Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Flexibility - I work on it

For some reason Coach thinks I can do a haircutter spiral. We tried it, and I pitched perilously forward, but I did get my foot up relatively high for a first attempt. It was encouraging, and it would be cool to do. So, I've begun really working on my flexibility.

I stretch before and after skating. I stretch during skating. I stretch on the train platforms during my daily commute. I stretch at home while I watch TV.


Hopefully this will pay off. I'm no closer to a split than I was three months ago... but we'll see how far I can get. I just find it hilarious when the teenagers do it for me, and I have to remind them that I have 20 years on them, and their moms laugh.

(I don't think many people at the rink know how old I really am... I'm not about to tell them!)

Friday, September 19, 2014

First Skate in Patch Blades *or* You Don't Know What You've Got 'Till it's Gone

Maybe it was all in my head. Maybe it was everyone telling me, "It's going to be a difference, be careful." Or maybe it really was the fact that my Patch blades are a drastic change from my Freestyle blades. But this morning was a true learning experience. The best thing I could manage was a one foot glide. Pretty sad. I tried FO edges, and it didn't work. It was like I'd never done edges before in my life. Worse than learning Delta FO Edges.

Patch Coach came in to see me take a first step, and like an idiot I went right for my pick to push off. My foot went out from under me and he laughed. When I turned to backwards, I was stricken with terror at being completely unable to stop, with no pick and no edge I could find. I just reached for the wall.

The absence of a toepick was actually the least of my worries. While I knew it wasn't there and that threw my confidence off, it was the change in ROH that was the worst thing. While not as bad as the Speed Skate Incident, it was pretty close. Toward the end of the session I was managing tight forward edges and slaloms. I realized that Edges are harder to come by than I'd realized, and these blades have no margin for error.

My Freestyle blades are sharpened to a 7/16" ROH. They are grabbier than my previous 5/8", and I love it.

But my Patch blades are 3/4" ROH. It is horrifyingly flat. I frequently found my foot sliding sideways, and it scared the bejeesus out of me.

I will have to re-learn everything. Simply put, I've been doing it wrong. Let's take a look at how things used to be, with this diagram of "Where you Should be on Your Blade" diagram from "Figure-skating" by Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams, 1898:

Every time a coach has told you to "sit back on the blade" and "push" and "Lean into the edge?" It all comes back to haunt you.

After 50 minutes in new (to me) boots and the blades that I couldn't find an edge on, I stopped. The sheer exertion of staying upright, much less doing pretty circles, was exhausting. But I learned a lot. My right leg is very weak. My quads don't push me, my calves do. I don't commit to an edge, or lean into it, I have been letting the blade do all the work. My posture is horrible. And I was completely humbled. Fractions of an inch in Hollow had reduced me to the days when I had first started skating; hanging onto the wall, unable to stop, fearful of lifting my foot off the ice. Just yesterday I'd had a pairs practice with jumps!

But I'd gained a sudden and stark insight into skating. I get it, and I'll get more of it with the next try. I'm a long way from being that utterly relaxed person doing figures in the park on a sunny winter afternoon. But I'll get there.
This will be me, elegant and lovely at our outdoor rinks this winter.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

I've said before that I love Power 3's. Actually, I love power mohawks now, too. (Given how much I hated mohawks just a year ago, I can't believe it either.) I like the swooping movements and arcs and forward to back and forward again patterns. What I'm working on now is perfecting them, because they are on the Bronze moves test. And Perfecting the Power 3 is all about controlling the 3 Turn.

3 Turns are tricky beasts. When you first get one, they happen when and where they do. You start off with the "gotta turn" mindset and just swing into it with no forward edge to speak of, and you hang onto the exit edge for dear life. You have to train that beast, and make it happen where and when you decide.

Working on Power 3's with Coach one morning, and he noted my ice tracing on the 3 Turn. "You turn on the sunrise," he said, pointing. "You need to turn on the Sunset."

And viewing the tracing as a horizontal plane, my turn was indeed happening as the sun rose over the icy steppe. "You can make it happen on the sunset, because this turn is all about control," he explained.

It was skating poetry, and immediately I began to hum "Fiddler on the Roof" in time to my turns and back crossovers. Leave the free hip back, rotate the shoulders, turn on the Sunset!

And I hummed it again today, thinking of how the seasons change and we change and the 3 Turns that had once plagued me so were now something I considered one of my stronger elements, something Coach is now adding embellishments to; swoop up with the leading arm and then swoop down to touch the ice on the exit edge. Or 3 turn to a tap-toe into an alternating 3 turn, humming "Fiddler." Which led to creating this masterpiece of an ice print, possibly one of the deepest turns I've ever done.

Look for it...

My hand fit into that turn!

