I am writing from the crossroads of the Universe.

Where is the crossroads of the universe? If you fly Northwest, your crossroads is the Minneapolis airport.

I am on my way to Germany for a meeting of the IMSSC, as I am the USA rep to that organization. Everyone talks about GROWING speedskating, this committee has been wildly successful at it.

On the right here, is the hardworking hands (& coffee cup) of Bram de Vries, the Dutch rep, during the Calgary Meeting this past february..

And here is a group shot of the reps. Quite a collection of excellent skate-minds.

Here is one of the IMSSC’s main news pages (and the skater in blue on it, whoa! is me, someone just added that picture! My opening 100m in that race was as butt-ugly as this turn picture is pretty)

and here is their main website.

Since it seems silly to have a 17 hour travel day just for a meeting, afterwards I am hopping on the train and going to AMSTERDAM!!!!

Jessica is meeting me there, and we will be nosing around for a week, balancing doing skating-theme stuff with the incredible art museums & culture that the city offers. We also plan to travel up to Friesland for a day or two.

I’ve never been to the Netherlands, and am quite excited.

Any suggestions from Dutch readers, or Americans who have been there, on what “MUST SEE/MUST DO” things belong on the list?

Eva has told me extensive stories about stroopwafels, my brother told me about this concoction halfway between chocolate pudding & milk called “bla”. Mmmmmmm…

I hope I can fit through the doorway of the plane on the way back!

It’s a beautiful day

This past weekend, the Utah Oval ran some low-key time trials. Only a few skaters were racing, most were just training & enjoying the irrepressible optimism of the early season, when a summer of hard work starts to become competition speed on the ice.

What better way to spend a Saturday?

It was gorgeous weather outside, everyone seemed in a good mood, the folks who were racing were mostly very happy with how things were going.

The U2 song “beautiful day” kept running through my head, and that became the theme for the latest of my speedskating videos. Click here for the high quality QuickTime, or press play to start the YouTube below

Special mention in this video should be made of Chris Creveling, the skater in the blue skinsuit with the red arms.

Chris is one of the elite inline skaters training in Derek Parra’s WHIP program, his 1000m race shown here qualified him for US national championships!

The first time an individual skates a qualifying time, it is a worthy cause for celebration. I can still remember the first time I skated one of those times. Congratulations Chris!!

Marco’s Story

In a country like the USA, where speedskating is a minority sport, almost everyone has an interesting story regarding how they fell in love with ice speedskating.

Last night; over a glass of wine on my front porch, my friend Marco Bucci told me his, and its one of the best I have ever heard:

For my whole life, I had one dream; that dream was to be a college hockey player. I spent 3 years playing for R.I.T & Canton, and it was a terrible experience with inter-team & NCCA politics taking away my playing time.

It was awful to sit on the bench and watch players I was better than get to play simply because they had scholarships and I was a walk-on. I worked so hard, and got crapped on by an ass of a coach.

With a lot of bitterness, I left hockey, and was working a job in my hometown of Plattsburgh N.Y. One night, at midnight, my Uncle Jim knocks on my door with a pair of speedskates in his hand, Jim said:

Marco, the ice on Lake Champlain is PERFECT, we need to go out there, come on!!

Jim, my grandfather, & all the men from my mom’s family were speedskaters. The speedskates he gave me were floppy, awful things from the 1950’s, but when we got out to the ice, IT WAS PERFECT.

The wind was at about 20mph, but there were miles of glass ice lit by a full moon.

We would work hard into the headwind, then turn around and just fly.

I was so excited, I skated right to the edge of the open water, it was incredible! Just huge sweeping turns, listening to the ice crackling & popping.

We skated until 4am, and I was hooked from that night on.

Three weeks later Jim took me up to the oval in Lake Placid, and I spent the rest of that winter skating miles & miles along Scomotion creek and the shores of Lake Champlain.

