Competition, Stress, and Anxiety

We train, so we can compete, get results and validation for what we put into our sports, and ourselves.

When it comes to competition stress is involved.  That is a fact, or we would not be human.  How we handle it can have a very big impact on the outcome of our efforts.  Stress is a normal human response to fight or flight.  Our heart rates rise, body temperature goes up, our nerves are more sensitive, a rush of adrenaline, blood sugar rises, etc.  We are ready to go!  If we think stress is bad for us, it will be.  If we believe it is normal and we use it to prepare for competition then it is good for us.  Anxiety that can accompany stress is the bad part.  That is where we tighten up and cannot perform to the level that we have trained. Our minds work in nanoseconds .  I can tighten up in the middle of my downswing to hitting a golf ball.

It takes experience for all of us to learn how to handle stress and anxiety in the competitive environment.  We all have to learn for ourselves what works and what does not.  I have failed many times in the way I handle my anxiety.   By keeping alert to my own thoughts and making adjustments, I make progress.  My goal is to make stress an asset and keep the anxiety to a minimum

By practicing thought processes in my training I will be prepared for racing.  Visualization creates confidence in the plan, its execution, and ultimately me.  Thought processes are self-fulfilling prophecies.  We create environments to be successful or to fail.  It is up to us.  Positive reinforcing statements that are repeated to ourselves helps to set up our minds for positive outcomes.

Nothing can substitute for the real competition.  It is very important to be conscious to my thoughts before and during racing, building on what works and discarding what doesn’t.

We all carry baggage into battle.  Dropping the unnecessary stuff and making use of assets are the important part of the process.

Gratitude is the first and foremost  thought when I approach the starting line.  Knowing that I have done the prep work to compete is the next.  Adjusting as I go helps me be flexible to a changing environment.  Trusting that I will get the results I am supposed to get helps me stay in the moment and focused.  Then I stop thinking, get out of my own way, and set up the best possible outcome.

Talking with my coach or a trusted advisor can help me with this process.  Honesty about what is going on in my head is essential.  The more racing I do the better I get.  Each year has new perspective, goals, and challenges.  The view is constantly changing.

500 Meters race start US Single Distance Championships January 2012, Milwaukee, Wi, Photo by Steve Penland

500 Meters race start US Single Distance Championships January 2012, Milwaukee, Wi, Photo by Steve Penland

Yoga for Training and Recovery.

Yoga for Training and Recovery.

Since the Olympic trials in late December I have not been training intensely.  I train when I feel like it and do what I feel like doing.  I let my intuition guide me.  My focus has shifted dramatically.  After pushing hard for 9 consecutive seasons I have switched gears.

I have been working on my book a great deal and I am getting very close to publishing.  The last editing is being done now.  I will make an announcement soon as to the availability in print and electronically.

After the Olympic trials in late December I gradually decreased my volume and intensity of training.  If I stop suddenly my body revolts and I end up getting sick or injured.  I build up slowly and decrease slowly.

I have been conentrating on other things that are important in my life, consistent with my priorities.  Family, publishing my book, changing back to the 747 and consistent flights to Shanghai and Tokyo, and yard work is the current mix.

Biking, weights, easy jogging on a treadmill, yoga and yardwork are what I have been doing for physical stimulation.  Picking up a guitar and exploring music is possible when I do not train full time as well.

I have been drawn to yoga this spring for many reasons and the many benefits it offers.  Strength, flexibility, mindfulness, relaxation, etc.

Yoga for recovery and training is just what I need right now and when I feel the need I listen.

I hope you all have a great summer of training!

Yoga pose

Yoga pose


Happy Fathers Day!

Happy Fathers Day to my Dad

Here is a poem he wrote about me when I was about 16.  The setting is a frozen lake in the upper midwest.

Thanks Dad for everything!


