Back in the Saddle again

I couldn’t sleep worth a damm last night; too darn hot & my legs/back/knees were sore & complaining from self-assigned evil dryland.

At some point, tossing and turning all night turned into morning, and since I was awake anyway, might as well cool off & skate some morning ice at the Utah Olympic Oval.

All the usual suspects were there; the younger skaters all a year older & more powerful (some of them quite visibly so), and the veterans still optimistic & a delightfully long way away from mid-season burnout.

Everyone was happy to be on the skates, & beginning to put hard-earned summer fitness to use.

Here is current US junior national champ Mia Manganello leading Ron Macky, Catherine Raney & Pat Meek. A soul-train of national team ability & effort.

A lot of good technical things are going on in this photo. Mia has excellent nose-knee-toe alignment, & everyone’s glide blade is pointed right down the ice. Sure, these are very strong athletes, but it’s the controlled application of strength that creates speed.

When I mentioned Chad Hedrick in a recent post, a few people perked up in comments & said “so how’s he looking?”

He is very fit & I hear some serious determination in his voice. This year will be quite different than last.

Here is Chad, leading John Loquai, Liam Ortega, then Pat, Catherine & Mia. The previous image was about glide; this one is about pressure.

Again, the blades are pointed pretty straight down the ice, but it’s the exceptional control these athletes have that let’s them go from the glide moment to this pressure moment seamlessly.

No one can do this when they step on the ice the first time. No one. It takes a lot of work.

I think it took me about 3 years until I could feel the “pressure moment” correctly. I’m still working on the glide. It seems to go against my personality, and is the reason why I skate similar times indoor, outdoor, good ice, bad ice, etc. I just push hard & barely glide.

Here is another moment of speedskating, Liam is leading Chad & John.

At this split second Liam is driving his body forcefully into the first turn step. You can see Chad’s skates behind him beginning to lean, and John in 3rd, straight up and down.

A split second later, John’s body will be driving into the turn like Liam’s.

I bet anything that Liam’s arm swing is also out to the side a tad more than normal, so he can use it’s momentum driving across the front of his body to give a tiny extra “ommph” of directional change as he leans into the G-forces of a fast turn.

It would be easy to write endlessly about turn entry & exit mechanics, suffice it to say that tiny things like this matter more & more the higher the speeds are.

You can also clearly see the effort on their faces; the trick is technical perfection while also trying very, very hard.

Finding that balance is enough to drive a soul friggin batty.

As I am writing this, I am also I’M-ing with Kip Carpenter. He is in the hotel across the road from the Viking Ship indoor rink in Hamar, training with the DSB Dutch professional speedskating team, I included the image of Chad leading the group in our chat, and he observes:

damn,, i miss that ice

I did too. Forgot how much until I stood on it again. It’s good to be back among the tribe.

2 Greens

I kind of had an inkling that if I brought up the doping scandals in the Tour de France there would be a reaction!!

Oddly enough I wrote that before I heard that Rasmussen (the leader of the tour) had been kicked out of the race.

Thanks to all who are writing. I have some more thoughts on the subject, soon to be followed up on; right now I am chewing on what you all wrote.

But first, 2 pictures-

Urban Portland prides itself on being a “Green” city.

Like this green sign, that caused me much mirth, in the downtown district!

Forget bikes, as skaters we DESERVE our own lanes!! But interestingly enough, skateboarders are thought of in the same breath as inline skaters… hmmmm…

Less than 90 minutes drive from downton, you find coastal Oregon is not that good for skating, but it is extremely GREEN. These trees are HUGE & MOSSY.

Didn’t they film parts of the “Return of The Jedi” in places like this?

Again, more soon, I am thinking about what folks have written, & how the tour scandals are shaking out.

It’s a dark, murky, forest of a topic.

cleansed

Out for a ride, and I get caught in an incredibly refreshing afternoon downpour…

It breaks the heat, and the mood I’m in..

I want to be as far as I can from the horribly depressing news coming out of the Tour de France…

Bicycle racing is such a beautiful sport… and at the professional level, it’s being destroyed….

Baseball is going to be facing its own version of this agony in a few days, when an uber-doper breaks the all time home run record…

and the NFL is incredibly successful, at sweeping massive problems under the rug.

