Sunday, 20 December 2015

Thank you for visiting my blog. 

I have moved it here:
and changed the name to "Off Season."

Please stop by for a visit.


Sunday, 20 September 2015

Tools of the trade

Here I am demonstrating the tools that are essential to my outdoor, night-time interval training: a mini flashlight and the Gymboss Minimax timer.
Perhaps there's a small amount of self delusion at play, but I feel like a special ops agent with these tools on my waistband.

I suspect that one of the best parts of being a cop is getting to wear a wide assortment of tools and weapons on your belt. Not only are these things cool in their own right, but I expect that having them all within easy reach invokes a feeling of officialness that is nearly intoxicating. An added bonus is that the presence of all this stuff forces the wearer to adopt that wide-armed cop swagger, which projects an air of authority as well as the illusion of bulging biceps. Awesome.

My summer hockey training has evolved to the point that, when I go out at night to sprint intermittently, I’m able to get a small taste of this “sidearm swagger” thanks to a pair of specialized tools that ride on my waistband.

One of these tools looks like a pager or step tracker, but it’s actually the Gymboss Minimax, a simple timer designed to track intervals. Originally designed for use in the boxing gym, this handy device allows the user to create and store up to 20 different interval programs. I bought the unit online for only $30 to replace my formerly beloved Timex Sleek 150, which unceremoniously died just a bit shy of its first birthday.

The timer’s downside is that its menu system is clunky and it has no light, which is a problem for me because I do my road work after dark. Because the timer’s menus are so strangely configured, I can’t switch between programs in the dark – I need to see the screen.

This is where my second specialized tool comes in. It’s a small keychain flashlight that I’ve attached to a retractable lanyard – like the kind that building custodians use for their key collections.

When I go out for my timed workouts, I clip the timer onto my waistband at my left hip while the flashlight rides at my right hip. “Lugging” these lightweight tools isn’t quite the same as toting a nine millimetre Smith & Wesson and a Tazer M26 (plus the various other bric a brac that cops get), but it’s pretty good, I think.

When I’m out there demonstrating my fleet-footed prowess, I feel like a highly specialized, cross-disciplinary covert operative – kind of a boxer/sprinter/janitor hybrid, if you really want to break it down – not exactly at the same level of cool as a uniformed law enforcement officer, but I do have to swing my arms a bit wider than usual, so there is that.

And another thing: if anything goes down in my exurban neighbourhood while I’m out there engaging in totally non-suspicious exercising activity – like one of my neighbours starts accusing me of sneaking peeks through his windows (no reason to suspect this ... road is too far from houses) or the neighbourhood coyotes start circling and salivating a bit too much for my liking – one glimpse of my boxing gym timer and/or a warning blast from my mini spotlight would surely settle things right down, don't you think?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Personal best

I have a confession. After my power skating course was over, even though my ankles and ego were scorched and trying to scab over, I didn’t take time to recover. No, I went a different direction – I hit the ice the very next day, making it five days in a row on skates. This was a personal best by far but not a record my bleeding ankles were prepared to celebrate, I can assure you.

This was a drop-in stick-and-puck session for parents and younger kids at our local mega-plex leisure centre. I took my own two kids, aged five and eight, who aren’t big skaters or hockey players. They also don’t take kindly to coaching, which left me free to pursue my own pursuits.

While my young progeny floundered on their butts and other fathers and offspring noodled around while paying no attention to their edges or weight distribution, I practiced the various one-footed exercises I’d learned.

As I performed my slow, semi-graceful passes across the ice, none of the other dads stared or acted outwardly jealous but I know they were sneaking peeks and I know what they were thinking: “Wow, that guy’s edge control and weight distribution are well above average.”

Just a few days later I was invited to suit up for my old hockey team, which plays in a summer league. I jumped at the chance, eager to put my new skating abilities to use in a game setting. But, as usual, results were mixed. Some of my striding was more powerful than usual and some of my turns were quicker but I was inconsistent in these executions because these new mechanics weren’t yet committed to muscle memory. Under duress, I naturally reverted to old, inefficient habits such as not bending my knees fully and not fully extending my legs.

Shortly after that, the kids and I did another stick-and-puck session. This time I cranked up the pace on my semi-graceful exercises. And this time none of the other dads had to pretend they weren’t envious. I was less than impressive, as my mechanics quickly broke down under the duress created by additional speed.

