The stars must have aligned last weekend because somehow I managed the impossible: waking up at 6am both days to arrive on time for the 8am Hamilton group skates. Early mornings do not agree with me. It is amplified by the fact that I had to forgo my morning tea or coffee because that's too much liquid for the body to hold in the absence of washroom facilities. Hurray for TMI!
A change of focus in my training program this season means I haven't participated much in these group skates. I miss pack skating with fellow skaters outside of races. Last weekend, I ditched my regular program of hill repeats and solo race pace repeats for back-to-back days of group skates which energized me in more ways than one. A few days ago, I was lamenting on a bad race and how I wanted an opportunity to know that my skating is still alright. With more favourable weather and better rest, I received the reassurance I needed.
Both Saturday and Sunday unfolded in similar manners. We started with 7.5km of warm up, gradually picking up speed to race pace yet keeping the pack together. The remaining 22.5km was free-for-all, initiating attacks, maintaining breakaways, chasing down attacks, etc. I made a point to be active in the pack. Coach SZ taught me that I don't have to be the most qualified skater to attack. This is especially true for training sessions when there is nothing on the line. I learn something regardless of the success of my attacks. I get a good workout by increasing the intensity and throwing in a few hard accelerations. Only a couple of years ago, it was already an accomplishment for me to stay with the pack. Nowadays, it is no longer a good measure of a quality training session. I focus now on how long I can maintain a breakaway and whether I can rejoin the pack after being caught. One of my most successful attempts happened on Sunday. The timing of my attack was not entirely ideal but I was getting restless at the back of the pack. I did not get too far ahead of the pack when D caught me and subsequently coached me through our two-man break. Sure the guys caught us eventually but I pushed myself as hard as any real race situations. This kind of competitive motivation comes by so much easier when I find myself skating in a group.
Another thing that I appreciate about group training is adapting to the different skating styles of my friends. I was forced to lengthen my strides, deepen my knee bend, follow through with my push, and add more power while skating in a pack. These are all technical pointers that will lead me to higher speed and better efficiencies. Yet while I train alone, I often tend to increase my cadence instead. In previous years, group skates were a regular part of my routine and I never really noticed. I basically had a technique tune-up at least once a week. It's a good thing that I am now aware of this oversight and can adapt my training accordingly.