The Fit That Matters

Ah, the sounds of spring.  Chirping birds, crowds outside again, and the hum of bearings.   What you won’t hear is me complaining about not being on 110mm wheels.  That’s because the fine folks at Simmons cast some new skate boots for me, and they are proper 7.5″ mounts so no need for an adapter plate and boot height (from the ground) is much improved, despite the wheel size.

Since I’m breaking in a new pair of boots, I thought this would be a great time to blog about the whole custom boots thing, how you get them and what to expect.

Why go custom?  Its expensive and there really is no guarantee that you will truly get something that fits you better than a stock boot.  Perhaps there are many justifications, but I think there is one simple reason that really maters.  Comfort.

You might think that paying a lot for a little comfort is just being obsessive.  I think you’ll find though that if you put a lot of time in your boots, you’ll quickly come the same conclusion.  That is; having injured feet, not only sucks, but it can force you off skate, or make you train less effectively while limping through blisters, or tender bone points.

Of course not every one will encounter such issues.  Some people just have normal shaped feet, and can do quite well with a stock boot.  In these cases getting a custom boot is really more about aesthetics or just wanting the top drawer boot.  Not necessarily wrong either; I’m sure lots of people have high end bikes who will never attend the Olympics or the Tour de France.  Being an enthusiast of a sport means…well, being enthusiastic. :)

Gavin cutting open my Simmons plaster cast to remove from my foot.


But sometimes a custom boot really is warranted.  Here is why:

  • Different manufactures use different models for the “standard” foot.  Some companies use a more narrow foot, some use a shorter foot etc.  If you really want a boot from a specific vender, they’re stock model may simply not be a match for you.  If possible, its worth trying on a pair from a vender before you decide if its necessary to take that next step with them.
  • Existing injuries; many of us (self included) have existing injuries.  For example bone calluses from playing hockey for years, or surgery etc. that has resulted in an unusually shaped foot.  Without further surgery (which may be an option for you), a stock boot may not be a match.
  • Fit and options; even if a stock boots works good, it may not be optimal.  For example some people like a loose boot some like a very tight fit, some people like  a cant in the frames, or want custom styling.  With a custom boot you have the opportunity to tell the boot vender exactly what you’re looking for.

These benefits do not come easily though.  Price will (for most people) be a significant barrier.  Custom boots can be as much as twice as much as the top end stock boots.  Where you might pay $800 for a top stock boot, its easy to pay $1,600 for a custom boot.   Prices will vary, but don’t expect it to be cheap.

The first thing to do is select your vender and get a mold done.  There are lots of options here; some send you a plaster wrap kit, wet the plaster and wrap your foot. The plastered cloth hardens and you send the mold back.  Some venders use an acrylic sock; its fabric that is soaked with a chemical that hardens shortly after being wetted.

Essentially you roll the sock on, and shape to your foot then send the hardened plastic shell back.

If your lucky enough to be able to make an appointment with them, or catch them at an inline race, then you can get the actual guy who builds the boot to mold your foot.  This really the ideal, it has the minimal chance of miscommunication.  I’ve done all mine with plaster or acrylic socks, and I do wish that I had a chance to get molded directly by the boot maker.

Final Simmons casts, marked up to show specific customizations.

Once you send your foot castings back to the vender, they’ll give you an estimate of when the boots will be ready.  Keep in mind; its an estimate! Sometimes there are plant closures, or problems with shipping or whatever.  If its more than a month or two past the estimate though, then you should be looking for some details on what’s going on.

Making boots is a highly specialized craft, there are literally only a hand full of companies around the world who make custom skate boots, and most of these companies are basically a guy who (over many years) has learned to make good boots.  So for most venders when you order a pair of customs, you go into a queue and several months later, you’ll get a pair sent back to you.

Once your boots come back, life won’t necessarily be all rainbows and unicorns.  Even custom boots can have issues:

  • The maker may decide to sand off a corner to make something look nice, or make other such alterations that ultimately may impinge on your fit and create a hot spot.
  • Between the vender and you, stuff can happen in transit.  Its very rare, but always a possibility.
  • Mis-communication; this is really the biggest issue.  If you assume that the boot maker is thinking the same thing as you…you are creating a ticking time bomb :( In some cases the boot maker may not even speak the same language as you.  Don’t leave anything to chance, be very, very clear about your order and customizations, and follow up to be sure everyone is on the same page. Getting back a pair of boots that have exactly what you asked not have…is something more than frustrating.

You might now be thinking, sheeze, why bother?  Comfort.  Even if you have to still do some break in with a custom boot, having a boot that doesn’t turn you foot into hamburger every practice is going to be something you’ll appreciate for years to come.  There is nothing worse than not being able to train or compete, because blisters or bone spurs caused by the very training you counting to compete.  Don’t skimp on comfort. :)

So, if you haven’t been thoroughly discouraged, lets talk about getting customs!

There are lots of skate companies out there, our team Schankel – Kallisto, obviously skates for Schankel and Simmons but there are lots of choices out there:

  • Schankel
  • Simmons
  • Luigino
  • Bont
  • Junker
  • APEX
  • RBC
  • VH

I’ve actually been through the custom boot experience no less than 4 times and only 2 times did the boots actually work out.  I know skaters who have ordered customs and the result was unusable as well.  So before you whip out your wallet, give thought to nature of customs, there is great chance that you will get awesome boots, that no one will ever be able to pry from your cold dead fingers.  There is also a chance you’ll get expensive door stops.  Buyer beware!

New Skate Smell

I can’t speak for the quality of all venders, but I can tell you about my experience so far.  To date my best pair of boots “evuh”  are my Bont 2006 vapors; not because I’m a huge fan of Bont but because everything went right; the guy who molded them for me (Gavin Thulien) did an awesome job, Bont did a great job at following my customization instructions, and I end up with a custom speed boot that has never given me blisters or hot spots.  I’ve literally skated 200Km in a day, in those boots, and not had 1 issue with them.   These boots are getting old and frayed now, and like a favorite pair of sneaks the fit is more than you can expect from anything else.

