Scary Feet

Happy Halloween! On this day of overwhelmingly safe & sanitized spookyness, I find these pictures Bruce Kohen emailed me to be genuinely unsettling.

These are perfect replicas of my feet in the SS Boots workshop. He is about to start building a custom carbon fiber speedskating boot around these casts.

It’s unsettling to see a perfect replica of one of your body parts in someone else’s oven. I have lived with these feet my whole life, from my hammer-toes to my huge arch, and these casts are.…. absolutely… perfectly…. me….

Strangely enough, according to custom boot makers, one of the hardest parts of construction & why experience matters so much, is they have to “file” down a good percentage of these casts & remove lots of the “fleshy” part of the foot, as the boot really supports your bones, & not the flesh…

I REALLY don’t want to see pictures of that!!

Two truths & a novel

I like this T-shirt, it makes me smile ever time I see it:

This is a good truth, and worth remembering. Several times in the past 5 seasons I’ve felt “yup, this is as fast as I will ever get” and I’ve been repeatedly wrong. Speedskating requires such a precise blend of physical & technical ability; it’s almost impossible to hit both at once. It’s an incredible feeling when you get close.

It’s worth noting though, that the actual mechanics of pursuing dreams (in anything) requires shifting gears from imagination to determination. The next couple of weeks of training on my whole team’s schedule look extremely brutal. The tenor shifts from the truth of that t-shirt, to the truth of these lyrics by The Offspring:

All my will.
All my strength.
Rip it out.
Start again.

-Defy You

One of the things I LOVE about training out here in Utah, is that pretty much everyone here moved to this place for this one overriding passion. Most of them (not all, but most) understand both sides of these 2 truths from incredibly personal perspectives; there are lots of good stories here if you take the time to listen.

Today was busy, at one point, I counted 8 turncables going at once, and effort was on every face, it was a workday, minimal chitchat.

If there was a novel to be written about this sport, I’d love to be the writer of it. Who knows, maybe you are reading it now.

Heck, screw writing a book. Hammer these two truths into the marrow of your bones and BE your own novel, it’s much more satisfying.

New Edge + Coffee

In possibly the best odd skating picture ever, this is Mike Kooreman, coach of the New Edge Short track team out here at the Utah Olympic Oval, doing a warp-speed pivot with a cup of coffee in his hand.

2 great things that go well together! I should try this sometime on the long track, maybe with a huge mug of coffee in hand I could finish a 5k. Mike said that this actually was surprisingly hard, as the coffee cup was quite a bit of drag when it touched the ice (and yes, that is a Thundercats sticker on his helmet).

I first saw this on my friend nick’s blog (and thanks Nick for the nice things you say about me there) and I asked for permission from the New Edge team to republish the photo here.

Any short tracker wanting to take that next step, I highly recommend Mike’s coaching and this program, they just found some local sponsors, and are rocking!

Also on the web, 4 days after the competition was over, they finally posted the results of last weekend’s world cup qualifier races. You can see the men’s results here, and the women’s here.

On my first day back on Utah ice, as I was doing some very dejected laps (legs are fine, but my heart has seen better days) I chatted with Mike, he said he missed 5 world cup teams by tiny margins, and knows exactly how I feel.

Although we did not talk about it, it’s part of skating recent history that Mike lost 2 years in the prime of his career because he BROKE HIS BACK taking his luggage off of the baggage claim at an airport in China. He was there for a world cup short track race, and from what I heard of what happened, just grabbed something heavy at an awkward angle.

I have no idea what THAT horrid experience must feel like, except that there is a true lesson in there about being thankful for every day of health one has, no matter the result of “races” or other measures of “success” in life. As a friend said to me once “health is wealth”.

10 things about Milwaukee

Before my skate addiction caused me to get to know it, I always imagined Milwaukee as being just a northern suburb of Chicago. How wrong I was!!! Now that I have fallen in love with this place, here are 10 things about the rolling landscape of beer and cheese.

10. Lakeshore Drive Alterra Coffee Shop.
A psychologically healthy community often produces prime examples of the species “superior local coffee shop”. This place is one of the best ones I have ever wasted hours in. Fast Wi-Fi, great coffee, and a pastry counter full of amazing mouth-watering delicacies.

The NODE 24 hour coffee shop also deserves mention. I would have loved that all-black, clove cigarette vibe when I was 19.

9. Leaf Piles
They do leaf piles in Wisconsin almost as well as upstate NY. I miss leaf piles; the mountain west doesn’t build leaf piles in a satisfying way. This one looked like a horror movie monster about to consume any car that parked nearby, who knows, it could even be digesting one right now! For bonus points, find Carla hidden in the picture.

8. Green Bay Packers Gorp
They really love their football team here. I mean REALLY LOVE THEM. You can buy almost anything decked out in game-day ready green and gold. However I was completely speechless at seeing even GORP in Packers colors.

