Speed skating lessons

Since it is now the off season for speed skating, it seems to be the right time to reflect on some lessons learned since I joined the Academy of Skating Excellence 6 months ago.

  1. Speedskating is probably the most humbling sport I’ve ever done. Every time I step on the ice, I get my ass kicked by teenagers; everyone else on the ASE short track team is between the ages of 16 and 20 and I’m by far the slowest person on the ice, so that leaves me feeling a bit old and slow at times. But I’m learning to focus on my own skating instead of comparing myself to other people. Where my slowness can be a bit discouraging at times, I try to focus on small victories showing me that I’m on the right path. For example, I keep track of how I improve by tracking my PBs in various distances, my fastest laps every skated, etc. Instead of wishing to be as good as other skaters, I put objective numbers on my progress, so I know I can’t argue with the fact that I am improving.
  2. In speedskating, it’s leg day everyday, twice a day. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but I learned quickly that I was just flattering myself thinking that. The weekly program typically includes 5 or 6 on-ice practices and 7 or 8 off-ice workouts. I had to adjust how many off-ice workouts I do, because I wasn’t able to keep up with the team program. I had to choose between doing the whole program and skating poorly on the ice because I was too tired, or skipping some of the team workouts and being able to really work on my skating. Since learning the proper technique needs to be done before I can add anything else on top of it, I decided to make my own off-ice program and adjust it constantly, based on my fatigue level. My goal for next season is to be able to keep up with the team program and not have it impede my skating. That means I not only need to be more ready physically, but also more disciplined when it comes to nutrition and using various recovery techniques, such as cryotherapy, inversion table, massages, etc. I’ve also started tracking my recovery with heart rate variability, which is very helpful to know objectively how hard I can go that day.
  3. Skating is all about how much pressure you apply. Before coming here, I knew the importance of body position and skating motion, but I had never heard about applying pressure. As it turns out, pressure is everything, and regardless of your body position and how pretty your skating looks, if you don’t really apply pressure when skating, you will never go fast. When you don’t apply pressure, you’re in essence skating on top of the ice and making your strides very inefficient. The same idea applies in roller derby; you want to think about your wheels going into the floor, instead of staying on top of it. That, of course, doesn’t apply when you’re a jammer trying to hop through the pack like a bunny, but it applies when you’re out of the pack and trying to preserve energy while reaching the pack again as quickly as possible.
  4. The skating motion starts from the abs, not from the legs. When I played hockey, I used to think that if I moved my legs really fast, then I would skate really fast. As I learned this season, it is better to reduce the frequency in your stride, but focus on getting a strong push that starts from the abs. After the motion is initiated by your abs, the pressure the goes through your hips with a small forward scooping motion, and finally reaches your legs. It means that if you don’t start by engaging your abs and hips properly, you will lose energy skating only with your legs. It also means that if your position isn’t compressed enough (e.g., standing tall), then your upper body and lower body will act as two different units and you won’t be able to start the movement with your abs. For roller derby skaters, again, this doesn’t apply when you’re hopping and juking your way through the pack. But any other skating movement requiring strength rather than quickness will benefit from abs and hips engagement. This includes skating outside of the pack, but also hitting or steering/scooping another player, since it requires applying strength effectively through the kinetic chain abs-hips-legs.
  5. I’m not a morning person. Or more precisely, I’m not a less-than-8-hours-of-sleep-per-night person. I have to be at the rink by 6:10am every morning, which in itself would be okay if I could be asleep by 9pm every night. Sounds doable in theory, except that derby practices either end or start at 9pm. Add to that 1:45 of driving time between Chicago and Milwaukee and all the sudden, my 8 hours of sleep are turning into 5 hours or less, and I’m either one cranky b*tch in the morning, or a zombie who’s just fighting to keep her eyes open, which is relatively important when skating as fast as you can on .5mm thick steel blades. I haven’t found a way to solve this problem yet and I don’t know if I ever will, so until then, I’m working hard toward my advanced degree in napping.
  6. Nothing will prepare you for Wisconsin winters. I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal and I wouldn’t mind the snow and cold. I’ve lived in Canada and Colorado before, so I thought I would be able to ignore the cold and go about my business. Believe me, Wisconsin redefines the word “cold.” Several days this winter, the whole county canceled school for kids, not because of the snow, but because of the cold itself. It was too dangerous to have kids waiting for the bus outside in such ridiculously cold weather, so they canceled school altogether. Let’s just say that on those days and many other days, you really don’t feel like stepping outside at all. For someone who loves being outside as much as I do, the winter feels very cold, and very long. So if you want to invite me to coach in Florida or Mexico in the winter next year, I’m all ears.

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