Those boots were 6.5″ mount though, and with an adapter plate (which works great by the way), they can take a normal 4x100mm wheel set.  But 110mm wheels are just not an option.  So I later tried for a Bont 3 point boot.  The boot was more or less good, but very heavy and ultimately too short in the toe box; I couldn’t train or race in them regularly, the short toe box meant that I was constantly hammering my toes.

Following that I tried for a pair of Schankel Edge R boots.  I got an awesome pair of boots back, top drawer quality, awesome styling, and lite!  Nothing clumsy about these bad boys.  Unfortunately, miscommunication was an issue, and the toe box was made very short.  Even shorter than my Bont 3 points.  I was only able to wear the boots for about 5min before the pain on my toe joints was intolerable.

Randy Plett (skates for Bont) stepped up and tried to help me get the toe box pushed out a bit with a specialized fitting machine.  Randy was a pleasure to work with on this, but you can only stretch a boot so far before you risk cracking the carbon shell. He gave me another couple of mm but it wasn’t enough.

So, ultimately the Schankel boots were a no go as well. :(

Equipment Pr0n

You might think that given the prices involved, that after this second strike, it would surely be foolish to try yet again for a custom pair.  Surely.

So I dialed up Jeniffer Simmons and inquired about a custom boot.  They took all my customizations, and confirmed everything, no communication problems at all.  They said the boots would be ready in a few months, and they were ready sooner.  Something that doesn’t usually happen.  In fact all the other customs I’ve had done took 6-12months longer than expected.    This alone is enough for me to give Simmons the nod.

The boots themselves are an excellent tight fit.  They’re a bit of a chore to squeeze into, but once my feet are in and the boot is laced, the fit is great.  I did get Gavin (who did the molding on these) to come over to help me push out a hot spot on one of my ankle cuffs, but otherwise the boots are a great fit.  They’re  a little stuff being completely new, but I’ll be breaking them in over the next couple of months.

Whether is a custom pair of boots or stock boots, sometimes you will need to make adjustments.  Most modern skate boots are made with a combination of fiberglass, carbon fiber and plastics.  These materials can actually be molded…with some effort.   For the specifics for your boot, talk to the vender, they’ll give you exact details on how to touch up your molding.

In general though the process is to heat your boot, either by baking (but not like this) for 10-20min at a low temperature (generally less than 180F) or by heating for a bit with a high pair blow dryer or paint stripper.  Be very careful though, its very easy to burn the materials.  Use any such device on its low setting and don’t hover over a single spot.  Use a circular motion and heat outside and inside 60/40.

Once you can feel the material give a little bit you can then use a rounded screw driver handle or something similar to push out a hot spot, and get some relief for you foot :) This will take some working of the material though, expect to do some sweating. Working a single hot spot for 20-30min will be the minimum.

Again, if you have a local guy who does skate fittings, he’ll likely have specialized tools such as a ball and ring tool for stretching the material that will make things a much, much easier.  Again, be careful!  Do any push out in small increments and go only as far as you need to to get relief, pushing the material too far will simply crack the shell :(

My new Simmons boots are also very light (like the Schankel boots) without sacrificing any stiffness.  Really the only problem with the skates…isn’t the skates, its my own training level, which <ahem> needs a little work right now.  More on that in my next blog posting.

The problems I’ve experienced aren’t unique to any of the venders I’ve worked with.  These kinds of issues can arise with any vender, even when they are well intentioned, stuff just goes wrong sometimes.  Just keep this in mind when considering the step up to customers.  Not so much to discourage you from getting customs, but to set your expectations.

Work it baby.

To sum up, custom boots can deliver amazing results, but its not guaranteed.  Be prepared to be patient while ordering, and to deal with some follow up issues.  If you have a local guy who is good at molding boots, you should get some help, molding your own foot is not a great option.  Get help from someone with experience and minimize the potential for follow on issues.

I would hesitate to give single recommendation for a boot – everyone is different and some boots may simply work better for one person than another.  I can definitely say though that my recent experience with Simmons has been really good, and not only do many of the fast guys I know skate in Simmons boots but the top guy in our sport skates in them. Perhaps a better measure though is what other regular skaters say about them.  So far all the people I know with Simmons boots have had only good stuff to say. I think that’s success. :)

Old faithful.
















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Choose Wisely

How do you choose which success to have? At first glance you might think this a silly question.  After-all, life is hardly so tough if you are choosing between a good option and a good option.  Perhaps, and perhaps not.  For everything you choose to do, there is a thing you chose not to do.  It is this consequence that isn’t always so evident, but can as much or more impact.   In this post I’m going to try and catch you up on the choices I’ve been making, and the ones soon to be made :)

Now: horribly out of shape, off my skating groove, overweight, overworked and overstressed.  How did I get here?

Then: 2009.  My employer, Nortel Networks, went bankrupt with seemingly little notice. I had worked at Nortel for 15 years as a software engineer, enjoyed a great career, and incidentally got introduced to speed skating there by local coach Gavin Thulien, during after work learn to skate programming 9back when it was BNR…no not the Big Nerd Ranch.  There is a lot to say about Nortel, but basically it was poorly managed   Truly a shame as for all the bad stuff, there were some great people and great things going on.

But life goes on!  While going bankrupt, many of were unsure of our future and immediately started working on plan B.  For me this was all about working up skills in web development.  15 years of hard core C++/Unix app development doesn’t really help when someone wants you to deliver some Ajax code with cloud services.   Well, general experience helps of course, but you need to have skin in the game. So off came the metaphorical shirt.

Throughout 2009 there was a huge cloud hanging over all of us ex Nortel-folks.  All of our spare time for hobbies, training etc, got re-prioritized really quickly :( I imagine some people were able to hang on to after-work stuff, as for myself I tried, but eventually I just wasn’t able to juggle the job hunting and new skills development with my skating and training.

So I chose.  I chose to focus on developing a plan B.  I started my own web company, knowing pretty much zilch about web 2.0, graphic design, cloud services, etc, etc.  I had  starting point though, I was pretty good already with PHP and content management systems, so I used that to get my foot in the door and get some business.  With a lot of sweat, I actually turned over about 10K in profits over the course of 2009, 2010…even better.  :)   Along the way I leveled up my web skills, reinvested my earnings back into my  little business and genuinely grew.

