First major racing of the Olympic season

Productive on all levels.  Sunday evening now, as I write this, on an airplane going home at 35,000 feet, reviewing the work done during the competition and the important validation of training, etc.

I left Chicago Wednesday morning for Salt Lake.  Skating in the afternoon, getting in some speed work.  At the altitude of 4650 feet above sea level the air is different from my usual training ground of 800 feet at Milwaukee.  The ice was fast and the aerodynamic drag is less, this means we go faster with the same effort.  Accounting for the increase in speed, turn entries are earlier, the lean in the corners is steeper and more dramatic.  Mental and physical adjustments are made, sometimes equipment too.  Not too much volume of training here, just enough intensity to continue the taper but make the changes.

Everybody in the US skating world is here.  My skating family.  Great to see old friends, coaches, officials.  This an open competition so I have some fellow masters here but mostly they are Olympic hopefuls.

Thursday is a day just to touch the ice for about 40 minutes and cement yesterdays changes, building confidence.

This is the US Single Distance Championships, Fall World Cup Qualifier, and American Cup I.  US Champions will be crowned in each distance from 500 to 5000 meters.  The top spots will also be on the Fall World Cup circuit competing in Calgary, Salt Lake and Europe.  The fall world cup events will determine how many spots are awarded to each country for the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi, Russia starting February 7th 2014.  This an Olympic year, everything gets ramped up.  In this country, our sport gets a nice bump in attention each Olympic cycle.  Important to take advantage when the attention is here.

Friday is the 500 #1, also is the ladies 3000 and the men 5000.  Saturday is the 500 #2, total time for both determines the champion, and the 1000.  Sunday is the 1500.

I am racing all but the 5000.  Friday is just the 500 #1, for me.  First race of the season.  Little bit slow to start, 11.31 for first 100 meters.  I am a little bit tentative due to a low back issue that is aggravated by starts.  Not great tempo.  First outer turn building speed well, connected to the ice.  Crossover to the inner, my pair was ahead and not a conflict.  A little hesitant coming into the last inner turn, building confidence half way through, exiting strong.  Great lap time of 28.85, fastest lap all year finishing with good technique at 40.16.  Pretty good start considering changing airplanes in May and flying a full schedule to Europe and training.  Rest is what I lack now, sleep will have to be later.  I was not sure what to expect but this is a good start and something to work on.

Saturday is the 500 #2 and 1000.  Inner lane this time to start, better opener at 11.23, but not really connecting on many strokes.  Higher turnover but less good contact.  29.05 lap, 40.28 finish.  Very consistent from friday, so I am pleased.  Outer lane start on the 1000, pretty good opener at 19.13.  Great next lap, smooth, powerful, in control, efficient.  Settled down, this is where I excel.  29.61, then the lactate builds in my legs, heart rate at max, breathing to match.  Last lap at 31.07, Nancy, my coach, shows me my spilt times on the backstretch and shouts reminders and encouragement.  Right on schedule, only dropped 1.46 on the last lap, very proud of that.  Good take aways from today, confident moving forward into Sunday.

Sunday is the race of truth.  The 1500 taxes every facet of my being.  The physical limit exertion of strength for speed and endurance to maintain self-propelled inertia.  Mental toughness, emotional fortitude, and the spiritual conclusion knowing I have nothing left at the finish line.  Based on the weekend so far, a 2:05 was realistic.  Starting on the outer, getting good pushes into the first turn, smooth around the corner with nice pop in my cadence.  Opening in 27.17, nice, better than planned but comfortable.  Next fast lap at 30.53 right on target.  Now the lactate starts to build.  Maintaining good rhythm and technique to keep the speed two laps to go.  32.28 next lap, then a 34.16.  Any drop less than 2 seconds per lap is a sign of good conditioning and validation of training.  This is what I train for, skating with lactate heavy legs.  The ability to rise up to glide after that last 100 meter strain for the finish line and know “That was all I had”, is satisfaction.  A quick look at the score board shows a 2:04.14.  Fifth fastest 1500 ever for me.  Nice start to the seasons first racing for me.

Champions crowned.  Fall World Cup Team announced.  Many new personal bests and seasons bests.  My hat is off to all those who made it possible, and to my valiant competitors that I get to share this hallowed ice.  This Olympic season will be great fun!  Eight weeks to the US Olympic Trials back here in Salt Lake.  Stay tuned for a great ride!

Photo by Jerry Search

Photo by Jerry Search

Ice In August! Yes!!!

Ice In August!  Yes!!!

This is an Olympic year.  A special year.  Speed skating takes a main stage this year with the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia during February.  The Olympic trials also will be a main event for my sport.  There will be 13 hours of TV coverage between short track and long track events.  The long track trials start December 27th in Salt Lake City.  I will be racing the 500m on the 28th and the 1000m on the 29th.  The short track trials follow and are done on January 5th.

Since this an Olympic year we get ice early in Milwaukee.  In non Olympic years we get ice around the middle of September.  The US Olympic Committee helps the Pettit Center with the extra cost of opening early so we can train longer on the ice before the trials and the games.  This year we will have ice on August 15th.

