The Love of a Father and a priceless poem

In the spirit of family, holidays, and Thanksgiving I am reminded about my family and about my father.  He is 81 now and doing great.  I am so grateful he is my Dad.  He has been, and continues to be, a great influence in my life.

Here is a poem that he wrote about me when I was about 16 years old.  I do not know if I became this person or he saw me for who I really am.  It rings true for me today, and it moves me every time I read it.  The setting is a frozen lake in the upper midwest.


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

One of my favorite parts is the passage about self-esteem, self-respect and self-image.

I have come to believe that this is part of my struggle.  I want to please my father but the core precept is of my own self respect.  So I must earn my own respect, somehow.  Sports and specifically speed skating has provided the perfect method for me to do just that.  Working on my own self esteem through doing esteemable things was the ticket.  It has taken me a long time to understand this.  Then acting on it without fear was even more risky.  But I had learned that taking that risk has huge rewards.  Breaking down those old barriers was the key to the door.  Then I had to walk through the door and execute my plan.  The result is that I am able to build my own self esteem.  This is the only kind that really counts.  This permanent foundation building is essential to my happy, peaceful, serene life today.  It helps me figure out who I am, and be comfortable in my own skin.  It helps me set the priorities in my life.  Having my priorities is essential in making the big as well as the small daily decisions.

Thanks Dad.

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

Injuries and Prevention

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  This a special time to celebrate the act of gratitude for all we have, seen and unseen.

First of all I would like to say that I did not get enough responses to the question about the best between meal snacks to award a winner. I did get a couple of suggestions regarding what to use during workouts to keep hydrated and good energy. Grape Juice, and coconut water were two suggestions.

Injuries and Prevention

I would like to cover a subject that is as the forefront of most master athletes and even younger athletes as well. The key is prevention, prevention, prevention.

I will talk about my methods of prevention. In another post I will talk about what to do if I am injured and the process of recovery.

Probably the most important part of training is increasing my volume and intensity very slowly. Every-time I get hurt it usually stems from this facet of my training. I realize I am a very motivated person. I tend to go overboard. My ego tells me I can do it. My body responds differently. I have goals that help drive me. The key is to not let the ego and the goals drive me too much that I go overboard.

I keep track of my workouts. This is essential. I always have a record and know where I am. I know how much I run, cycle, what my last interval set looked like. I keep track sometimes using heart rate as a measure. Sometimes it is the relative effort. On a scale of 0-10 I rate my effort. When I do weights, I keep track of the weight, sets, reps, time, etc,

With this baseline I can be careful to increase very gradually. The second component is taking into account my present overall feeling at the moment of effort. How do I feel today, right now. Everyone has a normal built-in biological cushion when our brains tell us to back off before we hurt ourselves. My job as an athlete is to make that cushion as small as possible. I strive for that physically, mentally, and emotionally. That is part of my training too. I know in my gut when I have it and when I don’t. It takes time to learn this so be patient. I use my ithlete measurement in the morning as additional feedback to gauge how hard I can go today.

Overall body strength is important. I lift weights that help my entire body, not just what I need for skating, etc. This helps my overall bone structure, ligaments and tendons. This is probably my next best prevention. This what I do on a macro scale.

On a micro scale, or what do I do in a particular workout? First, I warm up thoroughly before any hard effort. I like to run or bike for about 10 minutes even before I stretch. My muscles, tendons and ligaments are like rubber bands. If I stretch cold rubber it will tear and break. So I get up to an operating temperature first. Then I do some dynamic (moving) stretching for a few minutes to get full range of motion only. Then I do some static stretching. For these stretches I only hold for about 10 seconds. Again only for full range of motion. Then onto the workout. Most people do not work hard enough to get benefit from the intense work, and do their easy work too hard to make it recovery work. My work is very intense, or recovery. Anything else for me is counterproductive.

After the hard work, I must cool down. I usually build up a great deal of lactic acid during my intense training. I need to flush now. On the bike for a minimum of 20 and usually 30 minutes. Heart rate is low (110), for me this is a recovery or flush work. Then I do my static stretching routine. These stretches are held for 30 seconds to increase flexibility as much as possible. I have found this is a great injury preventer. If I have to shorten my time of training I will never skimp on the warmup process or cool-down. These are essential elements that cannot be compromised or I will pay the price later.

So in between my intense work I do recovery work. This for me is stationary bike at low (110) heart rate for an hour and static stretching after.  Sometimes recovery work can be a massage, a walk, easy jogging, yoga, easy swimming, sauna, cold tub, etc. Find what works for you.

I also roll my legs with “The Stick” every night after training and before bed for recovery. This is a device that substitutes for a massage. This helps recovery overnight for the next day. I also try to get a massage every week as well.

I would like to hear from you about your ideas and routines for injury prevention. Let share our ideas!!! Tell me what works for you!

One day after Knee surgery July 2009, 3 months before US Olympic trials.

Nutrition, What I would tell my 19-year-old self

Update:  I would like to know from all of you what you would like this site to look like in terms of content.  Please let me know what you would like for me to write about.  I can do more personal information, training tips and techniques, or stories.  Chime in about what is important to you, Speak UP!!! I would like this to be an exchange of information among us.  Please click on the comment link below this post and he heard!  This is your site too!!!

Nutrition, What I would tell my 19-year-old self.

If you want to fly a jet you must put jet fuel in the tank.

I want to tell my 19-year-old self back in 1975 what I have learned about nutrition.  Like a reverse time capsule.

The lessons I have learned have been mostly through trial and error.  I am the expert on my body, how I respond, and grow.

