Younger than June-

This weekend, someone asked me “Andrew, how old are you?”

Without thinking, I answered:

Well, I am younger than I was in June

Given the quizzical look I got, I had to explain this, to myself as well as the questioner: This spring I was in my worst shape in about 6 years. A new baby + my wife’s illness, & I had gained about 10 lbs, as well as lost some muscle mass .

At the end of June, I started training hard again. After a lot of hard work, I feel so much better.

Although Olympic trials might have been what got me into gear, my finishing times at trials are secondary compared to how I feel. How old am I really? Almost 39. However I definitely feel younger than I was in June.

Isn’t that the gift you give yourself, really. With all this working out? To feel better? To step outside of time?

My friend Bill Armstrong is also younger than he has been in years, just cut about 4 seconds off his 1000m PB this past weekend. He is training with the tough guy Bob Fenn, and that will make you younger (or you will die trying).

I’ve seen this transformation over and over in people who have gotten really serious about speedskating. I’ve seen Bill think about it for some time. This year he has really thrown his whole self in, and it shows. And although we might point to a race or event we are training for, it’s the decision to prepare for it that matters.

Hey Jude & Jet Planes

I’ve been so focused on training & daddy-hood, that I have not written. I have this feeling at the rink, that if I don’t focus 100% for every rep, I will have an “epic fail”.

Olympic trials in 35 days!

So the camera stays in the bag, and my brain stays on skating technique. At home, the kidlet is just as demanding, tons of fun, and sucking up my last ounces of strength.

However my friend Eric did something awfully funny. And I got permission to republish here—

see, Eric was skating along Abby Road one day–


For all my skating friends!

Hey jude, dont skate so bad.
Spin some bearings and make it better.
Remember, hips under, & push through your heel,
Then youll begin to skate much
Better better better better better better, oh.

-Eric Rijk Kraan

Thanks Eric for the laugh!

I need it, I am writing from the Salt Lake Airport, on my way to Wisconsin for my cousin Mike’s wedding (Yes, I will visit the Pettit & skate/race too.. why not?)

But Jess & RZ are staying home. It’s so hard to leave, especially when your baby tries to climb into your luggage.

She is standing on my skates right now. A baby is more important than a perfect bend.

(cue the soundtrack “Leaving on a Jet Plane”).

Moments of Pure Awesomeness






Dear RZ,

Displaying great determination in the past 2 days, you have learned how to stand, and can now do it without support for some time. Walking is not far behind.

Maybe someday it might mean something that you started standing on your own the same week that the short trackers had their Olympic trials. This probably won’t matter to you, but I’ll always remember.

What you do really need to know is that one of your favorite things to stand up against, or on, or crawl over, is our dog Lilly. Lilly tolerates your babyness the way loyal dogs have for ages.

However, Lilly should not be here for you to lean on. She was neglected & abused before being turned into the Ithaca Humane society as a young adult, and she was one very aggressive scary mess of a barking, snarling dog when she arrived there.

She was people aggressive, dog aggressive, was an escape artist, and evidently dug her way out of a concrete & wire pen.

In most humane societies, Lilly would have gone straight into the dead dog pile. But a volunteer took her in, and worked with Lilly for months before we met her. By then she was just a semi-scary mess, but you could see the possiblity of the dog she could become.

We took a chance.

Even so, it was YEARS of training & work before we would have trusted her with a baby who pulls ears, fur, her leash, her jingly collar, etc. Now we trust her completely. Lilly would die for you, in a split second. This is what dogs are.

So know this. Life is a really long road, sometimes you walk, sometimes crawl, sometimes even run, bike & skate on the good days. And you will do most of this alone. Lilly will not always be with you. Nor will I.

But always remember that you took your first steps with a fistful of Lilly’s fur, a dog who was given every reason to hate people, but learned to trust again, love again, and made everything from her second chance.

Love,

Daddy

Convergence of the twain

August/September are the hardest months of training in the year for national caliber long track speedskaters. It’s when summer volume meets intensity. A convergence of two different physiological systems that leaves most athletes tongue dragging with exhaustion. April Medley’s t-shirt captures my mood exactly-

It’s a “convergence of the twain” that jars your body into becoming faster, even as it makes you want to sleep 12 hours a shot, and eat everything in sight.

The title of this post is a reference to the poem “Convergence of the twain”. A poem written by Thomas Hardy about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. I had to memorize it long ago & it has stuck. Brilliant words.

No one has done a similar piece of art that describes September 11th, despite Simon Armitage’s best effort at a poetic echo.

Maybe we are simply a YouTube world now, not a world of soaring poetic oratory. But one thing is for sure, September 11th changed our world as much as the sinking of the Titanic changed things 89 years before.

The Titanic was a smackdown of nature vs humanity, a hubris moment for technology designed to protect us. The horrors of WWI came shortly thereafter.

What was it about Sept 11th, in retrospect, that shocked us so badly? A smackdown of the secular vs the extreme fundamentalist worldview? An act of war against a country, serene in it’s security, that had not seen major devastation of a city since the 1860’s?

