Monday, January 27, 2020

Training Log Analysis Part Three: The Heart Rate Conundrum and December Racing

In my last post, I discussed training and racing at Level 1 and Level 3 heart rates. This post will focus on Level 4, the pace for a 3-5 km race or 95% of max heart rate. Given I suspect my max heart rate is around 178, this correlates to a heart rate of 169 for me.

While I have been able to dial into my Level 3 heart rate in threshold intervals, I’ve found I have considerable difficulty getting and then holding my heart rate into the Level 4 range.

Here’s examples from some recent Level 4 workouts.

At the end of December I did a solo Level 4 skate workout at Soaring Eagle, north of Park Rapids. Conditions were slow as there were 3 inches of fresh powder. Despite this, I was markedly able to increase my interval pace over my easy pace but was this enough to push me into Level 4?

Heart rate graph from Level 4 intervals at Soaring Eagle

I did 6 x 4 minute intervals. My average heart rates ranged from 139-147 with a max heart rate of 154. This was far from my target heart rate of 169. Conditions were definitely slow as I was barely hitting 8 miles per hour but I should have been able to push harder.

So did I do any better at Vakava workouts on snow with others pushing me? The answer is a big fat NO. Looking back at all of my Level 4 on-snow intervals so far this year, the highest average heart rates I’ve had were way back on November 17th when I did solo classic intervals at Hyland for my first classic on-snow session of the year! Even though I only averaged a heart rate in the low 150s for the 6 x 4 minute intervals, I did hit a max heart rate of 169.

Classic Level 4 intervals at Hyland

How about running intervals? Last spring I was training for a PR 5 km and did a session of hard 800s on the track. The workout was 5 x 800 at 5 K pace (3:28 or so) w/ 2 min rest followed by 5 x 200s faster than 5 K pace w/ 45 seconds rest. My average heart rates for the 800s got progressively faster ranging from 151-156 with a max heart rate of 166. By the last 200 I hit a max heart rate of 172.

Level 4 running intervals on the track (you can see the 800s and then the 200s)

Early last summer we did a skate rollerski workout at Vakava that was hard, hard, hard. Somehow I was able to keep up with Laura. We were doing 5 x 6 minutes and while I was averaging heart rates in the upper 150s, my max heart rates at the end of the uphill intervals were in the lower 170s!

Vakava skate rollerski really hard Level 4 intervals

“I’ve got to save something for January,” I said as I bailed on the last one and skied easy but still had an average heart rate of 152 and max of 167, likely because I was so tired. All I can say is, I wasn’t the only one who bailed on the last interval because we were all going too hard early on. As far as I know, this was the only Level 4 workout of the year where I was hitting max heart rates into the 170s.


Did I do any better in previous years getting into Level 4?

In the fall of 2018 we did Level 4 skate intervals on Franklin Hill. I was battling these out with Dave [Christopherson] and typically when I’m going head to head with someone I’m able to push much harder. Indeed, I was. We did approximately 8 x 4 minutes, all net uphill. My average heart rates were around 150 until the last one when I averaged 158. My max heart rate hit 170 on the 6th interval and was up to 178 on the last, duking it out with Dave!

Vakava Franklin Hill Skate Rollerski Level 4 intervals

And what about the hardest by feeling intervals I did last winter? Well, those were some classic intervals at Wirth on the man-made loop. On every one I didn’t think I had another one in me. They were super hard and how Level 4 intervals should be. We did 5 x 5 minutes. My average heart rates were 155-156 with maxes at 167-168.

Hard classic Level 4 intervals at Wirth January 2019

Surely I hit my max heart rate in my one mile time trial back in August of 2018? That’s a solid 6 minute Level 4 effort. Well, yes. My average heart rate was only 167, but I did peak at 180. This is good evidence that my max heart rate is around 178 as I stated at the beginning of this post.

Here you can see my heart rate from my one mile where it was highest. On either side are my warm up (with a pull out) and my "cool down" that I ran way too fast w/ Craig.


Last month, in December, I did two short races that should have been Level 4 effort.

The first race was the Hoigaards-Breadsmith Relays where I teamed up with Erik. The format is Olympic sprint style or 6 x 1.5 km where skiers alternate laps. Therefore I skied 3 x 1.5 km. I skied the scramble leg, started near the back, found myself absolutely in last place rounding the first corner, and then crawled my way back to a respectable place to tag off to Erik.

