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Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 1

Since god forbid I write about my dogs some more and risk pissing off a handful of idiots, today I’m going to move back into self-indulgent prattling mode and talk about how I went about setting up my own winter training for the 2011 inline speed skating season.  Make no mistake, it’s not just self-indulgent prattle.  If you pay attention, you may pick up some ideas on how to go about setting up your own training as I lay out the thought process into how I laid out mine.  Or you may not.

A bit of background: as I discussed in Methods of Endurance Training: Part 5 and Methods of Endurance Training: Part 6, I had managed to drag myself out of my summer depression (in major part due to my experiences at the Austin Humane Shelter), got my act together and trained for three and a half weeks to a rather poorly run half-marathon race in Houston, Texas.  I wasn’t as ready as I’d have liked but I was ready enough.  I raced the best race I could and, considering the circumstances, had to take that.

But clearly that meant that I was back as a skater, which meant it was time to start thinking about the next training cycle, which would be starting as winter came around.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of the problems with summer endurance sports is that, unless you live somewhere perpetually sunny, you have to do your higher volume ‘base’ training in the winter.  And when you’re a wimp about cold weather as I am, that means being indoors…a lot.  And, well, you can start to crack-up.  This happens to all endurance athletes to some degree but I’m not that mentally stable to start with.

Endurance athletes have come up with myriad strategies to overcome this.  One in the cycling powermeter community is actually to focus less on volume and more on higher intensity (e.g. Sweet Spot training as laid out in Methods of Endurance Training) but shorter workouts.  So rather than grind hours on the trainer, they focus on short sweet spot type training to increase functional power.

It helps to keep them sane since they just aren’t going to do 20 hours/week on an indoor trainer.  Well, saner.  Then, if necessary or desired they can do the longer work as the weather gets better and they transition into the racing period.  Basically it’s sort of a short-to-long program for endurance sports: build power first when you can’t stand too much time on the bike and then capacity second when you have the ability or willingness (since you can ride outside).

Of course, not everyone is that smart and I’ve learned that, due to my personal physiology, I do better with relatively lower intensity but higher volume training.  And I happen to enjoy training and have a lot of free time.  So my gut default approach was to do more volume at a lower intensity for most of my training.

Unfortunately, that combination was going to make for a long winter.  I had also realized that part of my problem this summer was defaulting to indoor training when I shouldn’t have.  There were reasons including that I didn’t have a bike, was limited in the number of skates I could do, and don’t like running outdoors.  Which were more excuses than reasons.

So of my 9 workouts per week, I was doing 3 outdoors and 6 indoors.  Which is simply stupid with weather as nice as Austin has.  I had been forced indoors in SLC due to our scheduling but there was no fundamental reason (other than stupidity and habit, both of which often drive my behavior) to do it in Austin during the summer.

I also realized that part of the reason I hadn’t cracked up the final winter in Salt Lake City was that, despite my three hard bike rides and three runs indoors, I was spending 4 days per week on the ice (or ultimately 2 days on the ice and 2 days on the slideboard).  Certainly it was indoor training but the mental variety of going to the oval, seeing/talking to my coach/teammates and having some variety in where I was and what I was doing went a long way towards keeping me from going insane (well, more insane).

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option going into winter 2010.


Means and Methods: General Training

But all of the above went into my decision of how I wanted to train during the coming winter.  Clearly my goals were the same, I wanted to build up my aerobic engine to high levels so I could kick major ass in my inline skate races (I am also considering racing bikes for some variety).   That alone mandated much of my training and what it had to entail.  Since I’d still be limited in how much skate specific work I could do, that meant that a lot of my training would be general aerobic work.

Of course, I still needed to get in at least some skate specific training to make sure whatever I did generally would transfer over.  And I needed to keep from going insane or falling back into depression (a much lower risk since I have so many other things going on in my life).  But those were the global goals; the question was then how to accomplish them.

Now, after finishing Houston I moved straight into my transition week.  I had a small elective surgery planned and that was the best time to get it.  I got a hysterectomy if you must know (it didn’t make me less hysterical) and it made me feel like less of a man if that’s even remotely possible.  It was only moderately uncomfortable (having a guy pretend he’s roto-rootering your nutsack); mainly it meant a lot of sitting around with a bag of peas on my nuts.  Thank god for Netflix but even I can only watch so many movies.

But I had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to train and what I wanted to do.  I had managed to win a Cycleops Powerbeam Pro power based wind trainer on EBay and, since I had bought the single speed bike right at the end of the summer, I could ride that for at least part of my training and let my control freak nature run wild.

Quite in fact, that’s one of the reasons I bought the single speed in the first place.  Since my single speed bike was inexpensive to begin with, I was able to add the trainer (a steal at $699) for less than I’d have paid for a real road bike (an easy $1500 investment by the time you add all the accessory shit).  And the single speed works just fine for easy aerobic training on my courses and the trainer.  It also helps me start to morph into a hipster douche; I just need some skinny jeans and big sunglasses.  That, of course, is the real goal.

In any case, here’s my bike on the trainer.

This is where the magic happens.

In most ways, cycling is probably the ideal general form of general conditioning for speed skating.  In racing position, the body posture is similar to skating, the range of motion of the legs is similar (you don’t get full extension of course) and the physiology is similar because of it. Quite in fact, many ex-ice speed skaters transition to track or road cycling and do quite well for this reason.  Unfortunately, sitting on the trainer too much makes me go a bit nutso even with streaming movies and TV.   So while it’s specific, I can’t do it all the time.

While I don’t particularly care for running, it does work muscles differently (my ex-teammate Richard G. had had a coach who thought running was better conditioning for skating since it raised heart rate higher; I’m not sure I agree from a physiological standpoint but that’s neither here nor there) and tends to be a bit more central than local in terms of fitness With running, for example, at high work rates, I run out of air before my legs fatigue.  If nothing else, it’s variety for the sake of variety.  And my nuts don’t get as numb doing it.

I’ve mentioned that I spent a lot of time on the EFX/Elliptical during the summer (and my previous winter in SLC when I hurt my knee) and I feel that the aerobic conditioning in the upper body is useful for my weird-assed sport.  In skating, the upper body can fatigue due to the odd posture, especially in the distances I skate, and there is some evidence that muscles unrelated to actual movement can buffer acidosis during high-intensity efforts; developing aerobic capacity in my upper body muscles might help skating performance.  So I can rationalize the EFX that way.  Also, hotter chicks use the EFX so I get to smell bad next to them at the gym I refuse to name where I cardio-bunny.

As well, I had a weird (read: stupid/made-up) theory that combining the different modes above for general conditioning might be synergistic somehow.  Cycling is more local, focused on the lower body.  Running is more central since it involves more muscle groups and the EFX hits the upper body hard aerobically in addition to the legs (kind of like cross-country skiing).

My theory was that doing all three might lead to better overall adaptations since different ‘parts’ of the aerobic system was being hit across the week.  Mainly I was rationalizing including all three for varieties sake. Which is fine too; it’s all general conditioning for skating anyhow.

Speedskating physiologist Carl Foster calls it ‘donkey work’; since none of it is skating, it doesn’t really matter what you do so long as it gets done.  I was looking for the best way to do my donkey work without going nuts and the combination of bike, run, EFX seemed the best approach.  So far so good.

But what about skating and weights?  That’s what I’ll talk about on Friday.

Read Methods of Endurance Training Winter 2010/2011 Part 2

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