Stephen King & Football

Rest weeks are wonderful things. How many jobs are there where you truly improve your skills by moping on the couch! As I have stated before, one of the most important truths of training for performance is that your hard work merely creates a climate for improvement, actual improvement and strength gains are biomechanical processes occurring while resting, processes that, like a garden, need careful water, nourishment, and sun/sleep before they bear fruit.

But really, here is what my coach has assigned for today! This is a direct cut and paste from our training plan.

Th: rest, nap, rest, TV.

I can do that, and at least in this effort, I am sure I have excellent technique!

Since I have made a choice to be without TV (why? This is extremely well stated said by a blogger I admire, in his post Filtered) I will be doing busy work around the house, and reading a lot.

Reading is an amazing thing, really. Its easy to forget about books sometimes, they don’t beg for attention the way that TV does, or chime at you like incoming email, yet they create such astonishing landscapes within your mind!

I finally unpacked all my books yesterday, and instead of them glaring at me that I have failed at my multi-decade plated aspirations of being a “serious” writer, they welcomed me like old friends. I rooted through them with relish, every one I opened contained some nugget of essential truth: Norman Mailer, Ted Hughes, Gilgamesh, Collected essays from 125 years of the Atlantic Monthly, Haiku anthologies, minor novels by Jack Kerouac, Paperbacks published during WWII wondering what the hell will happen to the world.

But I then I picked up “Stephen King, On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft,” my brother gave it to me long ago, and the inscription within read:

To Andrew, Christmas 2000, NEVER FORGET YOUR ART! -David

Usually I avoid these kinds of tomes, they often remind me of a football wide receiver trying to describe how to throw the perfect pass. But this is a brilliant book, and it’s fueling the fires.

Reading Stephen’s own experience, I am more convinced than ever that writers are not quarterbacks! Writers are scrambling downfield ready to catch what the world throws their way, running & dodging, eyes skyward, waiting to leap up and catch that awkward shape of an idea whizzing through the air. There are always defenses/life elements in the way, and when you feel like you have caught something, then it gets really dangerous, life will tackle you brutally & pin you to the ground, so you have to run & drive towards the goal like its all you have ever done.

I recently started musing how much time I have spent on this blog, and on this website, what would my bank account look like if I had spent that time working instead? Money is quite terrifying right now. I sat down to write this post an hour ago, what am I doing?

Yet, I feel like I have caught the pass, both here in these words and in my life in general, and there is open field ahead, if someone runs me down, catches me from behind, its my own stupid fault, right now, this year, I have to run with this life, this idea, as hard as I can.

why you do dryland

“Far from wishing to awaken the artist in the pupil prematurely, the teacher considers it his first task to make him a skilled artisan with sovereign control of his craft. The pupil follows out this intention with untiring industry. As though he had no higher aspirations he bows under his burden with a kind of obtuse devotion, only to discover in the course of years that forms which he perfectly masters no longer oppress but liberate. He grows daily more capable of following any inspiration without technical effort, and also of letting inspiration come to him through meticulous observation. The hand that guides the brush has already caught and executed what floated before the mind at the same moment the mind began to form it, and in the end the pupil no longer knows which of the two-mind or hand-was responsible for the work. “

from Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel

July Pictures

Its a rest day today, and I am engaging in some serious rest, so I will just post a few pics of the high 5 team from this last week of training.

Wheel of Pain

At the beginning of the amazingly (insert your own descriptive here) movie “Conan The Barbarian” there is a moment at the start of the film that sticks in the minds of many who have seen it. A gaggle of war-captured children are shackled to a massive wheel, the “Wheel of Pain” (a grain grinder, actually). They pass through puberty pushing this monstrosity, wearing grooves into the ground with their feet. One by one, they die from the effort, till finally, only one of them is left, turning this massive wheel. And now he is adult with biceps like cannonballs, legs like howitzers, and very thirsty for revenge, its Conan!