That following year, in the fall of 1996, with my 40 year old skates in hand, I moved to Lake Placid, I wanted to be a speedskater.

Marco skated Olympic trials in 1998, 2002, and 2006, and now owns his own tile & stonework company in Park City. Between speedskating and hockey, he gave 27 years of his life to the ice.

This is him, during US National Championships, December 2004

In a closet back in Plattsburgh, he still has that 50 year old pair of skates.


Would it be that other changes in life were as easy as taking off the wheels and putting on the blades.


My brother sent me this photograph from a supermarket parking lot in Puerto Rico

I interpret this as meaning:

Speedskaters & Cyclists are prohibited from racing each other when giant bottles of beer are the prize.

these images are certainly not of a recreational skater & cyclist just crusing along.

Is there a place where this kind of thing happens enough to be a problem?

With a 3 foot tall bottle of beer as the prize, there are speedskaters & cyclists I know who would be quite motivated to win!

St.Paul Swim

When the toilet paper in the porta-potty disintegrates in your hands because of the intense rain, mist & moisture in the air, you have a clue about what kind of inline marathon is just ahead!

Trying to psych me up, my friend Kaari says:

Ok, so it’s a marathon, it’s raining, just think of it like a 500 meter race, a whole bunch of them! Eighty-two 500 meter sprints in a row!

Friends are wonderful things, and when the weather is crummy, laughter is almost sunshine.

Weirdly, at the start line area, the road looks like it’s drying out, so in the socializing mass of gathered skaters, optimistic individuals remove their squishy/grippy rain wheels, and bring out hard road wheels.

During my extended warmup, a mile from the start area, I come across soaked roads, & I can smell rain coming across the hills. I stay with squishy wheels.

I’ve done much less cycling since the NAPA marathon, more skate dryland & plyometrics. I don’t feel that great, however the final 300m, steep uphill finish looks like a great place for a power-centric sprinter. So if I can just hang onto the pack, I should do well.

I have heard how the organization of this marathon is outstanding. It is, the volunteers & staff do an incredible job. It’s really nice how they separate out the categories, so each group has a clear start vs itself.

The 25 pro men do their stampede off the line, a minute later, the 42 pro master men line up.

Even with super studs Tony Muse & Eddy Matzger opting to go for the cash prize in pro instead of mere bragging rights in pro master, there are some very strong athletes here.

If this sport was worth betting on, my money would be on Niko Ramkisoon, Norm Kirby, Mike Anderson, or frankly, if it comes down to a bunch sprint, there are several true sprinters here, such as US Masters champ/record holder Jim Larson & myself.

The gun goes off, the pace is reasonable. I slot into line, and follow.

The course is a rolling out & back road, running along the bank of the Mississippi river. There are no true crushing climbs, but there are many long gradual upgrades that hurt at race pace.

Fairly quickly our pack motors through the flats & hits the rolling hills. A gentle mist starts pelting our face, then a spitting rain. The road is soaked, and I am very glad to have gone with grippy wheels.

Mike, Nikko, and a few others start hammering on the front. The pace is hard, in fact, for long periods of time, it becomes ludicrously hard for rainy pavement.

Gaps form & close, the pack worms across the road like a snake in spasmodic agony who has a firm destination in mind.

We will skate two loops of this out & back course, then turn up a final 300m steep finishing hill. At places you can see other packs & pacelines going past, I really like that.

(thanks to Kim Kraan for most of the pics you see here)

I quickly find this is not going to be my day, my breathing will not stay under control, all pre-race ambitions of placing top 5 are replaced by a dumb, determined suffering. I fix my eyes on Morgan William’s heels & skates, and hang on as best I can.

Morgan is smart & very experienced; with Nikko launching attack after attack off the front he smoothly & steadily bridges up & closes gaps as they open. He is an athlete who knows exactly what he can do, & does not overwork as he does it.

(he said later to me, he could hear me breathing hard over his shoulder, knew I was in trouble, and was hoping I would get it under control.)

