Unconditional Love

After getting back from the Canada Day Marathon, I decided to start raising the intensity of my training.  Among the things I’m doing is adding more hill work to the mix.  In my city (Ottawa) on the weekends they close down certain parkways and parks to car traffic, and us sports weirdos can take over for a couple of hours :)   A couple of weeks ago, I made use of our Sunday Bike Days program to skate over the Gatineau hills (the Gats as we call them) and do some hill training.

I always tell other skaters – Hills are Truth.  I say this because hills are hard to train on, and no matter what point you are at in your skating development curve, the hill will not lie to you.  The hill will never duck out on a dinner invite, never make excuses, and never be tempted by another lover.   The hill will always love you unconditionally, always telling you exactly where you are in your training, no filtering, no spin doctoring, just the truth, and the hill always gives you as much training value as you are willing to accept.

So feel the feel the love, find a hill, and skate it!

Before detailing my romp with altitude, I should put things in perspective;  the hills I’m training on on are basically cat 4 hills.  This terminology is borrowed from the cycling world:

  • Category 4 – less than 150 m
  • Category 3 – 150 to 385 m
  • Category 2 – 385 to 560 m
  • Category 1 – 560 to 970 m
  • Category 0 – over 970 m of climbing (Hors Category)

Most of the hills I train on (and our club trains on) are well within 150 from the bottom of the hill to the top of the hill.

The only time I’ve done cat 3 and cat 2 was on my Skate Against Violence trip  last year where we skated from San Francisco to Los Angeles.    We had skate through some mountain ranges along the way.  I actually had a really bad crash on a decent during that trip.  My claim to fame is that I’ve fallen at a speed faster than most people go downhill. :(

Even though the hills I train on for skating are only cat 4, they can still be tough.  As skaters we carry our weight more directly than cyclists, and the category of the hill isn’t just about its gradient, there are other factors like where you are in your training schedule, the surface quality, whether you’ve already done a lot of work to get to the hill etc.

If your not sure what category your hill is, just strap on your GPS trainer and check out your log afterwords.  Most GPS training units now have altitude tracking as well as time/distance.

If hills scare you; try this – start at the bottom and skate up 50m.  Coast back down and roll out.  Then try it again, but up 75m.  Repeat until you reach your comfort zone limit or the top of the hill.   Eddy Matzger himself says this is how he learned to do tough hills.  Over days and week, as you get more comfortable you should eventually be able to push your comfort zone further and make it all the way up and back.

My workout was to skate from my condo across the river, up into the Gats to the bottom of Pink Lake hill.  This hill is a cat 4, but its a long hill, over 1.5km I think.  So my plan was to skate intervals; skate up for 2min, get as high as I can, stop, “coast” back down at incredulous speed, and then rest for 3-4min before repeating again for an entire set of 5-6 climbs.

My GPS data is shown below:


After a warmup of climbing up to Pink Lake through about 100m, the real action began. On my way up I saw fellow club skaters Sergio, on his way home, would have liked to have skated with him, but I showed up late; the gates close from 6AM to 11AM and I showed up after 9:30AM…early bird gets worm.  Next time!

My plan was to do 6 climbs.  This turned out to be ambitious.

On the first climb, I kept a steady pace and tried to just hold a solid but consistent pace up the hill for 2min.  I did it, but at the 2min mark I was done, and I mean baked!  I pulled off on to the grass to gasp for air and let my churning stomach settle down a bit.  I didn’t toss my cookies… but I wanted to.  I coasted back down, if gliding at 40-50kph is coasting!

That was hard, but I resolved to complete as much of my set as possible. I managed to get another 4 climbs in, none of them got any easier :(   On my fifth rep my legs were starting turn to rubber and loose control and it was nearly 11AM (car traffic would be upon me soon), so I threw in the towel.

That was one of the hardest sets I’ve ever done, yet it wasn’t really that hard to execute, basically you skate up the hill, come down and skate up again.  Not rocket science.  But its a lot tougher than you might think, especially with the hill being so long.  I skated for 2min up, but I only got a little past half way up the hill.  There was at least another minute of skating to get to the crest of the hill.

From my GPS data it seems the climbs I was doing were between 40 and 70m so well within cat 4.  At this  point I can’t imagine making it through a cat 3 climb at anything close to race pace.

But this is why we train, to condition ourselves.  So, my upcoming training will need to show the hills some love.  I have to skate Chicagoland this weekend, but after that I’m going to make a bigger effort to get back in the gats.  My challenge now will be to do more reps on Pink Lake, and before the end of the summer I want to do some climbs at pace from the bottom of Pink to the Top…without tossing my cookies. :)

Training has been a little off for me lately; Ottawa is getting a LOT of rain, and its kept me off my skates at times. I’ve been coaching at our skate club this summer, and most of my club sessions are coaching so I don’t get any training for myself.  I try to train as intensely as I can on my own, but without faster skaters to chase, or to work on your technique with, its really hard to push yourself higher.  I’m hoping that between now and Northshore (the big show for us North American skaters), I can get some more time in with our club’s race team.

I have had some nice distance skating; I’ve been back to P’tit Train Du Nord a couple of times doing two 100k sessions so far this summer.  The second one was with a Greg Brown, Candy, Brian Oswald (the guy who says I’m not cute) ultra distance dude Ed Leung.  P’tit Train is always fun and enjoyable, this year I haven’t really gone hard on the total mileage.  I’ve skated a fair amount, but my sessions are shorter and more intense now.  Still, I am going to try and get some distance in.

Longer term (past Northshore) I want to try and be in top shape for Houstin. I didn’t do it last year, but this year I want to be there for sure.

More training updates soon…


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Software Engineer and Inline Speedskater
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