Making the adjustment to Ice Flys

So far I’ve had my new skates for about two weeks, and it’s been a roller coaster of excitement, doubts, and cautious optimism:

Day 1 on the ice:

“These skates are pretty stiff. Forward crossovers seem okay. Backward crossovers… oh my god I’m going to die I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

I spent the session with cramped leg muscles, and it was difficult to assess how the skates were doing because my legs were too busy trying to deal with the sudden change. I was a little concerned I’d made a very expensive mistake, and perhaps going from five-year-old broken-down Freestyles to brand-new stiff Ice Flys was a bit too much of a difference. I reminded myself of all the low-level adult skaters I’d talked to who loved their Ice Flys and didn’t seem to struggle with the stiffness, and tried to maintain optimism. But man did my legs hurt.

Day 2:

“These skates are still stiff, but I can skate in them. This is a good thing. I wonder how the shorter blades perform… *scraaaaaape* Oh crap, I’m going to have to relearn how to do all my turns again.”

My legs were cramping for the first half hour of the session, but finally did start to loosen up, and I felt a little more like myself again on the ice. The Ice Fly takes a shorter blade than most other skates, I had to get new blades along with the boots. I stuck with the same make, Coronation Aces, but since they’re shorter than I’m used to, at first ALL of my turns were completely screwed up. But once I figured out the new balance point, I realized that I could execute moves with less effort. Also, the new blades may have a slightly different rocker profile from not being sharpened a hundred times, so there’s going to be a learning curve here. But the movements felt familiar, and by the end of the session I had my backspin back. (Although not my forward spins. I don’t know why those are harder for me than the backspins!)

Day 3:

“Wait, how come I don’t feel uncomfortable today? They don’t even feel terribly stiff anymore! Is this really happening? Am I skating again? Wheeee!”

I stepped onto the ice gritting my teeth, ready to fight my way back to familiarity, only to find that suddenly I felt fine. A couple of adjustments worked wonders: Silipos gel ankle sleeves, which made my ankles more comfortable, an additional boot punch-out by the shop, and experimenting with lacing technique. I’d been told of the Edea lace-tying technique, but have yet to get it right on the first try, so there was a lot of fiddling with laces. But once I got them, I felt pretty good attempting everything. I can feel the difference in jumps right away, which feel more secure, and I’m excited about improving them.

I don’t have spins back yet, but I was pleasantly surprised with my moves, because the shorter blades are really working for me. I’d been warned that shorter blades would require more precision and control and be more difficult to manage, but I’m finding the opposite: It’s like parallel parking a clunky van for years, and then parking a Mini Cooper. My turns feel simpler, crisper. Like there’s less excess energy and movement necessary.

Once I got accustomed to the new rocker, my 3-turns and brackets became smoother and more controlled, and the extra ankle support makes a world of difference. On my Freestyles, I struggled with the exit edges of all my turns, and often wobbled, and my coach and I have been working on exerting more body control to keep me aligned throughout the turn. It felt like a lot of WORK to rotate and counterrotate and never let go of my core muscles, because anytime I let my guard down I wobbled. With these new blades, I can feel where my ankle wants to wobble, but the boot keeps me firmly in place and on my edge, and I can ride the edge out of the turn! It’s like magic!

Day 4:

“These don’t even feel that stiff anymore. These feel great! I feel like I can finally attempt things with more power without worrying about my ankles wobbling or being unable to handle landings! Was I underbooted for years?”

With another minor boot punch-out, I felt like I was getting closer to the ideal setup. I still have a few tweaks I’d like to correct, but mostly I felt comfortable on the ice by this point, like I was finally done adjusting to the new feeling. The most notable difference was that I now love how stiff the boots are, now that I’ve figured out how to skate in them, and feel like they are an improvement in all aspects of my skating: moves, jumps, spins all feel more secure and powerful, probably because I feel more comfortable skating into the ice with all that support.

Once I got used to my new blades and rocker, I was able to get most of my spins back, and those feel a lot more secure now. I don’t quite know why, but I do know that my spins feel like they can handle more speed and power, and it’s slightly less of a struggle to hook the entry on the ones that give me trouble (camel, for instance). I’m thinking now that I was probably underbooted for a while, and that the softness of the skates were holding me back. While I do think the jump from my old skates to the new ones was pretty drastic, now that I’m getting used to the new setup, I’m really feeling the benefits of the upgrade.

