Skate Crisis | Tendonitis, Worn-Out Skates, and New Harlicks on the Way

by Mary on February 13, 2014

tracing for new skates

my skate fitter’s tracings for my new skates

I’d been hoping to get new skates before suffering through some kind of skate crisis, but it didn’t happen. Skates are too expensive to just run out and get new ones when everything is going well. And everything went well for over four years, very long for a pair of figure skates when you skate as much as I do. My skate fitter, who is also my skate sharpener, had been telling me up until now that “these boots still have a lot of life in them.”

Last month the backs of my heels started to burn and tingle and the inside of my foot felt hot. I discontinued the exercises I’d been doing for my knees, thinking that they might somehow be aggravating my feet, and waited for a few weeks. When the pain didn’t improve I saw my sports medicine doctor, who diagnosed mild Achilles tendonitis plus posterior tibial tendonitis.

As soon as coach Kim heard about this she suspected a boot problem. I took my boots into my skate fitter, and on close inspection he realized that while the outers are still stiff enough and the inners look OK, the foam in between is broken down into kind of a seam all around that’s irritating my foot. He felt that if I had the boots re-lined I could still get a lot of use out of them, but acknowledged that I was right up there with the skating coaches for having about the oldest pair of skates out there.

Since I blame my injury on the breakdown of my skates, I felt I had to go with new ones. Once I have them, though, I will get the old pair re-lined, which is not expensive. With luck that will get me my first-ever spare pair of skates. Luckily it was not hard for me to decide on the new boots; I have custom Harlicks and that’s what I’ll get again.

The only big decision was whether to have the new skates made with Superfeet in mind. I’ve never had a footbed in my skates, though my fitter tried to convince me to get them last time. Ironically, while I use them in every other pair of shoes that I have, when I tried the regular green Superfeet in my skates I couldn’t ‘feel the ice’ through them and hated them instantly.

This time, though, my fitter made me a pair of custom Superfeet that are just for skates (about $50) and I tried them in my current boots. They take up too much room in there and my toes are getting squished, but other than that, this time I like them and they aren’t affecting my ability to feel the ice. If the new skates are made leaving extra room for the Superfeet they should be OK.

My mom has been to the Harlick factory to be fitted for new skates, and that was a romantic notion to me. They’re a classic small family business with lots of tradition and craftsmanship, and I thought it would be fun to see their operation and be fitted by the family patriarch himself. But it didn’t happen, at least this time, and that’s OK. Harlick is in San Francisco, I’m not, and I need those skates ASAP.

My previous pair were not perfect. Despite being custom skates, they were too small around the toes and needed to be punched out multiple times to create more space. My little toes were pretty bad at times, even needed a cortisone shot once, but eventually the problems were solved. Still, you’d think that by spending an exorbitant amount of money on custom skates you wouldn’t have such problems. You’d be mistaken. I’ve heard more than once of skaters buying custom boots that turned out to be totally unusable. Knowing that makes buying skating boots a nerve-wracking process.

Harlick still has the lasts for my previous boots and has my old foot measurements on file. Small family business and all– they keep the records about each pair that they make for ten years. So in theory the new measurements plus instructions to make the boots much the same as last time, but a little bigger around the toes, should work. Fingers crossed.

It’s not just the boots, though, my blades are also “about at the end” according to my skate fitter. I hadn’t really been looking at them, but once he said that I took a good look, and he’s right. Figure skate blades have a gentle curve to them, called the rocker, and that has been completely ground off, they are pretty much a straight line now. That makes it harder to spin. There just aren’t many more sharpenings that can be done on those blades.

So, another decision. I love the blades I have, Wilson Gold Seals, but this time my fitter suggested some alternatives. According to him the Wilson factory where they are made has some quality control problems, and while he can check the blades I get to make sure they are good, it might make for a long process if they have to be returned. Just like with the boots, it’s aggravating to think of spending so much money on blades and still possibly having problems.

Traditionally the blades of figure skates are made of specially tempered high-carbon steel, but several companies have started to make them out of lighter materials like aluminum or titanium, with the running surface that contacts the ice made of stainless steel. The stainless does not need to be sharpened as often.

Fewer sharpenings would be great, since I have to drive an hour each way every month to get a proper sharpening. And the blades ought to last longer with fewer sharpenings. I see more and more skaters with the lighter blades, made by companies like Paramount, Jackson, and Riedell.

For a quality blade comparable in shape to my Gold Seals, my fitter suggested either a Jackson Ultima Matrix Supreme or Reidell Eclipse Pinnacle Titanium. I’ve researched and asked some coaches and other skaters about their experiences, but I haven’t been able to decide what to do. Harlick has to know what blade I’ll want before they can make the boot, since it affects the shape of the bottom of the boot. So my indecision is only delaying the process.

I’ll let you know what I decide. Meanwhile, my doctor wants me to train only as much as necessary. That’s vague, but I do appreciate that as a sports medicine doctor he doesn’t just take the easy way out like most doctors and just tell me to stop exercising. Sports medicine doctors try to help you keep doing the sport you love if they can. I’ve cut out one of my skating days and cut back my time on the rest. To put it mildly, it’s not really what I want while trying hard to get a new program ready for my biggest competition of the year.

I had my first PT appointment this week and found it enormously helpful. I hope that means I caught this problem early enough that it will resolve easily. Once again, fingers crossed.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcia February 13, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Sorry to hear about your injury and need for new skates. Skating is $$$ for sure. I had peronial tendonitis from running too far in the wrong new shoes. No fun at all. My older daughter has the Jackson Ultima blade and does well with it, although her coach is pushing for Risport skates when the time comes, which is soon. All the best with healing up and getting your skate situation sorted out!
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mary February 14, 2014 at 2:22 am

Thanks, Marcia.


Eva February 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I hope your new boots arrive quickly, Mary. That is pretty exciting to have custom boots made for you though! And the thought of having a BACKUP pair of skates is beyond my wildest dreams! I am right there with you on the blade situation – I have one or two sharpenings left and will need a new pair. I’ve got Coronation Aces that have served me well. I’ll get a new pair after Adult Nationals and after my blade guy returns from Sochi. I hope you are able to decide on some blades soon – keep us posted on what model you choose!
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mary February 15, 2014 at 3:51 am

I always had Coronation Ace and was quite happy with them. I would never have switched except that my coach suggested it, and by a minor miracle her boots were close enough in size to mine that I was able to skate in them and see what her Gold Seals were like. The difference was obvious: I was on a crowded public session with bad ice, but I had lots of speed as if I were on freestyle ice. I found it to be a very easy transition from Coronation Ace to Gold Seal, and the Gold Seals are definitely faster. That’s cool that your blade guy is in Sochi, he must be quite high level! I will let you know what I choose, I’m waiting for a friend to tell me what she thinks of her Eclipse blades.


Tempie February 17, 2014 at 3:59 am

As a runner, I’ve dealt with a few injuries, so I know just how frustrating it can be. I hope that your injury heals quickly so that you can get back to your regular routine.

Harlick sounds like a great company! Love buying from small family-owned businesses!


mary February 17, 2014 at 4:34 am

Thanks, Tempie, I hope so too! I am glad that Harlick is out there to make my skates, if I have to spend the money on new skates I’m glad that it’s supporting a business like them.


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