Monday, October 06, 2008

Optimism trumps the day, A2A 2008

It should have be obvious from the start that the optimism and high spirits of my car ride from Atlanta into Athens with the Starykowiczs, and Starkowicz-to-be, Daniel would be what it took for me to leg out my third best time in seven successful 87-mile, A2A adventures. Truly this event is beyond racing, this is traveling. Our ride the day before the race was filled with jokes, stories and plans for races to come. All thought of pain and endurance was put on hold as the rolling countryside succumbed to the flattening effect of riding in an SUV.

Each year there seems to be a small but ever-changing cadre of Team Rainbo members showing up to test themselves against the Georgian, hills, heat and headwind and this year was no exception. This year was slightly different as there were no novices among us. Half this crew of skaters, Pete Starykowicz and Marcy Turek, came to show what they were made of. Tom Grosspietsch and I came to hold what we were made of together. For me this would be the challenge of the day as having taken a serious, helmet-smashing fall a week earlier, I was on race morning still experiencing bouts of dizziness. Had I also not been fighting the remains of a head cold I might have rethought attacking the 40 mph downhills lurking throughout the course while also struggling to control my equilibrium.

Be that as it may I came to the starting line with a shit-eating grin of determination as Tom and I tried to buck each other up. Not even Eddy in a bee costume, which he wore through the first ten yards of the race, lightened the mood much. I promised to stay with Tom and finish together then promptly dropped him after the zigzag route out of Athens. Sorry Tom. A few miles out of town is where the pace lines really settle into a nice groove and this is where you can tell if you are with the right group or not. Usually there will be a split and several will go off the front. It’s here where I realized Tom was not with me and here where the low registration numbers really began to show. Whereas two years ago this group would have been 35-50 skaters we were less than 20. There were no splits larger than one or two people and they kept being swallowed up.

What was really odd, and it must have taken me more than an hour to figure out, was that nobody could climb the hills. I pride myself in being able to skate slow up hill so as not to expend too much energy but these folks, from all over the country were almost standing still. What finally clued me in were the downhills. I needed to tuck down way below the person in front of me to maintain my position. What was the issue? My tiny 100 mm wheels! Everyone else was on 110’s and shooting downhill at breakneck speeds, I’m sure the 50 mph barrier has been broken on Silverhill; those suckers are fast. However, few people it seems have the strength to push those 110’s uphill. Against all my previous experience I had to pull out of the pack to causally skate uphill all the while passing the pace line as they struggled.

Somewhere in the first hour there came a familiar constant chatter from the pack and I knew we had picked up Bob Harwell, in fact everyone knew we had picked up Bob as he is skating’s number two ambassador of good will right after Eddy Matzger and barely edging out George Quinn. From then on Bob and I skated all but the last ten miles together. After the 38 mile break we had a nice group which withered down to sometimes one or two other skaters. However once the 52 milers started to show up on the road, you can tell them by their fresh legs, Bob kept up a steady diet of “trying-to-hang-on” at some point that became too rich for my blood, and thankfully most times Bob would drop off and I’d slowly reel him back in. At about mile 75 a Columbian skater caught us on a short steep incline that has bested me every year – read that as I “run” up the grass on the side of the road – he says, “ Keep your head up, come on we can work together and catch up.” Catch up to what I’m thinking. I believe I swore at him, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Earlier in the day I still had to deal with the dizziness thing and the lack of confidence I was felling because of it. As I mention the downhills were very fast and there are two in particular early on that are the stuff of nightmares. The first is a gentle downhill that gradually gets steeper over almost a two mile stretch. By the bottom you are really hauling ass and this year the pavement near the bottom has been roughed up a bit. I can tell you my head was having none of this after about a mile. Luckily for me my 100 mm wheels meant I could uncrouch a touch a fall back. BUT NO, coming right behind me was another train and soon I was being pushed downhill by any number of folks on faster, bigger wheels. So I waved them to my right and I moved left. Clear, simple instructions, yes? Well I guess not as the whole line moved left with me. So I signaled them to go left and moved right. You guessed it; again the hand was right there on my back and throughout this dance we are all accelerating. I revert to yelling instructions to the fellow behind me, practically giving him my medical history before I can escape the train and calm the sense of vertigo. Of course by this time we’re at the bottom of the hill and the train rushes half way up the next hill on its own momentum. It’s early however so I don’t realize they can’t climb so I chase after them only to overshoot almost the whole line.

