 58 minutes. At that time, my easy aerobic workouts for 14 miles clocked in at 52 minutes. I figured I could take my age group without even exerting myself. This made it very easy to relax going into the race.
I had no stress, no anxiety. I was just going to go do the thing that is the most fun thing in my life: go skate. Even a bad skate is better than not skating for me right now. I was actually excited going into the race which was a nice contrast to the hell of Salt Lake City the previous 5.5 years.
A lack of sleep messes with a lot of things but, ready or not for a race, I never sleep well the night before. It’s not anxiety or stress, I simply don’t sleep well. What I found in my 20′s was that it was the night before the night before that was important. So long as I slept well on Friday night, a night of poor sleep on Saturday wouldn’t affect me.
So Friday night, I was in bed at 9:30pm and got a solid 10 hours. Saturday morning I did my normal 90 minute easy aerobic workout. A smarter man would have cut it to an hour (15′ run/30′ EFX/15′ run) and when I meet that smarter man, I’ll let him write articles for the site. This was just normal training for me and I wasn’t cutting a workout for a race that I didn’t really care about.
I didn’t have to coach that afternoon so I just spent the day running some errands and doing some race prep. I had opted to run fairly hard wheels (I had been training on softer training wheels); figuring that anything I lost on the short rough bits would be more than made up by higher speeds on the smooth parts of the course.
I consulted with Eva about it and she backed me up on the idea; in hindsight I’d have rather run even harder wheels but I don’t have them yet. So I did some bearing switching, changed out my wheels, even checked my bolts and made sure I had everything I needed ready in my bag so I wouldn’t be running around Sunday morning trying to find stuff.
And then went out to be social. As I said, I don’t sleep the night before a race and I could either sit at home arguing with people on the Internets or being obsessive about the next day’s race and wasting valuable mental energy. Screw that, I wanted to celebrate. Don’t get the wrong idea, I wasn’t celebrating victory or anything idiotic like that. Rather, I was celebrating a return to the single most joy-inducing thing in my life: inline skate racing.
So I went and spent the evening with two of my favorite people, just having fun and relaxing and not talking about skating (except them being sad that they couldn’t come cheer me on). I even had a whole Smirnov Ice because I’m a mad man like that. I bid them adieu at far too late an hour and must have gotten a solid 4.5 hours of sleep, if that. I was in bed at maybe 12:30 am and woke up at 4:45am and again at 5:30am.
I had planned to get up at 6am anyhow but I was already awake and got moving. Headed out to the venue, got my race packet and timing chip and just hung out. My race number was 333, I guess that makes me 1/2 of the beast. The weather was cool and dry, it was going to be a beautiful race day. I warmed up, arguably too early but whatever. I wasn’t really here to race and I don’t warm-up for skating workouts so I wasn’t worried about it.
I’d note that the promoters put on a great race. Well organized, lots of volunteers, plenty of porta potties and everybody knew what was going on. Music, some booths with equipment, they had a band after the race was over. Just a good day all around. A good turnout too, apparently 388 signed up for the races. That’s pretty big for inline these days.
Now, the race actually had two major divisions, pro and everybody else; I was in the everybody else group. The pros would go 3 minutes ahead of us to open a gap and then we started. As I noted above, they were running a full marathon (28 miles/6 laps) and a half (14 miles/3 laps) but we all skated at the same time. Which makes it a bit confusing, you don’t know who’s racing what distance or who is in your class.
I’d note that I did nothing nutritionally specific for this event. I had taken my normal morning caffeine when I woke up but that was it. I didn’t even carry water. I figured I’d be done in about 50 minutes which is right on the cusp of needing hydration. I had a Diet Coke in the car driving out and then had about 10 oz of water 30 minutes out which I then proceeded to pee out anyhow. I’d be sufficiently hydrated in any case.
I didn’t want the added weight of my Camelbak and Tim Noakes actually has data showing that endurance guys who are a bit dehydrated at the end finish faster; they are lighter. I just had to avoid cramping (I had one close call with a near calf cramp). I did chew gum during the race (a trick taught to me 20 years ago by Joey D.) to keep my mouth moist. But that was it.
To break up the dense text, here’s the first picture, me in my full skating regalia. You can’t really tell it here but I am fully color coordinated. My wheels are bright orange, blue skate laces, blue and white socks and my orange and blue skinsuit. If red is the color of anger; I guess orange is the color of mild irritation or something. And, no, we don’t wear underwear as is clearly the case.
