Canadian Marathon Nationals

All too early, the alarm goes off… My head feels like my bearings did after the last empire series race in the rain at central park. I.e: barely turning, full of mud, crunchy, and worthy of the garbage. Contemplating the 5 hour drive ahead of me, I almost consider that terrible idea of “screwtodaysraceIneedsleepmyheadhurtz!!” but I drag myself out of bed before the alarm goes off again, and the second stage of our two tone alarm system goes off (stage one is the alarm, stage two is my wife giving me a nice swift kick across the bed to wake me if the alarm rings twice)…

Its 2:30am, as I grab my skate stuff, my usually energetic dog doesn’t even get up off the couch, she raises her head for a second, looks at me like I am freaking nuts to be up at this ungodly hour, and goes back to sleep with a contented grunt. By 2:45 I am on the road in pitch darkness, a supersize cup of crappy gas station coffee in my hand. Its Tuesday morning, and I am driving towards the Canadian border to compete in Canadian Inline Marathon Nationals. Its Canada Day today, and once I cross the border, all the radio stations I surf across are encouraging people to have a really wonderful day. My super-size cup of coffee has done little to scrub the pre-dawn mud from my mind, it was closer to dirty water than coffee, so in a patriotic spirit, I stop at one of my favorite Canadian institutions, Tim Hortons (think Dunkin Doughnuts meets Starbucks) and get another coffee and Blueberry Muffin. Aaaaah, That does the trick. Within half an hour I am singing along with the radio, munching my muffin and looking forward to racing. Thank you Tim Hortons!!

I pull into the parking lot and instantly see many familiar and friendly faces. One of the many great things about skate racing are its people. I am greeted warmly by Stephane Tremblay, Peter Douchet, Herb Gayle, Bob Tysen, Ross Hanrahn, Bob Lawrence, and others. Dennis Humpries, one of the strongest pro masters distance skaters in the US, is here as well in his new 1 piece monocoque 100mm wheel skates. They look like stolen alien technology. I am training through this race, and I am still sore and tired from the long hard workouts I have been doing recently, but warming up I actually begin to feel like myself. Its gonna be a good day. I joke with Peter Doucet (looking all shiny in his silver mogema skinsuit) at the start line that my technique goal for this race is I want to have a smile on my face the whole time, if I am not performing that technique correctly, he should yell at me. Peter is the guy to beat in the race today, he has represented Canada several times at world championships, and races respectably in the pro category in the empire speed series. On top of that he is a really nice guy and runs a great skating website.

There are maybe 30-45 skaters at the start line for the Elite Marathon. There are maybe 100 skaters total here today. Its great to see the number of skaters in the rec category. The course will be 3 small 1kilometer loops, then we go out onto a larger loop and do 3 big laps to make up the 42k total distance. It is a beautiful morning, not hot or cold. The pavement looks really nice, and I am excited to race.

The gun goes off and I lead the pack for the first 500m, then I slot into 5th place in the paceline. Since the first laps are on these 3 short loops that cross in front of the start finish area, we go quite fast, with many skaters wanting to pull the pack through the start area to wave at family and mug for the cameras. The Toronto Inline skate club folks in particular are quite active at the front, unmistakable in their orange and white tiger striped jerseys. The fringes of tiredness have disappeared from my legs, and I actually feel quite good. In fact, I feel better than I have in days. Right now, I am really glad I got out of bed. The course is full of right turns, and this twist is quite a bit of fun, especially for those like me who practice crossing in both directions!

We finish the 3 small loops and begin the first large loop. The pace slows a bit once we hit the large open farm roads that make up this course (this is a very flat race, with only a few rollers of any note), and then picks up when Said Rahim Launches the first serious attack of the day. His lead stabilized at 100m and then we gradually pull him back. Aaron Arndt tells me later that he had found out that I give a very nice draft, and he spent much of this part of the race absolutely glued to me. His nose was just about touching my Water bottle in the back pocket of my skinsuit. He said he could just squinch in low behind me, and practically coast. This, of course, is due to my general width that is more suited to hockey than speedskating.

