Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is Eight Enough?

Planning, preparations and training all seemed to be on track for what I’ve privately been saying is my 8th and final lap through hell and back, uh, did I say that out loud? I meant to say Athens to Atlanta Road Skate. Everything was a go except for a raw spot on my ankle where my boot cuff rubs. The addition of eZeefit ankle liners helped tremendously in Duluth, but then those of us who know, know that A2A is not Duluth so I so gearing up for a few hot spots. Oh yeah, one other tiny problem, Cale kicked my butt the previous Sunday out at Sears as we did three “easy laps” in the wind that for me were anything but easy. I was walking stooped over with back pain right up to the night before flying into Atlanta. Go figure.

All week the weather report was improving for race day and when it came down to it, in my 7 previous races there, I have never seen a better combination of temps and winds. It was cool most of the day with 3 to 5 mph tail winds and cloudy for the first 30 miles or so. Very sweet conditions, however. . . when you’re not sweating, but you’re still drinking what needs being done? More on that later.

Enough weather talk, back to skating. Race day arrives after a pleasant day in Athens. Athens exits for skaters to eat, toss and turn in bed and break in the legs as they walk up the hill in the dark towards the starting line.

This by far was the smallest group I’d seen at the start, however when the horn blew the crowd on the street leaving downtown Athens seemed just as dense. After a quick couple of turns the lack of skaters was obvious as the four lane road was more than ample to maneuver and group up. Right away the rookies got a taste of the Georgia
hills as the main road out of town slants down and curves under a railroad track. Nothing steep about this downgrade, but at about the time when a good Midwesterner would be saying to him or herself, hey that was fun, they start to notice that their skates are steadily humming a higher and higher pitch. But the fun ends soon enough and with a left turn onto a short climb the day begins.

At this point Cale has gone ahead to scout the road for us with his Fossil friends so Margo, John Silker, Ken Huss and I group together with about 15-20 other skaters in an attempt to hold down the middle of the race. As John let us know early and often, his strategy was, “To start slow then slowly taper.” Which by the way is a very good strategy. John was actively channeling his 3rd grade student joke book for most of the first half of the race. By mile 40 – 50 however John was saving his breath along with the rest of us. What was it John, the silence or the groaning that tipped you off?

For those who haven’t been there I can say it is the later hills that invade your night time sleep, but early on I was struggling. I could tell something was different this year, maybe I was paying too much attention to those around me as I was aware that Margo and Ken were on their first attempt. I tried not to coach too much, but when you have a 2 mile downhill with a bridge and surface change at the bottom, you want to let the person in front of you know that the transition is smooth, no braking necessary. Anyway it seemed the early hills were really eating into me. It could only mean that I had had too good a night’s sleep. See most years I lay in bed, up all night fretting, once out on the course nothing is as bad as I imagined it. This time it was all harder than I expected. If I ever go back I’m planning on staying up all night worrying.

About ten miles in and our group is whittled down to about 8 or 10 skaters, most of us doing the full distance. Margo, John, Ken and I are casually spread out in the group as the pace uphill is manageable and the recovery time on the longish downhills adequately rejuvenating. We have already been passing the prerequisite number of folks that have been dropped by their packs ahead or thought better of the pace they were skating but we did not expect to spot a friendly pony tail hanging out in the middle of the road. Cale is skating circles in the road waiting for us to come along and as expected he easily jumps on our group with the explanation that the fast group is “out of their minds” with the pace they are setting and he knew that wasn’t for him. Several in our pack know Cale from the Montreal 24 hour event and it was now a real fun gathering. With us were Karin Chamberlain, who set a new solo woman’s record in Montreal and long time A2A’er and Montreal’er Luke Sawh.

As we climb closer and closer to Dacula and the 38 “half way” finish line, the hills get steeper and I’m beginning to think that I quit doing A2A one year too late. This was getting hard. Just before the 30 mile mark and the second water stop Ken starts to cramp up. Let’s give the guy some credit here; two weeks ago he finished the NYC 100k. If he wants to cramp, let him cramp. But that is serious business on these hills and he pulled out at 30 miles. Ken isn’t our only casualty, a few miles later I hear a call to hold up as we’re stretching out and I can’t believe it when I hear it’s Cale falling back. Karin is the first to offer that we all stop and let him regroup; that’s the kind of event this is. Cale will have none of it and assures Margo that he will be fine but that he is dropping out. We continue on without him and there is silence in the pack for a number of miles. I know many of us were dreading having to go up the next set up hills into Dacula and in Cale’s condition they must have really hurt. Ken and Cale it wasn’t the same race without you guys and seeing you there to cheer us on at rest stop four really lifted out spirits.

