There are moments in ones life to make sure that proper documentation occurs, getting married, graduations, etc… I figure that doing something as crazy as traveling 4,000 miles to race for a total of 4 minutes was worth properly writing down for my friends and family! Also I had based my previous 48 weeks of training simply to be at my best for this race, the 10th annual German masters international sprint, where hopefully I could skate my best times and take an international record. I kept a journal during the trip, and this is based on the extensive scribblings that I did in the moment.
Elmira airport, Jan 27th:
How many times have I stood at the bottom of some insanely steep Ithaca hill, stopwatch in hand, ready to go as hard as I could until my legs fry, imaging I was lining up to race in Europe? How many times in July, when the sun was brutal and ice speed skating was the farthest activity from anyone’s mind, was I suffering at the back of some inline race, trying to build endurance for those last burning 400 meters of the 1000m? How many times have I skipped being outside on beautiful fall days because my training plan had me scheduled for the gym. How many times have I laced up my skates, or faced the squat rack with 450 pounds on it, and said to myself “today I need to earn a tenth of a second, just a tenth. Today I have to work as hard as if everything I am depends on that tenth, because it does”.
I centered 48 weeks of training, frequently twice a day, for this, for this trip. But training is over, imagining I am at the start line is over, now is the time for doing!! Just thinking about it makes my stomach shake, makes me feel like the proverbial “butterflies” have become 747’s fueled with a combustible mixture of confidence/insecurity/testosterone/adrenaline/rage/self-image & doubt. No one goes to the starting line alone though, when tenths of a second are on the line, every tiny bit matters, every hand & heart that has helped or re-assured you along the way pushes you faster. And I have been blessed (and I don’t use that word lightly) with the help I have had.
This season has been very successful so far already, I am proud of qualifying for elite nationals, and proud of how I skated there. But those races were bonuses, gravy, all my emotional marbles are in this bag, in this race. I have not been as fast in the last month in lake placid as I would have liked, it has been brutally cold, skating for more than a few minutes at a stretch has been very difficult, painful, and I have gotten the frostbite to prove my commitment to this insane sport (note to self: in next life, do jet ski racing! Do something warm!)
The records I am going for in Europe are a 39.22 in the 500m and a 1:22.7 in the 1000m, and 165 points in the 4 race samalong total (lowest elapsed time for the 2 500m and 2 1000m races, that record is held by Arie Loef, a 2 time Dutch Olympian). The best I have done so far this year outdoors is a 39.4 in the 500m, a 1:23.38 in the 1000m. and 165.8 points for the sprint meet. But my Canadian coach says Inzell is the fastest outdoor ice in the world, so we shall see how I do. I should be more grateful for this season so far, but I want one of those records so bad it makes my stomach churn. When I first saw the website that showed the records, I just about felt out of my office chair, they were reachable, I needed to train my heart out, get better at some very difficult things, but I thought I could skate them. You could have knocked me over with a feather that day.
On the plane to Europe:
England is pretty from the air! My fellow traveler & Milwaukee training partner "D" (name withheld by his request) and I are on a plane full of skaters! The synchronized skating team from the university of Michigan is with us, they are on their way to a competition in Prague. They are a twittering, bejeweled, unique bunch of delicately feathered creatures, with a look to them of something that belongs in a climate controlled display behind glass, not whirling about on the ice. But I should not be overly critical. I compete wearing a special aerodynamically textured lycra suit with jet black blades and skates, with my wind blocking sunglasses on I must resemble some strange hypersonic insect, and not nearly as interesting to look at as they are.
Luckily the 8 hour flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, and the the 2 hour flight Amsterdam to Munich is not crowded, D and I each relax with whole rows to ourselves, and picture every step of the perfect race over and over to ourselves. Visualization is so important in this sport, racing a sprint event is about perfection, its about practicing the perfect race over and over in your mind and on the ice, and this flight provides lots of time for the mind part!
Wednesday, Inzell Germany
Patterns patterns patterns! The essence of so much of our brains is patterns and familiar recognition. If a bricklayer makes one brick in a whole wall the wrong color- that is the brick you notice, the rest of reality is simply lumped into the continual rush of consciousness, into a lump designation of “brick wall”.
When traveling to really foreign places, it is disconcerting and thrilling to see all your familiar patterns simply busted to bits at every step, to see all those bricks you took for granted scattered about in different colors. Here are just a few of the differences I have experienced in Amsterdam airport, the flight to Munich, and driving to Inzell.
