The skating of the 15th Annual Northshore Inline Marathon is now complete. I was there when the start sounded, and I’ve earned my finishers shirt. While I’m savvy enough to not hang a banner that says “Mission Accomplished” off the tailgate of my Sequoia, I did achieve what I set out to do. I skated with some of inline skating’s all-time and current best, I actually kept pace with them for most of the race, and I finished with the lead pack. That makes me a winner in my book, and it makes me 13th in the race standings for Masters 35-44. I’ll take it.
All in all it was a wet experience. The road was wet, my feet were wet and I was wet behind the ears. This being my first year skating pro (as in, Professional Speed Weasel…at least to you that is…) I made a few, how do you say…rookie mistakes.
I also did a few things right, I think. Maybe. Whatever. In any event, I’m skating away from NSIM 2010 with a great experience, knowing I can do it again at this level next year.
Honestly, it felt like I dodged a bullet when we woke to rain at 4 a.m. on race day. I’d adopted a different training regimen this past year, and while I know it was awesome for me in many ways, it was unfamiliar too. I had a sense of uncertainty leading up to this race. This was the first year I’d skate with the Pro Masters, and I’d spent very little time on long distance skates. Yes, I’d done the 100 mile thing, but in years past I’d spent nearly every Saturday & Sunday morning pounding out 26 to 32 miles for months in preparation for this one event. This year, I could count the number of times I’d done 26.2 miles since January on maybe two hands. While they were quality training sessions, they just didn’t add up to what I’m used to.
This year I listened to my coaches who said distance wasn’t the only key. Each was supportive of the other in their own ways so that the message got through: intensity, precision, intervals, rest, and recovery all mattered just as much and distance skating, and that I needed to pay more attention to all of the elements in order to successfully meet my goals at the Pro Masters level. They also gave me a bit of strategy advice, and admittedly, this is my Achilles heel. (Could insert nasty partisan joke about “W” here, but that’d be too easy and might offend some friends. Heaven forbid!)
In fact, it was my inability to commit to a “tough guy” strategy that was the first of the mistakes I made. I don’t remember exactly where we were mile-wise in the race. It was probably just before the half-way mark, when a guy in a Twin Cam skinsuit made an easy mark of me. I was cruising right where I wanted to be, about 5th or 6th in the line behind Norm Kirby, Ryan Chrisler, Jorge Botero, some dude in a Synergy skin suit (nice guy) and maybe one more guy when Twin Cam moved up on left to cut in. I stiffened up, left my hand up and told him to move in behind. Push came to shove and I said something like “WTF, DUDE?!’ before bending over like Eeyore and letting him slip me the Tigger. Then he started letting his buddies in line in front of him from the right. I knew I was pooched with this guy for the rest of the race, so I rode it out a while, then when I saw the four or five leaders make a break I jumped out and on them and took off to get back where I wanted to be. And of course, later on I’d find myself in situations where I needed to catch a break and get back in line, and would inevitably find myself next to Twin Cam so I’d just have to look forward and work harder to get further up in front of him.
In the end it all worked out OK but the lesson was learned: don’t piss people off too early. It just makes your life harder when there are too many other things to worry about. That early in a race, all you need to do is stay focused on what’s happening up front, and what’s coming up the rear. People jumping in and out really shouldn’t be too much of a concern if it’s not pushing you too far off the leaders so that you can make a move if they do.
As a side note: this Twin Cam guy unfortunately went down really hard as the pack mad-dashed in a mob-like way up the service road to the off-ramp at 5th Ave right at the end of the race. It was like going to see The Who in Cincinnatti in 1979. I hope he’s OK, as I hate to see anyone get hurt when we’re all out there just having a little lively competition for fun. If you’re reading this Twin Cam dude, sorry I was a prick too early in the race. I should have played nice and let you in without a fight, at least till I35. At that point, the pin stripping on the highway would have given us both something more to consider than jockeying for position too early in the race.