The miles wore on and the friendly nature of our group never wavered. Many of us needed to slow a bit to “cook” while still skating. After each water stop I needed to empty two packs of powder into each new 16 oz bottle of water, an interesting juggling act while skating yet no one ever attacked after a water stop. I even lost a bottle and two others offered theirs. And were we tired? Back at mile 30 I noticed the first cramps starting as I tucked to fly down a hill, by mile 50 I was using every opportunity to stretch out my legs, on the downhills I would pick up each knee several times, like doing a high step, on the uphills I would move out of line and take real long slow strokes. More often than not this meant I ended up pulling ahead up the hills, no guys I wasn’t feeling strong, I was trying not to fall over. I do have a physical record of how I was feeling however. I caught a photo of the time clock in Dacula as we passed by, 2:36 – we were shooting for 2:30 so not bad. The next photo I have is of the Atlanta city limits. The camera sat in its case for almost 40 miles, now that’s tired.

Along the way there were plenty of other close calls and other risqué behavior. One officer of the law stood leaning on his car watching us desperately braking down a hill to avoid running a red light at a four lane highway, one skater hit the deck to keep from shooting into traffic and the officer just continued to text or email without missing a beat. Another pair of officers pulled their squad out into a busy street to stop traffic and as we hit the intersection a pickup blasts through across our path. It’s very hard to start up that big hill in front of you when you’ve almost become road kill. Other times the group would be separated up a hill and the first one down would not be in the pace line. Sometimes you could yell “pushing” and help them down, other times the pack would shoot by you like you were standing still and then you would have to struggle to catch on. More times then not the pace line would continue to accelerate up hill and we once came close to topping one hill and starting down another without a single stride. Almost.

The miles wore on and the water bottles kept emptying and where was all that liquid going? Most Rainbo team members have an inkling by now that Margo can let it all hang out just as easily as any of the boys; hey where was Karin at this point? Anyway I can attest there was no peeking; except maybe out of the suburban Atlanta windows at this horde of colorful figures "watering" their lawn and their trees.

By now it is common knowledge that the course was a few miles longer do to a detour. That road was tough going over rough pavement and some steep hills. I think I was beginning to have words with my own higher power about this time; something about deliverance I believe. There is also the pure act of faith which is the railroad track at the bottom of a another of the very steep hills. There is no way that it looks as smooth as the tracks here in Chicago, but fly over it every time we do. Thank you lord, for a brief half a second once a year I knew exactly where you are. Of course Silver Hill is Silver Hill, manageable, but long, fast and not to be attempted in a pack. Not by me at least.

Those last few miles in Atlanta are always “entertaining.” What with the two or three miles of gatorback that I never told Margo about. I figured our feet are going to be hurting anyway, why worry a rookie. Then there was the sidewalk to cross and the cops who did such a great job stopping all the traffic, except the pedestrians were looking at them and not at the line of skaters about to cross their path. We could smell the plastic of their baby strollers and the Sunday bunch on their breath as we passed through them and onto the last stretch of road home.

Ah, but the old body wasn’t finished with me yet; suddenly there was a police siren which sounded like it was directly behind us, I tried to look back and as I did my right leg collapsed. I got it back under me but it wouldn’t support my weight and just like in Duluth, there was a tree there to save me. In an area of nothing but concrete one square had been cut out and filled with wood chips and a sapling. Man trees are hard! I tried to get up but the leg still wouldn’t hold, that and I was now turned around facing Athens, no way was I going back that way. In the few seconds it took to get started again the group was down the slope making the right turn into traffic. At least no one turned around to yell, “See ya sucker!” As the attempted escapees became entangled in the bit of traffic at the last big crossing, I was able to catch up. Yeah, now the legs were hurting, but then there was the finish line calling and I could think of nothing better then to choose where next to sit down.

