Texas Road Rash 2011: Race Report Part 2

So I’m going to finish up from Monday’s Texas Road Rash 2011: Race Report Part 1 by looking at the last bit of the race and then some post-race analysis along with what I’ve done this week and what I plan to do going forwards.

Lap 5 Redux

While I had said that nothing of real note happened in laps 2-5 that isn’t exactly true.  Somewhere towards the end of lap 5 I screwed up badly.  I mentioned that I had been alternatingly been getting dropped on and off the back of the line due to my poor paceline skills but somewhere in Lap 5 this went real wrong.

I don’t honestly recall if it was on the downhill (where I’d had huge problems staying with everyone for reasons I am unclear on) or the final flat but I got dropped several hundred meters off the paceline I had been dutifully sitting on and that distance was not making itself up as we  came through the final start/finish.

I had tried surging but hadn’t made up any distance on the pack as we came up the first uphill and they seemed to be staying away from me this time. I imagine that whomever was leading put a bit of extra speed on for the last lap, I just don’t know and it sort of didn’t matter.

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Lap 6-Finish

So now we were starting the final lap and I was way off the back and didn’t seem to be making up any ground.  I wasn’t losing ground, mind you but I wasn’t gaining.  This was not good. Now, given that the lead pack was way out of reach at this point, my whole plan at this point, inasmuch as I had one was to simply stay with the line I had been in until the final stretch and sprint and see what happened.  The best I could do was beat some of the guys in my line and improve my placing and that’s what I had hoped to do.

But that was predicated on actually being in the mix when we came through the final stretch.  And I wasn’t, I was several hundred meters back and seemed to be staying there.  I kept skating, maintaining the distance but I had a big decision to make.  And that decision was to simply let the line go (i.e. give up and finish on my own) and be done with it…or to work my nuts off to catch the paceline, hopefully having enough left for the final stretch.

And as we came up the hill, I decided to go for it.  If my training to date had prepared me for anything it was for some sustained efforts at my maximum and it would either be enough to catch them or it wouldn’t.  So I put the hammer down with a mental decision to either keep skating until I caught the line or was completely exhausted.  Not that the two were mutually exclusive.

And slowly but surely I started reeling them in.  They had stopped going fast and reverted to the 15-20 seconds surge/15-20 seconds slow thing they had been doing all race.  And every time they slowed, I’d close the gap a little bit. And they’d speed up and I’d stay even with them, and then I’d make up more distance when they slowed.

But every time I saw them coming closer, without getting away from me when they sped up, it gave me enough hope to keep on suffering.  It wasn’t fun and I was working but I kept thinking of the 15′ set I’d done on the bike a week out, I knew I could keep going even if it hurt (tangentially, I seem to have a much better ability to suffer skating than I do on the bike).  And if I could catch the line, I’d be able to sit in again and recover, hopefully in time for the final sprint.

And finally, somewhere on the top of the course I managed to catch them (again rolling slightly past the end as I overshot them).  Thank god.  It had taken a lot out of me but at least now I could sit in and rest and see what I had left for the finish.

We came around to the downhill and, once again, I got dropped off the back a bit.  The entire line also almost got run over by a car that wasn’t paying attention to the police officers directing traffic.  That was scary.  Then we were on the final long straightaway (a long flat stretch) with a final right hand turn into the finish line.

I only vaguely recall what happened at this point, I made a move and got out front and got swallowed by the pack, I recall getting boxed in behind someone on the side of the line, it came down to the final sprint, I caught one more guy and crossed in 1:24:00 (just under an exact doubling of my half-marathon time last year).   Everyone rolled through to the rollout, dropped off our timing chips and then I went and got the hell out of my gear.

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Results and the Aftermath

The overall pro-division race results showed up fairly quickly (one benefit of using chip timers).  Joey Mantia was a one man show coming in just under 1:15.  Apparently he had put a big gap on the main pack right off the bat and they didn’t have what it would take to catch nor stay with him so they just let him go.  The next big group came in right about 1:20 (same as last year), a couple of people at 1:22 and then my group at 1:24.  My average speed was pretty much exactly the same as the previous year although my average heart rate was a bit lower (174 vs. 179).

