Snow-Light & a Broken foot

Snow has been pounding Utah for the last week, but today the clouds parted, and the peaks, wreathed in white, stunningly appeared against a perfect blue western sky. This is the Wasatch Range looking east:

And the very different mood of the Oquirrhs (pronounced like the plural form of the color “ochre”) looking west:

Gosh, its so beautiful out here, and I needed to see this as I drove to the rink. Nature can remind you of the your proper miniscule place in the universe when you are stuck within your own selfish crap. See, I have hit a speed plateau in my skating, and have been frustrated recently.

I probably seem like a reasonable, thoughtful person in this calm & wordy format. But sometimes on the ice I can be quite different; intensely competitive, monomaniacal, focused, obstinate, and angry with myself when the technical flaws I have been working to correct for years keep coming back over and over. Boris deserves a medal for dealing with me these last few weeks, or at least I should buy him a good bottle of vodka. I think a few of his grey hairs are now indisputably my fault.

But the mountains today made me feel better. But all is still not well at the oval, arriving at the rink, I notice my friend & fellow Lake Placid refugee Donald Stewart hobbling around. On Monday he was doing a simple 200m accel, nothing crazy or dangerous, and Donald both felt and heard something go snap-crackle-pop in his left foot. He stood up, and said to Chris Needham who was skating with him, “hey! I think I just broke my foot.”

And he had, in three places actually, two bones in the forefoot and one in the heel. He had a cast put on Monday, and today he cut the cast off and tried to skate. He borrowed tape from me, and this was the result, a wild blend of hockey tape and duct tape. I thought it was quite funny that the tape seemed to match his boots.

He just briefly touched the ice, and was in quite a bit of pain, although he put a brave face on it. 28 days to go till Olympic trials is not a good time to break your foot!!!

There are quite a few people who are hurt or sick at the oval right now, intense athletic demands exacts an intense price. All of this reminds me to be happy for the few things I do right when I skate, the mountains, a coach who puts up with my crap, and my overbuilt-clydesdale solid skeleton!

Rest in Peace: Pat Morita

Sometimes there is an actor who really strikes at the core of something essential during a role, and becomes part of popular culture afterwards. Pat Morita just passed away at 72, he was astonishing as Mr. Miyagi in the movie The Karate Kid. (check out the list of 103 other films he acted in).

Here is my favorite quote from the movie:

Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel Larusso: I guess so.
Miyagi: [sighs] Daniel-san, must talk. Man walk on road. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk down middle, sooner or later, get squished [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Same here. You karate do “yes,” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,” [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?
Daniel Larusso: Yeah, I understand.
Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel Larusso: Yeah, I’m ready.

here is a page of excellent quotes from the Karate Kid, and here are some more.

This quote is true for many things, not just Karate, There is so much baloney about martial arts out there (Bullshido is a good word for it, practiced liberally at McDojos everywhere), and admittedly even the book this blog was named after has FUNDAMENTAL flaws in it, mostly because the author and the Japanese archery master he studied with did not share a language, so mistranslations of concepts abound (a long and good read about this is here, this link is a .pdf file download). Even so, the book Zen in The Art of Archery has become truth, both in Europe and Japan.

Here is my thought for the day: If enough people read a mistranslation as truth, and then practice something like Kyu-Do (trans: “the way of the bow”) and find their own truth, is it still false? If you receive a map to buried treasure, and the map contains lots of mistranslated directions, but when you dig in the specified place you still find treasure, is the map still wrong?

People see/read their own truths into art, books, movies, speedskating, religious texts. However, there is a lot in that sometimes cheesey Karate Kid movie that is still valid, not just about Karate, but about humanity, (somehow, I think of that other mid-80’s movie, “The Breakfast Club” while writing that line, I betray my age here…) Why do I call The Karate Kid cheesey? well, of course anyone with a few months of karate training, (on a beach) can go to an intensely competitive tournament and win first place vs extremely talented people who have dedicated their lives to training… oh, and your master gives you a restored classic car too.

Yet I am frequently reminded of “wax on, wax off”, or of this opening quote when I question my commitment to that intense art form of racing a 500m, I find the 500 almost like trying to do a Kata REALLY FAST and ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY.

I found an interview with Pat Morita that was very interesting. Evidently, his everyday speaking voice has NO trace of any accent. This was a man with serious talent.

