Boreas & Katrina

Boreas: the Greek god of the north wind, is speaking:


“Force is what fits me, force! By force I drive the weeping clouds, by force I whip the sea, send gnarled oaks crashing, pack the drifts of snow, and hurl the hailstones down upon the lands. I, when I meet my brothers in the sky, the open sky, my combat field, I fight and wrestle with such force that heaven’s height resounds with our collisions and a blaze of fire struck from the hollow clouds leaps forth. I, when I’ve pierced earth’s vaulted passageways and in her deepest caverns strain and heave my angry shoulders, I put ghosts in fear, and with those tremors terrify the world … ’
With words like these or others no less high, he waves his wings and, as they beat, the whole world felt the blast and all the wide sea surged. Trailing his dusty cloak across the peaks, he swept the ground and was clothed in darkness.”

- Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.681 (this was written roughly 2,000 years ago)

Hurricane Katrina is battering the middle of the US, and last night a quick and sudden cold front swept through Utah from the north. Like wrestlers, the south wind (Notus) pushes in one place and the north wind (Boreas) pulled back in another. It was warm and still when I walked the dog at 10pm, yet at 3am the wind was roaring & gusting, the windows shuddering and the trees skittering like a crowd of worried people, a distinct cold in the air, waking jess and I. This morning it was chilly, brezzy unsettled air, a dim white haze to the sky burning off like tissue paper in blue sky fire.

High temp at 5pm yesterday, 100 degress, today, 72!

We are masters of so much due to our technological wonders, but we are still at the mercy of nature. We are not that far from the polytheistic wonderings of the Greeks and Romans, otherwise why do we name hurricanes? Why do so many watch the weather channel as if it’s a sport? It’s human habit to give a name to aspects of fate beyond our control.

A hundred thousand people probably have been made homeless, and hundreds killed by that soggy swirl of wind and water. There are costal communities that are simply “gone”. I think of my high school friend Jeremy Lyons, New Orleans resident, who was probably in the jaws of Katrina. This photo is a CBC photo of downtown New Orleans, remember, these bricks were moved by wind. When I visited Jeremy in New Orleans years ago, he was in walking distance of the water. I imagine he is ok, as he has too much talent & gravitas to be just washed away, no matter what gods are wrestling nearby, besides, higher powers usually like musicians. But when I hear that 30,000 people have taken refuge in the superdome, I hope he is not one of them.

Shifting gears a bit, there is no Greek myth that goes well with this: I crashed yesterday at top speed; I was doing the very last crossover step before the straightaway, and under the pressure of the turn (low 27 sec lap/33mph), my hips and shoulders were pulled out of line, so that when I put my right blade down making the transition from turning to straightaway strokes, it was not pointed in the precisely correct direction, it threw me onto the ice immediately. I slid diagonally up the straightaway for 50 meters, and gently bounced off the padded wall. It could have been really bad if I had made that mistake a few moments earlier at the apex of the turn, as I would have gone straight into the wall wearing 17.5 inch machetes (skates) on my feet.

The cause of the crash was really all the fatigue I have built up over this last training cycle, I was too tired to hold my technique together properly. But everything means something along the interconnected web we walk during our days, and this crash was a warning to not become to confidant, to appreciate everything I have this very moment, both past accomplishments & present health. It could be taken away in a second. Admittedly this crash was my fault, not like a no-fault hurricane, but where I fell was luck/fate/chance, just like where Hurricane Katrina came ashore.

26.41!!!!

Liberally compressing a whole weeks worth of conversations between coach Boris and I into a paragraph, roughly the following exchange occurred:

Andrew: I am going faster and faster doing our workouts/drills, and am getting close to my all time fastest lap (27.01), can I please go all out just once! and try to go really fast!

Boris: No, you are not technically ready yet.

Andrew: Pllleeeeeeze!!!

Boris: No, Why are you so intent on going fast right now? Its coming together well, You will go really fast this year!