Placing wise I was near the back, not what I’d hoped for mind you, but I was ultimately happy with how I had raced at least physiologically.  For my first time in the pro ranks and racing the full distance, I’m not sure what I was expecting.  Short of having made it into the lead pack (and I’m not 100% sure I’d have stayed with them) I raced to my best ability.  I made some mistakes and learned a lot and there isn’t much more you can ask for.

Oh yeah, before continuing, since someone will wonder, what about the kid from last year?  Turned out he stayed in the half-marathon after all.  My half time of 41 minutes would have placed me third in the half-marathon and ahead of him.  For whatever that’s worth.

Once the adrenaline wore off, the exhaustion set in.  Between the lack of sleep the night before and the race effort, I was just  cooked.  I went home and collapsed for the rest of the day (and as a data point for intense activity blunting hunger, I didn’t even consider food for like 6 hours after the race).  On Monday I woke up about as sore as I’ve ever been.  Hip flexors, adductors, quads and low-back were just wrecked.  I hadn’t noticed any of it during the race but I was just destroyed and it took a good 3 days for it to go away.

I had planned to take a recovery/transition week following the event anyhow (having learned a valuable lesson about not jumping back into heavy training last year) but it wasn’t as if I had a choice: I couldn’t have trained if I wanted to.  I ended up taking 3 days completely off and enjoyed every one of them, only shaking the cobwebs back out with an easy bike ride yesterday as I start to gear up for the next block.

It gave me some good time to think about the race, my strengths and weaknesses and what I wanted to work on/change/fix before my next big race the Chicagoland Inline Marathon.  This is doubly interesting since I intend to race in the full tour including a 10k, 2 mile time trial and marathon, all done over 2 days.

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Reflections

So what did I learn from the experience?  First and foremost that the full marathon is almost a completely different race than the half.  It’s not just double the distance, the dynamics are totally different at least the way I did it.  At all three races in 2010, I had essentially done an individual time trial (reflected by my heart rate pegging right at my threshold) for the entire ~40 minutes.  At the 2010 Road Rash I had spent scant time in a paceline, at Napa I led the entire pack from the front all out until I crashed and Houston was me all by myself after I got dropped going as hard as I could go.

In contrast, I spent the grand majority of this year’s Road Rash sitting in the pack, alternatingly getting dropped and overshooting them.  My average heart rate was lower (174) and the variance in both speed and heart rate reflect the differences.  Now, in some ways I actually find this a bit annoying.

I am of the opinion that the strategy taken by my pack was far from optimal.  It takes a lot more energy to accelerate than to maintain speed and the whole surge/slow down thing made little sense, especially since the lead guy wasn’t staying at speed long enough to crack the pack apart.  Only one person got dropped off the back and that was on lap 5.  I think he just wasted a ton of energy skating that way.

As well, I saw no rotation of lead at all.  Part of the point of a paceline is to keep someone fresh up front; you maintain a higher average speed that way.  As it was, I didn’t see the order of our pack change at all.  It makes no sense and I have to wonder if our overall finish time wouldn’t have been faster had we not only maintained a higher speed but had folks rotating lead.  Ah well, an unanswerable question and, of course, we were unlikely to catch the lead group so I suppose it made sense to dick around like this.

In terms of strengths, both my overall endurance and threshold sustainability are strong, reflecting my training.  Despite skating the line like an idiot, I never really got too tired to keep going.  And even late in the race I was able to put the hammer down for long enough to catch the line.  I stayed technically solid over the entire race although video shows me toeing off a bit. This happens a lot when you’re chasing a line, you get forward and toe off instead of sitting back and carving.

Weaknesses identified were many but that’s just places for me to make improvements.  In no particular order of importance they are:

Pack Skills
This was shown in spades during the race.  The few times I got into the middle of the pack, I was bad at establishing my position or staying where I was.  Someone would be behind me pushing my low back (to keep from running me over) and I found it easier to just drop to the back of the line.  Basically I’m ok being at the front or in the back and need to be more comfortable in the mix.  Not that it really mattered in that I was able to move up over the last mile or so anyhow.  If the pack had been rotating, it might have been different.