The Streetlights are a completely different shape
Speed limits are posted via electronic signs over the highway, and they change according to the conditions, when there is no limit posted, there is no limit other than “reasonable” and for the Germans that seems to be about usually 100mph… In our rented citroen diesel, D and I crawl at 70mph, about even with the slowest trucks.
At the autobahn rest stops, you gotta pay 1/2 a euro to take a piss!
One thinks that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes only make expensive cars! They make all sorts of small, weird, strange cheap cars too, they only sell the nice ones in the US. I really dig the Audi A2, and all the mini-cars that look just about small enough to put in your pocket.
There are no SUV’s on German highways. None. No Subarus or Pickups either. Lots of smaller Fords though, mostly Focuses & Festivas. There are Renauts, Fiats and the occasional exotic Alfa Romero sports car.
Waitresses ask you if you want gas in your water or not (most water here is carbonated).
There are shops selling gardening stuff, bulbs, and seeds in the Amsterdam airport. In the airport they have advertising projected from a ceiling mounted light, so beer logos, are shimmering and moving across the floor as you are walking past.
Very very strange energy drinks are popular, right next to RED BULL is MAD BAT, RED DEVIL, and WINGED HORSE. Also there are all sorts of unholy energy drink alcohol combinations, Vodka/Caffiene/Taurine. For example, there is one is called WODKA, and has a logo that looks like a very electrified Chicago bulls logo. I buy a WODKA for my brother, and find out upon closer reading that this “european” drink is produced and bottled in Florida, but there are probably laws against selling this kind of stuff in Florida.
(I noticed this odd bit later in the trip, but it belongs here) German TV has a rather large helping of porn on the basic cable. I watched the first half of the superbowl, and although I missed Janet’s breast bearing split second, I did surf channels and see repetitive infomercials advertising phone porn & porn websites, porn dramas, something that seemed to be the MTV porn dancing & penetration channel, and lots of basic boring porn. I have always wondered why in the US we show people horror films full or torture, murder, and extreme violence. But two people realistically making love is strictly Verboten! (that’s german for “extremely forbidden”). But German TV frankly made me uncomfortable, but it did make the screaming and hollering over the whole Janet Jackson episode seem stupid, since German culture, despite this common X-rated explicit stuff, does not seem to be warped or dysfunctional. I wonder, if like WODKA, this stuff is produced in the US, and can’t be drank/shown publicly there, but is then shipped over for dubbing in German and consumption?
Equally surprising to me were the things that did not break any patterns!!
Metallica/Michael Jackson?Alice Cooper Grafitti in the bathrooms, and the fact that all the music on the radio is identical crap to what is on American radio stations. It’s really pathetic actually, that there does not seem to be much German rock and roll. I felt a much more refreshing cultural musical difference as I drove through French speaking parts of Quebec than in Germany. The Dutch folks I spoke too say it’s the same there. The same music had become a worldwide soundtrack. I find this a sad thing, of all the things of American culture to become world wide, why is it popular music?
D and I drive through fogs of jet lag, and eerily familiar terrain between Munich and Inzell. The Land looks just like upstate NY in fact. Relentless rolling and woody, with occasional small communities with a church steeple poking out from them, its not that different. The woods do have a very deep, old feel to them, but not all that different than the woods near Lake Placid. We roll into Inzell (passing through the neighboring hamlet of Hammer, that is what we are here to do, after all, hammer!!) Inzell itself is a beautiful small town, in appearance and size much like Estes Park, Colorado, its a small little rolling plateau is surrounded by jagged peaks leaping directly out of the edges of town.
After arriving in Inzell, D and I take our travel weary legs immediately out onto the ice 400m-bahn for a loosening up workout. As I stepped onto the ice, we see Germany’s hero, Olympic medalist and world record holder Anni Friesinger stepping off. This was the only time I see her all week, except for the signed pictures of her in every shop/restaurant. Even the bakeries here have her picture on the wall, and speedskates in the window next to the bread. It begins to snow quite hard, so our first european workout was quite short. Even with an inch of snow on it, this ice seems lightning fast.
D and I are optimistic for the upcoming races, and we are talking, thinking, breathing skating, but the jet lag & travel weariness began to become severe. Our brains quickly stop working, and we pass the rest of the evening in a haze, getting settled into our hotel room. There is a bar/diner connected right to the rink, called “planet ice” and we spend much of the evening being mystified by its menus, trying to get a sandwich.
