Start with No Regrets Part 1. This is the final bit, it’s going to be long.
Ice to Inline: Part 1
There is little to no tradition of ice speedskaters switching to inline since there’s really no point. Ice speedskating is an Olympic sport, inline has failed to get into the games for years and that probably won’t change. Rex had told me that ice speedskaters who do switch find inline easy. They can do straightaways forever; corners are what’s hard on the ice. Without those, it’s just a matter of having an engine and dealing with the tedium of skating in a straight line for an hour or more staring at someones butt.
It turned out that training for a summer sport like outdoor inline starts with a transition in mid-November and then you start building your base. I’m not a superstitious man but all of what I wrote about in Part 7 seemed to be happening at the right time.
The two weeks easy recovery I needed were exactly when I’d have been taking a transition period for a summer sport anyhow. My decision was made. I was going back to inline. Now the last time I raced inline was in 1995 on 80mm wheels. Over the years, as thing are wont to do, people started to move to larger and larger wheels. Interestingly, Chad Hedrick set the current marathon world record on 84mm wheels. Bigger may not be better.
I mentioned in Part 7 that Eva was skating on 100mm wheels (to my 80mm wheels) when we pulled that set that put me in shock. Currently 110mm wheels are sort of standard and I have heard of folks running 120mm wheels although they aren’t apparently race legal. I intend to mount BMX bike tires. Two wheels with the skate slung in-between. They’ll be a bear to wind up but you may have trouble stopping.
In any case, having made the decision to return to outdoor inline, I clearly needed some new toys. So I broke down and invested in a new pair of skates.
They may be the sexiest things I’ve ever seen and I’ve shown them next to my old skool racers below.
Breaking the News
I took Rex out to dinner that night and dithered like hell in bringing up my decision. Finally, I told him that I was done. That I was no longer training for performance on the ice or towards Olympic trials. Being Rex, he said “But maybe you could still make it if we…” and I cut him off. I was very, very tired of this aspect of him, his inability to face reality for fear of having people leave the sport. It was over. I was done.
Even if they changed the rules, I couldn’t make the improvements needed to get where I needed to be by December and it was time for him to come to terms with that; I certainly had. And while I will apply myself 110% (a physical impossibility) to a goal that is important to me or within the realm of possibility, I will give no effort to one that isn’t. The goal was gone, so was the drive.
As well, training on the ice would hurt my training for outdoor inline. I needed tons of base aerobic work and too much anaerobic work hurts the adaptations. I talked about that in Methods of Endurance Training: Putting it Together and how I would set up my training going forwards so I won’t detail that here. I would continue skate for technical purposes to finish my technical development and do what I needed to do aerobically to get ready for inline marathons (I’ve come to terms with skating them) with one 10k targeted in Atlanta.
He got emotional on me again which I have trouble with. He felt that it was unfair. Caleb had talent but lacked my drive, he could have made trials easily. With another year, he’d be pushing up against world class skaters. I had poured my heart and soul into the ice for 5 years and something was just missing. Sometimes, he said, it just doesn’t come soon enough. Ice feel, corners, nobody knows. Some don’t make the jump soon enough and I hadn’t.
But that’s life. It’s not fair. I did what I could do and worked to the best of my ability. The results are what happened and that’s all you can do. I wasn’t really interested in ruminating on this so I changed the topic.
The Final 4 Months on the Ice
For the next 4 months, I continued to show up to skate four times per week (three long-track, one short-track). We had switched back to club ice (5:30-7pm) a while back and that gave me time to do my aerobic conditioning in the mornings. It was also better for Eva’s schedule since she worked a real job anyhow. It was also easier on Rex’s schedule since he too worked a real job.
I would eventually drop out two of the ice sessions and start doing slideboard for time since it was more useful for me in terms of developing fitness specific to outdoor inline. I think sub-consiously I also wanted to wean Rex off of having me there; he continued to give me feedback on slideboard. The rest of the time I was just doing the aerobic work that I described in Methods of Endurance Training: Putting it Together.
I’d note that I focused just as intensely as I had before at the oval. I simply skipped all of the work sets. I’d warm-up with Eva and Jamaal and do technical work the rest of the time while they were doing real work. I wished them well, told them I was behind them 100% as they set out on another painful set; I’d go do technical 250’s. Better them than me.
Which isn’t to say that I loafed. Folks would even ask me about it “If you’re retired, why are you still working so hard?” I couldn’t really explain it to them. I had told Rex years before that I would reach his perfect technical model and I am not a man to go back on his word. As well, the more technique I got now, the better I’d be on inlines. Finally, I still wasn’t going to skate outdoors while it was cold out and some skating is better than no skating.
