McSkate

Blog reader Steve Johnson sent me this. This is a “Skate-thru” window at a McDonalds in Singapore.

Thanks Steve! I can now die happy knowing that McDonalds has embraced our sport fully! As of this posting their website even has an inliner on the international home page! Although I am not really sure what that skater is doing….

More Champions

What a whirlwind of discussion in the last post! Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, a first time commenter, Mark Virtue, is from the Bremerton speed skating club.

I wandered by that site, and noticed some extensive galleries from their regional competition; literally thousands of photos showing many age categories. I picked a few images of kids at warp speed to illustrate what I was talking about earlier.

I have always believed that we are SKATERS first, ice or inline, sprint or marathon, almost as an afterthought or circumstance. To prove that theorem, here is another gallery of skaters that I stumbled across, of a bunch of Dutch guys out for a ramble across a frozen lake.

I looked and looked, but could not find an email to ask offical permission, so I will just put one here (politely invoking karmic forgiveness), and say check out their site.

These lake skaters could probably have a very lengthy and happy discussion with the American indoor inline kids- 5,000 miles away, about equipment, technique, training, love for the sport, and some really good crash stories…

We are all skaters first,…..

The Next Champions

I have been having an intermittent email conversation with a Dutch fellow, he said that Europeans are always surprised at how well Americans do internationally, given how small skating is in this country.

Elite ice skating is microscopic in America compared to many other nations, but I just got an inkling where the next champions will be coming from:

John Dimon wrote an email to me this morning, worth republishing here:

I just got back from U.S. Indoor Roller Speedskating Nationals, Representing Mogema North America and Dimon Sports. Incredible!

Sprint night and finals were like a collage football game! We need this type of enthusiasm in ice racing! 1100 skaters! (Short Track Nationals gets like 220). Many inliners will be switching to ice.

Records were broken in almost all age classes. 98% were on 4 x 90mm or 4 x 100mm. Even most tiny tots were on 4 x 90mm!

Michael Cheek did well. I heard Joey Cheek was in attendance one night watching his younger brother. U.S. Speedskating rep Tom McLean was there as well as U.S.O.C. rep Kelly Skinner.

I think you will see continued cooperation from the two organizations.

It was so exciting, I felt like I was at a collage football game! People from associations were chanting against each other across the auditorium. There were painted faces in U.S Flags, Uncle Sam hats. a “spirit competition”.

It was a uniquely American experience.

Thanks John!! My mom was actually in Lincoln, Nebraska that same weekend at a conference, she said airplanes & hotels were jammed with skaters & supportive families.

How many future Olympians were rumbling across the hardwood this weekend? And why isn’t there chanting & general excited craziness at ice events?

In a time where there are some difficulties & challenges within the ice side of the sport, this is a breath of fresh air.

Death of an Oval

I am not talking about the SLC oval (knock on wood!) but rather the slowly crumbling facility up in Butte, Montana. In February of 2003 I had a REALLY good 500m race there at US national age-class championships, and set my first masters record.

Here is what Butte looked like, on that day in 2003. This is me with my friends Carla & Kathie in the warm sun.

So I have some warm fuzzy memories of that track, as do many skaters. This track was often used by Dan Jansen, Eric Flaim, Bonnie Blair, and others in their early season preparation, and as recently as 8 years ago was the site of world cups & world championships, and countless national age class meets. (most of these links are to several of Jerry Search’s exceptional photo galleries, here is a panorama he put together, a really good sense of the track)

When I was driving to Idaho, Jessica and I passed through Butte. To keep my motivational fires going, I went visit the track. Maps still list this facility as the “US high altitude sports center”. I was horrified at what I found there.

The track & buildings are one notch from ruin. Many cooling pipes are broken and poking up out of the ground like skeletal remains. Windows are shattered and birds fly in and out, roosting inside the central building, covering the insides with guano.

Looking in the dirty & broken windows, one can see rooms with pads, slideboards, EMT supplies, massage tables, and on one wall, the results from an America’s cup in 2004. Maybe the last time this rink was used?? Is there still anyone skating in Butte?

The only sign of recent human use I could see was some writ-large pornographic graffiti drawn on the gravel of the track. Someone is still mowing the grass, so maybe there is still useage of the grounds, but I doubt it.

Paul Marchese joked once that he wanted to buy Butte’s compressors, and set up an oval in his backyard. In all seriousness, as sad as the demise of this once beautiful track is, there is opportunity within destruction:

Why not dedicate a grant writer to find a corporate sponsor or federal grant, load all the salvageable equipment into a U-Haul, and transfer the ESSENTIAL GUTS of this oval to a MAJOR population center, or even better, an athletic field on the grounds of a huge university? New York City? Boston? Seattle? Somewhere with a major winter sports vibe and a critical mass of hockey clubs as feeders. One could then re-create the track within a tennis-bubble style structure.

Admit implicitly in its creation that a speedskating facility can never pay for itself, so use the infield for something else, like indoor soccer fields, batting cages, a bingo hall, volleyball courts, an expo-area, slot machines, maybe a lab that needs a “cold” environment, ANYTHING that will pay for it’s existence, and maybe give athletes the possibility of off-season jobs.