Thursday, Inzell Germany
Rise and shine, D and I leap out of bed and its time right now to go pursue our skating dreams! Uuhhh! Hold on, its 2am, we eat a snack, gobble some “internal clock” resetting melatonin, and crawl back to bed.
Thursday, Inzell Germany, part 2
Later in the day, we have a fantastic skate, the weather is perfect, mild temperatures and blue skies, and the ice is even more perfect. The Germans have a fleet of weird vehicles to keep this rink fast, 2 part ice scrapers with drivers at the front and back, Zamboni’s that drive and breakneck speeds along the ice (really) and all their attention pays off, this ice is thin, hard, and smooth as glass!
D and I are good training partners, I am explosive and very strong, but raw and unrefined in my skating, like a T-Rex trying to swim. D is technically excellent, smooth and precise like a samurai. We both have attributes the other needs to work on, and we make each other faster. We always earn tenths of seconds when we train together. We meet a 60 year old Canadian on the ice, Werner just flew in from Calgary, he usually coaches and helps run races, so he rarely gets to race himself. At 65, he is in one of the largest and toughest age groups in the competition. Werner is relaxed and happy on his “skate holiday”.
As D and I do some short, snappy, maximum speed work, some German and Russian skaters begin to follow us and skate with us. We get to chatting, One particular German, Jens, and D hit it off really well. And I really like a strong Russian, Sergei Avdeev, although I do not speak a single word of Russian and he does not speak English. The Europeans skate differently than we do, its hard to describe, but their technique is just different. Sergei seems to really pop from skate to skate with a lot of up and down, left & right motion to his body. He makes a long, very extend stroke, whereas most Americans/Canadians are concerned with heading straight down the track in a compact fashion.
In the afternoon we do an easy second workout in the Oval’s weight room. We spin easy on bikes, do some brief turncable work, stretch, and watch a 6’5” hawk-faced ski jumper go through all sorts of complicated workouts simulating the explosive jump to propel himself as far as he can off the end of the ramp. He crouches in his run in position, holds it for 10 seconds, then leap directly up and forward. His coach catches him by the abs, and holds him over his head for a while. After a half hour of jumping and hopping, the jumper and his coach leave to drive away in sponsor provided matching Audis! Must be nice. I find out the German word for speedskating is “eisschnellauf” it literally means “sliding shoes”.
Later D goes to the bar to hang out with Werner. I crawl to bed with a pounding head, but I feel loose, relaxed, and confident.
Friday, Inzell Germany.
The races are drawing closer and closer, the hours crawl by, I seem to notice every one of them. D and I have a quiet breakfast Friday morning, and are joined by Sergei Avdeev again. We gesture and smile. Gosh, the Yogurt and milk are good here! Although in Germany the cost of a good cup of coffee seems to be even more than the cost of a good beer!
It is a beautiful morning, blue sky, and its warming up rapidly, we skate the early session and quickly again several Europeans follow D and I during our intervals. I should have done just a quick warmup, a few accels, and gotten off the ice in 45 minutes. But Inzell is as incredible a place to skate as I have been told, I am skating super strong, and with good company, on perfect ice, with warm weather and beautiful mountains around us, I just can’t step off. D and I do some video analysis of our turns, and I see good technical things happening in my turn stroke, I see better extension and a more sideward push than I have seen all year. This is the time to see things like that! My coach back in lake placid told me that my weakness in the 1000m is that I don’t relax enough at high speed, that I ride the edges too hard and don’t glide well on the flat of the blade. I am like a car with a huge motor, but only a 3 speed transmission, I need to learn 4th & 5th. I have worked and worked on riding the flat with two arms, but I still have not got my balance using just one arm. I work relentlessly on relaxed one arm top speed the whole morning. Suddenly I realize I feel tired, and that I have been on the ice for 2 hours! If I stay on any longer I will screw up my race tomorrow, not great discipline, but it’s a magical day out here.