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Upgrade time: New skates!

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I have new skates! Finally! After nearly five years on the same pair of Jackson Freestyles, it was getting to be that time, and partly as a pick-me-up (and partly because I just wanted to), I splurged on the fancy, popular (and expensive!) Edea Ice Flys, which I’d been thinking about for ages but wasn’t sure I was ready for.

My old pair have served me well, but I knew for the past several months that they would need to be replaced soon. The sensible part of my brain forced me to be patient and stick with my skates until they were truly done, because they still had life in them and I didn’t want to be wasteful. But the day finally came when, in a lesson, I landed a nice jump with a secure landing… and then just fell, apropos of nothing. My coach was surprised, because she said it was a nice jump and it looked like I was fine, and then suddenly I was down. I laughed that it must mean it was finally time to upgrade, because my skates just weren’t supporting me enough. I’ve been feeling wobbly at times, mostly when landing jumps, like I had to work extra hard after landing to stay in control, and I didn’t feel as secure as I wanted to. One of my goals is to increase power and get more jump speed and height, but I didn’t feel I could on my weak-ankled skates.

My Freestyles are my second pair of skates; I started on entry-level starter skates, the kind with plastic soles where you can’t change the blades. More than the boot, I hated those stock blades and was eager to get onto better ones, which is when I got into the Freestyles with the Coronation Ace blades. I liked that setup and felt it has been a good fit for the past five years (minus about six months of non-use), and I didn’t have any issues with fit, so it was definitely a consideration to stick with Jacksons. It would certainly be a cheaper option than the Edeas! But I’d had my eye on the Ice Fly, and given how long skates have lasted me, I didn’t want to wait another five years to try them out. I mentioned them as a possibility to my coach, who approved of them as a good choice.

I felt hesitant to make such a leap, because I know that they work for skaters with much more advanced skills than I have, and because they’re so trendy right now, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of choosing something that wasn’t the best choice for me just because it was popular. I knew it was more boot than I need, but it seemed that the consensus is that it’s fine for lower-level skaters, too. I’d heard so many things about how comfortable they are, and how light and easy to break in, and I’ve been seeing them on a lot of low-level adult skaters (Pre-Bronze or lower) who said they all loved the skate. So I felt more comfortable going with the choice, took myself off to the pro shop, and got myself fitted.

Will report back on how they do!

Working on Gold moves in the field

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After I passed my Pre-Bronze tests and was therefore able to work on programs and compete, I haven’t been in much of a hurry to take my tests. I usually defer to my coaches as to when I’m ready, and even when they think I am, I want to wait longer because testing is enough of a hassle (time, expense, emotional anxiety) that I don’t want to risk failing, in which case I have to repeat the whole process all over again.

I talked to my coach about the possibility of moving up to Silver for freeskate next year, but she was fairly hesitant about that idea. She feels that Silver is competitive and crowded, and felt I might be better off competing at Bronze again. I was a little disappointed since I wanted to move up to Silver, and I know that I still could push for it, but it’s not only that I want to skate in the Silver category; I want to be good enough that my coach thinks I am ready for Silver, and as of right now she doesn’t.

So I decided to focus more on the Gold moves in the field, and in contrast to freeskate, my coach does think I’m going to be able to test this year. I’d started working on this test before my surgery, but it took a while to work my way back up to the Silver/Gold moves after I returned. My moves coach has been encouraging me to test this summer, and thinks I’m at passing level on most of the moves and getting close on the weaker ones. Mostly, that’s the backward circle 8, and I feel like once I can consistently get all of the circles around, I will be ready to test. Currently, I’m sometimes able to get all the way around, but many times I’ll fall just a bit short on one or two of the circles. So I’m working on more power on the pushes, and a smoother glide.

Forward and backward double threes are pretty good. I’m at the stage where I can do them consistently, and the struggle comes in doing them with power and smoothness, so that there’s no jerky motion that comes from forcing the turn. My coach wants smooth ice dancey turns, with no lurching or breaking of position. I’ve been working on increasing the speed, too, because I know there’s a big emphasis on power and speed at the Gold level.

Brackets are coming along. As with the double threes, I’m working to make them look effortless and smooth, with no toe scraping or balance checks. More speed would be nice, too.

