Building A Network Of Support


I never understood what I had when I was growing up.  I thought  that what my brothers and I had, was normal.  I realize now, as an adult, it was exceptional.

Parents

As a masters athlete I need support.  When I see a champion on the top of the podium I know that they are standing on the shoulders of their support networks.  Support can come in many forms.  I think when I was growing up that the most important support was from my parents.  My father is still supporting me today, not only emotionally through encouragement but financially.  Because he wants to, and I let him.  My mother passed away in 2000, she is still with me always. I try to make my parents proud still.  I know that they are.

Spouse

My wife is the most essential person in my line of my support.  Without her support most of what I do would not be possible. She holds me up when I need it.  I hold her up when she needs it too.  It goes both ways.  Since we share everything, then she must share in the victories too.  We try to share the journey as well.  I train very hard for a very long time for a few minutes of racing each year.  I spend a lot of time everyday preparing to train.  Clean workout clothes, shopping and food preparation, driving 75 miles each way to the rink in Milwaukee three times a week.  The list goes on.  Health maintenance, maintaining a home, keeping focus on what is important, God, family, work ,recreation.  Maripat helps me keep balanced with all these. She does so much of the behind the scenes work, so I can concentrate on training and competing.  Shared goals, balancing of priorities and time, are essential to having support from your spouse.

Coach

My coach helps me keep balanced as well between the intense training, recovery and rest.  She is also a great friend that I can talk to about anything. She has the technical knowledge and wisdom to apply it to my situation.

Children

I am reminded of the movie “The Rookie”.  This movie was on television the other day and I had to sit down to watch it.  It has so many important messages.  One of the most important part for me was when the Dad, a middle-aged rookie pro-baseball player, was going to call it quits and come home.  His wife reminded him of what would his young son think and what would he take away from his action.  The Dad then re-thought his decision and decided to stay with the farm team and see where he could go.  He wanted to show his son what was important to him.  Perseverance, dedication, courage, discipline, goal setting and follow through were some of the qualities that he demonstrated to his son.  My kids learn way more from what I do than what I say. This is how my kids can provide me with the motivation I need for my own support.

Fellow Athletes and Training Partners

I need to belong to a tribe of like-minded athletes who train like I do.  I am so grateful that I have a great group of Olympians to train and skate with.  They help keep me young.  I can almost do the volume they do I just need a longer set rest.  I try to bring some of my wisdom to the group.  I am not their coach but I can listen and help in ways that our coach cannot.   What I get out of this group is way more than what I bring,  We all share and benefit in the process.

I wish my fellow competitors and peers good luck.  I want them to do their best.  I try to do my best, and the outcome is, as it should be.  The outcome of a race was probably decided months before, based upon workload volume, training, techniques, talent, focus, and a host of other factors.  The execution of a race on the spot is important, but being faster than someone who is not at their best is no victory.  I compete more against myself than anyone else. So the important point here is that the support of my peers can be very valuable in a number of ways.  It is hard to quantify what that support can mean.  I am more relaxed and perform more to my capabilities when I am not conflicted.  When I have the support of the people around me including my peers then I tend to do better.  If I want respect from my peers then I must give respect and earn what they give me.

Mental Support

When I consider that everything I do starts with a thought, then it is important to look at the health of my thought process. My inner thought life is inextricably connected to my outer life. I have a number of resources that I have developed over the years to support my mental state.  One the most important things I have learned is that I am not alone in my quest in this life.  I have a relationship with a higher power that I call GOD.  I believe in an underlying collective unconscious pattern to the universe.  In this way I have connected to some men that help me to discover the essence of this connection to all around me so that I do not feel alone.  This is very comforting to me as well as provides avenues for knowledge, wisdom, and growth.

Health Professionals

I have a whole slew of people who help keep me on track to my goals.  They all know my goals and are grateful to help in my endeavors.  I enlist their support not just from their professional knowledge but their friendship through a shared vision for the goal of being as healthy as possible.  I appreciate all their input on my journey.