I kept at it, closely scrutinizing the movement of all my parts. What I deduced was surprising and upsetting.

For every single manoeuvre, the weak link was my left leg. Close inspection revealed that the sucker has all the propulsive power of a mozzarella cheese string and it returns to base position in lazy loops rather than direct, forceful movements. At high speed, my right leg does all the work while my left one does only the bare minimum required to maintain the appearance that it’s doing its share. This means that, for all these years, I’ve been galumping around like a moldy old mariner on a peg leg.

No wonder I’ve been struggling to keep up. These young guys I play against are not only quicker and stronger, but they’re no doubt more accomplished at these fundamental mechanics.

All this raises the question, what now?

On the one hand, my skating mechanics are so brutal that they represent tremendous potential for improvement. Perhaps I could achieve greater overall gains by dialing back my pursuit of iron-clad leg muscles and divert some energy toward improving my technique.

On the other hand, the amount of time that would be required to truly address my fundamental skating flaws makes the whole endeavour seem impossible. It’s almost enough to drive me toward other leisure pursuits, such as macrame, cowboy poetry or blues harmonica, to name but a few examples.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

One hurtin' unit

Sore, oozing ankles, the result of a four-day power skating course, were a necessary price to pay for a ticket on the train to hockey mastery.

Man, I’m one hurtin’ unit. Not only are my ankles killing me but my feelings are all scuffed up as well.

Both sets of wounds come courtesy of a scheme I cooked up a few months ago and just completed the other day.

You see, back in March when my hockey season ended, I took stock of my beer leaguing exploits and came to this conclusion: through diligent training, I’d made marginal improvements to my speed, quickness, conditioning and stickhandling but hadn’t touched other aspects of my game. These areas were now holding me back and it was time to tackle one of them.

Skating topped the list, since it’s the most important hockey skill and I hadn’t received any instruction in it since I was a youth – about 30 years ago. Although I’m a pretty good skater, I knew that serious scrutiny would reveal deficiencies.

Extensive online research turned up just one company that offered a power skating course that was open to adults. I signed up even though I wasn’t thrilled about the age range, which started at 11. The course was to be eight hours spread over four weekday afternoons. I wrote the dates in my daytimer and booked vacation time off work.

As the course dates approached, I vaccilated between anticipation and apprehension, the former due to the prospect of learning and the latter due to the age factor. I expected that I’d be the only adult in the class and that the average age would be about 14. At 44, I’d be an oddball with a capital O. Of course, it’s not like my beer-leaguing exploits (and my life in general) hadn’t already placed me squarely in the oddball camp, but still, I would have preferred that the “sore thumb quotient” be a bit less extreme.

On the day of the first session, I steeled myself for an ordeal, marched into Sherwood Park’s Millenium Place and plopped down in a vacant spot in the male dressing room. As I’d expected, the room was full of boyish faces that cast furtive glances my way. I had barely sat down before that curiosity bubbled over.

“So, you here to do some coaching?” asked the hulking teenager beside me.

I worked to suppress a grin.

“No, I’m here for a ... refresher,” I said, inflecting my voice so as to place aural quotation marks around “refresher.”

This subtlety seemed to be lost on the questioner, who I judged to be about 16. A couple minutes later I launched my own question his way.

“So, are you here because you want to be or is someone making you?”

Instant eye roll.

“My father,” he said.

When I was young, like peewee or bantam age, my team was visited by power skating instructors on a couple different occasions. These instructors were females with figure skating backgrounds. Because of this, and because we were cocky young stallions, we disregarded everything they said. None of us learned a damn thing and we were damn proud of it.

This time around, armed with a broader outlook gained from 30 years of seasoning, I was primed to soak up information (and skills, I hoped) like a mature, open-minded sponge (and one who was determined to get value for his $290).

Feeling edgy

As soon as the ice was ready, the dressing room emptied and players started skating lazy laps. The group numbered about 30 and was about evenly divided between males and females, with many of the females being ringette players. This contingent included a couple of moms, so I didn’t feel like such an oddity.

