When Skating isn’t About Skating

This is a big report on our Festival event, the first part is on what it takes to organize an event like this and the second part is my personal race report. If you would rather just read the play by plan, skip down below.

Under the Hood:

The summer has whizzed pass in what now seems like a blur of rainy days with some occasional skating. Off-skate though, I’ve been busy. Aside from just training, I’ve been volunteering with the club (for several years now, in different capacities), and this year was no exception.

This year though I was more deeply involved, I took on the role of race director. I had some additional duties; marketing and arranging for the after-party, and some other minor stuff, but my main contribution was as race director.

Actually our event committee was fairly small this year.  Our core members were myself, Peter Wilson as chair, Mike Cousineau as our volunteer director, and Erwin Baertschi to manage operations.  We also had past director Dan Dutrisac on board as an adviser. On race day, the staff expands a lot, something like 40 volunteers; a few of them paid volunteers and a few of them key to helping out with things like registration,  race marshaling, and event set-up and tear down.

As with past years, our core committee and the extended volunteers all put in an amazing effort and the event went very smoothly.  Mother nature did her part and provided near perfect conditions.  All told a good day at the races!

If you’ve never looked under the hood of an inline skating event, let me pop the hood for you…

Marketing:

These events are not expensive by the standard of large running events, but there are expenses. Well in advance of the event you need to form and execute some kind of marketing plan to make your event visible and give people a chance to plan it into their travel schedule well in advance.

As we do not have a huge budget we work with man cost conscious  means of marketing:

  • Newsletters
  • Discussion forums
  • Articles in local papers
  • Radio based public service announcements (PSAs)
  • Skater word of mouth
  • Hand out cards/posters
  • Prize draws to drive interest leading up to event
  • Using club website as a bulletin board

Using multiple attacks so to speak gives us a better chance of reaching skaters.   As much effort as we put into something like a newsletter, there will always be people who just decide to ignore such email.

Exposure in media is great if you can get it.  However newspapers are often incredibly expensive ($1,000′s for a decent size ad), and radio and television are an order of magnitude above that.  But…there are often programs in place to allow non-profits and charities some air time, and you can often squeeze into that.  In addition, local reporters and photographers are often looking for material to write about for local events and color, if you can find such reporters then its a win/win.

We didn’t do it this year but it can be really effective to distribute the marketing, give each skater in your club a few biz cards printed with event info and have them give out to friends, or give them a few posters and ask them post around where they live, stores, rinks, work etc.  Grass roots kind of marketing.

We don’t believe people attend a skating event (in general) because of a low price or a chance to win a prize for registering early, but some people do enjoy winning such prizes, and everybody enjoys scoring a deal :) Mainly early registration prize draws help to remind skaters and keep it in in their thoughts.

Both last year and this year, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with local radio station Live 88.5.  They played a PSA for our event on the radio and on race day they provided an MC and audio system.   You can find the PSA on our website if your interested.  This kind of thing adds a lot of positive energy to the event.

Last but certainly not least is an event website.  While skating is not a “net thing”, almost everyone has become accustomed to just looking up events on-line and registering in a few minutes.  Some people still prefer to sign up in person but most people will expect an event to have an online purchase ability as well as up to date information, deadlines, route maps etc.

These past couple of years Greg Brown and I have been working the web-site for the  club.   A couple of years ago I re-wrote the club web-site infrastructure and put in place the basis for a content management system and a custom e-commerce integration.   Since then I’ve handed the system over to Greg, who has since enhanced it much further, making many great improvements.

On top of that base system, I built this year’s Festival website.  It ties into our main database and e-commerce system so that our board of directors can see reports on who is registered etc., and as the Festival site designer, I’m free to just think about content, look and feel.  Some of you may have noticed the new Festival site design this year :)

You don’t have to have this level of automation in your website, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.  If you have a small organizing committee as we do, then the more things you can automate…the better!

The After-party:

When the event is over, and skating is all done, skaters are hungry critters and love to celebrate their victory, lament their losses and just catch up with old friends.  So a post race party, dinner or get together is always a good idea.  This year we partnered with local bar and grill Malone’s.

Race Planning:

As race director my job was to come up with a race route, plan out where equipment goes, set the race schedule, layout the tented area, make sure the race logistics align with the time keeping vendor and generally make sure that “race” is well thought out.