Q: Can you still do karate?
A: I never was able to do karate. That’s calling me a good actor. I act like I can do anything.

Q: You faked it well.
A: Thank you. Well, we had some trainings, some really hardass training prior to the movie. And then of course, before each one, we’d get back into it again.

Q: Do Kids still come up and say, “Mr. Miyagi?”
A: All over the world. I was in London about five months ago and “Oh yeah.” This is a very familiar face now.

p.s. check out the comment my Father made on this post, imagine that something you have said IS someone else’s mistranslated treasure map!

Zen 10 Questions: Bob Fenn

I am in a post-Calgary skating-induced exhausted-soul hangover, so it’s a perfect time to post my interview with the indefatigable, energetic, always entertaining coach Bob Fenn! I taped this interview November 20th, the final day of the Salt Lake World Cup.

When I first skated indoor long track ice at the Pettit center in Milwaukee, I was just another inline-to-ice convert windmilling & waddling my way down the ice. One of the first people to come up to me, say hello, and give me some technical tips, was Bob Fenn. I had no idea who he was. Now I am aware of the amazing athletes he has coached, and the decades he has invested in this sport. This man’s open hearted nature lead him to be that same welcoming voice to other converts like K.C. Boutiette and Derek Parra, as well as countless junior skaters, who even if they never reached the skating stratosphere, will always have fond memories of Bob “Roscoe” Fenn.

This interview is broken up into 4 parts, so audioblog’s video converter does not throw up all over the place. Its vintage Bob, press the play button and enjoy!

Part 1
Here Bob reveals how many years he has been involved with skating, what he does for his day job, the list of notable skaters he has worked with, his connection to George Steinbrenner, and the many people who have touched him over the years.

Part 2
Bob theorizes on why he thinks Shani Davis is successful, his most powerful memories of the 1988 games, the single most amazing thing he has ever seen on skates, his own proudest moment as an athlete, and what the most important ingredients are in the coach/athlete relationship.

Part 3
Bob forgot to thank an old friend, Eric Hendricksen.

Part 4
The Zen 10 Speed Round!!! Short questions ranging from the best legs Bob has ever seen on a speedskater, to what song he always sings along with on the radio.

Thanks Bob!!

About an hour after we finished this interview, one of Bob’s current skaters, Shani Davis, set the 1000m world record!

Here is Bob celebrating!

(and I was in the stands, celebrating along with them as well…. this pic is from dutch TV)

Limits, Elevators, & The Can-Am

I am very tired, body & soul, my brother has been blogging about this race weekend like a crazy man, and provides some interesting perspectives. I am so thankful for him, even if he picks on me (it’s payback for our youth, and I deserve it).

Here are some statistics & thoughts on how the Can-Am races went for me, as compared to the previous 3 times I have competed in Calgary.

The pic below is me blasting off the line in my second 500, you can even see the upper hip flexors in my right leg bulging through my skinsuit, as I drive that right leg forward, thanks Powercranks!!!

Top Blade Training Camp, Summer 2002
500: 41.26

Can-Am 2003
500: - 38.84 - 39.19 - 38.69
1000: - 1:19.1 - 1:18.17

Can-Am 2004
500: - 37.79 - 37.5 - 37.41
1000: - 1:18.2 - 1:17.02

Can-Am 2005 (the last 2 days)
500: - 37.40 - 37.33
1000: - 1:16.08 - 1:15.36

There is a definite curve of improvement here, yet I am sad with these results, unsure of so many things. I had desperately hoped to break into the 36’s in the 500m, I almost expected it, continuing my traditional Can-Am 1+ second 500m improvement. But the ice was slower than at previous Can-Am’s, and more importantly, my corner technique was more Herman Munster than Ninja Puma. Olympic trials are 33 days from today, and I need to chop almost a second off the 500 (and that is a lot) if I want to reach my goals.

I am certainly happy with the 1000m improvements, and I think that yesterday’s 1:15.36 is the best 1000 I have ever skated. My personal best is only .1 faster, and that was on a scary fast ice day in Salt Lake.

In the pic here, a few moments after my 1000, as I am leg-locked, heaving and retching to myself through a haze of lactic acidosis, I let my brother behind the video camera know how truly satisfied I am.

