In the box wisdom

While recovering between 250m accels yesterday, Parker Vance and I were talking about the good times & bad times of throwing all of your body & soul into long track ice speedskating.

We both agreed that on the good days, you just want to skate for the rest of your life, and never stop pursuing this wonderful sport until you are dead & buried in a box.

However, on the bad days, you just want to take the skates off, bury them in a box in your backyard, and get on with your life!

Hammer on stone

On a blustery, cold, foul day with snowflakes spinning through the air, dryland training begins-

A wise friend of mine left this quote on my blog, about 2 years ago-

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it.

Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it - but all that had gone before.

-Jacob Riis

Now is the time to begin the hundred strokes.

Or in this case, this is Matt Shanahan doing the first of what will become thousands and thousands of skate position dryland jumps.

Note how his knee passes quite near his ankle, it makes each jump much harder and much more effective.

This is the time of year I think of the above quote the most, as it’s sometimes hard to see the value of the endless hammering, and the toll it takes on the body (has my ankle has received its hundred blows? it hurt quite a bit the next day).

Of course, these words apply to much more than just speedskating, as this image taken the next morning can attest to:

Life is effort….

Crouching Tiger, Drunken Panda

This is Paul Nahrwold, skating on the HUGE green treadmill that lives at the far end of the Utah Olympic Oval. They use this monstrosity for all sorts of physiological testing and technique work. It’s nice because no matter how fast you skate, your coach is always still right there. It can go really fast. They have the blue catch strap so that if you fall, it does not shoot you off to splat against the far wall 450+ feet away.

I can think of many east coast inline skaters who would love to have this giant treadmill in their basement during those rainy days/weeks/months that define so much of New England.

Sigh, that beloved green landscape of perpetual murk…. My wife is visiting friends & family back east this week, and I am using my lonely energy for training, work, and rearranging all the furniture in our house (a couch in the kitchen? why not!!…)

This weekend they opened the Utah Olympic Oval to the impatient members of the Utah Skate tribe. Far from being “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” smooth & assured, the first sessions have felt like “Drunken Panda, Spastic Rhino” for myself and others. However the normal early season skate uglies are definitely somewhat tempered by goofy happy smiles on most everyone’s face.

Ugh…. am suddenly…. tired…. training has…. sucked out…. my brain… need to…. eat… sleep… do it again… tomorrow… zzzzzzzz…

How hot?

June, July, August & September are vitally important months for training; it’s during these months an ice speedskater builds the foundation that is refined into race day speed during the winter.

This will now be my 6th year focusing on ice speedskating, and I spent 13 years in bicycle racing before that. If a handful of lessons have seeped their way into my stubborn soul, one that has proven true over and over in the past 19 years is that a solid pre-season is ESSENTIAL.

However July & August can be uniquely HOT, as my melted water bottle on the right here can attest.

It’s been over 100f / 38c recently in Salt Lake, and as the whole USA is currently melting in the heat, I wanted to send some happy vibes to everyone who is “enjoying” the outdoors. Somehow it feels like the sun is a little closer than the “official” 92,900,000 miles / 149,476,000 kilometers away.

Be careful! its possible to end up like this box of crayons.

I ended up as a similar colorful smear doing dryland last week, although I finished the workout strongly, it was several days until I recovered. When cycling, it is worth it to acclimate to the heat, as sometimes races happen when the celestial oven is set to “Bake”. But as an ice skater, it’s not as necessary.

So instead of setting up my 10 foot slideboard in the backyard for my lunch hour sprint interval workout, I brought it inside.

Since I am currently without a coach or training group, (It’s a mess out here in Salt Lake, many skaters are at loose ends) I use video to see if I am doing things “right” or not. Interestingly enough, many of my technical flaws are visible here. Recovery foot is too high, my shoulders are too low, I have a cyclist’s “flat back” and not a skater arched “cat back”.

However, on the plus side, I am happy, absorbing the intense training load well, and am much physically stronger & snappier than I have ever been before (I took some risks in the gym over the past two months, and it’s paid off) now if I can just find a coach & some fast skaters to turn this foundation into a true house ‘O velocity….

