Inglorious Basterd

Behind the the ol’ 8 ball.  Yep.  That’s where I am.  A tough winter all around.  A dicey transition from Nortel to Avaya, and months of work related anxiety and stress, then my best friend died, and that knocked me on my ass for a while, and as if that wasn’t enough distraction from training, I decided to take on not one but 3 side projects, 2 web related and one hard core C++ development for a start up.

Suffice it to say that my spare time (and motivation) for training completely disappeared for several months.  The result?  Not so good.  A 4month old baby, but not the kind that brings joy and wonder, the food baby kind that makes that last notch on your belt hurt.

But all is not lost, with some effort I should be able to put the food baby in the hurt locker and get back into race shape.  I will have to sacrifice some early season races that I was kind of hoping to attend.  The upside is that I’ll be trying to make it to some of the mid and late season races that I haven’t attended before.  So I’m definitely looking forward to some new experiences.

That said though, I do have some tough training ahead of me.  I’ve started a Pudge-O-Meter (left)  to track my progress towards race weight.  I’m I’m spinning up the training hours now to try and start getting the old calorie burner in shape.

Not everyone responds well to exercise, but fortunately I do, and I can drop weight easily enough, but it takes some serious sweating.  So, while the days ahead will not be super-happy-fun-awesome, they will be productive.  If character was built in times of plenty and easy riding, character wouldn’t be as interesting :)

Amidst all the negative vibes, there were some positives; a month or so ago, somebody tossed a 8ft circular mirror in the garbage downstairs (without a scratch on it).  They must have been re-decorating or something.  I took the opportunity to combine that with my slide board, and I now have a makeshift slideboard studio :) So rainy days will no longer be any excuse for going easy on the workouts!

On top of that, I’ve also started cross-training. Through the winter I’ve been running off and on and I now plan an additional goal of running a half-marathon this summer.  If as a skater you look down at runners because they do everything they can to exclude us from their events; step back a bit…politics aside, running is hard.  Doing a 10K run followed by an hour of solid skating will exhaust you.  If you want a challenge, give running a shot.  Don’t stop skating!  …but as cross-training running can be very effective, even when combined directly with your skating training.

Here in Ottawa the spring snow has cleared up early, and a light winter of snow means we do not have flooding on our riverside paths, which in turn means I can skate earlier outdoors.  I’ve already done a 35K road skate with skating pal Dan Thompson, and now its time to really get my road wheels going again.

Of the several years I’ve been skating this is far from my best training start to the season, and in fact a pretty humble start.  As they say though, things can only get better :)

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Go Get You Some

This past Halloween weekend I joined the southern bound geese for a trip to Austin Texas and a weekend of skating, topped off with the fun race Tour de Doughnut.   This was an amazingly positive cap to my season.  I can’t remember having as much fun hanging out with skaters for a weekend in a long time.  I didn’t put the hurt on anyone at the line, didn’t win any fancy awards, but man was it a good time!

I had originally been planning to attend the Houston Inline Marathon.  I was even helping out Justin with some web design for his web site for a little bit earlier in the summer.  I had planned Houston as my last big competitive race for the season and was looking forward to it a lot.   But, after finishing Deluth I just felt that my competitive season was at a close and that the season had been long enough…time to focus on fun and recovery. :)

So my plans changed.  For the first time I did the Defi, that was a blast, and I brought home a good pound of Montreal smoked meat…the kind of left over sandwiches I don’t get tired of!  In addition Brian Shicoff offered me free hosting for an entire weekend in Austin over Halloween, allowing me to skate the Veloway for the first time (really great by the way!), have fun around Austin and then on Sunday November 1st, skate the Tour de Doughnut for fun.  This was too tempting an offer to turn down, have some fun, see the sights and hang out with skaters for the weekend.

The weekend started with a slight hiccup, my connection through Denver got delayed by two hours due to a snow storm and my arrival time was pushed back from 2PM to 11PM…not ideal,  I was able to wrangle up a different inbound set of flights though, and still turned up in Austin at 3PM, Brian was waiting for me and we took off from there.

First order of biz was to get some skating done!  We hit the Veloway, had the grand tour and then settled in for some laps.  Over the next 25K, Brian and I traded pulls, and found some local cyclists to skate with.  The Veloway is a great technical course; lost of turns – both ways, and a very short and steep hill that sneeks up on you via a 90 degree turn, actually there are several 90 degree turns.  Its definitely a course where you want to pay attention :) pavement quality is good to great, but most importantly, it was built for _only_ wheeled sports.  Nice.  After refueling with some spicy Indian food we hit the coffee shop to hang out with other locals.

Saturday morning was some more quality time on the Veloway.  This 30K (6 laps) rolled by quick, we had other local skaters there and we broke into little groups to have some speedy fun. :) Afterwards Brian gave me the tour of some of the sights around Austin and in particular we went to see the Drew Barrymore roller derby movie “Whip It” at the Alamo Drafthouse.

The Alamo is, in a word, AWESOME.  Unlike most theaters, there is a small counter between your row of seats and the next row.   This counter comes with a menu, and the menu is a complete menu…perhaps you see where this is going? :) Not having to haul your ass out to the popcorn counter is one thing, but having someone actually bring you beer and pizza while you enjoy the movie…priceless. :)

The movie (Whip It) is a fairly pedestrian teen coming of age story.  As a skater I can identify with it, but outside of the Alamo I’m not sure I would want to pay for a ticket.  Still though, it was a great addition to the weekend of skating.