Volunteers

Speed skating requires a lot of volunteers to run the competitions.  I am very grateful to all the people who donate their time to help in running the sports that I participate in.  When I am running a race like a 5K, I thank the volunteers that hand out water, check me in, compile the race data, clean up, etc.  These are people who give their time so I can do what I love.  I need to recognize their contribution.  I also run a competition each year and this is my way of giving back to all those who have helped me.

Employers

I need to also enlist the support of my employer.  I may need time off for an important competition.  I may ask for sponsorship.  I need to have a relationship with my employer to be able to ask for what I need.  As a result of being a masters athlete I am a better employee.  I am better focused, goal oriented, productive, and a good example to others.  In my case I have been told I am a credit to my profession.  That goes a long way in the benefits section of the relationship with my company and public perception.

Network Building

What I have described is what we all have to a certain degree.  As part of my journey towards a goal is to develop and foster this network.  In turn, the network supports me.  It usually comes back to me in many ways better than I could have imagined.

I would love to hear stories about your networks of support!  Please share your experience so we can all benefit!

Bruce Conner, Nancy Swider-Peltz, Jr (Vancouver 2010 Olympian and one of my training partners), and Maripat Conner (my wife) at the Olympian send off for Vancouver 2010!

Overtraining


In my last post I talked about training cycles.  I got some great replies.  One was about balance.  One was about work, recover, rest, and repeat.

This post is about going overboard.  I have a tendency to overtrain.  I know a lot of highly motived people who do.  Hard training can be very addictive.  I have had three distinct times in my life where I have physically overtrained.  The first was when I was 19.  Back in the fall of 1975 I went to The Netherlands to train for the upcoming Olympic trials.  I did know anything about tapering before a competition.  I ran myself into the ground by working overly hard right up to the competition.  My race times were actually slowing down as I approached the trials.  I retired from the sport right after the trials and did not put on skates again for 12 years.  I did not return to the ice and skating, even for fun, for over 20 years.  I was burned out and overtrained.  My legs ached everyday for about 18 months after.

I did the same thing to a lesser degree just two years ago and had to take 5 weeks off from the middle of October to the end of November.  In this instance I did a lot of weight work and not enough recovery work in between.  I did not have a coach at the time of each occurrence.  Coincidence?  Maybe not.

I am currently having another bout with overtraining.  I have a coach this time.  We are being very aggressive about facilitating my recovery.  I tend to go to extremes.  It is in my nature, I know that.  I have surrounded myself with people who can help me avoid this.  I still need to be as honest as I can with myself.

Being sore is part of the landscape, being tired is also part of my training life.  Deep down fatigue is not.  When I lose the pop, when I lose my gratitude for the ability to do what I love, that is the difference.  Then I must recognize a fundamental change has happened and strive to fix it and move on, all the while evaluating why I let this happen again so I can see it coming next time.

How did this happen?  I will only be able to see this issue accurately by looking backwards.  I can tell you the circumstances and what I feel went wrong and why I did this to myself.  Every time this has happened it is different.    The common denominator is me of course.  I did this , I am responsible for what I have done.  Once I have time to look back I can analyze and make changes for the future.

In the past, I used a number of resources to gauge my training load.  The first is my own body feedback.  Probably the most important question I can ask myself is how am I feeling?  Sometimes that is a complex question. Unfortunately my own denial gets in the way.  My coach asks a very important question when I talk to her. “How are you?” It is a question that I have to be honest about.  If I am honest, then I can make good decisions about adjusting my training to get the most out of what I put into this work. Another method of physical feedback is taking my pulse right after I wake up and before I get out of bed.  I now have added a device to my feedback loop that comes from a company called ithlete. http://www.myithlete.com. It takes place of my first morning pulse.  It can measure my state of rest, recovery,and fitness and can give me a numerical value.  It deals with the relationship of breathing and heart rate.  It can help validate how I am feeling and give me some better direction for the decision to train hard, train normally, take it easy, or just rest.  Unfortunately my device is not available right now so I must make my judgements by feeling.  When I feel fatigued, I know it.  Sometimes I have to hit the wall before I know it.  My ego gets in the way of my own vision.