After the instructor gathered us up for a short introduction, he and his two assistants ran us through a battery of drills aimed at getting us to exert control over our skate edges. For the first exercise, we travelled the length of the ice using only our inside edges, swooping in wide arcs like armour-clad flamingos as we alternated from one foot to the other. We followed that up by doing the same on our outer edges then did both drills again, backwards.

This is what the course was: eight hours of performing various permutations of pushing and gliding while paying careful attention to our edges and weight distribution. We learned and repeated the proper mechanics for the forward stride, backward stride, crossovers, tight turns and starts.

Some of the drills were easy. Others made me feel like I’d never skated before in my life. Most were somewhere in between, feeling awkward at first but less and less so with diligent effort. None of them was overly tiring physically – the pace was slow, the focus on technique. But because they were so foreign, the exercises required intense concentration which made them exhausting mentally.

Resting on the bench while the ice is being resurfaced, my feet are 
positioned in the “V-diamond” formation (heals together with knees 
bent), which is the foundation of effective skating, I learned.

Getting hurt

My feet started to hurt almost right away during the first session. That’s because, when we used a particular edge, we didn’t just casually lean that way, we leaned with all our weight, with the pointy part of the ankle bearing the brunt. Never before have I subjected by feet and ankles to such extreme forces. After the first day, all four of my pointy ankle knobs were raw. By the end of the third day, both my inner ones were leaving bloody blotches on my socks.

My feelings also started to hurt almost right away during the first session. As I stated, some of the exercises were so awkward that they made me feel like a complete neophyte, a bitter pill for someone who’s been a semi-serious hockey player for more than 30 years.

What was particularly draining emotionally was the fact that the course didn’t just expose my shortcomings and move on. Instead, it dangled them in front of my nose then smeared them all over my face like a sadistic army officer exacting some sort of feces-based hazing ritual.

Due to the significant mental and emotional toll of my learning, my cranial activity downshifted to stupor level during my off-ice time. Meanwhile, my time on the ice was a continuously unfolding oxymoron. I enjoyed but dreaded it. I wrung maximum value out of every repetition while sneaking longing glances at the clock.

After the last session was done, I floated out of the arena feeling glad it was all over but also glad I’d done it. As I’d hoped, I had soaked up a lot of knowledge and some of it was already transferring to my legs and feet. It’s true that I was reeling from the wounds I’d incurred, but I viewed the discomfort as an indicator of personal growth. Once the wounds healed, I’d be a new player ... well, maybe not new exactly, but improved.

And that’s exactly what I’d signed up for.

Someday (maybe even before I’m 50), the sleeve 
of my hockey jacket will be covered in these, and the 
world will shower me with all the adulation and 
accolades that I deserve.

Saturday, 27 June 2015


I’m not usually much for sayings. Like, I’m rarely moved by those inspirational posters of eagles or oceans or Ghandi or Einstein, you know, those ones that convey wisdom about persistence or success or attitude or whatever.

The trite sound bites and maudlin catch phrases of our time have caused me to develop a crusty coating that’s largely impervious to sayings, but I recently encountered one that penetrated this barrier: “If you want to run fast, you’ve got to run fast.”

While this simple saying is geared toward sprint training, I view it as relating to any situation in life, in a figurative way, which is why I find it powerful. 

After letting this saying simmer for a few weeks, my mind has repurposed it to fit my situation as a dude trying to train his way to improved hockey performance. 

Here’s my personalized version: “If you want to be a monster on the ice, you’ve got to be a monster in the gym.”

Maybe it’s a bit corny, a bit too dripping in machismo, but it’s stuck with me for a few weeks and I still like it – a good sign. 

Also, I find it popping into my head during my workouts and the effect is often that I’m able to push myself just a little bit harder than I otherwise would – another good sign. 

I’m at the point where I’m thinking about making a poster. When that happens, you know a saying has taken hold and is doing its job.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Wearing the pants

Note: I know I said in my last post that I was pulling the plug on this blog, but that was then and this is now. Some stuff has happened that warrants comment (in my mind, anyway), so I’m posting a comment. Going forward, let’s agree that this blog is indeed finished, except when it’s not.

Too tight: Months of training have rendered my beloved Levi's 501s obsolete as they no longer accommodate my expanding derriere.