I also picked up a couple of T-shits, they do awesome T-shirt prints while you wait, you can pick from movie posters, album covers etc.  I ofcourse went with the giant robot T.

To top off an amazing lunch/movie, right next door there was a little guitar shop that had a mix of off the shelf axes and some well used axes that had clearly seen some glory.  There were at least two (priced over $2,000) that I was immediately drooling over.  If I go back, I’m bringing my Amex!

The evening was a little bit of computer gaming, hey whats a great weekend without some zombie blasting? Quick dinner at the Firebowl (Asian cuisine), and then a two hour driver over to Katy Mills to stay overnight, since the race was at 7:30AM.  All typical skater logistics, except that, Brian provided yet more entertainment in the form of Eminem wrapping along the way.  I also have to give credit to Brian for introducing me to Charlie the Magical Unicorn…a bottomless well of potential jokes.

tourdedonut_groupSkaters at the Tour (photog: Renee Coffman)

Sunday morning was the main attraction, what with free doughnuts and all :) Things were delayed at the start a bit, but otherwise a smooth easy start.  Everyone was jazzed up and ready for co-operative fun skate.  Most the skaters were local, I think I was the only skater to come from out of state (way out of state!).   More details below, but if you prefer immediate gratification (like me!) check the footage from my new camcorder:

The race benefits a Charity (Make a Wish foundation), and the corporate sponsor Shipley Doughnuts provides the doughnuts.  These are a key ingredient!   These tasty doughnuts are not greasy and actually easy to eat and digest while your skating.  More importantly they make for a lot of unique strategy.  Each doughnut you eat at a rest stop gives you a negative 5min time bounus.  With this race is should be possible to do a sub-hour marathon time!

Simply having the best wall clock finish time will not win the race for you.  I was first across the line among the skaters, but failed to eat enough doughnuts, and so I was relegated to 3rd place.   In addition there are two routes; a 28 mile route and a 55 mile route.  The skaters all opted for the inner loop, but the outer loop has two additional stops, allowing for more doughnut eating.    Depending on whether you decide to draft skaters or cyclists you have many possible ways to lower your time.

tourdedonut_gpsEveryone we feeling co-operative so we elected to stick together.  Some of us were chomping at the bit to dial it up, but we all kept things in check.  We also consciously made an effort to skate among the cyclists with as little obstruction to them as possible, keeping things safe and positive.  It was hard to resist getting on the wheel of some of the faster cyclists passing by, but today was about fun :)    We all stayed together until the first rest stop.

At the first rest stop I snaked a couple of doughnuts, and our train was once again chugging down the track.  We found a cyclist just above our existing speed though, and some of us switched tracks to draft him, while others stayed back in a second group.   I think our  group at that point was myself, Robin, John,  Wayde, J.D. and William. Our group drafted the cyclist for most of the way to the second rest stop.  I was really surprised with how easy, comfortable and quickly the race was going.  Perhaps it was just the sugar from the  Shipley’s? :)

At the second rest stop we just kept cruising, the group had gotten paired down to just me, J.D., John and Robin.  Shortly after that we hit the one section of bad pavement on the course, 5-6K of gator back.  Its bad, but not un-skatable.   You won’t like it, but it will kill you either :)

At the next turn we skated up over an overpass to get back accross the highway and make the final stretch back into Katy Mills.  J.D. filled me in on who was a sprinter and who was endurance.  No sooner had he given me the lay of the land then the fun and games started! John and Robin (in the Bont suits) bolted from the front, I went with them and we started trading attacks and counter attacks.  About 1-2K from the mall J.D. locked up and had to drop back because of cramps.  On the second last attack coming around the bend to the mall, John and I were duking it out to come up to Robin, and he pulled a groin muscle, then had to drop back.  I caught Robin and we traded one last attack, but he cramped up as well, and had to stand up.  I rolled past and 50m from the line we both gave it one last kick.  I was a little ahead already though and was able to edge him out at the line.

I attribute my lack of cramping to the Shipley’s…should’ve had some doughnuts boys!

Congrats to Art Garcia, top skater of the day, his three doughnuts trumped my two :) Kudos to all the skaters who showed up and made it a fun/positive skate.  Special thanks to Brian Shicoff for being an awesome host, and to Charlie the Magical Unicorn…for the all the giggling. :)

If you need an excuse to eat doughnuts, this is it!  I highly recommend attending as a skater.  If you skated with the intention of a sub-hour finish time, it would be entirely possible.  If I’m there next year I’ll be aiming for that.   I hope I am there next year, The Alamo offers lots of great shows.

That said, my outdoor season is now at a close.  The hail/snow/rain is setting in good, and the bleakness of Canadian November has arrived.  I’ve already started my indoor/off-season training.  I have to say though, this weekend was  a huge injection of much needed positive energy.  Now I’m stoked to get my feet on to Miami pavement in February :)

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Gravel? What Gravel?

The place Montreal (the Verdun arena), the time 6AM its dark, its cold and I’m thinking what the hell is with this -4C wind chill?!

Let me rewind a bit :) A couple of weeks ago I decided (after some cajoling from skater friends) to try out the Defi race for the first time.  In the past I had always avoided this race; its after my main competitive season, and right before off season training, so I typically just take a rest.  Also, I had heard so many horror stories, bad pavement, pot holes, crappy conditions like rain, freezing temperatures, wet leaves etc.   But I thought I should finally give a try.

