Marathon Chicago Style

The Chicagoland marathon has come and gone.  I went down for the marathon, but there was actually a whole weekend of events.  Team Rainbo really went all out and created full weekend of racing.   Sprints on Friday, time trials and 10K races on Saturday and then “the big show” on Sunday.  There was a lot of buzz and everyone seemed to really enjoy the format.

Overall my race went well, it was kind of a slow race but racing isn’t always about the raw speed.    Final ranking for me was 13th among the pro masters (finish time of 1h 18m 13sec  ~32kph).  I should have placed higher, but wasn’t positioned well going into the final turn before the lead up to the finish line.  More details below…


As an event Chicago is awesome not just because the venue is great and the organizing efforts are well done, but its easy to get to.  The flight there is and hour and a half, very tolerable, and you can get a flat rate cab from the airport straight to the hotel, from which you can then skate to the start line.  This is my kind of race!   Being extremely nearsighted I’m not allowed to drive, so races like Badger or Nappa are just not an option for me :(

I don’t really get nervous about a race before, but at the start line I have no shortage of adrenaline.  I almost feels like I’m vibrating with skating energy, as soon as we go though, my focus is 100% on the race, and nothing else, no worries about work, or anything else, just…race!

The only difference about this event leading up to it, was that this time I tried carb loading through the week.  Lots of pasta, and by Thursday my legs literally felt like they wanted explode.   It seemed to help, I felt really good in this race, a lot better than in prior races this summer.  Ofcourse having had some sleep the night before helps a lot. :)

The other changes that I’ll be making based on this race;  I usually don’t drink during a marathon, I stopped bringing fluid last year sometime.  But you know, now I think I’m going to reverse that and carry fluid again.   During this race I found that fluid helped near the end, and even if not a physical aid, the psychological benefit it huge.  It at least makes you feel like your ready for me.  So next race, I’ll be packing some extra juice.

The other thing is my focus on weight; through the season I’ve been trying to drop my weight to 160lbs.  The mortality charts say I should be at 166lbs, but my body fast percentage is still pretty high around 15%, so I’ve been trying to push down to 160.  But I think I’ve been burning muscle :( Its tough to diet and try to train at the same time.   In the last couple of weeks I’ve eased up on the dieting, and I’ve immediately felt stronger and more ready for training and racing.  I think I’m just going to have to accept that 160lbs is a goal for 2010, not for 2009.

Anyways, the racing action!  No GPS graph this time around, I have a graph, but its missing a 3km segment so its incomplete.  I think what happened was that while we skated in a train, someone was pushing from behind and clicked the start/stop button, and then it happend again 3km later.  There was a lot of pack pushing because this course has a lot of hills.  Actually a very technical course compared to others.

Overall the course is awesome, it features lots of turns in both directions, lots of hills, and the pavement is in good condition throughout.  Plus, the whole area surrounding the start/finish is a loop where spectators can hang out and see the action during the marathon, and then take a few steps to see the big finish.    The course is entirely closed, so no traffic to deal with :)

Minor complaints about the course; the north east loop was not swept, there was sand on the corner and every time through that little loop we were sliding through the corner.  It might have been that some previous skater took a dive on the inside of the corner…and kicked up sand, don’t know.  The other issue is the concrete divider in the middle of the road.  Its actually a low profile rumble strip.  Several skaters made the mistake of skating on top of it thinking it was just concrete.  I saw it happen in our pack, the skater (Niko) recovered though and there was no fall.  Other skaters were not as lucky :(   Maybe some cones placed on the rumble strip at intersections would help remind skaters to stay off it.

The skaters; The pro masters and pro veterans were grouped together, and in that group there was lots of potential for a fast race.  Fellow Canadians Morgan and Benoit were there, Tony Muse, Chris Rojo and Niko Ramkissoon are all guys that I know to be great sprinters, either by word of mouth or by direct experience :)    Among the veterans Herb Gayle was there and I’ve skated with him in many races and know well that he has the legs for a big finish.   So lots of potential for a fast race.