I try to hope that an essentially skill based sport like speedskating, it’s a lot harder to “dope to a win” when technique is such a dominant factor.

Also the elite speedskaters are tested ALL the time. Far more than any of the top American sports–

A central tour contender just had a massive positive test, and the current leader of the tour is accused of the same offence as speedskater Anthony Lobello.

Missing a test by not informing the testers of where you are, essentially is interpreted as hiding so you can dope, get freaky strong, & pee clean by the time they find you.

I don’t know Anthony personally at all, but I was paired with him for both of my 500m races last year at US nationals, and he beat me twice by tiny margins.

Was Anthony clean? I don’t know enough to say, but it adds an intriguing, personal & painful twist to all of this for me.

If he was cheating, he almost took away something that means the world to me (finally cracking the top 10 at nationals).

If he was competing clean, I feel bad for him, as being accused of something like this must be a HORRIBLE kafka-esque nightmare.

More soon, I’m actually writing this from Oregon, where I will be attending a wedding of a friend, and taking a small break from training.

2007 Draper Days

It was only a small hill, perfect for a warm-up sprint. The sensation from my legs was not snap or power, it was more like pins & needles mixed with muddy cement.

Uh-oh….

I have not recovered well from last weeks marathon, none of the SLC crowd who raced it have, and the one hard day I did this week was quite difficult (a pile of 4 minute intervals at “extra-ouch” speed, A.M. on skates, P.M. cycling hill stomps).

It’s 6:35am, already 80 degrees!?!!? what am I doing?

Today marks the 4th time Kim & Eric Kraan have put on a 5k inline race as part of the Draper Days celebration, & this year they have found some prize money for the top 3 men & women!

Arriving at the group of skaters gathering for the start, I see many of the Salt Lake usual suspects, including 3 talented faces from the ice world.

National Allaround team member John Loquai has shown up (I urged him to race this at the Bees game), and 2 good fellows I trained with last year, Michael Stein & James “Clay” Cholewinski.

Mike & Clay grew up as top inline speedskaters, and transferred over to ice a few years ago, I’ve never inlined with them, but on the ice Clay beat me in the 500m many times last year, and all 3 of these guys skate 1000m & 1500m times that I can only dream of.

A whole different challenge than last week!

24 men and 9 women are all listening intently to Kim’s last minute race instructions.

About a minute before the start, lined up curb to curb and waiting, a whole posse of cyclists wiggles through our pack. The roads are closed for this race, this is obviously about to start, but they ride right through.

Quite a few of us say something; I yell out to them:

hey, be careful, we are going to be absolutely flying past you in a few moments!

One of the cyclists looks over his shoulder, and snottily says:

oh, don’t worry, you won’t catch us!

Yeah…. right…

This point to point race feels “downhill” most of the way, even though it does not lose much elevation by the finish. There is a strong cross-tailwind blowing; I make a mental note of the direction as it relates to the finishing straightaway & the tactical implications.

A minute later, the gun goes off & the stampede begins.

After 50 meters, Uel Archeuletta does the same thing he did last year, and charges hard into the lead.

He gets about 30 meters ahead & Mike Stein takes up the pursuit. I slot in behind Mike and the whole pack is roaring on our heels through the fast downhill.

Uel is quickly up to top speed, and ripping through the course at over 40+mph (verified by Brian Oswald’s GPS).

We pass the cyclists just before the first hard right hand turn. Tucking like skiers we whip past them & lean hard using every inch of asphalt.

The speed is crazy fast. Mike has pulled back Uel. We hit another warp speed turn and for a split-second Mike stumbles slightly & I am too close & too fast to avoid if he goes down.

But he saves it like a pro, passes Uel and starts pushing hard as the road levels out.

About 2k in, and I feel like I’m not really skating hard yet. This is good.

Mike pulls, then I take my own turn on the front, arcing a rather conservative line through a fast right hand turn, snapping right hand crossovers through the exit to make those behind me work a bit harder. Reminding myself of how I feel, I quickly pull off after about 30 seconds of pulling

A good thing, because John Loquai takes over, The road is a long “false flat” & and John pushes it hard.

