photo by Steve Penland

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pettit Time Trials Race Report

I went to the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee yesterday for my final indoor time trials of the season, and try as I might I can't come up with a better title than "Time Trial Race Report."  A lot of stuff happened between leaving after work at 3:40 on Friday and heading down the freeway to Milwaukee, and heading back onto the freeway towards home at 12:30 Saturday afternoon.  Some good, some bad, some funny, some embarrassing...just no good way to condense it all into one pithy (my seventh grade English teacher loved that word) title.

Some of the good: a fast (no, I wasn't speeding, just no end-of-Friday traffic) drive to Milwaukee.  A McDonald's ice cream cone (twist!  They had twist!) that ended up in my mouth instead of on the steering wheel.  Meeting my first "never met him in person but he reads my blog" blog reader (Hi, Michael!  Nice job on the PR's PB's!). Getting to skate the 5k solo, no pair, which is my favorite way to do it.

So the "good" is easy. For the bad, the funny, and the embarrassing, I'll need to go into more detail.  Oh, and for the best "good," which was, strangely enough (since I'm not a sprinter), my 500.

Although it seems strange to drive over 300 miles (one way) just to do two time trials, it made perfect sense to me.  I had done two 5k's this season--one in October, which went great (8:30, a Pettit "non-blowers-on" PB), and one in January, which went horribly (8:32, due to PVC's).  (I know, 8:32 isn't much slower than 8:30, but typically I see considerable improvement from my start-of-season to mid-season times.) Since the PVC's had been mostly absent these past few weeks--with the somewhat ominous exception of their re-appearance in this Wednesday's tempo workout--I figured it would be fun to do an end-of-season, hopefully-PVC-free 5k to see what I could do.  I could skate a 5k outdoors at Roseville, of course, but an outdoor 5k is hugely dependent on the weather so it would be really hard to use an outdoor time as a yardstick of my progress.  So, off to Milwaukee it was!

I planned, as usual, to do a 500 and a 5k.  The 500 is really just the final stage of my warmup, and is typically my worst event, so I wasn't too wound up about it.  I was paired with a Canadian masters skater who was about my speed, which gave me a bit of concern about the backstretch lane-change--my brain doesn't function well during any athletic endeavor, but particularly not during a sprint, so if we hit the backstretch at the same time the potential for screw-up would be high.  But as I say, the 500 is not a big event on my personal radar, so I wasn't too concerned.

At the starting line, I was trying to focus on some of the things I've been working on during my practice starts lately.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to work on starts much, though, since my "once bruised, somewhat recovering, but still a bit sore" heel doesn't appreciate being smashed repeatedly into the back of my skate boot during starts.  So the things I was trying to focus on were certainly not second nature yet.  My main goal was to concentrate on the first push off my right foot--make it powerful and don't worry about speed. So after the starter's command "ready," I assumed my final start position and concentrated on that right foot.

And concentrated.

And concentrated.

Just when I was beginning to think that the starter had died, fallen off his ladder, or had a gun malfunction, he finally fired the shot and we were off.  I was prepared for him to have a long hold (time between "ready" and the gun), but this was extreme.  And so my launch, never blazing at the best of times, was even slower than usual due to my "dang he better fire the gun soon I'm about to move and false start" issue.

Once I finally got off the line, the opener was OK--I tried to chase down my Canadian pair, and caught and passed her when I had the inner lane on the first corner.  This was helpful because I knew I had just enough distance on her to make a clean switch to the outer lane after the corner.  So I did, and finished the rest of the lap with reasonable technique and no problems.  And the final time--48.2--was a Pettit PB for me by .4 seconds, and also included my fastest full lap ever at the Pettit--34.46 seconds.  So that was fun.

After that, it was the wait for the 5k.  I was delighted, as I mentioned, to be solo in the 5k, especially since one of the other two 5k competitors was a Junior skater who is the fastest in the world for his age, and who was hoping to do a sub-6:40.  Yeah, he'd probably lap me three times.  The other 5k skater was another talented junior, but was a sprinter trying his first 5k.  I figured I didn't want to slow him down, either, so solo was looking good to me.

And now for the embarrassing.  First, I need to set the stage a bit.  At the Pettit, I typically sit on one of the benches that's closest to the ice.  This allows me to make a nice little towel runway from the bench to the ice, thus rendering unnecessary the use of my hard plastic skate guards for the walk to the ice.  I use the guards every day at Roseville, but Roseville has nice stomach-high pads around the oval that one can hold onto for balance when removing one's guards.  The Pettit, because we enter the ice from the center of the oval rather than the outside, has no such pads and thus removing the guards once one has achieved the ice requires a careful bending-twisting-tripod pose that is beyond the limits of my personal balance and flexibility.  So, no plastic guards...but I do typically leave my "soakers," the padded cloth guards that one keeps on one's skates to keep them dry in storage, on my skates while I put the skates on, to lessen the chance of ruining my sharpening job by putting the blade on some errant piece of equipment while wedging my feet into the skates.

You already know where this is going, don't you?

As the time for my 5k approached, I finished tying my skates and went through my final mental checklist.  Skates on? Check?  Geeky skating glasses on? Check.  "String Thing" tied firmly around waist?  Check.  Skinsuit on and zipped? Check.

Ready to go.

So I clomped down my towel runway and stepped onto the ice.

"Hmm, first step feels funny.  I must be on the rough ice at the very edge of the oval.   I'll set down my other foot and push, so I get off the rough stuff."

Step.  Set down.  Push.

Crumple ignominiously to the ice, banging my right knee in the process.

