Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

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!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Training Log Analysis Part Two: The Heart Rate

As noted in my first Training Log Analysis post, I do pay attention to my heart rate. In this post, I’m going to digress to a very technical discussion of my easy training and anaerobic threshold heart rates. I apologize to anyone who finds this boring but promise there is a bit of emotion mixed in and more to come in future posts. Largely suffice it to say, this post is for my own benefit but anyone who likes analyzing data or wants to know about my secret workouts might find this interesting.

There are certainly a lot of ways to calculate what “levels” or “% max heart rate” these training zones correspond to so I’ve included a table with the best descriptors I’ve ever found.

This table didn’t include the Levels. I put these in based on my previous understanding of training levels. It should also be noted that “20% slower than marathon” in Level 1 is irrelevant to skiing when snow conditions dictate effort and pace. I don’t agree with the heart rate of Level 1 being 70-78% and other resources cite 60-72% which I think better correlates to an “easy” effort. I will use that lower percentage for my analysis below.

It’s been a few years since I’ve tried to find my maximum heart rate, but it’s a bit lower than predicted models. If using the formula 220-age = max heart rate, and I’m 34 now, that would give me 186. My heart rate has never been that high (since I started using a heart rate monitor almost 10 years ago), hence I’m guessing my max heart rate is closer to the upper 170s. An analysis of why my max heart rate is lower than average is way beyond this blog. For simplicity sake and calculating my Level 1 and 3 heart rate zones, we’ll say my max heart rate is 178.

I’m going to glance over Level 2 because much of the literature recommends training either at Level 1 or at Level 3 or higher. As I’ve been doing more intervals, I tend to either train hard or easy and much less in the“gray zone” that is Level 2.

Level 1

Level 1 training should be 60-72% of max heart rate which works out to be 107-128 for me. So how do I do staying in Level 1 for the easy workouts?

Here’s a variety of training modalities and some “easy” days:

-2.5 hour Afton skate rollerski: average heart rate 124

-1.75 hour neighborhood classic rollerski: average heart rate 109

-1.3 hour easy run: average heart rate 126

-1.5 hour skate ski at Battle Creek w/ 1,283 feet of elevation change: average heart rate 128*

-3 hour ski at Hyland: average heart rate 124

-2 hour classic at Lake Elmo: average heart rate 115

* Note: this is when I know I’ve “made it” when I can ski easy under this terrain on a day following a couple hard 5 km races.

Overall I stay within heart rate targets for Level 1. My neighborhood classic skis often feel quite easy and not at all taxing. But that’s the point, this Level is also called “recovery” and it should feel easy. That’s the goal of these workouts. Even my average heart rate of 128 for my hilly Battle Creek ski felt easy.

An easy street/adventure ski in Bemidji over the holidays when it snowed too much. The skinny boards don't do so well without grooming:) Yes, this snow was up to my knees! Photo: Erik

Level 3

Level 3 is somewhere between 78-92% of max heart rate based on the model above with 85% smack in the middle. This corresponds to heart rates of 139-164 and 151 for me.

Over the past couple years I’ve honed in on the Level 3 workouts. I started doing these for running training and realized their immense value and so began incorporating these into my ski training last year. Yes, I know, pretty crazy that I made it so far without doing dedicated Level 3 workouts as a marathon ski racer!

First, I’m going to analyze the above predicated Level 3 heart rate by looking at some racing data. I’m going to pull data from three different benchmarking races.

The first race is the 2019 skate Birkie. I did well for myself at this race and was definitely “in the zone” for just about exactly 3 hours. For that race my average heart rate was 153. Now, it’s always easy to say in hindsight that I could have gone harder but in brief, I took it slightly conservative to OO, then really began pushing. With 25 km to go or so, I was tired. If I remove that hindsight, I know I gave it everything I had. So around that heart rate, or slightly higher, is a good goal for my anaerobic threshold (Level 3) intervals.

My Birkie 2019 heart rate profile. I like that it progressively goes up towards the very end.

The second race is the 2019 classic Mora Vasaloppet. This race is almost pancake flat and primarily double poling which tends to be an efficient technique for me, at least at cruising speeds. My average heart race for that race, over 2.75 hours, was 149. This is quite similar in terms of time and average heart rate to the Birkie. As I look back on this race, which I skied mostly by myself, it’s easy to think I wasn’t working hard, but my heart rate shows otherwise. So here again is a good target for my Level 3 intervals.