Jordan Belchos also launced several attacks, and Dennis Humpries took some hard pulls. But the race really began to cook when Bob Tysen went to the front and pulled hard for about 5k. Single handedly, in the classic speedskating style that has won him 3 North American Ice Marathon Championships, Bob grinds the pack down to about half its size. I like Bob quite bit, and skate a good deal of ice with him in the winter. He is one of these guys that when you shake his hand, it feels like shaking hands with a pair of vice grips. He is a professional trainer and works with quite a few NHL players. I wonder if he teaches them how to skate like this? By the time he pulls off, the first lap is done and my legs are starting to fry, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, luckily, a more normal pace resumes briefly and I am able to recover.

The pace car is a minivan with the back door open, and there are several faces in the back smiling at us, watching every step of this battle, and I hope, taking a picture or two.

Attacks are starting to come very quickly now, and the pack is one long hard working line. Peter Doucet starts becoming really active and launches several attacks trying to break up the pack. Several times I have to cross gaps where people have blown and are falling off the pace. At one point, I see Peter coming from way behind the pack, winding up a good head of steam to blow by the paceline. I hop into his draft as he goes by, and catch him quickly. He charges off the front, Dennis Humphries has joined us. We are cleanly away with a good gap on the pack.

We are moving at top speed, and hit one of the right hand turns in the course going way way too fast. We carve the turn as hard as we can and barely make it, using every inch of the road. Howling with that excellent mixture of fun and fear, I yell out “now this is living” Peter smiles and keeps hammering. Aaron Arndt arrives in the back of the break, there are now 4 of us. I am starting to fry with the effort, we now have several hundred meters on the pack.

Peter does 100% of the work, the rest of us are just hanging on. Following him, I have the sensation I used to get motor-pacing on a bicycle behind a Motorcycle. Wow, does he ever have sustained speed! Peter starts to slowly pull away from me, I dig deeper, sit lower, and try to make my pushes as cleanly sideward as I can. No dice, he is just too strong and there is a 10 meter gap between us. We hit one of the few rolling hills on the course and I blow like a firework, the legs seize up like I am trying to wade through wet concrete (that is not descriptive enough, wet concrete on fire is more like it). I am sure my heart rate is in the low 200’s I motion to Aaron and Dennis to pass me and go on. Aaron hops quickly in behind Peter, Dennis can’t quite close the gap by the top of the hill, and works hard to try and catch them, but Peter and Aaron are pulling away.

I am staggering along with legs as full of oxegyn debt. Actually, it feels bad enough that it is better described as oxygen federal deficit. I look back down the road from the top of the hill and see the wreckage of the pack strewn across a long straightway, small groups and ones and twos. I see the blue empire speed skinsuit of the indefatigable Bob Tysen leading the first group of chasers. They will catch me in a minute or two. I skate easy, standing straight up and trying to get my breathing under control. I have waded at least halfway out of the concrete by the time they catch me. I sprint to hop into the paceline as it whizzes past, there are 6 of us in this group, most of whom look quite tired, fried like me. Bob pulls and pulls. My strokes are definitely not good, I am putting too much pressure on my toes, sitting too far forward from exhaustion, I almost fall crossing through a corner from too much toe pressure in my stroke. Technique, technique technique.