P.S. old used crappy hockey socks make GREAT slideboard booties!

Still crazy after all these years

I fear I’ll do some damage
One fine day
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers
Still crazy after all these years

-Paul Simon, Still crazy after all these years

16 years ago, while mountain biking on slushy Massachusetts February day, on the trails I met one of the most intense athletes, and astonishing persons I have ever had the pleasure to know.

Evan and I were both happy-go-lucky kids just discovering serious cycling, and discovering who we really were. He is my “brother-by-another-mother” and we have gone through a lot over the years.

He stopped into Salt Lake yesterday evening, and this morning, per tradition, we went for one of our usual mountain bike death-marches.

Here is Evan, cresting a climb. You can see rain moving through the valley in the background. Click on the pic for a bigger version.

He is going slow enough while climbing, a camera can actually focus. Trying to take pictures of him as he rides downhill is like trying to photograph an artillery shell whizzing by. Evan rides downhill singletrack with lean angles like a short track speedskater (that is no exaggeration). Chasing him today at velocities approaching ludicrous speed, I ripped dozens of knobs off my rear tire sliding through turns, and I still couldn’t catch him.

I have spent so much time in the gym recently, or bounding/hopping doing skate training but never really going anywhere. Even training at the Utah Olympic speedskating Oval, it sometimes feels like a frozen hamster wheel for lycra covered mammals with knives on their feet.

It takes that best kind of old friends, the most ferocious of old training partners, to pull one out of a rut.

Evan has two kids, a smattering of grey, his own business; we are both married, both with careers, but put us on bikes, and we are whoopin’, hollerin’, muddy nutcake crazy teenagers again!

Wiser, greyer, happier, more in touch with who we are, but still crazy after all these years!


Capricorn (December 22nd-January 19th)
It’s the introspection season, Capricorn. I encourage you to write copiously in a journal. Here are several themes it would be fruitful to explore:

  1. Your most amazing qualities and your worst qualities.
  2. The hundred things you want to accomplish in the next 30 years.
  3. Your bitter complaints, horrendous pain, and lost dreams.
  4. Everything you love and everything that’s beautiful and everything that works.

In addition to writing your heart out and your ass off, paste in cut out pictures from magazines, draw pictures, and ask friends to write messages to you.

-Rob Brezsney, Free Will Astrology

Astrology seems as silly to me as numerology: Yet if a horoscope can help someone live a thoughtful life, then how bad can it be? But horoscopes often seem as targeted “to you” as a wal-mart ad. Every horoscope fits everyone! However this particular eccentric horoscope felt like it was written aimed right at me.

So in the spirit of question #1, I have a confession to make.

I am a MasoHedonist.

I very recently learned this term, and love it. This amalagam of Hedonist and Sadomasochist describes individuals who find great pleasure and even personal meaning while focusing on activities that many would find difficult & painful, and often NUTS. As Lance says: “Pleasure? naw… I do this for the PAIN!”

Today is a perfect example of this syndrome in action: I am supposed to be resting, not working out. The independent web design business has been THRIVING recently, and I could easily be spending 12 hours a day plinking away on my laptop.

I had gotten a brief & boring morning workout in, and took the dog for a walk. But there was something gnawing at me, something undone about the day. I was restless & in a mood as I shuffled HTML around. I had not challenged myself athletically for weeks. It was roughly 4:15pm, it was chilly outside, spits of rain coming down. Then this idea avalanches into my head,


I fought this idea for about 5 minutes. I really did, but it was useless to resist such an appealing invitation to MasoHedonism. Many athletes know the irresistible appeal of crazy ideas like this.

Now 25 miles is not too far for an experienced cyclist. But add in a steady cold pouring rain, dense rush hour traffic, the need to keep the speed very high, and psycho Utah drivers, that adds to the difficulty factor.

Oh yeah, I also rode my track bike too, so I only had one gear to mash or spin the whole way (I do have a front brake on my fixie, I am nuts, but not crazy).

The interesting part is, I was completely content with every moment of the ride, even when the rain got quite heavy & the temperature dropped 20 degrees. I was at peace skipping like a stone through lanes of growling traffic, being hyper vigilant for rain-filled potholes, gravel, & ice slick manhole covers.

