Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Stay On in the Off-Season

Roller Derby doesn’t really have an official season, a topic which I’d love to explore later, but it seems like a lot of teams take time off during the holidays. If you’re entering an extended period out of practice, don’t completely end your training. Periods of rest are important, but so is cross-training. When you’re not concerned with competitive play, it’s important to build your athletic base and worry less about finite skills.  

Our league ramped up competition the past few seasons, once we became part of the WFTDA, and we have been pretty busy. Last year we did take off time in December from skating but continued to workout, which started us out right in January. This year is different for two reasons: I started a derby break early, and we have no formal training for our off season, so it’s all D.I.Y. Part of the reason for my break was a mental one, but also a restorative and physical break. I have an odd sleeping schedule (work at 4am) and ran myself into the ground in October. I have gotten a little too lax on working out on my own though, especially when Thanksgiving hit, and I am feeling it now.

Winter can make it doubly hard to keep moving, especially if you live in a cold, wintry place, but there’s no excuse to quit trying. Since there aren’t bouts keeping you busy, you should have more time to work on your strength and conditioning. Don’t worry about skills or even skating during this time, but just focus on those building blocks.

This is also a good time to work on any imbalances that your body might have from rigorous training. We skate hard and turn left, so your body is likely to have a bit of lopsided muscle development or training wear. There might also be a nagging injury or pain that has haunted you all season, and this would be the time to address it and work it out gently.Work on your strength and stability with workouts like this one by Smarty Pants (page 50, article on Texas Rollergirls proceeds it). 

The training doesn’t need to be of Olympic caliber or intensity, and cutting out high-impact exercise during this time can help your body recover and help prevent future injury. Maintaining the same level of training as during the season, when you have no bouts to work towards in the off-season, can be just as detrimental as dropping training completely. The mind isn’t as focused without an objective to work towards, and you can get sloppy or hurt yourself maintaining that mid-season intensity. Going into the next season you don’t want to start from scratch though, maintaining a small level of fitness is better than starting all over.

Sandrine Rangeon’s recent blogpost about hypertrophy training emphasizes how we must put balance in our training. Skaters often work hard on their quads and glutes, but forget about hamstrings. Performance relies on muscle groups working together, and these two have an impact on your skating power and the functioning of your knees.

This is also a good time to work on flexibility and make sure your body doesn’t go frigid during these off months (and cold months for most.) If you haven’t tried yoga before, this could be the time to find your zen during holiday stress. Invest in a foam roller, or chunk of PVC pipe, and roll out your muscles with a deep tissue massage. Flexible muscles help prevent injury!! (If I talk enough about injury prevention, will it sink in?)
Some of the people I've been missing while on break....

If your league doesn’t believe in breaks, talk to your board or coaches about implementing one. One or two specific times of the year where you completely stop skating for a month or so. It can do wonders for team morale, motivation, and your bodies. Roller Derby is filled with a varying degree of bodies and fitness, so of course some people can handle heavy training, but others may not. Give everyone a break, and those who crave more can do it on their own.

This also means plugging in small breaks through the season. Plan your bouts so you’re not competing too much back to back. Think of getting knocked down and around repeatedly like getting hit by a car; your body deserves a bit of recovery. Plan some low-impact practices the week after a bout, and then build back up to the next one.

Living History Farm's Cross Country race.
Over the creeks and through the woods, in 9 degree weather....

The off-season isn’t only time to get sweaty, but to brush up on your nutritional training as well. Discover healthy ways to eat your favorite foods, try new recipes and allow yourself to indulge a little over the holidays, but compensate elsewhere. (i.e. salad for lunch with tons of veggies!) Get in a food routine and carry it on into the season.

Don’t just throw up your hands in the off season because you’re not meeting for practice weekly or you had a weekend full of holiday dinners, start molding next year’s athlete now! Hold yourself accountable and form weekly goals. Force a teammate to meet you at the pool, sign up for a 5k, or get a gym membership. Do whatever it takes to keep you moving and you’ll thank yourself when January hits. -L4D

Some sources I pulled info and ideas from:
How to Recover from a Tough Racing Season
One Simple Strategy for Avoiding Weight Gain in the Off Season
December Naturally Fit Magazine  - Article on Texas Rollergirls and workout by Smarty Pants
The Pro Secrets to Off-Season Training
Off-Season Training 
(look to other sports to help cross-train!) 