You might think that this is a simple job; pick a loop somewhere, make sure you have room for 42K and your done!  Well….almost.  There are a lot of considerations that have to go into a good race route:

  • There is sufficient space between events to make sure skaters are not running into each other.
  • Skaters completing a race are not competing with skaters making a tight 180 turn at either end of the route.
  • Skaters start at a point that is well away from the “wire” used for chip timing.  Some timing systems are clock based for the start and can not have skaters crossing the wire at the beginning.
  • Avoid having skaters from different distances on the course at the same time where possible.  Kids usually make up the 5K, we want to keep other distance skaters off the course during that time if possible.
  • Allow for spectators to view as much of the race as possible.
  • Keep the village near the start/finish to maximize spectator experience, make it easier to organize skaters, and make it faster for skaters doing multiple distances to transition to their next event.
  • Have as few 180 turns as possible (it slows the race, annoys skaters)
  • Finish area should be double lane (whole road) wide.  This is safety issue; the final field sprint should not be squeezed into a single lane or funneled in anyway.  For faster skaters this creates too much chance for accidents at top speed.
  • If cones need to be moved at a turn around, the cones should move at the far end of the course where it can be managed by a single volunteer and not create confusion around the start line location.
  • At the end of a race (for the lead pack) the turn close to the start line should be moved a little further to the south side of Rockcliffe so that it opens more space for skaters to spread out in their final sprint.

Some of these priorities are in conflict with each other.  For example; you may not have enough space to avoid a 180 turn.  You may want to have fewer laps, but it may make a turn point be at an unsafe location etc.   All of these things were taken into consideration when the route was planned.  There are some non-ideal points:

  • Our far end turn has a slight slope from right to left so as you make the 180 you pick up speed.  Undesirable, but it allowed for all 4 laps in the 42k to be the same turn, making the course simpler.
  • Our start area has a start and turn that far away (100m and 200m) from the tented area, so not idea for spectators).  But, this geometry was necessary to make sure the turn near the finish line would be as far away as possible from the finish line.  This is for safety; once the field sprint starts, you don’t want skaters sprinting towards a turn in the wrong lane, where they could crash into a turning skater.

Issues like these highlight that planning a race is balance; there are many priorities and the needs of spectators, skaters (their enjoyment and safety), along with course complexity must all be placed on balance.

fest_route_2009

Along with the actual race route a schedule is needed.  As we are using a parkway we have to work with local city authorities to get permission for use, and we are given a certain amount of time to finish in.  This year we were very fortunate and were granted an extra half hour, which gave us more time between events, and allowed to avoid having events overlap.  Last year we almost had the kids 5K race coming into oncoming traffic from the start of the next event.   Logistically it was unavoidable because of the time constraints.  This year we wanted to make sure the kids race was well separated, and given the extra half hour, we were able to spread out the races.

But Wait…There’s more!

There was a lot more to making this event happen though.   As a non-profit club we don’t normally carry physical assets; the board of directors is all volunteer and usually volunteers come and go on a yearly basis.  This makes it very hard to reliably and securely invest in anything long term like physical assets.

So for things like the Festival, we have to rent or somehow borrow things like snow fencing, cones, steel barricades, radios etc.  All the equipment you would need to run an event with the public.  This year we did buy some of it, but we were able to rent a lot of it.  The one thing that proved really hard:  a bull horn.  You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to just go to a store and buy one.   These things are gold if you can find one.

Fortunately for the physical assets we do have, we have club members who are willing to store equipment in their sheds and garages.  Big thanks to our chair Peter Wilson who’s garage and backyard are no doubt overflowing with Festival gear right now.

Key to any event is of course the timing at the finish line.  We have worked with Sportstats through the years and plan to continue working with them.  They consisting deliver great service, and are very, quick.  Results are ready imediately after the races without any fuss, and are on the web soon there after.   The main downside is that we have to use different chips for each event.  This actually means re-using same chips and it makes things a little awkward, but is a small price to pay for being able to squeeze 4 races into an afternoon reliably and consistently.

One of biggest problems wasn’t too bad this year.   Even though we send fliers around the local neighborhood the night before, post signs (and volunteers) at access points  and have the parkway entrances barricaded, there are always a few cyclists who believe THEY are entitled to use the parkway as THEY see fit (apparently they don’t recognize the authority of the National Capital Commission, I wonder if they expect their course to be clear during THEIR races?).