My Mora Vasaloppet 2019 heart rate graph. Here you can see it starts out higher when I was skiing with others. I'm pretty sure at the point it drops off was the last time I was skiing with anyone.

The third race is a 27 km running race around Lake Bemidji. I aced the pacing of this race to the point that the last half mile felt like I was finishing a 5 km. Over 2 hours and 12 minutes my average heart rate was 155. Surely this felt like the absolute max of my aerobic threshold (and about the same time as an elite male marathon runner) and so this should workout to be about 85% of my max heart.

85% of 178 (my presumed max heart rate above) is 151 so either I’m racing above my aerobic threshold (which based on how I felt near the finish and afterwards is quite likely) or my max heart rate is actually higher than I can get it to go (more on that next post).

I've posted this photo before but I love that my face is in complete agony. I guess this is what happens when you push way into the anaerobic threshold and don't win! Erik, all smiles, said he wants to do this race again because he had more to give. I on the other hand, put it all out there and somewhat doubt I could even repeat this performance, let alone better it. Photo: the mother-in-law:)

The data on my slightly shorter races, such as those that take the duration of a running 10 mile or ½ marathon, in the 1.5 hour range, only reveal slightly average higher heart rates such as 158 in the Hamsterbeiner in 2017 when the Birkie was cancelled.

Given all this, it seems I tend to race longer races with heart rates in the 150s. Hence, I’m targeting the higher range of the 150s for my threshold Level 3 intervals.

In the summer we did a classic rollerski workout of 5 x 6-8 minute intervals. My average heart rates for these intervals were 141, 146, 148, 150, and 150. This is a nice progression of Level 3 build up. When I first looked at these heart rates I wasn’t too impressed. But after comparing them to my average heart rate for last year’s Mora Vasaloppet, I see they are on par.

I was curious to see how this would compare to a similar running workout. The rollerski workout started out quite flat where I often flail and don’t have the technique to go as fast as I’d like and then ends with an uphill so I was interested to see how more even pacing on flatter terrain would be running. So I did 5 x 1 mile (just under 8 min/mile pacing) with average heart rates of 146, 154, 160, 161, and 161. Again this showed a nice progression but these were about 10 beats per minute higher than my classic rollerski workout. This was likely because it was my first running interval workout in 2+ months and therefore I was easily able to push harder running.

Now that I’m on snow I’ve done a couple classic and skate threshold workouts. Given that I’m targeting the Mora Vasaloppet Classic, which is predominantly double poling, I’ve focused my classic thresholds on flatter terrain. The first one was 4 x 15 minutes with average heart rates of 142, 142, 141, and 138. Yikes, well below my target in the 150s. The conditions weren’t ideal but I thought I had overcome that. My second classic threshold went similarly with 5 x 15 minutes. I even decreased my rest from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. Despite this my average heart rates were 132, 136, 136, 136, and 131 (last one lower perhaps because I changed up the course?). Again, way below my target heart rate in the 150s. Not sure why this is other than I’m not pushing hard enough, maybe because I’ve been doing these solo or because it’s not a race. I’m giving myself credit for at least trying these and hoping since last year was my first year doing these, it will give me a step up and at least it got my muscles sore. Now with one more of these before race season begins in February, we’ll see if I can hit my target heart rates.

My heart rate graph from my classic threshold workout at Elm Creek

So far I’ve done two skate threshold workouts (overall I’ve fallen behind on my goal of alternating classic and skate threshold workouts every week). The first one was part of a Vakava practice back on November 20th. This means I had people to push me. We did 3 x 15 minutes and my average heart rates were 149, 149, and 159- a bit low on the first two and then hit the third one well within target. On my second skate threshold workout a month later on December 22nd, I did 4 x 15 minutes with average heart rates of 152, 152, 151, and 148. Obviously not ideal that my last one was lower than the previous ones. These should really build. Not terrible, but based on these heart rates, I could do a tad better.

My heart rate graph from the second skate threshold.