As a sprinter, it’s a very subtle part of tactics to intentionally “lose” spots in the line, sliding backwards from the front, before you actually get to the front. Skipping your turn to pull yet remaining close to the head of affairs.

It’s easier to do in a swarming peloton of cyclists than a long line of skaters.

However I feel crusty enough, & remembering Eric Kraan’s comment from my Napa post, I slide back & skip my turn without much guilt. I’m breathing hard, but not outrageously so.

I glace backwards to see who is left, in a split second I see

Inacio’s Afro wildly flying from the edges of his & gold/silver helmet-
Stephanie Combs is there –white teeth clenched & focus on her game face,
a person I don’t recognize (Brian Oswald, who raced the Montreal 24-hour race last weekend)
& then Clay at the back, I grimly take note of the effort etched into his sandy hair & blue eyes.

The lead changes a few times, still fast. We are maybe 3.5 K into the race. John stands up & pulls off, Uel does not pull through (he has done a lot by now), and the whole group coasts for maybe 30 seconds, drifting across the yellow line & into the opposite lane. No one wants to lead.

Finally John picks it up again, Uel is on him, they are shoulder to shoulder accelerating into the final turn, then it’s a 1000m straight shot to the finish.

I’m following those two close like white on rice, I feel Clay & Mike on me equally fast. We are coming into the final left turn.

Clay is looking past us, he doesn’t know if the final turn is left or right, he sees a traffic cop gesturing & leans to the right at exactly the moment the three of us lean hard left & John punches the warp speed button. Clay accidentally curves way out of the pack & out of contention.

John skated the long track world cups this past season, he is a frighteningly strong & determined athlete, no matter if it’s wheels or ice-

his effort drops the tired Uel, and gaps me by 15 meters. now! Now!! NOW!!!

I’m ripping with everything I’ve got, I claw back up to him meter by meter. I slot back into his draft & take stock. A quick glance behind us & we have a solid gap, I hazily see a reddish skinsuit chasing hard (Mike Stein) but it’s just us two & 700 meters till the finish.

John knows I’m there. He keeps the speed impressively fast, probably 27+mph in the strong cross-tailwind.

He knows he’s got to crack me before the line.

I hang in, wait, wait, wait.. hmmm, John’s got a good double push for an ice guy.

These hypnotic feet flashing in front of me, the white team Rollerblade skinsuit & full kit…. Focus… wait….. wait… .

Suddenly there is the finish chute ahead!!! last year there was a huge banner saying “FINISH”!! I can’t see where the line is!!

I’ve left it too late!! I pull out of John’s draft and start sprinting; trying to stay relaxed as I dump everything I’ve got through 8 tiny spots of urethane gripping the asphalt.

How many years have I practiced? To be able to do this one thing?

Amazingly John lifts his speed again, for four or five steps we are shoulder to shoulder, then suddenly he cracks (he’s human after all!), and I reach the finish line about 6 meters ahead.

5k in 7:20:85, John only .84 behind me.

That’s an average speed of 25.4 mph for 3.1 miles, (calculated here) & over 21 seconds faster than my 5k PB on ice!

It’s oddly appropriate that in the finish line photo, I’m a blur, as my own vision was so blurry from speed & effort, I never saw the actual line itself.

You can see the results, in the middle of this long web page

Last year when I finished first, it was a joy-explosion through lactic fireworks. Last year truly hurt, & the resulting emotion was extremely powerful. This year I’m 13 pounds lighter than I was 12 months ago, far areobically fitter, and oddly feel more satisfaction writing now than I did at the focused moment.

Slowing down & looking at John, heaving & with his arms on his knees (he gave himself a nice case of the 1500m cough/hack from his effort). We shakily high-five & start talking tactics as other skaters hurtle through the finish chute in a blaze of speed.

I apologize to John for playing sprinter games, he says we both had to do what we did, race our strengths, & he did drop every other sprinter except me!

Here are a few smiling faces immediately post-race, from Left to Right, Paul Narhwold, Mike Stein, Stephanie Combs, James “Clay” Cholewinski, Steve Johnson.