My 3 Turns are not quite fully tamed, but they are getting there, one sunrise at a time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Zen Wisdom of Figures

I have come to the conclusion that my Patch Coach is my Yoda.

This morning we were working on proper push technique. "You push with your calf and ankle," he said quietly. "You need to push with your whole leg," he indicated the thigh.

"I try," I said. "But I sometimes think I'm going to push myself off the back of my blade."

"Well, let's talk about that. Push hard, but you have to center yourself on your blade first." He smiled and said it like it was nothing at all, but for me it was like a Tibetan Bowl moment.

Be Strong, but Center yourself first.

Think about that one.

I said I would try. He said to just let the Edge carry me.




Monday, September 15, 2014

So I tried Speed Skates

I have a speedskating friend, and we skate around together on Sundays sometimes when I'm guarding and he tries some of my figure skating tricks in speed skates. It always makes me smile. But I've been on him to let me try Speed Skates, just once. Those long blades and the itty bitty boot with no ankles are a mystery to me, so I wanted to try.

He makes it look so easy!!

Finally I begged loud enough and he got me a pair of size 5 short track speedskates from the club locker. He sat me down and proceeded to strap me in. I already knew I'd made a horrible mistake. Okay, I knew the "boots" or whatever were a bit too big, but I figured I wouldn't be out there long or doing anything, so I let that go. I stood up and found that I could not walk. The longer blades gave me a pronounced duck walk, but more than that, speed skates have no heel. I felt like I was in my running shoes. With blades. I immediately began to panic.

Before I stepped onto the rink, he picked up my feet like he was shoeing a horse and deburred the blades with a razor. He insisted they were sharp enough for me to skate on, and I trusted him.

Another mistake.

I stepped onto the ice and my foot slid sideways. I set my other foot down and it went sideways. I was Bambi. It was awful. "These are not sharp!" I clung to the wall for dear life. "I can't skate!"

"They are sharp!" Speedskating Friend yelled back, clearly amused. "You have to commit to it! Push!!"

The harsh reality.

There's that word again: PUSH! So with one hand on the wall I set my running shoe'd and unsupported ankle back and gave it as much as I could give through my abject terror. And I did glide. I tried to stop, and I was again told I had to "really commit" to find the edge. Out of habit I tried to gently swizzle myself forward, but dear lord, is that a 20' rocker? My feet slid sideways again, but thankfully it's nearly impossible to fall off the back of a speedskating blade.

So I tried just pushing forward again, but I found out just how much blade is out in front of me because I kept hitting it and threatening to trip myself. I think I got in five or six good strokes, but those blades wanted to go fast, way faster than I wanted to go. I found I was starting to pick up some speed and panicked, tried to stop, and nearly died on a snowplow.

All the way, my speedskating friend and just about everyone else who knew me were all thoroughly enjoying themselves. The office staff even came out to join the pointing and laughing, the hockey boys came in from their class to watch. "What are you doing??" was their main question while they laughed. "I DON'T KNOW I HATE THIS IT IS HORRIBLE," was my only response.

Sweating, terrified, shaking and done, I got on the boards after three quarters of a lap and dragged myself back to the safety of the rink door. Those gorgeous big swooping crossovers and strokes speedskaters do? I have no idea how that happens. What I do understand is the necessity of helmets and padding along the boards. Those blades want to move, and you'd better be ready. And why they only go one way; because mastering those blades two ways is unthinkable.

I thanked my speedskating friend for the opportunity to try, and handed back those speed skates. I gratefully put my SP Teri's back on, and stepped back out onto the ice. And for a moment I thought there was something wrong with my blades because they grabbed the ice so well. "I would not be a good speed skater," I said to my friend.

"You'd be great at it," he was serious. "You just need to push."

"Ugh, stop saying that."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Oh wow.. Patch Skates!!

When I first started doing Patch, the Veteran Patch Skater said to us, "If you get really into it, you will need different skates," she looked at our freestyle blades with disdain. I had heard about this concept, and while it sounded terribly romantic, was likely not going to happen. Skates and blades are expensive, any way you shake it.

But I mentioned my newfound love of Figures to my skate tech, and said that once Ice Show was over, I'd be able to dedicate more time to them, and perhaps try testing them. He found this lovely, and said he'd try to find me a pair of used boots to use as Patch skates. This was about a month ago.

At yesterday's sharpening, he said he'd found some boots. He pulled up what looked like Cinderella's slippers in white leather; an old pair of SP Teri "Super Teri." They were absolutely tiny in comparison to my bulky freestyle skates. I did not think they would fit me, they were so small. The laces felt old, the uppers were thin and not nearly so stiff as my Teri Dance. There was a little scruff of lamb's wool on the tongue, so darling I petted it! My foot fit perfectly. I was in love.