Later we go out to dinner with a large group of masters skaters. We sit with Jon Olafsson from Norway, Paul Fitzgerald from Ireland, Baum & Trudi Devrees from the netherlands (they are some of the top organizers of races in holland) and Dr. Volker Serini, the German who organizes the Masters international races. I order spareribs and receive a massive pile of meat to eat and little else. D orders randomly and gets a whole leg of pig (the delightfully zaftig waitress made us laugh as she was gesturing to her leg & thighs, trying to get D to understand what he was ordering). Dinner is tasty, but it’s a massive protein bomb. We all stagger home under the clear stars, listening to Paul the Irish skater telling us stories about skating world cup races; Baum saying the top reason that the elite dutch women are not as good as the elite dutch men is their boyfriends (they systematically studied this; and Jon the Norwegian telling us about the oil platform off the arctic coast he was an investor in that he sold to the US government for the first ICBM defense base! There is no wind, the stars are out, the air is crisp and tomorrow the ice will be hard and fast,
D and I are exhausted, full. Its 9pm and we are sooo ready for bed. We sharpen our skates, polish the blades to a mirror like shine (you can read in the polished reflection, oddly enough the polish makes more of a difference to gliding speed that what kind of metal the blade is made out of) and talk about tomorrow. I have drawn the final outer for the 500m, and the final inner for the 1000m, the most advantageous lanes for both races. This is because at top speed in the 500m, the final inner can be quite hairy, and when you are tired in the last 150 meters of the 1000, that final outer is difficult to skate with a good push. So if I am going to skate one of the masters records, it will be tomorrow. Its hard for me to not view the upcoming races as if I skate anything other than a record it will be a loss, a wasted trip. 39.22 in the 500m and 1:22.7 in the 1000m, these numbers keep ringing in my ears. But I can’t let myself think about numbers, it doesn’t work. I just need to skate my best, like I did in the arctic cold and brutal winds of Ottawa last weekend (40.9 in the 500m and 1:26 in the 1000m) and be happy with my best. If I skate a great personal effort, with great technique for me, that will be enough, that has to be enough. Last year I trained and trained for pack nationals, thinking I could win. I didn’t, but skating the masters 500m record came as a bonus, an unexpected and wonderful bonus. Maybe for me, this trip will have other things that will be the bonus, things I will only understand in retrospect. So here is a salute to happy retrospect! As scared as I am right now, I can only do my best, and I need to be at peace with that, no matter what happens.
Saturday, Inzell Germany
9:30am, lying in bed here waiting for the races, just thinking about them is making my heart pound like a sledgehammer. We have another wordless breakfast with Sergei this morning, full of smiles, good coffee, and excellent yogurt. I know I can skate the record if I just execute what I know how to do already, what I have practiced to do over and over? Focus Focus Focus!! How many hundreds of sprints have a practiced? All for these races!! But my tummy is rumbling with the spare ribs I ate last night, I feel overfull still, not lean and fast. We both need to so something with all this energy and focus curling up inside us like mad springs.
2 hours till we can step on the ice, D and I begin our warm-ups, meat sitting in our stomachs like logs, we go outside for an easy jog. It is insanely beautiful today! Even more than yesterday, crisp air, light winds, and when we see the ice it looks faster than ever, like concrete with a thin moistening layer of water on top, reflecting the sky and sun and mountains perfectly. Our spirits soar, we are brimming with confidence. We go for a jog along a trail looping through the woods, we come across hot springs, little quaint cabins that look like stacks of firewood with a roof and door, deep forests, and then the trail opens out onto a canyon with sunlight spilling through the deep, German forests. There is a narrow mountain road nearby with traffic flowing along breakneck speed. Mercedes and VW’s blast by on the twisty sunlit canyon road. Unaware of the two Americans wordlessly watching them zip by -- awestruck.
1 hour to go, D and I step on the ice early. D looks better than I have ever seen him skate, he is on!! I have problems with my right blade immediately, it is sliding and unsteady. Fuck! How could I have messed up sharpening last night, I thought I had it perfect. I do a few laps, then step off and run back to the hotel room in a panic, luckily upon examination its just a little burr that I missed. And I fix it in a few moments. I get back in the ice for about 10 minutes before the races start, my warm up is not great, but I am doing the best I can.
They call D to the start for his 500m, as has been his struggle all year, his flawless technique in warm up does not hold for the races, he bulldogs his way to a mid 43 second 500m, and is very disappointed. As I am lacing my skates up, I hear “Andrew Love to the starting area” Holy Shit! I must have miscounted the pairs!! I rush to the line with nary a second to spare, not a lap on the ice. They call us to the ready position and I promptly false start. Calm calm!! Focus focus!! They call us to the ready postion again, Since I false started the first time, I have to really be careful and wait for the gun, if I false start again, I will DQ myself.