Also a reminder to relieve some of the pressure your team might be experiencing, and the off-season can be a good time to refresh. Blog by Elektra Q-Tion.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Crash and Burn

My boutfit.. for watching derby.
Fo Champs 2010.

Two Championships, three years apart, and things are very different. For me, 2010 was the height of my derby excitement. I spent the whole last semester of college creating a documentary about my team, and had just moved into “Derby Haus” with a skater and a referee. Since graduating, roller derby had become my life. I wasn’t at my peak athleticism, but the honeymoon phase of committing to a life with derby was still in full swing, and I wanted it all.

Championships that year were in Chicago, a mere three hours away, so there was no way I would miss it. Being a broke-ass right out of college, I had decided to go, but there was really no way financially that I should of. Getting paid for a random video gig bought my weekend pass, and I was on my way.

Entering the UIC pavilion, home of the Windy City Rollers, will be forever stamped in my memory. Vendors lined the hallways, girls from every corner of the country wearing the same damn track jacket, and legendary skaters on the track below. It was like I died and woke up in derby heaven.

That year the battle for first, second and third came down to Rocky Mountain, Oly and Gotham respectively, with Rocky being the rising underdog. Slow derby was prevalent and vocally opposed throughout the weekend. In the days of two whistle starts, this was more of a problem that would lead to no actual derby being played on the track at times. Knee starts had yet to become standard, but people had started to figure out its advantage. Having brought my flip with me, I was inspired on the spot to make a short video on the topic. This was back when I utilized PATV to do some editing, and still had some post-college motivation.

Rocky took the Hydra in the final thrilling seconds. It's crazy to see how much the style of play has changed in three years. 

We drank, we partied, we watched a ton of derby. It was a great weekend and one that influenced my derby goals and upped my knowledge of the sport and the people involved.

Three years later and now I’m nearly a five-year veteran-- on a derby break.

It probably took the last year and a half to gather the courage to take a break. It doesn’t really seem like one can simply walk away from this life and come back smoothly. It doesn’t seem like one can even walk away! Roller derby has saturated every pore of my body, every corner of my brain and every minute of my day. The thought that had run through my head for the past year was always, what would my life be without derby? This is everything I’ve got.
Photo by Patrick Bloom
Of course that’s not true, but it has been my passion for the past five years. Like a drug, I got mixed up with it in college, at a time that I was very vulnerable, and ready to take life by both hands. Since wandering into the Grant Wood Elementary gym, and then immediately purchasing roller skates, I have been a board member, coach, captain, WFTDA rep, PR head, part of the roster committee and of course, skater. I think at one point, I wore nearly all those hats at once. Because, dear derby boys and girls, having the attitude of “it’s not going to get done, so I’ll just do it myself!” will only take you so far before you find yourself in a panic attack and sobbing, minutes before bouting.

I love skating. I love the people. I love putting the work into a great organization and having something to show of my life. It’s something I can point and at say, “Look! Look at this thing I’ve done. It’s important and I helped make it happen!” It just gets to a point when your head can’t handle it all right at the moment, and your body needs some time to play catch up.

I went into this year’s Champs with a little bit of a different attitude. First, my love of derby writing is what got me in to the venue. Derby News Network solicited help with this year’s tournament season, as they are very short staffed and under-funded. I helped out during the Division II tournament in Des Moines and had a blast. I was the only one on the ground then, so it was a bit exhausting. Champs was more structured in that I had specific bouts to recap and a shift in the DNN merch booth…watching people buy London Rollergirls stuff instead.

Read my Recaps!
Ohio vs Rat
Ohio vs Gotham
Jet City vs Santa Cruz -- D2 Championship bout!

