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Training Tips (3)

Updated November 23, 2003

Training for the course...


You need more than endurance for an event like the Défi de L'Île. If you do all your training on smooth, flat surfaces, the final section especially will pose significant challenges to your technique, and probably leave your ankles feeling like hamburger. This doesn't have to be so -- after all, the Défi takes place where thousands of ordinary cyclists and skaters enjoy themselves all season. Still, while the technical challenges may not be extreme, over the course of 128 km they add up to a convincing argument to prepare yourself well. Follow these tips and you'll enjoy everything the Défi has to offer.

  Training for the course-- Downhills 

Downhills.  There is only one significant climb on the Défi, about a third of the way through on Senneville Rd (see the Course Guide, Section 2). You can develop a little speed on the downhill side, but for an experienced skater it is not a particularly fast ride, just a chance to rest and go coasting by someone with dirtier bearings. If you haven't done downhills at all however -- if literally you've done all your skating in flatland -- it probably would be scary. So do make sure you have at least moderate downhill experience; there's nothing at all extreme on the Défi, but you want to be safe and confident.

There is another short downhill towards the end of the course (see the Course Guide, Section 5), where you must come to a stop at the bottom even if the light is green. That too is easily handled, provided you brake all the way to descend slowly. Make sure you're confident in your skills for slowing and stopping.

Apart from the exceptions above, the only other downhills on the Défi are short little dips along the bike-paths, and they're just fun.



  Training for the course-- Uphills 

Uphills.  The truth is, the Défi is primarily a flat course. And yet, it has countless little humps and molehills that will gradually take a toll if your climbing skills are poor. Even the shortest uphill requires that you skate it properly in order to diminish fatigue. Find an area with short, steep hills of the kind that quickly transform your graceful glide into awkwardness. Learn how to climb efficiently, setting your skates down under you (never to the side), putting your weight well onto the set-down skate instead of hanging in between. Bend your knees a little more, but straighten your back a little as the climb steepens. Swing those arms. Remember, the issue isn't strength, it's skill, so you don't have to wear yourself out. Practise climbing hills with a steady, confident pace: that's what you need for the Défi.



  Training for the course-- Rough pavement 

Rough and broken pavement.  Rough pavement presents a unique technical challenge: to keep skating well. On a rough surface we have a natural tendency to push with our toes, turn our skates outward, push to the rear... all those things that only make it worse. For example, if your weight is on your toes you will be extremely susceptible to sudden trips and stumbles, and the surface will seem even worse than it is. For this reason it's important to practise skating on the bad stuff. Not all the time, and not on hard wheels; once a week will certainly help, using 78A wheels to save your knees. Keep your weight in the center of your feet or a little back, enough to feel that you can glide safely. Always push sideways, from the center of the foot or from the heel if you're having problems. Practising on the bad stuff will also keep you relaxed throughout the Défi, because you'll know you can do it.



  Training for the course-- Turns 

Turns.  This is a minor point but one that can make a difference. The many bike-paths on the route of the Défi have innumerable twists and turns. There's nothing difficult about them, but the question is whether you'll merely coast around those turns or keep stroking through them. If you can do effective crossover turns to both right and left, you'll get much more enjoyment out of skating the bike-paths, and of course you'll be faster.

Even if you're not yet ready for crossovers, you may still be able to improve your turns significantly. Take a good look at how you skate: are you always on the inside edge of your wheels? If so, you're fighting yourself with every stroke, especially on the turns! Work diligently to improve your skating: glide on the center of your wheels, and when you recover a skate after pushing, set it down well under you so that you ride momentarily on the outside edge. As you gain confidence, practice doing turns with the ski-skate push: lean into the turn with your inside skate on its outside edge, and as you glide through the turn give one or two pushes with your outside skate. This is a stable but effective method of skating through turns, and it's fun too.



  Training for the course-- Stopping 

Stopping.  There are many intersections on the Défi where you must at least slow down (to see what's coming) and be ready to come to a complete stop. There are also stoplights where you must stop. Your slowing and stopping skills are therefore very important, so make sure you've mastered them. If you use a heel brake, can you stop hard and fast in an emergency? It's a matter of technique: bend your knees low, scissor your braking skate in front, put your hands on the braking knee and push that brake into the ground with your whole body. Make sure you can control where you're going (straight or intentionally curving) whether slowing down or stopping hard. And make sure you don't go to the Défi with a brake that's about to fall apart!

Speedskaters on brakeless 5-wheel skates should also practise stopping, using the T-stop. This is more difficult than the heel-brake stop, particularly on rough surfaces and when you're tired. Start by mastering the T-stop on the side where you're most stable, then get to work on the other side: you must be able to hit the brakes immediately no matter which skate you're on. An excellent practice technique is to T-stop ever so lightly, i.e. with the braking skate just barely scraping the pavement. After you master the long light T-stop in a straight line, work on weaving from side to side for directional control. This technique causes much less wear on your wheels than T-stopping for real, and is harder to do (= good practice).



  Training for the course-- Obstacles 

Obstacles.  Railway tracks, worn wooden bridges, intervals of brick, curbs at intersections... Do you know how to skate them? For all of this stuff, keep your weight a little more toward your heels, or at least pull up a bit to unweight your toes. You can roll over practically anything that way. For railway tracks, no need to step, just roll straight across with your wheels perpendicular to the tracks. For bricks and worn wood, glide straight and push sideways, keeping your weight off your toes. A little bit of practice should go a long way, particularly if you're doing your bad-pavement practice regularly. The issue with this stuff isn't how fast you can go, it's how well you can get through it -- skating stably and steadily, without risking a fall and without hurting your ankles.



  Training for the course-- Off-course skating 

Off-course skating.  Everyone who does the Défi makes one or more stops along the way. Most skaters leave the course briefly to make a pit-stop (toilet!), to buy food in a restaurant, to rest in a park. All of these seemingly harmless situations are actually full of risk. Consider: for 5 hours straight you've been skating, your entire body is attuned to the rhythm of your movement. Now all of a sudden you've stopped, you're standing upright, you're trying to remain motionless on wheels that want to roll, you're climbing cement steps into a convenience store, you're trying to use the toilet in a gas-station. This is when you're most susceptible to disaster!

At off-course stops, stay flexible and alert: keep those knees bent, remember that as long as you're upright you're skating, even when standing in line at a donut shop. And before the event, practise. Practise getting in and out of a store on skates. Practise using a public toilet on skates. Practise staying rock-steady-still when you have to, with the heel of one skate 90 degrees to the center of the other. Practise curbs and stairs, and practise doing all of these things in the middle of a good long skate, so you know how to do them when you're tired. All this will help keep you relaxed and confident to the end of the Défi.


Avoiding Injuries Ü Þ Training for the Event