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Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 9

So in Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 8, I looked at how I handled my brief stint with overtraining leading into a miserable race experience at the Ronde Von Manda.  That ‘race’ had caused me to evaluate my training, strengths and weaknesses.  Which, as much as I was unhappy with my performance, was the main reason to do it.  Better to find out where I was weak at a relatively unimportant event than to find out at the event that actually mattered to me.

In short, I had come to the conclusion, not surprisingly, that after nearly 14 months of little else but aerobic work my aerobic engine was strong (as was my endurance) but my top end was weak as hell.  And while this has gotten me through the half-marathons in 2010, I wasn’t sure it was going to pay the bills going into 2011.

Race dynamics change as the distance goes up and I’d been warned that inline races tend to be alternating periods of breakaways/sprints and cruising along (I had seen only elements of this in my races to date for whatever reason).  I wouldn’t be able to time trial the entire hour and twenty minutes and that meant finding some top end. It didn’t help that I had a mere 3 weeks to get things done.

But before talking about what I did and why, I want to go off on a quick tangent since it tied in with this training block.  Mainly I’m trying to pad out the series to end the main bit on Friday right before the race.  So today I’m going to talk a bit about equipment.

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Equipment Part 1: On Buying Performance

Since becoming involved in sport back in my teens, I’ve never really been an equipment kind of guy.   At least not beyond a certain point. I think it was mainly a reaction to a lot of what I saw among athletes even then.  A very American approach to things is to try to ‘buy performance’ with equipment often at the expense of training or other things that matter.

Anybody who’s ever been involved in cycling knows ‘that guy’ (or usually ‘those guys’) who spend immeasurable amounts of money on super light equipment and aero wheels all while carrying 10-20 extra pounds of fat.    And we’ve all seen someone out on an aero type bike wearing a big floppy t-shirt.  I have no personal experience in golf but it seems to be a sport where there a lot of people with a lot of disposable income who try to buy their way to better performance with better toys.

In pretty much all sports involving any type of equipment, this kind of nonsense goes on and it seems to be a very American approach to things.  People try to buy performance by throwing money at equipment (or supplements) or just about anything except that stuff that matters (smart, consistent training).

I had a teammate like this in Salt Lake, a guy who wouldn’t warm-up or do drills, who must have skipped literally 75% of summer training in our last year….but who spent thousands of dollars to fly out and get a custom boot made.  Because obviously that’s what was holding him back.

Now, make no mistake, having equipment that works is key.  Something I came to the realization of early on is that there is usually some minimum level of equipment for it to be at least workable.   Crap is crap no matter how you cut it.  And while the top athletes can compete on crap and probably still beat most of the field, folks invariably end up putting themselves at a disadvantage by having equipment that is too cruddy.

And invariably in most sports there is sort of a low-end cutoff below which whatever you get is total crap.  But above that point becomes pretty good.  So in cycling, if you spend much less than $600-900 for a road bike for example (and the number is probably higher than that now), you end up with low-level crap that won’t really get you very far.

But once you get beyond that low-level price point, you reach a level that tends to be sufficient for the grand majority.   This is especially true in recent years where even the lower end of a lot of equipment is pretty damn good.  Let’s face it, most of us won’t ever be the best at anything, we aren’t going to the Olympics, we’re not going to be World Champions.  And even if we are, it’s going to take years to get there by which point we can invest in better gear as we climb up the ranks.  So crossing that first price point is, in my opinion, sufficient for the majority of athletes in the majority of sports.

As well, you rapidly reach a point where you paying immeasurably more money for immeasurably less improvement.  That is, the difference in gear you get from crossing from the low-end to the middle end tends to be enormous.  After that you’re throwing money at relatively insignificant changes in real performance.

You can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on bike gear to shave ounces off the bike or whatever.  Which is great when you’re climbing the Alps in the Tour De France and need to save every iota of energy.  And less relevant when you’re 10 lbs overweight or not training consistently or whatever.  On the ice, there are skin suits that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars that may shave a quarter of a second off your lap time (when you’re going 33 mph). Which is fantastic when you’re the top 1% in the world.  And not so much when you can’t crack 30 seconds for a flying lap….

I think you get what I’m trying to say here.

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Equipment Part 2: Of Contrarianism and Dumbassery

So seeing that approach in sport from an early age, I, being the type of person I am (read: contrarian or just a dumbass) went almost to the opposite extreme.  Sure, part of it was that I was just cheap (and didn’t have the disposable cash to throw around) but all I ever wanted was equipment that was serviceable and functional.  The rest of it, I figured, came down to the motor (i.e. me).  So I never really bothered putting money into equipment (though I do love training toys that support training in some fashion).

