This past weekend I traveled to Minneapolis to skate in the Metrodome inline marathon (an indoor event). The event is unique in format; skaters start one by one as in a time trial, and during the race skaters can only group up with at most 4 other skaters. Because your final ranking is due to your wire-to-wire time, it can be hard to know how you did until the dust settles. However this is a small downside; there is no rain, no wind, and the surface is flat smooth concrete with reasonably good grip.
This year I finished 5th overall (results). This is my second year skating pro masters, and this year my goal is to try and move up from the middle of the pack, and be a lot more visible in the top 5 of pro masters. I think I was 2nd among the male pro masters, assuming Tom Peterson is a senior. So far so good! The finish time was 1:18 and change, a little better than last year (1:20). The first year I did the dome, I managed to squeeze out a 1:16, but that year I had a stronger more co-operative pack to work with.
Every race seems to bring new lessons. The dome was no exception. This time out I learned to hate jam. Not the P B and J kind, the kind where team skaters lay the hurt on you. More on that later…
This year the Canadians in attendance were Sara Hopkins and myself. Sara was driving back from Calgary, and wanted to catch the race on the way home. Some how she had forgotten her wheel spacers, but I had been super anal about packing my skate equipment and had a set to loan her.
Equipment wise I was happy. I recently had the ankle punched out a bit on my Bont Vapors and and the ankle gives me zero problems now. Nice. Unfortunately the heels are little loose so need to change my stride a little bit to try and avoid some of the blistering action on the sides of my heels.
The indoor concrete at the dome is something a lot of people are not sure of for wheels. I had tried to get my hands on a set of Matter Code Red or the new Lethal indoor wheels, but no joy. So I went with my Atom Firm indoor wheels, they worked well at both our rubber based indoor venue and Scooters in Toronto which is concrete based. The Atom Firm wheels are “ok”, they were a little slippy, but not out of control. It seems the MPC Black Track wheels are the best choice for this floor.
As usual local skaters Tom and Kara Peterson were the basis of the lead pack. Just like last year they were joined by David Sarmiento. Going into the race I knew that I wanted to try and get on the back of their group, if only for a couple of laps to help me edge my way up in the pro masters rankings. Not that is really mattered; this year the dome is not part of the NROC series (my whole motivation for skating US races).
I started one or two skaters ahead of Sara in the time trial start. The time trial means there is a 5 second gap between each skater starting. So on the first lap you have to work like a dog to make good time (for the final time), and to find a pack to get into, before it fills up (max of 5 skaters in a pack).
On my second lap I spotted Jack Wussler and some Rainbo skaters and clawed my way up to them. Jack is usually strong (i.e. he usually whups me), and has been my masters competition for all three of my dome outings. So I figured it was a good pack to get on to, and most likely would be the chase pack for this race.
Around the 3rd lap we passed Sara, and I was at the back so I called her over and eased up on the gas to pull her in. Once we were both back on the pack, that was pretty much the chase pack for the rest of the race. There was some shuffling; we changed up the Rainbo skaters a couple of times I think, but basically we were the chase pack.
We worked co-cooperatively, knowing that at some point we would start getting lapped by the Peterson’s and Sarmiento. At that point, all bets would be off and we could take our chances or stay in the safety of the chase pack. I think it was about a dozen laps in when the lead pack came by. They lapped us three times in the whole race, the last time was on their very last lap (lap 71), and our 2nd last lap.
As they went by, I could hear Jack behind pick up the pace and I didn’t want to get shut out by the 5 skater rule, so I sprinted hard and was able to beat Jack to lead pack. They were skating defensively though, I was on for about half a lap before Tom edged in front of me between me and Kara. Then the jamming started.
Tom slowed down gradually and started to create a gap between him and Kara, and hence between David, Kara and me. I noticed this, and then by the time I realized he was intentionally creating the gap, I tried to sprint around him, but the gap was too big, and he was a far better sprinter than I. So I had to drop back to the chase pack. But I had just learned (the hard way) about another team skating tactic.
The last team skater can try to “jam” up the other skaters either by sacrificing his own position, or if he knows he can sprint the gap he creates then he can split the group and still stay with the leaders. As I found out it can be very effective.
Later in the race they lapped us again, and the same thing happened, but this time I wasn’t waiting for a big gap to form. I moved to sprint around, and he brought up his speed to keep me from passing, and keep me skating hard on the outside of a turn. I fell back behind him, and repeated the attack a couple more times. The 3rd time I got around him, but was only on the lead pack for a half lap or so before he wedged in between me and Kara again.
Lesson number two; guard you position once you get it. I know the things I can do to guard my position, but at the time I was working hard just to recover and stay with the pack…lack of blood flow to the brain I guess!
Once again back to the chase pack.
The 3rd time they lapped us I got jammed again by Tom, and this time my legs just didn’t have the gas to get around him. But I was glad that I had tried. Regardless it added some racing fun to an event that otherwise would have been just churning out 72 laps.
Somewhere in the middle of the race, the skater at the front of our chase pack was pulling off after a good pull, but pulled off into the water chute. This created havoc as the rest of the pack switched with him. I was at the back and I didn’t notice until I realized I was skating full tilt into the slow zone of the water chute…towards the water table and volunteers scrambling to get out of the way of our pack. Fortunately there were no collisions and we were able to scooch through the chute and out the other side. It broke up our pack though, and we lost probably 30 to 60 seconds. It took about a lap and half to fully regroup.
The dome race is a little weird on water. Obviously there is no water allowed on the course, it would be too slippery if somebody spilled something. Although there seems to be no rule against body fluids. I had to lean out of the way at one point when the skater in front of me decided to clear his sinuses.
There is a mandatory water pit stop though. For this they have a small lane setup that funnels you in behind the water table, to get a grease pen marking that shows you stopped (I’ve never seen them check up on it though). Personally I think the stop should be optional for pro skaters. Skaters at that level are well aware of how to hydrate themselves before an event. I can’t imagine a pro skater not being able to survive a 42K without drinking, most of them are well conditioned for this distance.
For now though its mandatory and takes another 30 to 60 seconds off of the finish time.
At lap 66 they call your name over the PA system and let you know that you have 5 laps to go, then once again on your last lap. I never heard my name, so I skated an extra lap to be safe.
Overall it was a good race. I need to get some better sprinting to deal with jammers but it felt good to be back in a marathon after a long winter off. The overall speed was pretty average, I felt winded only on 3 or 4 laps. If I had been able to actively work with someone to battle past Tom, I think the pair of us could have broken into the lead pack and stayed there for a while. Saying is different than doing though. Every race is different, and a plan is just a list of things that never gets done.
Somewhere I should have worked a little harder. Jack beat me again, by just 2 seconds. If I had worked harder on the last couple of laps I’m sure I could have picked up the 2 seconds and bought myself 4th overall. Dang.
Next up is the Texas Road Rash. I’m looking forward to sampling some Texas BBQ! Its only a couple of weeks away April 17th, so I’m hoping to get outside and get some actual training in. Here in Ottawa the snow is mostly gone, so that should be possible…asuming it stops raining!