Danforth also got chosen to photograph the weekend, so I hung out in the photog area and got a glimpse of that culture. It was also behind the NSO stage, and between the track and the locker rooms. Watching the interworkings of a large derby event was an interesting perspective.

The skaters went by with a wide range of emotions: nerves, excitement, anger, cheer, or sometimes disappointment. The announcers were noticeable by their brightly colored or flamboyant outfits. High up WFTDA members wandered around, ensuring things were running smoothly. Three teams of pink shirts and stripes rotated each day, making sure each game was run safe and fair. The photographers probably worked the most if they wanted to cover every bout, either blending in with the crowd around the track, or sometimes dead center of the action. They put in thankless hours to give the skaters countless memories upon returning to real life. They really do put in a lot of heart and hard work for this sport, so please do remember that the next time you go to swipe/share/alter one of their pictures on Facebook.  (Ok, PSA over.)

All of these people come together and work behind the scenes to make this sport great. It was a blast submerging myself in the mechanics of it all; watching and documenting the games and seeing all the fans soak up the experience. Having so many of our new skaters attend Champs was like watching myself from three years ago, full of inspiration and awe (and probably a bit of booze). 

This season, and for the past two since Rocky took the Hydra, Gotham dominated the track. This year was the first in a while that someone actually gave them a run for their money. Texas gave them everything they had and kept the final day an exciting one for the crowd. B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls came in an impressive third, a giant step up from the last time I saw them at Champs, when they were the first team eliminated (and wearing those horrible gold dresses.)

Photo by Danforth Johnson
I think what I’ve learned in the past three years is to not apply so much pressure to my life in general, but also to my life in derby. Wanting to be the best all the time and always win was a tough lesson to learn during a couple hard, but informative seasons. Having goals and objectives is fine, but remember to share those ideas and encourage other people to take part in them with you. (if they want to do it at all!) Making something happen by force isn’t always effective, nor does it always turn out how you want.

In my five years on OCCRG, I have played every high level bout there was to play. Letting myself miss a bout or an event was unthinkable, and now I need to teach myself how to let go a little bit. This break is the first step, although initiating it in the off-season was a bit of a cop-out. Moving forward, I need to remember to take care of myself first. Someone once related that idea to plane crash protocol; “that’s why they always tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” -L4D
Photo by Danforth Johnson of us cheering for Danforth Johnson.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Treading Water

I come across a lot of people who never succeed because they undermine themselves before they can even get started. A minor roadblock, an undesirable situation, other people getting in your way-- those are all things that may set you back, but you are just throwing yourself under the bus by saying you “can’t.” But the effects don’t stop there, these Negative Nancys become an energy suck that turn into black holes and start to bring others down around them too. This is incredibly dangerous for team sports like Roller Derby.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Whatever minor challenges you might be encountering lately probably seem like nothing compared to the goal Diana Nyad set out to achieve when she was 28: swim in open water from Cuba to Florida. She not only trained hard for the 110 mile swim, with the threat of sharks and jellyfish in the water, she failed. She failed multiple times. That of course did not stop her, and climbing onto the beach with shaky legs, dehydrated and hallucinating, she finished her goal at age 67.

Nyad’s story is inspiring on many levels. Not only did she accomplish a huge feat with many elements against her, but she failed four times before achieving it. When she finally completed her mission, she swam for 52 hours and 54 minutes, non-stop, throwing up most of the way. She put her body through misery to prove, mostly to herself, that she could succeed.

A lifelong swimmer, her training obviously got her in the water, but it was her mind that kept her going. Her mantra was to “Find a way. You don't like it? It's not doing well? Find a way”.

When I first started derby, I was still in college. I was treading water with an art degree, not really sure which direction I wanted to take. After discovering I liked editing video, I incorporated my other interest by doing a 20 minute documentary on Roller Derby and my league. When I wasn’t in other classes or at practice, I was living at the Studio Arts building, working on the documentary. I was amazed at how productive I really could be when pushed to my limit and striving for something great. It was a hard and miserable process at times, but it is something I look back on and feel very proud of. 
Still from my documentary.