Is this a pie-in-the-sky idea? Maybe. Of course, the devil is always in the details, and re-creating a long track can involve some really expensive details, but it’s worth at least considering, rather than simply letting birds crap on possibility, and letting the elements slowly destroy potential.

Step back, and from a distance, the track still hums with memories, mine and others, but I am not sure if it will continue to create new ones.

p.s. The Butte oval is not completely dead!! I emailed one of the Montana speedskating club contacts, and this is what Tina wrote back.

Andrew,
The oval is not dead. As you saw, the tubing is shot, so we quit using it in December 2004. Last winter we went on 100% natural ice. We had ice from the beginning of January until just about March. It was the best ice we’ve had in years. WE plan on sticking with natural ice unless we get a $3 million wind fall. Since we are on natural ice and can’t guarantee it, we no longer host sanctioned meets. The building has needed work for years. It never really got finished. We are trying to chip away at small improvements this summer.

The club got down to about nothing, but we starting working hard last winter to rebuild interest. We do seem to have a core handful of children and adults now.

If you have a few million dollars laying around, feel free to send some.

Draper Days 5k

5am, still dark outside, the air coming in through my open bedroom window is not cool, it feels like that ticking, seeping heat rising from underneath car hoods after the engines have run all day.

I start the coffee maker; step on the scale and through my pre-dawn blear see 195, yuck. It’s a bad day to feel fat, I’ve gotta race today.

Racing? July? It’s been 3 years since I have raced inlines, but The Draper Days 5k is put on by my friends Kim & Eric Kraan from Salt lake City’s Skatenow shop. These two have worked hard to create a community of inliners in Salt Lake, this is the 3rd edition of their race, and I want to support this fun event.

Jessica is doing the concurrent 5k run, and the two of us arrive at the event location by 6am with a solid 45 minutes before the inline start. It takes a while to find out where to park, hobnob with folks we know, & locate registration. So by the time I am wriggling into my red & black Dimon Sports skinsuit & pinning my number on, there is barely 10 minutes to the start! Crap!!

Physiologically speaking, the first time your body deals with a significant lactic acid charge, it takes quite a bit longer to recover than normally. Therefore I am hoping for a gentle start, so I can work into the race.

The mood at the start is friendly, relaxed, communal, maybe 25 skaters, mostly on 5 wheels, I see many people I don’t recognize, a half dozen with sharp looking skinsuits on. Arnim Ruleas and Eva Rodansky are here representing the ice world, as well as Jamie Cowen (regular commenter here) and others.

A skater comes up and says, “hey, you wanted to meet folks who read your blog, I am Steven, great to see you in person” Great meeting you Steve! We chat as things cohere, and the pack gathers. A few minutes to the start…. I am bouncing and stretching and feeling truly unprepared. I see a young man with an old school USAC/RS blue skinsuit on. Indoor inline speedskaters are usually scary fast, and Eric mentioned there are skaters from California, Oklahoma and Wyoming at the race today… hmmmmm…

Pre-race instructions begin, notes on the course, scary downhill corner, manhole covers, etc, etc, warnings about an orange sponge glued in the road (?!?!?!?,). The runners are milling about, they start their 5k 15 minutes later than us, and some have drifted forward to watch us go.

A matching duo of pearly white police Harleys, with matching pearly white cops astride them, thrumps into life, and rolls down the road to clear traffic.

Ready, set, GO!

Right away, experienced marathoner Uel Archuletta initiates maximum warp speed, like he is racing 500m, not 5k. In no time he is 50 meters ahead of everyone, Former Mexican National team inliner Arnim shouts to me from the other side of the pack “go get him or he is gone!” So I set off in pursuit, cranking my own effort level up to maximum.

Warmup? Schwarmup!! It’s a downhill start, and quickly we are cooking along in the high 20’s & full tucking through 30+ mph.

Uel flies through the scary down hill turn using every inch of asphalt, gaining ground on me, He overtakes the police bikes, skating like a man possessed. We know each other, and he wants to drop this sprinter right away.

I throw as many hard strokes as I can, worn wheels uncertain on the asphalt at this velocity, but after 1500m of all out effort I finally catch Uel. When I make contact, we are both audibly gasping. I glance back and see individual skaters scattered behind us, and no coherent chase pack. Thanks Arnim! I might not have made this move if not for your tip!!

We share the pace making equally through the flats, although both of us are tired from our all out start. This course is slightly downhill most of the way, and we are able to keep up a nice speed.

A kilometer later Eva Rodansky catches us, smoothly turning over powerful strokes on her new 100mm wheel skates. A 5k is about the limit of what I can do, Eva is training for the 82 mile Athens to Atlanta ultra-marathon! She takes the lead on a gentle uphill and begins to nudge Uhl and I further into our own personal pain caves.

We cross hard through a few corners, the final turn is clogged with cars, the motorcycle cops honk and wave. I fix my gaze on the flashing skates in front of me, and numbly thread my way through.