My favorite rookie mistake was at about 5 miles to go when you enter the residential section leading up to Lemondrop Hill. It started when we were on the downhill that leads you around the bend, over the bridge and into the town. I was drafting behind the guy in the Synergy suit and Jorge on the downhill when Jorge stood up and moved out of line to the left. It looked to me like he’d exchanged glances with the Synergy guy, who a second later stood up and moved out of line as well. Voi-la, there I was, leading the pack on the downhill, leading right up to the long, gradual up-hill that leads through the neighborhood and up to Lemondrop. I knew I was screwed and that I’d have to think of something fast. This was exactly the situation I didn’t want to find myself in, and here I was. Damn it. Then Knowl Johnson was like, “Hey, you have a witness, you led this race!” And he sincerely meant it. But all I could say to myself was, “Cha…as if” in my best Wayne Campbell. I’m so not worthy…If he only knew who’d told me NOT to do this…
Since this blog is as much about tearing down my (Gene) Simmons sized-ego as much as it’s feeding my narcissistic tendencies, I’ve got no problem telling you that my ego got in the way of better judgment and coach’s instructions. Here I was, up front, with Jorge, Norm, Ryan, Richard and several other really strong skaters in my line, and I was pulling, being the workhorse. I was told not to. My coaches told me to let the ego sit on the sideline, to just watch the leaders and take their lead. Be a wheel-sucker, take verbal abuse if necessary, but do not pull under any circumstances. Well, I skated right into the poop. They got me. I kept the pace leisurely like they had, but it was harder because we were beginning the climb. To make matters more difficult, the masters pack in front of us was making ground, and I knew at some point were going to have to push harder and attack to regain the lead. At one point, this guy came whipping out front and stayed there for a bit maintaining what looked to be the same pace as we were. So I figured, “heh, heh, heh, sucker…I’m gonna make you pull.” I pushed it up slightly to get behind this guy just as he was bonking out. Mondieu! That wasn’t going to work, and now I’d spent some energy making mistake #2. Well, at this point, my quads were starting to burn, and that’s when the usual suspects jumped out and made their attack run on the pack ahead of us. I made a break to catch them but pushed too hard and slipped with my right skate, giving the pack that remained behind me the opportunity to drop me like a spaz with bad teeth and worse smelling breath that sits on the school bus giving people wet-willies. It looked like my goals were toast.
Well, that’s when you chalk stuff up to experience, recover quickly and remember your training. I just heard the word Tabata in my head. It became a chant. Tabata and Puz, Puz Puz. Puz is a code word I share with my home team that means it’s time to kick it into high gear. I just kept my sights on Richard Cassube’s back and pushed hard to get around the pack that had dropped me and back in line behind Richard. I caught up right at Lemondrop Hill, and was happy when the pace slowed to get up the hill. It gave me that few seconds of recovery I needed to work hard again. But the beauty part of it was, this next interval would be nowhere near as hard as the standard Tabata Protocol normally was. I knew it was going to be this way and it gave me the security I needed to navigate the top of the hill, the left turn and the transition to the highway. And that was a blessing, because there was a lot to worry about on that highway.
The transition was smooth, but it quickly became apparent that this road was very much a work in progress. The road was chewed up with those vertical strip grooves they grind in preparation of a new road surface. Combined with the rain and the usual mix of cracks, potholes, bad patching attempts, sewer drains and random square punch-out holes, and this was going to be two of the scariest miles I’d ever skated in my life. Early onto the highway, it became apparent that the lead pack would use everything it knew to shake people where they could. They were very adept and getting the pace line right over the most difficult pieces of road. I was hanging pretty tight at about 6 or 7 in line, but when we started hitting the underpasses, things got very dicey. The rest of the course was pretty well oil free thanks to the rain having washed it all away. But in the tunnels, the oil and water were just waiting for us, and people started dropping like flies. It was rough, but that lead pack kept right on going while people were scrambling all around them. At some point, someone yelled that we had 1 mile to go till the off-ramp, and that’s when all hell broke lose. I could see pretty quickly that some of these other guys who’d been hanging at the middle to back of the pack were going to now make a serious run at the win. They started taking more risks, and some of them paid dearly for it too. I had to jump out of line and over into the shoulder at one point to avoid someone who fell, and I ended up fighting for dear life to get back in line without ending up in a sewer grate or on the road. I absorbed a skate bite and kicked my butt into high gear to get back on that lead pack. I was slipping and sliding quickly to catch back up.