In fact the clouds parts and sun came through in full force.  Avaya, formerly a competitor to Nortel, bought up our business unit (the Enterprise division).  and I suffered no loss in benefits or pay level.  So by the end of 2009, I actually had two jobs, even more income then before, and I was quickly building a pool of very marketable skills.  Skills that I simply had no way of building up inside Nortel, and to some extent even inside Avaya.

Going into 2010 life was starting to be good.  My choice to focus on career had lead to more security and more green in the bank, and perhaps more importantly, more growth.  I’ve learned so much since 2009, so many new skills and new perspectives on things technical.

One of my core values, maybe my biggest core value is simply growth.  There is very little I value more than personal growth.  While I had to work like a dog, it seems very much worthwhile.  The main reason I continue with my after-job job, is just the learning value. I don’t need the money, Avaya allows me a very healthy salary, and my mortgage is completely paid off.  I only basically need living expenses now.

But the appeal of learning new skills and new technology is simply too much!  This is the real reason I continue with the web stuff. albeit now with a better balance.  Whether its technical development or skating, growing and evolving is something I value and seek out.  For me its one of the reasons I stick with skating, just because it offers so much challenge.

But for every choice you make, there is a choice you didn’t make.  My focus had shifted away from training and skating, and I fell off my normal performance levels.  Throughout 2010, I continued to do my normal day job at Avaya, and get more and more successful at that.  In fact I’m at a point where they simply can’t give me raises any more unless I jump to managed, I’m paid nearly as much as the people who manage me :( Were I to combine my web income with my day job, I would certainly be over. At the same time, I continued to get bigger web customers, and customers from further abroad, reaching into newtechnical areas.  Recently I’ve even started to test the waters with app development.

If I were a police dog, new skills would be my little red ball. :)

But, all of that growth and success came at the cost of my skating.  You can’t be working on your stride, and upping your cardio while you jockeying the keyboard.  :( Although I still tried to sustain my training in 2010, I simply didn’t have time to get across town or over to Gatinaue park, and skate with the club.  Training on my own I made some good progress, bringing my 10k time trial time from an initial 23min down to 19 and change.   But the simple fact is, if you are to skate fast, you have to train with faster skaters.  You need to push towards someone else’s limits.  When you compete against yourself, its far harder to truly challenge yourself.

In the end my 2010 skating just fell off the map, by July and the Canada Day Marathon I was in fair shape, but still not at a level I would have expected of myself.  As the demands of both my jobs continued to grow, my training dropped further off the table.  By the time September and the Ottawa Festival rolled around, I had given up on the mileage club…something that anyone who knows me, would immediately see as a red flag. :(   You might think 3,000+ Km skated in a season is a lot, but in-fact its more than 1,000 Km off my usual.

While I had some fun at the Ottawa Festival, it was just that – fun. I wasn’t really there to compete.  Our team had a great showing, it was simply awesome to have a sea of white skin-suit clad Schankel skaters there to work with.  We had a great time skating together, and it was genuinely one of my most enjoyable races.

After the Festival I pretty much hung up the skates, partly I think because of burn out, but mostly just being focused completely on work.  Once the training stopped, a very simple equation took over.  calories in = calories out.   I kept eating, but without the training, the pounds started piling up.  I wasn’t over eating, but I wasn’t eating healthy either.  More choices and consequences!

The end result is that going into 2011 I was way off my usual skating grove, not even gonig to indoor, once again at weight levels I hadn’t seen in years, and becoming ever more focused on working more and more hours of the day at one of my two jobs.

How bad did it get?  Imagine spending your week like this:  wake-up, work 9Am-10Pm at your day job, then stay up until 2AM working at your other job.  Rinse and repeat.  Not only does that exclude skating and training, but your girlfriend, and your sanity!   After a big glut of getting through a whole bunch of tough deliverables,  things have evened out.

I’ve gotten good enough at both jobs that I can do a lot more, in a lot less time, I’m focusing on the right stuff, and now I’m pushing back on the hours for work, and giving hours back to myself for skating, my girlfriend and remaining sane :)

Next steps: now that my mind set has turned back to focusing on being healthy, and not just being completely focused on job security, I’ve started training again.  Its going to be a while before I’m race worthy, but I have a renewed zeal for getting back into shape.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot about training, about how my body reacts to training and how to mentally work through it.  I intend to use all of that experience, and a secret weapon to get back into shape.

My secret weapon?  My skating friends :)   I will certainly be challenging myself, and racing the clock, and my own limits, but nothing can really push your limit, like reaching for someone else’s limit. So this year I’ll be making the effort to again get back to skating with other skaters.

Plus, I for one would not underestimate the positive energy of training with others.  One of the biggest reasons solo training can be dull is just because there is no shared challenge, no shared accomplishment.  Sure there are times when you have to deal with something, mentally, on your own.  But training with others is a important to.  For me, even though it will be hard to find the time to make that happen, I’m going to.

I have high hopes for 2011.  I may not be out competitively until mid to late season, but I will eventually be back at the races, and not just there to cruise, I’ll be there to compete.  Between now and then though, I have a lot of work to do.  I’ve already started training, and I’ll be making updates about that soon.

The biggest goal this year is Montreal 24hrs.  Our team (Schankel Canada) is making a big push for 24hrs.  I’m planning all of my training to peak for and be optimized for that.  I may do some races before then and after that, but really the only thing I’m truly focused on is being at my absolute best for 24hrs.  I’ve been to 24hrs 5 times, and well know the demands of the event.  I will be no less demanding of myself while training. :)

More updates are coming soon.  I wanted to start off my 2011 blogging at ground zero.  Hopefully my choices above, will help explain what you’ll see in upcoming posts, and also provide some insight into my motivations.  The choices I’ve made were good career choices, but even good choices can lead to bad results, this year I choose skating :)

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New Full Weekend Canadian Event June 4th/5th

Hello skaters, The Ottawa Inline Festival is re-energizing, and reformulating into an all out two day event.  On June 4th and 5th we’ll be giving you a full weekend of Northern action!  The details are being finalized now, please keep an eye on our website – – over the next couple of weeks as we unveil this great new event!

