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.