Long ago, the grad students I worked with talked me into doing a 5k run after not having run a single step in five years. I was however in absurdly good aerobic shape from all the climbing and commuting I was doing on the bike. I treated that race as a lark and I used my considerable running experience and natural talent to stupidly be in the top 10 at the first mile marker. I slipped only down to a respectable 50th out of around a couple thousand by the end. I’m no stranger to recreational pain, but I learned the next day that such a foolish high-performance exploit using strong muscles that vastly overpowered some necessary weak ones was a recipe for the most intense leg muscle pain of my life. I could clearly feel very specific strips of muscles — presumably ones that are not heavily used on the bike — burning with pain. Despite barely being able to walk, it was all good fun.

This weekend I had the pleasure of demoting that event down to the third worst muscle pain I’ve ever experienced. What topped it was actually a very similar situation.

As I have already noted I like ice skating. As much as I would enjoy hockey, it is too dangerous for an old man who doesn’t have a lifetime of hockey experience (like the other old guys I usually skate with). I usually skate laps for 90 straight minutes. I thought maybe it would be reasonable to buy some speedskates. I wrote to the Buffalo Speedskating Club and asked if they knew how one might go about doing that. I got in touch with one of their organizers and he showed me some skates and gave me some good advice about buying them. He said I could try some speedskates out at a "learn to speedskate" event they had in October. A bit later than I was hoping but you see that it’s not as easy as simply going down to Walmart and picking up some speedskates.

A bit later he contacted me and asked if I’d like to get on some speedskates sooner. He was running a Masters Speedskating Training Camp and, thanks to The Plague, it was lacking the half of participants who are now blocked at the Canadian border. Well, if you need people to fill in for Canadians, you really can’t do much better than me! If I would do the event, he would loan me some skates.

Sure, why not? Well, the huge reason of course is that I’ve never skated on speedskates on ice. Mixing it up with seasoned enthusiasts would be pretty risky. But he came down to my normal skating session and brought me a pair of club skates that miraculously fit perfectly. He went through a bunch of drills and gave me a quick 90 minute private coaching session. I didn’t fall on my ass or slice any major arteries with the razor sharp skates (an actual real problem this sport worries about). It was on!

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And with one session on the ice doing exercises as the sum total of my ice speedskating experience, I was about to quickly go very deep into a sport I really probably should have been treating with a little more caution.

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The obligatory thing I’m wearing around my neck is a protector to keep from having one’s jugular sliced open during a wipe out. Not even kidding.

The first thing to note about this "camp" is that it was about half ice time and half outdoor workouts targeting speedskating strength and skills. I was pretty impressed with everybody who participated. This is no random collection of people! These were all some very serious athletes. With the exception of me and one other guy, also filling in for the missing Canadians, they all had considerable competitive speedskating experience. But I didn’t feel too outgunned on general fitness.

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I didn’t even know I could jump that high. Old men probably should normaly minimize their jumping — and that’s what I do!

There was a lot of that kind of thing outdoors. It was the hottest days of the year. I was drenched in sweat and happy to go into the big room full of fake winter to skate.

The organizer took some very nice photos. In all of them you can see that I’m never as "down" as the people who were good at this. But I also didn’t crash or hurt anyone or myself. All those pads lining the wall weren’t for decoration!

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The little person in front of me was a girl from the Buffalo Speedskating Club helping out with the event. Her job was to demonstrate all of the exercises — this was because her form was immaculate! She was blazing fast. Just insane. Quite inspiring to see such a little girl crush this sport with such skill.

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That’s pretty much what it was like on the ice for me. Quite fun and exciting for sure.

Here is the organizer’s gallery with all photos from the event. There you can see how serious some of these folks are. And the kid’s training camp is quite an amazing spectacle too — I’m sure most of those little groms could crush me.

Now Take a look at this image I randomly nabbed off the internet.

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These guys are speedskating but this is inline on wheels. This is much closer to my normal skating habits (wheels, not the elite level). The guy at the front is showing decent form; the rest are supporting themselves on their knees. Why are these top skaters in the 2017 World Games speedskating final skating so terribly? Because they’ve been at it full throttle for 12 kilometers and they’re absolutely fried! They can’t hold the "correct" skating position because they’ve already toasted their legs. Well this was my problem too. I’m a strong skater and an even stronger cyclist, but I have no practice at short sprint skating where the name of the game is staying low. Super low. No, lower than that! Touch the ice low!

Imagine you’re about to sit in an office chair, but just before your butt touches the chair, you stop and hover there. And hold that. Keep holding. Yup. Minutes and minutes of that. In fact, you’re also pouring out wattage from your legs doing other stuff too. The lower you are, the more you can drive with the legs. We did tons of drills like standing on the left leg and dipping down to touch the right knee to the left ankle. That is what finally did my legs in. I could skate all day, but not in a competitive sprint posture. By the end of the event I had spent 1 in 4 hours of the previous 48 hours either skating or doing very hard exercises targeting skating. Quite a marathon really.

I actually also rode my bike to the rink like I usually do. Riding back home each of the three days of the event I felt fine. My legs felt like I could ride for hours. But once I stepped off the bike — oh boy! Wow! The muscles that I had just abused that I don’t normally push hard were screaming in pain. I could barely climb the stairs in my house. I’m feeling a lot better today. This kind of pain goes away and I can feel good about the fact that my legs are no doubt stronger and I am going to be much better at something I really enjoy doing. I’m just happy my trashed legs didn’t cause any accidents.

And number one? What was the worst leg muscle pain of my life? That was Christmas 2019 when I suffered The Plague. Hopefully my extraordinary weekend can better put muscle pain in context. It’s amazing to me that as sore as my leg muscles rightfully are today, it’s not even close to when I was in bed sick. That’s a record I doubt I’ll ever break.