Rochester Skate Tribe

It is always good to see friends who “knew you from way back when”.

I know many of the good folks of the Rochester skate tribe, from racing & training in the blizzards of Lake Placid, and also from a dryland clinic I ran for them two seasons ago.

This week three of their members, Tim Doherty, Lisa Floryshak-Windman, and Jim Cornell, flew out to Salt Lake to attend a level 3 speedskating coaching clinic. They had an absolutely fantastic time, and on Saturday morning got to taste the fast & furious ice at the Utah Olympic Oval (it’s a huge shock if you are used to natural ice, or the oval at Lake Placid).

You can see their speed-addled grins here. Well, actually, this bunch is usually smiling. They also have a great sense of humor, and gave me this yellow shirt.

I have skated dozens of inline and ice Marathons, but I sure as heck am not training for them anymore. I think I could survive maybe 5k of a marathon, and then my fast twitch optimized self would simply crumble into tiny flaming bits.

People wring their hands about the state of the sport, the future of this or that. Usually this is talking about the upper orbits inhabited by a tiny number of international caliber athletes & coaches.

However with dedicated volunteers like Tim, Jim, and Lisa (who spent their own money to fly out here and take the course) and so many other folks like them in the 133 clubs that US speedskating has listed, I think the sport will be ok.

(and Lisa, good luck running the Ice Marathon National Championships, I will post a link here once you get your website up & running)


Here is a wonderful idea of the modern age: a pulloff near the airport, where you can sit in your car waiting for your cellphone to ring, watching a billboard with live updated flight info.

The sunset was a nice bonus.

I was there to pick up my wife from her long trip back east. As we were driving home, she mentioned that she had seen several huge wildfires from the plane, one throwing a massive plume of smoke far into the stratosphere.

Then she said; “I think I saw something burning in the mountains over Salt Lake.” Sure enough, as we pulled out of the airport we saw a massive circle of flames throbbing in the face of the Wasatch.

I took this picture from near our house, this burning line is probably about a mile long. Here is the local news report. A skater who lives in that neighborhood saw an army of firefighters, hoses at the ready, waiting to unleash a point blank shot of H2O fury. But the wind driven fire marched up the hill, not down towards town.

There was still smoke rising the next morning.

Like volcanos and nuclear blasts, wildfires add particulate matter into the atmosphere, and make spectacular sunsets. The next day after the blaze, this was the evening sky above the Utah Olympic oval (I did not touch these colors with photoshop at all).

I took this picture during a meet & greet for the new executive director of US speedskating, Robert Crowley was in town for a slew of meetings. Catherine Rainey (I think it was her) had a great idea of a bar-b-q where the athletes training at the oval could all meet & hobnob with him. Free food attracts athletes like congressmen to wealthy donors, so it was a fun gathering. Mr. Crowley is the blue button down shirt, he is talking with Catherine, Derek Parra, Chad Hedrick (with his back to the camera), Chris Needham, and Patrick Meek (looking right at the lens).

I spoke briefly with him, and he seems like a really nice guy. Most importantly he has a very clear understanding of the wildfires that threaten the house of US Speedskating, and he spoke frankly about them. I think he took the job knowing what was burning in the hills.

I just hope the winds don’t change, or if they do, he has firefighters on hand with enough water (read: money) to make a difference.

‘Cheatin Koons

Every coach has their own special ways of describing what they want their athletes to do, and pushing them to break through limits. Excellent coaches are often uniquely gifted in how they express themselves.

Earlier this week, the team I skate with was doing one of those brutal skate drills that basically involves gliding along on one foot, and getting so deep into the skate position that the knee is close to the ankle of the support leg, and don’t let that free foot touch the ice!

Folding yourself in half while balancing on 1mm of steel, and holding it for a looong time, improves many neuromuscular aspects of skating, and is also a guaranteed triple shot espresso of ouch…. Please don’t hurt your knees if you try this, it is easier if you are properly warmed up too…

As we were swimming through these rough seas of lactic acid, coach Scott Koons shouted from the center of the group:

“Come on! get lower! If you are cheating on this drill, you aren’t cheatin ‘Koons, you are cheating yourself!”

