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Rolling With the Changes

Posted Mar 04 2012 12:00am

"If you're tired of the same old story - oh, turn some pages -
I'll be here when you are ready to roll with the changes."

- REO Speedwagon, "Roll With the Changes" (video after post)

When I was in college, I was something of an athletic Renaissance man. In addition to my “official” sport of rowing, I dabbled in pretty much all manner of exercise you can imagine: swimming, running, surfing, weightlifting, racquetball, basketball, soccer, beach volleyball, mountain biking, martial arts, and so on.

But among all these things, the activity that thrilled me the most was roller hockey.

One of the highlights of every week was the late-night pickup roller hockey games on the top level of one of the campus parking structures, where 10 to 20 people would show up, divide into teams, and spend the next two hours completely thrashing each other. Throw in a Slurpee on the drive home (often after midnight; it was college, we could do that sort of thing), and it all made for one of my coolest UCLA experiences.

Old-school Rollerblade Lightnings

The skates I used were a pair of circa-1990 Rollerblade Lightnings, with the brake removed to improve maneuverability. Being the competitive guy that I am, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that being a good hockey player required equal parts skating ability and fundamental stick handling skills.

Therefore, I took my skating very seriously, and spent countless hours in one empty parking lot or another (one of my favorites was in the shadow of the Santa Monica Pier) practicing my moves and testing my ability on wheels. A lot of it felt like figure skating – switching from forward to backward to forward again, rolling backwards and curving around to sprint forward, swerving and balancing on one leg to avoid getting knocked over in a pileup – and even though those sessions wore me out, it was some of the most rewarding exercise I’ve ever done.

As typically happens, as I got older, life got in the way of things a bit; I worked through grad school, got married, started a career and a family, and my free time to exercise diminished significantly. This was also the time I became more focused on running and triathlon, and I had briefly moved to an area (hint: it wasn’t in California) that wasn’t quite as skate-friendly in terms of roads or parking lots being well-groomed or maintained for smooth rolling. I skated every now and then to avoid going completely rusty, but those times became fewer and farther in between.

And then a funny thing happened: my kids gradually got me back into skating. It started with bicycle training, when I realized that rolling along behind them was a nearly foolproof way to ensure that I could prevent any major wipeouts on their maiden voyages without training wheels around the schoolyard. The same Rollerblade Lightnings I used to slam into people in vacant lots became the vehicle by which each of my kids learned to ride.

Photo from my daughter's scrapbook ... the same daughter who's graduating from elementary school this spring.  In a related story, I'm getting rather old.

However, the more time I spent in my old boots, the more I realized that they weren’t nearly as comfortable as they used to be. Even worse, when I went into my local skate store, I was dismayed to have the following exchange with the shop owner
Shop guy: Can I help you find anything?

Me: I’m looking to get a new pair of inline skates – do you guys carry any?

Shop guy: Um … no one really uses skates anymore. That’s pretty much old school.

In other words, I was going to have a hard time finding a new pair of skates.

A short time later, my youngest daughter found a pair of five-dollar garage sale children’s skates, and started begging me to learn how to use them. We made regular trips to the schoolyard, but I quickly realized that the skates were nowhere near functional enough to use properly. Eventually we found a great deal on a pair of Rollerblade Spitfires – a children’s model with adjustable sizing – and suddenly my daughter had a way nicer ride that me.

Rolling in the schoolyard

The situation was getting desperate, so I did what any sensible blogger would do: I reached out to Rollerblade . I explained my situation to them, and they were more than happy to help me out. I’m now testing two different pairs of adult skates, the first of which will be reviewed here next week.

The distinction in styles I’m testing is significant, and reflects the variety of applications that inline skating still has for a well-rounded fitness program. And now that I’ve been doing it more frequently, I can attest that there’s great cross-training benefit for ultrarunners.

Cruising along the Pacific coast

Think of it this way: trail running requires much more lateral movement than standard road running; whether it’s the motion required to leap back and forth across mud puddles, to hop from one rock to another while crossing a shallow stream, or just to slog up and down a 30% incline. Stabilizing your foot on irregular rocks, roots, or a sloped trail requires strength and coordination from the muscles that provide lateral stability: the adductors on the inside of your thigh and abductors on the outside of your hips. Running steep hills, you need strong posterior muscles (hamstrings, gluteals, and low back extensors) to propel yourself upward, and strong thigh muscles (quadriceps) to control your descent.

Coincidentally, inline skating happens to strengthen all of those muscle groups, and provides an outstanding calorie-burning workout in the process. It’s non-impact, just like cycling or an elliptical machine – but unlike those other activities, you can get a huge strength benefit out of a relatively short 45-minute to 1-hour workout while still getting outside to avoid the drudgery of a gym.

Prettier than any gym you'll ever see 

I’m not convinced that inline skating is a fad of the past, but I will admit that it’s somewhat dependent on where you live. Here in Monterey County I have quick access to a coastal recreation trail, almost all of which is paved. The biggest drawback is after windy days when sand gets blown onto the path – but on those days, I have the option of driving to the private roads of Pebble Beach, where the asphalt is pristine and the roads are wide, rolling, and incomparably beautiful. I’m also fortunate to have a schoolyard very close to my house, where my daughter and I go to practice our moves just as I did under the Santa Monica Pier more than 20 years ago.  (Man, this post is making me feel old.)

Enjoy the view ... but beware of sand 

When I’m rolling with my daughter, it’s “urban” skating: up and down ramps, on and off curbs, jumping over small obstacles. When I’m on the rec trail, I’m focused on maintaining steady form and covering as much ground as possible. Accordingly, the types of Rollerblades I use are different: there’s a fitness-specific model I use for distance skating, and a more all-purpose skate that’s intended for urban use. I’ll be reviewing the fitness model here later this week, with the urban model to follow shortly.

Obviously I owe a lot of gratitude to Rollerblade for stepping up to sponsor this particular cross-training activity, and part of the deal was that I’d act as a spokesperson of sorts for runners who are interested in taking up inline skating to complement their fitness regimen. So if you have any questions about getting started, what types of skates would be best for you, or anything else that’s related, feel free to let me know in the comments below or by e-mailing me your questions; if I don’t know the answer myself, I’ll be sure to find out for you.

Reaching deeeeep into the wayback machine for this one: musically, I came of age as a rock fan right at the tail end of REO's best work, so a lot of their gems like the following were discovered after the fact - causing me to openly wonder why on Earth such an awesome band could possibly come unraveled at the dawn of the 1980s. But with closer scrutiny of the hair (both head and chest variety) and the dress and the general vibe of this video ... yeah, I guess their time was up once the 70s ended. They still have a fond place in my rock memories, though.

And have I mentioned that I'm feeling a little bit old lately?

REO Speedwagon, "Roll With the Changes" (click to play)

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