So I’m trudging up the stairs at work, several steps behind my co-worker – let’s call him Carl – which has me at eye level with his rump, but rather than avert my eyes, as per “The Guy Code,” I’m taking in the view for all it’s worth.

“Gee Carl, your jeans have ample room in the seat yet they aren’t too baggy. Do you mind if I ask what brand they are?”

This is what I’m thinking, but of course, I say nothing. The way a fellow’s pants cradle his buttocks is a somewhat taboo subject in our society, so I’m left to gather the information I seek through stealthy observation.

Unfortunately, Carl has his golf shirt tucked in loosely, so it hangs down over the top of his jeans, covering up the label. I’m disappointed.

A similar situation occurred recently at 7/11 when I missed my chance with a strapping young dude whose athletic build seemed to be ably accommodated by his stylish but unassuming jeans. Same deal for a shorter but equally athletic looking guy at KFC.

Epic blowout
My obsession with exploring jean styles has been going on for a while. It started with an epic crotch blowout that occurred when I was chasing a kid around a playground. (Note: It was my kid). The incident left Fruit-Of-The-Loom tufts protruding where they shouldn’t and upset an equilibrium that had been in place for decades.

Like most men, I settled into my preferred jeans style in high school and never looked back. For more than 20 years, buying jeans was the simplest form of shopping in existence. Every year or two, when I caught wind of a sale at Sears, I’d walk in, select a couple pairs of Levi’s 501s and strut straight to the checkout. There was no need to try them on since I’d long established that these jeans suited my body type and I knew my specs. (I did have to visit a changeroom every few years when it came time to graduate to the next waist size, to account for my body’s ongoing “settling in.”)

Before: A photo of my backside taken 
in the summer of 2014.
This blissful existence has been under attack for a few months. I started noticing that my jeans were getting increasingly snug, as my ongoing training efforts expanded my butt to near-Kardashian dimensions and transformed my thighs from pencil-thin reeds to ... well ... reeds of carpenter pencil dimensions. It got to the point that kicking around in jeans on the weekend was no longer an act of relaxation, but rather an act of excruciating endurance.

Then the aforementioned blowout occurred and it was official. I needed new jeans – not just a new pair of jeans, a new style of jeans.

The dreaded “Clothing Store”
My soul-sucking quest for a new denim identity began with some online research, followed by a visit to an actual “Clothing Store,” where I tried on and bought one pair of jeans that I’d identified as the right style for me.

I was wrong.

I found this out while modelling my purchase for my wife. (The jeans were too baggy for my stumpy legs).

Some days later I revisited the dreaded Clothing Store, where I returned those jeans then systematically tried on every style that wasn’t super slim or super loose. Through a ruthless process of elimination, I surprisingly ended up with Levi’s 501s, except that the winning version was two waist sizes larger than the ones in my closet. Yes, these new garments were too large in the waist, but they were ample in the seat and thighs without being annoyingly baggy. I thought I could live with them.

I was wrong there too.

After: A photo of my Levi's
taken in March 2015, shortly
before the "Epic Crotch Blowout."
The first day wearing my new jeans, even though I had a belt cinched up tight, I still had to keep my thumbs hooked through the belt loops to prevent the pants from falling down. I started drawling my words and people started calling me Cletus.

“Dang it all to heck,” I thought.

I was quite despondent, but just as I was starting to Google the location of bridges in my area, my mind seized on one nugget of information that gave me a glimmer of hope.

I remembered that Levi’s has recently come out with a new jeans style that’s specifically designed for athletic builds. Yes, I was thinking about this in terms of my body. (I’ll give you a moment to conclude your guffawing and snickering.)

So anyway, this new model is designed to provide more room in the rear and thighs without being baggy. I’d dismissed them before because I didn’t think they came in my waist size and I felt their prefaded grunge look was more for young dudes.

But, lacking other options, I decided to give them another try. I found a store that did have some in my waist size and I bought myself one experimental pair.

I’ve worn them a couple times in public. They’re a bit stretchy and feel more like sweatpants than jeans, so I feel like I’m cheating, but I think I may have found my solution. I sure hope so, anyway. If these don’t work out, I’ll be forced to go way outside the box ... I'm talking kilt territory. Drastic? Yes. But don’t discount the double-barrelled upside: 

1) plenty of room and 
2) no need for Fruit Of The Looms.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Final snapshots

So anyway, the season is in full swing now and the first whack of games has delivered a handful of “snapshot moments” that have illustrated where I stand in the hierarchy of beer-league greats. In short, I'm a few notches above where I was last year but still nowhere near the top.