My hands turned from 5 digit precision instruments into frozen handlebar claws, my arms & calves began to cramp in the cold, I could feel the difference between my cold skin and molten core, it was wonderful.

The complete roadmap of my muscle fibers was illuminated like a Christmas tree, pain made me happier and aware of every joint & piston of this body I live in. It made me more determined to ride as hard as I could, to make each moment of speed perfect. And it was.

My glasses were fogged & rain spattered, but I saw & felt my life as clearly as the SUV’s I danced through traffic with.

If I could bottle and sell these feelings, I would be a rich man, not merely wealthy in sensation & experience. Determination mixed with extreme sensation is fulfilling and addicting. When I rolled into the parking lot of Jessica’s work, I was practically singing with joy, singing through a face covered in road grit.

I think this is my most amazing quality and my worst quality.

Worst quality? On sober reflection this ride was dangerous, and I am not sure if I can ever stop challenging myself like this (the activity is just the medium for this impulse, it’s incidental that I bike and skate). Sacrificing other aspects of life for MasoHedonism is also questionable in some social circles, and it is something I have consistently done my whole life. It makes sense when you can point at something, like Olympic trials, but I do this for fundamentally other reasons.

Maybe I should have kept at my laptop all day, kept working till my eyeballs popped out of my head, but I dove outdoors, towards that which completes me in a fundamental way.

Am I crazy? or is the world full of closet MasoHedonists? does this little online journal have a high percentage of MasoHedonist readers? I suspect it might….. Any other moments out there worth sharing?

The Races -Masters International

“Watching a Masters 3,000m race is as much fun as watching paint dry.”

-some dork masquerading as a speedskating official

I believe this was actually said at a US speedskating board meeting, so I could find out who said it, but I don’t want to use this blog as a weapon. Besides, I don’t need to argue with such inanity, it speaks for itself well enough.

However, I invite him to change his opinion by officiating the incredible metric/pack competition at the Masters International. We are the most exciting paint imaginable! I promise it will be the most fun he will ever have at meet..

Here are some pictures (paint?) from the finish of the 40-44 category 500m. This is my proof. From L to R we have Olusegun Sijuwade (with perfect corner exit hip/blade position!), Matt Trimble, Randy Plett (with the good “race face”) & Steve Desotell.

The margin between these 4 at the finish line was .2, with Olu winning it by a skate blade. EVERY SINGLE race this group did had a finish like this one, The pic below is the 800! Almost a dead heat between Trimble & Desotell!

And in that “paint drying” 3k? Steve Desotell & Tom Cole finished within .05 of each other at the line after a very fast race! I have made my point, and I will now climb off my soapbox.

But skating is not just about winning; it’s about persevering for the pure love of this bizarre sport that seems to often reward dedication & devotion.

Here is someone who truly loves his skating, Tony Marchese (yes, this is boot artisan Paul Marchese’s dad) Racing in the 65 & 69 category, he still hauls! He used to be a professional boxer. He says that in terms of training, speedskating is MUCH harder, and that most of the time, speedskaters work far harder than the boxers he has trained (actually, the precise linguistic terminology he used describing most boxers was “wuss”).

If there is a “bionic skater” award, Tony wins it across all age groups. I had heard about this, so I asked him for the full list. He has faced the knife more times than a turkey on thanksgiving, and the list went something like major heart surgery, 3 shoulder surgeries, gastric blockage surgery, a steel plate with 6 big bolts in his back, then he breaks one of the bolts -so he had to go under the knife AGAIN! Does he make the six million dollar man sound when he skates? Nope, but he has a lot of fun. Tony, did I leave anything out?

Tony has had every possible reason/excuse to “go gently into that good night”, and he still keeps on keeping on & doing what he loves. What is your excuse?

From left to right, in a 500m women’s heat. Cindi Hart, Carla Langenthal, & Karla Cybulsky.

Another Women’s 500m race blasts off the line, from near to far, I think we have Leela Braun, Karri Cox, Alice Hagen, and Melissa Koenig.