My first goal of making an Olympic Team was never more than a pipe dream. Making Olympics trials was a secondary goal and that had been ripped from me on October 11th through no fault of my own (not that I would have made it anyhow). So the goal was now about the process, to finish what I’d come to do, to perfect my technique so that I could succeed where I belonged all along: outdoor inline. In a way, that was the real goal all along.
I also continued skating to support Eva’s training; she’d never had good workout partners for the most part and we had fun as we moved her towards her goals. We’d skate warm-up sets and I’d skate behind her to be our coach’s eyes and help her fix some technical issues.
Time passed, Olympic trials came and went, Eva skated Master’s, set her three international records and retired loving skating again. The games ended a few weeks ago and the season started to wind down. As I type this on a Saturday night, the Oval Finale is going on and then the season will be over. I’d be long gone before that happened.
Feeling Better in a Lot of Ways
Ironically, after ‘retiring’ from the ice, I started to skate even better both on both long- and short-track. Probably as a function of relaxing since the goal that had pushed me so hard for the past 5 years wasn’t pressuring me any more. My corners finally came in the rest of the way on long-track and got consistent and short-track kept improving. I had nearly tripled my aerobic training but I wasn’t skating any slower on warm-up laps on the ice. With fresh legs, I’d have been going faster than I was before.
I would get the occasional urge from time to time to skate a real set, maybe drop the aerobic work and train towards the finale. But I always talked myself out of it. There was no point and I wasn’t really interested, setting a bunch of PR’s just didn’t mean anything to me. Trials were gone, I was focused on outdoor inline and training for the finale would just hurt my progress towards that.
One day, I did put down one sprint lap just to see, I’d been doing speed work 250’s and they just felt good, I had finally figured out how to build the corner without rushing. Took long enough. With no real sprint training leading up to it; it nearly matched my best despite my legs being shattered from my other training. Fresh, who knows? But it didn’t matter at that point.
I’d note that during this time, when I focused on a lot of lower intensity aerobic work, I started to feel physically better. My appetite came back under control, I started to lean out. Some of it was the sheer calorie burn but there’s more to it than that: as I mentioned skating is all hard, high-intensity work. And it’s just not what’s good for me. I simply felt better, physically, mentally, emotionally better doing higher volumes of lower intensity work and less high-intensity stuff.
But at this point, my technique on the long-track was essentially perfect (e.g. met my coach’s model) and had finally caught up to my fitness level. The ice feel was really getting there. It had just happened about 4 months too late.
I still had one thing left to do.
The Final Workout
When we first introduced short-track, I sucked totally at it. I kept working at it but we spent so little time doing it that it took a really long time to even get competent much less good at it. When I realized that I’d truly never be more than mediocre at it, I made one deal with myself: before you leave Salt Lake, you will skate a proper short-track corner, leaned over with your hand on the ice. Possibly in a gorilla suit.
The last thing holding up my leaving SLC had finally come through and I’d given my landlord 30 days notice so it was time to really wrap-up. I had about 3 weeks to get everything taken care of including this last goal.
But it was all clicking in that time frame, the two workouts previously on short-track had been building up towards that last goal. I was getting over my fear of the blocks and figuring out how to get leaned over on my right skate to get the hand down and hold the apex block. All without crapping my skinsuit.
Driving to practice that Thursday night, I made a deal with myself that if I achieved that goal that night, I was done on the ice (if I didn’t, I’d have to skate short-track the following Tuesday). The video is below, I did what I came to do.
It was a fine end to the past 5.5 years. If you pause it at 2:48 and 3:16 you may get some feeling for how crazy skating is. And I don’t lean over nearly as far as the top guys. That takes decades. I got to this point in three years with probably less than 100 short-track workouts in total.
And that was that. I had done the last thing I needed to do to be finished with my time in Salt Lake City. At dinner, I broke the news to Rex, that I was done done. Not done like I had been done back in November when I retired from training for trials. Done as in done on the ice completely. I wouldn’t touch it again.
I had completed the last task I had set out for myself and saw no point in skating on the ice any more, I was leaving the following week anyhow. A final long-track session that Saturday morning or the following Monday (I had other plans) would be anti-climactic. I’d rather go out on a high point and that last short-track workout was it. He tried to get emotional on me in the parking lot after dinner and I told him to save it. We’d get a proper goodbye the following week.
