Sunday, October 16, 2011

Number nine, number nine…

I wish I could honestly say I was humming the Beatles “Revolution Number Nine” while skating my ninth A2A but it just didn’t happen. Though I can say that nine times is the charm. What with a 14mph tail wind and a decision to just skate to finish and the clock be damned; I had the easiest time I’ve ever had on the roads of Georgia. OK, in some respects it was the hardest time on the roads of Georgia because man were some of the downhills rough. Now you would think that flats and uphills would kill you when the road if rough, well how do you feel about 30 mph plus downhill and the road surface has you bouncing so your glasses are falling off. OK, so I exaggerate, but that’s why you read my posts, isn’t it?

The race started off in typical fashion, Eddy was wearing a Tai Barn Costume that he raced in for the first 10 yards of the event. This is really my kind of start, the gun goes off and everybody waits for the folks in front, no hurry, no worry. What kills me is that first hill out of town, there are skaters all over the road, too early for pace lines, and we’re going fast, my wheels are humming, I’m not awake and the road keeps getting steeper. About two miles out of town we make a left hand turn to a small climb and I’m starting to breath heavy and I haven’t even started to skate. I’m thinking, “How can I ever do this? I’m already tired!” Then things calm down and we get down to some skating. By this time folks have found their pace lines or are moving a bit faster to catch up to one.

So if you’ve read Larry’s great account of his race you’ll remember that early on there is a two-mile winding downhill where your speed continues to build and you have no clue were it will end. Larry’s description gave me a chuckle because we flat landers have no experience on real downhills and with this one coming so early in the race, with the pace lines long and the speeds high, it sends heart rates soaring and makes most of the other hills (bigger then Big Granite) seem downright manageable. Well I took that hill with plenty of trepidation as my boots this year are not customs, and subsequently fit less snug. I find it takes three or four hills for me to get use to the speeds and relax. Try it sometime you’ll see what I mean.

Funny thing, the miles didn’t seem to affect me this year, sure they hurt but thanks to some talk with Jan I was not cramping. (Thanks Jan!) When parts of my feet started to hurt I changed my foot work, when the pack moved too slowly up hill I found a way to slowdown. I did have to skate a very smart race though. See I’m on 100’s and most everyone else is on 110’s. So they would move slower uphill and faster down. So if I wasn’t in the middle of the pack starting down, I’d be playing catch up on the swing back up. Believe me, I had plenty of time to figure this out.

There were less police at intersections this year, but at the spots were it really mattered they were there. In Atlanta there was some really rough road for a block or so which almost brought me to a complete stop. As always, the finish line is a party of its own with everyone just happy to be still standing. Afterwards the feeling of accomplishment is unparalleled to anything else I do, and the glow emanating off of first time finishers is unmistakable as they enter into an elite family of skaters. Oh, and it always helps to have attractive help with your boots after an event like this. Thanks Jess!

Soon the glow wears off and one notices another unyielding thought. "I’M HUNGRY!" And I knew just what to do about it. Three miles from the finish I was stood up by the smell of Bar-B-Que and the smell did not disappoint. Fox Bros. is along one of the rougher parts of the route and as we sat there lapping up the sauce, skaters continued to struggle by still trying to get to the finish line. I’m not quite sure what they yelled back at me as I sat on the patio with my drink and my sticky fingers. I’m sure it was well wishes.

Finally, as if that wasn't enough, here is a video I shot along the way.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A skate with a very wet beginning and end

When John invited us up to his place for a long skate and to “show us the sites” around Woodstock Larry, Margo, Tom and I had no idea that “the sites” included spectacular lightening, torrential rains and puddles deep enough to dwarf our 110 mm wheels. Let me start from the beginning, at 5:30 Saturday morning the radar was not looking promising, though the forecasts called for only a 60 percent chance of rain. One forecaster was calling for early rain clearing by late morning, (Tom Skilling), others were calling for clear skies early and showers late. After a few 6 am calls we all decide to head out to Woodstock for a good long skate; we were aiming for 50 miles. Tom was so up for it that he put in brand new bearings and never looked at a forecast. Good luck with that!