Through my own haze & shaky one leg glide, I thought, “wow, I need to remember that one”…. As it accurately describes drills for what they really, are: litmus tests of personal responsibility & motivation.

Later in the gym, during workout #2, I got Scott’s permission to share his words here.

Maybe a top accomplishment of a great coach is to embed phrases, attitudes, and goals inside an athlete’s mind, so even when that coach is not physically there, they still are with you. Even though Boris is not coaching this year, I still can replay his unique voice, & his brilliant ways of describing skating in my mind.

“Coaching is making men do what they don’t want, so they can become what they want to be.”
-Tom Landry

This is true no matter what sport it is applied to, from the Dallas Cowboys to ‘Koon’s bunch of bladed dreamers.

I now open the floor to you, dear reader, what have coaches of yours said? What has stuck in your mind through time?

and I do define the term “coach” loosely, if your great-aunt said something that resonated, and applies to this discussion, that is fine.

Pandas, Joey, & Peaches

I have “every day is a gift” engraved on the inside of my wedding ring, and I truly believe that… The world is a beautiful place. It’s a great loss is to be so wrapped inside one’s own worries & furies that you blind yourself to what IS..

for example -here is the sky this morning.

I hate waking up, and do it badly. However, after the caffeine hits the bloodstream, early mornings have their charm. From a very young age on weekends my parents drove me to play hockey at dawn. Then I drove myself in pre-dawn hours to bike races for a decade. Now I am on the way to the Utah oval at sunrise, preparing for a whole winter’s worth of freakishly early morning racing.

This proves that the world has a sense of humor & irony. Another example is here: on the way to the oval I saw that the “Drunken Panda” of my earlier post had been out for some late night partying, and one of Salt Lake’s Finest had corralled his fuzzy ways…

At the oval, it was almost busy! The club ice time had a ton of people participating. This picture was taken at 8 in the morning. I was just starting my warm-up, and the club skaters were already an hour into their workout & drills! This is loving your skating!

As I was doing my own workout, who should I see step onto the ice for a few laps but JOEY CHEEK!! I honestly never thought I would see him again. He was there with a professional photographer, pretending these borrowed skates were his own.

When he was done, we chatted for a while, he is deferring going to Princeton for a year, as he has speaking gigs lined up through March! Fantastic!! His 15 minutes of fame has become a little bit longer, and it could not have happened to a nicer guy. Check out Joey’s journal from his recent trip to Zambia at Right to Play.

During the Olympi-gasm, it was fascinating to watch folks I know, like Joey, passed through the digestive tract of the mass-media. This grinding gut of video & print captured some of the people I know accurately, and did a disservice to others.

Joey has quadrupled his freckle-collection since I saw him last, and is truly at peace with the whirlwind of how his life has turned out. He knew he would retire from skating long before the Olympics, and he thinks this allowed him to relax, enjoy his final season more, and go faster.

Even though his skating days are over, he said “Its good to be back here, this is my community, the oval feels like home.” Joey, you are a member of the skate tribe for life!

On the way home, wearing a Joey-induced smile, I stopped at the Farmers Market, and wandered among the crowds, devouring free samples & buying produce. It’s “acceptable” for people in America to have all sorts of nasty stereotypes about Salt Lake City.

Maybe at times some are true: but I wish I could counterweight them with these images from the farmers market; Beatniks playing doo-wop on xylophones, young Latinas with tsunamis of ringlets selling corn, the lively-eyed NPR crowd buying salad greens from old farmers with tractor tire hands, a drum circle thumping away off in the distance, a grandmother fragile as a paper moth sharing jokes with a black man sporting waist length dreadlocks.