My wife Maripat is instrumental in my nutritional support.  She does a great job of looking out for me, keeping me balanced and adding variety.  About 4 years ago I did a nutritional analysis.  I sent a sports nutrition expert a one week food diary, my workload, and my body composition analysis.  The conclusion was that I was getting exactly what I needed and in the right proportions.  I was taking a protein supplement at the time.  The supplement was over and above what I needed.  I was afraid I was not getting enough protein from my diet.  When I was not eating well, l I needed the supplement.  As I started eating better, the supplement  was not needed and was in fact hurting me.  I was having kidney, liver, and bladder issues.  It took about a year for my body to be re-balanced after I stopped the supplement.

I am going to use an example of my normal routine and what I have learned through the process.  I live in a suburb of Chicago.  The skating rink that I train at in Milwaukee is 75 miles away.  The drive takes about 90 minutes in the morning.

I wake up at 5am and take my heart readings with my ithlete device.  This device tells me how well rested I am, and how hard I can train today.  Then I start the coffee and get ready to leave.  I eat breakfast at 6:15 and in the car by 6:30.  Breakfast is usually granola cereal, oatmeal, or eggs.  I sip coffee on the drive.  I arrive at the rink about 8 am and start the warmup process.  I do stationary bike, dynamic stretch, static stretch, some slide-board, and imitation turn strokes.  Then I change into my skin-suit to get onto the ice.  I am on the ice around 9am.  It has been almost 3 hours since I ate breakfast.  I eat half a banana as I walk a short distance through the tunnel to the ice.  I have found out the hard way that if I do not fuel now I will surely bonk in about 30 minutes.  My ice workout usually lasts about 90 minutes. When I train on the ice I am doing warm-up laps, technical work, intervals, sprints, etc. I sip water with some natural grape juice mixed in for a little flavor and sugar.

When I am doing anything for more that 20 minutes I need some type of liquid that not just replenished my fluids but adds sugar as well.  When I am doing long runs or a triathlon I need to consume something besides water every 20 minutes or so like “GU” or I run out of gas.  I have tried Gatorade, etc, but water with a little grape juice works best for me.

Then after I get off the ice I immediately eat the other half of my banana.  I need to start refueling right away or my body will start eating its own muscle to replace the glycogen I just burned.  The last part of my workout on the ice starts the flushing process of the lactic acid I have built up during the workout.

Then I change out of my skin suit and into bike shorts and I am on the stationary bike again for 30 minutes at low heart rate (110 for me) to continue the flush and I keep sipping my water.  After the bike cool down, I do my static stretching for increased flexibility and injury prevention.  Then I change for the drive home.

Next I head for a restaurant.  I like a burrito with no tortilla, rice, black beans, chicken, lettuce, cheese, and guacamole.  The guacamole is a good fat to help with the protein absorption.  If I wait till I get home to eat, my body will eat its own muscle to replace the glycogen.  That would be counter productive. I need to eat now, not later.  The banana that I had coming off the ice held me over till I could get something more substantial.

This is what has worked for me.  My mantra has become, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.  I got that from a book called “In Defence Of Food”.

I make several dozen decisions every day that affect my heath and they are mostly around food.  I am healthier than ever.  This in turn affects my skating performance in measurable ways.  This example illustrates many important applications of my nutrition strategy.

Bruce, my 19-year-old self, line up on the centerline of the runway, release the brakes, push the throttles forward and get ready for takeoff.

I would love to hear from you what is your best snack between meals!  I will announce which is the most popular.  Please chime in and be heard!

P.S. I have turned the corner with my over-training and am back on track, training harder, and ready to race again soon…

Bruce and our dog Lilly on our front deck, she is a Yellow Lab mix 85 lbs, about 15 months old and adopted 6 months ago. Who rescued who?

Breaking Down Barriers

First of all I want to congratulate all of my fellow skaters competing in the US Single Distance Championships and American Cup in Milwaukee this weekend.  All of you deserve a hand for the hard work, preparations and execution of your racing.  I wish I could have competed on the fast ice amid the great racing, track records and many personal best times.  I will be racing again soon after I recover from my over-training.  I am making good progress.

Also, my thoughts and prayers to all those that have been affected by hurricane Sandy.

Common knowledge says we get slower as we age.  I have blown that concept completely out of the water.   I am faster as a speed skater now at age 56 than when I was a teenager on the national team.

I have qualified for the US Olympic trials at age 19, 49, 53, and I am in the process to do it again at age 56.  I have broken down many barriers in my life, speed skating is just one of them.

My barriers to progress come in many different forms.  First there are the external barriers.  I was told at age 16, I would never be an airline pilot.  I did not have perfect vision.  Had I listened to the eye doctor I would have never reached for my dream. This was a perceived external barrier. After a 35 year career, I am now at the top of my field as a 747 Captain.

Then there are my own internal barriers.  Some barriers might be unconscious.  Some barriers may be conscious.  Some barriers might be cultural.  Some might be hereditary.  Some might be regional.  Some may be rooted in history.  Some maybe rooted in my own past.  There are as many barriers as there are people, and ways to create them.  The key to pushing the limiting beliefs we have, that become our barriers to success, is not limiting the concept of success.  By taking responsibility for my success, then expanding my concept, I naturally break down my barriers to my goal achievement.  I need to give myself permission to be great.  This programs my entire being into being as great as I can be, and sets me up to be successful.

In my experience getting slower is more a choice than anything else.  If I choose to do the work, I get the results. If I choose not to do the work, I get slower.  There is a point of diminishing returns and reality.  I can push that back much farther than anyone could imagine.

What are some of the barriers you would like to break down?  I would love to hear all about them…

Captain Conner landing in January at O’hare Airport Chicago, IL after flight from Hong Kong, China