After a 4:30AM wake up (this in itself is painful!), we got to the Verdun auditorium a little ater 5Am, signed in, got an event t-shirt and then geared up.  Fortunately this is all inside the arena where its warm :) Several of the usual suspects were in attendance, skaters I know from either Toronto, Montreal or the US.  Lots of local skaters from Montreal showed up for the “little skate” that was about to start.

Officially Defi is not a race; its a tour around the island of Montreal.  But, with a good number of competitive skaters in attendance its not long before the pack gets the itch to go a little faster.  Defi was no exception; even though it was pitch black outside (sun doesn’t come up until 7AM), skaters were eager right from the start line.

This is not to say they were hyper competitive though.  Defi is a different kind of event.  The atmosphere is just a lot more co-operative and skaters seem to be more focused on having fun and enjoying the course rather than being outright competitive.  This is part of what makes Defi a great event to attend.  The group as a whole tries to be safe and inclusive before being competitive.

Despite the fact that the first hour of skating is at race pace, highly technical and in the dark, no one had any falls or collisions (that I know of).  I fell later in the race but not during the first hour.  The first hour is hairy.  The path is mostly lit by street lights, and skaters are carrying head lamps and reflective lights etc.  But even still visibility is far from 100%.  On top of this, you have to deal with; the usual pack jockeying (but on a narrow path), obstacles like poles in the center of the path, patches of leaves/twigs, tight turns, wooden bridges, intersections with curb jumping, cobble stone and just general anxiety about something jumping out at you that you can’t see ahead of time because of the darkness.

So, for the first hour I skated very conservatively, often mid pack or more towards the rear, leaving lots of space between me and the skater in front of me.  A couple of times this meant having to work harder to deal with the slinky effects of  the pack, but the last thing I wanted was to fall and get dropped then not know where to go.  The course is a 129km city course that is weaves through steets and paths, all of which are unfamiliar to me.  My greatest fear was just getting dropped from a pack and then getting lost.

The first hour, while nerve racking went well though.  No major issues aside from the 0C temperature and the -4C wind chill.  The pack was moving very quickly, but also slowing down on some of the tougher hairpin turns or maneuvering through gates etc.  Safety was given a priority and a pack of 20-25 skaters had formed that was sticking together nicely.    If I recall correctly there was only one very small gravel section at one of the turns, a small foreshadowing of what was to come later in the course.

By 7AM the sun had started to come up and we made it to the first checkpoint.  The pack was together and skating well.   We had moved off of the paths and on to the streets.  Throughout the course there is skating on both paths and streets, its another technical element because you have to deal with curb jumping and then the usual road skating stuff, pavement quality, traffic, gravel etc.

Over the whole 129Km I think we had to deal with about 1km of gravel all told.  Believe it or not we started to develop gravel skating technique!  Running through gravel (think 300m starts) it one method, also if you can find hard packed dirt on under light gravel you can just scissor and glide through (keeping your weight on the heels), or you can even skated through it if the gravel is light enough.  It still slows you down quite a lot though.

The roads offered other technical issues; turns at the bottom of down hills, lots of lighted traffic intersections, general construction (and lots of it).  Several railway crossings, I think 4 or 5 in all.  The rail way crossings were very flush though so scissoring was enough to get over them easily.  A little more than half way through the course we got to one set of tracks and as I was crossing I heard the bells start up; I looked to my right and saw the light of an engine about 1km away.   As I was skating away from the tracks I watched the train go through the intersection…thinking if anyone was behind us trying to join our group they just got shutdown!

Back to the play by play – a little while after the first checkpoint I decided to finally go up front and try out a pull.  As I was skating up, one of the Montreal guys warned the skaters up front “attack! attack!” …I was only going up front though, and dropped in directly in front of Damien (from our Rapid Lap Dogs 24hrs team) and made it clear that I was only intending to do a pull.   I pulled for a couple of minutes (not at 100%), then came off again.    I wanted to start contributing to the pack, but also wanted to pace myself.  From previous ultra-marathons I know I’ve been prone to cramping up later in the race.

Somewhere between there and the second checkpoint (there are 4 checkpoints), there was a small hill, a decent enough climb angle, and about 150-200m long.  Not huge, but enough to get you breathing :) At the time I was in front pulling, and Damien decided to attack…I jumped on his wheel and chased him down to the top of the hill and then we skated for a bit after the top.  Looking back to see who came with us, there was no one, but we also weren’t so far ahead of several other skaters who had climbed hard up the hill.

So we skated easy and were joined by 5-6 other skaters.  At this point the main group had been split up.  Later on our group would get whittled down, but this was the biggest split.  A little further on Damien, myself and Stephane (skater from Montreal) had slipped away from the pack on a bit of a break away (not really intentional), we talked about it a bit, and then decided to wait for the others.  Its a long race, better to keep more people together to share the work.  At this point there was Joel and Ed from Toronto, Damien and Stephane from Montreal myself and two other skaters from Montreal who I don’t know (guys if you read this, let me know who you are!)

We skated together for most of the rest the race.  Dealing with all the technical stuff on paths, off paths, lots of gravel and lots of intersections, most of which were not at a green light when we went through them.  I have to say, the Montreal drivers were VERY forgiving us :)   Although I complain a lot about the gravel, 95% of the course is excellent and much improved over previous years.  Most of it is great quality paths, or streets with good to excellent pavement.  Some sections were recently paved and you could still smell the paving oil.

