It was a good week of skating, and I got some great advice from two skaters that I deeply respect.
Unfortunately, the two pieces of advice directly contradict each other.
On Tuesday night, I got to skate with Mr. Smooth. (I call him that for his skating style, not his pickup lines. I have no idea what his pickup lines are like.) Because I had to work late, I ended up getting to the oval for just the tail end of the usual practice time, and had to skate the entire late-night (9-10:00) adult open speedskating session as well in order to complete my workout.
The open speedskating session has the advantage of being lightly populated; instead of dodging Midgets (yes, that's an actual age group) all night, I got to share 400 meters of freshly Zamboni'd ice with just three other adult skaters--one of whom was Mr. Smooth. Despite the fact that he'd already skated the entire afternoon adult open speedskating session, Mr. Smooth joined me for my remaining four sets of five laps. Knowing I like to lead so that I can keep track of my un-draft-aided lap times, he was kind enough to follow me for the 20 laps. Midway through the first 400 meters, though, I heard an exclamation of surprise from behind me.
"Wow, your knee drive has improved incredibly. It looks really great."
Or words to that effect. At any rate, it was a sincere compliment and it made my day. I've been working on my knee drive...
The advice came when we got back into the warming house. My armswing, Mr. Smooth said, needs some work.
"Try to swing your arms straight front-to-back," he said, " and not so high on the backswing."
This didn't come as a surprise, because Coach TieGuy has chanted "front to back, to the hip" into my earbud more times than I can count. Apparently with not as much effect as he or I would like.
So anyway, Tuesday was fun. Then on Thursday, I talked to Mel (who was on the ice for her new long track coaching gig) a bit about technique. Like Mr. Smooth, she said that my general technique--including knee drive--was looking good, but that my armswing needed work.
"What you need to do," she said, "is swing your arms more side-to-side."
This actually didn't come as a surprise either, because it pretty much mirrored what Derek Parra had said at camp last month. So two bits of armswing advice, totally opposite, each supported by a skater and a coach who know what they are talking about. Great--now what do I do?
I think it probably comes down to doing what feels most comfortable for each individual; probably one technique works best for some people and one for others. Unfortunately the only armswing that feels natural to me is...well, come to think of it, no armswing really feels comfortable to me, even my current stiff-and-ineffective one. So clearly I have some figuring out to do.
I also need to figure out one critical component of my new, this-is-how-the-real-skaters-do-it technique--I really don't know what to do to go faster. I can do the approximately correct technique at 70-80% pace, but don't know how to get to 95-100%. With my old "Bunny on Crack" technique it was simple--I just moved my legs faster and more forcefully, like you do when running. That's not going to cut it with the standard use-the-glide speedskating stride, though. And "faster and more forceful" is really the only strategy I know.
I asked Mel about it, and she had some advice.
"It's all about pressure to the ice," she said. "Get lower, and imagine that you weigh more..."
Well, that's some advice I should be able to take. In fact, I don't even have to imagine that I weigh more...
(For the record, I'm predicting slow for tomorrow's 500 and 1500 meters, my first official time trials of the season. I'm really sore from yesterday, and with the not-being-able-to-figure-out-how-to-go-faster thing, I'm thinking times will be slow. All just part of the learning process, though--not to mention the getting-back-in-shape process)