photo by Steve Penland

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's Official. I'm Slow.

I raced in Milwaukee yesterday, for the first time this season.

It was horrifically sucky did not go well.

Up until yesterday, this season's time trials had consisted of two 500's and two 1500's on the outdoor ice at Roseville.  The 500's were both 52 seconds, which is slower than any 500 I skated outdoors last year.  The 1500's were even worse; the 2:49 was my slowest outdoor 1500 since 2002, and the 2:45 wasn't far behind.  Workouts have been inconsistent; some have felt OK, but others have been slow and sluggish.  I'm back to having to time my thyroid meds pre-skate and have been having what I think are hypo symptoms again; I went in and got my levels checked on Wednesday (no results yet).  I've also had PVC's in a lot of workout laps.  Then, since I figured that battling thyroid-PVC's-overweight-underfit wasn't quite enough, I added one more factor.  I aggravated my left hamstring, which was already unhappy, by engaging in a full-out-sprint across the school playground in pursuit of a student who thought it was fun to head for the hills when it was time to come in from recess.  By the time I caught him I was so out of breath that all I could do was wag my finger and glare meaningfully at him while I gasped for air.  I'm not sure whether he was amused or horrified.

And then there was the Thursday Night Skinsuit Parade.

I have three "fast" skinsuits.  One I bought (for roughly the price of the Crown Jewels) in 2007 before I skated in the US Championships.  It's got a bit less rubber than the Nike Swift Skins, and is thus more forgiving of dietary indiscretions. So, although it was custom made from measurements that, thanks to age and hypothyroidism and an unbridled love of PopTarts, I will likely never see again, it nevertheless fit comfortably.  Unfortunately, it was not the skinsuit I wanted to wear.

My other two "fast" skinsuits are Nike Swift Skins that I earned from US Speedskating by skating the qualifying time for MAT 1.  Because I earned them, I really wanted to wear one of them--but I knew that my extra ten pounds of, um, muscle? might preclude that.  The older one is the gray one I've skated in for the past year; it was always snug before (and by "snug" I mean "as soon as the race is done I'm heading off the ice and ripping this thing off as fast as I possibly can") but it fit.  In the Thursday night try-on, though, it had progressed from "snug" to "OMG I can't breathe."  Since breathing is helpful, especially in the 3K, I sadly decided that the gray skin was out.  On to my newest MAT 1 suit, which, because I haven't skated a "real" race yet this year, I haven't ever tried to wear (I don't like to wear my best skinsuits for outdoor time trials because the risk of falling and damaging them is higher).

The new suit is a lovely red and black combo, and it is the first MAT 1 suit to have a "Masters" patch on it.  It is also, due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, a size smaller than my gray suit.  So things weren't looking good before I tried it on--and they were looking even worse after I finally wedged myself into it.  My previously-injured shoulder ached from the contortions required to get the suit onto my arms; my thighs were packed into the rubberized suit legs tighter than New Yorkers on a subway car; and various (as the Hubster calls random bits of fat) "chunks of volupt" continued to defy my efforts to stuff them into the still-open zipper--a zipper which, barring divine intervention or fabric ripping, was going to remain open for all eternity.  It was not a pretty picture.

So all things told, I was not predicting fast times.

Still, I had signed up to race and so I was going to race.  So after work on Friday I picked up Sprinter Boy, who was also racing, and we headed for Milwaukee. The trip went well, except for the "aha" moment when I put together the facts a) car upside down in ditch; b) light snow falling; and c) shiny road and arrived at the conclusion that the "shine" was not water but ice--not a good conclusion to reach at 70 mph.  Ice is good on the oval but not on the freeway.

I was signed up for the 500 and the 3K; the 500 is typically my "warmup" race and the 3K is the one I'm really interested in.  It's fortunate that I'm not seriously trying for a good time in both races because, in an event like this one where the 500 and the 3K might be 3 hours apart, it is extremely difficult to time my thyroid meds to have them optimal for both races.  My solution to this dilemma is to just time the meds for the 3K and treat the 500 as a warmup.  So I wasn't worried about the 500, which turned out to be just as well since my pair, skating in the inner lane, fell on the first corner and slid into my lane, necessitating my stopping skating and coasting to avoid running into her.  Other than that my 500 felt solid, technically--I tried counting strokes on the backstretch to help me time my corner entry, and it seemed to help--and even though the final 50.65 time was slow for me, I wasn't too upset about it.