About 20min before the third checkpoint we were transitioning from the street to a path, jumping up a curb, at the time I was also carrying a couple of empty Gateraide bottles and looking for  a trash bin to toss them near.  I guess I wasn’t focused properly and I stepped up on to the path and I caught something and went down on my right knee pretty hard.  Tore a big hole in my Bont tights, and dug in some nice road rash on the top and outside of my knee.  At the same time my calves decided to cramp up, and it took me about 30 seconds just to be able to stand up.

The Joel and Stephane helped me up, Ed got up after taking a tumble on the grass (he was behind me), no damage to Ed as far as I could tell. :) Ed gave me an Advil pill, we regrouped and carried on :)

At checkpoint three we stopped, fueled up and had 1-2 min rest, then got moving again.  From there until the end it was non stop skating! About half way to the fourth checkpoint Ed’s cramps got the better of him and he dropped off.   My legs were starting to cramp up as well.  Through the race though, I had been drinking lots of Gateraid and I was chewing on Shok Bloks about every 20-30min.  I am now a firm believer in using these during a race.

I could feel my legs twitching on the edge of cramping, and within 15-20min of wolving down a Shok Blok, the cramping would turn into just burning legs.  Burning legs are no fun, but you can deal with it and keep skating.  If your leg just locks up and goes into spasm-ing pain mode…your boned. :(   I personally don’t like the gels, you need to wash them down with a lot of water.  The Shok Bloks are easy to digest while skating at speed and they work quickly.  I highly recommend.

After the fourth checkpoint, we were all pretty tired, but by this point it had become obvious that Damien and Stephane were doing a lot of work at the front and didn’t seem to be suffering as much as the rest of us.  In fact Damien kept getting calls on his cell phone and was skating with us at pace while leisurely talking on the phone.  Obviously we weren’t going fast enough! :)

In the last 10K of the race, Damien and Stephane picked up the pace and the rest of us were working hard just to stay on.  One of the other Montreal skaters droped off, and then I was at the back behind a Montreal skater and Joel, who was then behind Damien and Stephane.  This last segment is a dozen small segments of path that cross intersections some-times straight across sometimes diagonally.   This start/stop action is hard on the legs, especially when they are already burning!

The other Montreal skater between Joel and I got tired enough that he dropped back and then I was chasing down Joel to rejoin the pack.  After that it was Stephane, Damien, Joel and myself.  We skated the last 5K or so sometimes apart sometimes together.  Mostly Joel and I (with Joel leading) trying to catch up with Damien and Stephane.

It was tough, a lot of urban skating, dealing with intersections, railway tracks, small ramps, tight pathways, pedestrians and cars.  At one point a car cut in front of us to go into a parking lot, and Joel gave him a thump on the trunk for his consideration. :)

In the last 1Km Stephane and Damien eased up and decided (apparently) that a co-operative finish would be more sporting, and the four of us crossed the finish line together.

All in all a great event.  My legs were completely baked and even a day later I was limping around with fatigue, but I hadn’t actually cramped up during the race.  Eat something during races!  After the race a food reward was in order; Frit Alors for some awesome burger and fries and back in Ottawa, Earl Grey tea and Blueberry Lemon cheese cake at Oh So Good Desserts (best cheese cake in Ottawa yo!)

I did hear that a couple of skaters were advised to stop due to hypothermia, but so far have not heard that there were any major injuries, even with all the gravel.  Next year the course should be even better with fresh pavement in place of the gravel.  I look forward to trying it again.  If the conditions are wet or rainy, I think I would probably not skate it though.  For me personally that first hour of technical path skating in the dark is enough risk.  Doing that on top of ice or wet leaves is more risk that I can digest.

I highly recommend this event if you are looking for an ultra-marathon to try.  Unlike other events, Defi seems to have a much more laid back, inclusive and fun atmosphere about it.  Just seems like a friendlier race than any of the others I’ve been too.  Try it out, you’ll see :)

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Truth Be Tolled

The 2009 competitive inline season (outdoor) has come and gone.   I plan to skate the Tour de Donut in November, but it will be a fun race more than anything else.  Now I’m wrapping up my season and taking some well earned rest for a month and in November I’ll be starting my off-season training.  Through the winter I’ll update my blog about the joy of plyometrics and weight-lifting among other things.

In this post though, I’d like to talk a little bit about the cost of being a skater, and in particular a pro skater.   For me (and many like me), being a “pro” means competing for ranking in races, working other skaters on a team, and most importantly being on the start line for as many events as you can.    This doesn’t sound that unusual, but the fact is our sport is not a main stream sport.

This not so small observation leads to many important consequences, not the least of which is the financial burden of being a pro skater in our sport.    I’ve been competing at the pro level for 2 years now and while I’m still eager to show up at all the events I can; it simply isn’t cost effective to do.  Even if I was sponsored and even if I won races, it would not recoup the cost of attending races.    Let me give you some numbers that demonstrate why:

FlightRegistrationHotelFoodTotal
Mexico Training
Camp
$731

$300
$1,031
Metrodome$464
$43
$125
$60
$691
Texas Road
Rash
$416
$60
$50526
Montreal$20$60$80
Chicagoland$428
$60
$120
$608
Festival$102$102
Northshore$990$85$152$1,227



TOTAL$4,163

Without question I love skating and competing in races, but that $4K would have helped on the old mortgage payments!  Unlike most people my age I don’t have the added costs of a family, putting the kids through school etc.  While I might complain about the high cost, its something I can afford.

For most skaters  who might want to skate professionally I think they would look at the costs and just say no.  :( Unfortunately this is a reality of our sport.  You have to travel to be at races, and even if you are on a team, there is little if any pay to help you recover the costs of just being at start  line.

