The Big Show

The proverbial fat lady has sung. This past weekend was my last race of the season. After much thought, I decided to make it the last competitive race of my season. I still plan to do the Tour de Donut in Houston, but it will be a fun race, not for competition. Returning to the lady with the big voice…

Deluth, Minnesota is the venue for the Northshore Inline Marathon. This annual event is held along Lake Superior and draws about 2,500 skaters, not only from the US but from countries all around the world…including Canada! Although the pavement quality on 1 or 2 hills is a little worse than last year, the course has stayed pretty much the same, good to great pavement from near-by Two-Harbors to downtown Deluth.

As races go, Northshore (or Deluth as many of call it) is a simple race. You wake up early (4:30AM…gak!), catch a bus out to Two Habors around 5:30AM, and then race back to Deluth at 7:30AM. By 9AM its all over, ‘cept the cry’n :)

Unlike most other races, Deluth seems to be very embracing of the event, all along the course cheer teams provide some motivation, and even just walking around downtown you’ll meet people who seem very supportive of the event. Of course most cities would be supportive of tourist income, but there always seems to genuinely be a great atmosphere around the event.

There is a lot to like about this race, but I have to admit I’m not a big fan of the early bird wake up time required to get to the start line. This is my 3rd year doing Deluth, and for the most part arriving to a cold and dark start line isn’t an issue, but last year we had to deal with a -1C temperature and a big head wind. Was not ideal to say the least.

This year though the conditions were great. Just cool enough to not be overly sweaty. There was a small cross-wind, but it wasn’t really a factor. Apparently the day before there was a huge tail wind, and if it had still been there on Saturday, the course record would most likely have fallen. Even without the tail win, the race winner True Rev skater Julian Rivera finish in just under an hour (59min 35sec). The full results are available online.

My own race was a tad more modest :) I finished in 1h 14min and 7sec, pretty much in the middle of the pro masters pack (the division I compete in). Overall I had a pretty good race, some things went really well for me, but some things went really wrong as well. More on that later!

nsim_gps_2009

After a warm up skate and a few quick accelerations to “activate”, we lined up for the start. The open pro skaters took off, and then it was us pro masters and the pro senior skaters. The difference between the pro senior and the open pro division is that there is no age limit in the pro open, and the race winner is taken from the pro open division. I have so far not wanted to “challenge up” to that division. My thinking is that its better to wait until I get some better results in the pro masters division..something that has proven hard for me to do at Deluth in both of my pro masters attempts.

Looking at the GPS data you may think we had a fast start, 43kph is a fair clip for skating, but in reality it was an easy start, no one was “eager” right off the bat. The speed is mostly due to the downhill and then a kick up about 1km out from the start line.

From the start line team mate George Nikodym and myself (yellow/black skinsuits) lined up behind the Schankel/Simmons team (blue/white skinsuits). George and I skate for the newly formed Schankel Canada Marathon Squad. Going into this race I wasn’t sure if we should or could work with the Simmon’s team. During the race I decided to work with them where I could, giving them draft or letting them in the pack. I don’t think it ultimately made any difference, but better to err on the side of good will I thought.

A side note: next year you won’t see us in yellow/black. We have an awesome new skinsuit design that is white/black. I can’t reveal it though, the draft graphic I has some stuff on it that needs to be changed before I can share.

Anyways, back to the start line! It was an easy start. Having lined up behind the Simmons team, I had one of my easiest starts ever. The skaters fanned out into several lines of skaters, but knowing the start valley is crawling with road snakes, I always try to go up one of the shoulders. As I was doing this, so was Alex Fedak, so I just popped in behind him and cruised along as he headed to the front. Before long I found myself in the #2 slot waiting to take a pull.

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Photo: Clint Austin – Deluth News Tribune

While this was a great start to the race it wasn’t without problems. My “survival” instinct of wanting to stay within striking distance of masters skaters I know to be strong (guys like Alex), was something I should have put on the back burner. My team mate George was caught up in the fan out, and as he tried to come up and join me at the front, he clipped skates with someone and chewed pavement. Burned a huge hole in his skinsuit and had to work hard to get back onto the pack.

I talked to George briefly after the race, and I guess he caught a ride with the Veterans (who eventually caught our group, in the same way we caught the pro open group). In hind sight, after the initial burst, I should have taken stock of the situation and gone looking for my team mate. Its a tough call to make though; if a team mate goes down, and you know there are strong skaters in your pack…do you risk getting dropped to the chase pack?

