Reflections on Racing
Yesterday was the end of “zomerijs”. Zomerijs is the curious practice of opening the ice track at Heerenveen for three weeks in the middle of summer. Obviously, it is very expensive to refrigerate a 400m track for three weeks in the middle of summer, but this year they did it for five weeks. Why? Because the Olympic games are in February. Zomerijs ends on Saturday night with the Zomerijs Wedstrijd – literally Summer Ice Competition.
Unfortunately on the day of the big race, the air pressure was high. In speed skating, even slow folks such as myself can get up to 50km/h. The top guys can get up to 60km/h in a sprint. At those speeds, air resistance becomes a significant factor. That is why all the world records are set at Calgary or Salt Lake City because those tracks are at altitude. The difference can be as much as a second per lap.
Obviously, we weren’t expecting too much. Our team began learning how to ice skate in October last year, and are consequently still very much on the steep part of the improvement curve. However, it would only be realistic to compare our results from this race with those of previous races held at sea-level. Even so, the air pressure was very high. To add insult to injury, the conditions in the facility itself were on the warm side. Warm ice is “softer” than colder ice and this means that one’s blades won’t glide as far as they otherwise would.
When all was said and done, the races were a spectacular anti-climax to five hard weeks of training on the summer ice. We had made great progress with our technique and were starting to look the part of elite speed skaters. Alas, the stopwatch did not reflect the progress that we had made and we will have to wait until the “proper” ice of the winter season starts up before we will be able to truly measure progress.
On a more personal note, although it is one thing to have your hopes of a fast time crushed by variables totally outside of your control, it is entirely another to add to that by shooting yourself in the foot.
The 500m, which is supposed to be the event that I am best at, did not go well. My sea-level personal best stands at a laughable 44.01 seconds. After 5 weeks of intensive technique work during the summer ice, I felt much more confident on my skates. In practice, earlier in the week, I had done a test-race and hit 42 seconds, and I didn’t even feel particularly good on that run. Somehow, when the gun fired, I managed to forget everything that I had ever learned about ice skating. I must have looked like a dog with slippery socks on a highly waxed floor because I certainly felt that way. All my preparation, all my repeating to myself of “just relax, and skate” had come to naught. I basically panicked for 44.63 seconds – my worst 500m on ice EVER.
I could console myself with the fact that the ice was slow, and the conditions were poor, but I knew that I could go faster, and I was eager to prove to myself that I really had improved as a skater. I still had a 1000m to race and I went to task on psychologically resetting myself for a better race.
My result in the 1000m serves to reinforce the notion that the psychological aspect of competition is an important one. From start to finish, I (counterintuitively) thought about nothing except skating well. I have a bad tendency for overthinking my skating and letting my head get cluttered up by too many thoughts. I didn’t think about skating fast, I didn’t even think about pushing hard (although perhaps I should’ve). Just one step at a time, glide, wait, fall, push, next step, etc. When I came across the line and looked up I noticed two things. First – that my time was not next to my name, second – that my legs weren’t particularly sore.
In my rather extreme tunnel-visioned focus, I had managed to line up and start in the wrong pair. One of our skaters had been injured so there was a empty slot which I absent-mindedly stepped into (it didn’t help that the withdrawn skater’s name was also Daniel). That my legs weren’t sore was a point of slight annoyance. Ordinarily, at the end of a 1000m race, one has difficulty standing up because of the lactic burn in one’s legs. The fact that I experienced almost none of this indicates that I almost certainly could have gone much faster.
My time was 1:24.58, a full two seconds slower than my Calgary time, but also about four seconds faster than my previous sea-level best. In fact, I was the only person in our team to better a previous sea-level best, although I was still annoyed that I’d skated poorly in the 500m and that I could’ve easily gone faster in the 1000m. Now I have to wait until mid-September before I am able to get onto the ice again to work on the technical problems (and there are many) with my skating.
I may still be a considerable distance away from a world cup or Olympic qualifying time, I remain optimistic that if I can still take large chunks of time from my personal bests, even when racing conditions are unfavourable, then there may be hope, however slight, that I may make it to Vancouver.
All the best, Daniel!!!