After about half the skaters have finished, someone comes rushing up to me and says:

“hey! those stupid cyclists caused a whole bunch of us to crash in that first, fast corner, one of them did something stupid, and Uel jr. swerved, hit a traffic cone & crashed. He is on his way to the hospital.”

Jessica is skating her first 5k today! She is still on the course!!

I hover anxiously near the finish cute till I see her gliding in with a smile on her face.

Steve Johnson and Alejandra Mates display the results of the asphalt kiss. Both raced fast even with a crash; Alejandra popped back up to take 2nd in the womens race!

The fact that both were still smiling is probably due to a combination of great attitude, endorphins, & general post race bliss.

On the left is Inacio Lopez of the aforementioned fearless ‘fro, & Uel Sr, about to leave & see how his son is (a split lip & lots of road rash).

To finish this post, I want to thank Eric and Kim Kraan from SkateNow for putting the race on. Talking afterwards with Eric, he says:

Yaknow, putting on a race is like playing Jazz, it looks doable, but it’s only when you try playing you fully realize how hard it is to do; and how much respect Jazz musicians deserve.

It’s also pretty obscure & thankless too!

Here is the line of winners, all with checks in their hands! A huge thanks to Mark Western at Access Mortgage!

from left to right we have:

Alejandra Mates
Stephani Combs
Brittney Heise

Mike Stein (impersonated here by Paul Narhwold, as Mike & Clay left to go ride their bikes up a mountain with their training group)
John Loquai
& Yours truly
(sporting some serious helmet-head).

Find your Groove pt. II

After last night’s minor league baseball game filled with skate-talk, the next morning, I’m at Sugarhouse park for an easy inline skate, who should I see also there training but the US national sprint team!

It’s hypnotic to watch elite skaters on the ice during the Olympics & world champs, to see their seemingly effortless application of power.

However, it’s brutal hill runs like what these guys were doing today, that creates foundation that the illusion of effortless flight is built on.

The fellow in the blue shorts is Joji Kato, a Japanese skater who until this march held the world record in the 500m. In the white T-Shirt is Tucker Fredericks, who won the world cup overall in the 500 last season.

This is about as serious as fast twitch skating firepower gets!

But that does not mean much, when it’s you, the hill, & knowing the guys you want to beat are all training as hard as you are, on other hills, all over the world.

Here is Beckah Bradford. Just her, the hill, & lots of explosive, intense low-walks on today’s menu.

On this sprint, young gun Mike Blumel leads the group, then Tucker, Joji, Tyler Goff, and on the far right, out of retirement, Nick Pearson. Chris Needham was also doing sprints, & I could feel him whoosh by on my left, as I took pictures across the right side of the hill.

I wanted to run with them, to match them fast twitch fibre-to-fibre. But I did not have real shoes with me, just bike shoes & my inlines. So I was a just spectator. As an extremely competitive person, I could say it was harder to watch them run than to be running with them,

but as much as these guys were hurting by the end-

That would be a lie.

One my favorite posts I’ve ever written is called “Find Your Groove” & it’s all about hill sprinting. These guys have groove.

I have not done hill running sprints once so far this year. Will I ever get my groove back?

As I rode home & left the park, just as the sun was turning it’s rays to “fry” intensity, I cross paths with a very fit looking Chad Hedrick, in his own inline groove, doing some seriously fast hill stomps with a friend on a bike.

We are all drawn here to Salt Lake, like bees to a hive, for so many reasons. Tomorrow I race a 5k on inlines, then afterwards, am going to go to the oval & skate ice for the first time this year.

Gone to the Bees

It’s a beautiful summer evening for….

a minor league baseball game!! a couple of skate-tribe friends casually mentioned they might go. So Jess and I rode our bikes to this absolute jewel of a park, to watch the AAA Salt Lake Bees.

I think there might be no sport more different from long track ice than baseball-

Lets think of some attributes-

winter, ice, solo, electronically timed, steel bladed shoes, brutal effort, you travel fast, coaches yell clear words & numbers

vs.

summer, grass, team, no time limit, leather gloved hands, pastoral contemplation, you throw things fast, coaches use mysterious silent hand signals.