But my 1000m will never be truly OUTSTANDING vs the big dogs who gallop 1000’s between 1:07 and 1:12. Whereas I think hidden within my unrealized technique, genetics, & individual psychology, there is a scary good 500 lurking, I just need to keep focused, & let the speed come to me.

The odd sport that is the subject of this blog completes me in fundamental ways (I am sure many of the skating gypsies who read this know what I mean). Even the challenges, uncertainties, ups and downs, I would rather strive & lose than couch surf. I would rather be wise from a soul filling failure than happy and unvaryingly empty.

I wish I could truly record what skating feels like, post that here in a format you all could replay in your kinesthetic/proprioceptive cerebrums. Although I love cycling, and the feeling of going for a long ride on a hot day is wonderful, I never forget that I am straddling a gangly, cabled, clicking machine. But skates disappear, and I am simple, free, a creature of pure flight & focus.

Find the thing you have a knack for, something you are good at, something you love, and something where “work” is a joy. Find this thing, and throw your entire soul into it; good things will happen. From my juncture of 34 years old, feet in several worlds, this seems to be the key to living a happy life.

I am not sure if it matters what the pursuit itself is. The list of possibilities is endless. I think in my own skating obsession I might be getting close to the maximum of speed that my body can do, it fills me with a feeling like riding an elevator traveling too fast, and waiting for the jarring crash or U-turn slingshot back the other way.

Thanks for reading, writing this made me feel a lot better. I was riding that elevator violently up and down all yesterday.

Calgary, episode IV

I am writing from a hotel room in Calgary, this is my 4th thanksgiving in a row “on the road” away from family pursing skating, and my 4th time in Calgary itself (3rd time racing the Can-Am). It does suck to be far away on turkey day, but like any moth doggedly battering itself on a porch light, once I made my choice to pursue skating with every ounce of commitment, a lot of other choices cascaded from that, including missing thanksgiving these past 4 years.

However, unlike in years past, when during the traditional american communal feasting I would sit in my hotel room alone eating things like Wendy’s, Asian take-out, or just a big pile of deviled eggs (one of my “comfort foods”), this time my Brother has joined me in Calgary!

He decided that this was a good excuse to visit a part of the world he has never seen, and it’s been great hanging out with him, even if he picks on me all the time. His blog posts about his woes traveling here, & my issues with airports, and then other posts about my general/systemic lack of a clue, are only a tiny portion of the grief I am getting from him. It’s great to hang out with someone who shares so many of my own faults & eccentricities, and even takes them to a new level.

For example, today we drove from Calgary up to Banff, and as we were winding among the mountains in our rental car, we come around a corner and are blown away by this view.

After a long moment of awestruck silence, I begin this Obi-wan Kenobi quote, and David and I are both shouting it by the end.

That’s no moon, it’s a space station!

(bonus points if anyone can name the other movie & context where someone says this to great effect)

David has posted a ton a wonderful photos from Banff today, you can see them on his blog here. I lived in Colorado for 8 years, and thought I would be jaded to see more (yawn) huge mountains. But Banff is absolutely spectacular beyond any words or jpgs. A huge thank you goes out to my cool in-laws who told me I really needed to see this, Thanks Peg & Lore!!!

Hanging out with my Bro has distracted me quite well from the fact that I felt pretty crappy both times I have skated here, I should be reaching my highest speeds of the year right now, but something is not clicking. 4 days away from the ice when the World Cup was in Salt Lake, and also adjusting to a new pair of skates (more about my “death star disco skates” in a week or so) and I feel like I have slipped backwards somewhat. I got a really nice email from coach Boris though, a giant bullet point list of things for me to mentally rehearse & visualize during each phase of each race. The final bullet point of technical instructions for what I should do as I cross the finish line states this:

  • as usually, look at the clock and celebrate life.

I could not agree more. Just someone remind me of that if I screw up my races, and am all pissed off.

Salt Lake World Cup, Day 3

Another amazing, exhausting day of racing, I swear my adrenalin glands were fried from just watching.

I am mentally out of words, and busy, I leave for Calgary tomorrow to race in the Can-Am, and I have a STUPID amount of stuff to get done, so here are a few more images.

Because of his 5k world record, Dutch Skater Sven Kramer got to hang his name on the wall of fame, this is one happy man.