The masters pack doesn’t usually have enough strong skaters to keep the pace up and typically rolls to a slow crawl after attacks. This makes it easy for slower skaters or packs to catch up and through the race you end up with a huge group right through to the end. This race was no exception, although Alex Fedak made every effort to break the pattern! All through the race Alex went on break away after break away, that guy is a machine!

At the time though, I was stuck in survival mode, and so wasn’t inclined to drop back and hunt for my team mate (risking losing the leaders). Given the slower pace its likely we could have skated ourselves up to the lead group once we connected. It would not have been easy, but it could be done. So while the start was an easy one, our first major test of team work was kind of an epic fail :(

For the first 10-12km, the race was pretty normal. The slower pace kept the group large and there were always 2-3 lines of skaters, with people jockeying between lines and moving forward within their line. A lot of “traffic” as we call it. Somewhere around 12km there was an attack at the front, and a bunch of us in the middle picked up the pace to try stay on. As I was doing this a skater behind me and to the left was over taking me; in doing so though we clicked skates, I felt his wheels hit mine, and I looked back over my shoulder to say sorry…as I did this I watched things unfold in slow-motion-adrenaline vision: he stood up trying to regain his balance, I watched him wobble on his support leg and then he spun and disappeared from my peripheral vision.

At the time we must have been doing about 35kph…fast enough that I’m sure he had more than a little road rash. Dude if your reading this I feel for you, I’ve fallen at 70kph, I know your pain :( I hope you heal up quick.

Throughout the race there were a lot of wipe outs actually. I think I counted 5-6 at least. There was a lot of traffic and people weren’t always being super careful. I usually try to be friendly and let anyone in who wants in, but in one instance I had I to say no for a few seconds because it just wasn’t safe. Two or three times I found myself skating on one foot and leaning out of the line to try and make sure the guys jumping in wouldn’t take me out :(

I’m not aggressive by nature, and I prefer to build alliances rather than competition, so I prefer to let people in…but in hind sight I think sometimes it justifiable to say no just for the sake of not taking unnecessary risk.

After that it was smooth sailing until about 22km out from the start. There was good hill attack, and somehow I wasn’t put positioned right and got flushed. I remember stepping out of the line to move up, and just as I was doing this, Mike Anderson a couple of skaters ahead of me did the same, only he was attacking to catch up with skaters up front who were attacking. I tried to keep pace, but wasn’t turning over my feet fast enough. Before I know it I was flushed and watching the pack get away.

I wasn’t the only one though, I could see in the distance the pack had been strung out. So I put my head down and decided to hammer it until I caught the pack again. It took me 5km to do it, but I did it! It was a hard 5km. As I worked forward I passed skaters and some jumped on, some fell off. One skater stayed with me until about 500m from rejoining the group. At one point I stood up to let other skaters pull, but there were no takers so to speak, so I just settled into the highest pace groove I could.

In the last kilometer of closing the gap, my right leg started cramping up; starting in the toes and working all the way up to my knee. I tried to just ease the pressure in my stride and skate through it…it worked but I was on the verge of cramping up entirely, right up until I rejoined the lead pack. As it turned out, skating that hard for that long wasn’t necessary….the packs behind us caught up with us later. But that was the choice I made, much of my gaz was now spent, but my choice was to minimize the risk of loosing the lead pack. Although they were playing lots of cat and mouse up front, there is no guarantee that they would do that. I don’t think counting on them being slow up front is a safe bet. So I skated a 5k time trial to get myself back into the lead pack.

At this point we had actually caught the pro open group (likely the reason for the attack in the first place). I was now skating with Leo and Travis (also Schankel Canada team mates). After a few minutes of recovery time, I went to the front and worked with Leo and as we made the run up to Lemon Drop hill. I was once again up front pulling, and Chris Rojo behind me told me to keep the pace fairly high to discourage attacks on Lemon Drop. Great advise, and I followed it, but as we hit the hill Alex (yet again) was surging from the left…a couple of us got on his wheel and tried to stay behind him as we climbed to the top. By the top of Lemon Drop though, I was fading…my legs were already pretty much spent form my 5k TT.