We go to the ticket counter, and ask for seats in the shade, $16 later, we get our randomly assigned seats, wander up to the stands and sit down next to

ALL SORTS OF SPEEDSKATERS!

Bottom row: short trackers Cherise Wilkins & Sonia Milan, then LT-er Ron Macky.
Top row: Jessica, Matt Hotchkiss, John Loquai, & Nate Defranco & his girlfriend

It was nice Chatting with Cherise, we know many people in common from the Rochester skate tribe & even though we had never actually met, we had been to each other’s websites.

Skating is a very small, very weird world.

The baseball game was very exciting, the beer & nachos & home runs flowed, and conversation ranged from how they pick the world cup team, to training, to what kinds of beer cans make the best beer can pyramids (there were was an expert architect in attendance who shall remain nameless).

Not only does he have one of the best “pain faces” in the entire skating world, no one can sing take me out to the ball game like Ron Macky, seen here resplendent in his Milwaukee Brewers hat & jersey.

You can take the man out of Wisconsin, but never can take the Wisconsin out of the man, or baseball from your heart once it’s there.

We never did cross paths with the folks we intended to, but they saw our locked bikes & left a note.

Once part of a subculture, always part of a subculture!

Photos from Napa

These images are courtesy of Darlene Prois, thanks!

for larger versions (I did a bit of cropping), click on the images for full size originals.

As my body slowly recovers from the damage of a marathon, it’s wonderfully strange to look at the difference between memory & the objective proof of a photo.

Here is one thing my memory still can’t quite wrap around, Knut in his crazy skinsuit & areo fishtail helmet.

It’s worth saying that the skinsuit did not really look like this, as he moved the light was reflected in a constantly changing pattern from it… It was kind of like multi-colored trippy disco-ball. I was behind him during the race for a few moments, it was quite dazzling.

Here was the start; clearly visible is my open-mouthed “holy crap!!” reaction to racing in a big pack again! The eventual winner, Mike, is on the far right, with a very ice looking long track complete extension to his push.

A good view of the course, it rolled & rolled.

The breakaway of 5, working hard.

Grant Foster in Front, Followed by Andy Zak, Mike Anderson, Myself, & Rob Motta hidden behind us.

As I am fond of quoting

“it never gets any easier, you just go faster”
-Greg Lemond

I think the expression on Mike’s face proves this. Remember, when I say he was the “strongest” in the race, that doesn’t mean he did not work incredibly hard while applying this strength.

Here I am leading the breakaway on the hill, I actually wrote about this moment, as I looked up while skating & noticed photgraphers in an open backed minivan.

We must be near the top as I am double pushing. You can actually clearly see that I am “pulling” the legs together like scissors, helping add oomph to the underpush.

Gosh, I am so friggin pale compared to the other guys! At the back of the group is Rob Motta in the blue, he did a ton of leading this day, and it’s only odd chance that the published photos show him in the back!

In marathons, groups of similar ability skaters tend to gather & skate together. Here is a bunch of rec skaters on a nasty hill a mile or two from the finish. You really don’t need expensive equipment & flawless technique to skate a marathon, it’s a very open sport.

I want to end this with a thought to accomplished inliners. If you wonder about who the largest sponsor of big marathons is, it’s folks like this.

The vast majority of attendees at marathons are rec skaters. Their own personal battles & reasons they skate, turned into race entry fees, make these events financially possible. Without them, there would be no outdoor racing worth spit.

Many advanced skaters understand this, but some don’t.

So when you are speaking to an intermediate/rec skater, answer every question about training or equipment, be encouraging, be kind, keep that sparkle in your eye and the memory of all the folks who have helped you in your thoughts, because honestly, you are speaking to one of your sponsors.

The sport will be stronger for it.

The Wrath of Grapes

really, it’s the Napa Valley Inline marathon, but Tim made a comment that I just keep laughing with every time I see it. This is quite the first person narrative, but in a marathon, it’s hard to watch others.. I am posting from a sandwich shop in Winnemaca, Nevada

147+ skaters toe the start line, men & women, half marathon & full marathon.

A solid mass of humanity dissipating nervousness through catching up with old friends & affirming the full-spectrum plethora of reasons the skate tribe gathers at events like this. I cross paths with the “pocket rocket” Grant Foster for the first time in years, old friends from the skate tribe are enduring.

