Saturday, November 28, 2009

Excitment and Frustration

While I was in Lake Placid for Skate America, I also got in some ice time of my own. I managed to squeeze in a little over three hours of practice but the real bonus was the half hour lesson. I love the coach I see up there. We are so on the same wavelength. We actually trained together as kids growing up on Cape Cod. We even had the same coach at one point but she went on to skate at the national level while I ended up quitting the sport. Anyway, within a half hour she had me jumping the Salchow and Toe Loop; she fixed my change edge spiral and we worked on the change edge patch figure.

Skating up there was magical as always. It is so exciting to be on Olympic ice. To be skating in the same rinks as Sonja Henie, Scott Hamilton and Evan Lysacek. Way cool. The first day on the ice was so so. I was out of practice and my muscles couldn't do anything but Brian Orser greeted my mom and I as we got on the ice, "Good Morning Ladies!" Cool! He is a cutie! The second day was my lesson and I had plenty of sleep the night before so I was raring to go. The lesson went great. I was skating well and fast and coordinated. I showed my mom the start to my program which she liked. I almost crashed into an elite dance team after they did a violent lane change and headed straight for me (they split apart at the last minute and went around me but it was a close one). I skated for over an hour and a half and loved every minute of it. The third day I only lasted a half hour. I was pooped from the day before but I wanted to go over the stuff from my lesson so it would stick in my head and muscles. Tired but happy I left the ice to the younger more elite competitors.

Now the reason I bring this up weeks later is that today I had my first private lesson since I got back from LP. I have been practicing my Salchow every time I get on the ice. I have been practicing it in my head before I go to sleep at night. The main thing Robin taught me was the timing of the Salchow: outside edge, inside edge, hook, jump. A nice steady 1, 2, 3, 4 pace. So before I fall asleep at night I am reciting "outside, inside, hook, jump". After two weeks of physical and mental practice I got to do them for my coach today. Once I got over my abject fear of jumping by doing a few along the boards I landed several out on the ice surface. She slowed me down a bit more but didn't have any other corrections. She was quite happy with it which shocked the hell out of me. She always has corrections. I am amazed. We moved on to the Toe Loop jump which didn't go as well but I haven't been practicing that as diligently. She corrected several items but then was fairly happy with it. I did a Camel spin for her which have been driving me batty but I hit this one fine and spun for several rotations before doing a nice scratch spin out of it. She told me again that she had nothing to correct. Another shock. This spin isn't consistent for me yet. I miss it more often than hitting it but I seem to be able to pull off at least a couple each time I'm on the ice if I am skating okay. She had more corrections for the sit spin which I had been doing really well yesterday. I did pull off a couple that she was happy with.

I wasn't so lucky with the back spin. This one is going to take some time. If I use the inside three turn as the entrance I just seem to grind to a halt rather than spin. I have better luck doing a change foot attitude spin and can eek out several backward rotations before putting my foot down. I actually managed the requisite three full rotations on one occasion which I have not been able to repeat since. When I start getting annoyed with myself I just remind myself how long it took me and how much diligent practice it took me to get a good forward spin. It will take as much time to do the back one. I have to get used to balancing on the ball of my foot just letting the toe rake scrape the ice while maintaining a back outside edge; all while the arms, torso and free leg work in perfect coordination and timing. This is going to take some serious ice time. It is a combination of learning the balancing, acquiring the fine muscle control in the foot and also getting the timing right of everything else which is just a long process. She told me that when I master it I will probably enjoy spinning backwards more than forwards. Apparently this a preference of most athletes. One extra obstacle I am trying to overcome is that I never ever learned this as a kid so it is totally new to me unlike the forward spin which I was actually quite proficient at and even had a nice layback when I was a kid. Patience. This is going to take a while.

The same with my three turns. I swing them. It is supposed to be a slight twitch of the shoulders and I use my whole body for the turns. The back threes are frustrating me to no end. I managed to do some in LP during summer camp but I haven't been able to do them for months no matter how much I practice them. I know I have been doing something horribly wrong but without a coach watching me and fixing me they have deteriorated rather than improved. We spent a lot of time on back threes today. She got so frustrated with me. "It is a simple movement," she kept telling me. Just the shoulder twitch. "Nothing else moves. Hold everything else still." Then I try it again, I swing something and end up pitching forward at the waist and putting my foot down after the turn. I just don't do them well. I am trying to overcome 30+ years of bad habits here. If I don't practice even the forward threes they quickly deteriorate into swinging uncontrolled messy turns. I have to make these a regular part of my practice to make them improve rather than deteriorate.

As my friend was saying today "skating is hard". I totally agree with her but that is why it is so exciting when you can finally do something well. When something is mastered it gives you real pleasure to perform it. I try to make my practices a mixture of things I can do well, things in process and things I can't do yet at all. This balances out the frustration with some excitement and flat out fun.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Skating Gods

Anyone that skates understands that the figure skating gods are a fickle bunch at best. One day you can do a perfect camel the next day you can barely center a scratch spin and this happens for no apparent reason. You just have bad skating days. Somehow you inadvertently offended one of the skating gods. Of course where I skate the lesser gods inhabit our rink. They sometimes bestow a perfectly centered spin on you or an amazing wipe out while doing a simple three turn but mostly they ignore us. The Olympic skating gods however are much worse. Two international level top skaters will do the same jump, one lands it perfectly and the second cleans the ice with their butt. They can both do the jump or they wouldn't be in the competition in the first place. It is just that one is in favor with the gods that day and the other is not.