I’m getting a bit of a break in 2010; I’m on the Schankel Canada Marathon Squad, and I get a very nice discount no some new custom boots, and may get a discount of some kind on team skinsuits.

Ultimately though for the majority of skaters (including myself), if you are skating in races, you are doing it simply because you love competing and you want to be there.   I don’t think anyone is doing it as  a “job”.  There are perhaps a small handful of skaters who have the skill/ability to win enough races both in North America and Europe…to make it pay dividends so to speak.

For the rest of us though, its all about the skating :)

Some tips I would offer to other traveling to races:

  • Travel light.  I can usually get away with one carry on, my skates, and everything else in a back pack that I check in (since it has skate tools etc.)  I can’t overstress this point, there is nothing worse than lugging around gear you barely used while dealing with an injury from a race or just being tired from a missed connection and 10 hours of redirection at the hands of one or more airlines.  Ever heard of overbooking?  If not you should, there are many more ways to miss a connection than you might think.
  • If you can hook up with other skaters for hotel rooms…do it.  You might not sleep as well,  but paying 1/3rd the cost of a $160 room will save you a lot of money.  It doesn’t take long before you save enough to buy some new wheels!
  • Like the hotel, sharing a rental car is another great way to avoid getting gouged on taxi fair or rental car costs.
  • Plan your season early and register early.  I’ve never been to a race that didn’t have early bird pricing.
  • Use online travel sites to hunt for deals on flights.  In particular Kayak does a great job of aggregating from several travel companies and allows you  to search and get alerts on deals as they  come up.
  • Keep your skates with you at all times.  99.9% of airports will only require you to put them in a bag, and not even a sturdy bag.  I’ve only ever been forced to check my skates at one airport; Copenhagen. Go figure.

My season overall was “ok”.  Most of my races were well off my personal best finish time.  In the pro division its about ranking more than finish time, so in most races the group skates slower overall.  In addition the masters group is just a smaller group and there are not enough skaters to keep the pace  high.

This year my main focus was on NROC, I attended all the NROC races I could.  My final standing is 8th of the 11 pro masters skaters registered in NROC.  Some fellow canadians faired better; Stephane Charron took 6th and Benoit Letourneau (from my club) claimed 1st.

Unfortunately most of my races this summer saw me suffer through falls, bad timing or bad positioning and I wasn’t able to get into the front of the final field sprint (within the pro-masters group in any of the races).  This starved me of higher points gain in the standings.

For 2010 I’ve already started working on improving my ability to get into the final field sprint within my division.  Re-planning my off-season training to be more intense and focusing more on plyometrics and slide board (to better focus on skating motion).  I spent the later part of this summer re-making my technique.  I’m already seeing results from that, and my double push is now well on the way to be an actual double push rather than just carving.  I gave it a test drive at Northshore and it works great :)

When next summer rolls around I also have a much better appreciation now for how to focus my training for faster foot speed and better stamina.   This year I started cutting down on the “volume” skating.  last year and the year before I skated about 4,000Km over the summer.  This year I skated 3,000Km, but focused much more on intensity and quality.  Next year it may even be less…but it will be far more intense and quality driven.

A lot of my season this year was lost to “re-tooling”, but next year I should be able to make a bee-line for higher rankings. :)   Even though skating and competing is expensive, I’ll keep doing it as long as I can afford it.  I love a good challenge and skating still offers me lots of challenges.   With every race I learn new ways to improve/enjoy skating, and I meet new friends and catch up with old ones.   Along the way  you get visit some cool places,  and just have some plain old unique adventures.

There are so many unique/memorable “moments” that I’ve had through skating.  Even through the costs and the road rash, I would not trade in any of it.  Those moments are worth it.   The snow will soon be falling for a few months, but I’ll  thinking of spring and  where I’ll find the next moment. :)

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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.

mike_nsim_2009

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.

mike_nsim_2

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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The Run Around

Leading up to the big show (the Northshore Inline Marathon), I’ve been doing a little more training but essentially I’m already at my peek and goal going into the race this weekend is just to stay injury free and ready to race.

Last weekend was the last big training session, all told I skated 150km over the weekend. On Saturday I hooked up with Ed Leung and his girlfriend Jen and we did a skate from Oakville to Niagara falls. We didn’t make it all the way though.

We started out at about 8 in the morning (a little late) and didn’t have too much trouble early on. By the time we reached Hamilton beach it was early morning and some of the Toronto skaters were out training on this excellent 5K stretch. Our 25k warm-up to get there eased us into a couple laps with some intervals, we skated about 15k with Morgan, Peter (and his coach Mike Murray), George (team mate of mine), and Jacky.

The Hamilton beach session was fun, but it took a little too much gaz out of the tank I think. After we finished up there we pressed on, eastward towards the falls and wine country. We more or less used an access road that follows the main highway between Oakville and St Catherines.

We had to take some detours along the way…on some very rough pavement. Even though we usually had a shoulder to skate on, for some reason there was gravel everywhere. We usually floated out to the road but had to keep any out for traffic, fortunately traffic on the access road was pretty light. It was a great day for skating though, moderately warm clear sky, lots of sun and a ribbon of pavement as far as the eye could see.

Once we hit St Catherines though, we had skate along Lakeshore to get to the bridge over the canal and start skating through wine country to finish getting up to Niagara falls. This was probably the most brutal part of the whole skate; gravel, rough pavement, no shoulder and now mid-day weekend traffic. This 6-7km stretch was very un-fun!

