Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
Mmmm… data – I love it. It provides those who care for it with objective real-world feedback which, interpreted sensibly, can be used to make better decisions in both training AND RACING.
As a general rule, I find skaters don’t tend to be anywhere near as data-driven as athletes from other disciplines; triathlon & cycling especially. More fool them, I say – foregoing data and going by feel alone is just a mug’s game.
There is nowhere in the world of inline skating where data is more useful in planning, executing and reviewing your race than at the Le Mans 24hr – I’ve been reviewing my own data from last year’s race, and also taken a look at how the race unfolded for the other top 21 soloists to see what can be learnt from those who did the best…
For the uninitiated, unlike a typical point-to-point race, Le Man’s is a 24hr time limit race around the 4.185km Bugatti circuit. This make it absolutely ideal for data analysis – the course doesn’t change (other than weather variations over the course of 24hrs), so you know that you are comparing apples with apples when looking at your data over the course of the whole race.
The great defining feature of the Le Mans Bugatti circuit is The Hill – a gradual climb up 90ft that gradually steepens to a 4-5% slope and has you inventing new swear words as you finally reach the crest at the iconic Dunlop Bridge. Pacing yourself up the hill on a single flying lap is crucial if you are in a 10 or 6 man team. For solos and duos the challenge becomes to climb the hill time after time, taking as little out of yourself each time as possible. How well did I and others manage this? We’re about to find out…
OK, looking back on how my race unfolded last year, the first thing I want to know is what I was doing intensity-wise over the course of the full race. Here is an hourly summary of my Heart Rate data from 2014:
The blue columns are my average heart rate per hour, the red columns represent the maximum heart rate that I hit during that particular hour – this will typically be at the crest of the hill on my hardest lap during that hour. I’ve also calculate what percentage of my HRmax (which is about 198bpm) that represents.
Here’s a graphical representation:
It’s clear that even though I was aware that I would need to start very easily, that is much easier said than done. The numbers don’t lie: averaging 82-83% of HRmax (peaking at 90-91% of HRmax on every lap) in the first 2 hours is simply going out way, way too fast! You don’t get away with that in an ultra; it comes back to bite you at some stage.
As the race progresses, you can see that by hour 7 (not yet a third of the way into the race), my HRavg has now dropped down into a more sustainable in the 140-145 MAFish range (69-72%), and at this stage my HRmax spikes on the hill do not even manage to rise as high as my starting average heart rate – I feel that this is the pace I should have started at! Why…?
….Because, you can clearly see that in the last 8hrs of the race I am unable to raise my average HR above 61-62%. This is, simply put, exhaustion setting in.
Any race where you jet off the start line by hammering it out at 83% only to end up at a pedestrian 61% of HRmax for the last third is, to put it bluntly, a race that has been poorly paced. Starting out too fast means you always end up paying for it with a hefty rate of interest.
OK, so we have a good idea of how my race progressed from an pacing/intensity point of view. Now let’s break it down and look the progress I actually made during the race in terms of laps/distance covered…
Van’s Race Summary:
92 laps (385km) covered in total
1st half: 52 laps
2nd half: 40 laps
13.04% positive split
You can see that my pace progressively slows with each quarter. 29 laps covered in the first quarter compared to 23 in the 2nd quarter is a big drop off in pace already, indicative of starting out too fast.
Now, let’s look at how my performance compared to the top 21 soloists of 2014…
The overall winner (Thibaut Dejean) is clearly exceptionally fast AND consistent. His mean lap time is a blistering 11m45s (which some skaters in a team of 10 would have struggled to match), with a standard deviation of just 1m25s – this metronomic consistency is the hallmark of an outstanding, near-perfectly executed pacing strategy, and delivers him a total of 123 laps – way ahead of the field.
1st half/2nd half Splits
All the highest-placed finishers clearly demonstrate a good ability to judge pacing. For example, if we look at the 1st half vs 2nd half splits for the top 5 finishers, we see:
By comparison the 1st vs 2nd half splits for positions 17-21 are:
20th: 2.44% (well judged!)
