The thought germinates one day as you pass yet another bicyclist during your in-line workout, leading you to contemplate how much your skills and fitness have improved over the months. You can't ignore the fact that you can skate much further than you used to, and in less time. These days, you don't feel tired until you've covered several miles, and you love it. You wonder, what would it take to take to turn this ability into the assets of a competitive endurance athlete? The original thought becomes a seedling.
Practical ConcernsRealistically, the first simple requirement for an endurance training regimen is finding a training location where you can maintain a steady pace without interruption. Check around for a bike path in your area that doesn't cross busy intersections, an after-hours business park loop or a very large parking lot.
The next consideration is proper skates. If you really intend to get serious about in-line speed competitions, you need a pair of five-wheel skates. You can purchase a ready-made pair from one of the top manufacturers starting at about $300 dollars (I love my Salomon Vitesses). However, the most dedicated racers piece together boot, frame, bearings and wheels to gain a completely custom skate.
The long wheel base of five-wheel skates improves stability at speed (reducing the "shimmies"). The low boot cuff allows you to maintain the tuck position longer and with less effort. Taller wheels with a narrow profile reduce friction from road contact. High quality bearings (ABEC 3 or higher) also decrease rolling resistance. Custom boots can be molded to fit your own foot.
Detailed discussions on the highly technical subject of speed skate configurations can be found on the Internet's rec.sport.skating.racing news group, as well as in articles published in Fitness and SpeedSkating Times. Whatever way you go, you need to find a balance between the money you have to spend and the value you place on having a competitive edge.
Maintain the Machine
Take good care of your body, and you'll reduce your times and increase your distances much faster. Wear socks that wick away the sweat. Apply moleskin or tape places where your feet have a tendency to get hot spots. Carry water. You need to replace those precious body fluids, and this means drinking one cup every 15 minutes during long distance rolls. This is where a backpack or fanny pack hydration system comes in very handy.
It should go without saying that protective gear is a must whenever you skate. In fact, you'll get a bit more respect (and stroking space) on the trail when you're dressed in the gear of a serious athlete. I feel better going at top speed when wearing padded shorts as a bottom (literally!) layer.
If you're serious about speedskating competition, the accepted standard reading is Speed on Skates by coach Barry Publow, published in 1999 by Human Kinetics. Before that, "The Complete Handbook of Speed Skating" by Dianne Holum served both ice and in-line racers. Both books extensively cover technique and training. Your own skating form should already incorporate the following: (For a more in-depth technique checklist, see the article Increase Your Pushing Power.)
- Reduce wind resistance by learning to skate with both hands behind your back when they're not needed for balance or sprinting.
- Don't swing your arms from side to side: swing from front to back, as though pulling a rope.
- A deep tuck reduces wind resistance and enables you to exert greater force when extending the leg to stroke. Strive for a 90-degree bend at the knee with your torso parallel to the ground.
- Round the shoulders and upper spine forward, to reduce the chances for a stiff lower back.
- When you stroke, make an effort to push straight out to the side.
- Keep all four wheels on the pavement as long as possible to maximize the power and length of your strokes.
If you can find one, join a speed skating club to learn technique, drafting and team strategy. In a group, you'll get a great workout while you polish your competitive attitude and learn to pace yourself for a long race. You will also get the necessary experience to skate with confidence in a tight crowd. If you feel you need more one-on-one instruction, ask other members about speed skating camps or the availability of a coach.
When it comes right down to it, the quality and quantity of training you do before race day are major determining factors in your performance.
There are as many training routines as there are skaters, but they should all include the same three elements: cardiovascular work, interval training, strength training, and cross training.
Cardiovascular endurance: It is important that you strengthen the muscles of your heart as well as the rest of your muscles. An activity that sustains an aerobic heart rate for at least 20 minutes should already be part of your weekly fitness program at least three times per week. Training for an endurance race requires you to increase your aerobic efforts to up to two hours a day, several times per week.
Interval training: To really improve your body's capacity to process oxygen, you need to add interval training sessions. Interval training alternates repeated spurts of intensive activity with timed spans of slower periods of the same activity. The variation in blood flow resulting from these efforts grows a stronger and larger heart muscle.
Ideally, the sets of intensive skating (or biking, running, etc.) should raise your heart rate to 85-95% of maximum for one to four minutes. Follow immediately with recovery periods, where you settle down to an aerobic training rate (60-85% of maximum) for three times as long as the interval lasted. Because of the intensity, interval training should not be done more than once a week or it may become counter-productive. Consider buying a heart monitor to keep a close watch on your heart rate while still moving.
Strength training: The stronger you are, the more endurance and power you will bring to your race. A consistent high-repetition low-weight lifting regimen will also decrease your chances for injury by strengthening tendons and ligaments as well as muscles. Such benefits don't happen overnight: you need a minimum of three months to prepare for each race. Please note that it takes much longer to strengthen tendons and ligaments than it does muscle, so a year-round weight training program is well-advised to prevent injury. If you have never belonged to a gym, now is a good time to sign up. Take advantage of the offer for training advice, which is usually free to new members.
Lift weights up to three times a week, making sure to work the large muscle groups: chest, back and legs. (If you don't belong to a gym, you can still work these major muscles at home with several sets each of push ups, chin ups and alternating deep-knee bends with lunges.) A strong upper body is very important to your overall athletic potential, so don't neglect your shoulders and arms. Between sets, work on your core strength. A sinewy torso (hips, waist, abdomen, lower back) helps reduce back pain on race day and improves your balance and agility. Add stretching and calf work, and include some hyperextensions for your spinal erectors.
Cross training: Not surprisingly, it takes a great deal of endurance to train for an endurance race. Variety in your workouts will make training hours more interesting and increase your overall athleticism at the same time. Activities that have been found to complement in-line skating include bicycling, running, swimming, skiing (both Nordic and alpine varieties) and, of course, ice skating.
Other areas to focus on when working toward an endurance race are hills to increase leg and heart strength and prepare for inclines on the race course; sprints to improve your ability to get off or across the line faster, and technique, which some say contributes 70% to winning.
However you build your own workout week, your schedule needs to include some combination of the following elements. Try to make time each day for selections from at least two of the first three categories.
- Strength: Weight training (two to three times per week)
- Cardiovascular Endurance: One to two hours of aerobics three times per week (cross train without skates twice)
- Intervals et al: Two hours of interval training, technique work, sprints, or timed speedskating, once per week each
- Easy days 1-2 times per week (moderate aerobics or no training at all)
Choosing the First Race
Start with a realistic goal. Don't make your first race a 100k--you can always work up to that level. Find a 50K or half-marathon to train for, preferably within a weekend's driving distance. Ask the organizers about the entrance fee and any other participant requirements. On race day, you will be placed in a race with other skaters of a similar ability and age group.
Take it easy the last week before the race, working more on technique than intensity or endurance. Load up on complex carbohydrates the night before (potatoes or pasta) and pack up a stash of energy bars and drinks to carry (or have brought to you) during the race. And remember, don't burn out early by putting your heart and soul into the first half of the race, a common mistake among first-time competitors.
Your determination and focus will pay off whether or not you win your first race. By putting yourself through the racer's training regimen, you have blossomed into an elite athlete, and nothing can take that away.