Margo and I drove up together and the windshield wipers were going for only about a third of the drive. The sky was unreadable once at John’s and fireman Larry used his extensive knowledge of the basic elements to declare, “It’s not going to rain.” Well I barely got my feet into my skates before a steady drizzle starts. Only upon our return does John tell us that as we depart a car rolls down his window to tell him we’re skating into a severe storm warning. I guess it didn’t matter because once we were out of town and skating in the severe storm I pretty much knew it. I was blinking so fast that my eyes were closed more than they were open. Pretty interesting skating downhill through a river of water with your eyes closed.

Well the rain did let up and the road pretty much dried up, except Margo then has to comment, “Hey, it’s drying up.” Just then the sky opens up and we’re back in the heavy rain. Though thankfully not torrential like before.

One thing you have to know about a skate from John’s house, you have to go uphill to get back. So no matter how far you skate, we cut our skate to only 28 miles, there is always pain waiting for you in the last miles. Today wasn’t so bad, though the wet pavement made for some tough going. All in all the company made for a really enjoyable skate. What is it about suffering with good friends in good humor? This was one of those skating events that from this writing will continue to grow in length, wind, storm surge and proximity of lightening, but that is what a good story is all about, just enough truth to keep it believable.

A big thanks goes out to John and his wife Deb for the hot tub and the BBQ after the skate, it made the sun coming out for the rest of the day more tolerable. I will always listen to Tommy Skillet from now on. Good skating everyone.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

“What is strong?”
Chicagoland Inline Marathon

If you spent any time at all this year watching the Tour de France you’ll be as tried as I am of this advertising slogan. Over the three weeks of Tour de France telecasts the avid viewer will see the same six commercials hundreds of times. This ad for sportswear being one of them. How sorry I was this month at the Chicagoland Inline Marathon to discover this commercial would be my last mental resort to crossing the finishing line. Let’s start at the beginning.

The week before the race I took a tumble in a pace line. To my good fortune I was a bit hung over so sliding on the asphalt at 20 mph didn’t really hurt. Though the bike that than ran over me after I went down didn’t help. OK, so I seemed fine, the shower afterwards didn’t hurt too much so out I was the next day for team interval training. I did notice my muscles were a bit stiff where the tire marks ran up my back however. On the third interval I was determined to get a good jump so as not to get crowded out of the sprinting. On my second stride after the gun a disk slips out of place in my back and I’m at a stand still trying to quiet it down. I’m able to keep it lose for a half hour of very easy skating to keep the muscles from locking up, but due to the road rash from the day before I’m not able to take a HOT shower.

Well the week goes by and the back doesn’t get any worse and I’m walking upright, albeit gingery. So the morning of the race I’m less then thrilled to be driving to Hoffman Estates in the driving rain. (Oh did I mention the spectacular lightening as well.) Cale lends me four Storm Surge wheels to help with the slippage and off we go. At the gun I combine worry about my back and slipping to get off to one of my worst starts yet, and that turns out to be a high point in my race. Knowing the turns of our course I was able to get into a good pack once onto the frontage road. But when the move came that split the pack my hesitancy kept me from bridging the gap immediately. Suddenly feeling all alone (I failed to look behind me) I took it upon myself to catch up. Catching up I stand up and feel a hand on my back and knew I’d made an amateur’s mistake.

Let it just be said that from that point on pack after pack dropped me, until it got down to individuals dropping me. I have no explanation for it except that something just wasn’t there. As motivation I went into visualizing the Tour. I saw myself as Cadel Evans time trailing. “I can do this, I can do this, I can do...” until I realized I was time trialing more like Andy Schleck and that I wasn’t going to measure up. Really it came to me in a flash, “OMG! I’m not Cadel, I’m Andy.” That took what wind there was out of my sails. Soon after this I’m at the point where I stop to tighten my skates, I change my stride every 20 seconds, I talk to all the course marshals as I crawl by, anything to get through the agony. Then it hits me, “What is strong?” and as the ad says, “Maybe strong is what’s left after you’ve used up all of your weak.” Well I’d used up about all of everything else, why not all of my weak? That somehow kept me going.