The Start/Lap 1
Mass starts for inline races are interesting. It’s bad enough in running races where the guys in back take minutes to get to the front. In skating, it’s a bunch of folks trying to sprint, clicking skates and trying not to fall. Here I made a tactical error, I wasn’t aggressive enough in getting up to the line. Ideally faster skaters go up front and slower stay back but there is always one guy who wants to be up in the mix and gets in everybody’s way; no, it wasn’t me. I had also been warned that the start was a downhill into a left turn and people would eat it off the start.
The end result was that I got hung up behind some slower skaters, one guy did fall a bit ahead of me but I went around him. But I got dropped off the main fast pack by about 200m going up the first hill. Since I didn’t know what I was capable of and didn’t want to blow, I had to keep it in my pants and just bide my time.
We got the top of the hill and the front pack had that same distance on me. I just kept bridging up/past individual skaters and rapidly found myself in the same place I always was in my 20′s: too fast for everyone behind me but unable to catch the lead group. I feared that I’d be pulling the entire race by myself. But I wasn’t there to race, right?
Anyhow, skaters in a paceline have a massive advantage, guys in back save at least 20% energy and they can rotate the lead and hold a higher speed than a lone skater. If I’d been willing to kill myself on lap 1, I might have been able to catch them on the flats but it would have been wasted energy. So I just kept them in my line of sight and didn’t panic. They weren’t pulling away and I didn’t want to blow early.
We came around to the far side of the course and I just kept them in attacking distance, I knew I couldn’t catch them on the downhill section and, again, just kept them close. On the flat bit at the bottom, they had the advantage again and started to widen the gap but I had already made my plan: I’d catch them on the second hill.
We came through the start/finish, down the little hill and then into the climb. Going up a hill, pacelines lose much of their inherent advantage. Speeds are cut and most of the aero advantage is diminished. As well, most inline skaters don’t know how to climb, they chop their strokes and push back when what they should be doing (as Rex taught me) was to sit back, keep the carve and just increase tempo. Finally, the lead skater in the pack is an indoor skater and those guys usually only know how to do one thing well: turn left. With him in front, the pack would slow to a crawl which it did.
So as soon as we hit the hill I gassed it. I sat back on my heels and just carved for all I was worth, just like I’d practiced in training. I started making up distance rapidly, kept the pressure up and halfway up I finally caught the back of the pack. It had been an effort but I’d practiced climbing enough to know how hard I could go without blowing up. Now I could get a bit of rest and sit in. I recovered quickly, this is another advantage to having a huge aerobic engine. Within a brief period, I felt fine.
But packs in this style of race tend to annoy me: they jack around either accelerating or slowing down. Hold a constant speed dammit! It’s called speed skating, you bozos, not skate-like-your-mom-drives skating. But whatever, I wasn’t racing, right?
After maybe 30 seconds, I saw a kid in bright orange take a flyer. And I made tactical error #2, I hesitated. I wasn’t 100% sure I was ready to chase but I was sick of going slow. So I stepped out to the left, hammered to the front of the line (thinking maybe they’d come with me and work; they didn’t) and then went after him.
He had a solid 200m on me but skating alone he didn’t have the inherent paceline advantage. I knew he’d lose speed on the right hand turn at the top of the hill; I wasn’t comfortable enough to crossover but I cut the corner as hard as I could and then accelerated like a maniac out, making up a lot of distance in the process. Shortly thereafter I had his wheel and could sit in and recover for a second.
We worked together for the rest of the top bit into the downhill. We caught a big line descending and that was scary as shit. I had already clicked skates a couple of times and roaring down this hill in a line was not something I was used to. You have to put your hand on the guy in front’s back, I got a couple of pushes from behind. I just didn’t want to fall and kept moving sideways out of the line to avoid getting hung up or skating up someone’s ass.
We came around the next flat bit towards the start/finish and at some point it was me, the kid in orange and a guy in red working in a small line with me in back. I still felt good and strong, not really tired at all. For not intending to race, I seemed to be doing just that. But I wasn’t dying in the process.
The Final Lap
Our 3-man group bridged to the next pack, it was actually one of the pro start groups, we had made up the 3 minute gap they started with. The guy in red asks if we want to pass or sit in. I yell that he’s driving, he makes the call. We sat in. More jacking around in the pack and then I stepped out of the line again to avoid running up on the guy in front of me. Usually increased wind slows you down but my bearings are so awesome (thanks to Rex’s super secret cleaning method) I was rolling past people not even pushing.
I thought about it for a split second and that was that: I put my head and the hammer down and went for a solo breakaway with 3/4 of a lap to go. The kid in orange must not have seen me as I was on the inside of the line and I got away clean; he’d come after me soon enough.