It is also one of the things that makes me feel crappy about where I’m at now. Knowing what my full potential can be sheds a harsh light on what I am doing now. Again, I feel like i’m treading water, now with a degree and thousands of dollars of debt. I am not sure I entirely had a plan for when I finished college, but once I started derby, it became my new plan.

After nearly five years being involved with Derby, I started to think I could do everything and know everything. I have become a little too focused on myself and what I think and forgot that it takes the whole team to be successful. Bringing a bunch of people together to run a volunteer business is not easy sailing. If we want to play the sport we love we have to work hard to make the business run first. There are lots of different pieces that have to come together put on fun events, bring in more fans, to have a working website or efficient practices. One person slacking can make the whole thing tumble. When you are being a Negative Nancy on the track, then it is going to bring the game down for everyone else. Roller Derby can only work with teamwork, on and off the track.

If you're new to derby you need to know you’re going to fall. You are going to hurt. Some skills may not come easy to you. Other people will excel quicker than you. Sticking with it, and pushing yourself will keep you off the floor, it will strengthen your derby muscles to keep soreness at bay, and pass your skills. No one will do it for you, you have to say yes and do it for yourself.

It doesn’t stop there. Experienced skaters need to realize that you will probably plateau. A new skater may rise to quicker and better success than you. You might get injured. Just like your life, your derby career is what you make of it. If you work hard it will show, if you keep a good attitude it will rub off on others. You want your team to do better? Start with yourself. 

Marathon swimming looks like an individual sport on the surface, but it took a whole team to get her to Florida. She swam for nearly 55 hours by herself, but the trainers, navigators and friends cheering her on would be pointless if she gave up. 

It’s no doubt what Diane did was amazing, but this shouldn’t be something to merely marvel at. Be inspired. Take your game, your passion, your life to the next level. Treading water may keep you above water, but you have got to push harder if you want to get anywhere. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mad Skills

Change is hard.

The new WFTDA minimum skills requirements were released yesterday and already there are a lot of opinions. Apparently there are some people looking down on skaters who may struggle with these skills, which I've seen less of, and others who feel these requirements are setting the bar too high. 

This year is seeing a lot of new changes in the way tournaments and rankings are organized, the updated rules and now the MSR revision. This is an important time in Roller Derby because we are growing immensely, and with that we have to respond to growing pains. People wanted more competitive, evenly matched bouts and the WFTDA responded with Divisions. People complained about slow derby and the rules, and minors were done away with in the newest version of the rules, leaving a faster, harder game. People boast about the athleticism of the sport now, and wanting to be taken seriously, and I feel that raising the bar on what skills skaters should have is necessary to keep propelling our organization. 

These skills weren't just pulled out of a hat nor did they time Bonnie Thunders on laps and declare that the new standard. The skills were voted on and tested by member leagues, which means they're realistic and doable. As a middle of the road league, we've played some very high competition and it can be quite terrifying. I remember in 2011 I was pretty certain I was an awesome skater and there wasn't much more I could learn, and then we played a version of the Minnesota Rollergirl All-Stars and my world was rocked. The only way we can advance as leagues and skaters is to push ourselves and set goals that will bring us to a high level of competition. 

I don't generally practice skating on one foot, but having a diverse set of skills has me prepared for almost anything. Photo by Danforth Johnson.
Some of the concerns that have been put out there are that this will discourage new skaters, that it will hurt smaller leagues and that WFTDA is being exclusive. I think people are blurring the edges of what roller derby is as a whole and what becoming a WFTDA member league means. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that these requirements are for chartered skaters playing WFTDA bouts. Leagues can set their own standards for leveling up new skaters, home team skaters, or B team skaters. Hopefully leagues were already setting a higher standard for their All-Star and charter teams. Putting a skater on the track with only the old minimum skills is unsafe for the skater and others, and they become a liability to their team. With these higher standards, it should bring a cohesiveness to your roster and a clear vision of what sort of game you should be bringing to the track every bout. 

