Endurance Skating

Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports

Winter Marathon Training


It’s been a little while since I’ve written a general training update, and as my training log has ticked over into week #9 of this season I suppose I should consider winter training to be well underway, and so it might be a good idea to talk about what I’ve been doing lately, and how I’m changing things up a bit compared to previous seasons.

There is something truly cathartic about early season marathon training.  Running through the cold, rain & wind with a clear goal on the immediate horizon makes you feel alive. I did the same last winter and pulled off a huge PR (3h38m) at the Thames Meander Marathon on 5.25hrs/week of running. With no 24hr skates planned this summer I have more time to dedicate to running, and so fully intend on lowering that 3:38 benchmark at the Barcelona marathon on March 13th. I guess I’ve just put myself out there.

Loading Patterns

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the structure of my meso blocks, and this year I’m experimenting with a less aggressive 2:1 weekly loading:deloading pattern rather than the more common 3:1 pattern that I was used to. In hindsight, I think my ramp rate in previous seasons has been too much, too soon (too Type-A) which at times left me overly fatigued and not absorbing all of the training that I was putting in.

I wrote extensively about my experimentation with the SportTracks platform in my previous post.  The more I am using it, the more I like it. Using the Training Load plugin, it is now far easier to model progressive overloading and recovery, and leveraging the ATL/CTL/TSB model enables me to more precisely answer important pieces of the training puzzle such as:

  • What is my current level of training fitness?
  • how much training should I be doing to be improving?
  • How much is too much?
  • How little is too little?
  • When should I take an easy/rest day or an adaptation week?

The model gives me an objective way to answer all of these questions, and I find that, rather than being a slave to a hitting a certain target number of weekly miles/hours for the training log, it allows me to be more relaxed so long as I know my fitness is moving in the right direction (God, I can’t believe I just wrote that).

Polarized Training…

Another change that I want to make this year is to formally adopt a more polarized approach to training. Up until now I always emphasized “base base base” and make no apologies for doing so. However, I now consider myself a “Year 3” athlete, and feel that I should not be afraid to deliberately introduce a certain amount of intensity into my training if I want to continue improving.

The idea of easy/hard training is not new. Whether it takes the name of “polarized training”, “80/20” or some other moniker. It’s superiority to the threshold model of training has been pretty well demonstrated, and, as Coach Joe Beer (of the excellent JBST podcast) very elegantly writes, is employed by the elites across all endurance sports. Speed skating is certainly not an exception: (study 1, study 2).

polarized training

… Means Avoiding the Grey Zone

The first great mistake that most casual athletes make is that most of their training is too hard… and the rest of it is too easy.

That is to say that they go too hard on easy sessions to be truly aerobic, but not hard enough on hard sessions to elicit the high end adaptations – they tend towards the “comfortably hard” zone – enough to get tired and to feel like you’ve had “a decent workout” but which is mediocre at eliciting significant key adaptations to training.

The polarized concept, in direct contrast, seeks to avoid that by structuring the training such that:

  • The bulk of training is done at “low intensity” – depending on your definition, this is usually below 80% HRmax, <2mmol/ltr blood lactate, below the first ventilatory threshold (VT1  – sometimes said to be around 77% of HRmax), or below the aerobic threshold (AeT). Think “guilt-producingly easy”.


  • A small amount of work done at “very high” intensity – again, depending on how to are categorizing that, it usually means >88% HRmax, above Lactate Threshold, >4mmol/ltr blood lactate, or above the 2nd ventilatory threshold (VT2). These should be very hard sessions – not comfortably hard.

The ratio of easy:hard is 80:20 at most. For most non-elites that should probably be more like 90:10 at most times of the season. If you are training 10hrs/week that 90:10 ratio buys you 1hr of “intensity”  to do with as you wish. But recognise that the balance is delicate – the high intensity must be supported by the aerobic work. More intensity isn’t better, and it may well be worse.