Bang! I am off like a rocket, the first 100m feels really good, my first inner turn is not perfect, but I can tell I am carrying a ton of speed by the exit of the turn. The backstretch is incredibly fast, and I switch to the outer lane, my final turn is average, I attack the final turn as best I can, but the strokes are not perfect. I exit the turn well, but stumble a bit through the last 100m, absolute top speed technique has always been my weakness, the line comes and I jab my skate blade at it, trying for every hundreth of second I can get. Has it been fast enough! This feels markedly faster than my 500m races this year in lake placid! I cross the line and immediately look at the scoreboard, and there is no time for me! Did I jump the start again and DQ myself??? Why is there no time!! I am enraged, livid, adrenaline poisoned! I need to know! I rate that 500m about a 4 on a scale of 1 –10, but it really could have been fast enough! It felt good! I stop at the start and I am almost yelling “what’s my time?” I am embarrassingly loud, and there are other races starting. D skates over and grabs me, “calm down, you skated a 39.34, manual timing”
.12 slower than the record! Dammm! And who knows if the timer was accurate! I am angry and the crowd sees it! My emotions are right out in the open, (like that’s a surprise) The electronic timing has worked perfectly all day, for over 80 racers before me, why did it have to fail for me? Who knows how accurate that time was! Most hand times have .2 or .3 added to them to account for humans always being faster than perfect electronic eyes (and that is correct, electronic timing for my first 100m are almost always show me opening a race with a 10.58-10.68, and manual timers always seem to time me about a 10.3-10.4) but I could have skated faster than the record!!! Not knowing just about kills me. I feel like a huge opportunity has come rushing by me and I have failed. It hurts like an iron band around my chest. A thousand “woulda could shoulda’s” flow through my mind, but I have to focus now on the races I have left.
They resurface between about every 20 skaters, and it takes time to do all the 1000m races left to come, I have as long wait before my 1000m. John Olafson comes into the locker room beaming, he says his 12 year old son just sent him a text message, and he just set a national record in the Vikingship indoor rink in Hamar. Inspired, later in the day John skates the 2nd family record for the day, in his powerful style that befits the Norwegian junior national team skater he used to be, he turns in a scorching 1000m. Suffering on the last lap, he digs deep into family pride and skates a 1:22. Way to go John!
D is paired with the German, Jens, who he has been talking with all weekend. They really seem to be vibing with each other. D goes out really hard in his 1000m, no guts no glory! and he is going for it with 100% Milwaukee forged American speed. D builds a solid lead, drafts Jens nicely in the backstretch and has a good lead going into the bell lap, but Jens comes on strong in the last corner, and dramatically closes the gap. D holds on to take the win though. He is much happier with this race, not the time, but that he held his technique together much better than the 500m.
For my race, I am really ready long before they call my pair to the start line. I am strangely calm, here it is, my best shot at the record I have trained for. My pair is an incredibly huge German skater, Willem Blakborn, he must be 6’4” or more. I don’t even come up to his shoulders. I almost completely ignore him. I am focused on really nailing this race, on skating my best. I want this in a primal level, my DNA is practically singing with it.
My pair false starts once, and they get us ready again. I give myself a little chuckle, and hope they get the timing right this time! We go to our ready positions again, and the gun goes off! My start is good, I don’t quite hit the first corner the way I want to, my arc is just a little off, but I finish the turn nicely, passing Will, I hear the 200m spit of 18.1, That is fast! I groove through the 2nd corner nicely, not using too much energy and hit the backstretch, My stroke is not great, I am too centered on my blades, I am not falling powerfully into each stroke. I cross over onto the outer lane and miss another step as I don’t hit the corner perfectly. I am very solidly ahead of my pair and at maximum velocity. At 500m it starts to burn, bad sign. I push harder and my straightaway stroke still is not clicking. 2nd to last corner and Will comes past me on the inner. So he is still in the race eh? I hit the final backstretch. This is often where I completely fall apart in the 1000m, I am ablaze with pain. My pair is 20 meters ahead of me. I have trained and tapered all year for this moment, I ask my body for more speed and it is there! I pick up speed on the final backstretch start closing the gap, I should easily pass him in the final corner, as I have the final inner, and he has the long and difficult final outer. I hit the turn and my feet are still moving through the pain, I drop both arms as I can feel myself losing speed. I am not bringing him back! He skates a brilliant final outer and we exit the turn with him in front. He increases his lead all the way to the finish. His time 1:20.8, my time, 1:21.25, about 5 meters behind him. I have skated over 1.5 seconds faster than the previous record, and lost…
My pair lets out a huge hoot and whoop, he knew what the time to beat was too. He must have had his own hill, his own tenths he earned all summer, more tenths than mine. It was a fantastic race though. We congratulate each other as we gasp for air on unsteady legs. He says “wow, are you a professional?” He is actually dutch, not german, living here in Inzell, and training a lot. He used to skate the marathon circuit, and only recently started focusing on sprints. He said that he saw my 500m, knew I was a sprinter, and knew the only chance he had was to skate a great last lap, and he did.