Andrew: I have done every step of every workout you have assigned since march (exception: august 21st). I been suffering like a sled dog, I want to go faster than I ever have before, not for physical reasons, but for psychological ones, to feel that all this sacrifice is really getting me somewhere. I know intellectually and even physically that I am improving, but I want the stopwatch to tell me as well.

Boris: There is this old Russian saying, “If something is prohibited, but very desirable, it is probably a good idea to do it”. Ok, you may try.

Result: Even though I am extremely tired at the end of this training cycle, and skated rushed and sloppy when I turned on the turbos, I pounded out a 26.41 for a flying 400m!!! (33.9mph/54.5kph average speed-figured out here-, and thanks to Dimon Sports for the fast suit) The whole rink heard me howl when I saw the time, Kirk Fogdall, skating behind me, also did an all time best, a 29.2 with both hands on his back!

How much has a whole year of soul-crushing hard work earned me?? So far, its .6 of a second improvement from my fastest lap last year.

Boris is heading to Russia for business and to meet with one of his speedskating yodas. He did some taping of the team to show yoda, and recorded my 26.41, click on the picture to the right to see/download it, its only 1.3mb. When I look at this, I see my usual technical flaws, they are all evident in the video: in the straights my left knee follows an inefficient arc compared to the right one, in the turns my left elbow sticks out like sail, and under the high pressure of the turn my rhythm is powerful but choppy & without flow. However there are numerous things I am doing so much better than in the past, and I can happily blame Boris for most of them.

I begin to rest now, I feel a huge psychological pressure fall away, and in a week or so, all this fatigue will be shed like old skin too. I will emerge as a new, faster self, to race better vs myself & this new, higher standard. Right now it hurts to walk, but I am smiling everywhere I go.

Bonneville Salt Flats

I will never bounce across the moon’s dusty surface, never ride my mountain bike down Olympus Mons on Mars, I will never speedskate across the frozen methane surface of Pluto, or see the great red spot of Saturn from inside the great red spot of Saturn. But that’s ok, I leave things like that to my great-grandchildren, I am content within my life to explore the places on planet earth that are just as weird, alien, and beyond the bounds of normal.

When I found out that the Bonneville Salt Flats, that featureless detritus of prehistoric ocean/current rocket-car playground, was only an hour+ from my front door, I just had to go there. To me the idea of riding with no road, trail, or visible guide except the horizon is quite compelling psychologically. Here is what I saw as I started out.

With all the pictures in this post, click on them to see a much larger version.

Certainly I have a ton of hard work in my life these days, and stress about an uncertain racing future, but I also have some freedoms that I won’t have 6 months from now when office cubicle world will reclaim me. Today’s 2 hours of cycling intervals (an easy day, in boris-land) could be done on the salt flats, All I had to do was convince myself to step out the door, into the car, and make use of this freedom. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, to simply to get out the door & use the freedoms available in ones life.

I arrived to discover stunning scenery, and that recent rains had turned the “packed salt concrete” to the riding consistency of a muddy field. It was not the lightning surface I had imagined. But still, it was cool to look down at the front tire and see it caked in salt. The Speedway itself was actually flooded with water, and I saw a few SUV’s splashing about with salt caked on their roofs (that’s gotta be as bad for a car as winter in Ithaca). So I headed across the sticky Salt flats towards the mountains, spinning my granny gear in the grabby salt-soil.

There were several obvious climate zones visible as I rolled across the desert, the expanse of the lifeless salt flat itself, a transition to desert dunes, a 50 foot wide zone of sinkholes, then a normal, sandy, rocky desert that became the foothills to the Silver Island Mountains. I rode through all of them, climbed into the saddle between two mountains, yet spent the bulk of my ride in the dune zone pictured here. The ground was quite hard, and it was amazing simply pedaling for mile after mile through this, and when my HR monitor beeped at me informing that it was time for another interval, it was perfect terrain for heart pounding high-speed dune slalom fun.