I was at Lake Placid for the Skate America competition. This is the first high level competition that I have gone to. I was very excited and got to see the Olympic skating gods in action. Brandon Mroz was one of their toys over the weekend. He landed everything in practice. He did okay during his short program but his long program was a complete and utter disaster. I don't think he landed a single jump in his program. I felt so bad for him. The gods had it out for him for sure. It isn't like he can't skate. During his practice he did a wonderful job. The Olympic gods just decided to mess with him that day. Rachael Flatt and Evan Lysacek however were in their favor this weekend. They both skated wonderfully. Rachel skated a perfect long program and Evan a perfect short program and a near perfect long program. Rachael even beat out Yu-Na Kim in the long. But the gods had favored Yu-Na the day before with a perfect short program so she got the gold medal.

But the gods decided to chase one of the Russian competitors down and take him out. Again the kid skated well in practice but dumped his jumps during the competition. If he didn't finish last he was dam close to the bottom. Once he was done he went out drinking. As if this wasn't bad enough, he then went out and found a car with the keys still in it (this is Lake Placid after all and people still leave their keys in their cars) and went for a drive. After the police caught up with him, he landed in jail for car theft and drunk driving. The Russian team left without him while he sat in jail waiting for a court hearing. He may get the charges dropped but the gods were not done with him yet. The Russian Skating Federation has banned him from competition for one year so he is going to miss the Olympics. The Olympic skating gods can be a mean lot when you piss them off.

I have felt their touch when I skate in LP. I seem to skate better and faster when I am up there. I am more daring but also fall more often. Their touch is feather light but always present. I truly hope I never anger them but I still have no idea how to appease them.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What is up with Wednesdays?

I performed boot surgery last Saturday afternoon. Sunday I went skating to try them out. Normally I don't skate two days in a row never mind three. My muscles typically don't have the stamina and my performance degrades each day that I'm on the ice. However, with the new arch supports in the boots and the tongues fitting much better I skated wonderfully. My figure eights were better, my three turns were easier and I managed my first perfect camel spin as an adult. I must admit it surprised me. I didn't think I did anything different but here I was spinning fast and easily, arms and free leg parallel to the ice. I wasn't slowing down either. I lost count of my revolutions after four. I was totally blown away by how easy the spin felt. I finally came out of it and ended the spin with a perfect scratch spin. I looked down and all the loops of the tracing were contained in a space of a dinner plate. You couldn't tell how many revolutions since it was centered so well. Wow! That is what it feels like! Amazing! Please let me be able to do that again some time soon!

As is my wont, I did my lower body weight lifting workout on Monday instead of skating. It kills me to loose a day of ice training but I know the weight lifting is doing me good. My legs are stronger, my knees are doing better and tolerating the abuse of ice skating much better than they used to, and my core is getting stronger so I can hold myself erect more easily. As an added bonus I seem to be dropping inches off my waist if not pounds off my scale weight. In general, lifting weights has improved my skating. However, it seems to have wrecked havoc on my Wednesday skate. After being able to skate wonderfully this past Sunday I get on the ice on Wednesday and can't even center a simple scratch spin. I have to go back to basic figures to get my edge control back. Then I slowly work up the difficulty scale and work on spinning from a standstill, simple spirals and spread eagles before moving on to spinning from speed. I am a wreck. I can't center anything even from a standstill. If I manage something resembling a centered spin and I try it from speed it has a three foot long trail instead of neatly turning on top of itself. OMG, why is it so hard to skate on Wednesdays? This isn't an isolated incident. It happens every week. The only thing I can attribute it to is the weight lifting.

Now I know that, in weight lifting, in order for the muscle to get the idea that it needs to grow, and hence get stronger, you need to damage the poor unsuspecting sod. So you go into the weight room and literally rip up your muscles until they can't lift any more. Then you take a day or two off, eat lots of food that is good for you, get lots of rest and voila new muscle mass is born. Turns out that I must need to teach the new muscles how to skate on Wednesdays. The old muscles haven't shown them a thing. They must be tired from being beaten up on Monday and don't feel like talking with the new kids on the block (leg, arm, torso..). By the weekend everyone seems to be getting along again and skating progress can be made.

But now, instead of loosing one day of training due to weight lifting I really am loosing two days since Wednesday is remedial day. I can't quit weight lifting. It really is doing me a lot of good. I am particularly impressed with how well my knees are doing with the new routine. I just have to accept the fact that the weight training is slowing down my skate training. Since I am older I need to make sure I am doing as much as I can to make myself strong and resilient instead of beating the crap out of myself as if I was 16. I have watched parents at the rink beg their kids to either get off the ice or not jump since the kid is injured and under doctor's orders not to skate hard. What does the kid do? Land an Axel, do double toe loops. The kid's competition is coming up and they don't want to loose training time. It is more important to me to be able to climb stairs pain free than land an Axel but that is 47 year old me talking. When I was 13 I thought casts were cool rather the pain in the butt and months of rehab my older body knows. I guess Wednesdays are going to have to be figure skating 101 days for a while.