This cinematic image came into my mind during dryland earlier this week. We were doing repeated skate position jumps, with running/minimal recovery between the jumps (that’s me & Eric Krann doing them on the right). We are finishing up a hard training cycle, and the fatigue has really built up in me. 2 hours into the 3 hour workout (and I did 5 hard hours the day before), after hitting my maximum heart rate over and over, after endless efforts at 100%, my brain shut off completely. I had no idea what set we were on, what rep, I could not count, speak, think, I completely had submerged into suffering and effort. There was no moment but now, nothing but the mechanical motions and trying to make each jump big and technically correct. Kirk was worried about me, I was working so hard, I was COMPLETELY SILENT & GRIM for most of the workout…. Imagine that! Andrew quiet!

Weirdly enough, I was still able to fly pretty far each jump. During a brief break, as I was vacantly staring at the ground, with my heart thudding along like a jackhammer, Boris put his arm around my shoulders and said “Yes, its hard, I know, but your muscles are strong enough to do this, they are strong enough to do anything, keep the mind focused, and it will be ok, it’s the mind.” Some spark ignited in the flammable debris of my brain, and I think my last set was even better than my first, as I began to relax into bigger and bigger jumps (max HR for the last set was waaay over 200+ in case you care). This is when that memory from the Conan movie occurred to me.

Lest Mom worry (and she reads this blog) dear Mom, let me clarify that what I am experiencing is common, and actually is probably an essential part of breaking into another level of fitness. Masters cycling world champion Glenn Swan once said “Yeah, you can get to about 90% of your potential with 2 years of hard work, its that last 10% you just have to break your heart to get”. I think he was talking about the wheel of pain, that last 10%. Glenn has been there.

Football players talk in awe and horror about their fall 2-a-day practices, Cadel Evans, during a recent Tour De France breakaway, said he had a moment when he simply could not recall his middle name, no matter how hard he tried, Sprinter Robert Förster even said that he simply blacked out the last 100k of a tough mountain stage, had no memory of it whatsoever. It’s all that last 10%

Everyone builds their own wheel, their own chains of sacrifice, and that is the crucial difference between myself, football players, Tour de France bicycle racers and the mythical Conan (who had no choice). Modern athletes create ourselves anew -wearing grooves into ground of our own choosing; how hard we work combined with that careful equipment choice of picking our parents right (I did! genetically and otherwise) creates who we are. If reaching that last 10% of your ability was not so hard, it would not be worth so much, or be as fulfilling as when you feel that whoosh of sweet velocity & move faster than you have ever gone before.

Of course, this is all just Friday afternoon philosophizing; I exhausted because of this 10% obsession that I have, and I think I will turn my computer off now, and go sleep for most of next week (a rest week!! yay!). oh, wait, I need to go lift weights tonight! and I am already fried from 3 hours today! soooooo…. back to the wheel!!

54 years ago

54 years ago, the 21 year old Italian man pictured on the right had completed his engineering certificate and had also just become the junior national cycling champion of Eritrea (there were very large European communities in north Africa then, and they had thriving sporting communities). By 21, this young man had survived multi-continent treks as a teenage refugee during WWII, had been in the path of British bombs & American artillery, and had hidden from the war in the Italian Dolomites.

But this is all past, and on this day in 1951 Loredano Poletti mugs for the camera, knowing he is one of the strongest riders in the today’s race, its gonna hurt, but the other racers are going to be chasing his wheel, as the local paper has just hailed him as the “Il prossimo Coppi” (translation to 2005 Americanese “the next Armstrong”).

Fast forward 54 years to July 17th, its his 75th birthday, he has moved across the globe with his brother, learned a new language, built sections of the route 81 into the Adirondacks with is own hands, earned a degree at NYU and then supervised crews building bridges and highways all over metropolitan NY. He married a smart bohemian woman in Greenwich Village and had a wonderful daughter with her, and ran a fast NYC marathon time is his 50’s. Now he lives next to a peaceful lake in NJ, and takes long daily walks with his dogs, a Briard and a Schnoodle (poodle/schauzer cross).

People who love him and value him for his unique sense of humor and perspective surround him today, many of the guests at his 75th birthday shift easily between Italian and English like gears on a bike, but the love & laughter here today needs no translation. I wonder sometimes how he feels; the 54 years between these two pictures is so great.