The finish was a joy; seven of us came across in a group signifying that we wished to be scored a tie; that is not before Margo needed a friendly reminder to slow down a bit. Always the competitor, as we entered the park, for maybe the first time all day Margo was leading. To her credit however I’ll wager her feet wanted her done more dearly then her heart wanted one higher place in the rankings. We were very happy to see Ken and Cale at the finish, as well as Marcy and let us not forget Kathy with the cooler of beer for those that needed it. Did anybody not need a beer after that?

Before the beer must come the taking off of the skates. Here Kathy lets Renee take on the job only another skater should attempt. (At least when they've been on for more than 6 hours.) And at what other event do they offer free slippers, yes there were decorated slippers for finishers. Awesome.
Some Really Poor Film Making,
Some Much Better Skating

I have to say that I did not know that Marcy won the woman's event until later on Sunday when I read Greg's email. Now I get home and look at the video I shot and I see she told me. See if you can hear her brag about herself. You may have to play it back a few times. All together maybe there is 2 minutes of video here, way less than I thought I had shot. Enjoy.

Oh and I do know that you can't shoot video in portrait format, I just keep forgetting.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Decade of Duluth

This year’s trip to Duluth came complete with a 10-year pin inside my registration bag as I arrived for the 14th “running” of the Northshore Inline Marathon. The weather conditions promised to be good but I came with no hopes of besting last year’s PB of 1:15 and change, but I get ahead of myself. First and foremost I have to send out dudo’s to my travelling mates, Liz, Herman and Nancy it was a weekend of firsts. Nancy’s first full marathon, Liz’s first carpool experience and my first time bunking with a father/daughter combo. In respect to Liz missing out on the team van experience due to Cale’s entrepreneurial endeavors we tried to make our trip as close to a team van experience as possible, once in our seats there was no changing, there or back. Except for a brief stint at the very beginning with Nancy driving, Herman drove the entire way; I had to pee more than anyone else except Margo who wasn’t with us, and to enhance the experience of speeding through Wisconsin, Herman got a speeding ticket without even speeding. (Cale would really have been.)

We had some really sweet daughter/father bonding all weekend it was a pleasure to watch and be part of. Did I mention that Nancy is Herman’s daughter? Well being his daughter doesn’t inoculate one from falling head first into Herman’s world and they had some very interesting exchanges. I swear the thought pattern the passes for logic in that man’s head could make me famous if only I knew how to explain it. All of you who know and love the Hermanator know exactly what I’m talking about.

We reached Duluth early afternoon on Friday to gale force winds blowing from the east. Most of us wanted to drive out to Two Harbors on the spot and be blown back into Duluth. I was ready to fashion a sail out of my Rainbo wind breaker, but alas it wasn’t to be. By morning the winds were mostly calm though still out of the east. Race time and the temp. was close to 50 and dry. The start of the “A” wave went off cleanly and fast, and in no time lines were forming up and breaking apart as soon as they were stable. The first six miles or so was a close fought thing what with all the skaters still bunched, the road surface being rough and the large number of tar skates.

It was in this stretch or soon thereafter that I’m pulling John Silker and Kris Felstehausen up the left side of the road when 20 yards ahead I spot arms flailing in the middle of the pack skating up middle of the road. An orange jerseyed figure comes shooting sideways out in front of us and in his attempts to right himself he spins around backwards and is looking me in the face. Now, I know this is wrong, you should never be looking into the face of another skater, especially when he is in front of you. A split second later he is down and it looks good for us to move onto the shoulder and get around him, but no, his momentum takes him further and further to the left and soon I realize that at over 20 mph you can skate on gravel, or over gravel. It’s only once you start to slow to 15 that the wheels dig in and you go flying. I’m down, and quickly sliding off into the grass and hello, what’s this, a tree. I’m stopped, I’m up, and so is John and we skating again. John pulls hard and we grab the tail end to the 150-175 skaters still bunched together and then John pulls off and tells me to go on. I found out later that his customs have a funny latch system and he had to stop to reattach a buckle.

I spend a good deal of time working back up the pack as I was sure this end group will be gapped very soon. I mainly work my way forward on the uphills, by stepping out and not slowing when I know the line sag a bit. Success, soon I pull in behind Kris and she acts as if she’s seen a ghost. Frankly, I was as surprised as she that I was back on with the lead group, in fact at times I was within 5 or 6 skaters of the lead but thought better and fell back.