Steve Gunther Traveled from Maryland to do this meet, and raced very well. Here he is in the lead of a 500, flanked by Dave Montgomery and Al Harding, but I am not sure who is who of those two. Steve set several age group records at North Americans this past year, and was the happiest man I have seen in a long time! Do Masters records matter? I point to Steve’s smile & satisfaction, yes, it can matter A LOT!

Bob Lawrence has competed several times in the Masters World Games, and shows excellent form here winning a 500m final right in front of fellow fast Canadian Mickey Kupchyk. I got to know Bob during a ferociously cold event in Ottawa several years ago. Bob has had several injuries this year, and is not in his usual stud form. In fact this is only his 3rd time this year on the long track. But the lure of the Masters International drew him to Milwaukee. During the awards ceremony, he said some really nice things on behalf of the 10 Canadians who came to race. He said he will return with many fast friends!!

More Carla, this time in the 3k where they threw several of the women’s categories together. Carla simply took the lead at the start and went fast. Here is Karri Cox trying to stay with her. After 4 laps Carla was alone & metric raced it all the way to the finish.

When people talk about the “fall” into a skating stroke, you can see it here if you draw a line directly down from Carla’s chin, she is leaning into the push, and this moment is when she actually starts her push, so a skate stroke is a lean-push, lean-push (beginners usually start out with this exactly the opposite, pushing into their lean). This happens very subtly on inlines too, but you can’t (or at least I can’t) be nearly as aggressive or powerful with it as you can on ice, or the wheels slip right out from under you.

As for yours truly, I had some great racing with Danny Frederick on Saturday (he was not able to make it on Sunday). Danny is a good fella, and was 6th in the Olympic trials in the 10k. We were extremely closely matched, so it was that perfect blend of searing speed and pack tactics. Danny beat me in the 1000m, I won the 800, and also won the 500m metric race with a new Pettit center personal best of 37.66, and my fastest opening 100m ever, 10.32! yeah!

At the end of everything, they always have a big group 5k. This does not count for anything other than pride, just throw everyone together on the line & have a wild salmon run mass start race with a huge pack. That’s me in the fire truck red skinsuit in the front row.

(thanks to Kathy Stutz for this pic, she also captured some start line goofing around, to see it click here).

Even standing at the start, eventual winner Matt Trimble is shadowing me (he is directly behind me). Matt saved his energy through the whole race, and made a very impressive move right at the bell. After 11 races and 15,500 meters of racing, my fast twitch fibers were completely twitched-out, and I could not match his acceleration.

Its worth mentioning that my fellow Powercranks racing team member Carla Langenthal pulled many of the 5k laps, and was leading the whole pack at a ferocious clip when the bell rang. If Powercranks are useful for two speedskaters as radically different in body/muscle fiber types as “last-lap” Langenthal and “fried after 600m” Love, then they probably are useful for everyone in between, as that is pretty much everyone. (ok, commerical over.. sorry! but they have been great sponsors for myself & Carla, and I want to thank them every opportunity I can)

North Americans, Pack-style!

Pack style racing! Love it or hate it, it’s a whole different expression of the sport than metric time trials. Pack racing is intense, exciting, mano-a-mano (or womao-a-womano) and combines strategy with the unique skill to change speeds quickly, as frequently the races are quite tactical until an intense acceleration to the finish.

Times don’t really matter as much as finishing first. There are pack style records, I have a few of them, but they are VERY difficult to achieve when you have a whole bunch of people sitting in your draft just waiting to slingshot past you in sight of the finish!

Here are some pictures I took at today’s North American pack style meet. North Americans is a joint US-Canada meet, and has a lot of the top younger skaters going head to head with each other. Notice that many of the skaters look like they have yellow socks on, that actually is Kevlar or neoprene protection for their ankles/achilles in case they get kicked by someone else. If you look closely you can also see the bump from soccer shinguards under several skinsuits as well.

These are all fairly young skaters. Quite prominent in these shots is the red and blue of the Quebec speedskating association. Montreal alone has more skaters in its club system than the USA has skaters (about 2,000). Their selection races are intense, and the skaters they send to meets like this are usually terrific, in both short and long track. There are also a lot of blue and black uniforms in these pics, that’s Alberta.