The air is quite cold, the sun casting slanting light onto the floor of the Napa valley.

Skaters warming up for the race do loops in the few patches of sun.

I have not done an inline race of this caliber & size for five years. I feel really good, but it’s a good untested against anyone other than a handful of salt lake training partners.

The godfather of skating (at least in California), David Miles, calls us to the start.

147 people aswirl within themselves, from all over the USA!

NYC, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Alaska & even Shanghai, on their toes, ready to react.

GO!!

The massive pack swarms off the line, some crazy competitive like me, others just out to enjoy a sunny skate with friends on an outstanding course.

This races travels along a constantly rolling road, with occasional true hills tossed in. It’s a straight out skate for 6.55 miles, then a 180 turn back to the start-finish. The half marathon finishes there, the full marathon turns around & does it again.

I’ve written about Mike Anderson before on this blog, he & I had a very intense duel last year at Masters Nationals. He’s a nice guy, as well as being extremely strong, an “allskater” who understands the advantages of combining ice & inline in his training.

Immediately Mike hits the front along with 2 other skaters in full Bont team-getup. They get the party started in warp-speed style.

Quickly the pack thins to 20 who can skate the consistent 24+ mph speeds. I’m relaxed in about 5th place, & I can feel the jostling & swarming behind me.

In the second set of rolling hills, Andy Zak takes the lead and starts pulling hard in the power-packed ice centric style that shows his 10 years of 5k-10k world cup stud/long track ice national team (ice to inline!!) experience, one by one skaters are falling away.

Now there are 15…..

I actually have a moment of guilt, listening ot the sounds of painful, ragged breathing behind me, as I feel completely relaxed & fantastic, not hurting at all, & rolling fantastically well.

I briefly see my buddy Uel, as the pack surges along one side of the road, he is in new boots and his shins are locking up. He is a phenomenal skater, knows many of the California crowd, but today Uel does not look happy.

I take my turn pulling the pack hard through one of the few flats in the course. The sun is now truly shining into the valley, and we round a corner to a view of walls of fog curling away from low-lying areas. Does Napa valley fog taste of grapes?

Another “pocket rocket” Rob Motta Jr, in the blue team SAFE colors, takes several hard pulls through another set of rolling hills. The pack is down to 8, a skater in an Ohio jersey steps in front of me, then Knut Skarpass in his wrist-to-ankle glittery suit & an aero-fishtail helmet. I pass them both on a hill. I’m breathing steady-hard now, but still feeling fantastic.

We hit the turnaround, 6.55 miles in, someone hollers that we do it in 17-something, given the hills, that’s freaky fast. After the turnaround, and now going back up the course, I see scatted packs & individuals & flashes of faces from the Salt Lake city crowd.. Uel has been dropped, having suffered complete shin-lock, Eric Lineback is leading a big group with his game face on. Brittany Heise & Uel Jr. are both looking strong on their way to winning their categories in the half-marathon.

After the turnaround, Mike puts some pressure on. Opens up a gap on our group with Andy Zack in tow. I holler “watch for the Bont block, lets organize the chase.”

Ohio-jersey takes a pull, but the gap does not close, then Grant Foster stomps up a hill & bridges up to Mike and Andy. Crap, that’s the move!

Now it’s 5 chasing 3 in front. They have a 50 meter gap.

But there is a moment, when the 3 in front are on a flat, and I see them stand up & look at each other for briefly & slow the effort. I go to the front, accelerate as hard as I can and close the gap in a minute or two of hard work.

3 more are dropped by these attacks. Now there are 5 of us left in front, The speed feels great but this hurts now. I focus on technique & efficiency, consciously trying to relax the gnawing pain in my lower back. Gotta love marathons.

The 5 of us settle in and work effectively together. No one skips any turns pulling, and I happen to lead the group through the halfway turnaround to the cheers of volunteers at what will become the finish line 13 miles from now.

The five of us are working smoothly & strongly, the speed is still quite high. We are all working hard, but Mike looks awfully relaxed, & I can sense him patiently gathering energy.