I talked to Benoit and Morgan before the race, I don’t skate on their team (iL Peloton), but with so many sprinters we were agreed that if we could do anything to wear them down early we should try.  Especially with Tony at the line.   I wasn’t there the whole weekend, but from I hear Tony was in top form the whole weekend (and in fact he won our race as well).

The start wasn’t too big a shock, I was a couple of lines back and after we took off I was able to move up to mid pack pretty easily.  There didn’t seem to be too much urgency as yet.  A little further down the course I cruised to the front, things were packed pretty tight so I went on front and gave Herb some draft (he was pulling at the time).  I did a comfortable tour and rotated back.

Little later I came up again to see if I could move up.   Hernan (for whatever reason) decided to give me a 4min + lecture on how there was obviously no room at the front and I should go to the back until I learn to skate.  Honestly, I have no idea what triggered this.  I hadn’t made any attempt to break into the pack, separate any team members, or clicked skates with anyone, I was just skating up to look for a spot or go to the front (although two minutes into his speech I clicked skates with someone slightly because I was so distracted by him).

From my perspective Hernan was griefing me for no reason.  Later in the second lap, Hernan was outside the pack…guess who let him in?  :)   I didn’t get any grief after that.  To his credit Hernan (a veteran skater) did more pulls up front than some of the masters guys who weren’t doing any work at the front at all.

Beyond that, the first lap was pretty normal, there were a couple of attacks, notably Niko went on a BIG break away attempt on one of the two big up hills on the way back from the far end of the course.  I came up on front a little after he took off, and paced a little higher but didn’t sprint after him, I didn’t see a need, I was pretty sure we would reel him in within the next few klicks (and we did).

Benoit and Morgan were working good together to attack on the hills.  The pack responded pretty good though.  Well into the second lap (its a three lap course), the whole group was together.  Into the second lap and third lap the group started to thin out a lot more.

Working together is a big deal; for skaters  at least a break away is a LOT easier if you have one or two people to work with.   There were at least two instances where we missed out on possible breakaways.  During the second lap one of the guys up front went on a break (I *think* it was a Team Safe guy), but no one went after him.  I came up front after a bit to pull and in the next couple of klicks we reeled him in.  When we caught him he said “I went but no one came with me”.  All I could say was I wasn’t at the front at the time.  If I was and had seen him go I might have gone with him!

The second lap saw more surges and attacks, some of the other skaters came up front and did some good attacks (and continued to through the rest of the race).  When we caught them though, the typical masters situation happened; not enough guys willing to push the pace so everyone stands up, and rolls…the group collects itself and we repeat… I personally find this frustrating at times, and I know it was frustrating to others…Benoit and one of the other skaters exchanged some words over it :)

The race pace overall was actually kind of slow.  You can see in the results that Tony finished in just over 1:18 and the rest of us came in less than 20sec later.  The course was technical,  and the hills were actually hills, but even still I think a 1:16 or better should have been very achievable.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it helps to point fingers and say that some skaters aren’t working hard enough in the pack.  The fact is our group is small in numbers, and there just isn’t enough skaters to keep the pace up.  To be fair, many of us are or will be on teams, and if your attack fails, you have no incentive to help other teams.  Still, I personally think we should all be working to “race” and not just skate.

Half back on the second lap, I got to skate with Allan again (see my Canada Day report). Him and a Team Safe guy pulled in front of me to take over the pull as we headed up  the hill on Huntington.   For some reason we actually had a mini breakaway going on the hill.  At the top of the hill the pack caught up with us, but I think this was another missed opportunity.  If I had asked those two for help on a breakaway, maybe the three of us could have gotten some distance on the pack, or at least worn down the sprinters a little bit.  But I didn’t say anything, and nothing happened.  :(

So another lesson learned, talk, communicate, form alliances.   Even if only temporary, this can help your race, and if nothing else just make the race more fun.