Of course maybe I was speechless because my mouth was crammed full of it. Damm tasty.

7. Indian Place-Names

“Ouisconsin,” became Wisconsin, it’s believed to mean “grassy place” in Chippewa, or “gathering of waters” in Algonquian. The Word Milwaukee is probably Algonquian, and is believed to mean “a good spot or place.”

The French who were here in the early 1740’s, agreed with these assessments, and started the normal Caucasian genocide. Most of the Indians are gone, but their spirit is still in the land, reveled in place names like: Kenosha, Waukegan, Wauwatosa, Oconomowoc, Sheyboygan, Menomenee falls, Peauwaukee, Kaukauna, Lake Winnebago, Shawano, Potawatomi, Sokaogan (try saying all of these names really fast).

6. Moods of Lake Michigan.
Many people who have lived near large bodies of water somehow don’t feel whole without being able to see & hear a lake or the ocean every day, I understand. Lake Michigan is constantly changing mood, it’s never the same twice, and looking at it always makes me smile. Here is just a tiny taste of one of its moods.

5. Milwaukee has soul
Many places in the USA have no soul. Look at the event calendars from Milwaukee’s small weekly magazines MKE and the Shepherd Express and you can see that this place definitely has soul. A city often reveals it’s soul in its local small weeklies like this. Stuff is just going on!!!

4. Breakfast in Wisconsin
I had a long conversation with a Californian about this, and from our dual-coast perspective we both agreed that Wisconsin produces consistently the best breakfasts we have ever experienced in the USA. Probably something to do with the agrarian roots of this state, plus incredibly dairy products, mixed with Scandinavian work ethic requiring early morning artery-clogging wonderments to start the day.

3. The upper Midwest accent
In this TV age, most verbal inflections are flattened by mass media sameness, Therefore I think all surviving examples of local pronunciation are wonderful and should be cherished!

The Minnesota/Wisconsin accent seems to involve flattening the vowels and extending their “hang time”. Here is an example: Weee’rreee driiiving toodaaay to keeennnooshaaaa…..

Also “haaave a niiice daaay!” or “youuu haaavvve a goood eeevening!” is often said with an instructional/mandatory tone!

2. Cool Fisherman & Salmon
Many times in the fall I have walked the shoreline and seen huge salmon cruising the shallows looking for a place to spawn. One day this past week I came across a bunch of cool guys on a pier hauling in fish after huge fish.

I struck up conversation, and they gave me 3 fish, each as long as my arm!!! (proof of claim on the right). I had an interesting afternoon butchering the 37 lbs of fish here.

A morally honest carnivore should, every now and then, personally slaughter something that they then proceed to eat. In case you were wondering, according to government studies the PCB’s are not a problem anymore in Salmon -just don’t eat it everyday, and NEVER eat big lake trout or carp.

An honorable mention goes to Carla, who handled her houseguest turning her kitchen into a gory horror movie with amazing calmness (there was fish blood on the ceiling by the time I was done). She also contributed to the writing of this post.

1. The Pettit Center!
Absolutely one of the best things about Milwaukee!! The history of this place, and the cool folks who skate there, are a gift that too many people take for granted. Sure it’s cold inside, and kind of dark, but it somehow feels like “home”, (start audio soundtrack here: the “cheers” theme song). Now if they would just publish results from last weekends racing (come on folks!) they would be perfect!!

Images & Thanks

Thanks to everyone who has commented & written…. Thank you so, so much… I still feel pretty crummy, but it’s in these moments when the good people in your life shine through like the ship of reality to a wave-tossed man swimming alone in his own misery ocean.

actually, this image is a fella having a great time surfing in lake Michigan a few days ago, but you get my point.

But my story is only one of the 38 athletes competing here over the past few days in 126 different individual races. When I was done with my own time on the frozen 400m hamster wheel, I grabbed my camera, headed for the stands, and enjoyed being a fan of this wonderful sport.

Here are some images.

John Loquai made his father & whole family so proud as he earned his 2nd world cup spot in the 5k here. He did it suffering through a below average day (I have not asked him, but it looked that way). His spot came at the expense of Liam Ortega, who skated a personal best in the 5k. Over 5000m, the difference between these two for that spot was .34 of a second!!!

Here is John at 400 & 100m to go in his 5k. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Catherine Raney. The working title for the photoshop document that became what you see here was power is beauty, I think it fits this Torino Olympian quite well.

Liam Ortega and Nate Defranco 100m, and then 500m into a 1500.

In a huge surprise, Mike Blumel won the 1500m, its even more impressive since he has not had a lot of ice time this fall. Here he is blasting off the line in that race with Brent Aussprung. One of the tricks of starting on blades as opposed to sprinting in running shoes is to drive the knee straight forward yet keeping the ankle turned out ready to land on the ice. Many skaters don’t do it that well, but the best sprinters are fantastic at it. Mike does it like a rockstar.