For a long time, pack style speedskating was the only kind of speedskating in North America. Today for Masters skaters in the US, pack-style is the only competition we skate with our “peers”. I did outdoor inline racing for years, and I like packstyle, even though it’s hard to switch mental gears after so much metric-centric training.

If it weren’t for the fact that North American Pack Championships was in Salt Lake this weekend, I would have been couch surfing for sure, as I am emotionally blah & jet lagged after my European trip. But I would have been kicking myself if I had skipped it.

Also these races were my last chance to renew a very intense and friendly rivalry with Brian Boudreau. Brian has won US master’s 30-39 Packstyle Nationals the last 4 years in a row, (twice with me simmering in second place). We are very closely matched, with most of our races being decided by less than .2 of a second, but Brian has been consistently that .2 better at pack than I am, tactically, technically, and physically.

Today’s races were the usual Andrew & Brian deathmatch, with him crushing me in the 1500, and me barely squeaking out a 1000m win by .17. However the refs threw in a bit of speedskating politics, and disqualified Brian in the 1500m because he was wearing a US national team skinsuit in a championship race. He has never been on the national team, & the rules say you can’t wear the USA in top races unless you have earned it. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about how different minor sports approach the thorny issues surrounding sponsorship & money.

Suffice it to say, Brian did break a rule, but it was sad that the rigid enforcing of this rule took away his excellent racing in the 1500m. This is such a small sport, why not just let us race & give Brian a warning instead of a DQ? You could not even see the USA through his racing bib number! Would a few strategically applied pieces of Duct tape be okay?

I understand the issues, and there are very complicated, emotional, & nuanced arguments for both sides. But I find it somewhat strange that US speedskating is currently threatening legal action against some top skaters who are not wearing the official US speedskating sponsors, but when an excellent skater who has poured many years of his life into this sport, and was given a suit EXACTLY like this one to wear at Olympic trials a few weeks ago, wears those logos, ooooooh! Baaaaad!

I shouldn’t even wade into this argument, as it’s an EXTREMELY emotional one right now in the upper echelons of skating, and it does not impact me at all. I think I will just leave this with the idea that most professional cycling teams are flattered when someone wears one of their jerseys.

Tomorrow will be my last chance to race Brian packstyle until the 2011 season, as he is not going to US Masters champs in Minnesota next weekend, and next season, he will be racing with the 40-49 category! Watch out guys, the Boudreau express is a hard one to follow!

Inzell & Snow

When last heard from, this traveling skateblogger was updating from a gas station hallway, it was raining/slushing outside, and he was going to race shortly… the story continues…. (now I am writing from the Munich airport, killing a few hours before my flight home)

As I was doing my pre-race warmup jog, I noticed Pat Kelly intently watching a German drilling holes into the ice and setting up the electronic timing. As we peered into the very deep hole he had created, I remarked it looked more like an ice fishing hole than Long-track racing ice, Pat said, “yeah, that is some thick ice, at least 9 cm”.

Most of the time, Long track racing ice is 2- 3cm thick. Ice thickness makes a true difference to top speed & the effort needed to maintain top speed. The difference between Salt Lake ice during Olympic trials, and the ice in Inzell today is similar to the difference in feel to riding a road bike along an asphalt road or across a grassy field. There is an ice-motocross event next weekend at this oval, so they are probably trying to thicken things up. Lucky us.

And the rain/snow mix gooping from the sky, and the thick, damp air, does not help things much either. There is a headwind on the backstretch, but it’s slight.

The rain stops as the races start, and I see many masters skaters I know going half at second or more slower than Davos or Hamar. The air gets a bit colder, after a resurface, the ice even looks passable. Pat Kelly opens his 500m with an excellent 10.2 for his 500m, faster than he did at Davos, but his final time is .2 slower, a 38.2

Boris skates a great 39.5 for his 500m, and continues the North American sprinters assault on the master’s records!! Go Boris! Here he is driving for the finish.