Quite in fact, I took my attitude sort of to the opposite extreme.  Either consciously, subconsciously or because I’m just lazy, I often neglect my equipment.  I forget to tune it or check bolts or what have you.  It became almost a running joke in Salt Lake City that my skates would explode once or twice during time trials.  It just wouldn’t occur to me to tighten the bolts on the klap mechanism (I did sharpen regularly mind you) or whatever and they’d blow apart on a start. I have an even better story about inline bearings and lap speeds but this is going to be too long as it is so that’ll have to wait.

But I always skated on stock boots (I never needed customs which helped, I guess I just have average sized/shaped feet) and blades.  I was the problem in Salt Lake, having better equipment wasn’t going to make me a better nor faster skater when my inability to skate well was the real problem.

Of course that approach is just as damaging as the other extreme of trying to buy your way to better performance.  Finding balance would have been a good thing.  And this is all just a really long introduction to the story I want to tell next since it happened two days after the disastrous Ronde Von Manda and lets me pad out this series and not write about anything real for a little while longer.

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Equipment Part 3: On Wheel Size

As I discussed in the No Regrets series, one change in the inline world since I raced back in my 20’s (the aeons ago 1990’s) was an increase in wheel diameter.  I had raced on 80mm wheels, most recreational skates these days start at 84 or 90mm and most racers are on 110mm wheels although some still skate 100mm wheels (as I had last year).

I’d note that bigger is not necessarily better and different wheels have their own sets of pros and cons.  Case in point, a teammate of mine in SLC who had been an indoor skater had told me that skaters on 110’s were actually at a disadvantage indoors. It’s mostly corners and 110’s are harder to bring around and carve which is crucial to good corners; he reported that he and one of his teammates had done better on 100’s.

Of course, most outdoor courses are not terribly corner heavy; case in point two of my races in 2010 were out and back and out and back with tight turnaround at each end.  No corners.  And in the straights, at least at a first approximation, bigger wheels should be slightly superior.

Bigger wheels do take more strength/power to get up to speed but once up to speed have more rotational inertia and should hold speed a bit more easily.  It may depend on the style of the skater of course: more power skaters might do better on bigger wheels and smaller skaters on smaller.  I’m told a similar debate/argument is going on in the world of mountain biking in terms of wheel size and relative pros and cons of bigger vs. smaller.

I’d mention again that a long-held marathon world record (only recently broken) was set by Chad Hedrick racing on 84mm wheels.  Of course, he never raced on the bigger wheels so far as I can tell; we can always wonder if he would have gone even faster.  And being Chad aka ‘The Exception’, he’s just one of those skaters that might have been amazing on any set of wheels.

Regardless, assuming that 110’s had some benefit, especially over longer distances, it was worth seeing if they made any difference for this season.  But while I had bought a set of Cado Motus 110mm skates prior to leaving SLC, I actually ended up skating on 100’s during 2010.  The Cado Motus boot didn’t work for me and neither did the frame.  So I simply mounted my old ice boot to a Cado 100mm frame and raced on that.

Coming into this season, I at least wanted to trial 110’s in training to see if there was any difference/benefit/etc.  While I wasn’t going to throw money at the problem, if the 110’s had an advantage over the 100’s in races, I didn’t see any reason to hinder myself.  I had managed to get a Bont boot (it’s just a brand that fits my feet properly) off of Ebay and this mounted ok to my Cado Motus frame.  Once I had gotten through the 2 week unloading period and got back to skating outdoors, I started taking both of my sets of skates to train.

Not only did this ensure that I got my workout in (the 100’s are set up properly while I got the frameset on the 110’s right) but I could get some comparative data.  All of my inline courses are closed loops so I could skate a number of loops on one set of skates and then switch out and compare data on speed, heart rate, RPE, etc.

At first glance, the 110’s seemed marginally superior.  I got slightly faster speeds at slightly lower heart rates.  Mind you this wasn’t really controlled testing and the difference wasn’t enormous.  Between differences in wheels, bearings, the order I skated each skate, it wasn’t like this was fantastic data.

And at best the difference was slight.  But over 26 miles, every little bit can help. I figure that everyone must have moved to 110’s for one reason or another although ‘because everyone else did it’ is always a very real likelihood in sport.  Often times people just follow the crowd whether it’s actually better or not.

I will mention that the 110’s sure FELT different.  They seemed to roll longer, my cadence was noticeably slower, they definitely responded differently than the 100’s, they were much harder to bring around and finish my carve.  The higher balance point was a bit offputting, crossovers were initially scary but then were ok.  The weirdest day I had was one where I skated the 110’s first and then went to the 100’s.  I thought I was going to break my ankle the balance point was so different.  For some reason going from 100’s to 110’s didn’t cause the same issue.

