Building/Water/Ice

In the building known as the Utah Olympic oval- (my favorite picture I’ve ever taken of it, august 25th, 2006)

there are emotions building, a sensation in the air like a strong heartbeat awakening during a warmup.

Training groups are that one notch more intense, people are more focused, fitter than ever. This is an Olympic year, and you can feel it.

The short track national team is one of many groups who are training crazy hard. Travis Jayner told me it’s been some of the hardest weeks he has ever experienced. In this picture is ice, free standing water; determined human bodies who average 61.8 percent water content by weight whipping around & around.

Reflected in the water, the reason for this building to exist.

over the shoulders of the athletes themselves, it always hangs, those Olympic rings on the wall-

These are some of the young sprinters from Kip Carpenter’s Milwaukee based Swift Speedskating team.

I’ve been tagging along at the back of this group ‘O studs for some intense workouts, and one would never know that at the end of the day, these athletes will be competing with each other for Olympic team slots.

There is an intense community among this group, and among the wider society of skaters at the oval. The friendships are obvious, as well as the stress that comes from a competitive environment that is all focused onto a few days of racing.

When Speedskating is good, it’s really good, but when you aren’t going well, it’s a hard road.

Maybe the goal of skating ridiculously fast in a frozen circle warps all who attempt this circumnavigation. But I know one thing for sure, when you have ambitious goals, it’s easier when you have “Swift” friends along for the journey.

Thanks Bruce!

At the elite level of speedskating, 99% of athletes use custom made carbon fiber boots. A perfect fit is an absolute necessity when trying to push hard while balancing on 1mm of steel at 30+ mph (add in gallons of lactic acid induced haze for more fun). Custom boots are even more important if you have unusual feet like I do.

If you read this blog by visiting the website, you might have noticed the dancing skeleton on the right. This is because of my long time relationship with the mad scientist of carbon fiber, Bruce Kohen. If you using an RSS reader, you might not have seen it. So here it is

Bruce has made me several pairs of boots over the years, trying for that perfect fit, balance point and push. At this point, he “knows my feet”.

here he is, molding my feet, at the short track world cup last year.

In fact, as he started the drive back from Utah to Missouri, he had a whole trunk full of feet.

and notebooks full of detailed measurements from skater’s boots. Here he was noticing some unusual positioning of my right blade, and he is modifying the mounting placement because of it.

Then, it what could be a strange scene from a horror movie, he took those casts from his trunk, and remade our feet in his workshop. There are quite a few very fast feet here.

In the post I made for my last pair of boots, you could see my feet baking in the oven. This time I just got a picture of the carbon fibre casts. There are my funky hammer toes, my high arch & narrow ankles not so clear in the photo.

And here is the final product, with blade attached & on the ice!!! The lace cover is actually a hologram, it moves depending on the light. The important thing is they skate wonderfully well..

Most skaters pick out the color/design of their boots. For my last 2 pairs, I’ve asked Bruce to pick out the design based on a question. Last pair the question was “what would Darth Vader do” This time question I wanted him to answer for these boots was “What would Pink Floyd do?”

Bruce must have been listening to the early albums, so I now have Psychedelic boots. I call them the “Floydships”. Because there is a hologram of a spaceship on the heel, and when I look at them, I think of the song “Set the controls for the heart of the sun“.

This is my 3rd pair of Kohens. They all have distinctive personalities. Bruce’s work is wearable art. Here are all of them in a line reflecting the scorching Utah sun.

Why 3 pairs of boots?

Top Pair: The “Disco Snails”. My first pair of boots from Bruce. Scary fast on the ice, but Bruce did not “believe” that my toes were as weird as they were, so the forefoot fit was off. To use these I have to tighten the laces so much, as everyday boots my tendons get irritated. However I have skated my fastest 500m & 1000m races in these because of the toe ramps. I might end up one them again, they are scary fast.

The blades on here used to be Kreg Greer’s. I am sure they miss him. Kreg can actually SKATE short track. I just flounce around & try hard.