We slowly catch Dennis. Peter and Aaron are already completely out of sight. We are now racing for third place as we finish the second lap and start the final 13+ kilometers before the finish line. Dennis and Bob are both Empire speed team members, and are far and away the strongest of us in the break. They do the lions share of the work on this very fast, mostly mercifully flat course. They must be still hopeful of catching Peter and Aaron. Mike Murray, Allan Marcosson and I take pulls when we can, but Bob and Dennis are so strong that none of us really can contribute much. After each hard pull of theirs, my breathing is ragged. The usually strong Morgan Williams starts having frame slipping problems, so he just hangs with Ed Duncan in the back. Bob and Dennis get really mad that the other people in the break that cannot pull at the warp speeds that they are, and when they are not at the front the pace slows, and none of us want to pull through. They do not work together to try for one of them could get away and skate solo to the finish, in fact at one point Dennis has a 20 meter lead, and Bob slowly closes the gap to him, none of the rest of us are strong enough to cross gaps, although by degree, I am feeling better and my stroke is back under control and smooth. If Bob had just stood up, Dennis would have coasted away and none of us could have crossed the gap.

Mercifully, about 3k from the finish, Bob and Dennis quit working hard, probably finally accepting that we will not catch Peter and Aaron, or maybe just out of disgust at the rest of us, and the pace becomes humane. I recover and start looking forward to the final sprint. The finish line is after a long gradual downhill, leading into 100m of flat and 50m of slight uphill. It is going to be a very fast finish. I am feeling better and better the closer we get to it. As a pure sprinter, I am at a disadvantage in a marathon race in numerous places, except for right here, right now, within smelling distance of the finish. About 1000m from the line Dennis pulls off the front, I am in the lead and everyone is sitting on me, Dennis looks at me and says loudly “this is your race now Andrew”. Great, my cover is blown, now everyone knows that I am the sprinter in the pack.

Up ahead, out of our sight, Aaron and Peter are fighting out the finish for the win. Peter, respecting Aaron’s sprint, did his motorcycle impression again, and accelerated quite a few times on the run in to the finish, taking all the spring out of Aarons usually fast legs, and Peter took the well-deserved win.

Back in my group, I lead towards the line fairly slowly. With a sprinter like me in the group, guys like Bob and Dennis are better off doing what Peter did, surging and relaxing, surging and relaxing, attacking repeatedly. It will take all the spring out of a fast-twitch fellow’s legs, and level the playing field. I want to go as slow as I can until the last possible second.

We hit the slight downhill and the speed picks up naturally, at 300m out one of the Toronto inline club guys starts the sprint, I let him pass me, then I shoot through his draft at top speed and start my own charge. Dennis is right on me, then stumbles a bit and I pull away, the strokes come nice and fast, it’s hard sometimes to get good bite when sprinting near 27mph. I accelerate all the way to the line and win the bunch sprint for 3rd. Our time was quite fast, a 1:20 or so marathon. Average speed in the neighborhood of 19.6mph

I am happy as can be. This is a great result; I suddenly almost start retching from the lactic acid. I did that the first time this winter during a 1000m race, and now I seem to do it after every hard finish. Weird. This inline season has been a success beyond my wildest expectations. I never expected to skate this well in the marathons, I have taken quantum leaps in my ability since I started getting really serious with my training about a year ago. Going back to the start area, a skater gives me bad directional advice, and I skate at a wandering stagger for about 45 minutes on these quiet back roads looking for where we all parked our cars. But I am so tired and happy I don’t care, pretty place, this rolling farmland near Cambridge, Ontario.

Roller sports Canada puts on a great race, on a good course, and I took lots of time to thank the officials afterwards. Feeling quite happy on my way home, I stopped in at Tim Hortons again, for a large coffee so I could make it home on the few hours of sleep I was running on, and a dozen assorted doughnuts for a small personal gastronomic celebration on the way home (if you must know, I only ate 6). Oh Canada! Playing on the radio, life is good.

1- Peter Doucet
2- Aaron Ardnt
3- Andrew Love
4- Allan MArcosson
5- Dennis Humphrey
6- Mike Murray
7- Ed Duncan
8- Bob Tysen
9- Morgan Williams
10- Stephane Tremblay

1- Meaghan Buisson
2- Conny Strubb
3- Beth Clarke
4- Lindsay Chard