But the comparison wasn’t perfect because my frame wasn’t mounting properly to the boot.  Because of how the mounting bits were set up, I couldn’t get the frame as far inside as I wanted and I didn’t feel like I was getting good outside edges on the 110’s.  I wasn’t skating between my skates but I wasn’t far off.

So my technique wasn’t as good on the bigger wheels making any speed/heart rate comparison that much more inaccurate.  I solved the problem by winning a proper Bont 110mm frame off of Ebay (I’d note that the seller Adam’s Inline was AMAZINGLY helpful and I actually ended up putting up some sponsorship money for their skate team because of how well they treated me).

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Equipment Part 4: Of Bolts and Cracked Ribs

So now I had the right boot and the right frames and set them up; I was actually kind of excited to see how they’d work. as above, I’m usually not a big ‘buy performance with equipment’ kind of guy but I’d been sitting on this gear during my 2 weeks of break and bike race prep and I was itching to try my new toys.  Because who doesn’t like toys?

And this story is primarily relevant because what I’m about to describe happened on the Tuesday after the Ronde Von Manda. I’d decided how to approach my last 21 (now 20) days of training leading into the Road Rash and my first workout was on my now (hopefully) properly set up skates.

So I head out to one of my standard courses at least hoping for some good things on the new boot/frame setup.  I had been a bit demoralized by the bike race and a good skate workout with some good speed/HR numbers would have done a lot for my confidence.  It definitely felt good, I was getting good edges, it felt fast but that can be deceptive as hell (I never check data until I get home).  Sometimes fast workouts are slow and vice versa.

And about 3/4 of the way through my first lap, the badness started.  Now understand before I tell this that the skates were set up properly, the bolts were tightened and I often have a warning sign that something bad is about to happen on my skates.  I’ll hear a bolt rattling or  a clicking or something and if I don’t stop and check it, I’ll go down as something slips.  That didn’t happen.

Rather with absolutely no sign of a problem, I was skating and as I set down my right skate and pushed off I heard a horrible scraping sound.  I wasn’t sure what had happened to my skates but I knew that whatever was about to happen next was going to be bad.

And that’s when everything went to slow motion.  Anyone who has crashed on a bike or skiing or skating knows what I’m talking about: everything slows down and you know something bad is about to happen but you can’t do a damn thing about it.  I’m not sure if I fell after I heard the noise or after the next push or what.  But suddenly I was falling down and to my right.  At least I wasn’t rolling to my left knee like I always do.

And down I went HARD  face first into the pavement at a speed probably between 18-20 mph.  I hit on my right side, jamming my right hip  (I have lovely road rash) and shoulder and…cracking another rib.  I had done this one in SLC skating inline but on the other side but I had all the telltale signs.  It hurt when I breathed deeply, hurt when I stood up and stretched, etc.  Oh goody.

Mind you, the rib hadn’t really affected me in workouts that mattered in Salt Lake City.  It doesn’t hurt skating and it doesn’t hurt on the bike. It’s just sort of an annoyance.  I also wish Alfie! would stop managing to either kick me in the hip bone or slam my ribcage.    A runner who saw it said she’d never seen anyone hit that hard.  It knocked the wind out of me but I was fine soon enough after I shook off the impact.  And had to go look at what had happened.

Simply, the entire frame had come off the right boot.  Both bolts were sitting in the middle of the pavement near the frame; how they both failed simultaneously is still beyond me.  I mean, I would have understood if one had vibrated out and then the other had failed.  But they were both sitting there next to one another as if they just popped out of the boot mount at the same time.

I picked up my frames and bolts, took off my other skate and walked back to my car, in pain on every step…and put on my 100’s and finished the damn workout.  To this day I’m at a loss as to what happened.  I’m mainly glad that I had had the foresight to take my 100’s with me so I could get in the workout.   Which is exactly what I did.  With 20 days left to go, I didn’t have time to screw around and it’s not as if the rib affected my skating.

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Going Forwards

Mind you, I haven’t given up on the 110’s but I won’t be messing with them until after the Road Rash.  I’ve gotten some longer bolts and am going to play with some lock nuts and such but, to be honest, I’m a bit scared of them now.  Crashing at speed is never fun, especially onto pavement.  I have to find a way to test them out and make sure they are solid without killing myself again.

More to the point, I held with the main pack (at least in the half marathon) on my 100’s last year.  Any benefit I might gain in efficiency or what have you is offset by my skates exploding on my feet.  I’ll stick with my 100’s until I have time to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

But that’s how I was starting out my final 20 day preparation going into one of my main races of the year: with failed equipment and a cracked rib following an absolutely horrible bike racing experience.  Maybe the universe is telling me something.  And yes, finally, on Friday I will tell you exactly what I did in the final 20 days to try to fix the problem I had identified (no top end) and prepare for the Road Rash.

Read Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 10.

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