Middle Pair: The new “Floydships”, so far so good. They seem fast, light, and everyone notices the lace cover. Have not done a flying lap in them yet, so we shall see if they turn out “fast”. There is not a “toe” raise, it’s more “ball of the foot” raise.

Bottom Pair: The “Vader Kroners”. I wanted something black & shiny, and with a particular Norwegian Kroner embedded in the heel. These boots are incredibly comfortable, and are fantastic inline boots, and do distance long track ice very well. I set my 1500m, 3k, 5k, & 10k PB in these, and raced respectably well at the Napa Inline Marathon a few years back. (Photo link here)

However I discovered that the toe ramps on the Disco Snails made me faster, and the Vader Kroner’s have flat-oriented feet. Great for inline, not so great for ice sprinting.

Here is a detail on the heels, and the holograms that Bruce puts in there. You can really see the swirling Nautilus/Snail pattern, the Spaceship, and the Kroners quite clearly.

Although 3 pairs of boots might seem a lot, all 3 boots together is cheaper than a high end carbon fiber road racing bicycle, and given how much of my heart & soul have gone into speedskating, it is a worthwhile investment, and repaid with the joy I get from skating these amazing intersections of engineering and art.

Thanks Bruce!!

Afterglow

Yeah, that’s me, chasing myself in a sequence from the amazing magical camera of Kim Kraan … I don’t “feel” like this when I skate… I usually more feel like this Bugs Bunny villan, Gossamer the monster. Just a shambling mound of red fur galoomphing about.

But digital pixels don’t lie until they meet Mr Photoshop (then you can make them lie).

Maybe I am actually figuring out something about skating. It just feels like “home” physically.

The last few weeks I’ve been back at training with a vengeance. It helped that my friend Kirk came out to Salt Lake for a weekend, and we skated & skated & skated. The long track has been open this week, and although inline is fun, I’m a long tracker at heart.

Thanks for the inspiration Kirk…

My muscles are glowing like hot embers after a bonfire. Accels, laps, drills, it was wonderful. There is just something about long track. Even though all I see are flaws when I review video of technique, It’s just so much fun

US Sprint Champ Heather Richardson was on the ice as well, getting an easy skate in before heading on up to Vancouver for a training camp. I like her push direction here, left leg especially, you can see what direction her pressure was being applied.

Heather will be the first to stay that technique is a wonderful & maddening thing to continually be working on, no matter what level one is skating at.

It’s hard not to be rough on oneself in the beginning of an ice season, as you remember what it feels like when you are ON, and you know how much work it will take to get there again.

Heather was smiling on the ice today, looking forward to the hard work. Is there something right with us? or wrong?

The slideboard at the oval greeted me like an old friend. We got right down to business. My 1987 Pink Floyd concert T-shirt says “Learning to fly” on the back. Seem appropriate.

Maybe what being a “Speedskater” truly is, is not a measure of speed or physical fitness, but a relentless attitude towards improving, bit by bit, year by year, of striving towards a goal that even if you attain it, is a fleeting instant of execution.

Make the effort of the journey is as sweet as the moments it all comes together, and you can get quite addicted to this little sport. Perfectional velocity? hmmmm.

Again, there is something very right, or very wrong, about this sport and the people who do it.

Coffee Truckjacking & Crawling


This made me very happy… The idea of a whole tanker truck full of coffee!

Hijacking a truck was something that had never crossed my mind before. I sent this picture to my brother, and he texted back:

“Go get em! I’m on my way with a SWAT team!”

And I am going to need the extra coffee… Today my daughter figured out how to crawl!!

RZ has been verging on this for some time, and then all at once, she FIGURED IT OUT, and now we have a little carpet torpedo scurrying around.

Her first destination was the Dog’s water dish for some splashing. Her second target was chasing the cats. The cats were less than amused by this.

But the most attractive lure was our cel phones. They are bright, shiny, and one of the few things that can briefly pull our attention away from her. The cel phones are now known as “baby bait”. Evidence is below.

Thou shall not ride!

Not only did this screw drive right through my tire, tire liner (it hit the spot where my liner overlapped, so a double thickness tire liner!) and the tube, but it tore the snot out of the rim strip too..