Happy birthday Loredano! You are one of best examples of being “a good man” that I know, and I am honored not just to call you my father-in-law, but also my friend.

NYC Bagels & A Story

I just got back from New York City this past weekend, celebrating my father-in-law’s 75th birthday, pictured to the right here are some of the most precious of natural resources that New York City produces. I am bringing them to feed to everyone on my speedskating team after practice today. Why? Well, cause they are my friends, and also here is a story to explain why food after practice is an absolute necessity:

The athletes are moving powerfully, there is pop to every motion and the technique is excellent. In the turns, on the straights, snap and power, they are uncomplainingly doing everything the coach is asking, putting 100% concentration & sweat into the practice, it’s a thing of beauty. The sport they are doing does not matter, it could be anything, the following is what matters;

Halfway through the practice, the coach calls the team over, and says: “ok, each of you describe what you will be doing in the 30 minutes after we are done here.” The athletes describe a whole range of things. Stretching, chatting, getting changed out of sweaty gear, talking on cel phones, driving home to be with family/getting back to work. Etc, etc, etc, etc.

The coach listens patiently, and then announces “ok, those of you who did not mention that they are properly eating within 30 minutes, you are not allowed to finish the workout today: get off the ice/field/track/etc, you might work hard here, but the workout does not make you faster, what makes you faster is the RECOVERY following the workout. By not refueling properly, and missing the carbohydrate window, you are ROBBING yourself of the benefit of all the excellent work you are putting in right here, right now. I am just making it 100% explicit that those who have bad recovery habits are not completing this workout, because what you have done to your own body, practice after practice, is skipped gaining some of the benefit from what we are doing here. Its just as if you were goofing & being disrespectful while everyone else is working hard, but you are disrespecting yourself, and that is almost worse.”

The athletes who are forced to leave complain, are ticked off, but the coach is firm, and they leave with a very important lesson learned.

This is an allegorical story, Boris & Rex did not do this, but I have always wanted to see a coach actually have the balls to sacrifice part of one workout to make a really strong point to their athletes (especially young athletes) who have horrible recovery habits. Years ago I went to a lecture by the nutritionist of the Denver Broncos, and she described how changing eating lifelong bad eating habits (both timing and content) made a huge difference for many football players who were simply used to hitting McDonalds about an hour and a half after getting off the field. This is why many pro and college teams now feed their athletes on a daily basis, US speedskating does, it lays out a whole spread for the National team. Nutrition is as important as ice time & coaching.

People might see me going fast, or tossing about big weight in the gym, but its really true that what MADE me fast, is bio-chemical recovery events taking place after the workout (repeated thousands of times through my lifetime). The workout creates the possibility to become something; proper recovery habits make it an actuality. Sleep, massage, a balance of food that matches your own needs, it is all part of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up someday having a race that fully reaches your potential. Working hard, focusing, having good technique, proper equipment, and wanting it bad are certainly undeniable pieces of the equation. But food is the most powerful drug available to any athlete, both in what you eat, and the timing involved. Check out the research you can find online, its all there. Its not rocket science, but most athletes don’t have a clue.

If your “workout” is not really over until you have recovered from it, and you are in serious training for a competitive event, then you are “always” working out in some respect. What a thought! Frightening, but true, this is probably why control freaks tends to do VERY well at grueling individual sports.

I am lucky enough that my body will often physically put me to sleep very rapidly following a workout if I don’t get food immediately, so I have no choice but to eat right away, or I might not make it home.

Nutrition is also highly personal, I don’t necessarily recommend bagels post workout, that’s a ton of pure carbs. It’s all about what works best for you individually & what kind of workout you are doing. I almost always drink a sports drink during the workout, and like clockwork, I step off the ice/bike, and I immediately drink an ensure + usually something else, banana, sandwich, I often have a pile of things like canned pineapple, Gatorades, & ensures in the trunk of my car, and munch through them when necessary. Research says you shouldn’t eat a huge meal immediately, just something, but that something really has to be fairly immediate & proper, or your body suffers.