During one of my intervals, I saw something blast away from me between the dunes that looked like a cross between a mongoose, kangaroo, and a ground hugging cruise missile. As fast as my 15 years of bike racing can make a mountain bike go, this animal was scary fast & left me waaay behind, I did not get a good look at it. It wasn’t until I startled another into blastoff that I realized I was seeing a desert jack rabbit, antelope jack rabbit or black tailed jack rabbit to be precise.

When one thinks of rabbits, one thinks of the John Goodman of the rabbit world, domestic pets, what I saw rocketing among the dunes was the Michael Johnson of rabbits. Took my breath away with their agility. They even have disorienting markings on their ears that look like eyes staring back at you as they run. I did not see any high performance vehicles at the Bonneville salt flats, but I saw an animal that impressed me just as much.

The intervals began to wear on me, and I finally turned around in the dunes to head back & took this brief pic (yes mom, I wore my helmet, I just had to balance the camera on it).

To end this post, I saw this visage for a loooong time heading back to my car.

It would shimmer in an out of view depending on how the wind made the mirage bend and dance. The intervals were over and my body was tired, knowing that one of the littlest nibs shining out of this mirage was my car did not make it get closer to me any faster. There was salt caked all over me (not just my own salt, for once). I often say that racing & training is an amazing memory-making machine, today had some good memories.

The oven is off

The oven has finally turned off, the 100 degree days seem firmly behind Salt Lake City now, and the western climate is entering that period of the year that resembles my favorite time of autumn in the northeast; sunny, warm, dry days, and nights with a tiny chill hinting of what is yet to come. In another month or two, and the sweaters will come out of the closet, the half-dozen deciduous trees in salt lake will turn a color or two, and it won’t seem so ridiculous anymore to be speedskating.

I enjoy the fact that the mountain west doesn’t get the week long chilly fall drizzles of New England; here it’s replaced by ferocious displays of atmospheric indigestion/Zeusian rages, providing the same rain in one hour that the sodden sky over Massachusetts dribbles upon you over a whole week. I like Massachusetts a lot, but I am happy to be here now.

My brother is back in Ithaca, (after his recent on stage encounter with a giant stuffed catfish) and I will be back in Ithaca for a wedding and a brief vacation as well in two weeks. Super intense training also demands occasional periods of super intense rest so the body can heal. I talk a lot about rest/work ratios, but that is the KEY to getting better.

Until the mandated rest begins in a few days, my focus on tiny moments of technical precision continues, despite fatigue, here is some evidence;

Presently I am working hard on driving my knees forward hard at top speed, its starting to work, as you can see here. Depending on the speed, sometimes you drive side to side, sometimes you drive forward, maintaining absolute top speed is a weakness of mine, and driving my knees aggressively seems to help, although my hands are still describing too big an arc sideways, especially when I am on my left skate.

The coaching brain trust talks about “restoring normal hormone level function”, as I am not the only one here who is exhausted. Psychologically I find myself also like a first grader, watching the clock and waiting for each day’s school lessons to be over. I LOVE to work hard & skate, I really do. It completes me in a fundamental psychological way, & I truly enjoy the company of the other questing pupils in this twisted schoolhouse (as evidenced below) it’s almost harder for me to rest than to work, but if flying across the country, going out to dinner with friends, and not thinking about skating for a few days will make me faster the day it counts to be fast (December 27th, 500m Olympic trials), dammit I will do it!

p.s. as tired as I am, I still went REALLY fast in practice tonight, dang, I never thought I could do that many laps that fast without dragging my tongue on the ice from exhaustion. The speed felt easy tonight, This training program is hard, but its opening up new horizons of strength, hmmmm, maybe these factors are linked!! Ha!

Sunset over Salt Lake

We travel not only with our feet but with our minds, and for reasons that are not entirely clear our minds are knotted up with word-processing software. We are creatures that love words. We search for words to describe what we perceive as we travel, but the opposite is also true: The world struggles to match the material already sparking in our imaginations.
-From the Washington Post’s Achenblog

or, what happens, is that after a lifetime of travel, your imagination finally leads you to a landscape that matches your life & imagination stride for stride. The quote above was probably written in an office cubicle in Washington DC. I write my blog after walking the dog with jess and seeing the sunset pictured here.

