Over the Next Hill

This weekend I flew down to Napa Valley (wine country) to do the annual Napa Inline Marathon held there on the Silverado trail.  As I started my training late this year and substantially  heavier than the same time last year, I’m still playing catch up with other skaters, but I was glad to be out racing.  Overall this was a pretty mellow race, the start wasn’t too crazy and for the most part race was held at pace except for a couple of sprints.

The results; you can view the results online here.  Top dog of the day was Robin Sigl.   Fellow  Schankel Canada team skater Sylvia Lee was in attendance; like me getting a training race in preparing for races further down the calendar.  Not many female skaters, but apparently we had an Olympic level skater among us; Eva Rodansky, Eva was out on her inlines, and getting right into the action, taking pulls up front of the lead pack.

On to the action!  The start is a up a slight incline and then dips into a valley; the start is actually in the middle of two valleys, and when you crest each of those you get to the 180 turns at either end of the course (the start/finish is in the middle of the loop).  So no shortage of hills, its basically all hill.  But, the pavement is so good it doesn’t feel quite so bad. The start felt slow, but I topped out at 40Km/h before settling into 4th or 5th position.

As we made our way down to the short end of the loop, there was jockeying and I drifted a little further back  in the pace line (which at this point hadn’t broken up too much).   We made the turn at 4km, a little acceleration and regrouping and we cruised through short end valley with some nice downhill train action.

Through the start/finish area and into the valley on the long end of the loop; we topped out at 43Km/h  gliding the hill, climbing out of that valley some of the boys up front got froggy and jumped a bit, everyone spread out trying to regroup, and unfortunately during that sprint, I just lacked the gaz to get quickly back on.  It was discouraging, I really didn’t want this to be yet another skate your own race.

Fortunately the valley on the long side is kind of a double hill, so on the second downhill (which is fairly long), I mentally re-grouped, focused on my form just put the hammer down to try and sustain as high a pace as I could.  Coming off the big downhill I was able to  get some 50Km/h action, and then over the next 4km to the long end turn,  cruise at 36Km/h  and then eventually ran out of juice and dropped to 33Km/h.

But along the way, I passed some other skaters who had dropped off the back as well.  One of them (I think his name is Lyle?) from Team Napa hooked up with me a couple of Km from the turn and we helped each other get there.  As we hit the turn we could see the lead pack piling up at the turn just 20-30m in front of  us.  We had worked hard, and we were about to re-join the lead pack.  Being a chase pack of 2 might seem cool, but its not!  Much better to be with the lead group and be there for the field sprint at the end.

As we rounded the 180 though, Lyle’s legs cramped up and he crumpled, I skated wide to get around him, and hit the grass…running, but caught something and tumbled in the grass.  I popped up and looked back, but Lyle was out of action, just too cramped up.  He said to go on so I took off, hammering as hard as I could but now the lead pack had opened up a sizable gap again, and I just didn’t’ have the same energy any more.

Still not wanting to give up, I skated as hard as I could all the way to the other end of the course (about 10Km).  As I much as I didn’t want a solo skate, there I was solo skating, sweating it out and just hoping I could catch someone else from the lead pack to work with.  Being a chase pack of one, might seem cool but…

About 3km from the long end turn  (where the big downhill ends), I now had a big climb, this is actually the biggest climb of the course.  As I worked my way up, I did catch another skater, I waved to him to hop on but he chose to wait for a bigger pack behind me (more on that later).  So it was I did my own little 10K time trial through both valleys and to the short end turn on the other end of the course.

At this point I was 24km into the race and the lead pack had a good minute on me.  I made the turn but about 500m out of the turn I saw a pack coming down to the turn on the other side.  Everything considered, I decided it was time to stand up.  I grabbed my Gatorade and happily chugged that.  Then just skated easy until they caught me.  We were now officially an actual chase pack! :)

I didn’t know these skaters, except for John Charbonneau (Asphault Beach).  But we all had a common goal at this point, close the gap to the lead group.  So we rotated pulls and worked together on keeping the speed up.   With lots of draft in the pack I was able to recover and get my energy back.  After cruising through the start/finish area and hitting the second valley, and then the “big climb” (in this direction a big downhill), I was up front and and let ‘er rip downhill.   Got some nice 52Km/h sub-max sprinting…could likely have pushed it harder, but I wasn’t feeling so confident in my 110mm boots (my Bont 3 points).  I only used them twice this year; once at Montreal and once at this race.

We cruised to the far end turn, the lead pack went by on the other side, out of reach now, but it looked like they were just cruising.   We made the far end turn and continued to work together to keep the pace up.    As we came up to the big climb, John pulled off the front, and my turn to lead came up.  I hadn’t planned this at all, but it turned out to be great positioning for me.

I was struggling on the hill, but I could hear the guys behind me struggling even more.  So I looked at my Garmin…3Km to the finish, nearly at the top of the hill, and then thought: you’ll never get a break away opportunity handed to you this nicely again.  :) So when we crested the hill, I sucked up the pain and kept the pressure on.  Through the flat to the next little climb leading up to the turn before the decline to the finish.

At this point I had opened a 30-40sec lead on the rest of the chase group, burned the remaining gaz sprinting up the little hill to the turn.  Knowing that once I hit the turn, as long as I’m in front of the others there would be little chance of someone having enough energy to get past me on the downhill.

The breakaway lead  was enough to secure a finish in front of my  group though, I was able to maintain the 30-40sec breakaway and didn’t have to fight for positioning at the line.

Looking back, that was the hardest part of the race for me, but also the most enjoyable.  I was able to actually practice a break away attempt in true race conditions, and test my pain tolerance a little bit…all good!

So although I dropped off on that first lap sprint, I’m still quite happy with the race.  I got a lot of training value from it, I feel better on my 110′s now, and can now add breakaways to my bag  of tactics.  Of course, with faster skaters I’ll have to muster more speed and stamina, but still worth trying :) My guess is that like in cycling, break aways often fail, but when they work, they work great! :)

Overall, a good race, would have liked to have stayed on with the lead pack, but given that I’m catching up with other skaters in terms of training and dropping my weight, it went pretty well.   I’ll be training hard between now and Chicago, and I’m hoping to be fully up to speed by then.  In the larger picture I’m plan is to peak for Deluth.

If you haven’t tried Napa yet, I do recommend it, the hills are hills, but the pavement quality is some of the best you’ll get at any inline race.  Being able to skate on smooth pavement really makes it a lot more  enjoyable.  There is always a BBQ afterwords during the awards and its a not a bad way to spend a sunny California day :)


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One Response to Over the Next Hill

  1. Bill in Houston says:

    Thanks for the report, Michael. I hope to do this race one day.

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