Herman and daughter Nancy, like father like daughter. It's hard to tell who's legs are who's with those bandages.

Well that end bunch never did get gapped. We had a fast pace but with TeamRainbo members and last year’s Advanced category winners Gary and Stevo having been moved up into elite there were no work horses there willing to lay it on the line. Casey from Rainbo tried several times. I saw him up there in the very front but other skaters would take over and slow the pace. From this mayhem soon ensued. We caught the pro women at about mile 17 or 18. Add their pace line, which we had to allow them a clear line, and a motorcycle to the ever evolving lines of 150 skaters and crashes and spills started taking their toll. Most skaters where courteous, but even I moved over on a woman skater without glancing behind me first and had to apologize, fortunately no harm done. I was able to skate with and help Angie Taylor, the overall open female winner. Quite a thrill, great skate Angie.

Needless to say Lemon Drop Hill was a mad house, being boxed in I saved my energy going up and took a good line down and missed the big wipe out as we motored down the ramp onto the highway. My wheels seemed to slip a bit on the grooved pavement the pace was so high. I played it safe in the last tunnel as three lanes of skaters had to merge right onto the one lane off ramp and that may have cost me my finishing position. I was able to move up nicely on the hill to the turn but the leaders where ahead and taking advantage of open road ahead. I took the turn wide at full speed with little or no traffic, but down towards DECC the road was now solid skaters everyone taking their own line. There was little space to do anything but coast down the hill, then taking the two left hand turns wide I was able again to move up. The wind was not a factor at the finish and at least no one caught me. I was two minutes off of last year’s PB for a 1:17:27, and a second place in the late 50’s category.

Of course the almost 80 degree weather in the afternoon after the race made for a great day outside and my evening Rosh Hashanah meal at Famous Dave’s was festive. Thanks Duluth for ten years of great racing. This is always the race I measure myself against. Well this and A2A next month.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

History Repeats Itself… again

This weekend’s 3rd running of the Chicagoland Inline Marathon proved that races can improve and grow year after year. This year’s course was perfected into three challenging laps of rolling hills and interesting twists and turns. To add to the excitement and spectator fun, the pro’s skated separate from the advanced and rec/fitness skaters so we mere mortals got to see what all the shouting is about.

For me the day started on a bad note, and a bad joke, about a week back I suffered a muscle spasm that saw me with a weak back that I’d had since about a week back. I almost pulled out of the race during my warm ups as it felt like I would never make it up the hills. But an entrance fee is an entrance fee so when the racers lined up there I was ready to go.

I was overly cautious at the start but almost immediately found I was not hurting so I started to move through the mob hunting down the usual suspects. I sensed the first turn would have the still compact group slowing down so I choose that moment and the long downwind stretch as my chance to move forward. This meant I missed the break of the lead pack, but since I seldom hang with the young guns for long I let them have their fun without much regret.
For the second time this month the hills were my friends, at least more so than for many other racers. I found myself almost resting as the pack slowed way down unable to find it’s stride uphill and into the wind. I am extremely fortunate that the hills were easy as I skate on 100’s and most all my competitors are on 110’s; so I work harder in the pack on the flats and I have to skate to maintain speed on the downhills.

Two thirds of the way through the first lap we reached the two fast left-hand turns and I played a bit of Tour de France with the pack and maneuvered two fellow Rainbo skaters to the front with me to lead us through at full speed. I knew if the home team led the way we would avoid any unnecessary braking though what are really two exhilarating turns. With that success behind me I seemed comfortable playing the percentages throughout the rest of the race. Moving forward or backwards in the pack to gauge when I would have to pull and where I wanted to suck wheels. I did once or twice get gapped and more than once barely clawed my way back to the pack.