I never seriously contemplated giving up, but I sure as hell wanted to be finished. My finishing sprint was only in my mind and I’m not sure I even coasted as far as the chip removal buckets. All in all, if I had been only five or seven minutes slower than my normal time I would have been mad at myself for not trying harder. But this, what was this? A result so different from anything else that I just chalk it up to experience. Experience, and as the answer to that classic advertising slogan, “What is strong?”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chicagoland Inline Marathon

This was a race of small victories. In my position, one of not skating very much, like not at all, all I can hope for when I skate are small victories. The race started, as always, with my less then aggressive start, which this day was accentuated by lining up next to Tom Grosspietsch. Tom squirts through a crowd like a… like a I don’t know what. All I know is after 20 yards of avoiding flailing arms, legs and skates I look up and Tom is disappearing in the crowd 10 yards ahead of me. As the opening closes down in Tom’s wake I settle into my early race routine, playing catch up. I’m soon in the pack with Tom, though he’s in front and I’m near the back. Today seems to be the day when racing on my worn down 100’s finally takes its toll. I’m working too hard to stay with this group and I’m sitting in their draft.

Well I’m toast as we hit the little square of rough pavement out at the far end of the course. Turning back onto Central I’m once again playing catch up as we approach the uphills. Bye bye pack. A mile or so down the road and John Silker’s pack, with big German Horst in it picks me up. It wont be ‘til the second time through this stretch that I realize what it is my skates are slipping on. The road is full of frogs. Seems we had so much rain the frogs came out to play chicken with the cars and by the looks of things, the frogs lost.

Back to racing. Kris K. and Colum are also in this pack and looking strong, as well as a young 20 something gal in rec skates. My how I wish pack skating wasn’t a learned skill. She really was distracting to skate behind, you know the stop-start, pull out, pull in technique that so wears us old guys out. (wink wink) Anyway the energy I expended there I saved by drafting Silker and Horst, both giants among men and great skaters to boot.

As always the 2 left-hand turns inside AT&T are awesome and a thing of beauty if you take the right line. The crowd at the roundabout was very encouraging. Without being able to hang with the pack I had my sights on I will gladly settle for having skated a good tactical race, not pulling too much and rarely where I didn’t want to. All leaving just enough at the end, even when the sprint started so far back that most of the pack didn’t have that much sprint in them. It’s a rare sprint were I pass half of those who take off in front of me. I know for a fact that Colum had one one thousandth of a second too little sprint left as I busted my butt to catch that Rainbo jersey in front of me and with nothing left, I can’t say hawked, I stuck my left foot out and it hit the wire first. I swear Colum crossed the second wire before me; that was how close it was. The timing went three decimal places down to separate us. Either way I was just very happy to break 1:30.

Little victories, especially at the finish, loom large. Thanks to all the volunteers, sponsors and organizers for another great weekend of racing. See you next year for sure.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Apostle Island Inline Marathon

As evidence that this was not the usual Rainbo trip to a race I present this evidence; over the 800 mile plus trip I changed seats in the car twice; blasphemy I know, totally unheard of in the team van. Worse yet, we made stops, twice in one town, namely Phillips, Wisconsin.

First at the Fred Smith museum of concrete art were we tried to enlist a good tall skater to lead us out on fliers. Second to eat a fabulous meal at the Crystal CafĂ©; yes we stopped to eat, unthinkable. I had the Fish Fry and the beer battered fish was the lightest most delicious I’ve had since I was on the Tamiami ("tammy-ammy," it rhymes) Trail on the West Coast of Florida. Nothing was as it should be.

