Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rink Cred

Today I moved up the food chain at Bowie Ice Arena.  How do I know?  For starters, several of the ice princesses now smile at me instead of rolling their eyes as we pass each other at speed a few centimeters apart on different trajectories.  They've accepted me if not as a semi-skilled practitioner of their art, at least as a more or less predictable moving object within the rather "target rich" environment which is a public session.  In addition, their coaches also now talk to me rather than glare if I move to the center circle to practice.  To a degree I think the coaches tolerate my presence because having me circulating at the outer perimeter of the circle tends to dissuade the great unwashed from cutting across that semi-sacred patch of ice.  Currently I'm practicing the seven step Mohawk combination sequence required for the Gamma level ISI test.  The coaches working the center circle no doubt recognize the sequence of steps for that combination, having taught it to a bazillion students.  In addition they can probably read my lips as I silently count the steps in my head.  As a consequence my moves are fairly predictable to them but less so to the day trippers looking for a short cut. 

Today's public session was extra nuts because tomorrow there will be no public session due to a figure skating competition. So in addition to the usual mob of wall hangers and wobbly skaters, all our rink's ice princesses were out in force getting in one last nervous run-through of their programs.   As is the case of most public sessions, whenever there are large differences in skill levels on ice at the same time, the risk of close encounters increases. Many of the day trippers appear to have about the same grasp of rink etiquette as a mob of sheep.  The kids circulating as ice rink monitors do a decent job but they can't be everywhere.  Maybe the rink should invest in some border collies...

For me the upshot of today's session was that the conditions forced me to practice the CCW direction--which I dislike.  Working on anything going CW would have probably resulted in a quick trip to the ER.  I'll drop in on a freestyle session either at Bowie or Wells on Tuesday and work the CW side of life.  Towards the end of the first hour of the session Mike, my group lesson coach, let his private student go (she was totally frustrated by the crowd) and took a look at me doing single and two foot glides.  We agreed that the latest blade adjustment tweak seems spot on.  I'll have Nick sink the permanent screws on Monday.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Somebody quick--give me a dope slap!

This skating lark must be getting serious because I've found myself adjusting my work schedule at the lab to exploit freestyle pickup sessions at rinks near where I work.  I'm pretty much blessed with a number of rinks to pick and choose from in addition to the rink where I take group lessons (Bowie Ice Arena in Bowie, Maryland).  Along with my "home" ice there are the following rinks within 20 minutes of either the lab or home: The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, the John McMullen Hockey Arena (part of the Naval Academy) in Annapolis and the Herbert Wells Ice Rink in College Park.  This last rink is roughly 5 miles from the lab and although it is a small, semi-enclosed rink (one wall is open to the great outdoors) which gives up the ghost on the first of April, it currently offers a number of freestyle pickup sessions which kick off toward the end of the day.  Additionally, since Wells is owned and operated by the county park system the rates are a good bit cheaper than at the other rinks.  This makes it popular with students at the nearby University of Maryland which in turn makes public sessions a bit crowed.  However the freestyle sessions are largely overlooked.  By coming to work an hour earlier than usual I've realized that I can skip out in time to make the 4pm FS session on Tuesdays and get in good practice time at half the cost of going to the shorter (45 minutes vs an hour) afternoon session at Bowie.

And, so, today I did.  I arrived at the rink about a quarter 'til four--plenty of time to lace up my boots and organize my thoughts.  The ice had just been zambonied (might be a word) and I was the only skater at the rink.  The place was deserted. Just me and the girl taking money.  Am I happy or what?!  I paid the girl my six bucks for the hour session and after getting my boots on I rushed over to the rink barrier door, opened it up and paused for a moment to survey the smooth, pristine ice with not a single mark on it.  It was my domain to be shared, at least for the moment, with nobody else.  I could scarcely believe my luck!  I stepped out onto the ice with a confident powerful glide and--promptly fell flat on my butt.  The minute my skates touched the ice I knew something wasn't right--but what?  After hitting the deck I scrambled to get up (hopefully before anyone else arrived to observe my fall from grace). But try as I might, I couldn't get my feet under me.  I finally stopped cursing and looked down at my skates in an attempt to sort out what the hell was going on and that's when I discovered that in my haste to get out on that beautiful unsullied ice I'd-completely-forgotten-to-remove-my-plastic-blade-guards.

Let me tell you something:  those plastic blade guards are slicker than snot on a glass doorknob.  I removed the guards and staggered to my haunches.  I'd lost a bit of skin on the side of my right arm which I think had snagged the edge of the door frame in the  barrier I'd stepped through but other than the skinned arm and an aching right hip (and a bruised ego) I seemed OK and as a bonus there was no blood on the ice.  Mercifully no one had observed this little fiasco--or at least I think no one did.  After all it was just me and the cashier and if she was watching she did a masterful job of averting her eyes and not busting out in an uncontrolled belly laugh as I collected my "gravitas" and hoisted myself up with perhaps a shred or two of dignity still intact!