Tom Cushman urging Torino Olympian Charles Leveille onward in the 1500m. I think a lot of the coaches completely blew out their voices urging their skaters onward.

Roughly 29 seconds after the previous picture, 300 meters from the finish of the 1500m, the sound track for this image is Ryan Shimabukuro screaming for Chris Needham “USE THE DRAFT! USE THE DRAFT” Chris did, took a long walk through lactic-hell, and missed 3rd place (and the final world cup 1500m spot) by .03 to Kip Carpenter.

One of my training buddies, Michael Stein-Stewart, 350m into his 1500m… when folks talk about “blade direction in the turns” & pushing to the side, not back, this is how it should be done, Maple gold blades also catch the light nicely.. whoosh…

Anna Ringsred is one of a handful of Americans training up in Calgary this year. This is the last few meters of a fast 3000m raced step for step with Maria Lamb. Her technique looks quite a bit better here after 7.5 laps than I do staggering to the finish of 2.5

Matt Plummer has several Junior National Short track championships in his background, he is also a talented cross-country runner as well, so this season he is trying Long Track. As he lined up for his 5k, he drew a fairly intimidating pair in Torino 5k Gold Medalist Chad Hedrick.

Ron Macky & Mitchell Whitmore sprint shoulder-to-shoulder for the finish of a 5,000m race. Ouch. Exciting racing to watch, but as Ron told me afterwards, sometimes it’s not a lot of fun to do.

As I was leaving the rink, I heard an athlete who had a disaster of a weekend announce loudly that the Jagermeister shots will be in his hotel room tonight & everybody come on over! It was tempting, but I have dealt with my own disappointment in other ways.

Skating is not life or death, it’s not as important as your family or other loved ones. Those things, and MANY others are far more important. But for pretty much everyone on the ice at this competition, it’s our absorbing passion, and what we spend the majority of our lives doing. When its good, its really good, but when things don’t turn out well, it can make for a long plane trip home.

Failure…

Unfortunately I needed this after today…

300 meters into my 500 today I was having the race of my life. A 10.14 opener, and a fantastic first corner, I shot into the backstretch at a velocity I have never felt before, even on a crazy fast ice day at Salt Lake…

I set up the final corner well, and then everything went to hell… I slipped badly about 2 steps from the exit, and although I did not fall, my last 150 meters was a long and ugly stagger, and I lost all my speed.

Even with a messed up & ugly last 150, it was the FASTEST 500 I have skated all year. A 37.12, it could have been soooo much faster, at least a half a second.

It wasn’t good enough. I knew it immediately. Usually I am happy when I PB, this time I felt sick to my stomach I was so angry with myself.

I watched the final pairs skate, and sure enough, on the day it counted Tyler Goff skated a 36.94, and snuck into 5th place in the overall by .1 of a second. He’s funny like that.

.1

after 2 500m races, I missed a possible world cup team spot by .1 of a second, missed traveling around the world by .1 of a second. (Pending the committee decision of course, I still might not have been chosen even if I was 5th, the automatic qualification time is a 36.5, only 2 of the top 5 skated that).

I have no one to blame but myself. It was there, I had it in my hands, and I failed

But in a sick way, this is why people compete in sports, and why people watch.

Last night in the bottom of the ninth inning, of the seventh game of the National League championships, Carlos Beltran, the best hitter of the NY Mets, struck out on 3 straight pitches with the bases loaded, and his team down by 2 runs.

The silence in Shea Stadium was as deafening as the cheers from living rooms & bars in Saint Louis. The Cardinals go to the World Series, and the Mets go home, just like that…

Who knows what Carlos felt, walking back to the dugout, having failed in front of the 56,357 fans at the game. Actually, here is what Carlos felt. Classy guy.

My family & wife are so proud of me, I have great friends, and my brother even was able to make me laugh when I talked to him. I skated sea-level personal bests in all 3 races I did here. I stepped on a long track for the first time on my 31st birthday, and here I am, almost 36, vying for a world cup spot. I should be happier than I am right now.

I gotta run, more soon. Oddly enough, I am going back to the rink to skate with a friend, gotta burn those krispy kremes calories off somehow. Fundamentally, I love this sport and how it feels. That is why I do it, even on days it breaks my heart.

Rock Like Never Before

5:45am, I am awake before my alarm goes off, alert & focused, rested and super ready for possibly my most important race of the year.

In a few moments I am warming my hands on a race-day sized mug of coffee. My laptop screen glows to life, and I get a message from my brother-

Rock like never before.

Coming from a professional musician, who rocks for a living, these are strong words, and it’s in my mind all through warm-up. I feel super strong, solid in the turns, and even when my left skate blade comes loose, and I have to futz around with it, I keep repeating this.

