Goth on Ice: Weekend Practice and “Little Things.”

I’m still having some…challenges…in my video editing. Having issues with the “rotate and scale” when the videos come out of my phone rotated, issues with getting the text nice and neat on the screen, and the big issue I just noticed on this one is that instead of the clip of backward crossovers I put in the “three turns” clip twice! Yipes. I’ll have to see about re-editing the video and re-uploading.

This first part of this clip shows not me, but by daughter. She’d been dealing with some stuff, both health and personal issues that have kept her off the ice since near the beginning of the year. This was her first time back on the ice since then. As you can see in the video, she fell and, with the history of her issues, I was about to drop the phone and head over to check on her when she started doing the “snow angels” thing and I knew she was okay.

I was also making an attempt at forward outside three-turns. This is a fairly early practice of that for me and is one of the techniques I have to learn to complete “Adult Five” in the Learn to Skate USA curriculum. My instructors hadn’t actually covered it yet but I figured it was like a two-foot-turn only done on one foot. And it is, mostly, but, well, there are some differences that I didn’t get. Here’s an instructional video on them from the wonderful Coach Julia:

When I did have the instruction in Sunday’s class (after all my video for the weekend was captured, of course) he did a couple of things differently. One was he had me start with the push with my arms reversed compared to what Coach Julia is doing in the video. When going to the left, I’m gliding on the left foot and have the left arm forward and the right arm back and to the outside of the circle. After I push, he has me bring the pushing (right in this case) foot back to just behind the other foot, forming a “t” as though I were going to make another push only with the blade slightly lifted off the ice (by raising the right hip). I then switch the arms by bringing them down, close to the hips then extending with left arm back and inside and right arm forward. “Check” that movement of the upper body and then rotate hip, leg and foot. And, where Coach Julia turns her head as she makes the turn, my coach has me keep it still, continuing to look in the direction of travel.

It worked better than in my own fumbling attempts above. I’ll try to get video this weekend to see how that works.

Over the course of the past year and a half of ice skating there have been a number of “little things” that have affected my skating.

One of the first is that there is actually a pretty big difference between rental skates and ones own skates, especially if you’re going to do anything more than just simple roundy-rounds. The first thing is fit. Most people, when they get rental skates, get them too large. The skate boot has to fit very close to the foot in order to keep control of the skate. When the blade leans one way or the other, the skate will tend to turn in that direction or will scrape across the ice. This, in fact, is how we control what we’re doing on the ice. When the boots are loose, the skate will flop around, which can cause the skate direction to turn in directions you don’t intend and aren’t ready for and can pull your feet right out from under you. The problem with rentals is that they aren’t shaped to your feet. That means you have to have them very tight and generally laced painfully tight to get proper control. Your own properly fitted skates, once broken in, will be shaped to your foot and only need to be snug to give good control. And while really cheap skates such as you might find from online vendors aren’t much better than rentals (never mind if you’ll actually get proper sized skates–they will be uncomfortably, even painfully, tight until properly broken in). Decent recreational or “instructional” skates can be had for $2-3 hundred. Rentals, at the rink I go to, are $3 per session. For me, going 3-4 times a week, that would be $9-12 per week or between $468-624 per year. Now, I went a step above to the Motion boots with the “Cosmos” blade. The men’s version is not available on Amazon (and, I’ll be honest–go to a skate shop and get fitted for skates. You’ll almost certainly guess wrong trying to size them without professional help) but you can see the same basic boot here:

They were not cheap. However, looking back, because I do go to the rink and skate a lot, in the time since I got them I’ve saved more in skate rentals than I paid for the skates.

Having my own skates, in addition to saving me money in the long run, also made for more comfortable skating. But first, I had to learn some more “little things.” I have arch problems. I wear custom prescription orthotics in my regular shoes. So, when I skated, my feet hurt. I tried putting the orthotics in my skates and they did not help. Eventually I figured out (and wanted to hit myself over the head for being an idiot) that the orthotics did not match the shape of the insole. and since the skate’s soles are attacked to a bar of steel, they can’t exactly flex to accomodate. The result was the edge of the orthotic was lifted up and pressing right behind the ball of my foot, creating an extremely painful pressure point. I removed the custom orthotics and put a gel arch support insole (bought at the “shoe area” of the local supermarket) and things got much better.

Even after resolving the arch support problem and after the skates were well broken in, I continued to have pain in my left foot after any kind of extended skating. The odd part was that I would get off the ice (like between the Sunday public skate session and my classes) the pain would actually get worse while I was sitting down. I also had problems of stability on my right side. When doing a one foot glide on the right foot, I’d lose control and have to set the left foot down fairly quickly compared to when doing the left side. Now, previously, I’d taken a bad fall and sprained my right ankle so I thought this was an instability problem in the joint and I would just need to coninue the exercises to strengthen it but time continued to pass and it continued to not improve.

It took me entirely too long to figure out that both of these were flip sides of the same problem: I was tightening the left boot too tight, and not tightening the right boot enough. There’s a certain “sweet spot” of how much tug to give the laces at each eyelet or hook as you work your way up the boot tightening them that gets them properly snugged down without overtighening. Yes, they’ll be overtightened and painful during the break-in process, but once broken in they should be comfortable to wear. I’ll still have pain in my feet that builds over the first ten minutes or so and then declines over the next ten as my feet “stretch out” and I warm up. Then the rest of the session is fine.

Another “little thing” lesson is trying to draw a balance in working tired. Continuing to work when you’re tired helps build condition of course, but it can also help improve your technique. To a certain extent you can make particularly good progress working when you’re already tired. When you’re tired you have to have your form right. You can’t rely on muscle to power through sloppiness. You make a mistake and set a blade down at a wrong angle and tired muscles just won’t be able to compensate and you’ll get immediate feedback that you made a mistake.

An example here, for me, is the backward crossover. When I’m fresh, if I’m a bit off balance when I shift weight from back to front foot and pick up the rear foot to “uncross”, I can quickly whip the back foot around and “catch” myself before I fall. And while I’m trying to coordinate all the various elements of the technique, I might not even notice that fault in balance. And, indeed, it seems that was happening with the backward crossovers that I was so proud of a couple of weeks ago. When I’m tired, however, fatigue slows that motion and if I’m off balance, I fall. Or if I don’t fall, I overcompensate and get on the toe picks, or I land really wobbly, or what have you making it clear indeed that my weight shift from foot to foot needs work.

The problem with working tired is the form that “feedback” can take is you falling, or veering out of control, or running into the wall (or another skater). So one needs to know when to draw the line between getting benefit from the extra practice and, well, becoming a hazard to self and others. The other problem is that some techniques require a certain amount of muscle to do right in the first place. Working tired on those can lead to bad habits. So there’s a balancing point. How far can you push it before the “practice” becomes counterproductive, either because you’re too tired to do the technique correctly or because you’re risking injury (or worse, hurting someone else) which can set you back far more than any small gains you get from working just a bit harder.

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