I almost needed a Philips head screwdriver to get it out. I did make it home, gingerly, with a 5-dollar bill as a tire boot.

On the subject of using the bike for skate training, I find that when I am skating, my bike riding position tends to change in these subtle ways

  • Reach to handlebars is a little shorter
  • Seat schooches forwards
  • Hip are rotated forward, instead of down
  • Curled skater “cat back” instead of bike racer “flat black”
  • Saddle lowered a bit

Its not an efficient way to ride, but it “feels” right.

Do other skaters find this as well? Or am I just the princess imagining the pea?

TOMORROW!

Tomorrow the Utah Olympic oval long track opens! Whoo-Hoo!

Thanks to Brian Boudreau for these images. The fascinating thing about this first one is what looks like a rug laying on the ice is actually a stencil, and they are spraying on the “Fastest Ice On Earth” logo onto a lower layer of ice.

In this next one, you can see the odd pebbly consistency to the ice as they are laying it, and the “tack” they are using to hold down the rope marking the boundary of the edge

Thanks to Scott, and all the Oval staff. It’s about a 2 week process to lay the ice, and the athletes truly do appreciate it.

I remember hearing that the ice is put on in 17 separate layers! With as much time as it takes, I believe it.

The photographer of these images, Brian Boudreau, has been training crazy hard on the short track all summer, and looks skinnier & fitter than I have ever seen him.

All I have to say is that truly look forward to training with him, & cheering him on this winter. He is going to be so scary strong, I’m glad we are not in the same age category at masters worlds!

No Roadmap

Morning sun bright, spilling into the Salt Lake Valley. Riding into work via my normal route, a line appears on the asphalt that has not been there before.

Hmmmm… I start daydreaming, thinking of the inner lane at the 400m oval. My pace picks up. The line is a guide, it’s the edge of a fast lap in a race, the line is the edge of my life.

Next thing I know, I’m clipping along race pace, that pleasure-pain Masohedonist part of the athletes brain alive & glittering-

It’s the last lap of the 1000m at Masters sprint worlds, I’m earning the strength for it right here, right now.

Then I look up.

This new bike lane is being created only moments ahead of me.

Lines to follow are only useful to a certain extent. Daydreaming about racing is only useful to a certain extent. Sometimes the lines disappear, or the smooth road ends, and you must forge your own path. Not just the road less traveled, but at times you must make your own road.

Arriving at work, I dismount off the bike, lungs still tinged with fire, and unsteadily clack into the office in my cycling shoes, starting another day at the keyboard.

Moon Training

In Pete Vordenberg’s book “Momentum: chasing the Olympic dream” one of his coaches used to yell at his team: “You gotta want it! And if your want it bad enough, you can train on the moon”.

For a long time, I did not live near an oval or other speedskaters, I was alone, training my brains out in the hills of Ithaca, N.Y., far from the ice.

It was moon training, and I loved it. Things are different now, but the challenge is no less. Being a dad is a major relocation to a different part of the Solar system, a part where you are absolutely not the gravitational center.

But where there’s a will, there often is a way.

I’ve been hitting the dryland pretty hard recently, and it’s nice to feel the skating muscles waking back up, even with goofy 4 wheelers on my feet, it’s still skating.

RZ was sticking her feet up into the air, spreading her toes into the breeze, and making happy cooing noises as we zipped along together. Later in the day, I had a chat with National Team member Pat Meek, he was exhausted from a day containing a brutal short track workout, followed by weights.

I was jealous, for a few moments. I don’t live on the planet of full time training like I used to. But that is ok. (oh, and Kirk, you were so right! you CAN double-push while pushing a baby stroller!)

7:30am

7:30am, in the park, warmed up & starting a dryland workout…

The baby is joyously learning how to crawl on a blanket near me, and making noises that sound more happy baby Pterodactyl than human.

I start a set of bounding hops, thinking about the upcoming season, imagining myself on the ice during important races. Under 4 months till Olympic trials, and I need to get my butt in gear.

Behind me, I hear my little Arzelia start chuckling & laughing at her silly, silly daddy.