To add insult to injury we were forced to walk all the way across the parking lot to get from the hotel to dinner were the Prime Rib at the Steak Pit looked every bit as good as the Walleye. How was I supposed to decide? As far as accommodations, I’m putting in a complaint with the manager of the Super 8 in Washburn because the queen size beds were so comfortable I had no excuse not to just go to sleep and not wake up until the on-time wake up call. In the morning the roads were clear of traffic, the parking ample and the ferry boats were so on time there could be no one but myself to blame if I didn’t have the perfect race. Something was terribly wrong; I needed an excuse in a hurry.

The heat and 35 mph winds of the day before were gone and from what I could tell the road surface was smooth as glass. Nothing there. The coffee shop on the island opened early and Jim got my order right. Nothing there. It was a bit chilly out but the rec center was open and the couches were comfortable. Nothing there. This was shaping up to be one of the worse races in resent memory.

I started grasping at straws for how I was going to blow the race. Maybe I’d leave my chip strapped onto my bag and only notice it at the starting line. Nah, nobody would believe that; would they Jim? Jim (aka the dog killer). Maybe I could change my registration to another much tougher category and complain about that all the way home. Wait a minute; I was already signed up in Pro/Advanced Veteran; that was it! There’s no way I’m competitive with the studs in the Pro Vet category. OK, I could relax, I had my excuse all lined up.

The start went off without a hitch, as Herb Gale wasn’t there they only had to sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” none of that “Oh Canada” stuff. And it was time to go. With the start/finish line on a slight down hill with a 90 degree left hand turn about 200 yards up the road only the leaders got a true jump off the start. The pace was sane and sensible until the first step after the turn. Then all hell broke loose and if you weren’t quick on the turn you had to hit the after burners as the big dogs were booking. As it was Ken Huss, a Duluth skater named Tim and I burned a fella out at the front of our small group as we encouraged him to close the gap. I saw immediately when the gap started to widen but I didn’t have it to jump out and quicken the pace. So we let the group ahead go and settled down into a smooth but fast pace. The left hand turns came and the head winds picked up and the road started it’s little undulations and the legs started to tell lies, all about how they might not make it and hey, back off a bit and the like. About this time we caught up to Chris Wright and she was having none of it once she was rested and we kept a good pace.

A funny thing happened on the way through the finishing area, first time through I was pulling while Iris was snapping our photo. Second time through I was in the same position and Ken went on a flier saying “no way buddy, this photo op’s mine.” I let him have it. Good thing I did to for as we were closing in on half way through the third lap of three the lead pack from Rec/Fitness catches us. No way this is a Rec/Fitness group, this is 30 of the guys from the A group in Duluth. They are leaving a few gaps in the line and I jump in. A big draft is a beautiful thing. Ken didn’t have the legs to make the transition but Tim and Chris did. The pace was fast and there was a bit too much position jockeying three miles out but we were flying and I was smiling. Of course now I’m thinking the excuse is custom made. “Oh I would have been two minutes faster had I signed up in the right category.”

If there is one thing Rainbo skaters have over others skaters, even those of us who neglect to practice, we climb and we turn. The largest of the small climbs on the course is just before the turn to the finish and it was there that I moved up on 30% of those in front of me. And I took the turn tight and that downhill finish will make a champion of anyone. WOW! It sure is sweet kicking downhill. The times were fast and the smiles broad. This is really one not to miss. Now why was I looking for excuses?

On the way back we tricked Jan into being in charge of the music instead of driving then we just kept telling him to turn it down. Worked like a charm. We ate our lunches like men this time, in the car, on the move and I didn’t almost get killed until I was on the final block to my house, when a car blew a stop sign a second before I drove through. Timing, it’s everything in life.
So close that gap, you may not get another chance.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Great Midwest Inline Marathon

I have to say I almost always have something fun or funny to relate after a race, but this one was something else again. After driving a touch of the course prior to race time I was wondering if I was the only one who thought they heard something about this being a flat course. I now think what was said was this was a “relatively” flat course. Relative to the Rocky Mountains, this is a real flat course. Well thank the heavens that at least the pavement was in good condition. What’s that you say? You fell in a tar snake? Well the road was in “relatively” good condition. Never mind all that, at least it’s May in Wisconsin and the temperature was cool and refreshing. Wait, what? The temperature was in the mid 80’s with equally high humidity? Yep! It was the perfect storm of conditions to make for a challenging beginning to the Midwest outdoor season.