The next scary big downhill is later in the skate than I remember and it sneaks up on me such that I don’t realize I’m on it until two thirds of the way down. Unremarkable but for the fact that this hill has a 90 left hand turn at the bottom and I’m just noticing that fact with total disbelieve almost as I enter the turn. Do I tuck to get a better turning radius? No. I shout “on your left” and “coming over” as I slide from the left hand lane into the center of the road. Fortunately, everyone else was either too scared to head down at full speed or sliding sideways with me so we all made it through. Why I have never encountered oncoming traffic at this turn I’ll never know.

I did fall once, on one uphill where we were moving so slowly that when I clicked skates with the fellow in front I was able to put a knee down on the grass and stand back up without losing a spot in the line. (Sorry to the gent who took a bigger tumble trying to avoid me, maybe my foot was still on the road. I don’t think he made it back with us.) There was one near spill when on a very flat section of road I simply turned my head and totally lost my balance. Though I managed to stay on my feet this was a frightening experience and then on Rosser Road, I was so fatigued that I tried to run up by leaning forward and had to run just to keep from falling on my face for the second time in two weeks.

As I mentioned Bob and I were a team and together pulled into the mild headwind for 20 of the last 50 miles. Bob had more gas and finished three minutes ahead of me all of which he made up in the last 10 miles so I really slowed down there at the end. The last of the humorous stories comes as I approach check point six. I’m coming up slow and turn down water, but I call out for oranges and a volunteer, bless his heart, runs out with two oranges. Not quartered, but full oranges. What am I going to do with whole oranges? I bet I was a bit rude as I asked for slices. I’m sorry if I offended. I was quickly obliged, most likely without me having to fully stop, and I was gingerly on my way. Gingerly is a skating stride that only those that have skated for close on six hours up on down endless hills will understand.

Those last few miles are were I became to really draw upon the optimism of the weekend. Focusing on being close and not on the few miles of foot jarring pavement I still had to skate, I looked for every landmark to convince myself that I was getting closer to finishing. The cops in Atlanta were great as always, stopping all traffic so I could j-skate through the middle of five-way intersections. Once I crossed the cobblestone plaza and gingerly stepped jumped the curb onto the side street leading to the park I got my first glimpse of downtown and a big boost of energy. I knew home was in site, though not before the car that while trying to park ran me into the curb. I squeaked by yelling my lungs. After that can you believe at the end of it all, the finish line was moved 100 yards further uphill, I felt my last bit of energy drain as I crossed the old line and believe I finished by the grace of the day’s only tailwind. I ended the day with a time just over 6 hours; 6:11:05 to be exact and was met by my support crew of one, Kathy with my six back of Guinness which I was able to dole out to those who made it such a memorable day of travelling.

Thanks to all those responsible for continuing such a unique event. Oh that optimism on the ride into Athens? Pete Starykowicz won the day in a three way sprint to the (moved) finish line. Way to go Pete.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Keep the helmet side up!

I can often be heard encouraging others at the starting line of various races with the above imperative. As last Thursday turned out I could stand to heed my own advice. Planning to get in my second long skate of the week prior to A2A, I sent out a call to anyone to see if they would be skating and if they’d like to meet up on one of our north side trails. As it happened, Cale was up for a long skate and offered to join in for the entire 30 miles. I choose the North Branch trail as it is far more interesting in terrain then two laps of the straight and narrow Old Elm trail. The downside to North Branch currently is as it winds through the forest preserves the recent huge storms have left the trail covered in leaves, twigs, at times caked mud and stones. Anyway, I wasn’t too concerned as I had skated the entire trail on Monday and if anything the bike traffic would start to crush the leaves and twigs into power making it easier to skate.