Very quickly I am feeling that this odd desert city between the peaks of the Wasatch & Oquirrhs is home. (click here, or the image above see the panorama of tonight’s sunset, scroll to the right to see it all.).

Gotta thank the dog for helping me find this overlook. Thanks Lilly!!

My emotional exaustion of a few days ago was a warning sign of impending physical collapse. On Saturday, for the first time this year, I could not finish a workout. I was completely spent, done, shot, legs burning, wobbly, and the HR 20 beats below my anaerobic threshold. A couple of easy days are here now, and I am planning on doing lots of nothing, except for easy cycling & following Lilly on nice walks. One advantage I have from doing this crazy racer thing is for lots of years is self-knowlege, been here before, done this, I will bounce back in a few days. (Carla, I stopped myself before I got to the “crawl on the floor/bird with broken wings” state of overtraining, I can still walk the dog!)

A 4 T-shirt day

I have not been posting at my usual bloggy pace this last week. My soul feels worn out, I am more emotionally tired than physically. Artificial infusions of testosterone create depression & what is popularly called ‘roid rage (here is some scary abusers talking about it). But I bring up the idea: for those of us who train hard/clean & without laboratory/illegal help; if artificial testosterone makes one a touchy & moody, what happens to your moods when you reach your biological maximum of natural testosterone production? When I have a brutal hard day, I sometimes get a zit or two the next morning, why? Well, it’s all-natural, but none the less real. I am not overtrained, I am certain of that, but I am pretty certain my body is getting close to the limits of training it can absorb. I trained for bike racing for 11 years (usually racing 50-90 times a year), then have skate trained for the next 5 years, 2 of those full time. Someone told me recently I am “living my dream” and I should be just sooooo happy. Why aren’t I? Why do I sometimes feel like a huge waste of human protoplasm?

Thankfully coffee is a medically proven antidepressant!

I should not ruminate so publicly on what Churchill called his “black dog”. Probably what I experience has nothing to do with how I spend my days, internally I have always been a brooding fella, it’s probably linked to the reason I gravitated towards a liberal arts undergraduate and graduate degree! If I was still working in cubicle land, I would be moping there too.

On a lighter note, a funny thing that happened at practice a few days ago; When a skater has Olympic medals in their pocket, people notice when they are around & what they are doing. When my teammate Kirk said “hey, Derek’s here”. I looked around for gold medalist and former 1500m world record holder Derek Parra, and when I did not see him anywhere, I said, “where?” Kirk said, “look over there, a weight vest, turncable, jump benches, and four dry T-Shirts!!!”

I usually have one dry t-shirt with me during my jump practices, how much harder does Derek work than I work? At least 3 T-shirts worth! His book, Reflections in the Ice, is an excellent chronicle of the intense emotions, depressions, & general physical/psychic roller coaster of being on the full-time athlete path.

Derek works terrifically hard, you can see it in his physical presence, he is one of the few speedskaters I know who has the ripped look & deep muscle strength of the pro bicycle racer. When I met him at an inline race, eons ago, long before either of us had ever touched a long track, he was very warm and friendly to me. He still is, although I can’t say I know him through anything other than that dozen friendly conversation kind of way.

I remember once at the Pettit center, I went in to the training room, to spin on one of the bikes, the lights were off, and I left them off, it was pleasantly dim. After about 15 minutes of me making noise & thrashing around on the bike, I heard a noise/groan from the corner, in his dark blue US national team loungewear, I had completely missed that Derek was crashed out in the shadows. Emerging from his training induced coma, he could have been pissed, but wasn’t, it was probably another 4 t-shirt day.

p.s. I asked Derek about the spare shirts in the weight room today, actually, that’s FIVE T-shirts he has there!