These updated skills can't, and shouldn't be ending Roller Derby for any leagues out there. For non-WFTDA leagues, it is another reason to work hard and earn a status as a member-league. For newer WFTDA leagues, you had a voice in this decision, and any concerns should have been voiced previously. Your voice doesn't end there either, the WFTDA is open to feedback on published things as they were about the recently revised rules. Non-sanctioned games can also be played until the skills are passed, so there is no reason to say that this is a career ender. If this is what is going to discourage people from staying committed, then I think there are other issues at hand. 

Most people don't know what they can do until they try something new. At the gym our league works out in, we sometimes do box jumps. The tallest box they have is 26 inches which I can do fairly easily. Our trainer saw that some of us reached our max height and started adding 3" thick weights on top, starting with one. I looked at it, feeling fairly sure I could do it, and I did. He added another. This was more daunting but I made it, barely. He put a third one on and I was almost certain it would be impossible. I jumped, and probably faltered the first time, but did it again until I could do it steadily. It's amazing what people can accomplish when they come face to face with a challenge. Like this guy...

We have got to be pushed and encouraged to do new things or we will never know what we are capable of. These skills will be a challenge, and there are some people who will probably never ace them. A place on a charter should be an earned spot, not a given, and competitive skating is what we should strive for. To put on entertaining bouts and make money, to promote our sport and be taken seriously, we have got to put a good product out there and to do that we have to raise the bar.

Roller Derby is an all inclusive sport, and you can find a spot for pretty much anyone interested in joining. Becoming a WFTDA league means playing high level derby, representing the face of competitive play, and encouraging growth and development. I suppose you could call that elite, but I see it as more of adjective than a noun. We should all want to be and play the best of the best.

My last concern is hearing all of this outcry within the first 24 hours of the minimum skills being released. Have you even tried them yet? As I mentioned, there has been a lot of change in only the last four months. Bouts haven't really picked up until March, so much of this stuff has yet to really been played out and seen for what it is. We are all in this together, and we all want to play really great Roller Derby. Do me a favor, please stop being so negative, no matter which "side" you are on, and lets work together to figure out what is best for our future.

P.S. This is what a reverse crossover looks like:

WFTDA's MSR Release
Regarding Rule 1.1
Little Anecdote - "New WFTDA Minimum Skills - let's chat."
Moxie McMurder on Lead Jammer Magazine - "New Minimum Skills Highlights the Dark Side of Derby"
Gin & Fishnets - "The New WFTDA Minimum Skills"
Electra Q-tion - "The New Minimum Skills...and?"
A newer skater's perspective: Meg on Skates 
Booty Quake from Roller Derby Athletics - "They're New But Are They Improved?"

Sunday, March 3, 2013

No Excuses: No Train No Gain

Being part of a team and having a regular schedule can really hold you accountable, but why is singular exercise so hard? Our league gets minimal time on the track so working out on my own and cross-training is vital. When you are too low on funds to join a gym, or struggling to keep sweating on your own because it is -20 degrees outside, you have to get creative.

Try something new. Swimming is always touted as an awesome full-body workout and praised for its low impact on your joints. Sounds perfect for a derby skater, right? Well, I went to the rec center and bought a 10-punch pass to swim laps. I looked up a swim workout because in my head swimming back and forth didn’t sound like much of a workout. I was wrong. Swimming is hard! And I kind of suck at it. I managed to cheat through childhood swim lessons without opening my eyes or breathing under water. I need to just do it (or get a nose pincher) and maybe freestyle won’t look so much like drowning.

Straight swimming is enough of a workout, but isolating the arm stroke or getting a kickboard and using your legs is a great way to strengthen either. You can also just grab some friends (especially friends with kids!) and play around for awhile. Either way it is a great way to escape the bitter winter or have some fun while feeling the burn. Extra bonus if your facility has a hot tub!

30 minutes of swimming (vigorously): 375 calories

D.I.Y. your workout. You don’t need a gym or fancy equipment to get a good workout. Body weight exercises are highly effective, or finding objects around the house to help you work harder is cheap and easy as well. The internet is full of suggestions, but the key is keeping your workouts to a rapid pace. I follow Get-Fit-Naturally and Fit Chicks on Facebook and they always have inspiring posts and almost daily workouts. If you keep them high interval then it takes no time at all. Be sure not to over do it and please listen to your body. Give yourself rest days, make sure you don't strength train back to back days. 