I can’t say that I was unhappy when right off Cale offered to pull and as the miles clicked over he never gave up the lead position. I might have been forewarned about the events to come as a mere 10 yards into our skate I hit a rock hard and had to work to plant both feet back on the ground. After that we skated the next 10 miles to Devon Ave without incident. We were clocking a faster pace then I had skated on Monday which fit into my training schedule leading into my cool down week. On our return trip north neither of us needed to stop for more water so we breezed past the cars and to finish the northern third of the trail. North to Dundee Road and back would be a total of 10 miles. The pace was brisk and I was feeling great. Admittedly my mind was on the roads in Atlanta and what the pace line size might be over the last 40 -50 miles of Georgian hills. I was not concentrating on skating through the leaf and twig strewn trail in Illinois on which I just happened to be skating. I’m then noticing that I’m laying face down in those Illinois leaves and twigs and trying to figure out if I’m dreaming or I’m a GI Joe action figure left on the ground by some careless youngster. I don’t know what I’m thinking. I have some recollection of being helped up by Cale and a biker and picking some debris off my face. (More on that in a minute.) Somehow I’m wiping my face with my bandana, but I have no idea how I got it out from my under my helmet.

The story as I heard it later from Cale is he hears me going down with a most descriptive “Oh Shit!!” Of course it takes him a few seconds to stop, what with all of the leaves, and as he’s returning he describes me as a sack of potatoes on the trail, no movement, no thought whatsoever for how I’m splayed out across the pavement. The biker comes around the corner, and as luck would have it we’re friends and he says later that I was still not moving for 20 -30 seconds after that. I do start to stir and all though this time Cale has fought his desire to pull off a leaf that is stuck to my face. I think that is what I like so most about Cale. When it’s my time and he’s around he’ll make sure I’m presentable.

Based on my earliest recollection of the events after my fall I may have lost about 5 minutes of memory as I only remember from the time when I recognize Lance, my biker friend. Once steady on my feet I’m ready to skate the last mile back to the car and get cleaned up. Remember I have no clue that I’m actually hurt. Cale is, understandably, a bit unnerved by this but I make it back in one piece. When you consider that I’ve been standing for a few minutes in skates without wobbling it’s probably not that surprising. What doesn’t make it back in one piece is my helmet. Wow!! It’s cracked in two places and you can see in the picture a big chuck broke out of the side. It was really a shame to toss it after taking the photo, but it did its job and I’m very grateful.

It did take a trip to the hospital to prove that I was OK, yet I still feel slighted by not having the doc sign an affidavit stating that in his words he pronounced me “normal.” It may be some time before I’m heard to tell others to “Keep the helmet side up.” I may just concentrate on myself for awhile. Thanks to Cale and to everyone for the well wishes and for Kathy for not even mentioning me giving up skating.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Personal Best…

By more than seven minutes

What a day for racing. Saturday’s 13th “running” of Duluth’s Northshore Inline Marathon featured a modest tail wind and cool yet comfortable temperatures. Coming off of two sub-par years, I was determined that this was going to be the year to once again get myself into position to metal. Of course for me that means age category metals not pro, elite or open. As my weakness has always been getting off to a good start I decided to ignore the odd-ball, chip-to-chip timing scheme used in Duluth and line up at the front of Wave A and try to hang on as the rabbits zipped passed me. Margo Carvell lined up with me as did John Silker.