I think power circles are at passing level, although my coach would like for me to push that top speed, and to look less tentative. Forward crossovers at top speed still scare me, but I’m working on at least not letting it show!

Relearning my limits

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I’ve been skating regularly all spring, and am mostly back to regular lessons with my main coach and moves coach. When I first returned to skating after surgery, I wasn’t sure how many of my lost skills I would get back, or how long it would take me to bet back to where I was. Having been back at it for about six months, I can say that I’ve gotten most of my skills back and can do generally all the jumps and spins that I used to do. (Probably not at the same quality level—spins are slower and jumps aren’t as high, for instance—but at least I can do them.) That’s a huge relief for me, because I was worried that I might not be able to jump anymore, and was dreading the possibility of having to quit freestyle skating.

Even though I am back at freestyle and feel optimistic now about continuing to progress my skills, I have found that there are new twinges and pinches and signs of weakness that I am hypersensitive to now, and that I’m not able to approach skating with the same amount of confidence. Sometimes I feel great and can skate like I used to, but I find that most days, I feel things in both hips (I only had surgery on one, but they’re both a little off)—those feelings aren’t necessarily painful, but I take them seriously as signs to be careful. I notice that I can’t skate as long as I used to before I feel that ache in my hip—it feels like there are only a limited number of jumps I can try without overdoing the joint, and the same for spins. I don’t feel that skating is reinjuring me, but I do think I’m more liable to be injured if I’m not mindful. So every practice is a constant assessment of how I feel and how much I think I can attempt safely. I stop often to check how I’m feeling, and often cut my practices shorter than I want to. Before my surgery, I would just push through because I wanted to skate more, but now I force myself to ease off, which is frankly really tough to do.

It’s a bummer to have new limits holding me back when skating is hard enough as it is with a completely healthy body, but I suppose I’m grateful that I can continue to skate at all, so I try not to get too disappointed by the new restrictions. I tell myself that I love the feeling of skating even without the fun tricks, and even if I have to hold back the desire to go all out, I’ll do what it takes to keep me skating longer.

Skate like you want to be noticed

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At my last moves lesson, my coach started me off with the usual warm-up drills around the rink. It was a busier than normal day, because there was an upcoming local competition and a lot of young skaters in costume were running programs back to back. The session is usually predominantly adults, but today I found myself dodging skaters, not quite able to fill out the whole pattern.

“I know it’s a crowded session,” my moves coach started off, “but… you skated like it was a crowded session. Like you didn’t want anybody to notice you.”

Ah, guilty as charged. I don’t usually think in those terms — Don’t notice me — but when it’s crowded, I do tend to shrink away and put myself in evasion mode, rather than actively attempt to skate. So I’d been more focused on dodging people than completing my moves, even when I probably was okay to continue, because I have a thing about not being That Adult Skater who gets in all the flashy teenagers’ ways.

It’s partly because, as an adult, there’s a certain amount of teenage know-it-all-iness you encounter, where the show-offs get annoyed at you for daring to intrude on their practice space. And it’s also partly because once when I was brand-new to freestyle sessions and not quite used to the flow of movement, a coach pulled me aside to warn me to pay better attention to the people around me, which I found mortifying and unnerving (because I was horrified at the idea that I was that clueless adult). (Also, where are those coaches now, when the high-level show-offs are whizzing dangerously close to everybody and expecting everyone else to clear their path? Hmph.) But because this is what I do, I took one bit of critique and went extreme overcorrection on it: So now, I scan the ice way more than I practice on it, I step aside readily when a more aggressive skater is around, and I abort moves at the drop of a hat. It’s not a productive habit. I should probably work on getting more assertive on the ice.

My coach sent me back for another lap, instructing me to skate with more purpose and confidence. “When you skate, it looks very pretty,” he said, with a twist on the “pretty” that made it clear it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, “but it looks like you’re just going through the motions. You’re very meticulous, but it’s like you’re thinking through all the positions.”

Another spot-on critique, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I’m too busy concentrating on proper form and technique that as a consequence I generally have zero power, and no thought to presence or flourish. So I went back into the crowd, trying to do as he instructed: Chin up, shoulders down, arms raised, looking like I had every right to be on that ice — taking up space, rather than feeling apologetic about my presence on it.