Stark lean silhouette against a darkening sky
Measures effortlessly the ice in ten meter strides.
An imaginary track precisely surveyed in his mind
Guides his turn and glide strokes in mock slow motion.
Each movement carefully calculated to maximize the thrust
With arms reaching out, pulling back, swinging high behind.
Each foot under body center starts
Gigantic leg strokes too long for the horizontal torso.

Seventeen inch blades cut the ice subtly
So sharp they could easily shave the peach fuzz from his chin.
Breathing as measured as the pace stroke -and heart rhythmically beating to match. Muscles flexible in spite of the cold,
Straining to balance the relentless press of spirit.
Why does he stretch so? Who is he racing?
The other skaters are already laughing and drinking hot chocolate
Does he race Olympic ghosts McDermott and Blatchford?
Or is he chased by his own image?
And what does he hope to win? A fleeting flush of triumph?
A medal or trophy? A record someone will break tomorrow?
Or does he try to catch the goal of self respect
The lake ice is never smooth
With unforgiving cracks to keep his mind alert.
A chilling gust keeps balance honest.

Powdery shavings and grooves show other skaters have gone this way
Were all so highly motivated? Or so stubborn?
Did they feel the pleasant numbness-Not of cold but of tendons too stretched?

He counts six more full-effort laps.
Is this enough to beat the best?
Unsure, he fast-paces eight more.
A swirl of light snow blends with him at the far turn.
High flying geese seek a cornfield – not these icy shores.

Honk from a patient parent’s car calls him.
He slows, straightens, and circles to let the real world return.
H. W. Conner

With my Father Harold Conner at the rink in Salt Lake City, Utah

With my Father Harold Conner at the rink in Salt Lake City, Utah

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

When athletes ascend to the podium to receive medals, we rise on the shoulders of our support system. None of us can accomplish what we do without support. Parental support is desirable but not absolutely necessary. My brothers and I had the gift of compassionate, loving, and giving parents.

My parents instilled in my two brothers and I the idea that we could do anything we believed.

My mother was my biggest fan. Many times when I was growing up and competing, I would ask for some extra coaching, better skates, etc. Her answer was always, “Let’s find a way to make it happen.” Rarely did I—or my brothers—hear no.

My mother died in April 2000. She is still with me in my heart and soul today. I feel her presence now and know that she is very proud. Both of my parents have had a profound influence in my life. When I came back to skating around 1997, my mother gave me $300 for new skates. I could afford my own skates, but she knew how much I loved the sport and she wanted to see me skate again. Accepting her generous gift, I started skating again.

Even though my mother is gone, I still feel her presence and influence. One philosophy my mother passed on to my brothers and I was to try all sports and activities that we could until we found something that matched our spirit and physical capabilities. My brothers and I were all pretty good athletes. I tried a number of things before settling on speed skating. It suited me because I had great lower body strength, pretty fast running speed, and the stamina to do distance work. Since my younger brother Bart was only 21 months behind me in age, we were very competitive. Bart had great upper body strength and was great at being upside down, so gymnastics suited him. Mike, my youngest brother, was five years younger than me and had a great scrapper ability. He turned out to be a great short track speed skater.

When I was about 13 and my brother Mike was 8, our mother would also wake us up at 5:30 am two days a week to skate. Short track ice was hard to schedule when competing with hockey teams. The only time our Park Ridge Speed Skating Club could get ice was at 6-7 am Tuesday and Thursdays. I remember catching the bus to Junior High school at 8 am; my classmates were sleepy eyed still. I had already been up since 5:30, had breakfast, went to the rink, skated an hour practice, back home, changed, and walked to the bus stop. My mother was there for us every step of the way, not a hint of regret, just undying support. That was her job, and she did it with a smile on her face everyday. What my mother was doing then, helped us to be the people we are today.

One weekend our family had competitions all over the state of Illinois. Mike and I had a short track event in East St. Louis. We went with another skating family in our club. Bart had a gymnastics meet in Champaign; he was accompanied by my father. My mother had an Illinois state championship bowling tournament in Peoria. After the competitions were over, we met in Champaign Sunday evening to drive home together. After that weekend, my mother decided to put aside her competitive bowling for a few years. She did resume it when it was not so much of a conflict and when she could devote some time to practice again.