In summary, my goal heart rate for Level 3 should be in the high 150s. I can hit this easily running, greatly struggle with double poling, and am close with skate skiing. In the end, just attempting these workouts is great training and likely to benefit me.

Stay tuned for my next post on Level 4 analysis!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

December 2019 Races Update

And just like that December is over.  Mother Nature decided to remind me that my excitement over natural snow was a whim she could take back and the month closed with a weekend of above freezing temps and rain, followed by some wet and heavy snows and wind.

Vakava did get out and make use of that natural snow while it lasted though with a handful of regular practices at Battle Creek.  The team also started a handful more races to close out 2019.

I'll give a run down of the team racing results as well as give my personal reports.

Team Racing Recap

Fulton Team Night

A bit earlier in the season than usual, Vakava was well represented at the Fulton Team night.  The team category results never got posted, but I know we walked away with a handful of the different category victories as well as the overall team victory.

5k Skate Results:
Paul 1st
Andy 2nd
Abe 3rd
Erik 4th
Ben 7th
Scott 11th
Bonnie 13th, 1st Female
Dave 15th
Laura 16th, 3rd Female
Brock 18th
Elspeth 20th, 5th Female

5k "Classic" Results (a bunch of the team double poled the full Valley Creek and Northern Lights loops):
Abe 1st
Erik 2nd
Ben 5th
Scott 6th
Dave 8th
Bonnie 9th, 1st Female
Elspeth 12th, 2nd Female
Laura 14th, 4th Female

The team is about as good as a herd of cats when it comes to rounding them up for pictures unfortunately.  So this is the best I've got.

Skinny Santa Solstice Ski

After a few year absence due to low snow, the Skinny Santa race was back and actually on the solstice this year.  Conditions were absolutely primo at Woodland Trails in Elk River for a double trip around the 10k loop.

Andy 7th
Ben 24th
Dave 43rd
Zena 58th

Andy - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Ben - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Dave - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Xena - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Winter Warm-up

I know Paul at a minimum was on the road to the race... and turned around when it was obvious the roads were an ice skating rink.  The same decision the race organizers made and cancelled the race.

Wednesday Night Races (December 26th Edition)

With no Vakava practice on Wednesday as it was Christmas Day, and the normal Wednesday evening races at Elm Creek bumped back a day for the same reason, a couple of us decided to make it one of the hard workouts of the week.

Conditions were SCREAMING fast with a very hard trail.  Four skiers went under 11 minutes for two loops of the man made Valley Creek which is definitely the fastest results of the last two years.

5k Skate:
Ben 4th
Paul 8th

5k "Classic" (again double poled):
Ben 5th

Ben's Race Reports

Fulton Team Night

My second race with the team and team pride was on the line!  Scott and I teamed up to do the Male-Male Classic-Classic division.  Yes, your math is correct, there were 9 divisions.  That said, we were both skiing both events.

5k skate first.  And for like the 3rd time in probably 15 of these Wednesday night races I've done over the last few years, we were doing the full lit loop of Valley Creek and Northern Lights.  I started on the front row with a good crew of Vakava skiers.  As we rounded the Whale Tail I was sitting somewhere around 8-10.  I'm not very good at holding my position in a dynamic pack and had gotten shuffled back on the trip down.  When we hit the wall I was able to slip to the outside and I was 4th or 5th at the top as we went double file up towards the parking lot.

As we passed under the bridge I saw Paul look over his shoulder and clearly decided it was time to break up the pack.  He surged, Andy went with him, and I slotted in behind Craig Stolen as the other two got a little gap.

Artie Huber came around either right before or right after Cowabunga and hung himself out in no-mans land between Paul and Andy and me and Craig.  As we rounded the far north end of the loop Erik and Laslo Alberti decided it was time to move up.  After the race Erik said he felt like he wasn't working hard enough at that point.  That started to break things up and string us out.  A little further up the hard packed and somewhat uneven course took its toll on Artie and he barely saved himself from skiing off into the woods and fell back.

With probably 3/4 of a km to go, Abe went by me, then Craig, then Laslo, then Erik finishing in a flurry.  I was definitely feeling gassed at the end so I'm not sure if everyone else turned it up a bit or if I faded.  Overall I was pretty happy with my race though finishing 7th in a pretty strong field.