The pack begins to spit out athletes one by one.

Eric Kraan has not had the best of times recently. He has been sick this whole week, the airlines lost his luggage, and now his front wheel gets kicked out from under him & he tumbles & slides across the slick road.

It is so wet that he slides a great distance, as if his fall was on ice, & he ends up with only a few scrapes from this extended asphalt kiss.

About 9 miles into the race, we masters are going so fast, that we CATCH THE PRO PACK

As the two pacelines draw alongside each other, there is a large amount of razzing & trash talking directed at the Pros from the Masters. I can’t recall exactly any of them specifically, but as the two groups merged into a 40+ strong peloton, maybe from hurt pride, the pros decide to get serious.

The accelerations become extremely violent, acceleration, coast, acceleration, coast, I’m a mess…

We hit a turnaround at the far end of the course, accelerating out of the corner, the pack crosses a timing mat that marks the halfway point.

Under pressure from this many skaters all at once the mat bunches, the edges roll up, then suddenly it’s like a flapping log in the road blocking the back half of the bunch.

Skaters leap over the mat, some make it, some catch toes & go sprawling face first across cheese grater texture asphalt. I see a skater in a red & black skinsuit practically wrapped in the mat & looking hurt.

National LT team stud Paul Dyrud raced today and I heard crashed out of the pros, I don’t know if that was him, but many people hit the deck.

I dodge around the mat & notice the speed is maximum again. The pack is a sea of flailing arms & thrashing bodies…

This is the crunch time. I get smashed in the face by a flailing hand, but it doesn’t feel like anything compared to how much the rest of me hurts.

I cling on, do the terminal yo-yo on the back of the group for another mile, and then am dropped.

Skating by myself, I have a front row seat as the race detonates ahead of me, a long line of splintered groups making race-breaking moves. But I am alone, furious.

The race disappears away from me, I see no one ahead or behind for almost a kilometer of open road..

I skate the next 7 miles of the race solo, & angry at myself, calves cramping in the cold like iron knives, pissed that I’ve come all this way out here & am skating like scumcrap.

This is a beautiful course & city, but all I see is my reflection in the water covered black asphalt underneath my feet, and the cacophony of a million negative thoughts in my head.

(if you’ve ever been there, you know the whirlpool downward illogic of the dropped)

With 6 miles to go I see the shattered remains of the pro race coming the other way. Steve Robillard has responded to a breakaway by Nikko, and looks ice-smooth on a solo breakaway with about a hundred meter lead on the pack. I see Mike Anderson in pain at the back of the front group.

Wow, tough race, even on my best day this bunch would have blown my doors off.

With about 4 miles to go, a large pack appears out of the rain behind me. I coast for a minute & try to stretch my cramping calves as they come roaring up alongside. I slot into the middle of the group.

I find my place line behind a strong skater with a lot of grey hair. I like their pace much better than anything else today. In my ‘screw-it-I-suck” mindset. I assume these 20 skaters are the lead group of the pro veteran pack.

Big stupid mistake! They are actually all pro-masters & a smattering of pros (but I don’t realize this until looking at the results later).

We motor across hills & onto the flats. Things get really intense leading into the final mile.

Far up ahead, Steve Robillard has held his solo breakaway all the way to the finish. (pic by tom)

After the race Steve tells me:

I just went, and thought “hip-hip-hip-hip-hip” & skated with smooth technique, and it was easy. Well, no, I worked really hard, but I was able to skate the final climb alone & just go up, and enjoy it.

I have never been able to do that before.

Here is Steve, in his moment of enjoying his win. Steve proves the theorem that nice guys DO finish first on some days. Here is a link to the final results for the pros.

Scattered groups of pros & pro masters sprint to the line. 4 Masters managed to stay with the final pack of 11 pros, and Nikko takes the win. Lots of quality skaters end up in chase packs in the rainy roads. The final climb is wet & slippery.