The second mistake that casual athletes make is to compound mistake #1 by thinking that polarized training won’t work so well for them because unlike the pros, they don’t have unlimited hours to train a week. The belief that some magical threshold in weekly volume must be satisfied for this approach to bear fruit is not supported in studies that demonstrate the superiority of polarized model even on very modest volumes…

Going back to those Olympic speed skaters – They must be doing 30hrs/week of training, right? Er, no. More like 6hrs/week

total hours

World champions on ~6hrs training/week? Apparently so.

..Of which.. what, 6-7% was considered Zone 3 (it’s a little hard to tell precisely from the chart)… and that includes races(!)…

zone distribution

Z1 training is now >80%; Z2 & Z3 have correspondingly fallen in both relative and absolute amounts

You can do the math how many minutes (not hours) of “quality” work that comes to. Mind. Blown.

What does this mean for my own training? Well, not too much change from what I already do, actually…

Because, let’s face it, not even the strictest MAF disciple trains completely 100% aerobically over a whole winter, and while I have been a MAF practitioner for the last 2 years, I alway say that I’m “90% MAF” – the other 10% is races, strength, and an injection of speed every now and again.

So now that I’m introducing the high-end work into my training into a more formal way, I might typically throw in the following workouts into my weekly plan:

  • 20 minutes of 10km race-pace intensity once a week
  • 30 mins of marathon-pace running once a week
  • 3x3min above-FTP intervals on the bike

All together, that’s 1hr of what I consider “high intensity”, which is plenty – certainly more than what I’ve done for the last 2 seasons. The other 10+hr is mainly spent at aerobic heart rates, usually around 70-75% of HRmax, ie MAF, ie Zone 1 (of 3), or Zone 2 (of 5).. call it what you want. I tend to just call it “aerobic work” these days. Note that the 1hr of intensity, spread over as many as 3 different workouts, still amounts to less than 10% of my total training.

Brick Sessions  | 5km “Off The Bike”

Although I’m not a serious tri/duathlete, and have no idea why they’re called as such, I have found myself doing regular bike-run “brick” sessions more and more in the last year – if nothing else, it keeps training varied and interesting.

One such session last week was a 45 min spin on the bike at MAF, followed by a fast run (my weekly “hard” session), on which I managed to set a 5km PR of 22:40. OK, I don’t really run 5kms, but this was pleasantly surprising, and I reckon going in fresh and with a bit better pacing, I could probably get under 22 mins on an open 5km. Not fast.. but not too shabby, and the VDOT lines up pretty well with my ½ and full marathon PRs. I’ll take it!

The heart-rate data for the 5km was:

BPM %HRmax
175 87.50%
178 89.00%
188 94.00%
189 94.50%
190 95.00%
Avg: 184 92.00%

So 92% of HRmax.. 95% in the last 1 km… that is what I mean why I talk about the high-end component of polarized training. These sessions should be very hard – not “quite hard”.

I took a much needed complete rest the next day.

What Else Is Planned for 2016?

The Barcelona marathon on 13th March is my first A race, with the Hampton Court ½ marathon 3 weeks before that as a build-up “C-race”. Coincidentally, I also ran ½ and full marathons on the same weekends last season (but 2 different races) – spooky!   

I also got lucky in the Berlin marathon lottery again, and so will be returning for to do the skate/run double-marathon that I did in 2014, having skipped it altogether last year.

I am also returning to do the London Duathlon the week before Berlin, although I’ve just signed up for the classic distance this year rather than the ultra.

Beyond that, no firm A-race plans. This year the priority is to get faster at everything.. not so much go longer. I’m going to train hard, train smart, and roll with the punches.

I try to keep my “Racing” page up to date with all the races that I have committed to, as well as those that are on my radar.

So with Barcelona now just 7 weeks out, I’m just entering the most important phase of the training cycle, and we’ll find out soon enough if it all comes together!


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This entry was posted on January 26, 2016 by in Endurance, Marathon, Running, Training and tagged , , , , , .

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