That Elusive Easy Speed - Athlete journal by Clara Hughes

Friday, November 26, 2004

The third week of an overseas trip is often the longest, creeping along like thick flowing molasses. Yes, it has been an exciting few weeks. And now here we are, in Heerenveen, the center of the speed skating universe, with our last races of the autumn season looming close on the horizon. The third world cup is about to begin and everyone seems to be ready to go home to family and familiarity. Yet, when I think of tomorrow, I remind myself it’s another chance to meet the challenge of discovering new limits through struggle and/or ease.

It’s been an eventful few weeks, with the team pursuit becoming an official world cup event and our consecutive weekends of enjoying setting and then breaking the world record, each time winning by a slim margin. I witnessed with great satisfaction my teammate and friend, Kristina Groves, glide to a career- first world cup victory in week one; saw the Canadian men’s team pursuit come together and just miss the podium by a hair week two; cheered Cindy Klassen to her victory in the 1500 m last week after finishing second the week before, not forgetting this time last year she was in a hospital bed with a vicious slash in her arm after a horrific training accident; was inspired by teammate Arne Dankers personal best time in the 5000 m in Berlin, where he floated around the ice as silent and smooth as only Arne can, finishing a remarkable 8th place in a discipline that presently has more depth than ever; getting to know some of the new generation of Canadian speed skaters and being inspired by their youthful energy; and then finally, skating my own special race where the thrill of winning with a personal best time paled in comparison to the feeling I experienced during the race in Berlin, leaving me with a new definition of ‘easy speed’.

Through all of the awesome results there has been struggle for others. Not everyone is skating personal bests, or performing where they want on the team. I relate to these frustrations because a year ago I went through a series of sub-par races that were the best I had at the time, but so much slower than the season before. Yet, I managed to maintain an acute awareness that it would improve, and the rate of improvement relied solely on my ability to accept and be inspired by ‘failure’. It was a matter of accepting low times and allowing training, patience and time to move me forward towards the second part of the season. Writing this is easier than doing it.

Which brings me to the present and the team’s recent success. Myriad people have quizzed us on our ‘secret’ and what we expect for the near future and remainder of the season. I honestly feel this is only the beginning, like it was last year, and there is so much improvement to be made. To have great races is nice and satisfying in the moment, but moments are fleeting and if one chooses to live in the past one is left behind. And, I know, just how good or bad races are means nothing in February and March when the World Championships arrive.

So, as I prep for the weekend, making sure the tension is low and motivation high, I feel no more confident because of last weekend, even a little afraid of the pain 5000 m will entail, as it always does. What I focus on are the strides I will have to skate and how I want to feel skating them. That is where the satisfaction is, not on the podium, not with a time, not with a result, but with the feel of effortless ease gliding around and around, all twelve and a half laps of the race. Even if it is not easy.