I got home and took my long-track skates apart for the last time. I put my boots back on my old inline frame and gave the blades with some other stuff for Eva to take to Caleb; he wants to start a club in Vail and I’d rather see some newbie who can’t afford equipment initially get some use out of it. I’m keeping my short-track skates since it’s easier to find skating and I can cross-train for inline a bit. And who knows, with a couple of years of corner practice on short-track…..
In any case, as my time in Salt Lake City came to an end, I started to wrap up loose ends. I like patterns and certain things had to happen at certain times before I could leave.
Ice to Inline: Part 2
That Sunday, Eva convinced me to stop being a wimp about the cold and we went out inline skating on some paths and the street. I rapidly realized that I had lost that skillset completely. As I mentioned, I hadn’t skated more than twice for fun in the past 5.5 years and everything we did was on a track in a parking lot.
I used to love skating outdoors, in a way that I never loved the ice; and I hadn’t done any of it in the entire time. I’m glad she drug me out into the chilly Salt Lake air. We were both tired, we didn’t skate much. About 10 miles according to my Garmin, just easy skating on our racing wheels.
And we held speeds that were my race pace speed in my 20’s. Without even trying. I was actually on my small wheels as I had stripped the bolt on the new skates adjusting the frame set. And the technique I had worked so hard to develop over the past 5 years was just there. I was carving and hip dropping and pushing and compressing. I had become a skater and I was skating. But the weather was poor, the trails bad. It wasn’t right yet, it still felt like work.
Now, over the past 5.5 years, I’ve managed to crash and get road rash in everything we’ve done. It amazes Rex. I’ve gotten road rash on the ice, off the pads, on the pavement, always crashing onto my left knee. I have extra bone there from the constant stress of hitting it 5 or 6 times a year. But if you’re not falling, you’re not trying, right?
I can crash on anything. I crashed skating inline, crashed skating long-track, crashed skating short-track. I even crashed on the slideboard once; I’m that awesome. So it seemed fitting that I crash my first day out skating true outdoor inline. We came over a slight hill and there was water and I had forgotten how to stop so I took myself down onto the pavement; onto that damn left knee (you don’t wear pads speed skating, it interferes with technique). Eva felt guilty as hell but I told her that it was a symbolic transition for me from the ice back to outdoor inline.
It was official: I was an inline skater again and I have the scab to prove it. Soon I will shave my legs.
You Did What?
I had been slideboarding for fitness for a while at this point and did go to the oval for one last time that Monday night (I was leaving SLC that Wednesday or Thursday). I had been building up to an hour of total downtime in sets for a few weeks. Workouts like 9 sets of 7′ down/1′ rest or 8 sets of 8′ down/1′ rest just building up the length of the work set and reducing the set count to keep it at an hour total. I’d been reading too much swimming stuff.
My coach had told me about previous skaters of his who had done things like 3 sets of 20 minutes straight on the slideboard and that seemed like a fine idea to get my hour. So I started with the idea of doing that. Then I thought, maybe I should do 2X30 minutes with 1′ rest. Then I got the idea of doing an hour continuously. And once I get an idea, it goes from ‘That seems like something I could do.’ to ‘I should do this.’ to ‘I will do this if it kills me.’ in short order.
For one hour, at an average heart rate of 137, I did the slideboard non-stop. The minutes ticked by with my music blaring, I stared at gray pavement the entire time. I knew that so long as I kept moving it would be ok; so I kept moving. I want you to know that this is the most boring thing you will ever do with the possible exception of the upper body ergometer (arm bike).
This is not a workout I would suggest anyone do. It’s not a workout I would choose to do again or even think I could repeat. But like skating the hand-timed 10k years before to say I’d done one, I had to do it just to say I had. My coach was both impressed and frightened. Even Eva said she wouldn’t have done it. She could, mind you; she’s just smart enough not to.
But it capped off my time in SLC. I had mastered long-track technique, I had semi-mastered short-track technique and my fitness was now at a peak. I walked out of the Utah Olympic Oval for the last time. It held nothing more for me.
I had cried after the 3k I scratched when I nearly quit years before but I didn’t now. I had nothing to be sad about.
It Is Time For You to Leave the Dojo
Tuesday night, Rex, Eva and I went to dinner after I dropped off some stuff at each of their houses. We went to Panda Express, of course. That’s where it had started 5.5 years ago and that’s where it had to end for me. We all talked about skating and stuff and tried to avoid the inevitable for as long as possible. But they had to go to sleep and I had to get up early to pack and finish up.