Was I overstating my thoughts in an earlier post? About how huge some of the Chinese women sprinters are? Well, I will let you decide based on this picture. US skater Elli Ochowicz is not the tallest person, but still…..

And here is a German and Chinese sprinter lining up vs each other… This is what one calls start line focus! Oddly enough, the best Chinese sprinter, Mani Wang, is not that big.

There were so many world records, but also a lot of great competition between friends. This is Eric Kraan and Arnim Ruleas, after a very intense 1000m race. Arnim led every step up until the final meters in a classic duel of fast starter vs fast finisher. Eric has battled a nasty back injury recently, and was more stoked about his own race than most of the guys who finished in the top 10.

Here is one of the finest athletes to ever strap steel to his feet, Canadian Jeremy Wootherspoon, 150 meters into his 1000m, flying like a rocket ship blasting out of earth orbit. Shani Davis is chasing, and ultimately will pass him with 100 meters to go, setting a new world record, and beating the whole field by almost a second! Salt Lake is the fastest ice in the world, but by the time Jeremy & Shani took their blazing turn on it, it looked like a hockey game had come through. I wonder how Jeremy felt after this, as this was the second time someone has chased him down & shot through his draft to a world record (Shimizu did it in the 500m in 2001).

P.S. I did the first VIDEO zen 10 interview, with longtime Milwaukee speedskating coach Bob Fenn, I will post that in a few days…
P.P.S my friend Jannicke also took some nice “behind the scenes photos” at the salt lake races.

SLC World Cup, Day 2

Chad got to hang his name on the wall of records at the Utah Olympic oval. They brought out a lift, and Chad was hoisted up to add his name and 1500m record time to the wall of honor.

In other observation of the world cup, in the words of some of the best US skaters, the German & Chinese women “skate like dudes!”. One of the Chinese female sprinters looks BIGGER THAN ME!! In both height and muscle. Of course that is both flattering and unflattering to say… But they seem very different than the American, Canadian, & Japanese skaters, who do beat them often, but somehow seem more like women in stance, style, & body language.

I don’t think they “Skate like dudes” because of chemical assistance, although that was certainly true in the past. It’s more likely that the Germans & Chinese follow a completely different, mega-power based approach to skating… They must lift 5 times a week!!! Even more importantly, I bet their sport philosophy idealizes a different kind of athlete, a big, strong, monster power athlete as the “ideal skater”. I bet the Canadians & Americans gravitate to individuals who display “technical feel” for the ice, and the Japanese idealize & promote skaters who are “Cheetah’s” of natural fast twitch aptitude.

Heck, in the USA, long track speedskating is so small, we gladly accept ANY people! Cheetahs, Wildebeest, Rhinos and Giraffes, if you are alive, come on out and skate!!!

(all of this said, German superstar Anni Friesinger is HOT, a beautiful woman in every respect, the pictures linked here do not do her justice, but she still skates with the power of a Dude)

I also got to hang out with some cool Dutch fans. They knew rising star Ireene Wust, and came from the same small town she does. I felt quite comfortable in this friendly ocean of orange.

Here is the unique body position of Norwegian Peter Andersen, the Dutch joke that he practically “licks the ice” as he skates, as his unique personal body geometry brings his shoulders very low. I love watching this 10 year veteran of the world cup attack races. The crucial thing to notice is that even though his shoulders are weirdly low, his extension is tremendous and his hips are perfect in their position. Everyone has an individual style, but there are elements of technique that remain essential. Andersen exhibits a whole lotta style and a ton of essential.

Also at today’s world cup the men’s 500m and 5k world records both fell…. Both incredible races… Sven Kramers last 2 laps of his 5k were 28.8 and 28.1. That is like a runner popping off two 4 minute miles at the end of a marathon… wow. Chad was pissed his 5k WR was gone. I am sure it will be more fuel in his psychological fires, that man is a total competitor.

Here is a photo I took just before Joji Kato’s 500m world record, He is paired with good guy, and Zen 10 interviewee Joey Cheek. There are many layers of “seeing” here. The skaters are focusing down the track, gathering a lifetime of training & focus into this race, the crowd is focusing on them, the television camera is focusing on Joey’s fast feet, and through that lens, televisions throughout the world see this race, & skaters will see this race captured on tape, over and over, and finally, there is me and my camera, capturing this image & the ideas swirling about it, all leading to the final viewer, you and your computer screen.