Then it all came down to three skaters. Near the end of the third lap there was a break away just as the course comes out of AT&T, turns right onto the street, and then heads back into AT&T for the run to the finish. I felt we couldn’t be caught or catch anyone and Ken Huss and John, the other skaters, seemed content to battle it out with each other for the lead. I sat on them waiting for someone to make a break for the finish and when it came I answered on the outside. In the long sweeping right-hand turn we were skate to skate, but at the last the road straightened and I was going just that much faster to win the sprint. As it turns out, the three of us were all skating for position in the same advanced age category. This year marks a repeat of last year’s first place win, so history does repeats itself. A nice race to win with much help from others in the advanced pack, old and new friends alike

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New York City... Skyscrapers and everything

Well, I came to NYC with hopes of squeezing in a bit of skating between meetings at the 100th Anniversary NAACP Convention. So naturally I brought my rec skates thinking "NYC, no big deal; a little city skating, I'll be better off with the heal brake anyway."

WTF? This town is not flat, certainly not if you're skating Central Park. I really needed to stop and tighten my skates before heading up the second hill in the park. Anyway, I brought my camera and made a little video for ya'll. Enjoy.

monday, july 5, 2009
Badger Blather

I knew I was in for an adventurous 24 hours in deciding to travel to the Badger State games with Jan. With Jan driving! Jan who comes equipped with a half inch thick pile of MapQuest and Google map printouts, plus “Gert” the talking GPS on the dashboard and still manages to need at least one 180 turn to find the correct highway to Appleton, WI. I think the driving had me lulled into thinking the wildness was almost at an end when close to the race site we drove through a wind farm. Those big blades kept turning and turning and turning… so beautiful. I was mesmerized, not thinking that wind turbines meant wind, lots of wind, constant wind. I should have realized we were going to be in for a wild race the next day, but the blades kept turning, turning, turning…

Surprisingly we made it to Appleton in great time. The hotel does the memory of the “Crust Motel” in Ashland proud and I’m pretty much off the hook for that one.

Race morning and the forecast said “breezy.” Breezy like a Wisconsiner says the course is relatively flat. HA! The wind was steady 20 mph across the course with gusts to 30, Jana was knocked off her skates when a gust struck just as she hit a small hole in the road.

The race started well and I was moving up on the second pack. I was upwind of the main line of skaters and as such I was blocked from the strong cross wind. Once I pulled into the line, a group just a few skaters up with Ken Huss and Margo made a move and the guy in front of me didn’t answer. I pulled around in an attempt to close the gap and that’s when I noticed the wind. I must have pulled for a mile thinking only one skater was behind me. I waved him to take the lead and found I had been pulling a line of eight or more. The last thing I heard as they dropped me was “Nice pull.” Oh those fatal early mistakes.

Photo credit: Posted by gaetano4140, on InlinePlanet.com

The new Badger course includes a long climb of maybe a mile and a third. The climb however must have been the equalizer, as Margo and Ken finished only 3 minutes in front of me and I skated solo for the last 8/9 miles. First time up the hill I took it easy and totally dropped a strong skater who on the flats was putting serious hurt on me. I coasted all the way down waiting for him to catch up and that is where a pack of four women caught us. The next few miles saw me with rejuvenated legs and all seemed fine, ‘cept the women kept the heat on and I soon started fading. I forced myself to hang until the turn home then let the pack get away. I was very happy to see Jana, making up for lost time, a minute or two behind me.

Some crazy ass thought struck me as I approached the hill a second time. From a mile out the hill appears as a wall of road seemingly rising straight up into the air. All I could think was I wanted to do anything but pound out the miles against that wind. I knew that climbing would stop me from thinking about the wind and a sense of relief overcame me. Maybe it’s just time to see the head doctor or maybe it’s all those A2A miles, but I have two or three different hill strides and I just kept rotating through them ‘til the top.

It’s wasn’t until crossing the line that the race director apologized for mistakenly changing the course that morning for a total of 29.9 miles instead of the normal 26.2. Ouch, I knew it hurt, but that made the 1:49 time more palatable. The bigger surprise came when I found out that Rainbo’s own Marcy Turek took first place overall. Beating out the men at their own game – sprinting. Nice going Marcy.