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New Shankel Suit!

Hey, there is a new Schankel Canada suit out.

If your interested in picking one up and looking fine for the spectators, give me a shout or contact our team manager (Andrew) directly.  We need to get a minimum order of 15 together.  I want two, so we just need 13 more :)

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Canada Day

This report is a wee bit late due to real life distracting me from skating/blogging.

Back on July 1st, also known as Canada day here in the northern realm, I skated the annual Canada Day marathon in Cambridge.  This event is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and not so easy to get to, but its worth drive (special thanks to Kaye for the drive!).    The pavement is pretty good throughout, and the entire back stretch is clean relatively new pavement, where you can easily cruise in the mid-30′s (kph).  There is always BBQ hot dogs afterwords and lots of catching up with skating friends, from both sides of the border actually. :)

Along with driving duties Kaye took some video, I did a quick edit of it, and you can watch the race from start to finish as captured at the finish area.

Note: Peter posted results over here, and a report.  A couple of picture albums, here and here.

For me, this race was a wash out.  It started out great, but my legs/boots caved on me.  The start was actually very comfortable, I was surprised that it wasn’t faster, but I guess everyone was waiting until after the first turn.  Off the line I was able to easily slot in behind Morgane who was the first to the front.  She doesn’t provide a lot of draft (much smaller), but we weren’t skating hard either.

We cruised down the big hill leading into the finish area, and started climbing up the hill out of the finish area. The pack started accelerating, split into a couple of pace lines and I tried to accelerate as well…but couldn’t.  Yet again, my feet were squirrley in my 110mm Bont boots which had been made slightly too short for my feet.   All summer I’ve been training on my 100mm Bont Vapors, since none of the 110mm mountable boots I have fit my feet.  The Bont 3 points I have are close but still too short, so I only where them at race time.

This though doesn’t really work out :( For some reason last year I was able to pull off this big switch on race day.  This year though its impossible.  Over the winter I gained 30lbs (since April I’ve lost 20lbs again) and suspect that what happened is through loss of brute strength (no weight lifting this past winter), and my arch falling a bit under the increased weight, my feet spread out a little longer and it made the slightly too short Bont boots from last year, too short this year.

At any rate, after the first hill I pushed hard to stay on with the pack (anywhere in the group), but within the next few klicks I got flushed out the back after not paying enough attention to the slinky.   I tried to bridge up, but it was not use, my legs and the 110′s just weren’t co-operating.

Its extremely frustrating…in training on my 100s, I’ve got plenty of pick up and go, and can comfortably cruise at high speed.  But for whatever reason, this year I haven’t been able to translate that onto my 110mm boots on race day.

So, the plan going forward for this summer is just stay on my 100mm boots and race clean and solid.  Forget about trying to use the 110s for now.  I am in contact with the Jen Simmons, and I’m getting a new pair of boots from them.  I have high hopes for that.  Basically, now the focus turns to 2011, get the new boots over the winter, train hard in off-sesaon, and in the sprint train and and race on 110s.

So after getting flushed, I settled down into cruising mode, with the aim of picking up stragglers and building a pack I could work with.   Not long after I picked up Candy, and we then swept up Jackie and Herb.    As always, Herb was an awesome bundle of positive energy :) Just as the year before, I know I would be sprinting with Herb for the line, and still knew that he was a sprinter and I…am not.   Still though, I started planning for the finish.

We did the remaining laps (its a 3 lap course), and remembering the advice of Aaron Arndt – “Never lead at 100%”, I didn’t and saved some juice for the end :)   We rotated pulling right up until the last stretch of the loop, which comes back to the start line at the top of the big hill that leads down into the finish area.  At that point Jackie was in front pulling, and its seemed like ideal positioning, I had draft, but was still in front of Herb and could make a move when it was good for me.

I waited until we had already started down the hill, to make sure the sprint would be 500m or less (hopefully), stepped out of the pack and jammed it! I was doing pretty well at holding big Herb off, but towards the bottom, there were a couple of rec skaters straddling the road, and the only way through was between them.  If I switched lanes I thought I was going to give Herb grief who was likely trying to pass on that side as well.  So I slowed to scootch past the rec skaters, Herb went by cleanly in the other lane and at that point I just finished out the sprint kind of half halfheartedly.

Once Herb was in front I didn’t really hold any hope of being able to catch him, I’m just not a sprinter at least not yet.

Looking back, I guess I should have been a little more aggressive about moving into the other lane, it feels like I kind of gave up the position, just to avoid  a little bit of risk that wouldn’t been that bad.  But, thats racin’ – lots can happen on race day, and its easy to armchair quarterback it once your back home :)

While I’m disappointed with my own results, the race overall went off really well.  I got to catch up with friends, and I kept the shiny side up (always good).  Next race is Chicagoland – now called the Fitness for America Sports Festival.  Really looking forward to that.  I’ll be wearing skates I’m comfortable with, its a great course to skate, and the event is really well done.

Bigger news though: For 24hrs (Montreal) this year I’m doing a two man team with Ed Leung.  My basic goal will be to skate 500km within the 24 hours.  The most I’ve ever skated in a day is 200km, so I’m really not sure if I’ll be able to do it.  I’m sure I’ll make 300-400km, but beyond that I just don’t know.  I’m going to find out though!

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Small Steps

Some mixed results for this mid-season update.  The pudge-o-meter is under serious attack!  I’ve dropped 20lbs and it looks like I’ll be under 175lbs by Chicago (end of July). Actually I’m hoping for 170lbs by then but it will be tough.   Trying to drop weight and build strength for speed is not really a combination that works well together.  For now I’m doing what I can to manage the compromise but give priority to dropping weight.     Come backs are hard, and this one is no exception :(

As the season has progressed, not only have I managed to drop weight, despite my Coca-Cola loving ways, and my penchant for potato chips.  But despite the great progress, I’m still not where I was last year, but I’m now hopeful for some late season success.  Some good results at Defi or A2A would be cool.    New York is a possibility, will have to find a ride though :)

To give you a sense of the progress so far, this graph shows my 10k time trial times against my weight, and mileage in training:

The scale on the left is the total kilometers skated since April 1st, and the red line shows the accumulated mileage. The scale on the right is Kph, and shows the average speed over a 10k time trial (the sea green line). Essentially my speed up has gone from an average speed of 24kph to 32.7kph. I’m hopeful that my 10k time trial time will get into the 34′s in august. At that point will consider myself in pretty good shape.