But what about blades? Patch blades will have no drag pick, either not made with one or a pair of freestyle blades with the drag pick ground off. And blades can be just as expensive, if not more expensive than boots.

He pulled up an old, beat up, very dusty blade box. Were it not for the "MK Wilson" printed on the front, I would have thought Harry Potter's wand was inside. But it was a pair of never used Wilson "Test" blades, wrapped in wax paper, with oil seeping through and discoloring the little printed instruction sheet on how to properly mount blades in English spellings. I unwrapped one; no drag pick to speak of.

Okay. At this point I was wondering how likely it was that my husband would divorce me if I bought another pair of skates so soon after my last pair, for something as trivial as "just another discipline."

I asked the dreaded question. "How much?"

My skate tech smiled and explained that since I'd donated my Jackson's to the shop, we could count the Teri's as a trade. It's true, I didn't even bother seeking consignment on the Jackson's. I was so happy with my Teri's, I'd just counted my blessings and gave them to the skate shop. Apparently they had sold quickly. My Cinderella Slippers were now a gift of the Skate Fates.

Okay, but the blades? He shrugged and said they were found online, and since no one really does Patch anymore, relatively cheaply. He named a price, and I jumped on it. "Do you want me to pay now?"

My only trick now is timing. My day job boss is having surgery this week, so time off will be hard to come by for the next two weeks. And school, scouts and theatre is all back in session, so my evenings are almost always booked. Finding time for a proper blade mounting with my pronation and quirks will require drastic action. I left my Slippers there with my Harry Potter blades, and planning on just leaving early one afternoon this week to get it done. And Skate Tech wants to know how the flatter blades feel. I do, too. And while I doubt Cinderella Skates will fix my BI8's from migrating to Botswana, I am eager to try!

And Cinderella Skates will require Cinderella blade covers, so I'm going to try out one of the numorous blade cover patterns available online. Magic sparkles please... Figure Eights may not be the Prince's ball but they are the best I can do!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pairs Update

We're a week away from Auditions and we're feeling pretty good. For all the Dramatics of last year, this year went pretty smoothly. There were a few missed practices, a few "off" days, but we have a program and it looks okay. I'm always of the belief that things could be better, but Partner insists he feels great about everything.

There is practically nothing in this program that is overtly challenging. We have a jump/step over/cross behind thing that is a bit awkward, but other than that, it's pure gravy. Partner just needs to make sure I have enough clearance on the Jump combo so I don't hit the wall (or get so close that I freak out and abort the jump) and clearance again later on so I don't strike the wall on my footwork. My only true challenges are locating him, and this morning I just went for it and let him find me. I had a Butt Fall yesterday morning, so I was really sore today, but once the meds kicked in and the nerves calmed down, I was fine.

The relative ease with which this process happened has startled me. Last year the Pair Program took up literally all of my skating energy. This year is different in that I have my own program I'm polishing up, and doing Patch, and pacing through Bronze and Silver moves. And I'm fine with all of it! A Regular Schedule for skating means I can evenly divide up my ice time for solo, pairs, patch, and Extra/challenge/new material with no problem.

Now that the skating is happening relatively easily, Pairs Coach wants me to smile and emote more. Play the judges, as it were. So as we were working Tuesday, he kept yelling at me to "SMILE! Are you SMILING?" (He's a Yeller.)

Actually I was! I like everything about this program, even the spin. The music is cute and fun, the steps are bouncy, and I can play the audience to it. After skating to last year's Funeral Dirge (not literally, but that's what it felt like) this is a lot of fun! I'm actually excited to do it in front of an audience!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Backwards, Please?

Another truism in skating is that once you have something pretty good forwards, you have to then do it backwards. But the challenge is why we're here, right? Keep telling yourself that.

Two things I've nailed pretty good lately are 3 Turns (which are always getting improved upon) and Lunges. I've always had a fairly solid lunge where my right leg is trailing. Coach of course wants me to lunge both ways, so after a lot of work and a sore hip, I can now lunge with the left leg trailing pretty good, too.

Now he wants me to lunge backwards.

The problem with lunging backwards is if you hit that blade anywhere but correct, it's a death wish. We tried lowering right down into it backwards, with mixed results. Of course I was nailing the edge and toepick before hitting the boot, so he had me lunge forward and then do a FO3 to wind up backwards.

Again, mixed results but better. Not bad for a first attempt.

Then we started on Twizzles.

A Twizzle, as it was explained to me (and your mileage may vary) is just a series of 3 turns all strung together. Stated that way, it doesn't seem so bad. But then you realize that some of those 3 turns will be going backward to forward, and all you've been doing is forward to backward.