Remember, I finished 10th with a 13% positive split, so my split/pacing judgement fits nicely between these these two subgroups.
Clearly, the larger positive splits for those lower down the pecking order demonstrate that there is a relationship between how evenly you maintain your pace throughout the race and your overall performance. Of course, you will always get the outlier in your dataset – in this case 20th place who managed a near-even split.
What you will see notice if you look at the individual lap times for various competitors is a whole variety of strategies – some will just kept going at a steady and sustainable pace for the whole time, others took frequent planned short stops, others took a small number of longer stops, and plenty took a complete rest/sleep break for several hours overnight. However, the statistical conclusions are irrefutable: those who maintain a steady and constant pace throughout are more likely to outperform those who set out (or are forced to adopt) a higher variance stop/start strategy.
What about Fastest Laps?
In comparison to 21st place’s 75 laps, the winner’s total of 123 laps is 64% further, yet if we look at their best laps, we see:
1st place fastest lap: 9m43s
21st place fast lap: 10m05s
While the winner’s fastest lap comes in only marginally 3.7% faster, it is obvious that he is operating at a much lower intensity and is therefore able to sustain and repeat that pace for far longer.
It is clear that you must resist the temptation to “bang in a fast lap or two” if you want the best possible overall performance. Outright speed is but one ingredient in placing well; it is clear that a well judged pacing strategy is equally important.
Remember that I have only summarized the top 21 placed finishers at last year’s race. This leaves out positions 22 through to 100-odd, but the pattern is well established and repeats itself – the lower placed finishers are those who are not able to maintain even pacing throughout the course of 24 hrs.
Looking Above & Below
Looking at those who finished ahead of me last year, I don’t think that I could realistically hoped to beaten many of them – 8th placed Hilde on 100 laps was 8 laps ahead of me and possibly too far out of reach even if I had judged my pacing to perfection.
Looking at 9th place Dan Solo, we see that he finished 1 position and 5 laps ahead of me, by virtue of his impressive consistency, more so that outright pace. Despite being 2 laps ahead of him at half way, I conceed 1 lap back in the 3rd quarter and then he finishes with a very strong final Q4, covering 25 laps; which was 6 more laps than I was able to crank out at that stage. Could I have matched Dan Solo with a better executed race? I would say that it was on the verge of being possibile.
I have good memories of on-track time with both Dan Solo and Hilde from last year; they are both serial Le Mans soloists and I look forward to skating more laps with them this year. Hopefully I’ll be right up with them this time!
By comparison, my endurance and judgement of pacing, as imperfect as it was, was still better than many (most?) other soloists, and is probably what enabled me to finish a ahead of a lot of quite a few competitors behind me – skaters who would probably smoke me over a marathon or similarly shorter distance, but who weren’t as well adapted or simply patient enough at this particular ultra distance.
It’s has become a mantra, but it bears repeating: you simply cannot start out slowly enough in an ultra – but that said, you must TRY! Do absolutely everything you can to reign it in in the early stages – others will be expending all their energy and putting time and distance on you, but trust that your strategy will see you back past them at some point further down the road.
How many times have you heard an athlete say: “I had a great first half, but then it fell apart at [such and such a point]…” ?
I hear this all the time, and I would simply reject their assessment and instead re-evaluate it accordingly: “if that is what happened then you didn’t have a great first half; you had a terrible first half because that is is what set up your problems in the latter part of the race!”
There is no chivalry in getting half way or even further if it means you have not left yourself anything in the locker for the rest of the race. That’s just stupid. Hour 23 is just as important as hour 3 of the race if not more so. Everyone still has energy and is doing great at hour 3 – how much distance will you actually manage to put on those around you by pushing yourself hard at such an early stage? By contrast, if your competitors are gassed in the last quarter of the race and you can keep going because you were disciplined and smart earlier on, then you can crush them at that stage – look at Dan Solo’s 25 lap stint in Q4!
This year I’ll take what I learnt from last year, and make sure that I start much, much easier than last year! Capping my HR at about 150avg (76% HRmax) from the very outset should see me much stronger right through to the 24th hour.