The silver lining for me was, with almost no training this spring, I fell into a group of thinking skaters that worked together for 26 of the 26.2 miles of the race. We were; two Bob’s, one Guy, one Ken, one Denise and together we were awesome. The course was “relatively” shaped like a “P.” We skated out of town and around the loop of the “P” five times then back into town. The wind, of course, was with us while in the wooded part of the loop, so it did very little good and in our faces on the "relatively" downhill back portion of the loop. So rest as in short supply. I take it this matters little to the pro’s but to us back-packers the wind and the hills are a big deal.

Anyway, the loop was hilly but we all “knew” that the big hills were behind us once we headed back into town. WHAT? The hills were harder heading back.? That’s where a snake up and bit the other Bob in our group. Luckily the next downhill was a biggin’ and Bob picked himself up, and caught up.

I think I only realized how hot it was when, upon leaving the loop, I grabbed a cup of water and instinctively threw it on myself instead of drinking it. Boy did that feel good. Sorry Denise, I think you were behind me at the time.

Anyway at the last turn there was an acceleration that I should have known was coming; I was gapped by about 5-10 feet which, according to the results, grew to whatever 2 seconds is at 16 mph. But no problem, I simply told my legs to pick it up and... and... and nothing. No back talk, no complaints, nothing. I knew what had to be done and with the wind at our backs for once, when it would do some good, my legs decided we were no longer on speaking terms. Still, I was more than happy to have finished with the folks I’m normally competitive with, and my light-headedness was nothing that two bratwursts and a couple of beers couldn’t cure.

All joking aside, this is an awe-inspiring event, three days of racing, of which I participated in only one, with a star-studded field of skaters and it is already on my calendar for next year.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Fleeting Flash of Glory or How Far Can You Fall and How Fast.

This weekend’s adventure to Minneapolis and the 2010 Metrodome Inline Marathon contained all the usual suspects, highways hijinks, bad jokes, good food eaten together and some very entertaining racing. I have come to look upon this event as putting indoor skating to bed for the year and the beginning of warmer, drier streets and trails out of doors. Before I put all of that indoor skating to rest however I need to recap Friday and Saturday’s trip in Minneapolis.

Friday evening as the team gathered for dinner the consensus was running 4 to 1 that Kevin would never make it to the Dome in time for the half marathon, which was to be his warm up for the team time trial later in the day. So Cale and Margo were on me to take his place so I’d be “loose” for the real race. One massive iPhone text later from Kevin and the Carvell contingent moved to “Plan B,” I was now going to race for John McLinn in the half instead of the whole marathon, John couldn’t make it but I hope he makes it to Texas instead. If your head is now spinning, you can bet mine was, or maybe that was the martini at dinner.

Leave be said that I didn’t think I’d be skating in the morning when I dropped the troops off at the Dome and went in search of a breakfast. Three pancakes, two eggs, bacon, and an order of potatoes later I show up at the dome to the call to get my skates on. Cale has me lined up to skate the half in about 45 minutes. This should be fun… if I don’t throw up first. Maybe it’ll all be downhill.

Margo is skating the half as well after cheering on Cale in the Pro/Advanced Individual Marathon and is beginning to talk about finishing times. I’m thinking only of trying to finish with breakfast intact. We are among the last to enter the floor and in my gallantry I wave Margo to start first, she declines saying I should go and she’ll catch up with me. Remember this “polite” action on Margo’s part, it’ll play a role later in the tale.