Strava Flyby showing where Artie stumbled and Laslo came by and eased away from me.

Originally I had planned to actually use classic skis with kick wax for the classic race.  Dave "convinced" me that I should just double pole it like most of the other guys were doing.  Again, we did the full lit loop which may have been a first for me in the classic race.

It was a fun start falling into a train of Vakava on the front of the race around the Whale Tail with Abe, Erik, Scott and myself towing the rest of the field.

Somewhat of a surprise to me, I was actually making the best time on the steep uphills.  The Wall and Cowabunga were particularly good for me.  Where I had more trouble was keeping pace on the flats and gradual stuff.

Artie and Jonathon Sanborn were able to pull away from me on Northern Lights and I ended up soloing in for 5th.  Again, pretty pleased with how the race went.

Skinny Santa Solstice Ski

My first time skiing at Woodland Trails in a couple of years.  I had a vague memory of the trails, but I didn't really get to see them and get a solid reminder until in the race.  Hoping for another solid result to start the season I went out hot hanging with Artie Huber, Ben Creagh, and Josh Doebbert.  By the time we hit Top of the World I was already feeling worked.  Ben and Artie made a move and took off, while I stuck behind Josh for another k or two.

After gliding up alongside Josh on a downhill I took the lead on the next uphill.  My legs were definitely feeling "loaded", and I just felt like I had poor balance and drive.  This resulted in pulling a 180 right in the middle of the trail on a sharp downhill corner a ways up the trail.  Thankfully I was skiing all alone at that point and no one came barreling around the corner into me.  It took a bit of the fight out of me mentally for a bit though.

As I was lapping through the start/finish I could see that Josh wasn't that far behind me and Jon Sanborn not too far behind him.  I figured with the way I felt they would eventually catch me, but I resolved myself to not make it easy.  I made it to Top of the World again without them catching me.  And suddenly felt better?

I'm not sure what the deal was exactly, but my legs felt less on fire and I felt like I had some balance back and was actually crunching and driving instead of just floundering between my skis.  I started amping the effort up thinking I could get away from Josh and company.  I'd glance back occasionally and Josh would still be there, maybe closing slightly, but maybe not.

I was pretty pleased that I was able to really put the effort in over the last 6 or 7 km.

Wednesday Night Races on Thursday

Last year the Wednesday night races made up a consistent portion of my intensity training.  Since we didn't have Vakava this week I decided to fall back to last year's schedule and do both the skate race and classic race.

The skate deck was almost a sheet of ice.  I think most people were finding a hard time getting an edge.  For some reason my skis were actually doing quite well so I was expecting a blazing fast race for two loops around the man made.  With a small field just about everyone was on the start line.  We took off and just about flew all the way down to the Whale Tale.  I was slotted somewhere around 6th or 7th I think.

Enjoying the climb up the wall as I usually do I jump skated a few spots ahead and fell in behind Paul for 5th.  As we descended into the Donut, Paul was letting a gap open up to the trio of whippersnappers ahead of us.  I was feeling comfortable getting a draft at ripping along at 2:15/km on the hard pack so I didn't want to lose the group in front of us.  I made a move and pushed up the hill to the parking lot just catching on as we went below the bridge.

Thankfully they didn't step on the gas there as I might have popped off the back again.  Instead I caught the draft I was hopping for and we flew down to the Whale Tale again.  It felt "easy" again at the back of the pack and I was positive the rest of the field was gaining on us.  Instead it turned out it was only one of them, and they popped off the back again as we headed for the wall.

I made it to about the bridge the second lap before the youngins dropped it down another gear I didn't quite have and I ended up tailing in at 10:58 for fourth place.  I beat a handful of pretty fast guys so I'm happy with that.  Helps to be able to stand on your skis.  Maybe the Birkie can be just like that... on second thought, I hope not.  Those downhills would be frightening with the skate deck that hard.

Super short classic race report.  I double poled.  I almost held on for one lap, then the four guys who beat me pulled away 30 seconds on the second lap.

Where To Find Vakava Next

Coming up in the first few weekends of January you'll spot a few folks at the First Chance Race and/or the Pre-Loppet, a larger contingent at the Rennet, and then a solid crew up at Seeley Hills.