Lest I sound “holier than thou” I certainly have weaknesses when it comes to food, as I never really analyzed the total ratios of what I eat in terms of protein/carbs/fat. Anecdotally I feel healthier eating a very carnivorous diet, but that is just my impression, not backed up by any facts, If I really care about every .1 of a second in my races, its time for me to do that. Also instead of just having a “sweet tooth” or two, I have inherited my mom’s “sweet tusks”

So I am publicly declaring here & today that I am swearing off refined sugar & starting my nutriton journal until I drop a few more pounds. Ah, beloved mountain dew, sweet orange scones & lovely krispy kremes, I shall meet you again someday, but no time soon…..

Hello World!!!

A few days ago I experienced a jaw-dropping indication of the Internet’s worldwide reach. There is a Norwegian speedskater training in Utah right now, she said to Eva that the word among Norwegian speedskaters is that my coach Boris’s pylometric/off ice training program causes tremendous pain! They have read about it in this Blog!! They probably read my hot oil anaerobic wok or the tinman posts, describing moments where my first jump workouts brought me to tears-collapse-vomit-emotionally fried status (these workouts are still really hard, but I can finish them strongly now).

Dear international readers, your presence humbles me! The very idea that someone, multiple thousands of miles away is reading these words is astonishing. The speedskating community is VERY small. May we all meet someday, and share dinner & stories & commonalities of this crazy sport we do. If you ever come to Utah to skate the fastest 400m oval in the world, give me a holler! (of course, I am assuming you readers are mostly skaters, I could be really wrong!)

So when I say “international” what do I mean? The graphic to the right here is the different countries that have visited this blog so far just in the first 13 days of july (you should see the list from June!).

1 inch from shadow

Check out this photo and see how my blade is gliding above my shadow. I love this, it makes me smile every time I see it. At an indoor oval like Salt lake or Calgary, when the summertime sun slants in through the windows, and the ice is perfectly clear at the beginning of the season, you get this weird effect as you glide through the beams of light, like you are totally free of your shadow.

Of course, my mind immediately starts playing around with the metaphorical implications of leaving one’s own shadow, of skating somehow disconnecting oneself from that distorted dark twin always gnawing at your feet as you walk. What brief moments of flight we have, on that 1mm of bi-metal, moments that change everything.

Despite this happy metaphor I arrived at the rink in a bad mood, just grinding my teeth at my own insufficiencies and wanting to go fast. Wanting that physical purification of punishment & pain (I should have been a monk in some masochistic order, wait! I am! just I wear Lycra instead of rope & burlap). I get out of my car in the parking lot and am greeted by a grinning Chad Hedrick (world allround champ on ice 2 seasons ago, 40-time world inline champion). We chat briefly, Chad is happy to be back in Utah, having just returned from racing inlines in the rain in Europe. I don’t think Chad knows my name, but he certainly recognizes me from nationals last year. I never thought I would finish near him in any race, but I did one notch better than that last year in a 500m. I respect his ability & years of effort so much; it just blows me away I can race with studs like Chad.

Walking into the rink, it had transformed into elite skater central. I should have taken pictures of the plethora of athletic firepower warming up all around me, but I was focused on my own warmup. 3 or 4 Japanese corporate sponsored teams were there, including Shimizu and I think Joji Kato. The US National sprint team & many of the Allarounders & coaches were there. By my count, 6 olympic medalists were on the ice (Shimizu, Fitzrandolph, Carpenter, Cheek, Parra, Rodriguez) and 3 world Champions (J-Rod, Hedrick & Kato) plus oodles of world cup level skaters. Heady stuff.

Oh yeah, and there definitely was another team out there. The High 5 team. Although we were at the bottom branches of the evolutionary tree during this practice, it was a pretty tall tree of the best skaters in the world.