The most important part now, is making changes to recover.  I have stopped all intense work.  For me that means anything that creates more fatigue is bad.  What works for me is stationary bike at low intensity (so low I may not break a sweat), walking, rolling my legs with a roller, saunas and ice baths, getting my feet up as much as possible, sleep, getting a massage, etc.  I must work very hard ( I am good at that ) at recovery now.  I will start skating again with very low intensity in a week or so, I don’t need to make that decision today.  In fact I am taking this day by day and adjusting as I go.  That is the physical side.  I also need to look at my mental, emotional and spiritual sides.  I need to tend to those aspects of my life that are out of balance.  I need to look at my stress levels and how I am handling them.  Am I using all the tools available to me? I can get carried away with my training. I think I am fine, I think I am addressing those other parts of myself but my denial gets in my way.  I tell myself I am fine,  I can be addicted to the high intensity work and focus.  I get wrapped up in the results and forget about the journey.  I just got a great big reminder to stop, sit down (literally) and look around.    Hopefully I can recover in a few days.  I am not in charge of the results of this process.  I am in charge of what I can do today.  I trust that if I do what I can today then the answers will come in time.  That is true for me in all aspects of my life not just skating and training.

I am also reminded to be grateful for what I have and where I am.  This attitude changes my perspective as well as my possible solutions going forward.

Bruce, have a seat, we need to talk.

500 meter race just after start, Masters US Single Dist Championships January 2012, photo by Steve Penland

Training Cycles, Macro and Micro


It has been my experience that training has its cycles.  I will talk about the start from the macro cycle of the 4 year Olympic cycle all the way down to the micro cycle within a workout.

There is a reason that the Olympics are every 4 years.  I have been through 2 complete cycles recently now and can attest to the natural flow that it takes.  After an Olympic year we all need a break from the  intense training.  There is a natural need for a less intense season.  Then the build up can continue again towards the next Olympic year.  We all need a break physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.  Some of the elite repeat Olympians can take a year or so off, usually doing something else, then can come back to their prime sport a year or two prior to the Olympic year.

My competition on ice season starts in September and ends in March.  After my season is over in March,  I take a couple of months off and start off ice training again in preparation to get back on the ice in the fall.   My couple of months off consists of mostly recovery work and fun stuff.  I do a lot of low intensity bike work, tennis , golf, swimming, etc.

When I start-up the training again I try to increase gradually and go hard for 3 weeks and easy for 1 week. The easy week is very important for my body to have some continuous recovery.  Without a break I can run into over training and be susceptible to injury and illness.

During my competition season I need to be able to peak at the right time.  This requires an easy week or two prior to the competition.  The longer the hard training period the longer the taper prior to the competition.  The taper is done by keeping the intensity but reducing the volume.

In a weekly cycle I may go hard all week and take Sundays off.  Sometimes I may go hard for two days and take an easy recovery day between.  I still need to get in a certain amount of cardio training, strength, and skating in every week.

Even within a single workout I have cycles.  After the warmup and into the meat of a workout I cycle between intense work then rest and recovery.  Sometimes this comes in the form of intervals.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a single maximum effort followed by rest.  I do a number of different kinds of workouts with this in mind depending on what the objective I am trying to obtain.  At the end of the workout I finish the cycle by cooling down and stretching.

So what do I do with this information?  I can set up my training plan for the 4 year cycle, yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily.  I can revise it accordingly to fit my needs, desires, competitions and reactions to my training feedback and recovery.

Remember, work, recovery, rest, repeat.