I took over 2 seconds off my outdoor personal best, some of that was the ice, but some of it was also me, I asked my body for speed in the last 250 meters that has never been there before, and it responded. I am pleased with my race, what can I do? I did my absolute best and someone else was faster.
I talk with many people as I jog and stretch and warm down, tomorrow is another day, tomorrow. D and I go back to our room, sharpen our skates, and eat crackers and carrots. We are morose, tired, emotionally very down, I am overwhelmed with sadness as I write this, like I just found out that something I deeply believed in was a lie.
(note: There are many ways to read that last sentence, its not even correct grammar, but I reproduce it here exactly as I wrote it that night. I was really emotionally shattered).
Sunday, Inzell Germany
D and I both awaken in pain, me from a small muscle in the upper part of my quad that I pulled doing a running start, D from his abductors. We stagger out of bed at 7:30 unsure what time our bodies or brains think it is. The racing starts very early this morning. So I want as little as possible in my stomach, I am finally rid of all that meat from yesterday! That ought to be worth a tenth or two!
We are joined at our breakfast table by Sergi and Vladamir Budin. In awe I watched Vlad skate yesterday. He uses positively prehistoric skates! and he skates beautifully on them. I later find out they are the same skates that he used in the 1960 squaw valley Olympics when he skated for the Russian national team. Again, we share no language but that of skating, and we share a very enjoyable breakfast.
With 2 good cups of coffee in me, I am feeling better. D and I jog twice around the glistening oval, near the end I suddenly feel my body come to life on the second lap, and I jog away from D, coming up were the 500m finish line is, I am snapping along effortlessly at great speed. I need to get my mind on straight, my body is really ready to rumble today! Just have to get the mind in line now with how I feel. On a day like today, let the body lead, it knows what to do.
Coming back to our room we change and stretch in the hallway, sadness becomes replaced by giddy expectation, we begin mumbling, and then finally singing the do-wah-diddy-diddy-dum-diddy-do theme song from the movie stripes. . A couple of German women from the Berlin club are staying on the hall. Who cares what they might think! We are crazy Americans, the race is on! Tomorrow is another day, and that day is here!
D and I both have the dreaded final inner for our 500m races today, with his technical ability, D skates it better than I do. I have been picturing in over and over. Our on ice warmup goes really well. My confidence is back. At one point I am following D, and the crowds in the warmup lane suddenly thin, so we do 200m all out in the tight innermost rack. We lean all the way over like it is a short track race, and following him I feel 100% aggressive and relaxed, we are at some serious speed. I am feeling the “sweet spot” in my stroke, my blades are locked into the ice like they are on rails, my confidence is perfect. Thanks D!!
After we get off the ice. There is almost an hour of racing before our turn. So I jog by myself in the stands, I need to be by myself, to picture that perfect final inner. I even jog down to the starter (who is starting races in the older categories) and practice my starts over and over, to get his timing between his commands really down. This guy makes us hold our position a long time before firing the starting pistol, not like the woman who was so quick on the draw yesterday.
I am warming up on the ice and see D skate his 500m. His pair clearly jumps the start and they do not call the race back. D is 20meters back at the first 100m, but he skates a beautiful final inner turn and cuts the deficit to just a few meters by the finish. Where he promptly lose his footing and crashes. No harm done thought, he is happy with his race, a season PB, a 42.5
They pair skaters together depending on where they stand in the overall, and I am paired with Willem Blakborn in both of my races as we are 1-2 in the standings. I am calm as they call us to the line, rehearsing my race plan in my mind. Will false starts, and I almost break out laughing, but quickly get deadly serious again. There is a martial arts theorem that says a man who is exhaling can never be surprised. I don’t know if that is true, but when I go to the start, I take 6-8 quick breaths, the last one really deep, and I wait for the gun in my ready position with one long exhale. D says the whole track got really quiet and expectant as they called Will and I to the line.