I wish I had a video camera embedded in my soul, and could replay it here. But all I have is my words, and my digital camera, and so I will share that, and an image of possibly the most perfect peach I have ever eaten. Or maybe in my exhaustion from 17+ hours of training this week, I was just perfectly ready for this peach…

As I was leaving, I passed two teenagers playing guitars with more spirit than skill, Their liberal-cause bumper sticker slathered open guitar cases brimming with tips. Paul McCartney’s lyrics rang across the crowded market isles.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

I am trying, I am trying… On skates and off…

A Few Pictures

Life is good, I have joined Scott Koons’ training group (the appropriately named F.A.S.T team). This season it’s a bunch of very gifted younger skaters. I am having a good time, skating well, and am truly exhausted in that good “train yourself to shreds” kind of way.

So in absence of any scrap of a brain to write with, I will just post a few images…

Lacing up on a quiet morning.

Fellow sprinter Tony Davis, looking smooooooth on perfect ice..…

I mentioned Canadian coach Arno Hoogveld in a recent post, I contacted him and let him know about the post (it’s always polite to do that).

We had a great email chat, and I discovered he is not only a coach, but a serious photographer as well. Because he has coaching credentials, he can take pictures from places photographers are not allowed, and since he has the knowledge of skating he does, his eye for capturing this sport is exceptional.

Here is an image he shot of Chad Hedrick, K.C. Boutiette, and Derek Parra during a team pursuit race in Torino -this was not the Olympics, but during the world cup in Torino about a month before.

It’s really clear in this photo to see where elite skaters put their weight in the corners, look at the relation of hips to heels.

These 3 men represent so much of the inline to ice movement (Jen & Joey also count!). They have accomplished an incredible amount in their careers, and it’s interesting to contemplate the number of lives whose arc they have impacted. What a rare shot to see all three cranking out scary speed shoulder-to-shoulder.

p.s. Please don’t steal images online, I asked Arno’s permission to post this. If you like it, ask, he might say yes. If you steal this for commercial use, I will ask a local voodoo expert to make sure your computer suffers from relentless spamstorms and arthritis of the hard drive!

Crouching Tiger, Drunken Panda

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

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

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

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

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

Find Your Groove

In the summer of 2002, I went to Calgary for training camp. On a hot, windy Alberta day, Canadian National All-around team coach Arno Hoogveld led the group to a frighteningly steep hill.

Some of the younger members of the camp had been slacking off, and I will never forget Arno standing in front of the group, hands on hips like a marine drill sergeant -and he told us a truth that in my memory replays like this:

“Look at the grooves in this hill. Elite speedskaters from all over the world have made these grooves sprinting and low-walking up this hill…. If you want to be serious about this sport, stop screwing around, get in those grooves, and work hard. I will give $50 to anyone who can run to the top of this hill in under a minute!!”

The group snapped to a razor sharp predatory attention, and within a few minutes, 5 at a time, we were charging up that hill in pursuit of $50.

No one even came close to the prize… But several skaters did throw up along the way.

I overheard the coaches talking later that there are only a few men in the world who can make it up that hill in under a minute.

Years later, when I was in Calgary for a race, I went back, and got a good picture of this hill, the grooves faintly visible under a layer of snow. There is a waist high metal pipe at the very top, and you can barely see it here. This sucker is STEEP.

Training camps are not just to create fitness, they are also meant to change habits.

Every summer since then, I hear Arno’s words echoing in my mind, and I find a good steep hill to do running sprints on.

I have always thought that if I work consistently & insanely hard, eventually I will wear my own groove into a hillside, if I can do that, then I am truly getting somewhere with this sport.

Today as I was doing my sprints, I started to see that after a whole summer of charging up this one hill 2-3 times a week, -the grass was thinner & flattened along the path I have taken over and over.

In this sport of constant learning, maybe I am finally finding my groove.

This season I have been training a bit more like a track cyclist than a true speedskater, throwing everything into becoming more explosive & powerful for the first 10-20 seconds of my 500m. I will find out in a few months if sacrifices and “this new groove” translate into results.

Find your groove, whatever it may be, and then throw everything into it. Isn’t that what life is all about anyway?