I coast onto the floor and start out slightly faster than the rec skaters getting my legs under me when Margo flies by me yelling “jump on!” Had this been later in the day my response would have been to drop the “F bomb” on her, but at that point I had no idea those words would become the approved friendly greeting for the rest of the weekend. Maybe it was my body language but Margo knew I wasn’t coming so she was waiting for me around the corner. Together we started moving along at good pace; a good pace on an empty stomach, but way too fast for my current condition. Everything passes eventually and since skating seems to help things “pass” more quickly I decided, “let’s skate.” At least my lower center of gravity helped me stay down behind Margo until a few big Minnesotans latched onto us and I could stand up.

We started flying around the track and it was truly mayhem, one guy with us kept calling “outside” to pass skaters on the inside and for the first 15 minutes most skaters thought they were the fast skaters so they were all in against the left-hand wall where we were trying to get by. After one of my pulls, yes breakfast had settled some, I pulled off the lead to get on the back of the line and the guy there sucking my wheels waves me off because we can’t have more then five in a pace line. I “politely” ask him who the "H" he thinks has been pulling him, all while I’m dodging in and out of skaters in Bermuda shorts and quad skaters in tutu’s. Soon we’re paired down to four of us who are skating in a nice tight pack and I’m beginning to enjoy myself and wondering why I thought Margo was just going to go out for a joy ride when one of the tutu’s believes she’s going to jump on with us. She gauges our pass and moves left right into my right skate. I feel a slight bump and then she’s in behind me... falling... holding onto my shirt and falling. I start swatting her off and yelling, not very politely I’m afraid, to let go of the shirt. Oh did I mention I was skating in a t-shirt? I thought this just a warm up.

So Margo and I finish, having dropped everyone in our group and laugh it off and go down to cool off and wait for the race. Forty five minutes later or Cale comes over to Margo, hands her a Rollerdome mug and says congratulations, you won. Sure as sh*t our warm up was five minutes faster than the next fastest skater. I get a mug for second place and then realize that Margo out foxed me for the win. She knew that by starting behind me she would be ten seconds in front of me when we finished together. You know with friends like that...

Well glory really is fleeting as our team race was anything but stellar. We verbally abused our pit crew and lap timer, we finished with only four of our original complement of five and we passed only one other team only once, and they were coasting in on their last lap six laps in front of us. But boy were we in the zone. The “FU” zone if you know what I mean.

Many team members achieved personal bests out of the race course, and several came home with trophy mugs. We achieved new heights of personal growth, spitting Tom G. into good Tom and bad Tom and late in the day bad Tom came out in all his glory. Now I have to say this is only a matter of a competitor giving his all for the team, but his all this time was just a little salty. In truth you couldn't say a nicer thing to a teammate after the race then “F*ck you.” We really were working hard out there.

As happens so often though Cale became the workhorse and pulled 30 or more of the 71 laps and man I needed it. Margo may have been the tallest skater in the bunch after me so I was getting no draft. Add to that Cale trying to take me out early in the race and you can see why maybe I’d leave him out there to pull. Seems Cale took a cue from the tutu lady of earlier and cut back into line too early only this time he took my foot out from under me. Imagine trying to hold an edge on one foot on slick concrete. It's not going to happen. About 10 minutes into the race I’m heading for floor screaming bloody murder. I just hate going down silently, for me it all show or no show. Funny thing is the floor really is slippery. I slide to a stop, get a skate under me and I’m up no worse for wear. No muss, no fuss.

Anyway the other teams were very understanding and gracious, only yelling once or twice a lap to get out of their way and adding a "good job" in as they flashed by every other lap. First it was a burden, then a joke, then an “FU.” But we wore them all done, yes we did. We eventually passed them all like they were standing still. Then it was our turn to yell, “On your left.” Well maybe they were standing still just a little bit, maybe they were all finished and we had six laps to go, but we still passed them, everyone of them.

Cale, Margo, Kevin, Tom, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was a fun day of racing and friendship and that my friends, not the hoky poky, is what it’s all about.

Thanks goes out to Adam Kocinski, the volunteers, the sponsors and the Metrodome for another wonderful event and we hope to see everyone back in the area for the St. Paul races coming up this summer.