All of our support networks are based on the first and most important one with our mothers. The amazing marriage I have today with Maripat is one result.

I love you Mom, you’re the best!

Jackie Conner-Wolthausen           Jackie Conner-Wolthausen


24 Lessons From: “Faster As A Master”, Part Two

24 Lessons From: Faster As A Master Part Two

In my upcoming book “Faster As A Master” each chapter has a summarization of what I learned in the form of “Lessons:”

Here are the second twelve. Last week was the first twelve.

Each chapter has one or more stories, philosophies, and principles to illustrate my points. The statement of “Lessons:” is a summarization of what I have learned and apply to my journey of breaking down barriers and journeying toward wholeness.

Continued from last week…..

13. By enjoying the journey as well as the finish, I use goals as my vehicle forward to external and internal work toward wholeness.

14. Recognize and deal with the ego and emotions to your advantage.

15. Discipline to do bring my “A” game to everything I do, sets up the best outcomes.

16. Proper nutrition sets up the body and mind to do great work. Discipline with nutrition will pay great dividends internal and external.

17. Be coachable, find and foster a coach – athlete relationship.

18. Build the motor and learn how to apply it to your endeavor. Utilize the principles of, practice, warm-up, cool-down, volume, intensity, strength, cardio, periodization, stretching, mental training, and rest.

19. Prevention first, then apply RICE, learn from the event and move forward with changed expectations.

20. By continually reevaluating our plans and adapting we can uncover new ways to enjoy the journey and achieve our goals.

21. Competition can reveal our true selves providing growth and healing.

22. Balance is a great barometer for all parts of my life internal and external.

23. Honest mindful attention to my thinking will guide me through all of my internal and external activities toward wholeness.

24. Take the risk, keep moving with courage, practice gratitude for the journey toward wholeness.

Longs Peak Colrado

Longs Peak Colrado

24 Lessons From: Faster As A Master, Part One

24 Lessons From: Faster As A Master, Part One

In my upcoming book “Faster As A Master” each chapter has a summarization of what I learned in the form of “Lessons:”

Here are the first twelve. Next week I will publish the next twelve.

Each chapter has one or more stories, philosophies, and principles to illustrate my points. The statement of “Lessons:” is a summarization of what I have learned and apply to my journey of breaking down barriers and journeying toward wholeness.

1.  Keep moving, be mindful, and you will put yourself into positions that will be right for you.

2.  Core self esteem is built from within and is not based on performance but the effect of the     results on how we feel about ourselves.

3.  By taking small steps everyday we exercise courage to heal old wounds from within to become whole.

4.  We are not alone and have the benefit of many resources seen and unseen to help us past our barriers, internal and external.

5.  Ask for what you need to the universe, keep moving, and trust whatever comes your way is in your best interest.

6.  By breaking down barriers you can show yourself and the world that we are all more capable that we give ourselves credit.

7.  Keep moving in the direction of your goals, adjust as necessary to meet the present circumstances, accept what you cannot control, and trust you are on the right path.

8.  Define blocks to progress, figure out a way around them, set your goals, act, trust the path ahead.

9.  Getting better and going faster is more about intention and choices than age.

10.  Parental and Grandparent support comes in many forms and can be used throughout our lives.

11.  Our networks are wider than we know and can work in better ways than we can predict.

12.  Spousal support is extremely helpful and other support can come from almost anywhere I have spread good will.

Photo by Jerry Search

Photo by Jerry Search

Chinese Symbol for Courage

The Chinese Symbol for Courage

Thoughts on Sochi 2014

Thoughts on Sochi:

The results from these 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics for U.S. Skaters hadn’t dipped so low since Sarajevo 1984, when no medals were won. Typically the US Team has been winning, in a single Olympics, some more some less, in the area of 4 long track and 4 short track medals. To be shut out in long track and win only the relay in short track, is not only unusual, but is indicative of a deeper problem. Expectations were high and rightly so, because of World Cup results and US Championship results leading up to the games. The team had won 28 medals in 4 World Cups (19 at altitude, 9 at sea level), set 1 world record (altitude), 2 track records (lowland), many altitude personal bests, but a few lowland personal records also by comparison.