I hammered up the hill like it was a flat and moved onto the top flat section, still clear and still moving like hell. I’m not good at checking what’s behind me but as I made the right hand turn onto the downhill, I saw the kid in orange chasing a couple hundred meters back.
Figuring he couldn’t catch me on the downhill (he wouldn’t if I’d been in a line), I didn’t keep the pressure up; another tactical error. He did and halfway down he caught my wheel. No matter. At this point, I was just racing to win my age group, I didn’t even think I was eligible for the overall since I hadn’t signed up for the open division. I also thought the kid was racing the full marathon.
We came onto the final flat on the freeway and I’m working it at this point, keeping the pressure up just going since I know the end is in sight and there’s no reason to hold back. I tell the kid to sit in, that I’m done this lap and he should save himself for the next 3 laps. I’m just a nice guy. We’re passing skaters left and right although a third joins our line.
I’m doing all the work, just pushing it hard. I wasn’t sure about the guy who had joined us, thought he might be part of my age group so I was saving myself for the final sprint. I had checked out the course and knew I could sprint the full distance from the final right hand turn to the finish line. That’s when I’d go.
The kid in orange went with about a quarter mile to go. Just bat out of hell balls out sprinting. As above, I didn’t know where we were in the race in terms of finishing position (a danger of everyone racing all at once), didn’t think I was eligible for the open anyhow and thought he was doing the full marathon. So I let him go. That was my last and greatest tactical error.
He actually went too early and blew a bit, I waited until the final right hand corner and sprinted to the finish as planned, crossing the finish line a mere 2 seconds behind him. He had done 42:14 and I came in 42:16; his teammate would come in 30 seconds later and the 4th place finisher was 3 minutes back. Note again that my best in practice over the distance was 52 minutes. I had kicked some serious ass. And done it ‘not racing’. Err, yeah.
A Silly Tangent
I was fairly certain that I had won my age group by miles (I did, actually, 6 minutes ahead of number 2 which is a 2 mile gap) but wasn’t sure if I would be bumped up into the open division. The kid had clearly come in first, I figured his teammate (30 seconds behind me) would get second. I was just an old fart age grouper, right?
But while waiting the 2.5 hours that would pass until awards, I decided to get my face painted. Yeah, fine it was mainly for the kids but screw it; people take this too seriously. If you’re not having fun, don’t bother. I had raced an incredible race, now it was time to relax and have fun. I wish I had had alcohol with me.
I’m actually a little annoyed that it’s facing backwards. That’s the wrong direction to be skating. The woman who did it mentioned I was the only one with a beard to get one. The caption couldn’t be truer.
So after everyone had finished the event, they finally gave out awards. I was reasonably certain I was being bumped up to the overall at this point, having skated the second fastest time for the men’s half marathon. I wasn’t wrong. That’s right, my first race in 15 years, not rested, not tapered, with only 5 weeks on my inline skates. And I made the podium (you can almost see my Sock Monkey shirt behind the trophy). The kid who beat me by a frustrating 2 seconds is 14, his teammate in third is 15. I’ll be 40 in 2 weeks.
Now, as I mentioned the event is called the Texas Road Rash and they actually give an award for the best road rash from the race. Had I known going in, I’d have tanked it at the finish and taken off a layer of skin to get a second award. As it was I got this trophy for my second place overall finish (I didn’t get a first place trophy for my age group as they move you out when you place in the open division). It’s my first one and occupies a proud place on my mantle next to my monkeys.
So What’s the Point?
Believe it or not the point of this article is not only:
- To prattle self-indulgently.
- To give the finger to the trolls who gave me shit for not being talented on the ice.
- To show off my trophy.
I actually want to make a point about training. The current idea that the only type of training that can or should or must be done is high-intensity interval training continues with unabated stupidity on the Internet. By folks who are not athletes and have not coached athletes but need to sell a product and pretend that they have.
Certainly my n=1 experience means very little. Or does it? The facts are that most endurance athletes do a majority of their training at low intensities topped off with a bit of high-intensity work and there a lot of reasons to do this. In fact, the majority of training done by most athletes is done at a fairly moderate intensity (even Westside Barbell, which is known for high intensity training year round does MOST of their work around 75% intensity). Contrary to the claims of the clueless, easy training doesn’t make you slow or weak. What it makes you is good.