I have an ambition of being top five here in the 500m. It’s one of the reasons I kept skating this year. Choosing the World Cup team is not up to me, and I am probably too old to be picked even if I did make that top 5 (it’s better to spend the money on an up and comer, not a 35 year old). But I want to know in my heart I belong in the top 10 sprinters in the US.

My pair is Donald Stewart, he starts on the inner, and I am on the outer. I never quite got my loose blade exactly back to where it was, but no time to worry, confidence is everything, I tell myself this new feel might even be more pressure into the ice! I used to call Donald my “barometer”, as I have raced him repeatedly over the past 5 years. He is very talented, and usually crushes me by over a second.

I ignore the commotion and times being set as the races start. I don’t look at the scoreboard as standings accumulate. The pairs count down, and now it’s our turn. Donald and I wish each other luck, and go to the start line.

GO TO THE START…. Relax, loosen upper body, hips narrow every step…
READY…. weight on front foot… exhale,,,,,,,,,,,,,
BANG!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!

I get a fantastic jump off the line, by 40 meters in I have passed Donald. I skate deep into the first turn before I lay it over and start crossing. I get good pressure the first few steps, Donald comes by me on the inner lane. Something’s not right in how my body is set, and my left foot slips on the exit and I pop momentarily out of skate position. I snap back into motion entering the backstretch and chase Donald down as we switch lanes, I briefly feel a draft behind him, lean hard into the final inner turn, fighting the swirl of G-forces and fear. I pass him for the final time, nail the exit, sit low and drive the final 100m. Boom! the finish rushes past at 33mph…

37.21, another Milwaukee personal best, and I beat my long time “barometer” (to be fair, his right skate blade is FUBAR). My opening 100m was a 10.12, FAR and away my fastest ever, and absolutely in the ROCK LIKE NEVER BEFORE category.

Of the 17 men competing today, only one (Tucker Fredricks) went quicker down the 100. But its not a 100m race, it’s a 500m, and my slip cost me dearly. Overall I am in 6th place. But there pretty much is a 3 way tie between 5th, 6th & 7th, as we are separated by only .1

Later in the day I PB’ed in the 1000m as well, 1:16.19, even with another left foot slip, but was quite far down the results list. Tomorrow will be quite interesting.

Sorry no photos, I was a little busy…

A Universal Quote

This quote is on the stairwell leading up to the ice at the Pettit Center in Milwaukee..

I am trying to remind myself of this over and over before tomorrows races. I think it’s interesting that one can replace the last two words of this quote with other words, like “office”, “family”, “fishing pond” etc, etc, and it still holds truth.

Just as I was leaving the Pettit yesterday, and ruminating about this, I thought I saw Bonnie stepping onto the ice. I have only met her once, but it looked a lot like her.

Racing Pics

This weekend I skated possibly my most “perfect” race ever, a HUGE Milwaukee Personal best; 37.42 for the 500m. I am happy happy happy, everything felt incredibly solid.

Here I am at top speed, 75 meters to go. Knee bend is good, body is centered well, but my leg did not completely extended at the end of the stroke. There always is more power to be found, even in what feels “perfect” at the moment (my first few steps off the start was ugly too). If I can just do this again next week!!!!

2 of my best friends in this sport lined up for a 5,000m race. Olu jumped out to a big lead in the first few laps of this 12.5 lap race, and then barely held off the “last lap Langenthal” tractor beam, as she came roaring back in the last 800 meters.

Again, this photo illustrates the essential truth that there is no ideal body type for skating. Look for Olu to fly at world masters championships in Calgary later this year.

Only 6 weeks ago at inline world championships in Korea, Jessica Smith won 2 gold medals in the relay, and an individual bronze, now she is here is on the ice, 600m into a 1000m. She has an astonishing amount of starting line power & speed.

Tani Mintz, came within a second of the fast time needed to qualify for US fall world cup trials in the 3k, like Olu, she was also skating fast in front of the “last lap Langenthal” tractor beam.

Volunteers

On Saturday mornings I imagine that many reasonable people are relaxing, reading a good book, playing with their kids, or maybe sipping coffee with a housecat purring in their lap…

However speedskating is not reasonable, and somehow inspires unreasonable dedication in both the athletes and the wonderful volunteers who run so many of the weekend competitions.

Here are a few images of the good folks helping to run this morning’s Pettit ice center time trials. I try to always say thanks, but being fairly inwardly focused on race day, I often fail, so here is my small visual thank you.

Without volunteers, clubs & competitions would grind to a halt, and most skating rinks would simply be soulless concrete boxes with cold spots on the floor.

Early this morning, just before I was about to step on the ice, I sadly realized again the absence of one of the most dedicated of volunteers. Lorraine Garbe passed away last January. She knew everyone by name, and an early morning is just not the same without her smile as you sign in for races.

Lorraine, you are so so missed….