In my previous post about racing at Davos, I talked about speedskating hip positions illustrated with a great picture of Pat Kelly and myself. I showed that pic to Boris, and since then he has drilled me over and over, both in Collabo and Inzell, on this one simple aspect to technique, to drive my left hip more deeply into the turns. It’s a simple, difficult, maddening thing.

By this time in the season, I am on technical auto-pilot for most of what I do, and can focus on fine tuning. When it was my turn for the 500, I had not paid any attention to the other skaters in my age group at all, so I felt pressure on myself to go fast, but was relaxed, because after all, there won’t be fast times skated today.

Bang, I am off the line like a shot! Down the first 100m in 10.35 I hit the first turn really well & feel the new hip angle giving my left leg more power into the ice. I slam out of the turn and fight extra low and hard through the wind on the backstretch.

Boris is standing right at the entrance to the final outer corner, screaming something. I am too focused to hear it, but the image of him, and his body language urging me on, I will remember till my dying day. As I whip by and set the corner, I glimpse him break into a full running sprint so he can see the whole corner.

I set the turn well, sink into it & focus on that low-hip feeling. I build that turn like I have never built a final outer turn in my whole life. Feeling the extra power, I get greedy, and try to throw in more crossover steps in than there is space. I miss the pads with my right foot by a whisker, and as my left foot is crossing over, I skate on the edge crust of the track for a split second.

Now riding a slight tailwind, I drive that last 100m with everything I have left, You can see the amazing Italian men urging me onward. Fortza! Fortza! Die Die Die! Andrea! rings in my ears! Like many truly fast races, this looked a bit wild & out of control at moments, but it was VERY effective.

I cross the line, 37.47!!!!! A crazy time for these conditions outdoors, and another lowering of my 500m record! I am stunned! Ecstatic! How do I deserve this amazing life! As I coast by the stands, the crowd is applauding, The skaters on the warm-up track are a barrage of high-fives & smiles. I see Boris jumping around with a huge grin on his face. I point at him, begin my own applause and start saying, “it’s all his fault!”

I am the Canary that ate the Cat! Who knows how fast this effort would have been in Salt Lake, but it would have been roughly in the middle of the group racing in the first day of the men’s 500 world cup in Inzell last month (and they had to be skating in better conditions than there were today!!!).

But maybe that is not a fair comparison to make, because it’s impossible to compare conditions day to day on outdoor tracks, and before I get too full of myself, I must say that later that day in the Planet-Ice rinkside bar, watching the 500m races from World Speedskating Sprint Championships on live TV, a couple of Swiss Masters Skaters kidded me as to why I was skating masters races, and not skating world sprints? They pointed out I was faster than some skaters who were competing at world sprints. Just as they were saying that, Casey Fitzrandolph and Kip Carpenter appeared on the screen to skate their 500m races, I pointed to the screen and said, “That is the reason I am not skating world sprints, the US sprinters are all absolute studs, and there are a whole bunch more fellows in the US who are waay faster than me, several of whom are OLDER than I am.”

A Russian then joined in with kidding me “But you have your world record! No?” as I have said before in this space, there is no official masters world record, it does not exist, and it makes me feel odd to call it a world record. So I said “Naw, it’s a Master’s International record, a cool thing, but there is no sanctioned world records for Masters” he looked puzzled for a moment, then brightened up and said in an extremely thick Ruski accent “ok, then it is a Galactic record!” That cracked me up! Fastest 35-40 solar orbits carbon-based life-form traveling over solid h2o in this Galactic region? I will accept that! sanctioned or not!

I was lucky to have had that narrow window of halfway decent ice to race at least once on, as the fickle mountain weather closed in hard. Warming up for the 1000m, the wind came into the stadium, and swirled around, and seemed to be a headwind for most of the track. Racing became a bit more a rationing of effort. In outdoor & windy conditions, things get funky. I skated a steady 1:17.38, being conservative until the last 400m. After the results were tallied, I was solidly in the lead of the 11 men in my age group, and also on track to break the sprint samalong record as well.

After racing, Boris & our Norwegian buddy Arne jogged 20 minutes for warmdown. I could barely follow them. After only 800m, my body was crumbling like a dirt clod in a rainstorm, abs & calves cramping and crusty. I would swear at that moment that I was no athlete of any kind, just some worn-out lame-duck who needs a hundred tabs of advil, and a week in bed.