We turned on to the freeway, and fortunately I was able to recover and move forward. As we cruised through the tunnels I tried to move up and and keep my self closer to the front than the middle. This is tough to do in this section. At this point the teams are tightening up, were at full speed and the road gets narrow in a couple of spots. Still, we had a couple lines of skaters, and you could skate up the side to move up…which I did.

In between the tunnels I stubbed my foot on a crack in the concrete. My current customs were made with the toe box being too short, so any kind of bump just jack hammers my toes. This was a big one. I’ve got black toes as the reward and during the race it took a lot of focus to just stay on my other skate and not get flushed from the group.

As came to the final underpass, the pavement gets really rough as you shoot through the breakdown lane into the final straight that leads up to the ramp with the 90 turn into the DECC (convention center). When we hit the rough pavement, I got nervous and slowed up a bit, skaters flowed around me on both sides and there was no where for me to jump in. Before I knew it I was flushed again. :( Worse yet, there must have been another attack up front because they got away from me very quickly.

All I could do was skate my pace to the top of the ramp and then turn in to the DECC access road towards the finish line. I skated as hard as hard as I could towards the final turn into the finish line, coasted the corner (not wanting to fight with the chipped concrete), after a couple moments of hands on knees resting, I made one last push for the final 100m to the finish line.

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Photo: Tom Johnson

I sprinted to the line as hard I could, cross the finish line at about 40kph..and then started to slow. My leg had decided enough was enough though, and my right leg complete cramped up HARD from my toes up to my knee. With one leg in the middle of pushing suddenly frozen, it wasn’t long before I found myself spinning on the ground :( Fortunately not major road rash, I’m more embarrassed than anything, but the pain! It took a minute or so before my calve would unlock, and even now 2 days later my calve is still very sore.

My lesson here is that I’m going to start bringing sports drink with me again in races. I’m skating so close to my upper limit that legs are just being emptied out. In previous races I wasn’t skating hard enough to see the negative impact of not staying hydrated throughout the race. I’m pretty sure this is what happened to me at Chicago as well; I was exhausted, and did a big sprint at the end there as well…and crashed out right after the finish line after having problems with my right leg.

Its also pretty clear now that I have one leg which is stronger than the other. I’m right handed, yet for some reason my left leg is stronger. My only explanation for this is all the indoor this past winter :) Indoor can be summed up pretty easily: turn left, repeat. ;)

So overall I’m happy with the race. Obvious the team work thing was an issue, and not dealing well with those hill attacks is an issue; I think the 100k skates I was doing these past couple of weeks messed up my fast twitch, but its speculation. The bottom line is that I need to get better at attacking from 30-35kph, rather than just accelerating from 0.

Still though, there was a lot of good in this race, my little 5k TT was hard but I skated an awesome pace. I used my new found double push technique that I’ve been re-learning over the past three weeks and already I’m seeing a 3-4kph gain, just by changing my technique. When you can get that kind of gain just by changing your technique…you should change it :) Also, compared to last year I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable with the traffic, and the overall pace.

The main problem I have with Deluth now is getting flushed after the tunnels, for next year I’ll be a lot more aggressive about moving up and staying at the front if I have to in the tunneles to make make sure I do’t get flushed before the final turn into the finish line.

Generally I think the other area to work on is being more selective about when to move up. Its important to move up, and not ride the suicide seat. At the same time though, stepping out at the wrong time means you have to work a lot harder to catch up with the group instead of moving forward. While you can work hard and regain your position…that is gaz that just been burned off…gaz you might not be able to replace. So you need to think about the end of race as well each time you get the itch to move up.

Being aware of the pack isn’t just a bout being aware of whats happening behind you, it also means being aware of what may happen later in the race. In a way its a bit of chess game :)

If you were there – I hope you had an awesome skate, if not, come out and do Deluth next year, you won’t regret it. There is always a great buzz around the event, you will always have a group to skate with.

Side note: there was one other skater from Ottawa there this weekend. Dr. Frank Larue had another personal best and once again set the record in the 65-69 age group. Congrats to Dr Frank!

Photos: there isn’t a lot yet, but a few have been posted, I copied some up to one of my Facebook albums, there is one Flickr set and there are some shots on the Inline Planet social network. Keep an eye on speedskateworld.com over the next week or so, if anyone will spot photos quickly its Peter!

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