Now, I just learned, at a staff development workshop at school, that our brains are capable of processing 2000-3000 thoughts per minute.  Let's average that to 2400, for ease of division.  So it's interesting that, of the 40 thoughts I could process during the second between my step and my landing on the ice, it took until approximately thought number 39 before I realized "oops, I left my soakers on."

I looked up from my resting spot on the warmup lane, right into the wide, horrified eyes of a young boy who had, prior to my descent to the ice, been peacefully assembling a Lego ship while he sat on the bench waiting for his dad to finish skating.

"Are you all right?" he asked with deep concern.

"Yeah," I said as I rolled onto my back like some chunky, lycra-clad turtle and began stripping the soaker from first one and then the other skate.  "I just forgot to take my guards off before I stepped onto the ice."

On the plus side, no one ran over me while I lay on the ice taking my guards off, which is about the best one can hope for in such a situation.

Now, on to the 5k.  Sprinter Boy, who was also in Milwaukee for a day of time trials, was kind enough to agree to give me my lap times, and had even managed to borrow a lap board from Pettit coach "I Yell So Loud They Hear Me In Green Bay,"  so I'd have coaching and splits in the backstretch.  Before the start, Sprinter Boy asked what my goal pace was.  Since I was hoping for a PB, under 8:30, I replied that I wanted to keep the lap times under 40 for as long as possible.

The opener went OK, a 24, just as I expected.  I really tried to relax the first lap, since I have a tendency to feel a bit too frisky at the start of the race and to go out a little to fast.  My first lap was still a 37. 44, which is a bit brisk but not bad--I always figure that the slightly-too-fast first lap will offset the slightly-too-slow opener, and give me a 600 meter time that's just right.

Then, somewhere in the second lap, I don't remember exactly, I got the heart arrhythmia again.  Damn.  Instant leg fatigue, instant out-of-breath, instant mental meltdown.  The second lap was a 39.39, lap 3 was a 40.37, and somewhere in there I completely mentally gave up.

Twelve laps is a long way to go when your body and brain are not into it.  I struggled along through lap 8, with the times steadily climbing to a 43.09-second eighth lap.  Sprinter Boy was valiantly encouraging me to "breathe" and to "set up the corner" and to "use the recovery," all of which were great advice but none of which I could implement enough to stop my slow, painful slide into suckdom.

Then, after I finished what I thought was a lackluster ninth lap, I heard the announcer say "that was a negative split by over six-tenths of a second."


The arrhythmia had stopped somewhere in lap...I don't know, six or seven?... but I was so mentally defeated by that point that I had made no effort to increase my pace when I started feeling better.  But apparently I had sped up anyway, so at that point I decided to try to bring the last three laps down as far as possible.  And I did: lap 10 was a 42.37, lap 11 a 41.68, and lap 12 a 40. 44, for a final time of 8:38.69.

Not a good time, not a good race.  Although still better, in some ways, than the race of the junior skater in the pair after me, who finished his first 5k ever with a respectable 8:22--and with a skinsuit covered in puke.

Still, not the result I was hoping for, and not only because the race time was slow.  I had thought, throughout the course of a mostly--PVC-free February, that the arrhythmia might be going away.  Apparently not so.

Oh, and the funny...after the race I stopped by one of the benches to talk to the Canadian skaters.  The little boy who had expressed concern for me after my fall was sitting on the bench.  He looked at me curiously, then said "someone...was it you...forgot to take their guards off..."

"Yeah," I said, "that was me."

"Oh."  He looked at me curiously.  "You changed your glasses."

Yes, I explained, these were my regular glasses and the other ones were my skating glasses.

"Yes," he replied earnestly, "but skating glasses are usually colored."

Apparently even the 7-year-old thinks I'm a geek.

So now?  The season is two weeks from the end.  I have two more weeks of practice, one more weekend of time trials at Roseville, and one more weekend of racing (more on that soon; it's quite the departure from the norm for me).  So I guess I'll just keep skating, hope the PVC's go away, and enjoy my last two weeks of ice.


  1. Just to make you feel better. I took my kids to public skate and was wearing my speed skates. I was so focused on watching one mom with her kids I stepped onto the ice, and fell right on my ass. I had forgotten to take off my plastic guards. Also, I cut my finger on my blade today trying to wipe off excess snow.

  2. Sharon, I think we're kindred (and slightly bruised) spirits...

  3. It was nice meeting you, I figured sooner or later we'd see each other at the Pettit.

    I actually got a warning about being sure to not interfere with the person in the outer lane during the lane change, the first time I was close enough to evenly matched in the pair for there to be any possibility of an issue. I thought he was already far enough ahead of me, but I can also tell you that my brain really doesn't work at all during a 500. During 1000s I've actually heard my lap time called over the address system, during the 500 I don't hear a thing, don't remember a thing, don't know how I get from start to finish.

    I once tried to walk over to the ice with the plastic blade guards on and take them off while getting on the ice (and then the reverse later) and I really have no idea how to do that. It looks awkward enough watching the Serious Athletes do it, but it's even harder than it looks! (Skating is full of skills you never even knew existed as distinct skills. Like picking up and putting down a water bottle while gliding "slowly" by at, um, what works out to be full running speed.)

    Looks like one more time trial for me, Coach They-Hear-Him-In-Green-Bay suggested I sign up to make sure we have enough skaters. ("Are you racing Saturday? We need you!")

  4. Michael,I hear you on the 500! It's funny, when I watch people who skate my speed it seems like everything is happening slowly and there's plenty of time to react; when I'm skating that speed, it feels pretty frantic!

    Good luck this weekend!