So classic for me, at the very back:) Photo: Bruce

Still in last. Just a few people to chase down! Photo: Bruce

Given this wasn’t a terribly important race, I literally scraped off my red storage wax and headed to the start line. I was bemused as I glided past a couple male skiers on the first tuck downhill and one commented on my fast skis. At the 180 degree corner at the bottom of the south donut I successfully put in a few fast cornering strokes and made my way around a pack of the slower men. Over the past few years I’ve been loving skiing fast through “transition” areas and as I’ve gotten better, these parts of courses have become my absolute favorites! Then I chased down one woman on a mixed relay team. After tagging off to Erik I was breathing extremely hard and had no idea how I could keep up that pace for two more.

Alright, I managed to pass up a few guys. Is it me or does this suit seem a bit unattractive (at least on me)? I guess that's the point- bring back the early 90s fashion!!! Photo: Bruce


I was more concerned about making our tag-offs than hitting the lap button on my watch so I don’t have good average heart rates from my three intervals but as you can see, the overall heart rate graph is impressive. I was averaging heart rates in the 160s and hit a max of 169. Again, it seems like I could have done better but overall not a terrible effort.

My heart rate from Hoigaards-Breadsmith Relays. I have three really nice peaks for the sprints. Looks like I hit a higher heart rate on the first compared with the last:(

The second race was the Fulton Team Night as part of the Elm Creek Wednesday night series. I raced both the 5 km skate followed shortly thereafter by the 5 km classic. The course was a full 5 km loop making use of both the snowmaking loop and Northern Lights. I struggled to ski fast on the natural snow which was very hard pack. I got stuck behind one skier and lost a bit of time and wasn’t able to work a transition, a corner into a V-1 hill on the Northern Lights loop, like I wanted. Near the end I was closing in on another woman but I ran out of time to catch her and ended up a second behind her. It was good to have someone to chase.

I was a bit tired for the classic race but it didn’t seem to affect me too much. The turnout was quite small and almost immediately my teammate Laura and I were at the back of the pack. Laura is an amazing skater who has just started classic skiing. I elected to use my classic skis with kick wax instead of double poling on my skate skis. Every time I do a race like this I always have a debate about what to do but always end up going with classic skis and am always satisfied with this decision. This is largely because despite being relatively strong in the upper body, I haven’t quite figured out how to not bog down on the steep uphills when only double poling.

Anyway, I’m not the best example of striding and tend to do a lot of running, especially in short races and so it was kinda funny to have Laura running alongside me. I did do some strong fast stride-gliding a few times on the course when there were solid tracks and not too many leaves in the tracks! As we headed up the hill on the start of Northern Lights, Laura got a little tripped up on the off-camber section as her skis slid together and she fell down. I was able to get in front of her here and then set my sights on picking off a couple other women who got a much better start than me.

After passing the women I was catching up to Chris, my new rival. He married one of my good friends a couple years ago and has become quite the classic skier. As I wound my way around Northern Lights, I was closing in on Chris. Finally, I was able to pass him and thought I had gapped him a bit but kept pushing hard. Back on the man-made loop I did a good job getting forward and putting power into the downhill under the bridge (something I’ve really been working on) but then had to step out of the tracks to go around a kid. I stayed out of the tracks and tried to get forward and apply power but Chris passed me and despite my best efforts I finished just a tad behind him.

In both races I felt a bit limited in my ability to push based on my technique but I was racing down to the line. So what did my heart rate look like?

My average heart rate for the skate race was 159 and 158 for the classic with maxes of 168 and 166 respectively. These averages are about 10 beats per minute lower than my calculated Level 4 rate of 169 as noted above. These were efforts that took about 16 minutes, yet despite this my average heart rates were pathetically barely higher than for the Birkie last year at 153 over a three hour effort!

I promise, this is the LAST heart rate graph for this post:) Here you can see two very nice efforts, one for the skate race and one for the classic.

My high school coaches used to joke that I was one of those kids who “had one speed.” I guess not much has changed:)

Well, that’s a wrap on heart rates for now. As I’ve shared, my interval workouts have been sub-par at times but ready or not, here we go into crazy back-to-back ski racing in February!

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