Zen 10 questions: Joey Cheek

On February 16th of 2002, I was in a Lake Placid hotel room, watching Canadian TV coverage of US speedskater Joey Cheek winning a bronze medal in the olympic 1000m. I was on my second weekend ever at a long track, skating f-ugly in the blizzards of Placid, and understanding what I was seeing on TV from a whole new perspective. I never suspected that 4 years later, I would be walking into the same oval I had been watching on TV, and my friend Joey mentioned to me that he had followed a link from Eva’s blog, and that he had enjoyed reading a good chunk of mine. I immediately invited him to be the next Zen 10 interviewee/victim.

Joey, given some of your accomplishments, it’s an honor to have you here on my humble blog, and I promise that I will attempt to ask questions that are completely unique, and nothing any Olympic press pool reporter will ever think to ask!

1. I remember last October, when you and the US national sprint team were training in Milwaukee, I watched you do some very hard solo efforts at top speed, 800m/1200m/1600m I think. If I recall, you puked several times that day from the effort. Later that week at the US single distance championships, you set the Pettit rink record in the 1000m. In my twisted associative mind, you earned that rink record training to those painful limits the week before. Shatter my illusion or confirm it, was I witnessing just a really bad day? Or was something special happening?

HAHAHA - yep, these questions are going to be fun. For whatever reason of biology, I have always been a puker. Those super-high lactate days (in the 18-20 mm/l or whatever the unit is) do a number on my stomach. I like to think that they are part of the reason I do well at the 1000m, 1500m. Otherwise I have really wasted a lot of perfectly good food. I think that it is better to hurt in practice, so you feel good during races.

2. You are consistently in the top 15 sprinters in the world, and in the biggest meets, you are a frequently resident on the podium. From your perspective as one of the truly fast what are the factors that sorts out who is 1st, 3rd, 8th, 12th? Everyone is talented, everyone tries really hard, what creates those tiny differences?

Hmmmm, I will try and keep it short. I am not one of those that pretends that good ‘ole elbow grease and hard work will make up for bad genetics. I believe that unbelievable talent is actually better to have than just working hard. That being said, speedskating is a very technical sport. If you have somebody with, say, above average physical ability and they spent their time learning how to really skate well, they will be able to beat a lot of the top skaters. But someone like Jeremy Wotherspoon. More talented than almost all, and a very good technical skater - well, his record speaks for itself. Attention to detail, perfecting the little things, those tend to separate the rest of the herd.

3. You have been an elite athlete most of your life, as a young inliner you went to inline world championships twice, and you have competed internationally on ice since 1997, Very few people have any clue what its like to live the kind of life that you do. How do you describe the pressures you face at “the office”

For starters, my job is, in a lot of ways, easier than many people imagine. Yes, we still have 7 hours days occasionally, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate being on a bike for more than 15 min, but I do what I love. I have a lot of down time, and every four years or so people will pay me a ridiculous amount of money, just to talk about myself. What I think makes it difficult though is the fact that of every one of us doing this only one wins. We wake up and for four years at a time, we train to be the best ever for 30 or 60 sec. Don’t fuck up - just win. Most people have a hard time putting in so much time for something, that almost no one will accomplish. But I still love it.

4. Skating, when done correctly, looks effortless. The training and preparation for it is anything but effortless. What are the technical, physical, or lifestyle aspects to skating that you personally have to work really hard at?

I have found that I do the same few things technically incorrect over and over. The secret for me has been to drive in, day after day, the corrections to those problems. Then when I race to not try and go fast, but to simply let my body do what I have drilled over and over and over. Zen-like huh?

5. You have skated the world cup circuit for quite a few years. Aside of the folks on the US team, who are the really nice folks on the international circuit?

Of course my teammates - Nick, Tucker, Fitz, Needham, Tim. Those guys are absolutely my best friends in the entire world. And honestly, most people on the circuit are pretty cool. I am good friends with Erben and Mark Tuitert. Oh yeah, all the Japanese are awesome! Especially the Sankyo speedskating team.

6. Tell us something surprising about you or your life that those of us who know you through skating would never have suspected:

Well, none of my friends would be surprised by this, but I was a huge geek in middle school and most of high school. I would probably have been chosen in school as least likely to participate in a sporting event.