Most of these snapshot moments have been subtle and likely imperceptible to anyone besides me — a won footrace, a few extended moments of puck control, a shot delivered with a hint more force. However, I did experience one snapshot moment that had a noticeable impact on the game.

My team was on a power play and I had the puck. I circled behind our net to orchestrate our assault on the opposition end. A forechecking opponent was hot on my heels, his stick lashing out like a serpent’s tonque trying to slurp up the puck.

I kept my legs moving and eventually left the guy behind, but all my teammates had advanced far ahead and I had no one to pass to. So I lugged the puck all the way into the opposition’s zone. As I crossed the blue line, another opponent advanced toward me and the puck slipped just beyond my reach. I had visions of being swarmed and denuded of the puck as has happened so often in the past. It filled me with self loathing.

With a furious outburst of strides, I caught up to the errant disc and regained possession of it. Then, as I circled in the corner, it eluded me again. This time an opposition defenceman latched onto it and prepared to fire it down the ice. I lunged desperately, and to my surprise, I got it back. By this time, my legs were dying, but I was able to take some quick strides and reach a safe area.

Hearing a voice call for a pass, I saw a wide open teammate sliding down toward the goal. I slid him the puck and he promptly slipped it through the goalie’s legs and into the net. Ha, ha — assist for me! It was one of just a few points I’ve collected this season.

I ambled slowly to the bench, exhausted from the frantic exertions I’d just performed, but also feeling deeply satisfied.

*        *        *

While I have enjoyed some muted successes, the seismic transformation I was hoping for hasn’t happened. I haven’t morphed into an explosive, puck-dangling sniper, a “game breaker” who can single handedly manufacture scoring chances out of routine situations. I haven’t become one of the best players in the league, nor can I even say that I’m one of the best players on my team.

However, I have upped my game to the point that I now blend in with the rest of the rank-and-file schlepps who populate my beer league, rather than standing out for being slow and ineffectual. I’m more in the thick of the action now, handling the puck more and skating with it, making good passes more often and defending more effectively. Though my shot is still pretty weak, I’m getting more of them away. All these subtle improvements make me feel good about playing.

Another positive thing is that I’m still developing and improving as the season unfolds. Since I play just once a week, I’m usually able to do one strength/power workout between games, while being careful to leave at least three days to recover before the next game.

During those recovery days I try to do at least one stickhandling session and one session of agility and quickness footwork. The former is necessary to prevent a lapse to my cow-handling-a-snow-shovel status. The latter is necessary to prevent a return of static leaden-ness to my feet and legs.

If I’m able to keep up with this workout routine, I believe I’ll be able to maintain my skill level and increase my leg strength throughout the season. Then, come next spring, I’ll be at another crossroads, having to decide whether to put in another summer of training or call it a beer-league career.

I can tell you right now that I’ll probably opt for training, but I can also say that I cannot endure another summer like the one I lived in 2014. The training was just too constant. I’d like to work out less often but in a more focused way, basically blast the legs thoroughly every four days with the odd bit of skill and cardio work thrown in here and there.

Final buzzer
That sums up where I am and where I’m planning to go with my training. It’s been a bit more than a year that I’ve been at it and from here on it seems to be a matter of constantly fine tuning my approach.

Given this situation, with not much new for me to experience or write about, I feel it’s time to sound the final buzzer on this blog. That way we can all move on to other productive pursuits — you to watching cat videos on YouTube; me to training our cat to use a video camera (that’s how it works, right?).

As I stated, I expect I will continue to train and I hope to experience incremental increases in my abilities and my enjoyment of the great game of hockey. I still hold out hope that, someday, I will experience a magical moment when, in the heat of game competition, I grab a loose puck and propel myself explosively to the oppostion’s goal, eluding any and all defenders who attempt to halt my progress before undressing the goalie and depositing the puck in the net as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

If and when that happens, I’ll know that I’ve finally completed the transformation that I’ve been pursuing and that I’ve become what I’ve always had the potential to be: a big leaguer ... big beer leaguer, that is.