A setback

My first two games have revealed that my quickness and speed are lagging behind the other aspects of my conditioning.

I’m in better shape than I have been in years, so I’m able to turn in solid shifts and recover quickly afterward, a dramatic change from how it’s been for a long time.

But what hasn’t changed much despite my training is the feeling that I’m wearing lead-plated skates when I’m on the ice. Well, perhaps I’ve upgraded from lead-plated to mahogany veneer, but skating still feels labour-intensive.

Given this, I’m jacking up the intensity of my footwork drills, sprinting intervals and the squats and lunges that are aimed at building leg strength, all in an effort to develop more quickness and speed.

My guide book (Complete Conditioning for Hockey by Peter Twist) states that training for hockey is supposed to be done at a greater intensity than is experienced during the game itself. This isn’t easy to achieve, I’m finding, as the intensity that naturally ensues when you’re embroiled in competition is difficult to replicate, let alone surpass, when you’re exercising by yourself.

But I can see now that my further development depends on pushing myself harder. So now when I’m doing my footwork drills, I’m committed to moving my legs and feet absolutely as quickly as I possibly can. The same goes for my sprinting intervals.

This means I’ve stopped doing footwork on my lawn, where the footing gets slippery late in the evenings. I’ve taken the show back to the subdivision road, which is mostly paved. My knees, which were once very sore from the pounding they were taking on the pavement, have settled down, so I’m managing with this venue change so far.

Most evenings I can now be found out on the pavement flashing my feet like a square dancer dodging psycho cowboy bullets. And when I do my sprinting, rather than accelerating in a careful, gradual fashion (which I’d been doing to spare my aching knees and to avoid pulling something), I’m now concentrating on taking off like a thoroughbred released from a starting gate. For my squats and lunges I’ve moved my old barbells from the shed and into the garage and have started to pile on more weight. The days of executing squat exercises with a young child on my shoulders are behind me.

Good momentum

After two days and two workouts executed with this renewed focus, I feel like I’m building some good momentum toward some exciting future results. But the third day brings a setback.

I’m out there cranking out 30-second wind sprints, my legs churning with all the power I can muster, when I feel a sharp electrical shock in the back of my right leg, in the hamstring area. Instantly I’m doing the one-legged sprinter’s hobble as throbs of pain erupt from back there. 

My first impulse is to ignore the pain and resume my rapid-fire running, as if I could pretend this damaging incident hadn’t happened. I take a few gentle, loping strides to test my leg and it’s having none of it. I can still walk and run but there’s no getting around the pain emanating from back there. Something is damaged, and if I push it further, it will be damaged even more. I know it would be foolish to do this, despite my great desire to keep soldiering on.

So I hobble home, the very picture of melancholy. It feels like all the work I’ve done and all the gains I’ve made are in danger of being wiped out. How serious is this injury? How long will it be before I can resume training? How far will I regress during that time? These questions swirl in my mind.

One thing I know for sure is that I won’t be missing my next game, which is just three days away. My philosophy is, if I can walk, I can play. But I do wonder how well I’ll be able to perform and how badly the rigours of game action will aggravate this latest hurt. All this uncertainty has me feeling as forlorn as a wet dog in a wind tunnel.

My evening ends with an ice pack clutched to the back of my leg as I convalesce on the couch, tears lingering at the corners of my eyes and whimpers building at the back of my throat. I refuse to cry, however. Even with all the beer league lines I’ve crossed in the last 30 days, that one would be too much.