I got as far as getting in behind Richard Cassube again, we’re in the lower left in this pic – I’m coming in from outside, Richard is in the orange Simmons suit – which at this point was 7 or 8 back. It was then that I realized that we were coming up on the off-ramp, and that I wasn’t willing to commit to those three turns at high speed on a wet road. They had just put fresh blacktop down on the service road leading to the off-ramp, so that made it easier for a lot of folks to get up to speed and up the ramp faster, but I didn’t think a lot of them would be ready for what was waiting up there…chewed up slick road and a tight turn. I purposely went as wide as I could to avoid the falls, and manage my slide. To my surprise no one went down, but plenty were sliding out right in front of me. I jogged hard around a couple of guys and picked up a sprint over the bridge and down the other side. I came at the lead pack from a 45° angle on the downhill. I was within striking distance of the 4th or 5th spot at this point, but I also knew that this next turn was a disaster in terms of the road through the left tight corner, and the barriers jutting out on the right. Not willing to bite it, I went wide again and just slid through the turn not even attempting a crossover. That cost me, as a bunch of guys came screaming through on my left. I was distracted and worried that someone would broadside me. When I regained my courage, I started pounding the sprint again, and made up some ground, just to give it back on the last turn.
Going wide killed my top 10 placement, no doubt. By the time I was able to get my footing and make my final sprint, I’d given up about 7 spots and finished 13th.
I finished the race and heard Horseypants calling my name. There she was, standing over by the docked William A. Irvin ship. She’d just finished her first half-marathon, and she looked great! What a smile – and a sight for sore eyes. It felt so good to have her there when I finished. She’s my million dollar baby! And as it turns out, she took 9th in her age division in the half, only having trained a little over a month, in her first race, on 100mm wheels in the rain! Yes, I’m bragging. (More about the trip to Duluth as an experience and Horseypants’ race in the next post.)
We had a 2 p.m. flight to catch out of Minneapolis, so I said thanks to a couple of the guys I’d skated with, then we grabbed our Bont anniversary wheels, finisher’s shirts and made a line for the car. I poured about a quarter cup of brown water from each skate, changed my shirt and hoped in. Duluth 2010 was over. Yo…we out.
The most fun I had was all in my head. I’d done what I’d set out to do…skate and hang with the best. I had no idea that Jorge was in our group until the night before when Robert Burnson made a big deal out of it when we were chatting. I thought he was kidding, but Jorge was like, “Nope, he’s not kidding.” Nearly shite meself, thanked Robert for what was about to be a completely sleepless night and moved on. Anyway…my fun was in skating with these guys and matching their strides. Trying to keep their cadence and not fall behind. Trying to figure out what they were going to do, if they were going to break or not, then try and catch back up when they did or when I’d make a mistake and fall behind. I’ve never thought more about skating form in a race as I did in this one. I quote Joey Mantia here when I say that for me, it was, “perfect.”
I had to chuckle and shake my head a few times when the 2nd pack would make a run past our line. They’d look over and keep going. I was incredulous. Did they NOT recognize the tall blond guy in the red Bont uniform or the low form of the guy with the mean profile in the Powerslide suit? I laughed, but I guess maybe I make too much of who these guys are. After all, they’re all skaters, just like the rest of us. They LOVE this sport. All of them. There was a shared passion in that line that didn’t allow for my usual goof-off antics. They’re SERIOUS about skating. They don’t whoop it up under the overpasses, they’re too busy…skating. And that made it fun for me, to be in a pack where they train hard and show up to give it their best. Skating in line with them is the best form of instruction a skater can hope for, and I learned a lot that I’ll use to train with this year. Because doing this race and coming in 13th hasn’t filled me with an overwhelming desire to come back and win it in dry conditions next year. It’s revealed a greater truth for me. I’ve learned that I’ve forgotten how to lose. That’s a big win where I come from.
I win by losing, and I’ll continue to be the First Loser…a legend in my own mind.