I've done many sweat sessions in my tiny living room. 

Strength training plus cardio equals and even better workout. If it's too cold to go for a run, turn on some music and start dancing. 

30 minutes of circuit training: 300 calories.
30 minutes of dancing: 170 calories.

Kid's play. Jumping rope either makes me think of recess or Rocky. Again, you can ask Google about different kinds of rope jumping workouts. Hop on one foot, alternate feet, double-unders, jump for endurance... it is a lot more vigorous than you might think. 

If you think Roller Derby is an obscure sport, check out the USA Jump Rope Grand Nationals. And holy shit the speed competitions... 

Another past time that can kick your butt is cycling. It was 35 degrees out and with the approriate layers I went on a 20 mile bike ride and felt awesome. I am still getting into that whole biking thing (everyone here is obsessed with RAGBRAI.) but with my new bike I powered through those hills! If you want to keep it indoors, go check out a spin class at your local gym, or buy a stationary bike trainer for your personal bike. 

15 minutes of fast jump roping: 150-200 calories.
30 minutes of vigorous biking: 300 calories. 

Tough it out. Sometimes all I want to do is just go for a run. I've always avoided winter running in the past because I am a klutz and Iowa is COLD, but I finally tried it this winter. I have some trail running shoes so they have some grip on the bottom, and I haven't had any problems yet. I've asked around about those Yak Trax you attach to your shoes and most people say they aren't worth it. Since you are bracing yourself as you run, I think of it more as trail running which can burn more calories. 

The key is to dress in smart layers. You don't need to dress like Randy did for school, but you don't want to leave much skin exposed. As you run your body will warm up, so look for lightweight, moisture-wicking clothes, and don't forget the hat and gloves. The thing I always forget about is my face and neck, so grab a bandana on the way out or some sort of neck warmer. If it's super slushy outside, I've read that people have put plastic baggies over their feet inside their shoes so they don't freeze. 

30 minutes of winter running: up to 500 calories.

Free skate! 
Free Skate. Hit up your local rink or free skates opportunities!! Even if you're just skating in circles the more time on skates the better. Try some footwork you are having a hard time with; transitions, sideways skating, skating on one foot, hopping, etc. Play with your trucks and see if maybe you like them looser. This is FREE time to try new things, experiment with your gear, and impress the locals. Or just hold hands with your derby wife and sing along to songs from high school. If anything, sport your derby best and hope to recruit a few interested people.

30 minutes of recreational skating: 230 calories.

Yoga. So I am not big into yoga, but wouldn't mind doing more of it. I know a lot of derby skaters who  swear by yoga; hot, power, whatever, and make it part of their regular schedule. It may not seems as vigorous as other exercises in the usual sense, but I see it as a good strengthening and body maintenance exercise. The stretching can help with soreness, improve your joint fluidity and relax your mind as well. The few times I've tried it, again underestimating it, holding the different poses is hard and forces you to concentrate on things like your core. There are many different kinds that offer different benefits, so look into which kind is right for you.

60 minutes of yoga: 175-500 calories (depending on type of yoga.)

Train like an Olympian. Apollo Ohno's dryland workout included 45 minutes of stairs... (And then a 1 mile warm down.)

Still looking for more? Look up your favorite Olympic or professional athletes and check out the crazy workout schedules they have. These athletes workout nearly everyday and work tirelessly to improve their bodies and skill. I wish that I could just devote my life to training, but I still have to pay the bills and feed my cat. So until I win the lottery, I just have to force myself to workout when I'm tired, sore, or just not in the mood. It's so worth it.

Note: Calorie counts were based off my body weight and suggested intensity. It was intended to show effectiveness of  different workouts. Results may vary. Also remember, I am no expert. This is all information I've gathered over time and experience. Enjoy!

No Excuses: Introduction
No Excuses: Mental Training
No Excuses: Dynamic Warm Ups