Bang! I don’t feel like I react perfectly, but my first few steps are perfect, I drive my body lower and lower with each step, I can tell by feel it’s a tremendous start and my speed is very high (it was a 10.48 first 100m! my fastest ever!). I hit the first turn perfectly and am making great strokes as Will comes by me on the shorter, inner lane. He barely beats me to the crossover, I cross behind him in one step, and threading the needle behind him at 34mph, I roar past him in two more steps traveling 13 meters per second and set up my arc for the final inner. I drop my tempo, go to a one arm swing, and fight the G-forces as I lean hard. In my memory of this, I can clearly hear my blades crunching the ice as I skate perfect strokes and increase my tempo all the way through the turn. I am barely in control as I drop both arms and exit the turn as hard as I can. I don’t nail the important final exit stroke, but I am carrying a ton of speed. In the final 100m I just try to skate compact and keep it together, I ride the flat of the blade well, the last 2 steps are not perfect and I stagger a bit. But I can only feel a tiny decrease in velocity. I cross the line and look to the scoreboard!! 39:01!!!!!! The masters world record! And the fastest 500 meter ever skated in a masters race (the 40-45 record is a 39.02).
I howl with a full years worth of desire, my lungs are heaving as I pump my fists and I almost fall over backwards as emotion overwhelms me. D is there on the warm-up lane and gives me a subdued high 5, he is happy for me, but he also burns to accomplish this as well. Will slaps me on the back “Fantastic race!! the record? No?” I am full to bursting, it takes all my willpower to not break into tears right here on the track. I tell him “Now we each have one!”
After I get off the ice, D tells me that Will’s coach (who is the German national team coach!) said to D about me “if he simply learns to skate with his knees together, he can skate with the big boys!”
I am jello, happy, shaking, I grab my 20euro phone card and run to the pay phone, I want to call my wife, but I stop, realizing its 5:30am back in the states, and she would not be happy being woken up! After all, there also is the matter of the last remaining race, and the overall samalong points between Will and I, although I am firmly in the lead after my smoking 500m. I am still way too emotional to even talk to people, so I grab my camera, and head out for a jog, to calm both body and mind. It’s a beautiful day in Inzell.
Back in the locker room, D has been doing some more non-verbal international diplomacy with the Russians! He is working on Sergei’s back, and chatting with John (pronounced “Yan”), who he is paired with later in the day. The races are running much faster today than yesterday, and quickly it is time to go again. John and D go out to their ice for their warm up, and I go over my plan again and again in my mind. Start really hard, catch a draft on the backstretch on Will, relax for a moment, then, fly by him on the middle two turns when I have the inner, I need a large lead if I am to beat him to the finish, since his last lap is so fast.
The pair before D and John race, a lanky Dutchman takes away john’s 1000m record. John wants it back and throws down a ferocious start as he and D race, his time is half a seconds faster than yesterdays, but he falls he falls short. D keeps his technique together well for his race, catches a nice draft off of John, and suffers all the way to the line for a good time, .8 faster than yesterday. He is satisfied with how he is racing now, its still not the screaming velocities he hits in training, but it’s getting better and better. I hear the Dutchman say to John, “Yesterday you were faster, today I was faster, we compete again next year as gentleman, again, no?” John Replies “Next year I move up in age category, and get to race with the real ‘wolves’ who have more time to train because their kids are not at home anymore”. So goes masters international racing!