My best ever 10k with a pack (actual race), on perfect pavement with a downhill course, 16m 17s (2008 Ottawa Festival), which is an average speed of 36.8Kph. But that was with better pavement, a pack, and not having to dodge cyclists, tar snakes, or slow down to make two turns. If I can get above 34Kph for the venue I train in, I’ll be very happy.

If you want to see what one of these time trials looks like, with heart rate, take a look at this graph:

The red line is heart rate and it goes from 150bpm on the left, to the peak on the right which maxes out at 184bpm.  Fun fact; at 184bpm, my breakfast starts thinking about seeing the light of day again.  My time trials are done on a parkway with good pavement, not excellent, but pretty good.  The center  line has tar snakes all the way, and you have to get around cyclists and such, so there is a lot of speed variation due to just trying to avoid “railing” the center line tar snake.   The parkway that is closed off on Sundays is 3km and change, so to make 10k I have to slow, and do a 180 twice (it a point to point venue).   You can clearly see these turns where the speed drops off to 10-15Kph.

The fun doesn’t end there though. :) Through the summer I’ve been doing other workouts.  In general trying to mix things up and not get worn out on training (mentally).    My  priority is drop weight and get back into shape, but my other priority is be ready to support my team mates (Schankel Canada) at races.  My role on the team is support; work for the sprinters, bridge gaps, get our sprinters to the last 500m with fresh legs.

To that end, a lot of my training is focused on high pace, and being able to recover from attacks.  One workout that’s been a big focus is just taking 5km and repeating 4times, trying to skate it as fast as I possibly can, with a couple of sprints thrown in.   Here is what one of these bad boys looks like:

These sessions are done on city paths, where the pavement quality is anywhere from bad to good.  The main limitation is that you have to slow down for a couple of intersections that are not lit or signed, so cars can go sailing through at any time.  On top of that you have to dodge cyclists, walkers, rec skaters, dogs, gnats, squirrels, ducks, geese, and poo, lots of poo (mostly from the aforementioned ducks and geese).

Still though this and other workouts can be satisfying, I do wish we had some kind of track to work with, I’m sure I could push the pace a lot higher.  We do have a 400m track across the river, but getting there is 40min bike ride, and you never know if its in use or not by the school kids/soccer league, and its not exactly in top shape (rough patches of pavement and more than its share of sand on the corners).

One other workout worth mentioning; hill repeats.  I’ve been working this one through the summer to try and make sure I don’t drop off completely on hill climbing.  Basically I skate out to a hill on the other side of the river that gives me a about 500m of climb and I think it rises maybe 15m, so not a killer hill, but when sprinting up it, it will give a decent work out:

So, overall the training is going well. I’ve lost 20 of the 30lbs I need to lose, my speed has gone way up, average cruising speed is much higher, and my sprints are snappier, although I can always improve on the sprints. I’m feeling good, and look forward to being properly back in the groove sometime in August.

If things go really well, I’ll be in great shape for Chicago (end of the month). Not sure I can lose another 10lbs by then, but I’ll try. Even if I do, its a mixed success; dropping that much that quickly would likely burn muscle and fat…which ultimately slows you down. But then again, as a skater we fight friction, and weight leads to friction, so less weight is always a good thing.

I wish my progress was faster, but I have only myself to blame for slacking off last winter so badly. Blame isn’t the right word, but whatever the cause, the result is the same, I had (and have) a lot of pudge to work through, but I’m on course and determined to get there :)

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Over the Next Hill

This weekend I flew down to Napa Valley (wine country) to do the annual Napa Inline Marathon held there on the Silverado trail.  As I started my training late this year and substantially  heavier than the same time last year, I’m still playing catch up with other skaters, but I was glad to be out racing.  Overall this was a pretty mellow race, the start wasn’t too crazy and for the most part race was held at pace except for a couple of sprints.

The results; you can view the results online here.  Top dog of the day was Robin Sigl.   Fellow  Schankel Canada team skater Sylvia Lee was in attendance; like me getting a training race in preparing for races further down the calendar.  Not many female skaters, but apparently we had an Olympic level skater among us; Eva Rodansky, Eva was out on her inlines, and getting right into the action, taking pulls up front of the lead pack.

On to the action!  The start is a up a slight incline and then dips into a valley; the start is actually in the middle of two valleys, and when you crest each of those you get to the 180 turns at either end of the course (the start/finish is in the middle of the loop).  So no shortage of hills, its basically all hill.  But, the pavement is so good it doesn’t feel quite so bad. The start felt slow, but I topped out at 40Km/h before settling into 4th or 5th position.

As we made our way down to the short end of the loop, there was jockeying and I drifted a little further back  in the pace line (which at this point hadn’t broken up too much).   We made the turn at 4km, a little acceleration and regrouping and we cruised through short end valley with some nice downhill train action.

Through the start/finish area and into the valley on the long end of the loop; we topped out at 43Km/h  gliding the hill, climbing out of that valley some of the boys up front got froggy and jumped a bit, everyone spread out trying to regroup, and unfortunately during that sprint, I just lacked the gaz to get quickly back on.  It was discouraging, I really didn’t want this to be yet another skate your own race.

Fortunately the valley on the long side is kind of a double hill, so on the second downhill (which is fairly long), I mentally re-grouped, focused on my form just put the hammer down to try and sustain as high a pace as I could.  Coming off the big downhill I was able to  get some 50Km/h action, and then over the next 4km to the long end turn,  cruise at 36Km/h  and then eventually ran out of juice and dropped to 33Km/h.