Somehow, the head of a race always “feels” different after the defining selection has been made, it’s a focused & nervous energy. Concentration & power, & you can feel the energy coming from the scattered spectators “oooh, here comes the leaders”. Often it’s a lot quieter in the front than in chase packs, more focus, less chatter.

Is this what a tour de France breakaway feels like? Probably not even close, but it’s the closest I will ever know. A wordless ethic of shared suffering & effort. We are all driving hard with no break in the skating position. If I can make it to the final kilometer in this quintet, I’ve surely got the strongest sprint.

But the finish is still a long, long way away, and Grant & Mike know my fast-twitch nature.

I take a long pull up a hill & notice a van in front of us with its back open, cheering people with video cameras taping. Cops manning intersections smile & wave. The bear has now climbed onto my back with teeth & claws out; I’m breathing hard & can start to feel the first cracks in power, push & technique.

We are eating up the miles at a steady clip. I don’t know if we are being chased by any large groups, I’ve never looked back, everything is focused on driving up the road.

The asphalt is mostly excellent, but there are a few cracks & rough patches, lighter skaters like Grant, Andy & Rob get bounced around in stuff Mike and I just are bulling through.

We hit the turnaround for the final time, 19.65 miles into the marathon, 6.55 to go. Mike decides NOW!!!. With Grant following he goes to the front on a false flat and starts ripping.

His wheels make a huge whooshing sound as his long legs crank out his maximum sustained power. He’s not a sprinter, this is his gift, this is what he works so hard to be able to do.

Faster, faster, faster,

I don’t know how long this goes on, my memory is like crinkled video-tape broken from race-inflicted brain damage. The world narrows to Grant’s flashing ankles in front of me as tunnel vision sets in (Mike told me later, he kept glancing back between his legs and thinking “Crap, they’re still there!”).

I’m burning like a meteorite cracking to pieces, no quarter asked for, none given,

On a small rise Grant inches away, then he is 10 feet ahead. I look back and don’t see anyone behind us, it’s down to 3.

A thought occurs to me “I’m a sprinter, I don’t belong here” that mental lapse precedes my physical collapse by an instant & I am finally broken, smooth technique becoming clomping skates, Grant and Mike Motor away.

I try to compose myself, can I turn staggering back into skating?

Andy Zak catches up to me. We both have fundamentally ice-brewed, low tempo, power & glide ice technique, one-arm swing up the hills & hip fall into each stroke. But he is still skating well and I’m in a world of hurt.

I try to share the work, but he is stronger, I cling into his draft for a mile, maybe 2, hoping to recover, I try to take a pull, do my share, but have nothing (Andy said later that just by listening to my breathing rate, he could tell I was a mess).

Small rises I popped effortlessly over earlier seem like vertical walls I’m dragging myself over with my fingernails. After repeated fingernail drags, I have no fingernails left, a nice full-body terminal burn sets in.

And even on the flat I can’t hold onto Andy’s draft. He motors away in pursuit.

Far up ahead I see Mike on his own, climbing a hill with unstoppable tempo, Grant foster is sitting up, he’s looking back at the Zak train catching him.

I’m in 4th on the road, Rob Motta in his team S.A.F.E. blue must be chasing me back there somewhere, plus I know that in marathons like this, there are usually big packs eating up the miles through sheer weight of numbers.

From never looking back during the first 22 miles, now I’m glancing over my shoulder every minute.

The final 4 miles are some of the hardest I have ever skated. I try recovering then increasing the speed, sitting low, sitting high, high tempo, low tempo, nothing works. I know every trick in the book, but sometimes the book is no help..

By now I am passing some of the slower rec skaters finishing the half-marathon. On a downhill, I zip past a zaftig woman in bright clothing, uncertain on her rec skates. I yell “You go girl!” and she answers with the biggest yodel-howl of joy I have heard in a long time.

Fun, this is fun!

Miraculously I struggle through the final miles with no one catching me. Racing is sometimes a game of small percentages, and whatever I had that let me cling onto Andy for that brief mile pulled me clear of Rob & whatever groups were chasing.

Sweat has poured from my helmet into my sunglasses, the world is a soupy blur, the morning chill has turned into an insistent heat.

