This is the start of a very different series of articles than I tend to write. For the most part, I haven’t and don’t talk that much abut personal stuff here. I used to do that on a separate blog but I tend to think of those as places where people chatter inanely about myself. But this piece is a little bit different. Today I want to start a fairly long series describing the 5.5 years I spent in Salt Lake City pursuing ice speed skating. How I made the choice to do that so that I’d have no regrets.
For the past 5.5 years, as many of you know (and some of you probably don’t), I’ve been living in Salt Lake City training full time at the Utah Olympic Oval (aka the Fastest Ice On Earth). I moved up here in the late summer of 2004 to pursue a singular goal which I’ll get to in Part 2.
The speedskating season ends around mid-March anyhow and, in past years, about this time I have often written something that related to an end of the season kind of thing. For example, I previously wrote about goal and process oriented training as it pertained to my ice speed skating results. But this year is different. Because this year I’m done on the ice. As in done done. I’m moving back to inline where I belong.
To understand what I want to talk about, and you may have an inkling of where I’m going with this by the title of the article, I need to back up a bit.
My Initial Interest in Speed Skating
I only vaguely remember watching the Olympics as a kid, it rings a vague memory and I’m sure I watched speedskating. I was 10 when Eric Heiden won his 5 gold medals, I vaguely remember some of the Dan Jansen stuff. I don’t recall it really grabbing me (in the way that most athletes are grabbed by their sport at a young age) at that time. Maybe looked cool but that was it.
I went to college at UCLA to study exercise physiology in 1988. I was involved in recreational gymnastics at the time. The entire group I worked out with was into this new fad of a sport which was inline skating. While inlines had been around since the 1970’s, the late 80’s was when the first boom hit. All my friends skated and played roller hockey every Friday.
At some point I finally got around to getting a pair of skates. To say I sucked is an understatement of vast proportions. I had roller skated maybe twice as a kid and had no clue what I was doing. But something about it grabbed me and grabbed me hard. There’s that old joke about your passion choosing you and that was true.
I was determined to get better and the way I figured this would happen was by skating a lot.
So I skated every day. I literally lived on my skates and it sort of became a running joke, I was never without them; either on my feet or hung over my shoulders. I’d skate to class, to work, between classes and I remember with fond memories skating the giant concrete playground that was Los Angeles for hours at a time. The whole place is paved and you can literally go from the ocean to downtown and never stop. It was paradise.
My closest friend and I would go on these epic multi-hour skates. Just cruising, or riding stairs. All day all the time. Usually to build up a big appetite for all you can eat Sushi (skating home after that was always interesting).
In the early 90’s, a race circuit developed. My friend had ridden bikes competitively for years (and I’d done some triathlons and such in high school) and it sounded like good fun. So we went to some 10k races. And I was hooked. I had competed in triathlons briefly in high-school and loved competition. I eventually got my first pair of racing skates and that was all I worked towards.
At some point during college though, I had gotten the idea to do ice speedskating. Probably a function of watching the winter Olympics or what have you; I genuinely don’t remember what put the idea in my head. Problem was I had no clue how to get into it. I’m still not sure in hindsight how I expected to get started. Magic, I guess.
In any case, I went back to Nashville after school and raced for another year or two. My final year of racing, I placed top 10 overall or top 3 in my age group of every race I entered. I couldn’t ever break through to the next level but I was right there.
Then, in trying to get to that next level, I burned myself out and overtrained myself straight into the ground. I got to the point that I couldn’t face training anymore and I hung up my skates. That was about the time of the Bodyopus experience and I went from one extreme to the other. From 20+ hours/week of endurance training (with far too much at far too high of an intensity in hindsight) to the weight room exclusively.
I spent years rather futilely pursuing strength related activities. I had always enjoyed lifting weights, did so all through college and did quite a bit while I was inline racing both in college and afterwards in Nashville. I did a powerlifting meet and put up decent raw numbers but around 2002 I came to the stark realization that I’d never be more than mediocre in the weight room or in any form of competition.
Make no mistake, I loved pushing weights. But I didn’t have the hormones or the talent to be great at it (some would argue that I wasn’t even good at it but I think my numbers disagree). And I missed competing. Especially in something I might actually be decent at.
So I decided that I was ready to go back to the one thing I’d ever been good at and that was inline skating. I broke out my old equipment and started redeveloping my aerobic base and doing what I thought was technique work (based on various resources I’d gathered). It didn’t help that Austin was a horrible town for skating. Just awful. I was very limited in what I could do.
But there was another large problem: the 10k circuit that I’d raced in my 20’s no longer existed and I didn’t really want to do marathons (40-50 km races). I emailed some race promoters to find out what had happened to my beloved 10k distance. Essentially, they told me that 10k’s were no longer financially viable.
The pros didn’t want to fly all that way to race for 15 minutes and citizen racers love a shirt with marathon on it; they wouldn’t come out for shorter stuff for the most part. So everyone moved to that. But I was locked into the idea of racing at the 10k distance. I’d note that, even there, the inline race scene is dead in the US. There are a handful of races but for all practical purposes, outdoor racing is a dead sport here. Even odder is that it’s still huge everywhere else in the world.
Discovering this really deflated me a bit, I had spent at least a year at this point working towards this goal and now it looked like that goal no longer existed. I guess I could have done bike racing but it never really appealed to me the way skating did. I wanted to skate and there wasn’t skating to be had. I didn’t know what to do but the solution would be found shortly.
Read No Regrets Part 2.
Quick note: I’m turning off comments for this series of posts. The first reason is so I don’t have to delete the invariable trolling. The second is that I’m also not interested in atta boys or whatever. I spent the last 5 years pursuing this goal for myself. Whether folks supported it or thought I was an idiot was never relevant to what I was going to do. So neither positive nor negative feedback is needed nor wanted.