The Native American indians have a philosophy about circles, all I have to do is respect the circles and cycles.  The circle represents the sun, the moon, the cycles of the seasons, and the cycle of life.

Masters Us Single Dist Championships January 2012, photo by Steve Penland

Our Authentic Selves, What moves you?


I was watching one of my favorite movies Saturday night.  “The Legend Of Bagger Vance“.  It reminded me of some very important lessons I have learned.

I have found what I love to do.  I have a passion for it.  I love every part of the process.

What do you love to do?  What are you passionate about?

Tell me about it.  Then show me by sending me photos.  I want to compile a photo album of what we all do and have a passion for.  I will display the photos for all of us to see. Please send them to brucewconner@gmail.com.

I would love to see about your activities, what ever they are.  Is it finishing up a run when the sun rises, crossing the finish line of a marathon, catching the perfect wave, running, cycling, tri-athletes, rollerblading, cross-country skiing, swimming, trail running, skiing, skating, etc, etc.

I want to see what moves you and what you are passionate about!

Bruce Conner 500 meter race just after start. Masters Us Single Dist Championships, January 2012, Photo by Steve Penland

Validation!


I make a hundred or more decisions everyday that affect my health, happiness, peace and serenity.  I know that because of all those decisions I am healthier, happier, more at peace and serene.  I do look for some external validation that I am on the right track.  I am human. I can admit that.

One of the ways I get feedback is through my speed skating performance.  Speed skating is a great mirror for my life.  Physical preparation is essential. Physical execution is necessary too.  Mental preparation is also important for execution.  I need to manage my emotional state to get the best results.  I also need to trust in my spiritual life.  This gives me the deep down trust that I am on the right track and that my priorities are right.  I feel very strongly that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do.

Saturday morning I arose at 4am. Drive 75 miles to Milwaukee to start my pre race warm up off ice at 6:45.  On ice warm up at 7:30 to 8am. Racing starts at 8:30.   I was in the 11th pair of the 500 meter race.  I have the inner lane with Brandon Molenda (14 years old) in the outer.  Clean start, he is in front for about the first 30 meters.  I am able to get low, lengthen my stroke and pass him.  I never saw him again.  I opened with a 11.06 first 100 meters.  I felt good on the first inner turn.  Crossed over on the backstrech feeling low and connecting to each stroke.  I was feeling some lactic acid at this point in my legs.  I set up the last outer turn.  I was a little unsteady early but settled in for some good pressure.  Exiting the turn, careful not to look too far down the final 100 meters and stay with each stroke.  I look up at the scoreboard after crossing the finish line, lap time was 28.93 and a final time of 39.99.  This was the best start to a season for me, ever.  My pair set a personal best, good for him.  I congratulate him on a fine effort. I suspect I gave him something to shoot for.

A couple of easy laps to start to flush the legs.  Warm ups back on and a short rest before the 1000 meter race.  The ice is being resurfaced, coaches and officials get to take a little break.  This is all a normal Saturday morning in Milwaukee.

Back on the stationary bike and some stretching to keep warm and loose.

I end up with about 40 minutes between races.  When I get back on the ice my coach Nancy Swider-Peltz Sr stops me to talk about the strategy for the 1000.

I am in the 7th pair with Bill Armstrong a fellow master, in the outer lane, and I am starting on the inner lane.

I open with a 18.99 first 200 meters, crank out a 29.90 next, then hang on for a 31.40 final lap and a time of 1:20.29.  Again, my best start to a season in the 1000, ever.  Physical validation that I am on the right track with my decisions and priorities.  I have set my goals as you have seen in my recent blog posts.  I am clearly on my way to achieving my goals.  I will get faster as the season progresses.  I am grateful for the support of my wife and support network I have constructed.

The principles I am talking about here are universal and can be applied to any endeavor sports or anything else.

I invite you to share any comments or stories that relate to my story.  Lets share our inspiration and information as enthusiastic motivated masters athletes!

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