We started a pool on the bus, each of us guessing what the total travel time will be to get to Heerenveen from Erfurt. It’s a 600km drive, and the guesses range from 6 to 9 hours. We’re each pitching in one Euro to the pool, so the purse is close to 30 Euros. Not a bad take if you win, but the bus driver informed us (after the fact) that due to a multitude of traffic jams and construction it could take up to 11 hours. I guessed 7:39, but it looks like my optimism might not pay off today. We just crawled through the first traffic jam, and now have resumed our regular blazing speed of 90 km/h. At one hour in, this could be a long day…
Long bus rides like this allow for a diverse, albeit somewhat limited, array of activities. Chatting, listening to music, watching movies, reading, homework (in a perfect world only!), napping, and for those so inclined, thinking deep thoughts.
Today I find myself thinking about what I have come to know as the bubble. I don’t usually give the bubble much attention, at the most a fleeting thought or two as I glance at the results sheet. I don’t tend to give it much thought mostly because it is absolutely inconsequential. But today as we chug along through the German countryside, the bubble is on my mind so I might as well dissect it.
The bubble is not a mystery by any means. Speed skating is a sport based solely on time and that is one thing I love about it – there is no question of opinion about who deserves to win. It’s helps to have excellent technique and fitness, but essentially the only thing that matters when you cross the line is how fast your time is. Inevitably, the tighter the competition gets, the closer the times will be, where skaters are winning or losing a race by a mere 1/100th of a second. Not even the blink of an eye; a tiny centimeter can be all that separates first from second place. And that’s the way it should be, that’s what makes competition exciting and challenging.
The bubble appears when a group of skaters, big or small, all finish a race within the same second. For example, rank 5 through 12 all finish with a time of 4:13.__. Sometimes when the competition is fierce, there can be up to ten or fifteen skaters all within the same second. Of course in the sprint races like the 500m and 1000m, there can be twenty skaters within the same second, which is expected. But when a bubble appears in a race of 3000m or 5000m I find it somewhat more remarkable.
The thing with the bubble is that it is fickle. Sometimes it is kind and friendly, and the very next day it can be cruel and unforgiving. Some days you’re in it and others you’re not even near it. There can be multiple bubbles, of different sizes and shapes, at the top or near the bottom – all over the place! Needless to say, those who skated the fastest are deserving of their results. And I hold no grudge towards those who rightfully beat me by small margins, nor do I take it for granted when I beat others by a few hundredths.
Last weekend in the 3000m I was on the ‘right’ side of the bubble, and placed 7th. This weekend I was on the ‘wrong’ side and placed 13th. There was little difference between the two races; the times were almost identical. In fact I would say that I skated a better race yesterday than I did last weekend. So what really is the difference that I was 7th or 13th? The difference is simply that the only thing I know about being on the wrong side of the bubble is that it fuels me with a sick amount of motivation to get back on the right side and stay there.
Still, sometimes when I give the bubble that fleeting thought I can’t help but wonder, did I have that extra tenth or hundredth of a second in me? Was it there and maybe I just didn’t use it, or dig deep enough or fight enough? Did I have that tiny speck of time that would have catapulted me to the right side of the bubble, or was that race everything that I had on that day? Inevitably there will always be things in my races that I could have done better; better corner entries, higher tempo, longer pushes, been more aggressive. The reason that thought is fleeting is because I don’t think I could do what I do on a daily basis if it meant I was coming to World Cups and doing anything less than I possibly can.
At the end of the day the only person to whom it truly matters whether I come 7th or 13th is me. One month from now no one will remember it, or judge me by it, or put any thought into it but me. Knowing that some days I am on the right side of the bubble and some days I am on the wrong side really makes no difference when the only thing that matters in the end is whether or not I did everything possible to skate as fast as I can.
There are times when thinking about the bubble gives rise to motivation. But then there are times when you just have to say forget the damn bubble and go have a beer with some friends.