I realize again with the muddled insight of lactic acid intoxication, why I left inline racing for ice. I love all kinds of skating, but was born to excel in the power & precision centric nature of ice speedskating, not this cardiovascular roller-coaster.…

My eyes aren’t focusing, I think I see the banner & finishing chute waaay up the road. Eva and Uel both have raced this course before, and start to kick up the pace. I’m in 3rd, “Is this the finish?” I gasp, Uel gives me a thumbs up and accelerates.

About 300m out I launch my finishing push. Normally I can do a double push sprint while swinging both arms, I try, but am too tired,.. After 200m of ugly thrashing that really has no technique worth a name attached to it, I dare a glance back and see a solid gap. That’s a good thing, cause rigor mortis has fully set in. Leg-locked I cross the line first in 8:24 for the 5k/3.1 miles. An average speed of 22.2 mph/35.7 kph.

Eva, Uel and I high 5 afterwards, an excellent race. Skaters zip through the finish banner in ones and twos, and some younger skaters have thrilling sprints to the line. Everyone stays at the chute and cheers others on, you can see full results here.

The great thing about this sport is that as intense as it can be on the course, afterwards we are all chatting & trading stories. In her 5k running race, Jessica cut 2 minutes off her own PB time, so it was a good day all around!.

Thanks Eric and Kim & the SkateNow shop for putting on a great event for the local skate tribe! In the post race raffle, everyone walked away with prizes! I promoted inline races in Colorado for 2 years, and I understand how much work goes into putting on events.

So I have one thing to say as I end this entry: “Never forget to thank, and hug, your race promoters!! They deserve it.”

Koorman’s Cavaliers

The Salt Lake Oval is one of the best long-track facilities in the world. There has always been a small short track club, but no top level short-track team to equal the long track vibe.

This summer Mike Koorman started an ambitious short track program, and several people I know have joined. They are happy in summer training hell.

I ran into them this morning, in the green, leafy expanse of Liberty Park. I love the smell of burning quads in the morning! This turncable workout looked vicious! Easy stepping until it begins to hurt, then an all out sprint… This is Inacio Lopez bopping along.

Like me, all these guys came to Salt Lake to become the best they can be in this crazy sport. My mood was warmed via mutual inspiration, or is that merely heatstroke?

As I was warming up for my own plateful of inline intervals, I was chatting with them, and met Nick, an easygoing short tracker just moved here from California. I introduced myself, and he said, “oh, I know who you are, I read your blog!

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather…. Sometimes I forget that people actually read this, then I look at my webstats in wonderment at the numbers I see… It’s now my ambition now to meet as many of you mysterious daily readers as I can!

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!

Rainbows & Syd

Last night, as some small thunderstorms moved through Salt Lake, an astonishing rainbow appeared over my neighborhood. It was horizon to horizon, an arc of incomprehensible beauty, so clear you could even see distortional ribs of color bands invisible to the naked eye. There has been no photoshopping of these pics at all, you are viewing true pixels directly from the digital camera, click on them for bigger versions.

Syd Barrett, a founding member of Pink Floyd, passed away today. I wonder if this is some celestial special effects unit sending up a psychedelic memorial to him. Syd’s is a complicated story, too long and out of place to be told here.

Last week Jess and I had a wonderful trip to Idaho to ride the 75 mile long Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes, and I have a half-written post with lots of photography included to publish about that, including a really bad pun involving tiramisu and local wildlife, as well as some tattoos, thoughts about hot tubs, and images of a heaven for inline skaters…

But since I got back to Salt Lake my brain has been felt fairly numbed and useless, and that makes me angry. I feel the motions of work, of training hard in the summer heat, of striving towards the goals that matter to me (the fall world cup qualifier is only 14 weeks away!!), but there is no underlying drive of purpose there. Some people can be content with a fully air-conditioned, TV-buffered existence. I am not, but there needs to be driving purpose when one steps away from the easy paths. Why am I doing hard hill sprint repeats on a hot July day? Why do I go to the gym over and over? Why does writing matter? And why am I so pissed off when the writing is just not happening?

Then I stumble across reads like the astonishingly well written Searchblog, and don’t feel so bereft of purpose, in fact, it seems that physical effort is a wonderful way to wring some answers out of right here, right now. Maybe this is why there is such a popularity of really hard solo sports in America today.

Dull boy

There is that old saying:

all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

To inoculate myself fully against creeping dullness (I’ve been working a ton), my wife and I are taking a few days off from work, and heading up to Idaho to ride our bicycles through some rural mountain country.

Therefore I will be off-blog, and out of touch till Wednesday. I am not taking my laptop, since rural Idaho isn’t a hub of wireless connectivity. There, one connects with other things (and I am looking forward to that)

I was upset that I would not be able to keep up with the Tour De France, but after the recent cosmically bad doping scandal, I have been sickened by the whole thing.

Cycling is a beautiful sport, and at the pro level, it’s image is being ruined.

Does elite speedskating hold its own doping problem? Certainly not to that extent, it’s fundamentally a technical sport, and certainly does not seem to have a critical mass of wealthy athletes & desperate teams willing to do anything to win…. if speedskating were 20 times its current size, maybe it would be more of an issue.

More soon…