Sunday dawned with a foot of new snow on the ground, and it just poured snow all day long. Racing became as much survival oriented as speed oriented. Boris smacked a wall pretty well in his 500m, but was ok, I thought that I skated another excellent 500, but was a full second slower than on Saturday. By the time the 1000m races came around. It was snowing silly hard, skate blades were parting the snow like the wake beside the prow of a boat. I hope these two images give you a good idea. (I know Boris well enough to know he is gonna look at these two pictures here and start working on my funny arm swing, I really swing my shoulder when I am accelerating, not my elbow/arm like one is supposed to)

Gotta love racing outdoors! It certainly is character building sometimes! Boris and I certainly suffer from an excess of character! After all the races were over, and the results were tallied up, Pat Kelly and I handily won our age groups & set new sprint samalong records, Boris’s crash cost him the overall in his. But he was not upset, as our good buddy Arne stepped right in with an excellent final 1000m to take the overall.

This European racing trip has been an astonishing experience. I am glad I was able to share some of it with you here.

Ugh, its 2am here in the Munich airport. I chatted with one of the security guards who said there is an all night coffee place in the terminal somewhere. I need to post this. As I get some of the pictures I took organized, I will make up some galleries of images of Europe, but right now coffee is the mission.

Thanks for reading…

Davos Days –Racing!

The ice in Davos is a unique surface. It gets incredibly cold at night, so it’s really hard, yet once the mountain sun hits it in the morning, the top softens over a hard bottom layer, so combines grip and excellent glide. The air is also 5,000 feet thin… Combine this with some pretty decent ice techs, and this can be an awfully fast place to race.

During training, it felt like the top speeds were higher than Hamar, but its still outdoors, and so you don’t coast as well, and even slight winds can slow times dramatically. So I was unsure what to expect.

There were several records I had shots at during this race weekend, the two I set in Hamar last week, 37.93 in the 500m, and 1:16.11 in the 1000m. Dutch Skater Ledo Beeksma has the 1500m record at 1:58.9, and he also has the small allaround samalong record

Translation for non-speedskaters: a samalong is basically lowest elapsed time over 4 races, but it’s a weighted time score where 1 second in the 500 = 2 seconds in the 1000 = 3 seconds in the 1500 = 6 seconds in the 3,000. They never do this in the Olympics, but it’s important in many meets.

Since Hamar I have been changing some of the mechanics of my arm swing, and I am very happy with the slight timing changes I feel. You don’t skate with your arms, & you don’t need arm strength to be a good speedskater, but the path your arms travel impacts how your legs transfer power into the ice, and more importantly for me, it affects your timing of how fast you step from foot to foot.

So I go to the 500m start line happy, confident. There were a few Swiss national team skaters before me, in addition to the masters racing. One of the Swiss skates a 38.12 500m, supposedly a new Swiss national record (he was very happy), hmmm, cool. I roughly expect a 38.4 from myself, as I have never gone faster than 39.01 outdoors. Soon it’s my turn to be called to the line.

I bust off my best technical & physical start in weeks, 10.44, I have a minor slip in the first corner. I hit a very high top speed in the backstretch, you can see that I have picked up some jedi skills and briefly turned my skate blades into a light sabre! (it’s just the sun, but quite cool looking!).

Finally I skate a clean final outer turn! I focus on the new arm swing in the last 100m, and I feel excellent pressure every step of the way.

I cross the line and see 37.81 !!!!! FASTER THAN HAMAR! AND A NEW RECORD!

I do a little celebrating of my own, as I was quite surprised. I don’t hide my emotions too much when I am on the ice. Jessica gives me some good natured kidding afterwards “Too bad you are not Swiss!”. As an added bonus, my time is .2 faster than my lake placid Yoda, Pat Kelly’s time of 38 flat. Pat said he slipped awfully at the start. He still opened in 10.31 though! I wish I went that fast when I slip.