(So of course we reply with an act of war. Several in fact. Is our desire for revenge sated now?).

Don’t know how this post went from speedskating induced exhaustion to historical analysis between the world from 1912 to 2009.

Must be a symptom of tiredness induced clarity.

Self Portrait with 405lbs

Olympic trials are 47 days away, and I am feeling stronger in the gym than I have been in about 3 years. Now the challenge is to turn strength into explosive pressure into the ice. Being strong unfortunately does not mean you can skate a corner worth a damm, but it’s a start.

I’ve hidden my technical flaws for a long time behind raw power, and only skated a qualifying time for Olympic trials in the 500m so far, I’ll have several chances to qualify for the 1,000m in October.

Wish me luck. I -should- be able to do it.

I’ve spent so many words here trying to describe why speedskaters do this insane sport. If I only knew the worlds to express how I felt for a few reps today in the weight room today: It’s a lovely thing, when lots of hard training starts to come together, your race season is about to begin, and hope is in the heart.

5 Moments

The Utah oval is crawling with skaters. In addition to the US National teams & the SLC skate tribe, Short track teams from Japan and New Zealand are here, and quite a few Russians as well.

But in the first of these 5 moments, I was totally surprised when I sat down on a bench, and saw fellow master skater Canadian Darren Lind sitting next to me. I met Daren at masters worlds in Calgary in 2007, and we had one of those memorable “back & forth” 5k’s that is seared into my memory.

Daren is a good guy, and missed most of last year due to injury. There are very few men I feel “small” standing next to. Darren is one of them.

Here are his skates & very long, long blades. How narrow blades are when viewed straight on.

2nd moment, I was at my desk at work, wonder why the hell I have this impulse to write/record things. Blogging is like throwing a frisbee out into the dark. Wondering if anyone is actually out there. Then I get notes like this–


Great blog - it’s the best place on the internet for speedskating related material.

I hope you don’t mind me sending you this picture, but I think you are the kind of person that understands what I am talking about. I am a 25 year old returning-to-the-sport speed skating enthusiast Dutchman. My dad taught me the art of speed skating on the frozen canals when I was 4, and joined a club when I was 8 — I quit speedskating at age 15, and last year I realized what I was missing out on those 10 years. The lakes were frozen in Holland last winter and I had 2 weeks to come to the conclusion that I needed skating as much as I needed sunshine and breathing. ——.

This is my old speedsuit that I had when I was 15. It was starting to fall apart so I took it to the sewing shop and had them cut out the part around the hips and sew black lycra shorts in the gap. I also had them cut the foot part off because my legs have grown. I think the old suit looks so good now. A total morale booster, I can’t wait skating the first 500 and 1500m somewhere in october. Anyway, I hope this brightens your day - keep it smooth!

-Wijtze

I remember the first day I got on my suit with the USA on it, I did the same thing, and I think most skaters have. Get a new suit, stand in front of the mirror, and get totally psyched for the upcoming year. Thanks for the note Wijtze. It made my day.

3rd moment…..
this is Dave Zabriskie, fresh from his strong showing in The Tour De France, wearing the colors of the USA national time trial champion starting the prolouge of the Tour of Utah. A field of cell phones & cameras waving like windblown grain above the crowd.

Why doesn’t speedskating have national champ specific skinsuits? are we that cheap a sport! (unfortunately… yes)

Maybe Dave Z has the best kind of noteriety to enjoy. He can walk down any street unnoticed, but put him in on the starting line in team kit, and people recognize & appreciate what he has worked for, suffered for, earned.

4th moment– From DZ to RZ, there is so much happening here. I think the wild part is that my daughter not only has figured out how to feed spagetti to Lilly, but also chuckes & pulls it back from the ever-patient dog.

5th moment– Travis Jayner

Although by no means a great picture. What is great here is not just that Travis is on his way to skating a huge personal best 9 lap time trial, but the angles of his body. You can see how at the split second the skate moves off the ice, how far back on the blade his pressure was, because of how it “pops” off with the toes up, and prevents the blade from digging in.

Even when Travis became tired, and started melting from the effort, both blades consistently were lifting off the ice parallel, with emphasis on heel centered pressure.

More soon about the short track Deseret Classic.

Rest in Peace, Susan Nelson

Yesterday in Utah the wind howled at 50+ mph & wildfires raged north of Salt Lake. The sun was a massive globe of red sinking through blown dust and smoke. A giant red fireball swallowed completely an hour before normal.

Sitting & watching it with little RZ, I could not help but think it was Susan’s Nelson’s soul, taking a final powerful lap around the Wasatch range & the world was shuddering with her power, and the grief of those left behind swirling in the blinding smoke & wind.

Susan is the wife of the blogger Elden Neslon, the Fat Cyclist. She has been struggling with cancer, and just passed away a few days ago. So far 2,200+ have paid their respects in the comments, a communal outpouring of grief.