I’ve rarely ever been so grateful for a finish line. Here is a link to the results.

*********
An hour later, at a wine tasting across the road from the finish line, another skater asks me “Hey, what hurts worse? Ice or inline?”

Although there is nothing quite like the pure lactic brutality of a long track 1500m when you really go for it, all skating, when you are determined enough to crack through the limits of what you can do, asks you hard questions about yourself.

When you find that answer that has no words, just that internal knowledge of perseverance, it’s satisfying. All skating is as hard as you & the racecourse make it.

(and yes, wine tastes better after 26+ miles)

*********

At the awards ceremony, I did not expect to be on the podium, as I finished in 4th place, but Mike had registered himself in the master’s category, so even though he was the overall winner. He was not on the Pro-elite podium. It just seemed wrong that he was not up there with Andy, Grant, & Myself

So as piles of people gathered around with cameras to take pictures of the top-3 pro-elite, the three of us called out to him in unison, saying “hey, come on Mike, get up here!”.

Stuff like this is one of the reasons I love this sport.

***************

California note:
Every state in the USA has its own character, and part of California’s is the folks who live & skate there.

There is a fellow who is famous for skating inline events backwards! I saw him, or at least his wiggling butt, out on the course, and I got to meet a guy who skated the whole race on his one wheel skates!

They actually work, he keeps two feet on the ground, and snakes his way along. I asked him how well they work, he said “slow, and check out my website, one wheel skate”

I looked & could not find it.

It takes all kinds, and California seems to have many of them.

Napa & the Ocean

After crossing the furnace known as Nevada, the Napa valley in California arrives a sudden & lush paradise, overwhelming the senses.

Rolling hills & variegated corduroy vineyards flow past, the vibe is easy like a good merlot, and a brief tune up skate on the roads for tomorrow’s marathon feels great.

This is Uel Archuetta, hauling through terrain typical for this region.

Its too bad money doesn’t grow on trees, or speedskates in vineyards.

Heck, with the amount of genetic engineering & scientific creativity this country focuses on problems- lets get someone to grow skates! Or at least grow affordable wheels!

After our tune-up skate, we drove the hour+ from Napa to pay homage to the pacific ocean. Warmth & rolling green replaced by a sharp cold, mist, jagged rocks & happy surf dogs, enjoying themselves more than their frozen bipedal keepers

And plentiful marine life, somewhat larger than dogs, or humans, watching with great interest from the waves, almost calling out to us-

“come on in, the water’s fine!”

on a misty, freezing northern California beach (it’s july!!) staring for a split second into the liquid eyes of a mammal bigger than me -

It’s just another speedskating road trip full of things I might never have seen if I hadn’t laced up skates.

muenchnerbladenight & a video

I will probably be out of blog-touch for a few days, I’m heading to California in 15 minutes to race my first inline marathon in quite a few years. I could skate really well or really badly, there will be no middle road.

Anyway, Marion Wohlrab is a german coach who has worked in the US for some time, and many skaters know her well. She is back coaching in Germany and just sent me a fascinating email that I will reprint in full-

hi andrew,

saw the article about blade nights on your page… thought i’ll drop you a line and send you another link
www.muenchnerbladenight.de

it’s munich’s blade night. 6000 to 15000 participants! pretty cool but with the German weather they sometimes need to be cancelled.

Me and my team will take part on july 30th. 15k and the route will be going right through “Muenchen Schwabing” on the Leopoldstrasse. it’s the see and be seen street in munich. We have already done it last year and it was a blast!

good luck and good to hear that it was a friendly freckl

marion

See, even hard core ice-teams like those Marion coaches do fun inline skates!

The second thing I am mentioning is that I was an “early adopter” of video on the internet. However he company I originally went with has lost out to YouTube, so I am transferring a whole pile of videos from them to “the Tube”.

Here is one of the very first videos I ever did on this blog, and even though I am a lot better now (and have more bandwith to play with too, thanks to many of my readers), it’s still one of my favorites.

So many athletes in this, who went on from this race to the Olympics, retirement, or are still flying blade-first down the ice.
This was the US single distance championships, October 21-24th, 2005.