It was a good strategy as I found myself close to the middle of the lead pack a mile or two out. However, the road surface is rough for the first six miles or so and neither Margo nor I had yet set up a rhythm what with all the shifting going on, so at times she was five of six skaters ahead of me and or I ahead of her. At about mile four John Silker came steadily up the left-hand shoulder with John Mclinn in tow. I jumped in between them and we picked up Margo and quickly we were setting a solid pace. Somewhere in there Mclinn dropped off and the pavement smoothed out. Silker and I became separated and I spent the next few miles in the main pace line. We were at this time still about 100 - 150 strong with much slinky action working to tire out those of us in the middle of the pack. For a good part of this time I was in behind a female Flanders skater who seemed quite capable of letting the gap grow before she chased it down. I was wearing down mentally with the accelerations and was very glad to once again see big bull John Silker steadily making progress on the left. He gladly took a spot in front of me in the pace line and proceed to ignore the gaps and simply and steadily closed the gap each time, helped at times by impatient skaters behind us who would jump into the gaps as they opened.

John and I were of the same mind by this time, around mile eight, every second or third time the line would collapse on itself and slow, we’d move out and move up without having to change our pace. As the line would getting moving again, we’d jump in 10 to 20 skaters ahead of our previous place. At some point it became clear that the hand on my back was often Margo’s. Though I rarely saw her, she John and I skated as a unit for almost the entire race.

Very few times during the race did I feel like I wasn’t going be able to keep the pace, even though I was skating at close to my maximum. My average speed over the entire 26 miles being just shy of 21 mph. Besides the awesome experience of constantly juggling positions with 75 - 100 other skaters for over an hour the race was relatively uneventful - that is if you allow an hour of pure exhilaration to be labeled uneventful. I saw only one spill near me and only clicked skates once. That once was with John, when I tried to move in behind him and cut it too close. John is so big I felt like I simply bounced off him. He didn’t miss a beat.

At the finish, Margo took off up the final hill with me then John in tow. I caught her on the downhill as I continued to skate down, however Margo tucked in behind another rabbit and was out of the sudden headwind as we came around the convention center. I played it safe and took the turn wide knowing where the good pavement would be. I then turned on what I thought was a sprint but the big bull wasn’t finished. Silker came up on my right and I didn’t know where to look to find any more leg speed to reel him back in.

In the end John beat me by about 10 feet, Margo had me by a second, though the chip-to-chip timing chances those results slightly. Overall I am elated to come home with a time of 1:15:16, as the title says 7:30 faster than my previous best. And while I did not meet my goal of first in my age group I was 4th, and in Duluth that is still medal territory. But wait there’s more! Team Rainbo won the team challenge by 10 minutes over the second place team so I come home with two medals, one being that coveted first place award in the Team Challenge. What a weekend for racing!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Out There Solo for 45 miles

With Duluth coming up in two weeks and A2A three weeks after that I couldn't see being able to organize another long skate up in Rockford; soooooo. I took to the North Branch trail all by my lonesome this morning. The big difference between many of my long skates and today is my need to pull the entire way. Normally I would endeavor to skate with at least one other skater as my height, 6'1", makes headwinds very trying.

Cale Carvell mentioned after our 60 mile practice that no matter how long you're skating that last half hour, that last 3 miles are always the most trying and today was no exception. After almost 3 hours on skates I hit the south trail head, turned around and knew that the last 7 1/2 miles back to the car would be into the wind. While more than half those miles were in the woods, half would be out in fields exposed to the wind. Overall I averaged 13.5 mph over 45 miles, that's with stopping for busy streets, stop lights and three brief water stops. That also includes almost hitting two young deer who didn't know what to make of a guy on skates and only just at the last moment turned to run across the trail, but each time they pulled up short and changed directions. Lots of fun in the sun.