I’m not good with goodbyes, I don’t like change and goodbye is the biggest of them all. I had even considered sneaking out of SLC without saying goodbye but I couldn’t do that to either of them. I signed copies of my books for Rex with obnoxious inscriptions (that was the nature of our friendship). He told me (again) how much he’d enjoyed working with me over the years, how he appreciated my dedication and focus and how much it meant to him.
I told him “It wasn’t fun, but it was never boring.” We shook hands.
He wished me a good life and I wished him the same. He was my friend, my mentor in skating, my one and only coach. A true master. He had taught to the best of his ability and I had dutifully absorbed everything he had to teach. If he held anything back, I don’t know about it. Unless I do something stupid like take another run at trials in a few years, I’ll probably never see him again.
I took Eva back to her house and bid her farewell (she got a hug, she’s cuter than he is). She and I keep in touch.
Nothing Says Happiness Like SLC in My Rearview
On Wednesday morning, I divested myself of everything unimportant in my life which is most of it. I had arrived 5.5 years earlier in a truck carrying my computer, my skates, my books and little else. This time I was smart enough to ship the books so I didn’t have to pull a trailer.
I packed my car with my computer, my skates and scant little else and drove out of Salt Lake City as night settled on the city. I never looked back.
When I first left Texas years ago, I had cried on the way out, like I said, I don’t deal with change well. I did it leaving Salt Lake City as well. As much because I don’t like change as for the realization that this 5.5 year adventure was now truly and well over.
Two days later I was back in Austin (where I could get a decent plate of fajitas for god’s sake) and remembered what being in a city that has life is like. A week later I’d be back in Nashville frustrated that I couldn’t skate because of rain. I had to finish this series today as I’m on a plane later today onto the next chapter of my life. That’s why it’s so damn long.
Ice to Inline: Part 3
Back in Austin, I had finally had some decent food, was back in a city with life and energy and people who actually want to do more than wait to die; I got to spend time with my girls being a gym rat again. I felt totally renewed as a human being after living in SLC; I had more fun in that week than I can describe.
Though I had resisted doing it in SLC, I actually tried indoor inline for the first time. It was scary and I didn’t have the right equipment for it (you need stickier wheels) but I wanted to give it a shot. With better wheels I’d do it again, like I said indoor inliners can do well on the ice better than outdoor skaters and you just never know what might happen 4 years from now.
But something much more important happened while I was there: I skated the Veloway.
I had wanted to do it before that but the weather wouldn’t cooperate; I’d been rocking the Stepmill at Gold’s for training. On Wednesday, I was supposed to go to North Texas but the trip had gotten cancelled at the last minute so I had an extra day before travelling to Nashville.
And that Wednesday morning, the sun finally came up and dried things out and the Veloway is this beautiful loop in South Austin, in this amazing park. And I had the best hour ever on my inline skates Make no mistake, I had enjoyed skating with Eva the week before. But the paths were bad, the weather poor, we kept having to traverse gravel when the path would go bye bye. And it was still Salt Lake.
I had skated the Veloway once years before and remembered it as being this unskatable mess with these horrible up and downhills that I couldn’t handle. Turns out that the problem hadn’t been the Veloway, it had been me not knowing how to skate. Funny how that works.
But now I knew how to skate and just went and went and went with absolute ease. And I had more fun in that one hour of skating than I had had in the previous 5.5 years skating in SLC, in the previous 15 years of my life since I had retired in my 20’s from inline skating. This, this is what I loved doing and what I had lost completely for all too long.
In that singular hour, I found it again: feeling the wind in my face, the sun on my skin, hearing the whirr of the wheels underneath me, the sensation of speed that you get from just propelling yourself along under your own power. I had had all of that in my 20’s but now I could feel the technique I had struggled so hard with for the past 5.5 years as well and it all felt right.
I had come full circle (ha ha). In my 20’s, I had been drawn to inline skating like nothing before. I used to skate the streets of Los Angeles all day, back and forth across the city. It didn’t even matter where I was going so long as I was on my skates. I used to dream about them paving the ocean, I wanted to skate from California to Japan. I really wanted to skate in an earthquake, I figured it would feel like surfing. I loved skating more than anything else I did save maybe reading research in the library.
But then I got overtrained and put my skates away and lived in Austin unhappy and depressed for 7 years, doing very little with my life. Then I decided to come back and for lack of an inline circuit, spent 5.5 years being pursuing the ice, which I just wasn’t cut out for. Make no mistake, I wouldn’t trade those years on the ice for anything else. But the ice was never my true love.