More Ice

I once stayed up all night watching a master bike builder turn a bunch of titanium tubes into a finished bicycle; I still ride that bike.

Over a year ago, as I was being molded by Bruce Koen for the custom speedskating boots I now wear, I got a picture of that beginning.

Raw beginnings fascinate me, so maybe that is why every time I am at the oval, I can’t stop watching the ice being laid. A watched pot on a stove might not boil, but watched water will freeze right in front of your eyes.

The first day of skating is less than 48 hours away… I hope I can fit my right foot into my boot, I got stung by a bee a few days ago in the ankle, and although I have full mobility, the swelling makes my foot look really odd.

A wise friend once said to me “things are best in their beginnings”. This idea can be applied across so many spectrums, including this sport; as there are no more reflective beginnings than perfect ice.

5th Anniversary

The jazz band was pressurized like they were jamming in the belly of a nuclear submarine cruising 20,000 leagues under the groove sea.

Their song selection was Red Hot Chili Peppers, Prince, Portishead, Fleetwood Mac, and John Lennon. No vocals, just smooth periscopes & torpedoes of groove, sh-boom, sh-boom…

Jess and I shared sushi and plum wine, and celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. Our emotional sonar peering into the future & looking back. This amazing life, my amazing wife, 5 years… wow…

Somehow this feels like this will be my last speedskating season, I have worked so hard, but every submarine must surface. After several glasses of sake, and glorious raw concoctions from the sushi bar, this fuzzy reality seeps in, and it’s ok…

The next morning, Jess goes off to work, and the dog and I do an easy recovery jog on the Salt Flats. I am still sore (and that’s normal) from my intense day in the weight room. I find peace in the weirdness & foulness that is the Salt Lake.

The recent rains created bands of slop; If it’s possible, Lilly did her best to get more muddy than my shoes. After a two miles of mud-trotting, & Lilly doing multiple mud-angels (like us humans make “snow-angels”) we arrived at the water.

Lilly waded out and flopped in the six inch deep sea-monkey filled soup of the great Salt Lake, wagging her tail furiously in the constant NOW of being a happy dog.

She kept looking at me as if to say: “come on in, the slime is GREAT!”.

Someday Lilly will be gone, someday the Salt Lake will dry up. Someday America will be gone like Rome is gone, my skate blades will rust away to nothingness, and this body I inhabit will be returned to its natural element breakdown: 65% water/35% coffee grounds & lime Gatorade mix.

But for now, for this brief moment I have, I love my wife & the last 5 years of our marriage, and I want to return every ounce of unconditonal love the once terribly abused Lilly shows me. That is enough.

515 !!

away from politics, & back in the real world

For the past 3 seasons, my PB on the squat rack has been stuck at 450, but this year I have worked incredibly hard at simply getting stronger, today was my final day of maximal strength work, and I set a new PB of 515 pounds!! (233kg for you metric speakers).

It’s odd, but even this most profoundly physical of the simple challenges (like lifting big weight) in practice feels like a mental challenge, in that one needs mental discipline to go the gym over and over, mental forethought to set up a periodized weight training program, mental thoroughness to follow it, mental clarity to eat correctly to repair yourself after hard workouts, mental mind games to really get !!!focused!!!! to make 100% efforts on days you are pushing limits.

After all that, what was once too heavy becomes possible…. It’s not mind over matter, it’s that the mind, over time, can fundamentally change your relation to matter.

Unfortunately being strong doesn’t mean a lot if you can’t focus it through technique to create pressure into the ice…. Now if I can just find a good coach who can help me do that, and some fast skaters to learn relaxed speed with, life will be good!

p.s. Please DON’T goof around on the squat rack unless you have technique, experience & a solid strength training base! There are real benefits to free weights, but they can hurt you too… It’s taken me a decade+ of work to even consider this kind of weight! The first time I put two 45lb plates on a 45 lb bar, I thought I was gonna die it was so heavy! Today there were 10+ plates on that bar.