The less that is said about the 1500m I raced later that afternoon, the better. I really have not trained for that distance at all, and have not raced one this year. My plan was to start slow and work the corners after 800m. What happened was I went very fast for 700m and built up a lethal dose of lactic acid, and was utterly shattered with 500m still to go. I faded by 5 seconds in the final lap, only slightly faster than if I had simply coasted along, and finished in 2:02, well outside the record. Pat skated a great looking, controlled race to just nose under the 2 minute mark. 1:59 something, a new age group record for him.

In the overall classification for all the masters racing in Davos, Pat and I were #1 and #2 in the standings, even though we are in different age groups, as I am 35 and he is 42. So we would definitely be paired together on the next day. I must admit to being a little intimidated. After all, the 1000m tomorrow is Pat’s specialty, he finished 6th in the 1994 Olympics the year Jansen won his gold.

Tomorrow seemed like it arrived in no time (even though Jessica, Becky and I had a fantastic party with our new Italian friends, they deserve a whole blog post of their own one of these days).

Sure enough, on the start list, there are Pat and I set together for the 1000m. The ice is still good, not quite as fast as yesterday, but smoother. By the time the 1000m came along, the sun was quite hot & beginning to soften things up a bit.

Pat has his game face on, they call us to the line, Him on the inner, me on the outer. BANG! I shoot off the line very well, but part way through the first turn, Pat comes sailing by me with a world-class sub 17 start. Grrrrr! I hit the first straightaway absolutely raging, in dramatic contrast to Pat’s control & smooth tempo. He is faster than me to 200m, but I pass him before the second turn, and accelerate the turn crazy hard.

A huge thank you goes out to my italian buddy Paolo Gemme for this fantastic shot of this moment. You can see Pat’s hips really in the turn, and I am not so precise.

Coming into the backstretch, I see the perfect draft! Starting on the outer in the 1000m often sucks, except when you manage to get that perfect draft at that perfect moment, like right now.

I am able to pick up a ton of speed as I get a beautiful draft. You can see here the subtle contrast in body position between his top speed relaxed groove and the intense effort of my style. I shoot through Pat’s draft, pass him, hit the fast inner turn and can barely hold the corner I am going so fast. Even though I can toss 450lbs around on the squat rack, it’s hard to extend my legs against the intense pressures of this speed. I get the bell for the final lap 15 meters ahead, I feel good today, and hit the crucial second to last turn pretty well.

My legs begin to lock up in the backstretch in the same old spot, in the final outer turn, I slow down dramatically, exiting the turn, I can hear the clap-clap-clap of the Pat Kelly tractor beam chasing me down. I drive with everything I have over the last 50 meters, my mouth hanging open in a desperate attempt to suck oxygen to my screaming legs.

I barely beat Pat to the line by a few meters, Again I am faster than Hamar, 1:15.95!! Pat right behind at 1:16.52. Our splits were a contrast in style I skated like a 17.14, 27.0, then a 31.81! an ouchy 4.8 second fade! Gotta love racing outdoors! Pat was something like 16.97, 29.3, 30.12.! Totally different approaches to a 1000. I am always faster when I just burn everything I have in the first 600m, as much as it looks bad on paper.

Later that day, we are paired together again for the 3k. Pat is already thinking ahead to Masters world allaround champs in Finland later this year, and needs to test himself by skating a fast 3k, as that will be the make or break distance for him. I just want to survive the 7.5 laps without puking on myself!! As this is a distance I REALLY don’t train for! Distance racing is its own unique beast. I can hear allarounders & marathon skaters laughing at me for fearing a 3k, and this fast-twitch fella deserves every bit of it!

Pat takes off hard from the gun. With Jessica yelling lap times and encouragement to me, I skate my own, much slower race, and manage consistent 36.9 second laps. That was as fast as I am capable of going. I tried to build the corners hard on the last 2 laps, but the legs started locking and I slowed down to 38’s. Final time of 4:44, and I was satisfied, as that is 18 seconds faster than the last 3,000 meter I raced over 2 years ago.

Pat beat me by quite a bit in the 3k, and won the overall masters’ samalong. We are in separate age categories though, and both set new samalong records in the 500-1000-1500-3000 combinations in our age groups. Yay for us!

Ugh, its late, I need to go to sleep. Thanks for reading.