So, I now struggle with BO and BI3's. Back Outside 3's actually are coming pretty well. They are slow, but steady. Back Inside 3's are another story. I cannot do them. I rotate my shoulders, but my hips flat refuse. And when I say "flat," I mean it. I am squarely on the flat of my blade, which I know since I can feel that Inside Edge when I'm doing a BI8 figure.

Is everyone getting this?

So, backwards is my current challenge, and the increasing technical details are a reason why I've just stopped discussing skating with my friends and family. They get terms like "crossover" and "jump," but when I say "change edge into the second lobe of the serpentine," they kind of glaze over.

It's okay, sometimes I do, too. But I feel good. Skating in general feels very, very good these days. Figures have helped my Freeskating immensely, as I was told they would, and the intensity of the Freeskating instruction keeps me on my literal toes. I am loving every second of it! So, can you progress while going backwards? Absolutely!

Monday, September 1, 2014

How To: Freestyle Practice Ice

It's a question that comes up among adult skaters; "I'm not sure if I can skate on practice ice with all those high level kids. I'm not good enough or fast enough!"

Yes, it's intimidating. I will be the first to admit it is intimidating to be struggling with footwork and someone does a triple jump right next to you. It is scary to be doing an inside spiral and someone flies by at close range and threatens your balance. I think my most WTF moment was when I was tasked with doing a backwards spiral right through the center, which was a literal gauntlet of sit and camel spins. I wholly understand.

But it's a blunt truth that you can't get better at skating unless you get out there and skate, and there's only so much you can get done on a public session. Or in the case of my rink, on the little tiny studio rink which is where adult skaters get banished to. At some point, going on freestyle practice ice will be absolutely necessary for progress. You've got to go out there.

So, how do you do it?

First off, understand that no one is really paying attention to you. No matter how poorly you think you're doing, it's okay. No one's watching. Everyone is focusing on their given tasks, and the only time they see you is when they have to alter course to avoid hitting you.

Second: Collisions on practice ice are actually pretty rare. They do happen, but when they do, we usually immediately ask who was involved, and we aren't too suprised because we expect accidents out of some people. High freestylers have a knack for dodging, and it's not in their best interests to hit someone and risk injury to themselves. So, have faith that no one is out to get you. They aren't.

Third: MOVE. The secret to practice ice is move, move, move. A stationary object on practice ice is actually the most dangerous thing. If you have to stand for a moment to take a break, move to the boards.

Fourth: Don't hang out in corners. That's Jumping area. Which hockey circle is "lutz corner" depends on who is jumping, so I just consider both to be lutz corner. You can be in them, but you need to -

Fifth: Listen and be aware. While none of us should be scratching toepicks, we all do. Listen for blades in proximity. Get a sense of people around you. You'll start to get a knowledge of skating patterns and where they're going so you can move as needed. The worst thing for me is when I can't tell where someone is going because their pattern makes no sense. Pay attention to who is on the ice that day. Eventually you'll start to learn what to expect out of certain folks, which makes dodging them easier.

Sixth: Be nice. Courtesy is contagious. Figure skaters have a rap of being snobby. It's not entirely true, they just seem that way because they are focused. Smile! Have fun! A quick "Sorry!" on a close call or "Excuse me!" as you're coming through can help. If you like someone's music, say so! Notice that someone's doing better today than a few months ago? Tell them! Remember, high freestylers are struggling just as much as you are, they're just struggling with different things. And you know how good compliments feel when you've been working hard on a element, so don't be stingy with your compliments!

Follow the traffic patterns, go with the flow. Give right of way to whoever has their music on at the moment, or whoever is working with their coach that day. If the ice clears when a particularly fast skater is doing their program, there is a reason! (You can still use this time to work on footwork on the ends!)

There are caveats.

Haters will hate. There are a few people who don't like adults on their (or more likely the case on their daughter's) ice. Oh well. These are usually the same people who say adults can't skate very well. So, how do they expect you to learn to skate good if you can't get on the ice? Yeah. Stay off that hatercycle and ignore them. Just remember, if some skater chick is being snobby to you on the ice, it's only a hefty dose of mommy's money that's put her where she is now. If it's a mom, well, there's some serious psychology going on there and none of it good. So move on.

There are sessions that will be too crowded. Whether it's due to poor monitoring, a bad combination of skaters (too many known careless people in one space) or both, if you find yourself on a session where you feel it's just too dangerous, step off. Let the monitor know (nicely!) why you're leaving. As long as you stay within your given level of ice, this scenario should be rare. You will start to learn which sessions are known to be crowded and to be avoided. You'll also figure out which sessions are "fast." You will know a fast session when you're on one.

You will fall. And when you do, get up quickly and shake it off. No one noticed except to wonder if you're okay. But get out there. Eventually you'll become just another face that is briefly noted as you step onto the ice. Be brave, go skate!