A little further on I was pulling again,  and coming up to the north east loop (the one with the sand), I actually turned left instead of right!  My brain must have been short on blood! I heard the pack yelling and immediately knew I was pooched unless I did some quick skating.  I circled around, and hammered it to get back up to the guys at the front.  Fortunately just as my legs were giving out and the lead guys were coming out of the final corner of the loop they slowed up again, and I slid in behind Benoit (I was second from front).

The slow race pace helped me catch up, but my legs definitely burned some gaz getting myself back into the lead group.   The third lap was a tough one for me, I was feeling fatigue throughout the whole third lap, where I’m sure others guys were feeling tired but not that worn down.

Other than that the second lap was great because Cale Carvell grabbed extra water at the water stations and passed an extra bottle or two around, I was on the receiving end of one of them (another one I passed back to skaters behind me), thanks Cale!  After the race I saw pictures of Cale with bandages and apparently a lot of road rash…not sure what what happened, but I do know that on the second lap at one of the small turns we did a tight 90 counter clockwise, and I heard a skater behind me yell “shit!” and then I heard some stomping towards the curve.   I have no idea if it was Cale or not, but I didn’t see his name in the finish list.

The third laps was more surges, I was spending a lot more time mid pack now, my legs were feeling really worn down and with surge it just wasn’t getting any easier.  Note to self, work on foot speed!  By the time we came up to the final turn before the lead up to the finish line, I was well back in the pack.  At this point there just wasn’t enough time (or gaz in my legs) to get to the front before the final turn.  I could see it coming but just couldn’t see a way to get there :(


So as we made the final turn the guys at the front kicked it, and I put the hammer down as well but there was just no way to close the gap, they were easily 30-40m in front of me.  I hammered anyways, caught and passed a couple of guys, and kept hammering right to the line, I passed one last skater at the line and then put my hands on my knees to recover!

As I was rolling towards the registration area, one of my legs were so fatigued that I  just lost control, and twitched…this caused me to lose my balance and I flopped and rolled on the pavement.  No damage to speak of but embarrassing :(   As I was getting up, Lenny skated by with a nod and a Quick Finish comment :)   Indeed! GPS says I was doing 42kph over the line…a pretty decent sprint for me, especially since the finish is on a slight uphill.

So even though my placing wasn’t so great this time out, I had a great race, I spent a lot of time at the front pulling and doing my share, I responded well to the surges, and I was always looking for chances to move up in the pack and tried to consistnetly keep myself near the front.  I do need to work on foot speed though and I think I need to be more communicative and see if I can get myself into some co-operative breakaways :)

Full results have been posted, and picture galleries are starting to appear (here and here).  Peter (as always) is pretty quick to link to things, so check out his as well.

A collection of videos has been posted over at inline planet.  The pro masters/vetran finish video:

Find more videos like this on Inline Planet Skater Network

After the race I couldn’t stick around for the awards, I had to cheese it to make my flight back home.  I would have liked to have stayed, but my life is pretty busy right now (two jobs, skating, volunteering etc.) and unfortunately this one was a skate and run deal :)


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3 Responses to Marathon Chicago Style

  1. Pingback: Mike Garvin: Chicagoland Marathon (NROC) Report, Skating With 2010 Schankel Canada Marathon Squad « Speed Skate World- By Peter Doucet- Online Since 1999

  2. Hi Mike,

    nice report & congrats!

    I remember when I was racing as a cyclist we had a week of pasta loading before race weekends, too. That is the way to go indeed.

    Plenty of good ideas and thoughts in this (and previous) race reports. Seems like you are on a well-drawn plan for future success.


    Gabor Kmetyko

  3. admin says:

    yeah, every race seems to lead to know ways of making mistakes, but as they say, you learn more from the mistakes :)

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