And now I had returned to exactly where I started nearly 20 years before. I was an inline skater doing what I loved: inline skating. When I’m on my skates, I don’t even care where I’m going. I’ll skate just to skate. If the pavement is good and the weather is nice, I’ll go until I can go no more.
When I’m on my inlines, I’m happy.
A Waste of Time?
Some of you reading this may be thinking “He spent 5.5 years doing this and didn’t even reach his goal, what a waste of time.” I’ll address that with an old story/joke/parable:
A man is talking to his friend and expresses that he wants to go back to school to get his PhD. But he tells his friend “I mean, I’m not sure, it will take three years and think of how old I’ll be when I’m done.” And his friend says “And how old will you be in three years if you don’t go?”
When I decided to do this, I was living in Austin doing nothing with my life. I could have stayed there for 5.5 years, playing on the Internet, training half-heartedly for no real goal and doing nothing with my life. That would have been a waste of time.
Instead, I made a move and chased a dream I’d had for over a decade with absolute conviction and focus. I went from barely being able to skate at all to having technique that would hold up anywhere in the world. When I return to inline racing, that technique will benefit me there.
I worked harder and with more consistency than I may ever have done in my life and I’m actually fitter and in better shape as I near 40 than I was in my 20’s. Someone on the support forum asked me what I was going to do for my 40th birthday and I told him “Be more awesome than people half my age.”
The training was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, every workout an exercise in suffering. And yet I missed at most a half-dozen workouts in 5.5 years, always for reasons out of my control. I cracked a rib and finished that workout. I fell and nearly cut my foot off and was back to training 2 days later. I gave it 100% at every workout save maybe two where I failed to finish the workout I was given. I walked out of the one race for reasons I still can’t explain but gave it 100% at every other time trial I went to.
I’ve skated side by side with world class athletes and Olympians, I’ve had gold medalists comment on my technique, on my work ethic, on my attitude, on how I attacked my corners, on how much I’d improved. They are the first to admit how freaking hard this sport is, how long it took them to get a feel for it (if they got it at all). They understood my frustration completely.
Over the years, I saw endless people try to get good at ice speedskating and give up. It was too hard, they weren’t improving quickly enough, they didn’t have what it takes. I never stopped working towards my goal. I never quit. Ok, almost that once but I came back stronger for it and worked that much harder.
I recently saw an interview with Apollo Anton-Ohno about his preparation for Vancouver and he said something to the effect that he wanted to know, win or lose, that he had done everything in his power to be ready and do his best. That every day he wanted to look back and know that he had done everything he could to be better than the day before. That, if he did that, whether he won or lost, he could be happy. Just knowing he’d given it his all.
When you get right down to it, that was my real goal and I had achieved it. How can that be a waste of time?
It would be stupid to think that I wouldn’t have rather made trials than not. But it won’t eat at me, I don’t feel as if I failed in the least. Life isn’t a Rocky movie, you can’t do it on heart and a Journey song. I did the work, I did everything asked of me, I know for a fact that I did everything within my power to reach my goal. And no-one can ever take that away from me.
You can’t control what you can’t control. You can’t make it happen if it’s not going to. You can focus on the process and what happens happens. I could sit and wonder “What if I’d done this, what if I’d done that?” but that isn’t productive. I did what I did, what happened happened. Ommmm…..
I know going forwards that, whatever else happens in my life, I will never look back at the 5.5 years I spent in Salt Lake City pursuing this singular goal with a purity of focus with anything but contentment. Sure, it was brutal work, Salt Lake City is a miserable city, I lost a lot of what I loved about skating although it’s come back with a vengeance since the Veloway. But I had a goal and I pursued it to the utmost of my ability. I will never see it as a failure, even if small-minded people will do exactly that and attack me for it.
But those are the same people with too fragile of an ego to ever attempt the same thing. They talk about how they could do this or would do that but they never seem to actually do anything. They won’t ever try because they can’t risk failure. I took that chance with open eyes that I would probably fail no matter what I did. I could live with not reaching my goal. I couldn’t live with not trying. They are too afraid to even try.
If I were a very different type of writer, I’d make this into a rah-rah puff piece and try to sell you a book on goal setting. But neither I nor you would take that seriously (and I’d have to write the book). Rather, I’ll leave it to readers to infer the message of this entire series (if you didn’t get it, read the whole series again until you do).
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it, maybe learned a thing or three about a very odd sport. Maybe you have a bit more respect for me, maybe you think I’m an idiot. I don’t care either way since I didn’t chase this goal for anybody but myself. But I chased it to the best of my ability, which is what ultimately mattered.
I have no regrets.