7. In your bio on the US speedskating website, it mentions that you build and shoot potato guns, I have seen people with things that look like homemade PVC bazookas launch potatoes huge distances, how big is your cannon and what is your farthest shot so far?

Haha, it is about 4 and a half feet and I can shoot about 275 yards.

8. You mention in your bio that you want to go to law school, and I have heard rumors you have been spotted with studying materials on world cup trips! Is it an advantage or disadvantage to have a good mind in a sport like this?

Ahhhh, I don’t know, one of the hardest things for me to do is not think too much. I can’t say if it is an an advantage or not to be book smart, but every great athlete I have met has been a genius about their sport and about psychology. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but still a genius in some regard.

9. No elite speedskater steps to the starting line alone, so many help along the way. Here is your chance to say thanks to those who have been there for you:

First: Mom and Dad. They are always first. Then my teammates and coaches. Finn Halverson from Norway changed my life. Finally Eleanor, my girlfriend. Probably the most recent addition, But she has helped and added things to my life I could never have imagined.

10. Haiku Speed Round
1. Favorite city on the world cup circuit to find really good food?

Anywhere in Italy

2. Your dream house: where is it and what does it look like?

On cliffs overlooking the beach - Cape Cod style

3. You spent the off-season this year in France, give me 3 words to describe France.

Like America More

4. Do you see yourself living in North Carolina again? I used to date a woman from Greensboro, it’s a nice place.

Thats where I grew up, I love it

5. I hear you play guitar, If you could borrow for 24 hours the skill of any musician who ever lived, who would it be?

Eddie Vedder

6. Movie you never get tired of seeing?

Dazed and Confused

7. What was the best Halloween costume you ever had as a kid?

A robot!!

8. Name a really expensive habit you wish you could afford?

Collecting Ferraris

9. Are you tempted at all to own a copy of “The Cheek Family Chronicles“? After all, they mention you as one of the 9 most notable “Cheeks” of all time! (besides it’s only a 1,104 page, 8 lb book!)

Hahah!! Shouldn’t I get a complimentary copy?

10. When wandering past a Barnes & Noble endless magazine rack, what ones do you reach for and flip through?

Always the Economist, sometimes Playboy.

Thanks for your time Joey, its always a pleasure talking with you, I hope that when readers of this blog see you on TV during the upcoming winter Olympic games, they will have a much clearer picture of the interesting mind under that skinsuit hood!

Easy ride

Racehorse trainers knew for DECADES before human coaches about the dangers of training monotony. Through timing horses in training & competition, horse trainers figured out that a wide variety of training speeds, systematically applied, is the best way to improve the speed of a mammal (reptiles are quite different). Sure, it’s important to go hard, but it’s also important to go easy & shift the training load around the various energy systems.

So, mercifully, the high 5 speedskating team had a really easy 3 hour bike ride this Sunday. Everyone rode shoulder-to-shoulder in the early morning Utah sun (meaning: not hot yet) and chatted. It’s often psychologically easier to hammer than it is to go slow & introduce the physiological training variety that is essential for improvement.

The mood of the group was goofy at times-

The riding was tabletop nice, and the scenery quite a bit different than the rolling green verticality of upstate N.Y. The Kennecott Smokestack on the left is HUGE! 380 metres/1215 feet high! On the far right you can faintly see the gold domes of the Salt Air resort, here is a really cool 360 panorama of the resort & Salt lake-shore, if you have high speed, check out this 1.5mb version, & see if you can find the rotting bird embedded in the salt flat mud.

Kirk, Eric and Arnim are here, goofing at the front of the group. That is Antelope island, 50 miles away & across the salt lake, in the background. Kirk is such the qwadzilla, I threatened to hook turncables to his bicycle, and make him tow the whole group unless he went slow. Peer pressure worked, and afterwards he claimed our jocular jaunt was “the easiest ride he has ever done”. Good!