But along the way, I passed some other skaters who had dropped off the back as well.  One of them (I think his name is Lyle?) from Team Napa hooked up with me a couple of Km from the turn and we helped each other get there.  As we hit the turn we could see the lead pack piling up at the turn just 20-30m in front of  us.  We had worked hard, and we were about to re-join the lead pack.  Being a chase pack of 2 might seem cool, but its not!  Much better to be with the lead group and be there for the field sprint at the end.

As we rounded the 180 though, Lyle’s legs cramped up and he crumpled, I skated wide to get around him, and hit the grass…running, but caught something and tumbled in the grass.  I popped up and looked back, but Lyle was out of action, just too cramped up.  He said to go on so I took off, hammering as hard as I could but now the lead pack had opened up a sizable gap again, and I just didn’t’ have the same energy any more.

Still not wanting to give up, I skated as hard as I could all the way to the other end of the course (about 10Km).  As I much as I didn’t want a solo skate, there I was solo skating, sweating it out and just hoping I could catch someone else from the lead pack to work with.  Being a chase pack of one, might seem cool but…

About 3km from the long end turn  (where the big downhill ends), I now had a big climb, this is actually the biggest climb of the course.  As I worked my way up, I did catch another skater, I waved to him to hop on but he chose to wait for a bigger pack behind me (more on that later).  So it was I did my own little 10K time trial through both valleys and to the short end turn on the other end of the course.

At this point I was 24km into the race and the lead pack had a good minute on me.  I made the turn but about 500m out of the turn I saw a pack coming down to the turn on the other side.  Everything considered, I decided it was time to stand up.  I grabbed my Gatorade and happily chugged that.  Then just skated easy until they caught me.  We were now officially an actual chase pack! :)

I didn’t know these skaters, except for John Charbonneau (Asphault Beach).  But we all had a common goal at this point, close the gap to the lead group.  So we rotated pulls and worked together on keeping the speed up.   With lots of draft in the pack I was able to recover and get my energy back.  After cruising through the start/finish area and hitting the second valley, and then the “big climb” (in this direction a big downhill), I was up front and and let ‘er rip downhill.   Got some nice 52Km/h sub-max sprinting…could likely have pushed it harder, but I wasn’t feeling so confident in my 110mm boots (my Bont 3 points).  I only used them twice this year; once at Montreal and once at this race.

We cruised to the far end turn, the lead pack went by on the other side, out of reach now, but it looked like they were just cruising.   We made the far end turn and continued to work together to keep the pace up.    As we came up to the big climb, John pulled off the front, and my turn to lead came up.  I hadn’t planned this at all, but it turned out to be great positioning for me.

I was struggling on the hill, but I could hear the guys behind me struggling even more.  So I looked at my Garmin…3Km to the finish, nearly at the top of the hill, and then thought: you’ll never get a break away opportunity handed to you this nicely again.  :) So when we crested the hill, I sucked up the pain and kept the pressure on.  Through the flat to the next little climb leading up to the turn before the decline to the finish.

At this point I had opened a 30-40sec lead on the rest of the chase group, burned the remaining gaz sprinting up the little hill to the turn.  Knowing that once I hit the turn, as long as I’m in front of the others there would be little chance of someone having enough energy to get past me on the downhill.

The breakaway lead  was enough to secure a finish in front of my  group though, I was able to maintain the 30-40sec breakaway and didn’t have to fight for positioning at the line.

Looking back, that was the hardest part of the race for me, but also the most enjoyable.  I was able to actually practice a break away attempt in true race conditions, and test my pain tolerance a little bit…all good!

So although I dropped off on that first lap sprint, I’m still quite happy with the race.  I got a lot of training value from it, I feel better on my 110′s now, and can now add breakaways to my bag  of tactics.  Of course, with faster skaters I’ll have to muster more speed and stamina, but still worth trying :) My guess is that like in cycling, break aways often fail, but when they work, they work great! :)

Overall, a good race, would have liked to have stayed on with the lead pack, but given that I’m catching up with other skaters in terms of training and dropping my weight, it went pretty well.   I’ll be training hard between now and Chicago, and I’m hoping to be fully up to speed by then.  In the larger picture I’m plan is to peak for Deluth.

If you haven’t tried Napa yet, I do recommend it, the hills are hills, but the pavement quality is some of the best you’ll get at any inline race.  Being able to skate on smooth pavement really makes it a lot more  enjoyable.  There is always a BBQ afterwords during the awards and its a not a bad way to spend a sunny California day :)

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Burn Baby Burn

Muffin top. Don’t want it, didn’t ask for it, but I’ve got it, and now its the gift that keeps on giving! Over the winter I gained 30+lbs. I’ve been training hard since April to get back into racing shape, and I’m making great progress, but catching up from such a huge handicap is no easy task. Still though things are improving.

The most obvious improvement is just feeling good on my skates again, but more than that I’ve found my form again and started to tweak and improve it over last year. Although I’m trying not to get too obsessive about the numbers, its important to recognize where you’re really at (I think). From that standpoint the numbers are good objective indicator. Kind of like hill skating, you can’t cheat the hill, your favorite big hill will never lie to you :)

At the moment my numbers are improving; my body fat percentage has dropped from 34% to 26%. My raw weight is down 10lbs to 190lbs, but I haven’t been able to get into the 180′s. I’m expecting this to happen now by July…unfortunately it just takes time. I’m trying to be careful to not starve myself and hence not build the muscle, or likewise burn off muscle and fat…the muffin top is the only thing I want to loose :)

Other numbers are improving as well. My 10K time trials have improved a lot (see graph below). While the improvement is great, there is still work to do. A decently respectable 10K (for me) would be around 17:30, I’ve done it before, so I know its in me…just have to dig harder for it. Once I can get back to that level of performance, I’ll consider myself back in shape. For now its going to be all about choking down more intervals, hill repeats and core conditioning.

One other “big” number is that my cumulative mileage on skates so far is about 1,400km since April 1st.  To put that into perspective, its about 175Km  a week.