Now it is Will’s and my turn. They call us to the line and Will false starts again! Ok, try #2, Its hard when you start on the outer in the 1000m, since you start only 50 meters from the turn, (the race is 2 and a half laps) you are not quite going fast enough to cross normally when you hit the first outer. I have screwed this up before, here it goes, Bang!! I get off the line very well, and execute a perfect entry into the first turn, accelerating the whole way, and exit like a rocket, compact and superfast. But Will is right there, he has also had a great start. I charge the first straightaway at 110%, like it’s a 500m, and build a small lead, my 200m time is a 17.98, my fastest ever! Into turn #2 and the strokes feel good, Will passes me on the shorter inner, and coming into the backstretch I get a good draft, I relax for 2 strokes, and hit the next inner turn with everything I have. It is one of the best 1000m turns I have ever skated. At top speed I get the bell for the final lap. I am ahead of Will, I can’t tell how far, but I can’t hear his clap skates behind me. I skate turn #4 as well as I can, but I can feel my legs frying as I hit the final backstretch. I am slowing down, I make the strokes as technical as I can, drive the knees, ride the glide, relax, relax, Will catches and passes me in the final turn (again!!). Even when you do it right, the 1000m really hurts. But all I am is focus today, I don’t feel the pain, its almost as if I am watching someone skate a 1000m on TV, pain just slows me down, it does not hurt. I struggle to the line with a very ugly last 50 meters. Will crosses 20 meters ahead of me and takes .8 off the record he set yesterday. My time is exactly the same as yesterday, with a faster first 600 and slower last 400. But I was close enough to him, that I am 99% sure that I have set the Masters points record for the meet (I did, skating 159 points vs. Arie Loef’s old total of 165.) 4 races, 2 records!
So it is over. Will and I are both locked up with the effort, it takes 3 laps of gentle coasting before we can begin to move again. We talk and I find out he is an engineer who works for a company that does hypoxic training systems. The same thing Lance Armstrong uses. Hmmm. Maybe that would explain his outstanding 2nd lap. Hmmmm. (that and a lot of really hard work!). He also is Dutch, but has taken a German racing license out, and the Dutch national federation does not like him as a result. Will and I were the last race of the competition, and the Germans are some of the fastest I have ever seen at getting the awards ceremony going and the results printed and handed out. It is a beautiful day, and I do not want to step off the ice, I am comfortable in just my skinsuit. We have so many new friends here. I have a fistful of cards in my hand by the end of the awards ceremony. I won my category. John was second and D was 3rd in the 40-45 category. Vadim took 3rd in the biggest category of the competition! We take lots of pictures of Russians, Werner, Jens, John, and Volker. What a trip.
I call Jessica on the phone after the awards ceremony. She is up by now. It is almost a Colorado day here now in Inzell. Warm enough that I am comfortable in a light sweater. Finally, there, in the pink Telekom phone booth with no where for me to run, and no one can see, those 747 sized butterflies catch up to me and I can’t stop crying while I talk to her.
Don’t laugh at the movie Rocky, were at the end of the fight with Apollo Creed, when all he wants to do is talk to Adrian, all he wants to do is share the moment with her and tell her he loves her. Don’t laugh, but cry with him.
One week later I am on the phone with Jessica again. I have traveled to Roseville, Minnesota to skate North Americans, I am head and shoulders faster than the other masters 30+ skaters, and on a very windy and challenging day for racing, I skate the fastest outdoor 500m in the history of North American outdoor competition. a 39.93 (faster than the senior or junior records! Both are a 40.1) I also break the 1000m North American masters record with a 1:23.8. This has been a dream season, no question about it, and I now hold all 3 masters 30+ 500m that I can skate, the US, European, and North American records.
But the season is over, I put the long track skates away until next October and am already planning my next seasons training, already planning how to maintain my strengths and improve my weaknesses. But right now I need to rest and not look at my skates for a month!
Thanks for reading
Curious how many hours I train and how much traveling I have done this year? I was! So I added it up. I remember someone saying that if you practice Cello 12 hours a day for 20 years, you will become as good as Yo-Yo Ma, I am not at that level of commitment, but I think I am certifiably nuts, here are the hours my daily training log shows:
50 weeks charted
433.5 hours of training
Average of 8.67 training hours a week
Average of 7.16 workouts a week
Week balance of effort
30 hard weeks
10 easy recovery weeks
10 peak weeks (reduced weekly volume with the aim being weekend races)
Hard week average hours 10.8
Hard week average # of workouts 8.43
Breakdown by sport:
27 long track racing days
16 inline racing days,
1 cycling (I rode the bike leg as part of a triathlon team)
Total days at a long track facility, 26 + the 27 racing days: total 53
44 total weekend race days + 10 Thursday 10 mile inline time trials
2003-2004 total of 54 races
Places Traveled for racing and training:
Lake Placid (five times)
Milwaukee (three times)
New York City (three times)
Ste Foy, Quebec
Roseville, Minnesota (essentially Minneapolis)
& Inzell, Germany.
I was on the road 22 of 50 weekends. And yes, I am very lucky to have a wife who is as supportive of my goals as I am of hers!