Overall the Barger Games puts on a good event even if it’s not on a course a flat-lander might call relatively flat.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Race

One more Big Granite under the belt and one more year wondering both how this race stays alive and how in the world did it ever end up in the middle of nowhere? Sorry Ashland fans – adjacent to the middle of nowhere. The answers are fairly simple; the race is dying and this may have been it’s last hurrah. As for its location it seems that nine years ago a gentleman in town thought is was a good idea, he liked skating and he knew how to make it happen. As things would have it from that beginning when over 500 skaters braved a black bear sighting on the course the race has been shrinking ever since. I’ve skated 6 of the nine Big Granites and have looked forward to its challenging hills, both up and down almost more than any other race. Next year however, without an angel, Big Granite may be no more. With attendance at an all-time low, roughly 75 skaters, the death knell is ringing. But there’s plenty of time to get blue in the face, this year’s trip up north was still just as much fun as any trip to Duluth.

While the weatherman was being very unfriendly to the Chicagoland area with floods and hail and power outages, we headed north into ever clearing skies. As the hours rolled on Jim M. began to get the hang of how fast he needed to move so as not to be left behind during our pit stops. By the time we reached Ashland the skies were clear, the wind gently blowing, and the temps were about 80. We first stopped in at race central to pick up our race packs and got the bad word about the low attendance.

Next it was off to see whether my motel pick would make me the brunt of every joke for the rest of the weekend. Would it be the cat-piss motel or wouldn’t it? Well the office was anything but hygienic smelling, what with three dogs running around, but the rooms where fine, though the mattresses were the loudest I have ever slept on. You know that race night toss and turn thing we all do? Ear shattering to say the least, earning the motel the new name of “Crust Motel” Good coffee but very short on hospitality when came to checkout.

Once again this year the team dinner was rudely interrupted by free alcohol. Last year it was a round of pink “wheel sucker” shots, this year a couple of tall heavily laced lemonade “wheel suckers.” Once again the sendees had no idea who the sender might be. Though half the way through these drinks I’m not sure we cared who the f sent them. Actually I can’t remember anything else about dinner.

Yes, Big Granite is a tough course and while the pavement is mostly in great shape those first few miles are spent climbing and as always my body was yelling at me all the way to the first left hand turn. Thank the wind gods, the head wind is now only a quartering head wind yet up another hill or two we go ‘til it seemed the body just wasn’t going to make it. But there we were suddenly at the second left hand turn and at the top of the course. We passed the offered water bottles without stopping and headed down wind and slightly down hill. The legs started getting into the swing of things and it was just about at this point I noticed that Ken Huss and I had dropped Guy at an undisclosed location and picked up Cheri, a WI skater I believe. Ken, Cheri and I took pretty much equal turns pulling and most times when the leader pulled off they were spent and needed everything they had to hang on to the back of our small pack.

Ken led us into the big downhill and accelerated a bit going into it. I took it easy at top knowing that Ken wasn’t going to go too far without two thirds of his pack. As is often the case I was a bit more stable the second time down the hill. Most of the rest of the race was fairly uneventful right up until three young bucks caught up with us with two miles to go. Prior to that our group had swollen to five as we picked up two skaters a guy and a gal, with Cheri, they were the number two and three women in the pro/advanced race. The young bucks, leaders of the fitness category, promptly took over the lead of our pack and start playing leader games, standing up, pulling out and jumping back in, only they lacked the talent to play these games safely. Well one of the bozos jumped back into the pace line knocking the other gal in our pack off her skates but thankfully into the grass very likely changing the outcome of the women’s race.

The field sprint was as surprising to me as anyone. Over my last few races I’ve had a bit of sprint building in me and I was able to hold off most challengers at the finish line for a fine final 100 yards. Though I have been cutting it a bit close on my goals; I said I would be fine with anything under 1:30; remember Big Granite is a tough course. When I made it over to the results board it had me at 1:29:16. Good thing I sprinted at the end or I wouldn’t have made my time goal. The day was essentially won by Rainbo’s own Gary Blank. Seemingly out of nowhere, the unknown Gray sits at the front of the lead pack, pulling for most of the race and in the end he wins the field sprint to take second over all. Great job Gary.

The drive home was mostly uneventful; the usual 90 mph drive time lengthened by the van slowing down to a sane and sensible 85. The usual stories from Cale with the usual response from Jan and Guy, the eating of the skittles and the super human bladder control of our fearless team leader.