The US national team has already had several weeks on the ice, and they are already in thoroughbred form. The Japanese skaters skate quite differently than the taller American skaters but still go REALLY fast. At one point our team was doing a 250m accel, and they were doing an easy 600, we passed the Japanese paceline, Shimizu was in the lead, and I will carry this vision as long as I live of how smooth & groovy Shimizu’s hip & thigh action is when skating. Just totally inspiring! I mean, imagine the smoothest skater you ever saw, the perfect equation of motion, then multiply it by 34.32

Hmmm, other secret info just for readers of this blog! I saw Joey Cheek testing out the new Okolo clap, (available, of course, from my sponsor Dimon Sports) Casey Fitzrandolph was taking a step backward technology wise, and skated much of the practice on a pair of SSS fixed blades. His technique is still puma-perfect, no visible difference to my eyes at all from his clap technique (Patrick Kelly, I think you might be right). Tucker Fredericks is happy, feeling healthy and looking forward to the upcoming year, Kip Carpenter is going to single handedly bring the mullet back into style, he has quite a nice one going with streaks of blond mixed in.

Surrounded by all this firepower, I wanted to go fast. I finally cranked it up to about 85% effort level for 400m with Nate DiPalma in my draft. I felt the whoosh of speed! Big pressure all through the turns, cracked that whip of centrifugal force from the turn to the straightaway and glided out big strokes. I left Nate behind and was all smiles. As I returned to the group, Boris said “how did that feel” I replied “great!” he said, “I know it felt good, you went right back to all your old bad technical habits, skate behind other people for the rest of the practice, and skate right!” my already dark mood darkened, Boris was right though, Nate said in a really nice way a little later, that my knees were so far apart on that rep as I accelerated, he could have skated through them underneath me.

Coaches are there to tell you the things you don’t want to hear, and get you to work on what you often don’t want to face. Technique technique technique! it does not matter one whit that I am stronger than some of these elite guys, if I can’t create pressure into the ice with my power! Boris & Rex were both really nice to me, & encouraging as they were probably a little surprised to see my moodiness come through, I usually hide it much better.

Hours later, exhausted and somewhat dispirited (after 3 hours on the ice, I lifted for an hour with Eva), crawling through the parking lot on my way home, I hear a “Hey Andrew” and turn around to find a smiling Derek Parra. We chatted a while, I met Derek at an inline race, a few lifetimes ago, long before either of us had ever set foot on a long track, he was super-nice then, and the gold medal he has now has not changed that aspect of him at all.

I was in a better mood as I left the rink, and I got a call from Jess saying mounds of Chinese food was waiting at home! Great! And I had a nice dose of perspective later, at least I did not have a really sweet dog die in my arms that day, as Jess did.

A new face

A new face showed up today at practice, and suddenly the goofyness level of the high 5 speedskating team increased dramatically. Nate DiPalma and I just fed off of each others energy, and were chattering and goofing through much of the workout today. We were serious when it was time to work, but making all sorts of noise the rest of the time. How well do I know Nate? Actually not that well, just a half dozen conversations over the last year, but sometimes you meet someone who truly marches to the beat of their own drummer, and you enjoy the music of said drummer quite a bit.

He was not tired in these pics, just goofing about after throwing down some good turncable technique. Nate has been training in Italy recently, as he has dual citizenship, and seems to have a really solid base to add skate fitness on top of. I think he is going to take a shot at Olympic trials in both countries. I look forward to chasing him this year, I need fast people to skate with, and it’s a bonus when they come with a good sense of humor attached.

I mentioned in an earlier previous post Salted out in Salt Lake that John Dimon is having knee surgery, he went under the knife today at 11am east coast time. He says he has gotten many calls from readers of this blog wishing him fast healing (thanks folks!). John joked with me over email that he was looking forward to anesthesia, because he really needs to catch up on his sleep!

News Flash:

This just in from the High 5 Speedskating research department:

Methodical measurements of speedskaters in attendance at a recent pylometric practice indicated that speedskaters in general are bigger asses than the rest of the population at large. Our in-team physicists, psychologists, poets & swearing scientists suggest that although abnormal gluteus maximus hypertrophy might be a result of extremely intense training from the “burning throne” of the deep knee bend skating posture: excessive butt development could hypothetically be the necessary karmic counterweight balanced against the intense attitudes, emotions and ego residing at the other end of a skater’s sport-specific physiology!

Hey, cut us some slack, it was REALLY hot outside, and after the 3-hour intense dryland workout involving charging up and down the steep grassy hill in the background of this photo, we got a little goofy. There is some Russian expression that means “ass like a tank” and it pretty much applies to all of us.