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Ask Bill Begg!

Skating's top coach answers your questions

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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

Find out more about Bill Begg and his column.

Sept. 6, 2007

Taking It to the Next Level

QHi, Bill: At age 52, I just completed my first inline marathon. Wearing rec skates, I posted a time of 1 hour and 32 minutes. I didn't draft behind other skaters because I didn't know how. Besides, I was just there to watch, learn and have fun. ... And fun it was! Now I'm addicted. ... I was wondering what kind of workouts I should do to build up my speed. Thanks - Don from Nashville, TN

Congratulations, Don. All things considered (age, rec skates, no drafting), you did very well. We need you in racing gear at the next Masters World Championships.

As you seem to have noticed, there are frequent surges in pace during skating marathons (unlike running marathons). As a result, it's necessary to train for speed and to learn to handle pace adjustments.

If your focus is marathons, one of the best ways to build speed is interval training. Try a series of high-intensity 500-meter sprints once a week. Separate each sprint with five minutes of rest. Build up to 10 sprints per session. (Be sure to check with your doctor first if you have any doubts about your health.)

Another great drill is skating at your anaerobic threshold for one minute, then skating easy for one minute, and then starting over without taking a break. Some top skaters do this for 40 to 60 minutes at a stretch. It's an excellent drill for learning to handle the accordion-like pace of breakaways.

If you own a road or mountain bike, another good drill is 1-kilometer intervals uphill.

Stride Rates for Marathons?

QHi, Bill: What kind of workouts would you recommend for me? I want to cut my average marathon pace (currently, about three minutes per mile) by 15 minutes. ... Also, I was wondering whether there is a recommended stride rate for marathon skaters, similar to the stride rates for runners or the stroke rates for competitive swimmers? Thanks, Don from Chicago

Hi, Don from Chicago. I hope you are not "the" Don from Chicago! ... I'll start with your second question: No, marathon racers don't really have much use for stride rates. Sometimes, you might have one when you are skating alone. But 99 percent of the time, you are focused on keeping pace with a pack.

Another factor that works against stride rates in marathons is the wide variability in terrain and road conditions. Skating up or downhill requires changes in your stride rate. So does going over rough or wet pavement.

This is actually one of the beauties of our sport. Racing through the beautiful Engadine Valley or St. Moritz, you are a free spirit. On the other hand, a swimmer in a 50-meter pool is watching lane markers and counting strokes.

To cut your marathon fractions, consider what runners did in the 1950s when they were trying to break the 4-minute mile mark. They sprinted quarter-miles at sub-4-minute-mile pace. Then they put the quarters together.

The same thing worked for me back in my racing days. One weekend in 1976, I won four of the five New Zealand senior bank track titles. (We were on quads back then.) After the races, we persuaded the judges to observe us as we tried to break national records at the Levels auto raceway. An hour later, I had broken the road records for the 1000 and 1500 meters. Then I tried a longer distance — 20,000 meters. I hadn't trained specifically at that distance. But it didn't matter. Part of my training had been to skate 5K intervals in sets of four, and that did the trick. I broke the 20K mark by quite a bit.

The secret to faster times is to break down your training into quality segments at high rates of speed. Then you bring those segments together, both physically and mentally. Do this once a week, and you'll reach your goals in no time.

On the other hand, if you train by slogging it out for 42 kilometers, you will just teach your body to go slow.

Another way to speed yourself up is to train with someone who is faster than you and who doesn't mind you tagging along. That's how younger skaters learn. And it also works for more mature skaters.

Finally, don't neglect technique. It's about 60 percent of the formula for top speed. Flawed technique will always slow you down.

The best way to perfect technique is to find a coach. A good one will make sure your technique is speeding you up, not slowing you down. - Cheers, Bill.


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