We all have support networks that we rely upon, but if there are limited resources, we are then forced to work within such limitations. In the US, the governing body is US Speedskating (USS). If you are selected to be on the National Team and choose to use the support, you must live and train in Salt Lake City (SLC) at altitude. You must also use the coaches provided to you by the organization.

The Sochi Olympics were contested at sea level. About a third of the Olympic team trains in Milwaukee (sea level) with independent coaching and virtually no support from USS. The fall World Cup trials as well as the Olympic trials were held in SLC 5/6 weeks prior to the opening of the Olympics in Sochi. This favored the SLC skaters to make the team and forced training in SLC which proved counterproductive for adjustment to Sochi type ice. There is a significant difference in effective skating technique in altitude versus sea level. There is also a physiological benefit to training at altitude and racing at sea level, but the physiological advantage declines in 1-3 weeks dependent on the altitude receptiveness of the athlete. The technical advantages that can be gained from pushing heavier lowland ice (arguably) are a greater advantage than that of the physiological advantage gained from altitude training that gradually loses its effectiveness once down from altitude.

Then there was the skin suit controversy. The clothing manufacturer Under Armor developed a new skin suit, but the US High Performance Team did not want to race test it for fear of losing an advantage of what they assumed to be a jump in technology over the competing teams. Because of testing blunders, there were features of this skin suit (still to be determined) that made it slower. It was erroneously tested on a mannequin as opposed to different sized athletes moving in their unique technique and styles. By having had race tested these suits earlier, such discrepancies would have been discovered and corrected. Unfortunately the negative effect of the suit (arguably adding drag) could have added a fatigue factor to the skaters legs during the first races in Sochi. Switching to their fall World Cup suits may have helped but there was no “control” factor for comparative analysis.

Another factor in the results was the requirement for the entire team, including independently coached skaters, to train at altitude on an outdoor rink in Italy 3 weeks before the games opened. The combination of outdoor ice and cold temperatures potentially drained skaters energy levels, initiating a fatigue that was followed by an inappropriate travel schedule that again was added upon by having to walk too much once in the Olympic village and venues. The Collabo conditions also potentially threw them off their game technically because of having to deal with the wind, cold, and ice of a different feel. For the Milwaukee skaters transitioning to altitude, there was that additional stress to challenged the body. All these factors can cause similar effects to over-training. Piggybacked on these stressors, several poorly planned travel times in the early morning, team processing, and a late sponsor dinner immediately following Italy added to the brewing perfect storm.

The basic principles of periodization, tapering, and complete recovery before an important competition were compromised here. In my training, I only make minor changes if necessary prior to racing. That principle was also violated considering the change of ice conditions in Sochi. It is easier to train at sea level ice which is ” heavier ice” and then transition to altitude ice which has more glide per stroke,  than the other way around. In addition, logistics must also be considered. After arriving at Sochi the unusual, relative to what the skaters are accustomed to, could have and should have been avoided using bikes. The Dutch, by comparison, had planned well ahead with 2 bikes per skater. The second week the US finally offered bikes to be purchased by the athletes, but then it was too late for recovery. The independent coaches had been speaking up, raising questions, and seriously challenging the compromising of these basic principles but to no avail. Unfortunately, both National Team and privately coached skaters paid the price with a once in a lifetime opportunity to shine at the Olympics …….wasted due to poor decisions by the High Performance Team and team management.

Thanks for the contributions to these thoughts on Sochi were made by
Nancy Swider-Peltz, Sr.

Sochi 2014 logo