Pumped about getting on the ice this year, training with my group of Olympians.   Getting to apply the off ice work to skating.  The weight workouts, the hard bike training, the slide-board, yoga, swimming, recovery, all working in harmony to apply to the ice skating that feeds my soul.

Loving every part of this process.  Refreshing cold. Smell of the ice.  Speed.  Wind in the ears.  Pressure into the ice while balancing on a 1.1 milimeter blade.  Back together with my skating family, coach, and training partners.  The physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of speed skating are what feed me.  I get to utilize all my tools for skating.  Building a network for support, goals, nutrition, coaching, training, competing, balance,  mental support, and courage all are in play.  Juggling all the pieces and getting the most out of the effort.  Being rewarded on  the journey my making me better.  Happy in doing this work, joyous in my pursuit of excellence, free in being totally absorbed in the moment.  Total concentration on skating, single-minded effort, peace in the knowledge of what is right for me.  Doing this work that feeds me.

Skating this week!

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

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


Saturday was a banner day!

My goal for the season was to qualify for the next Olympic trials.  I needed to skate a 39.00 or better in the 500 meter race.

It was a typical weekend time trial racing in Milwaukee.  There were about 45 skaters doing races from 500 meters to 10,000.  The ice was pretty fast today, there was a lot of activity between the two olympic size hockey rinks. The 400 meter speed skating oval that surrounds the two rinks as well as many local runners on the running track outside the oval.

I had a very productive week of training. Good recovery indicated on my ithlete this week.  I skated Wednesday.  After talking to my coach Nancy Swider-Peltz, Sr. We had a plan to do more high-speed work.  I figured out right away what had happened on the high-speed second turn of the 500 last week in Salt Lake.  I made a skate adjustment between my left skate boot and blade.  I started to build confidence.  I adjusted it twice more.  Then I felt confident.  I built on that confidence.  I knew that was key.

Thursday more skating and more confidence.  Recovery work including rolling my legs with “the stick” on Friday and ready to race on Saturday.  I was the 19th of 20 pairs.  After a good warmup off and on the ice it was time to go.  I had the first outer lane for the start.  This is not my favorite lane because the second turn would be an inner lane and hard to hold at high-speed.  I think I got this lane in the draw for a reason.  I need to work out my fears here and now. I was ready.

I approach the start with my usual mantra of gratitude, remembering that this is fun stuff going all out  fast.  I got off the line a little late but get down quickly.  I felt a solid connection to the ice, every push connecting.  I was aggressive but patient.  The first 100 meter opener was 10.72.  That may be my best ever, not sure, I need to check my records.  The first outer turn was also solid and good acceleration.  My pair, Nathan Miller, was pretty close to me in the first 100, maybe a couple of feet behind.  He beats me to the crossover as expected.  I am going faster by now and I switch to the inner lane and set up the next turn.  I hit my mark, after one crossover I hesitate a little to feel the pressure.  Then I start to crank it hard with confidence.  I shoot by my competitor who is in the outer lane now.  Feeling pressure on my legs, never really conscious of skating just feeling.  Doing so many turns in my life they turn into feelings instead of conscious action.  100 meters to go, trying to stretch for the finish line without losing any strokes along the way.  Still good power to the ice.  I skate through the electronic eye timer.  I look up at the time on the scoreboard.  39.00!  This is faster than I have ever gone in Milwaukee.  It is a personal best for me at this rink.  My previous best was 39.04, 3 years ago.  I have just gone fast enough to qualify for the US Championships next fall and winter.  This is where they will pick the next Olympic team for Sochi 2014.  To qualify for this race distance in Milwaukee is extra special.  My wife came to see me race today and take some video.  I am so grateful for her essential support.

I raise my arms in victory as I glide around the warm up lane.  I get many accolades from fellow skaters, coaches and officials.  They know what I just did and show their respect.  I put my warm ups back on and skated a couple of easy laps to start to flush the lactic acid from the effort.  My feet were hardly touching the ice.  I was floating on peace and serenity, a job well done.

40 minutes later I am back on the ice for the 1000 meter race.  This time I have the first inner lane, my favorite.  I love this race, I love the speed, the technical demands, the conditioning required.  My pair in this race was Brett Perry, he had just skated a 38.12 in the 500, he was going to be fast.  Good opener, nice pressure through first two turns.  This is what speed skating is all about for me. We go faster in this race than any other.  Hanging onto as much speed as possible without running out of gas too soon.  This was a tough race.  I beat Brett to the first crossover but not by much.  He passes me on the third turn, on the inner lane.  I try to keep him in my sights.  One lap to go, just trying to keep pressure, stay on my feet. Last crossover to the last inner turn.  I see Brett but cannot catch him.  He finishes about 25 meters ahead.  I look up at the scoreboard not knowing what to expect.  1:17.60.  This was another personal best at Milwaukee.  I still have some work to do for this qualifying time (1:16.08).  I am gliding again in the warm up lane.  I have reached my goal for the season.  I can add to that now.  I have the ability, and now the confidence.  I still have more racing to go at faster tracks.  I am not done yet, I will add another race or two.

Goal achieved, barriers broken, 56 years of age and faster than ever!

Photo by Steve Penland

Photo by Steve Penland