Brothers

Driving to the Oval for practice this morning, I heard these words on the radio from NPR:

If you flew in a dirigible over Austin in the dark of night, you could probably find the city just by listening for a huge airborne column of amazing guitar music.

I almost shouted out loud, HEY! THAT’S MY FRIGGIN BROTHER YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT! My brother is a professional musician who lives in Austin, Texas. He is a guitarist, frequently gigs with the well-known Austin band Allison Thrash, runs his own recording studio, plays in pit orchestras, and completely rocks. He is as serious about his music as I am about skating, but with one crucial difference; David makes a living playing music!!!!

David had a friendster blog for a while but he really liked how mine looked, so I spent a few days working my web designer voodoo, and set him up with his own cool looking blog, it is hosted in the same place as his music studio, LoveMonkey Studios.

Even though brothers share genetic similarities, they usually have drastically different personalities; this is evident in our topics and writing styles. But music concerts - picklesdive bars - and the stuff he writes about is also much more accessible than what I obsess & ruminate upon.

For example, current obsession/rumination: I have worked hard at rounding my back more as I load up for each stroke, and you can see that is working in this series, but now I am not really extending my leg fully at the end of the stroke… hmmmm… what did Paul Marchese tell me once about speedskating, something like “skating is a strange sport, fix one thing in your technique and something else breaks”.

Anyway, keep it real bro, and next time I am in a blimp and see a huge airborne column of amazing guitar music, I will know I am getting near Austin! (What writhes through the air in a swirling vortex of atmospheric disturbance over Salt Lake city?? Mormon missionaries? Amazing Mexican food? Or the hundreds of winter athletes in multiple sports training their souls out for the upcoming winter Olympics??)

The Riddle of Steel

Conan the Barbarian is a captive of his hated enemy, Thulsa Doom (played exceptionally well in the movie by James Earl Jones wearing blue contacts). Thulsa’s thugs have just beaten the snot out of Conan, and this conversation occcurs:

Conan: The riddle… of steel….

Thulsa Doom: Yes! You know what it is, don’t you boy? Shall I tell you? It’s the least I can do. Steel isn’t strong, boy, flesh is stronger! Look around you. There, on the rocks; that beautiful girl. Come to me, my child…

the girl jumps to her death

Thulsa Doom: That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste. Contemplate this on the tree of woe. Crucify him!

If this is the answer to the riddle of steel, I don’t want to know the answer to the riddle of titanium & carbon fiber!! Or the riddle of my laptop, I will be happy to use it and not be consumed by it!

After my earlier post The Wheel of Pain, I was seized with the idea to see the Conan movie again, I had not seen the violent/uncut version since I was 14. Trooper that she is, Jessica sat through the whole thing with me, and pronounced it the worst movie she had ever seen. I grant that it’s really an extreme sex&violence&swords&sorcery comic book more than a movie, but it does that job extremely well.

Besides, with all Arnolds grunting, Jones’ liquid weight of voice has all the more impact, he’s practically the only one in the whole film who has audible dialogue. Given that the dialogue is FAR WORSE than the most recent Star Wars movie, that’s not a bad thing.

So does “The Riddle of Steel” apply to speedskating? Absolutely! Your body & training on an organized/periodized plan matter FAR MORE than your equipment/steel. Equipment certainly has a place, and can let you get everything out of your body that it can give, but I have known many talented skaters who are scientists with their equipment and thoughtless Conan’s with their training. Not having a training plan that you follow/analyze/revise is a prescription to skating the same times year after year.

I skated my 500m PB of 37.41 in Calgary on a screwed-up rocker as round as a hockey skate (well, not quite, but it was 15 m in places, and completely uneven). Would I have gone faster if my rocker had been the smooth 25-27m it is now, yes. But faster by tenths, whole seconds of speed were created by knowing EXACTLY why I was doing each workout, each day. Equipment is fun, everyone agrees with that, dryland is not that much fun, neither is going to the weight room on a beautiful summer day, but if you have goals, learn the Riddle of Steel.