The 3K, though...the 3K was making me nervous.  The seven-and-a-half laps were looking like a mighty long way to try to skate hard, and for the first time in about 8 years the 3K was sounding like a long race.  Plus, I was in a quad with two men (my pair had scratched) starting behind me; men who would certainly pass me and might even go on to lap me.  So my confidence was not high, and when Sprinter Boy, who would be giving me my lap times, asked what lap times I was aiming for, I replied that I'd probably be happy with anything under 42's.  To put that in perspective, my Milwaukee 3K's last year featured laps from 36 to 40 seconds, with a couple of very low 41's in my slowest race of the season (5:05).

So, the race.  Slow start, settle into a skating rhythm, try not to look at the "7" on the lap card as I pass the finish line for the first time.  Around the corner to the backstretch, to see the "5.0" on Sprinter Boy's borrowed lap board.  This indicates that my "opener"--the first partial lap, from start line to finish line-- was 25.0 seconds...a good .75 seconds slower than usual.  Not off to a good start.

The first full lap brought a "9.3" on the lap board--39.3 seconds. I had felt good in that first lap; strong, energetic, smooth.  Unfortunately "strong, energetic, smooth" usually translates to a 36 or 37 second lap rather than a 39.

On to lap two.  Relax, use the glide, don't rush it.  Oh, and breathe.  This last was becoming increasingly difficult, and soon I was actually feeling short of breath and found myself gasping for air.  Now, those of you who don't routinely skate 3K's might think that "out of breath and gasping for air" is the norm when racing, but it's not.  Yes, you need to breathe hard, but it's a rhythmic, controlled kind of "breathing hard."  The out of breath feeling was not normal for me; usually I associate it with PVC's, but I didn't feel any.  And the fatigue I quickly felt in lap two I also associate with PVC's.  So I wasn't too surprised to see a "1.5" (41.5 seconds) on the lap board after laps two.  Or a 2.6 on lap 3, or a 2.7 on lap 4.  What I was surprised by was the 2.3 on lap 5, and moreso by the 1.6 on lap 6 and the 0.6 on lap 7.  Yes, I had a negative split of 2 seconds from lap 4 to lap 7.  This just does not happen to me--unless I have PVC's mid-race.

Still, I hadn't felt any PVC's.  I know it's certainly possible to have them and not feel them; many people do. So maybe that was it.  Or maybe it was a mental thing; I always get a bit re-motivated at the end of the race, and this time I had the added advantage of seeing that I was gaining a bit on the fellow who had passed me mid-race, so I had someone to chase.  Whatever the reason, though--fat, out of shape, hypothyroid, PVC's, mentally unable to push myself--my final time of 5:15. 94 was the worst I've skated in Milwaukee since an epic-fail-unmedicated-hypothyroidism 3K in March of 2009; prior to that I have to go back to 2005 to find a slower 3K (last year's Milwaukee 3K's were between 4:51 and 5:05).  Not good.  Interestingly, my description of my 2009 5:21 sounds very similar to yesterday's race--short of breath, tired early, felt better the last 3 laps than the first 4--and a negative split from lap 4 to 7, although only 1.08 seconds instead of 2.  Weird.

So not a good time in Milwaukee.  Sprinter Boy didn't have the races he wanted, either (although his 500 and 1000 were top-5 for him for Milwaukee, so at least not in the "epic fail" zone).   And, before the races, I spent a few minutes talking to fellow masters skater NewFastGirl.  She's in her first full-on season of long track, and is setting PB's left and right and loving it.  We talked a bit about inlining in the summer and about the upcoming Masters Single Distance race in Milwaukee, and I found myself envying her; her youth, her enthusiasm, her steadily decreasing times, her being in the beginning stages of the skating obsession rather than the midlife crisis phase.  I don't like envying people--there's always someone who has it better than you do and you always have it better than someone else, so it's best to appreciate what you have rather than longing for what you don't...but still, I couldn't help envying her.

All in all, not a great Saturday in Milwaukee.

So what's next?  Get the thyroid lab results.  Rehab the complaining hamstring.  A week's worth of endurance workouts before the taper starts for Master's Single Distance in early January.  Try to avoid the PopTarts.  Try to think positively.

And try not to obsess over how slow I've become.


  1. Use me as your litmus point - that should make you feel better :)

  2. Hmm, I'm not so sure...after all, you're young (yes, you are :-) and you're improving, Ms. "Four crossovers." I'm officially envious of you, as well.

  3. All I can say is, "chunks of volupt" would be an awesome name for a band...

  4. Michael, I'm cracking up here...