OK, now to rest the feet and the legs and get ready for the big show in Duluth.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

About that 60 mile skate

The team organized a distance skate out northwest in the rolling hills of Woodstock and Hebron; pronounced in Illinois as He-bren. Three of the four team members who live out that way, Marcy, Kirt and John put together roughly a sixty mile route through the county highways and byways of Illinois farmland. Funny thing about Illinois, if you go to the extremities of the state you can find hills. Yep, we found hills alright, some where long newly paved down hills of more than a mile. Others were poorly paved grueling up hills. Everyone seemed to be suffering a bit in the foot arena by the last few miles. I was even suffering a bit of mental doubt about tackling A2A again this year. But I kept telling myself that these skates will make it all the more manageable come early October in Georgia.

Besides the fore mentioned team members Cale, Stevo, Tom G. and Andrew came to skate. Andrew on 3 hours sleep. Needless to say Andrew being the newest skater in the bunch managed only 30 miles, but in that he achieved a lot. I think he learned more about pack skating and his limits today than he could have at any other practice. Tom showed that he is a monster of the distance skate and Cale began to find the thrill in skating all day long.

As with most team events, the post race festivities where as enjoyable as the skating. John grilled burger and brats and everyone contributed brews and salads. I knew I had to eat afterward but the body wasn’t much up to the digestion process. That second sandwich sat pretty heavy.

The odd thing about these long skates is my legs are so-o-o-o uncomfortable for a few hours afterward. I’m exhausted, but there's no comfortable position for my legs, so there's no sleep. By tomorrow I’ll be planning the next long practice. A2A, here I come once again.

BTW: The image is a chalk pastel reflection of what many of the roads looked like today.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way to a 60 mile practice skate.

Just a short thought. I posted a notice to the team about organizing a longer skate instead of our intensive shorter practices and funny thing. Nobody replied. I guess that showed me.

Here's a morning shot early during A2A, 2003. Looks like fun doesn't it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chicagoland Inline Marathon

I don’t normally write about the view from the middle of the standings as most the action takes place ahead of me, and most of the fun happens behind me in the tutu division. No offense to the tutu wearers either, it’s fun to skate back there; lot’s more time for conversation. This race however is a different story. The combination of a very technical course (lots of turns) with a large field of skaters at, or just above, my ability made for an exciting race.

From the start I decide that I was going to give up on being overly cautious and try to fight my way into a good position at the gun. That was easier said then done as fella’s like John Silker and Ken Huss are busy moving through all the open spots before they close up. Each of them are deftly maneuvering through the aggressive crowd of skaters and it takes the first uphill after a left-hand turn for me to latch onto Ken’s group. John is long gone. I’m going to have to continue to work on those starts.

The course is challenging but manageable, the biggest unknown though is how will the skaters around me handle the turns? It quickly becomes obvious that few of the outdoor skaters in my pack cornering down very well, and the indoor skaters are unfamiliar with uphill or downhill 90 degree turns. This turns out to be an advantage for me later in the race. The first lap of the course was, as always for me, very hard. I normally have to push through some sort of muscle barrier at about the 12- 15 minute mark. The second and third lap passed pretty much without incident, however we did pick up and then drop Tom D'ellaringa but it was all of his own making. Instead of getting onto the back of our pack, he took the lead, ALL THE WAY UP THE HILL. Thanks man, but next time think of yourself a little bit.

It was in the forth lap that things got interesting. I pulled through to the round-about in the AT&T grounds and then pulled off, but suddenly my legs wouldn’t move anymore. I tried to hang on but couldn’t. The train was leaving the station and I had to stand up for a breath. I pushed on but it wouldn’t come. Then I just started skating and looked up. The pack wasn’t pulling away, but I wasn’t gaining. So I took it easy, knowing that I cornered better than the pack, plus I was still climbing easier then they were. So they went around the right hand turn out of AT&T and I gained a bit on my turn. Then they started up the hill and I put my head down and closed the 20 yards between us as we climbed up hill, getting to the pack just as they slowed for the 180 turn back down. I was glad to take that turn slow and wasn't complaining about being at the back. I still had a hard time keeping the legs moving on the down hill however and had to coast a bit. This opened a gap again which I was hoping the Team “Speed Weevil” skater behind me would come around and fill so I could continue to recover. No going, but we where coming up onto another turn. As the pack takes it wide I, like a good indoor skater should, cut the turn and end up right on the wheel of the pack once again. At this point I hear complements from the skater behind me for the slick move. We are again heading uphill and this time I sit in the pack and get some recovery going.

