The University of Illinois will be well-represented at the 2015 Boston Marathon, with 15 wheelchair racers participating in the April 20 marathon. Those athletes will be more prepared this year to face the marathon’s famous hills, including Heartbreak Hill, thanks to a renovated and upgraded training facility.
The U. of I.’s program was designated in 2014 as a U.S. Paralympic Training Site for wheelchair track and road racing. Its training area in the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services building was enlarged and upgraded with more roller machines for indoor training. Five of the ten rollers have been outfitted with Kickr bicycle trainer devices that add resistance, which can be used to simulate the hills the racers will face at Boston but that are practically non-existent in pancake-flat Central Illinois.
“We can simulate miles 18 to 21 at Boston with 4-to-6-minute hill intervals,” said wheelchair track coach Adam Bleakney. “Otherwise, there’s no place to do that around here.”
Chelsea McClammer, a U. of I. junior who will race at Boston, began doing resistance training on the rollers this past winter. She said the training is good for helping an athlete maintain the same pace and speed as the resistance changes – meaning she won’t slow down as much when pushing uphill.
“Going uphill is one of my biggest weaknesses,” McClammer said. “(The resistance training) really helped a lot. It’s helped me get stronger.”
Susannah Scaroni, a 2014 U. of I. graduate who still trains with the team and who will also be at Boston, said the resistance from the rollers equipped with the Kickr trainers “is so much closer to being on the road than a free-spinning roller.”
The roller machines are in an enlarged training area. The team previously practiced in an area that was once part of the women’s locker room.
“We could cram seven (roller machines) in there if we had to, but we usually had five or six,” Bleakney said. “We’ve doubled that (space), with plenty of room to maneuver and not worry about being on top of one another.”
It was a logistical challenge to find time for all the athletes to train on rollers before. Bleakney can now schedule two morning and two afternoon training sessions and be able to have all his athletes use the machines, rather than trying to fit them all in throughout the day.
Several of the rollers have flat screen TVs in front of them, which can display data on speed, cadence, resistance or power while the athletes work out. Bleakney wants to mount GoPro cameras to the front and side of the roller machines, so they can see themselves onscreen while they are training “and get real-time feedback on stroke mechanics.”
The training area has also been spruced up with design work that includes a tribute on one wall to longtime coach Marty Morse, who coached the team from 1981 to 2004. Another wall features every U. of I. Paralympian and the medals they earned.
“Some of these athletes have never been recognized for their accomplishments in this way before. It’s a nice tribute,” Bleakney said.
The new interior design has also paid off with better focus by the athletes in day-to-day training, he said.
“I can tell the difference in the energy of the athletes,” Bleakney said. “There’s a certain positive energy that feeds off the atmosphere.”
“We no longer feel like we’re training in a basement,” McClammer said.
“It’s a brighter environment,” said Scaroni, adding she is motivated by old photos of one of the first Boston Marathons with wheelchair athletes. “It’s really cool to see where the sport has come from.”
The renovations to the facility were paid for with money donated by BP, which sponsors Tatyana McFadden, the U. of I. athlete who won the grand slam of marathoning – the Boston, London, Chicago and New York marathons – in 2013 and 2014.
Along with the new roller machines, TVs and renovated space, the program also received gym equipment in its weight room that is available to all students receiving services from Disability Resources and Educational Services.
The upgraded training area also has storage for racing chairs and a large workshop for making repairs.