Having to roll to a stop every 30sec and let some cars pass is not a great way to skate. The road was a narrow two lanes, so cars couldn’t just give us space and go around…we had to give them space, only there was no shoulder to just pull over on to. Ah, the joys of road skating! If you can time things right and pick the right route, road skating can be amazing…but there is no light without the dark as they say.

Once we got over the Welland canal bridge, were in wine country and had something like 20-30k to skate to the falls. We only got another 9-10km though before we threw up the white flag. The shoulder was a mess of gravel and very bad pavement (which we already knew was going to continue for another 10km), and the mid-day traffic was not letting up. Plus there was the small issue of having been skating for 6 hours already. :)

We spotted a bench at the next intersection near a winery and once perched, we decided to call it a day. Ed gave Jen a call on the phone and a short while later we were on our way to Niagara proper. We spent the afternoon doing the tourist thing, checking out an organic winery (Frog Pond) and local specialty food shops and such (I even got a new baseball cap).

Towards the evening we did the mini-golf thing and some walking around on the strip before heading back to Oakville for eats some rest. Its kind of like a mini-Los Vegas. But when I say “mini” I mean it.

All told the skating was 100km; we did 84km and change in point A to point B fashion, but there was another 15K of skating we did as laps at Hamilton beach with da boys.

After a few hours with the Sandman, I got picked up by George in the morning and it was off to London to meet with the other Schankel team members for our first training camp. This day long session would be our first chance to train with each other and start getting used to each others style.

Team manager Andrew Hegarty had put together a nice little training program for us; about 50km of skating the paths and parks, meanwhile doing team drills as we went. It was great to see pretty much the whole Schankel Canada team out skating together.

There was a lot of rough pavement though, and my feet were still “tenderized” from the 6 hours of road skating on Saturday, both days I was skating on Matter Orange Juice wheels…very hard wheels. On top of this I was being very conservative safety wise; with my fall at the festival and my cracked ribs from the Bont G3 Wheel hub snap in the prior week, I truly didn’t want to get too crazy with Northshore coming up.

I took Monday off and through the rest of the week just did some shorter skates, nothing above 25km, but was sure to do a set of attacks in each session to stay tuned up for the race. On Wednesday some of my attacks were pretty good for being on the paths (variable pavement quality). One of my sprints was at 48kph…wasn’t able to reproduce it though :(

Volume wise the taper before the race was pretty good; 100k Saturday, 50k Sunday, 25k Wednesday, 15k Thursday…rest Friday and then Northshore!

The idea behind tapering is that you lower the volume but not the intensity; this lets your muscles recover more and not be “worn down” by the time you get to the race. I’ve also been drinking loads of water and hitting the pasta all week to try and gaz up the legs as much as I can.

At this point though, its all momentum. A whole season of training, from April until now…5 months of sweat, pain and sacrificing fun for training value…it all boils down to 7AM race down in Deluth on Saturday morning.

Good luck to every one who is skating in the big show. If you haven’t skated Deluth yet…you should, its a great experience, its a straight point A to point B race, no major turns or hills, and and the pavement is good to great the whole way through. There are lots of cheering people by the roadside, and with 2,500-3,000 skaters you’ll have lots of people to skate with.

Because the venue is so good, many people go to Deluth just to get a PB (Personal Best finish time). I personally haven’t been able to do that…skating at the pro level isn’t only about finishing fast. Skaters tend to think more about ranking in this group and they will intentionally slow down during the race if they believe its tactically to their advantage.

For me, I’m just hoping for a fast clean race! See you there :)

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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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Lights, Camera, Skate!

Over the past month or so I’ve been focusing a lot on cleaning up my technique. I believe that from here on in, the remainder of my development will be in improving technically. Conditioning wise, I know how to train myself via weights, plyos, and on skate drills and exercises. But the simple fact is, you can’t win on strength alone. Even if you are uper strong, you can be out-muscled by a team of skaters, or by someone who is simply stronger.

So, I’ve really made an effort lately to do some sessions where I forget about going top speed and just focus on skating as low as I can for as long as I can. Trying to focus also on things like recovery, accelerating through to my set-down, keeping my body stable, not shoulder steering and not toe pushing.

While the intention is good, you don’t really know what the end result is. You can’t see yourself while skating, so there is no feedback to know if what feels good…actually is good.

The main cure for this is to either work with a coach (or someone experienced) and get feedback from them. But if like me you do a lot of training on your own, then you need to get your camcorder out.

Watching yourself on video is almost never fun, sometimes you’ll see things that are very encouraging and you know you got it right. But there are a lot of things you’ll see that you didn’t realize you were doing, or that you thought you were doing because it felt right…but wasn’t.

For me there are two categories of feedback, one is for classic skating, and the other is for double push. Double push is my favorite not just because its a fun way to skate, and now pretty much my natural mode of skating, but because its unique to inline skating. There are a couple of guys who can do it effectively on ice, but essentially double push has remained an inline only technique.

Classic: my classic skating pattern is pretty good, but there is still lots or room for improvement. I have a good start on it though, I can skate classic with a good outside edge (see below).

classic_tech_2

The biggest item is just getting lower more often. This is something that I’ve had to work a lot on but basically I’ve found that its a matter of getting you ass down, and getting your ankles bent as well.

Below you can see a shot from me skating where I was intentionally trying to skate as low as I can. I know what it feels like to skate that low, and I’ve been trying to do it a lot more often. Its not easy though. Skating that low really burns the legs.