Fortunately this year there were only a small handful of cyclists who entered the course and as far as I know there was no interference with the race.  Its something we don’t have a lot of control over, there are too many little paths that give access to the parkway, we don’t have enough volunteers for them all.  Even if we did; asking some volunteer to somehow stop a cyclist pumped up on self assigned entitlement and more than a little aggression is just not feasible.

Net Results

Over all the race went off smoothly; our setup and tear down volunteers did an awesome job, our volunteers at the far turn point made tear down quick and easy by clearing the course on the way back.  Live 88.5 did brought big positive energy with their MC’ing, the volunteer crew in general came through like camps.  As I skater I think its important to mention that skaters did their job well too!  Skating, having fun, making for good competition, these are important parts of the event as well!

The Play by Play

Below is my personal play of play of the race.  For  a broader perspective checkout the inlineplanet discussion forum, speedskateworld, our club’s discussion groups etc.

A few weeks ago I joined The Schankel Canada Marathon Squad.  You’ve likely seen me at races in the yellow/black Schankel suit, well, I’ll be in that suit a lot more often now!  Our team has never trained together yet (first session is planned for the 13th).  So going into this race we didn’t really have any comfort level, other than wanting to work together.  Not so much a disadvantage, but not an advantage either.

Going into the Festival I was feeling good.  Up to Friday night I had been moving towards a physical peek, and my technique has been improving.   My 30K time trials are now at about an hour, I need to drop about 50sec to get under an hour, my sprints are decent now, though still lots of room for improvement.  In short, everything was looking great, I had high hopes for this race (can you sense the foreshadowing?!)

On Friday night I was out in Fallowfield at the RCMP parking lot, its an awesome big parking lot and very smooth and flat.  Perfect for the technical work and video analysis…which is what I was doing.  That all went perfect, see my previous post on video analysis.  But, afterwords I was leisure skating on a roadside path, and my front wheel exploded, and threw me into the ground chest first.

wheel_2_800

I’m not sure what exactly happened, but a couple of spokes on my wheel are clearly snapped.  I’m guessing they were already partially broken, and I hit a rock or something and they finally snapped, flex and jammed the wheel into the frame, sending me into an endo.

It happened so fast I didn’t have any chance to recover with my other foot.  I was simply looking at the sky before I even realized I had fallen and stopped breathing…this hit was hard enough to know the wind out of me, after a little bit of coughing my lung powered up again and I was able to keep skating.  But my ribs were really sore.  I’m not sure if I cracked one or not, sometimes the soft tissue damage gives the same kind of pain.  If I’m still that sore in a couple of days, I’ll go in for x-rays and find out if I’ve got a fraction.

Ribs are basically an annoyance; unless you’re puncturing an organ and bleeding internally, they’ll just calus up on their own and the doctor will just send you home after waiting 4-6 hours in the emergency room. The real bummer is that this kind of injury is most sever in the first 3-4 days, and this happened on Friday, and the Festival is on Sunday…a couple more days away and it likely wouldn’t have been a factor at all.

As it was, on race day I was 90% sure I wasn’t skating.  When I got there in the morning to hep with setup and stuff, I kept my heavy lifting to a minimum and my walking slow.  For some weird reason walking fast or running is too jarring and makes for some twitching :( Around 10AM I decided to go for a 10K on the race course just to see if the pain was manageable.

It turned out to be not so bad.  I could swing my arms ok without flexing my ribs, and when sitting reasonably low my upper body was tense enough to not move my ribs.  So skating was actually more tolerable than walking!  But, I couldn’t take big, big breaths so my sprint capacity was a cut short a little bit.  Still I felt I was functional enough to at least skate the 42K.

So later that afternoon I found myself on the start line with my Schankel team mates.  Our first race turned out to be a really good, no podium spots but we worked really well together for never having skated together before.  More on that later.

schankel_fest

The start was moderately fast, in part I think it was slower because we had so many pro skaters show up this year.  There were 3 lines of skaters in the first couple of kilometers.  This something we usually only see at bigger events like Northshore.   As we approached the first turn (10K out on the course) the pack had thinned down a bit and the lead pack was now starting to form.

Through that first lap there were some Attacks, Stephane from iL Peloton came out a couple of times, Peter (as always) launched 2-3 attacks that I saw.  The Pauley brothers went out a couple of times, and I think one of the Cadomotus guys went out at least once.

