Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel is unlike anyone in his sport and is not shy to share how.
He shattered the men’s 10,000m world record by over two seconds with a 12:30.74 time during the Winter Olympics last week. No one else in the competition came within 13.85 seconds of him.
Following the win, one he felt was predetermined as he stepped up to the line, the 25-year-old posted a training guide online called “How to skate a 10k …and also half a 10k.”
Van der Poel stepped away from the long track after the 2018 Winter Olympics and joined the Swedish army for a year. He returned to speed skating in May of 2019 but did not compete in events, focusing on a strict yet digestible routine that involved biking, skiing and running with the occasional ice cream for motivation.
The Swede wrote a 62-page tell-all explaining not only what he does to prepare, but the philosophy he applies to his training.
“Instead of training to stay healthy, fit or athletic, I started training to become a speed skater,” van der Poel wrote. “That’s a vital difference.”
An overarching theme to his document is to push to the limit, don’t over do it, and enjoy the work.
Keeping it simple
Van der Poel started his guide with a background section, writing that he hopes to see someone use his words to break records some day. He followed that message with subheads labeling workouts for specific seasons, racing technique and explainers on how he built his ideal life as an athlete.
“My job as an athlete was simple: set myself up for success,” van der Poel wrote. “I could not control all aspects of the outcome of the competitions. But the things I could control I made sure to give an effort to control, at least to the extent I was willing to go to.”
He called his training simple yet robust.
For example, a week in his “aerobic season” includes six hours of biking Monday-Thursday, a 10,000-meter speed skating session on Friday and two rest days.
The gold medalist claimed to have skated more laps than his opponents while doing less high intensity training leading up to the Olympics. He also stressed the importance of rest to maintain a healthy body and mindset.
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“I did not make plans that I did not understand,” van der Poel wrote. “To me, speedskating was just a one-legged squat repeated over and over during maximum heart rate. It was all just very simple and I kept it that way.”
Van der Poel told a story on his Instagram of a time his friend fell while doing a bike trick, but he wanted one last run so the crash would not win. The Olympian thought about that during a 290-kilometer bike ride while facing cold rain and wind in the middle of the night, which kept him going. That is a dramatic example of the 25-year-old’s ability to motivate himself.
At times, though, a motivator is necessary.
“Sometimes, to get through more hours, what was needed was an ice cream and sometimes it was multiple ice creams,” van der Poel wrote. “The good news was that ice cream was pretty cheap. So even though other skaters had millions of euros going into their careers, I was able to skate faster than all of them, because I had found a way to enhance my performance with ice cream.
“To me the challenge was not about suffering, but finding a way to endure hardships with ease.”
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