But the pay off is big; when you are that low you can get a lot more power, your much more stable, and you suck up a lot less wind. I’m going to be working this position a LOT to try and skate much more regularly like this.

classic_tech_1

When you get low enough, your stomach will just touch your upper thighs and when you push you’ll feel it in your hip muscles as well as your quads when you push.

Unfortunately my double push has had some negative influence on my classic stride; My timing is cutting short my weight transfer. That is, when recovering my pushing foot I set it down too soon, before I’ve milked all of my fall and before I’ve completed my in progress push.

The result is that there is a short period of two foot skating, and when I naturally try to get my head over my toes on the support leg, my shoulders twist (steer) me over to catch up to where I should already be. Getting my shoulders to be quiet is an issue for me in both classic and double push. Sigh :(

classic_tech_3

Another big issue for me has been toe pushing. Its been with me for a long time, and I’m still seeing it crop up sometimes :( My plan now is to do some sessions with my front wheel replaced with a smaller wheel; forcing me to skate more completely with my rear three wheels.

I think this issue is also connected to my timing (mentioned above). Because My weight transfer is being cut short, my pushes are being cut short and hence I start recovering before my leg is anywhere close to fully extended.

Double push: (Video below) I’ve been trying to incorporate some improvements, staying lower with more knee bend, try to keep my shoulders “quiet”, and getting my knees together for a more complete push. Its not so easy though!

I’m still dogged with a lot of shoulder steering and when my leg extends, there is a fair amount of pushing my body up, instead of my leg moving under me. The result of that is carving instead of pushing, so less power than I could have. There are times when I can feel the movement under my body instead of my body coming up, but this video wasn’t one of them :(

So, for now the feedback is constructive, lots of of things to work on. In a way its good; if my technique was already 100% then I wouldn’t have much hope of getting faster…I’m pretty well conditioned physically after a summer of training, and being 38 years old, I’m really not expecting to get a lot better physically.

Generally your body starts to decline when you hit the 30s. Most athletes I’ve talked to say there is a noticeable decline when you hit 40 as well. So at this point my biggest hope for more speed is to get my technique cleaned up. I won’t let up on the physical stuff, but for sure, I’m going to be a lot more focused on skating with quality in mind :)

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Being Average

Its been a short season. We started skating in April, and my last race is Houston in November but all the same its been a short season. Here in Ottawa we’ve had one of wettest summers on record, in fact in July we set the record. Combined with working two jobs, volunteering with the club and coaching, my training time was really limited this summer.

Even when I had time for training, it was sometimes a case of just wanting to rest and recover from it all. So, this season had ended up being a lot less volume. I’m just now coming up on 3,000km of skating for the season. This same time last year, I would have been coming up 4,000km. If I get laid off from Nortel, maybe I’ll have lots of time to make that up! :(

At any rate, I have been training and preparing for the final races; Ottawa Inline Festival Septembe 6th, then Norrthshore on the 19th. Houston is November 1st. Still undecided about New York and A2A. I did A2A 3 years ago… very cool, but this year my focus is on being in top shape for Houston.

Even the lack of volume I feel like I’m making some good training progress as the final races of the season approach. This year I really focused on intensity rather than volume and it seems to have helped. My raw speed is up. Early this season I had a lot problems technically; I was trying out different things and couldn’t find a good groove with my double push. Finally, now things have sorted themselves out and I’ve been able to get a cleaner lock on my technique.

Over the last month I’ve been hammer myself on technical stuff, going out for sessions where my only goal was to skate well, not fast, not chase any bikes, just skating clean, and as low as I could. This effort has really paid off. Last week at our regular P8 (hill) session I was able to handily keep up with the boys, and it was hard work but I felt like I was within my technical limits.

This is a big step for me, usually at that speed I’m just struggling to move my feet and don’t have the ability to think about technique and correct it as I skate. But this time around, I had that capacity. I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable, but I could feel what I was doing wrong and was able to immediately correct it, while staying at speed.

My efforts at skating lower are paying dividends, I still need to get down, more often, but I’m improving a lot. At that P8 session, I was skating so low in fact that occasionally I was hitting Stephane’s feet in front of me with my hands, and I was low enough to not be looking over his helmet. Stephane is slightly shorter than me, so this is a cool affirmation that I’m getting lower.

As I say still lots of work to do technically but my refocusing is paying off :)

Raw conditioning: lots of that! A couple of weeks ago I did a 140km skate around the Niagara circle. Ed Leung, Brian Oswald, Joel Stitt and I were skating and we had Jay Brown and Ed’s girlfriend Jen on bikes giving us some draft. It was an amazing skate, we started out early; skating by 7:20 I think, and there was very little traffic so a lot of the time we just skated on the road.

The pavement conditions were good to excellent and with the bikes giving us draft, we held a great cruising speed. At one point were cruising at 33kph and just enjoying it :)

The MS Bike Tour was happening that weekend as well so that likely helped keep the roads clear for us. Our skate took us from the top the Welland canal down around Niagara falls, over to port Coberg around back along the canal again (other side) to get back to the parking lot where we started.

niagara_map

NOTE: I was a little late getting a lock on the satellite and my GPS didn’t start recording until about 3km into the skate.

The first half of the skate was pretty relaxed, but in the second half Ed and Brian started to get the itch, and even Jay (on the bike) got a hankering for some speed. In last 40k or so we started to separate a bit as somebody would attack and the rest of us would chase them down. All fun and games :) In the last 10-15K things got a little more competitive, Brian and I started trading sprints to reel in Jay on the bike.