Now skating for Schankel when either of the Pauley’s went out and I was pulling up front, I was sure to ease up and not pull the pack up to them.   Eventually someone from the pack would get fed up and go…which is great, let them do the work :)   Rule #1 don’t chase down your own guys.  Rule #2 is never skate at 100% up front.  Always save some gaz :)

On the way back from the far turn point, I decided to move up to the front, and on my way I caught one of the the road snakes down the center line of the road…I didn’t eat it, it bucked me but I recovered quickly and kept going.  I slotted in behind Leo who at the time was behind Jesse or Jade I think.  A little later they peeled off and Leo took a big pull.  Stephane and Peter went out to play separately and Leo reeled them in.

There was a little more jockeying before the turn near the start line, but we started the 2nd lap without any major incidents.  Overall the group was being reasonably cordial ;)

The second lap saw a couple more attacks heading towards the far turn, nothing too major the lead group hadn’t even broken into lead and chase yet.  As we approached the 10K turn (about 300m before the 42K turn), I stepped out to move up, moved up to a spot behind Herb Gayle and in front of team mate George Nikodym.  As I was stepping into position behind Herb, I caught a road snake or something and my right skate went out from under me.

I crumpled immediately, flipped around and started sliding on my shoulders towards the ditch…never made it. just slid to a stop on the pavement.   Very nice of me to fall towards the side of the road and out of George’s way ;)   George and Scott Pauly (another team mate) skated around me me towards the center line and no one was taken out by my fall.  I took about 30sec to gather my senses, do a quick broken bone check and then I was up again.

rash_1

rash_2

rash_3

rash_4

rash_5

Things I should point out:

  • No my father was not a Wookie.
  • Scratching up your $300 Catlike helmet is not good.
  • Do try to keep the shiny side up.
  • Will need a new suit but with the pavement being smooth, the rash wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
  • Going from 38kph to 0kph using your shoulders…not the way to go.
  • The medic who patched me up asked me if I wanted the bandage with the little animals.  I said no.

As I started skating another skater came up behind me, he had fallen as well and offered to skate with me…an offer I didn’t refuse!  Unfortunately I can’t remember his name, but we skated together until we caught the chase pack.

As we started skating again, I had to double check my arm it was red with blood and a had a huge lump on my forearm.  I was worried that I had opened something up, but it was only a few squirts of blood from the puncture above my elbow.  Once that had clotted up there wasn’t any more blood.  Within about a lap I most of the blood was washed off with sweat.   So no major damage but it looked a lot worse than it was for a little while.

I count myself lucky, falls at that speed can lead to much worse injuries.  I skated away with some road rash, but that kind of thing heals up relatively easily.  Not fun in the shower…I did some yelping getting cleaned up.

We made the 42K turn and about 2k back towards the start/finish area, we picked up Goerge.  All three of us then worked to keep our speed up as much as possible, recover, but also try to close the gap.

festival_gps

When we made the near turn (starting the 3rd lap), we could see the leaders were about 3min ahead of us, and the chase pack was about a minute ahead.  That was a minute that I knew we could make up on this course.  We were all of the same mind, so we worked to pick up the pace.   About 6km from the near turn (start of final lap), I was up front and I could see the chase group in the distance.  So I did a hard pull and finished bridging the gap.

By the time we caught them my foot, ankle and calf on the right side were all cramping up.  I was happy to slow down and cruise with the chase group and just recover for a while. During the pull my mental process was “just bridge the gap,and your job is done, mission accomplished”. I just stayed focused on that until we got there. I didn’t even care about the finish, my whole race goal was just to get to the chase pack.

This is psychologically important; if you get dropped from a pack, its very easy to just mentally give up Whats the point, you can’t possible bridge the gap, and even if you skate hard chances are your just going for a solo finish time.

But the simple truth is that a race isn’t over until you cross the finish line. Among the infinite variables is the speed of the group ahead of you. There are many reasons why they may be skating slower than you:

  • Playing games (not working for other teams)
  • Maybe they had their own misfortune.
  • Maybe they settle into cruise mode if they don’t perceive any threats.
  • etc.

You can’t predict what is happening ahead of you or in the future, so you should still skate hard, and still skate with the intention of catching them or of even passing them.  You still may never bridge the gap, but if you don’t try, then you are guaranteed not to.

