The most unbelievable thing happened to me this weekend. I had an out of body experience. But strangely I never really left my own body. How this was possible I’m still not entirely sure. One thing I am sure of however is that this past weekend at the World All-Round Speed Skating Championships I skated an uncharacteristically, and yet undeniably bad race.
It was my plan in the 3000m to start fast, on a mid 31 second lap, maintain that speed and then think of accelerating and building the turns throughout the last 3 laps. I wanted a good rhythm, to be relaxed, calm, efficient and strong. I did and felt none of these things. When the gun went off I started hard, I was pushing hard. My pair was the championship favourite, Anni Friesinger of Germany.
I expected her to start fast and I wanted to stay with her. The first 200m were a little slow, 20.6. Then I came around for the first lap, 32.2. Not what I expected. I pushed harder, I had to get into the 31s. Lap two, 32.6. I pushed harder, Lap 3, 32.9. What was happening? How could this be so slow, I was pushing so hard. Lap 4, 33.2, lap 5, 33.9. This is where I realized that now I was no longer in my own body, this was not me skating, surely this could not be me skating.
And yet I was there, it was me making this happen. Lap 6, 34.9. Lap 7, I have no idea, don’t want to know. Final time 4:15, good enough for 16th place. Did that just happen, that race, for real? Again, I feel like I am not in my own body, but I feel myself breathing, the pain in my legs, and the pain in my heart. Yes, it really did happen. To put it in perspective for you so that you really believe me that it was bad, at my first world championships in 1999, in this same rink, I skated the race of my life: a 4:15 good enough for 16th place. Talk about coming full circle.
Did I choke, wig out, crack? Did I panic or freak out? Did I try too hard? Was my body not ready, did I mess up the preparation, or do I simply chalk it up to a bad race? At this point there are so many questions and very few answers. I suppose over the next few days I will come up with some answers, and while I don’t want to dwell on the badness of the race, I should figure out what it was that happened so I can avoid it happening again in the future.
I had very high expectations for that race. And so I should have, last year I was 5th and ended up 4th overall. While I did not expect that I should definitely make the podium this year in order to be satisfied, I expected to feel a certain way, to welcome the races and the pain that came with them with a sense of confidence.
Faced with the reality of not making the cut for the 5000m, a thought that had never truly occurred to me, I set out to feel like myself in the 1500m. I knew I could still have a good race and I approached it that way even though in the back of my mind I felt flat and fried. While it was not an excellent race, I at least felt more like myself. I skated technically and tactically well, all that was lacking was the fire within.
If I think back to all the races I have skated in the last four or five years I am hard pressed to find one that I can say was truly bad. Of course there are some that stand out as slightly sub-par, and one in particular that strikes me as bad, but most of my races are on the scale of good to really good to awesome. One of things about my skating that I have been most happy about is that I have consistently skated good races, interspersed with some great ones, all the while improving each year. Maybe it was time for me to learn a big lesson.
In the end, what this experience leaves me with is a profound sense of disappointment at having, in a sense, defeated myself at a time when I should have skated my best. But it also leaves me with an incredible opportunity to learn something, that had I failed to skate badly, would surely have passed me by.
What lesson am I to learn from this? When I think back to my 3000m on Saturday, it stings, like pouring salt over an open wound. I wish I could go back in time and take a do-over. But over time the sting will fade and I imagine I may come to appreciate this as something that was, while unwelcome, entirely necessary.
One thing I remember growing up is that whenever my brother or I complained about something, my Dad was often quick to point out that it was ‘better than a sharp stick in the eye’. And he was usually right; most things in this world are indeed better than a sharp stick in the eye. It always brought about great perspective. Yes, these beans do not taste very good, but they’re better than a sharp stick in the eye. There’s no arguing that one. This sense of perspective has helped me in many a situation, even this one. At the end of the day no matter how badly I feel about this race, it was still better than a sharp stick in the eye.