Together Brian and I were able to keep Jay in check and get some very decent sprints in to boot. Effectively emulating the end of a long, long race. Although at the end of my A2A 3 years ago, I had nothing like that kind of energy! Maybe its time to try A2A again?

niagara_gps

I caught a lot of the skate on video, and I had awesome footage of us skating up to Niagara falls and standing right at the ledge watching the falls. Awesome footage of the pack skating and Joel giving commentary on the trip. Unfortunately my camcorder got snaked by some D-bag at a convenience store in port Colborne. I set it down on top of the ATM to grab some money and then went shopping…forgetting to pick up the camcorder. By the time I remembered and came back it was already gone.

The store manager reviewed the security cam footage, but nothing useful turned up. I left my contact info, but I don’t expect to see it again. Besides being under-impressed with humans, I’m bummed about the lost footage, I really did have some awesome video of our skating!

Aside from the long distance skating, I’ve been doing lots conditioning on my own, basically focusing on 500m repeats, lots of bike chasing, and lots of technical skates, low speed but really trying to get high, high quality of movement and being ultra low. For 500m and less its basically been a lot of bucket drills; a work to rest ration of 1:1, for example 1min on, 1min off, or 30sec on and 30sec off.

For stamina I’ve been focused on 30K time trials. My goal has been to skate 30K in an hour. Said another way, just try to maintain a 30km/hr average speed. Shouldn’t be that hard right? It can be harder than you might think!

I train on the paths here in Ottawa, since I have easy access to them and can’t drive a car because of my eye-sight. Our paths are really good, but there are some issues; variable pavement quality, debris, other users, people, cyclists, dogs, etc. There are also several places where you have to slow down or outright stop because of road intersections. While there are only 2 or 3 of these where I do my TT loop…it takes precious seconds away! In addition my TT loop is a 10K out and back look, so there is a tight 180 turn at each end that gets done 5 times…having to slow down to make that turn on a 2m wide path takes a lot of time :(

Excuses aside though, the basic goal is a good one. If you can do 30K in 1h…with these conditions, than you should be in good shape for a race where there are no such impairments. So far I’ve done a 30K TT twice, the first time I came in at 1h and 46sec. Last night I tried it again, and this time scored 1h 56sec. Not the direction I’m hoping to go in, yet it felt faster last night. At the same time I had a lot of stop and go action last night, it was pretty crowded with other people trying to get the best of the last summer weather.

niagara_gps

Although the 30k in an hour goal seems pretty easy, it turns out to be a little more challenging because you have to make up for all the stop and go action and in practice you have to have an average speed better than 30kph. So my challenge now is drop that 56sec. Being average isn’t so easy!

Given that the Festival is on Sunday my focus now will be a little more sprint work to maintain my training level, but not a lot of volume between now and the Festival.

As I mentioned earlier on, my volume this year is lower, but I really do feel like its worked out ok, I’m feeling like I’m coming into a second peak for my season and the timing is perfect…just as I approach Northshore. Last year I struggled a lot at Northshore because my peak had come…and gone. :( This time around I feel good and like I’m right where I need to be. The next couple of races should be good races for me.

My last race is Houston though, and it will be challenging to keep my training up until November. Ottawa gets cold, wet and dark in September/October and its just not fun to skate in those conditions with twigs and leaves on the paths. But, I will definitely be giving it a shot. Will also be doing running to keep the old spare tire a little less spare :)

If you haven’t signed up for the Festival yet, hurry up! Will be a great race this year, we have a double wide finish across the entire road, so lots of room for a big field sprint at the end, even more new pavement then last year, and it should be a very fast race (no hills). The weather is supposed to be about 25-26C with low wind so the conditions should be pretty much ideal. I’ll be doing the Triple Crown; 10k, 21K and 42K…what about you? :)

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This Bud’s for You

In the last few days I’ve heard a lot of “soldier” stories, many more than usual. I wanted to take a moment to recognize the the commitment that many skaters have to their sport and to themselves. Even though they may not compete for podium positions, ever be mentioned when guessing who the next champ will be, or chase an Olympic dream, their passion for our sport is just as salient.

How many times have you been talking with a fellow skater and heard “had to take LOTs of Advil to get through that”, “feet are mangled, but I’ll skate again in few days”, “Coming off some bad road rash, but I’m skating again…”, etc. Over the past few days I’ve heard so many skaters talk about stuff like that this, and stuff that is much more intense, it all amazes (and inspires) me.

These are ordinary people who soldier through some of the worst pain, accidents, and stress you can imagine. All so that they can go back for more punishment at the hands of lactic acid. Of course there are rewards to skating, well beyond the simple benefits of an active life style; overcoming personal challenges, the intense feeling of freedom, the thrill of competition, and more.

Even though the rewards are many, they are not easily had. Think of the years of training to build up conditioning and technique to get the point where its just enjoyable. And along the way you are given the “opportunity” to overcome additional challenges such as injuries.

I’m sure there are many casual skaters who are casual exactly because of this issue. But I’ve heard so many skaters lately talk about the suffering they’ve gone through and are going through, and yet being committed to their sport and to themselves.

Sometimes I think I have it tough, but in the larger view, everyone has it tough, in one way or another, and for each person, their personal battles will always be more intense to them.

So, I want to take a moment to tip my helmet and give the nod to every skater, no matter what level they are at, who simply soldiers through and keeps skating. Know that you aren’t alone, and that in those times of struggle, I for one am cheering for you :)

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