The final lap then is uneventful expect for the pain and the noticeably shorter pulls. I’m now tucked in with a female Flanders skater that I was unable to find after the race. As we came around the last turn into the uphill finish my turning ability allowed me to place myself in the middle of the pack, just out of the wind. Two thirds of the way up the hill I think "it’s now or never" and jumping out, I get low and take the rest of the hill taking the pack by surprise. Then noticing a single skater between me and the finish I can hear Tommy, our announcer say, “We’ve got a little sprint here.”

Glenn Koshi’s shot captures my “sprint” form – that’s me on the right. Not much to look at but it did the trick. I won the sprint with a little hawk at the finish, to my horror though I look down for the line and watch as I shoot out my right foot, its then I notice my chip is on the other ankle. Still, while our times are identical I’m listed ahead in the standings. And that’s the story from the middle of the pack where there still can be a bit of drama if you look for it. Happy skating.
Road America - 20K - June 14, 2006

Climbing the hill to the finish line.

Ok, how many of you can say you've raced at one of the top five road tracks in North America? Well, now I can. This was Superbike weekend at Road America, in Wisconsin, where track speeds reach 180 mph. Just the sound of those powerful engines speeding by is enough to make one's palms sweat before a race. If you haven't been there it's a 4 mile loop with long fast down hills, all with turns at the bottom and three steep up hills. The conditions where perfect for racing for this the first running of the Road America 13 and 20K race. Maybe about 90 folks came out and Adams Inline showed Team Rainbo that maybe the hill work at Sears needs to be a bit more intense - Adams took two of the top three spots. (That would be yours truly, second back on the right.)
Mystery Marks of the Metrodome - April 24, 2006

 Just back from a one-of-a-kind marathon, the Metrodome Inline Marathon. Indoors, 71 laps of smooth, almost but not quite slippery concrete floors and when I get off the floor to take off my skates here are these crazy marks on my wheels. They’re only on the inside of my right skate and I noticed a few other skaters with the same markings. Odd. Eerie. What could they mean?

Well they don’t come from kicking trash cans, which I almost did maybe one or two hundred times. And there’s no way I pronate THAT much. My wheels look like spin paintings, only with oil shooting out from the bearings. Though closer inspection shows that the marks are more like rubber or tar than oil. I’d say that they come from the expansion joint in the floor, which are filled with rubber.

Anyway as part of the "B" team for Team Rainbo we turned in a respectable time, 1:27 and change. With three of us never having skated the dome before we’re quite happy. The highlight of the day was seeing our own “Pistol” Pete Starykowicz win the individual time trial, then come back and help power the Rainbo "A" team to a forth place finish.

Lot’s of fun in MN.

Keep the helmet side up.

Close to a Washout -April 2, 2006

With many of the committed skaters off to Orlando for the Disney marathon I took it upon myself to gather those of us left behind out to the practice grounds. With the time change I thought maybe making practice a bit later to let it warm up outside. Though a look at the forecast said, “get it in early or never”. Bravely making out to Hoffman Estates in the 15 mph winds was one thing, but seeing the large band of yellow and red heading towards us on the radar was another. It was get the skates on and skate quick. The wind on top of the hills was just short of wild, and going downhill into it was work, no rest here. Herb and I, only two of us ended up making it, got one lap in before it started, within three minutes sprinkles turned into steady rain.

The radar image here shows a black and white circle in the middle, that’s our practice area 45 minutes after we packed up. Moral: In April act quick, the streets wont be dry for long.

Keep the helmet side up!

OK, that was the mid-term election.

We're totally onto something else now.