What then can be done to save Big Granite? More skaters with a love of good skating. Come on skaters, let’s help them make it a full ten years. Hope to see you there next year.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back to the Dome… without the Dread

Here we go again, back to the scene of the grind. Three years ago I took the trip to the dome, only to be humbled by the 71 laps and the pace set by my teammates. This year would turn out to be a different trip altogether. First off I moved up to shotgun from back bench seat in the team "party van." That seat allows the occupant free access to peruse Cale's expansive collection of "Best of" music CD's from the golden age of "Best of" CD's - 1959 to 1979. (Can you say "Folk Rock" anyone?)

The event, as always, is well run and continues to be the best venue for spectator participation of any race I've been to. First thing in the morning is the pro and advanced individual time trial. Margo and I arrived from breakfast about 20 laps into the race. With Team Rainbo racers passing our viewing point every minute to minute and a half we followed their unfolding race stories in 10 second snippets as leads changed, packs where dropped or formed, and as individual heroics unfolded. In the best spirit of the sport Coach Dave, in his first marathon and while clearly toast, more than twice took faster Rainbo skaters under his wing and pulled outstanding laps to give his team mates a rest and a fling around the dome. We could see from our vantage point that he close to halved his average lap time during these late race laps draining himself of the ability to finish strong, but putting Cale, Gary and Steve-O in better positions overall. Fabulous job Dave.

Come the afternoon it's time for the Team Time Trial event where 5 person teams work together for their best possible time. Four members of each time need to complete the 71 laps together in order for the team to complete the course. Coming into this event I carried the memory of being the weak link in a five person team and I was determined not to let that happen again this year. Three years makes a big difference and I'm skating much stronger now so for me the event went without a hitch. We finished within our window of hopeful probability between 1:25 and 1:30 (actual time 1:29:53). ;-) So all is golden. We decided from the start that Team Pain was not going to win the day, what with Cale having skated the individual time trial earlier, John not having the hi-tech wheels for best performance on the slick coated concrete floor and Kevin not having skated since September.

The random staggered starting order placed us forth so we were off quickly and racing. A wonderful feature this year was the addition of our support team/pit captain. Dirk, fresh from a PB in the advanced event kept lap times throughout and kept track of our remaining laps as it came down to finishing. Thanks Dirk, that was such a help. We put together a good skating order based on height so this big 6'1" windbreaker didn't have to sit out in the wind all day. We switched it up a bit later in the race as I was skating strong and, I'm told, it is such a pleasure to skate behind me and out of the wind.

Dirk kept us honest by calling out lap times and encouragement. We held pretty close to our 70-74 second per lap goal; even with our having to skate most of the day out away from the wall. The left lane being the passing lane we where moved out to circle wide almost every lap. I really think we skated 30 miles to everyone else's 26.2 due to the wider course, still though we were within our target time.

Closing in on two thirds though the race Team Pain made its move. Kevin being hit by leg cramps in the calf, and John's need to work extra hard due to his wheels forced both skaters to push through incredible odds to finish with the team. Cale by far took the lion's share of the pulling and I was proud to be able to get up there and pull multiple laps in a row late in the game. All in all it was a positive attitude that we were all going to finish together, no matter how much it hurt someone, that kept us together. And hurt it did, John was in a panic to get to a garbage can after the finish as he puked out his answer to Team Pain. He gave the ultimate sacrifice, lunch. I'm happy for my accomplishment but prouder of my teammates who pushed through to beat Team Pain; in the end time mattered less than teamwork.

As I mentioned Cale signed up to complete two marathons in one day, what he didn't realize was he was going to complete a third before we arrived home. Half way through Wisconsin, it began to blizzard. Snow blowing horizontal across the highway for hour after hour. We were reduced to driving less than 30 mph, hear that all Rainbo van riders, Cale was driving at less than 30 mph!! Add to that the windshield wipers clogging with snow and streaking, not clearing, the windshield and you'll know how much we needed "The Greatest Folk Hit's of the 50's and 60"s" for Cale to sing along with. Still sitting shotgun I helped watch for when the lane markers would show through the snow so we could stay on the road. We saw spinouts, cars on their sides, fire trucks, tow trucks, an SUV turn 90 degree to the direction of traffic right in front of us all as the party van plowed its slow and steady course back home. By the Illinois line the snow had turned to rain and we felt like we were flying by driving 60 mph.

All in all another great social and sportive weekend with the team. Go Rainbo!