This year I’m really trying hard to do my maintenance training as well though;  plyos and core conditioning and I’ve been doing running and even did my first running race.  It was only an 8K run, but it was gratifying to have a running race not completely floor me.  I was running it just to try it out, and didn’t suffer, but could have ran a lot faster, with a matching higher degree of suffering ;)   I’m not planning on becoming a runner, but it would be cool to build up to doing a half marathon.  Beyond that…who knows!

I’m also now considering getting back on my bike (well after buying a new one).  Its been years since I trained hard on a bike, and I think it might be time to hit that again.  Just to keep things fresh and not get tired of the same training all the time.  We have some great hills here in Ottawa for cycling so I’m sure it would really help with my power and cardio.

While my progress isn’t as immediately gratifying as I would like, things are trending better and better.   Chasing bikes is a lot easier now, and my cardio is back, I’ve already done an 80K session with plans for much longer calorie burners.  I’m now planning to team up with Ed Leung at 24hrs to skate as a Duo Team (no team name yet).  Basically we’ll be trying to skate as much as we can in 24hrs.  I’ve never done a solo or duo, so I’m not sure how I’ll do, but I imagine I’ll burn more than a few calories.

I’ve done races like Defi and A2A so I know what kind of mental game is involved.  You might think going a slower pace is just a matter of grinding it out.  But after the first two hours, its a whole different story.  There are a multitude of kinds of pain you can be beset with.  That’s when mental toughness becomes the determining factor.  Even in a normal 42k marathon, sometimes the outcome is decided just by who can stomach the most suffering.  At any rate, I’m really looking forward to trying my first duo effort at 24hrs.

In related news, our team (Schankel Canada) has set its strategy for the coming months and we’re now focused on training towards that.  I’ll be doing my first training session with that focus after I complete this posting :)   Our new skinsuits haven’t arrived yet so I’ll be skating Nappa in my club skinsuit.

Some of the fine selections on my suffering menu as of late:

  • 1000′s – basically 1min on max effort and and 1min off.  A set of six reps usually puts me in the hurt locker.  I’m planning to start doing two sets with a break in between.
  • 10/30 workout – this workout is a race simulation, its kind of hard to wrap your head around and I use my Garmin to get me through it.
  • 500m hill repeats – sprint up, coast down, rinse and repeat. I’m up to 12 repeats, and plan to work my way up to 20.  There is a certain race with 19 hill climbs that I want to do at the end of the season :)
  • 10k TT – these time trials are basically how I’m grading my performance.  It gives a solid indicator of where I’m at in terms of race pace.

Although I’ve done a lot of distance, its been mainly to get back into the groove.  I’m feeling good on my skates again, if not as fast as I want to be, and now I’m moving into much more speed work.  My training sessions will now be pretty much 30K or less and focused intensity, higher heart rate,  and reaching fatigue rather than just burning  calories.

As the say, train like race, race like you train, so now its going to be much more about race simulation.

My next race is Nappa, and while I’m really looking forward to doing this for the first time, I suspect I’m still too far behind in training to come away super happy from this race.  But, I am now very hopeful that my July race in Chicago (July 25th) will see me fully back in the groove.  Fingers crossed!

Ok, time to shut up and skate! …will post when I’m back from Nappa.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Skating

Normally my first race of the season would be in March (Metrodome), and then followed by races like the Texas Road Rash and closer to home the Montreal marathon.  This year though I’m well behind on my training and very much over my race weight.  Its been a huge struggle to get back in the groove, but I’ve been making steady progress.  Every time trial gets faster, and can chase down faster and faster bikes out on the city paths.

I’ve dropped some poundage, but going into the Montreal marathon, I still hadn’t dropped enough, in fact the pudge-o-meter, didn’t even sink below 190lbs (very disheartening).  Still a good 20lbs over race weight, and still far behind in my training, I decided to sign up for Montreal anyways, and use it for training and calibration.  There is no better way to honestly find out where your at then an actual race.  :)

Oh, did I mention the race conditions were 3C, raining, and snowing!  That’s right, snowing in May! Less than ideal conditions, but actually I feel rain races give me an edge, I’ve skated a lot of rain races, including technical ones like Berlin and the rain doesn’t really bother me as much as many skaters.  Unfortunately my perceived advantage wasn’t enough to make up for 20lbs of dead weight and a training debt that had yet to be paid.

Still though, I feel its important to put your best foot (skate) forward, even when you don’t think you have every advantage or when you’ve got a shot at a top ranking.  Finding out where your training really is at is important and its good to just be there with your skating friends, misery loves company!

For most skaters I think the race was pretty normal despite the rain.   As expected Oliver Jean handily whipped everyone.  Something slightly less obvious from the results is that Benoit Letourneau from our club was the only non-Olympian skater to have a sub 7:50 lap.   Having watched Benoit’s progress from scratch 3 years ago at our club, its not surprising, just impressive :)   Skaters have come along that have made great progress really quickly, but never to that level, and never at his age.

My own race was a little less stellar.  At the start line, I didn’t want to take any risks, not having rain wheels (I had Bont Mints), and with a lot of painted areas on the wet pavement, I really wanted to be conservative and not crash just trying to take off.  All that hesitation really cost me though, we started, and before I knew it everyone was flooding past me and I got jammed up in the middle and could not get around other skaters (while trying to avoid the paint).

So even before the first hill, I was already well back and trying to figure out how I could climb up past skaters to get back to the front.  This was an effort with no reward though.  From the first corner I manged to get into a pack, but I could see the gap to the lead pack was already too big and the race was all but concluded, now it was just about churning out the 10 laps.

Fortunately our group had plenty of spirit.  As we turned the first few laps, fighting the cold, rain and snow (yes snow!), we were co-operative, taking turns at the front, but also competitive.  Lots of testing the pace throughout.  I think it was the 4th lap or so, on the hair pin (clockwise), when things started to pickup more.  I was feeling froggy, so slide out a bit and started cross-ing over to build speed past the other skaters coasting the turn.  As I was doing this, 2-3 skaters behind me decided to jump as well, and they popped out, coming out of the turn we all accelerated into the back stretch.