Now I could bleat about how the hip I'd landed on hurt, etc. etc. but let us instead dot an "i" and cross a "t" from my previous post about Katz straps.  The pair I'd ordered had arrived and indeed they seem to work as advertised by permitting a bit of give at the top of the boot if one decides to not lace the top hooks.  I've skated with the straps twice now and the previously mentioned lace bite symptoms I'd experienced on my right foot have disappeared.  Is it my imagination?  Is it due to the boots breaking in (I now have about 8 hours of skating time in these boots--not much in the grant scheme of things; I'm still not pushing them past an hour's wearing time).  Or is this due to the straps?  I have no way of knowing with any certainty but after spending $12.53 I'm sticking with the notion that the benefit is due to the straps.  Your mileage may vary.

So, back to the ice.  I practiced forward 3 turns and Mohawks in my weak direction and yes they seem to be improving.  I hope to make a suitable impression on Mike at this Thursday's lesson (with my skating, not with my new found expertize in the blade guard dept.--there are some things a coach simply doesn't need to know).  I also worked a bit with power pulls. I managed to get the blade work part of the pull to go OK but need to get the free leg up a bit higher. 

Little by little more skaters arrived, mostly small kids and their coach working on an upcoming show program.  A few other adult skaters joined in and worked on various skills but the ice was never crowded.  My intuition tells me that all the college kids were at happy hour.  By the end of the session it seemed that my progress, like a tide, had come in and then left.  I decided to stop when my strong side turns started to get wonky and the boots and my ankle bones started having an increasingly quarrelsome discussion.  Too bad the Katz straps do nothing for that. We'll see on Thursday what if anything this practice session has added to my skating skill set other than a scraped arm and a sore hip.  I'm going to take a magic marker and write "Remove before Flight" on those guards...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Katz Straps--The Cat's Meow?

As both my readers know, I'm in the process of breaking in new boots.  My instructor cautioned me against initially skating in them for more than 45 minutes or so and then gradually increasing the wear-time.  Easy for him to say--he's not been skating in rental skates!  But after ignoring his advise during the first outing (and getting away with just a teensy bit of lace bite on one foot) I've been (a). good and have been limiting my time in the boots to his prescribed 45 minutes to an hour and (b). looking for a quick fit that will allow me to amp up the break in process.  After a bit of internet trolling I washed up on the shores of Babette's "The ice doesn't care" blogspot and there, buried deep in an old post , I discovered Katz Straps.  These are elastic bands which permit one to skip lacing the top hooks of the boots without the boot getting too floppy.  This in turn permits the skater to engage in deep ankle bends (hopefully) without lace bite.  It sounded good in theory and for ten bucks I decided to give it a go.  I just ordered a pair (yes, black is available) and will report once I've had a chance to try them. 

In the meantime go visit Babette's blog (listed in the "Blogs I follow" gadget).  She has a most entertaining writing style and her site is crammed to the gunnels with timely advise and observations for us oldsters on ice.  I give her blogspot my highest (and most coveted) 5 Cris-crossed skate blade recommendation.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Shoe Newz!

My skates have finally arrived.  After last Thursday's lesson I stopped in at the Pro shop to see if they had come in and the answer was "no".  I told the guy in the shop to give it another week and if they weren't in by then to cancel the order.  That must have sent a ripple through the Cosmos because the very next day there was a message on the home answering machine indicating that my wandering skates had miraculously arrived!  So today I timed my trip to the rink an hour earlier than usual to allow for trial fitting, heat molding and initial blade sharpening before the afternoon public session.

Nick, one of the skate technicians at the rink Pro Shop unpacks my Jackson Freestyles.  Nothing too fancy here--I'd love upscale boots and blades but I still have a kid in college.
First things first.  Before heat molding Nick blew some air into the boots with a heat gun and had me try on both boots just to make sure they more or less fit.
In they go.  Nick "cooked" them for about 15 minutes and then had me put them back on and lace them up.  I wore the boots for 20 minutes while they cooled and then took them off so that he could give the blades the initial sharpening.
Don't make them too sharp!  Nick runs the right foot boot/blade past the sharpening wheel.  The left boot is in the foreground leaning against the white boots.  Nick had quite a back log of skates to sharpen and more arrived while I waited for mine.
I left the shop, new skates in hand, and immediately put them to the test.  Are they an improvement over the rental skates I've been moaning about?  All I can say is that Cinderella was absolutely correct--no, not the "some day my prince will come"  thing but rather, the bit about how the right pair of shoes will change your life!  Now this is a philosophy I can get my head around--definitely more upbeat than anything Schopenhauer has to say!  I perimeter skated in the new boots and gradually got used to the blades, getting braver as the session wore on.  Mike, my skating instructor, was giving a private lesson and came over during the Zamboni break to say "hi" and admire my shoe newz.  He advised me to wear them for about 45 minutes to maybe an hour and then switch back to rental "bedroom slippers" for the rest of the session and gradually increase the time in the new boots over the next few outings.  Good advise but so hard to follow!  Also, during today's limited time on the ice, the blades feel fine as factory-installed but I'll ask Mike to watch me skate at our next lesson to see if he thinks the blade positions need any tweaking before I have Nick install the permanent screws.  This ice skating lark just keeps getting better and better!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Onward and Upward

My next set of group lessons kicked off a week ago.  This time we have four adults.  The other three are learning about two foot glides and snow plough stops while Mike has me off to one side practicing forward outside threes and forward inside Mohawks. Kinda reminds me of the four room primary school I attended as a kid.  We had more than one grade per class in some rooms. 