I didn’t even do the bit of high intensity work most endurance types do and I still kicked ass. I’ve done zero formal interval work and zero formal threshold work for skating. I’ve skated aerobically just over a dozen times and done a tiny bit of sprint work (maybe 3 minutes/week tops). The rest of my training is a mix of easy aerobic and tempo training running or on the elliptical. It’s all done at aerobic intensities. Figure ~10-11 hours/week of total training broken into about 50-60% intensive endurance and the rest easy aerobic. And whatever percentage 3 minutes of sprint work per week works out to (hint: it’s ~0.4% of my total volume).
So that’s 99.6% aerobic and 0.4% sprint work. And nothing else.
And despite that, despite not tapering at all, not resting at all and having done zero race pace work, I took second in the men’s overall division in my first race in 15 years, all while holding speeds that I never touched in training; that I couldn’t have done 15 years younger training 10 times harder.
Had I skated a better tactical race (including knowing who I was actually racing against), I’d have taken first without effort. I shouldn’t have let the kid wheel suck and I shouldn’t have let him break on me; those are two mistakes I’ll never make again. But tactical experience will come with more racing. Physiologically, with only 5 weeks under my belt on my inlines, I’m already kicking ass. I can’t wait for the end of the season when I’m actually in shape.
Let met put this in further perspective, my average speed for the race was 19.8 MPH over the 13.99 mile course; my top speed was 27.4 MPH. The men’s pro winner who most likely had a decent pack to work with averaged 21.6 MPH. I pulled most of my race by myself and on nothing more than aerobic training am right in the mix. With a good pack, I’d expect to go faster than 19.8 MPH.
Doubling my race time of 42:14 to 1:24:28 for the full marathon would have placed me top 10 in the men’s pro open and about top 6 in men’s pro masters; again with only 5 weeks of low intensity training under my belt. Sure, it’s a theoretical result but with a pack to save energy and a bit more training to be able to cover the distance, it’s well within my capacities.
I’d note that according to my Garmin (which I wore for data gathering but did not look at during the race; you can train by tech but you race by feel), I had an average heart rate of 177 with a max of 189. I usually put 175-180 in calculators for my threshold heart rate and clearly that’s about right.
And I was able to redline right at that exact pace with ZERO work at that pace in training (admittedly some of this is due to the racing I did in my 20′s). I did it by feel and had the aerobic engine (developed from mainly low-moderate intensity work) and technique to go fast at that pace. Without doing any hard work on my skates.
Beating a Dead Horse
Now, I suppose the real hardheads could argue “But if you had done intervals, you might have won.” Two things. First, I didn’t lose for physiological reasons, I lost for tactical reasons. And the fact that I wasn’t actually trying to win per se. Second, think about it objectively, try for a second to put your preconceived notions away. In the past 5 weeks of training, I haven’t done a single workout that was exhausting or even particularly difficult. Skating is always fun, mind you, the rest of my training is simply boring. But it’s not hard.
Sure, I’ve had skating workouts where my low back was torched but I’ve not walked out of a single workout feeling exhausted. At most I’m sweaty as hell and a little bit tired. But that’s it. To argue that working 20% harder and being worn out all the time would be worth an improvement that wouldn’t have made the difference in the first place and most likely wouldn’t occur in the second is asinine. Which won’t stop people of course. They know intervals are superior to everything else and steady state low-intensity cardio makes you slow and stuff. Right.
Make no mistake, I will eventually perform some actual interval and threshold work on my skates. Or maybe I won’t if this type of training puts me where I need to be. That is, why work harder than I need to if I’m performing well on the easier stuff? But simply consider that, doing exactly zero of that type of work, I performed at an absolutely stellar level, at speeds that I never trained at in practice (my top speed during training is just over 22 MPH but that’s going downhill; I average about 17 MPH at an average heart rate of 156). But for right now, clearly doing 99.6% aerobic work is allowing me to perform at my best. Why would I possibly consider doing something else? Or working much much harder for what would probably give me less return?
In any case, for all of you intent on working hard all the time and not feeling happy if you’re not blown up by training all the time, there might be lesson in this. For those of you still fascinated by trying to perform interval training year round, there might be a lesson in this. Or not.
Hardcore or just Stupid as Hell?
Oh yeah, on the way home from the event, there was a location of the gym I belong too (I am ashamed to name it). It was 12:30pm, less than 4 hours after I’d finished my race, taking second place after spending over 40 minutes at/near anaerobic threshold.
And I did my hour tempo run at 160 HR because this was just a training day for me and I wasn’t missing a training session. A training day where I made the podium but a training day nonetheless.
And…A Brief Shout-Out
Thanks, Rex. I didn’t have what it took on the ice but you gave me the skills to have what it takes outdoors. I was trained by the best and I couldn’t have done this without you.