About 5 minutes later, the 15 skaters I am with thunder into the bottom of the finishing hill. (pic by tom)

I’ve recovered and feel better. A small part of my deluded mind thinks I should not “interfere” with the finish of the “pro vets”.

But when we make the final turn, sprinter instinct takes over. I’m in 3rd at the bottom of the hill. I turn on the long track power and pass into the lead immediately. About 75 meters from the line my calves start cramping again & two guys pass me; my effort is a weird mix of 100% and “screw this”.

Strangely enough, the other true “sprinter” that I know of in the pro-masters, Jim Larson, is the guy in the green right in front of me. I did not make the mental connection that this was him during the race.

Here is a link to the final results of the pro masters. I was completely surprised to see that I ended up roughly in the top 3rd, and even more surprised to find out I was sprinting with folks from my age group like Jim.

Shorty after the finish, here is a line of filthy & completely soaked skaters, from left to right, is Russian Evgeny Dubinchuk, Morgan Williams (who took an excellent 5th place!!), Myself, “Fast Eddie” Watcher, and Mike Andersen.

It was a good day for Canadians who artfully blend ice & inline, here is national team short tracker, Steve Robillard, and Veteran Men’s winner Randy Plett.

Randy skated world masters champs last year, and has been at many masters ice races over the past few years.

I will finish this with a thought that I have spoken of before; it’s good to be an allskater, and skate everything, ice & inline, sprints & marathons.

Talking with Minnesotan Tony Fiorillo, who won the advanced 40-44 category with an excellent time, we agreed that knowing how to skate on ice & relax at speed is a huge advantage, especially when water turns from frozen to liquid, and makes asphalt sick as ice.

It was quite slick at times out there, and this skater raced his event in a flack jacket can attest that armor is not a bad idea, but I prefer the armor of technique.

Minneapolis Mask

Mid-August, Minnesota, a cold rain is absolutely monsooning downward.

And I am planning on racing 26.2 miles tomorrow!

I think I might need to use this swim mask in addition to my helmet.

Instead of a skinsuit, a wetsuit would be nice too, or maybe just a thick, greasy, protective layer of extra strength ben-gay (it works surprisingly well).

Racing bicycles in the rain is a twisted kind of fun I used to enjoy a lot. But inline racing in the rain sucks!!!

Even the coffee shop I am working in has turned the fires on. Is it a Minnesota thing to have open flame-pits in the middle of coffee shops?

Omigosh, it’s so NASTY outside!!!

Competing in foul weather becomes a mental thing, as many athletes give up before the race begins. So I am now working on convincing myself I LOVE THE RAIN, and it’s PERFECT conditions for my weight & skating ability.

In other things, I’ve been working hard on this blog upgrade.

What you see here right now is barely 50% of what it will eventually look like, the left & right sidebars especially will be completely different. I am moving VERY carefully (upgrading from wordpress 1.5 to 2.2 is extremely geeky) & making double backups every step of the way.

Even so, for about a half hour on Thursday I thought I had completely KILLED this blog.

I thought I had lost every one of the 418 posts, every one of the 2,467 comments so far!

Have you ever heard stories about writers typing up manuscripts, & then losing them? Or people who lost laptops full of years of work, painters whose studios burn down, athletes who experience catastrophic injuries & know it as they are being carried off the field.

It was truly one of the more horrible feelings I have ever experienced.

Suffice it to say, BACKUP EVERYTHING that matters to you! Digital storage is cheap, fast, and it just saved everything that you are seeing right now.

Obsessive Upgrade & Wooden Shoes

If this website looks a bit funky & unfinished, that’s because I am upgrading it this week!!!

“Do what you love as your Job”

I saw this on a bumper sticker around the same time as I asked the general readership if they minded if I sell ads here.

In that spirit, I have been obsessively re-doing the look feel of ZATAOSS (as my friend Ted calls this blog) - making up a ‘kickin media kit, & preparing to take my life in that direction.