Since I'm familiar with these turns they're returning fairly quickly--at least in one direction.  Oddly, the easy direction for me is turning out to be on the left leg (going clock-wise).  But hold on--I'm right handed.  Is it common to be right handed but "left leg-ged"?

Be that as it may, I'm looking at several sessions of "deliberate practice" to sort out the opposite direction for these common but important turns.  The FO3s and FI Mohawks, plus the ability to perform a hockey stop in one direction are the requirements to pass the Gamma level of ISI's program.  I'll miss the lesson just before the test in mid-March when boat racing season kicks off so I'll need to stay on top of practice.  In April our ice rink has an abbreviated four week lesson series before closing for the months of May and June (the city melts the ice and does annual maintenance on the building and equipment).  The rink then reopens in July.  I was hoping to pass delta level before the melt down but that might be a stretch.  We'll see.  I'm checking out what other rinks are within reasonable driving distance to keep myself from going backwards over the months when my home ice is unavailable.

Also I'm looking for an off-ice exercise to do as a warm up before my lesson.  Our rink doesn't bake in any time to warm up by perimeter skating prior to the lesson.  I arrive at the rink straight from work with plenty of time but but since earlier lessons are in progress I'm stuck with sitting on the bench until it's our group's turn out on the ice. As a consequence I wind up wasting the first 5 minutes or so of valuable lesson time just getting my legs to not be wonky.  I've never liked stretching--I know, I know, it's important.  I still don't care for it!  I'm thinking about buying a jump rope and skipping rope for 5 or 10 minutes after I arrive at the rink before going inside.  What do others do as a warm up other than skate (or stretch)?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hanging tough with Schopenhauer and Goldilocks

I think it was Schopenhauer who once said "Life without pain has no meaning."  That being the case, the life of the aging skater is chock full of meaning.  Each trip out on the ice results in at least some body part complaining.  This brings me to the subject of your typical ice rink rental skates.  My love/hate relationship with rental skates is part of the enlightenment I've attained since rediscovering skating last November.  Our rink offers two kinds of rental figure skates.  First, we have the brown boots which are quite stiff and provide good blade feel and support but of course refuse to yield one iota to the shape of the feet insinuated into them.  After a couple of sessions in those I bought a Silipos gel tube long enough to cut in half--a bit of tube for each ankle--bliss, or so I thought.  In practice, yes the gel tubes do hold the chaffing and rubbing to a dull roar but are not a perfect solution.  In a fit of experimentation I started to augment the gel tubes with small bits of packing foam in an attempt to isolate my ankles and toes from the unyielding grip of the boots.  Maybe I just have big ankle bones.  Did you know that the "Malleoli" are either of the two rounded protuberances on each side of the ankle, the inner formed by a projection of the tibia and the outer by a projection of the fibula?  Neither did I until after removing those brown skates at the end of a two hour session and discovering that one of my gel tube sleeves had slipped above the inner malleoli on my right foot!  (That would be the end of tibia for those careful readers in the audience--there might be a test at the end of this post...)

With the next set of lessons beginning a few days later, the skin had still not healed, so I decided to try option two--the ever so stylish grey line of boots.  These boots turned out to be as soft as my favorite pair of bedroom slippers.  They offered about the same amount of foot support and blade feel as well, but hey they were soooo comfy!  And this brings us to Goldilocks.  Like her I'm hoping that the boots I have on order (oh, why won't they arrive?!) will not be too stiff or too floppy but just right.  I talked to the guy at the pro shop and he indicated that the boots were "sort of" on their way but for some reason (no doubt a severe disturbance in the Cosmos) the ice rink's address doesn't show up properly on UPS's address system.  It seems my boots went to an address somewhere else in town.  I've been assured that UPS is "working on it".  I just hope that the family at that alternate address likes figure skating.  Meanwhile, last night I dreamt about Goldilocks.  She was wearing an olive drab UPS uniform.  Everything was muted and blurry.  I couldn't hear what she was saying but her lips seemed to be mouthing the words "What can Brown do for you?"  My answer?  "Deliver me from the horrors of rental skates, I beseech thee."  But sadly, as of today, my golden muse has still not delivered the goods.  I guess for the next few sessions it's just me and old Schopy...