The back stretch along the water was definitely the fastest part of the course, a nice tailwind and a slight downhill.  After this break, every lap saw big accelerations coming out of the hair pin.  I should point out that some of kids from south of the border were pretty awesome.  One of them was in our group and I don’t think he was more than 15, and I watched him go on huge (fast) breakaways on the back stretch, and with great form.   Its great to see the sport still pulling in younger blood that will doing some great racing in the future.

I think this is where our pack started to separate, and within the next two laps we picked up some skaters that had fallen off the lead/chase packs.  With them on board and recovered a bit, we picked up a little more speed :)   I think our race actually got faster as we went, but it wasn’t enough to pull us up to the lead or chase packs.  I think it was about lap 8 just before the hair pin when Oliver Jean went cruising by, all on his and clearly well away  from the lead pack.

For the most part it was a pretty clean race, even with the rain, I didn’t have’ t any traction problems with my Mints and never saw anyone in our group have problems or eat some asphalt or one of those deadly little blue signs in the middle of the track.  After the race I head about a few crashes though.  All in all the rain and snow seems to have just slowed everything down.

The F1 track is always a great venue.  When it rains its better if its been raining for a while though; it washes off the grease/oil from the cars.  If your racing when its just started to rain you get water + grease, which is another level of lethality. :( It has some nice twists and turns but its not a super technical course.  Its a great venue for beginners and advanced skaters alike. Plus there is always lots to see, do and eat in Montreal :) Before bolting for Ottawa, I made sure to pick up some awesome smoked meat.

For me the race was a wash and I took it just as training value.  After my not-so-awesome start, I did skate reasonably well.  I would have liked to have more acceleration for the attacks and stuff, but I’m still catching up on my training.  My aim now is to hopefully be race ready for the Nappa race in early June.  Even for that race though I’m not fully sure I’ll be ready.  I’m sure gonna try though!

I’ve been increasing my training intensity, and now doing morning and evening workouts and adding in different stuff to beef things up, plyos, general conditioning, cross-training, hills, and even watching what I eat.  For the first time ever I’ve given up Coca-Cola.  This is probably the hardest thing for me to do actually.  Somehow grinding out miles on the path and beating my legs to a pulp is easier than not reaching for a bottle of Cola.

Only time will tell but I’m hoping to be race ready in June.  Skates crossed!

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All Things Being Equal

After a late start to the season and a complete lack of training over the winter, I’ve finally buckled down and started getting back into the skating/training  groove.  Coming back from so much de-training is not so much fun :(    Fortunately my work ethic is alright, and once I get going things are a lot easier :)    So far this season (since April 1st) I’ve skated 500Km and I’ve lost over 10lbs.  Of course I need to lose a lot more, but things are heading in the right direction!

You might not think it to be the case, but there is a good dose of math implicit in skating.  Consider this simple equation:  A + B = 4.   What values of A and B can give you 4?  That’s easy! They can either be equal (2) or asymmetrical (1 and 3).  Of course they could be really unbalanced if you had values of 0 and 4.

Nothing to do with skating?  Maybe.  Lets say A is conditioning and B is technique.

If  4 is some level of skating ability, and we can get there by having both technique and conditioning, then its easy to see that you can have an equal amount of both, or you can rely more heavily on one then the other.  In our example  you could for instance have 1 unit of conditioning and 3 units of technique.  This would be good place to be in; you can skate well but don’t have to work so hard for it :)

If only things were so simple!  Skating involves many variables and these are two obvious ones.  Even with these two variables, its not an entirely linear relationship.  Remember our level of ability – 4?  What if you want to go to level 5?   Perhaps you would keep your technique at 3 and just just train harder to move your conditioning up to 2 (from 1)?  In theory that sounds great, but in practice it doesn’t quite work.   To move the next level up, the minimums for both variables increase, and you have to increase both.

Here minimum means that some technical skills can only be done with a certain amount of strength or a certain amount of speed, or a certain amount of balance.  Until you reach that minimum of physical conditioning, its not possible to do that particular technical skill.   It works in the other direction as well.

This means that while you don’t have to have the variables perfectly balanced, you can’t rely completely on one or the other either.

In this example moving to level 5 isn’t really that big a challenge but what if your aiming for level 7 or level 10?  Its no longer the case that you can just be really good at technique or really well conditioned.  Being a super technical skater or a super mileage skater will not help you.  You need to move both yard sticks forward.

In my case I have an added variable: A + B  + FLUBBER = 4.  Obviously I’m working hard to reduce FLUBBER to 0 :) But I’m also working equally hard to bring A and B into a balance.  When I’m skating (even just distance skating) I try to make a conscious effort work technique, weather its focusing on my recovery, compression, balance, weight transfer, etc, etc, I’m always consciously trying to sharpen the technique while I hack away at FLUBBER.

Another aspect of the asymmetry in skating arithmetic is sea of detail.  If you try to count off all the things that you can watch for while trying to skate clean, you will quickly run out of fingers and likely toes.  But of those 20 fleshy appendages, only two really, really matter.  Are you skating low, and are you pushing with all your wheels?

Yes its true everyone can improve a dozen different things about they’re skating, but those two things have more impact than just about everything else, and when you do those two things poorly…it can wash away any gains made be improving all the other little details.

So, skating has nothing to do with math.  Maybe.

You want to go faster, but the single biggest thing you can do to go faster is skate technically better by skating lower (compression, sternum down etc.)  But, to do this well, and over long distances (like say 42km), you need physical conditioning.  You can’t just decide to do it, you can’t just rely completely on technique (it won’t last long enough).   Plyometrics, weight lifting, cross training, and of course quality time on your skates are all ways to prepare your body to handle the technical task of skating lower.

In essence you have to advance yourself both physically and technically.  A + B = BALANCE. :)

With this in mind, I skate my distance to  burn calories, but I’m always trying to evolve my technique at the same time.  Just like being super technical won’t cut it, being super fit won’t either.  I have to sharpen my game on both fronts.  This is really my focus for this year.  Flubber aside, I hope to clean up several technical issues (more on that in future posts).

Time now to get some pavement under my wheels and do some theorem proving. Skating + Sun = Happy.  Math is good.

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