I have never obsessed about a site the way I’ve obsessed about every pixel of this redesign, my test site looks like I want it to, now the challenge is to get this one up to speed!!

I leave tomorrow for the St Paul inline marathon, I’ve had some rough training weeks recently, & I overall feel rather blah…

Plus, I’ve spent so much time code surfing, I am not sure my eyes can focus on anything farther away than my screen.
However my burning eyeballs focus enough well enough to read email, and a Dutch reader sent me a link to a video interviewing an older fellow whose latest invention is pictured to the right.

Tjark writes:

“Usually, you in America are ahead of us in technology, but now we’ve got the latest revolution of inline skating going on!”

A good laugh! The Dutch REALLY love their skating!

Being serious about sports is a good thing, but having a sense of humor while being serious is even better..

Genus, Species

I just saw a sweet new pair of SS short track boots built for Brian Boudreau, and Bruce Kohen had embedded a hologram of a T-Rex skull on the heel.

My mind instantly went to the silly idea of, it’s the Boudreauisaurus Rex!

Or maybe I was just thinking of the inline speed team, the Flying Fossils, who recently competed at the Montreal 24-hour race.

But what if we each skater had a species name attached to us? Specifically recognizing aspects of our effort or personality?

For example, here is the Krannisaurus Mexicanus at rest in the early morning sun.

Or how about PatMeekus StLouisaur, showing perfect hip & back curl, his wound-spring of power has been perfected, not through millions of years of evolution, but by tens of thousands of ST & LT laps.

Here is a species most speedskaters are unfamiliar with, Derbygirlus Toughidon.

(she is a speedskater as well as skating roller derby, & shows a nice pivot around some carnage typical for this biome)

Here is a rare series of images of a LoveMachinus Drylandsoreass in his natural August habitat

Back to the ice we can find a colorful JKato Incrediraptor accelerating to top speed. The sound his blades make as he speeds through this environment leaves awe in his wake.

And here is a glimpse of the powerful Marsicanus Saratogus leading a thundering heard of NationalTeamus Allaroundicus across the frozen meters.

Lest you think I am being overly silly with all this (well, I am being very silly), there are serious scientists out there who have given dinosaurs names like:



Irritator Challengeri


& the informally named ELVISAURUS

More weird Dino-names can be seen here.

Are there genus/species in your neighborhood that are worth including in this offbeat catalog?

Romme Power & Glide

Sorry I’ve been out of touch for a few days… Very work busy, & I had some good personal stuff this past weekend (see my next post) that deserved my time.

I’ve had a lot of fun recently mixing ice and inline skating, and it’s highlighted to me the vast technical & physical differences between the sports.

However It’s all still skating, and no matter if I am gliding on ice or asphalt, I’m still smiling.

Here is a great example of the differences between ice & inline. This is brilliant ice technique, but done on inlines:

This YouTube is originally from Dutch TV, and shows long track legend Gianni Romme training on inlines. (thanks Eric Kraan, for posting this).

I keep watching this over and over, and seeing more technical gems every time.

Romme is a phenomenally strong skater, I was in the stands during his 10k silver medal in the 2002 Olympic games, and even though Romme did not win that day, his power was breathtaking.

In this video you can really see his visible snap and extended glide control during each stroke, and especially right at the end, his absolutely solid hips in the turns & during the turn exit into the straight.

The extended glide phase, especially in the straights, just looks WRONG on inline, but is perfect for ice. The solid hips, whereas in an inline double push you can rock them to add more power…

Romme is solid, solid, solid.

One of only times I ever spoke to Canadian uber-sprinter Jeremy Wotherspoon, after doing some warm-up laps behind him, I remarked how smooth he was, he grinned & said “well, that is the trick ya’know.”

How many Augusts ago was this video taken? Romme is now retired, it’s August again, new people have power & glide of their own, and ice racing begins two months from now.