30.3 seconds after this pic was shot, 20 year old Joji Kato became the new 500m world record holder. Wanna see it? Download a .zip file here that uncompresses to a realplayer video from Dutch TV. A skater told me that once Joji’s blades were damaged on a plane trip to a race in Herenveen, so he borrowed a pair from a team-mate that were waaay too short. He has such a feel for the ice, he skated one practice on them, & won the next day anyway!

Joey is such a class act, he realized what just happened, and congratulates Joji. If you want a larger version of this pic for your desktop, click on it. Just don’t sell it… or if you do, send me some $!!!

ok, its 11:15am, and now I have to go watch the final day of racing…

Video of Chad’s World Record

John Dimon, this is for you, stuck in your skate shop in Lake Placid.. and all the other skate fans who wished they could be there. There are so many times I have watched videos of world cup races, and wished I had been there in person, for the first time, I was.

I made up this video for Chad’s site, might as well post it here too!!

Chad’s lap splits were
opening 300m 23.5
first 400m 25.14
2nd 400m 26.47
final 400m 27.63

time: 1:42.67

These are absolutely astonishing splits… its like a runner who is doing the 400m going under 10 seconds for the first 100, and then only very slightly fading from that top speed over the total distance.

On my full screen, high quality video I shot, the pain on his face from about half way through the finish is insane, and he is so tough, he just attacks that last corner like its a 500m & agressively crosses out of it, that is where he set the world record. Of course, its a lifetime of effort beforehand to create the capacity to do something like this, so maybe really, where he set this record, was over his whole life, expressed in this one moment….

Salt Lake World Cup, Day 1

The skating world is buzzing about Chad Hedrick’s 1500m world record, and it was an astonishing thing to watch. He is the first man in history to go under 1:43. Incredible. He swallowed more pain during that last 400m than most can even conceive of, the picture here, 120 meters from the finish, tells some of the story.

There is even more of a sense of unreality that I had to come home and update Chad’s website, and post my video of his race! It’s an emotional thing, to see someone you know do something so almost….. otherworldly….. I wonder how it feels to be Chad!!

I have work to do, I have been on edge all day today, and my energy is crashing, so here are a few pics of the world cup vibe. Since much of this race was televised (and on the internet, you can usually get realplayer format world cup videos here) I just watched, cheered my heart out for the athletes, and took a few offbeat pictures.

Gotta love the Dutch fans. I should have asked this guy if I could pose with the hat. Also deserving honorable mention were Jannicke & her singing Norwegian friends.

Skaters Mark Chrysler, Ron Macky, and Rodney Kopish approached today as if it were a football game; they were tailgating in the parking lot beforehand, and were quite drunk by the time the races were happening.

Drinking? In Utah? Check out the folks getting blitzed at the VIP liquor bar, while my friend Eva Rodansky races her heart out in the last corner of the 1000m. I wonder who these people were? Some said that they were foreign journalists, but whatever, it felt oddly rude to me. Only one face is even turned to see Eva go by. Check out the waiter in black tie on the left of the pic. Yep, VIP liquor, not skating fans.

A local security guard, preferred to turn his back on the real action, and watch the Dutch TV feed, he is even eating as he was watching.

Japanese skater at the start line, notice the lump of her hair, in a very, uuuh, left centered spot under her hood. There was much conjecture from our group wondering if this balance helped her turn left.

Maybe this is a bit of a depressing entry, but there was Olympic Class talent putting on incredible displays of effort, on the fastest ice on earth, and most US high schools play football to bigger crowds than were here.

Brussel Sprouts

Dryland is the Brussel sprouts of your training diet
-Paul Marchese

Truer words were never spoken about training for speedskating, and unless you have perfect technique (and who does?) you need regular platefuls. I had some today in fact, I don’t like it any more now than I did at the first mouthful, but I like what it does for me a whole lot.

If you are a person who understands things visually, here is a quick visual example of what Paul means-

If you want to do this:

Do a whole lot of this first:

Thanks to my training buddy & friend Marco Bucci, for being the example in both pictures here. We have eaten more than a few servings of Boris’ secret “St. Petersburg Brussel sprouts” together, at least the scenery from the dinnner table is pretty nice.