Related to this was a general inability to establish my space while skating (I had the same problem skating short track in SLC).  The once or twice I tried to come around the line, if space got tight, I’d back off for fear of crashing or clicking skates.  If someone wanted in front of me, I’d just let them have the position.  All related to my discomfort being around skaters.

In a related vein, I had a horrible time adjusting to the dynamics of the pack; as I mentioned I would either get dropped off the back or overshoot them.  To be honest, I sucked at this in Salt Lake City as well.  Unfortunately this is also the aspect of skating I have the least ability to work on due to the complete lack of outdoor skating or skaters.  Maybe skating indoors with the group would help with this; or more cycling group rides.  I just don’t know.

Starts/Acceleration
In a race this distance, you don’t think of the start as playing a major role and it really doesn’t in the sense of affecting your finish time since it’s such a small percentage (this is in contrast to sprint events where the start is a large portion of the finish time).  But clearly it made a difference in that, when the leaders go out like a bat out of hell, if you aren’t with them you’re not going to be with them; once they open that gap unless you are profoundly faster you aren’t catching them.

I watched Mantia, Stelley and Vogel put an amazing gap on everyone else in the first half mile of the race by getting off the line well.  Part of this was my being too far back in the pack but, honestly, I doubt it’d have mattered. My starts were never fantastic on the ice and I’ve barely worked on them since I didn’t figure it would matter much.

A general lack of acceleration abilities showed up in the pack as well due to my inability (some of which was just poor pack skills on my part to keep up with the endless accelerations and deccelerations).  Honestly, my training to date hasn’t done much to improve this, being mostly continuous steady state skating.  This is easy enough to address although not as easy to fix since it takes a lot of time to improve.  Let’s just say that starts and accels will be a big part of my training over the next 12 weeks.

Top Speed
And this is really sort of where the rubber meets the road.  The average speed for the front pack was 21+ mph and I came in at 20mph.
Again, some of this was clearly set by the pack I was in, my average speed was set by their average speed and it’s hard to say if I’d have been capable of more in a pack going faster; my gut says I am but that and a dollar will get me a dollar’s worth of something.  My training times certainly suggest it since I was averaging 1 mph higher in training skates compared to last year along with being lighter with higher bike power outputs.

I will note that something else seemed ‘missing’ in my skating compared to 2011.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s something I can describe well.  Qualitatively my skating felt different, the pressure and power and snap I felt I had in 2010 just wasn’t there.  I don’t know if the wheels I ran were too hard (preventing me from loading them up prior to the push) or if it was just me; I suspect it was just me and how I’ve focused my training over the past year (I guess whatever I had in 2010 was leftover from being on the ice or something).  But clearly the speed jump from the open to pro division is there.

And just as I had discovered on the bike at the Ronde Van Manda, my top end/top speed just isn’t there.  And given that the sport is called ‘speed skating’, that’s a problem.  Again, this is relatively easy to address although perhaps not as easy to fix.  I need speed work both from a neurological and power output standpoint.

It’s worth noting that Joey Mantia clocked something like 23+mph and also holds short sprint inline world records (along with everything in-between); clearly his incredible overall top speed has given him an insane speed reserve for the distances.  Raising my own overall top speed with actual speed work should help me for distance stuff at least to some degree so long as I do the endurance and sustainability work.

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Summing Up/Going Forwards

And that’s that.  Certainly I would have been happier with a faster time but I can’t overall be unhappy with my performance.  I skated to my current ability. My racing certainly reflected the training I’ve done to date an allowed me to identify both my strengths and weaknesses.  Being process oriented as hell, identified a number of places I can make some adjustments and shore up weak points.    If I do that without losing where I’m already strong, that can only lead to better results next time.

As it stands, coming out of this week of relative rest/transition I have exactly 12 weeks to prepare for Chicago.  With a better feel for the distance, I have some very concrete goals that I want to reach to improve my performance.  That’s also allowed me to solve the bigger problem I was having keeping my skating and cycling training balanced without cratering myself.  I’ve got my plan for the next 12 weeks and I’ll detail them at some point later.

But for now, that’s all folks.

Read Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 11.

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