There is nothing good to come from cancer, except in appreciating the good days we have, in sickness & health. For Elden there is no novelist/bloggers roadmap on how to “write” this kind of experience as it happens, no social guidelines for writing profound pain & grief & with justice & respect in the real-time nature of blogging.

I’ve mentioned very little about my own wife’s illness here, and I never even talked about her final diagnosis or a rare auto-immune disorder that she will have for the rest of her life (Churg strauss for those who are interested).

It was too overwhelming, too close to my heart to find expression through the keyboard. When it was bad I just curled up in an emotional fetal position and tried to get through each day.

Jessica has just finished a nasty regimen of drugs, and has an excellent prognosis. Churg Strauss was 100% fatal 30-40 years ago. I still fail at finding the right words to come to grips with this.

My blogger’s hat is off to a true master of this real-time art form, and Elden’s skill creating meaning & inspiration out of pain I can barely imagine.

Pain as vast & powerful & moving as the crazy atmospherics in Utah yesterday, I had no camera with me yesterday, so I will repost a picture I took when I have written about Susan’ illness in the past.

A coffee cup with dots of oils in it, like tears, and the unanswering sky reflected.

Speed

I do not have a helmet cam, I just have a small camera I hold in my hands as I skate. I can go around 28-30mph holding the camera, and if I do it just right, I can catch glimpses of amazing athletes launching themselves into astonishing full sprint velocity (33-36mph).

Here is Alex Mark (in back) Kreg Greer and Matt Shanahan getting up to warp speed.

A few moments later, hitting the turn. They were doing an 800m effort here.

Brent Aussprung, also accelerating up to a solid 800m effort.

His body position does not look quite as dynamic as the other 3 skaters, but his turnover was very high even with complete extention, and he was actually at a higher speed than the other 3.

Brent is just so controlled in his skating, the effort creates velocity more efficiently.

A few years back I followed world cup stud of all studs Jeremy Wotherspoon for a few warmup laps. When he finally stood up, I blurted out “wow, that’s smooth.” He laughed, grinned, and said in a self-effacing way “well, that is the trick, yaknow..”

Simple… Simple… I did some high speed efforts myself on this day, and although I was faster than expected, I’m still working on “the trick”. Probably always will be….

Afterglow

Yeah, that’s me, chasing myself in a sequence from the amazing magical camera of Kim Kraan … I don’t “feel” like this when I skate… I usually more feel like this Bugs Bunny villan, Gossamer the monster. Just a shambling mound of red fur galoomphing about.

But digital pixels don’t lie until they meet Mr Photoshop (then you can make them lie).

Maybe I am actually figuring out something about skating. It just feels like “home” physically.

The last few weeks I’ve been back at training with a vengeance. It helped that my friend Kirk came out to Salt Lake for a weekend, and we skated & skated & skated. The long track has been open this week, and although inline is fun, I’m a long tracker at heart.

Thanks for the inspiration Kirk…

My muscles are glowing like hot embers after a bonfire. Accels, laps, drills, it was wonderful. There is just something about long track. Even though all I see are flaws when I review video of technique, It’s just so much fun

US Sprint Champ Heather Richardson was on the ice as well, getting an easy skate in before heading on up to Vancouver for a training camp. I like her push direction here, left leg especially, you can see what direction her pressure was being applied.

Heather will be the first to stay that technique is a wonderful & maddening thing to continually be working on, no matter what level one is skating at.

It’s hard not to be rough on oneself in the beginning of an ice season, as you remember what it feels like when you are ON, and you know how much work it will take to get there again.

Heather was smiling on the ice today, looking forward to the hard work. Is there something right with us? or wrong?

The slideboard at the oval greeted me like an old friend. We got right down to business. My 1987 Pink Floyd concert T-shirt says “Learning to fly” on the back. Seem appropriate.

Maybe what being a “Speedskater” truly is, is not a measure of speed or physical fitness, but a relentless attitude towards improving, bit by bit, year by year, of striving towards a goal that even if you attain it, is a fleeting instant of execution.

Make the effort of the journey is as sweet as the moments it all comes together, and you can get quite addicted to this little sport. Perfectional velocity? hmmmm.

Again, there is something very right, or very wrong, about this sport and the people who do it.

Thou shall not ride!

Not only did this screw drive right through my tire, tire liner (it hit the spot where my liner overlapped, so a double thickness tire liner!) and the tube, but it tore the snot out of the rim strip too..

I almost needed a Philips head screwdriver to get it out. I did make it home, gingerly, with a 5-dollar bill as a tire boot.

On the subject of using the bike for skate training, I find that when I am skating, my bike riding position tends to change in these subtle ways

  • Reach to handlebars is a little shorter
  • Seat schooches forwards
  • Hip are rotated forward, instead of down
  • Curled skater “cat back” instead of bike racer “flat black”
  • Saddle lowered a bit

Its not an efficient way to ride, but it “feels” right.

Do other skaters find this as well? Or am I just the princess imagining the pea?