A few minutes into the final lap though I had the itch for some action so I went up front and started sharing the pulls.  Up until the last 3km that last lap was a co-operative rotation.   With the weather being so nice it was just a fun enjoyable skate.

In the last 3km though we got back into racing mode.  George, Scott and I grouped up at the front and started to set the pace.  I told George to get ready to surge at the P7 parking lot; my thinking was that if we surge as a team we can lead out each other towards the finish line, and by surging early (~400m from the finish line), we could make it harder on the sprinters and hopefully drop some of the guys at the back of the pack.

We hit P7, and George started to surge, after about 50-75 meters I came out from behind him and took over the lead, continued to accelerate through the near turn (250m from the finish).  By the time we hit the start line (150m from the finish), I was starting to fade, but I had done my part; George and Scott now came out from behind me to finish the the last 100m.  A couple of other skaters came out with them and managed to get around me, but only one of them got past George.

In hind sight maybe we should have started our surge closer to the finish line; or maybe sooner.  If we started later, we each could have each done shorter pulls at higher speed, but we would have risked battling it out with skaters who are better sprints.  If we started sooner (a lot sooner) it would have been a break away attempt.  The risk there would be that we don’ t know who has or hasn’t the gaz for a breakaway.

Its hard to talk secretly with your team mates in pack that knows your going to try to work together :)   If we had previous training or racing together, this kind of thing would have been easier to sort out.  As it was, I think we did good with a mid-distance surge.  One of the other skaters got past all three of us, but only one.   I count that as a success for our first team outing.

The final finish time was 1h 16min and change.  The lead pack cam in at 1:13.  All things considered a great race.  Obviously I feel kind of robbed because of my fall, but I was able to skate myself back into the race rejoin the chase pack at least.  Given my rib injury as well, I think it went very well.

What I’m most excited about though is how well our team worked together, with no previous skating together.  During the first lap and a half our team was in control up front. After that I can’t say, my fall flushed me out of the lead pack.  But even in the chase group, George, Scott and myself worked very well together and our finish as a team was great.   With more training and racing together, I believe our team has a lot of potential.

Photo galleries are already starting to show up, Wilby has posted, George has a set up, and pictures are starting to show up on Facebook.  I’m sure more will turn up through the next week or so.  You can find official results on the Sportstats website, just search for Festival and then look for Ottawa Inline Skating Festival 2009.

42k pro: http://sportstats.ca/display-results.php?lang=eng&racecode=45465
42K open: http://sportstats.ca/display-results.php?lang=eng&racecode=45464
21K http://sportstats.ca/display-results.php?lang=eng&racecode=45466
10K http://sportstats.ca/display-results.php?lang=eng&racecode=45463
5k http://sportstats.ca/display-results.php?lang=eng&racecode=44499

Another Festival is in the bag, and aside from my overly bad luck, there was still a lot of good stuff in this race.  I’m quite happy with it, not just as a skater, but also as an organizer.  I think we now have basically a cookbook we can use for the Festival, and it should be easier and easier to do each year.

Coming up; Northshore is obviously next, before that I’ll be stopping in London (Ontario) next week to train with the team.  Not sure if I’ll do New York yet, I’m starting to lean toward yes :)    A2A is kind of on my mind again…I’ll have to see how I do in New York though.  If I’m blowing chunks at the 50K mark in New York, then I think A2A will be off the table for this year.  My big wrap up this year is Houston, its my last race of the season, and I’m very much looking forward to the race and the Burritos we get afterwords :)

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3 Responses to When Skating isn’t About Skating

  1. Georg Nikodym says:

    The skater that you worked with after the crash was Yves.

    Once again, awesome race and awesome event. Can’t wait for the next one.

  2. Mike, I love two things about this:
    1) the Pic of the three of you leading
    2) the “crash” highlight on your graph lol

    Can’t wait to have you guys get here on Sunday!

  3. Jay says:

    Great post, as always Mike. Like Andrew, I enjoyed the annotations on your speed graph.

    You and your team did a fine job organizing the Festival this year. I like the changes you made to the course; it wasn’t a big deal to walk to the turnaround to watch the half.

    A suggestion for 2010 – Triple Crown participants should get NROC points as well as the marathon skaters, since St Paul awards points for the 10K and the half, and NY100 is double points.

    Are you interested in skating Saturday morning?

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