This post could also be titled “How the Chicagoland Marathon should have gone.”
I came at this race only two weeks after the Chicagoland Inline Marathon with only five training sessions. I was hoping to get more miles in on skates, on my bike, or some dry land work, but life gets in the way. I had a lot of apprehension about the race because of the limited training and limited preparation time. Coming out of Chicagoland, I was disappointed by a time I was hoping would be better. I couldn’t figure out if I didn’t train enough, if there was a diet problem, or if I just wasn’t in the shape I was in last year. These feelings compounded a bit going into the Minnesota Half Marathon. This race tends to feel like the late season litmus test going into the last 6 weeks before the Northshore Inline Marathon in September. Last year, I finished the Minnesota Half far better than I could have expected, setting a new personal best for a half marathon distance at just over 43 minutes.
I had one goal going into this race: to stay with the main pack. I didn’t want to get dropped from the pack at all if possible. Last year, they left me at mile 9. This year, my goal was to finish with the pack, but going in I would have been happy to last longer than 9 miles, and make it past the last turn-around point on the course.
I was nervous at the start, and on the video you can see me rocking back and forth. We didn’t have any problem getting into St. Paul to stay with my sister-in-law this year. The weather was great, and the trip is now only an hour since we live in Rochester, Minnesota. This basically makes this race a local race for me. My wife and sister-in-law decided to run the 5k at the event this year, so I was out the door at 6:30 to head to the race for a 7:34 AM start time. I got there, found parking, paid for parking, and by the time I got to the location of gear drop-off, it was just after 7 AM. I got ready, dropped off my bag, but didn’t have time to warm up because they called the skaters to the line for the start. I was nervous because of my lack of training, my goals, and my result at the Chicagoland Marathon. One of the odd things about sport performance is the degree to which the mental component matters. I knew what I had to do, and once the countdown for the start of the race hit 0, it was all business.
I skated the race on the same gear I skated the Chicagoland, and this race included the same wheels and bearings from last year’s race. Everything worked out very well, and even though there are now considerably more miles on my 2012 Bont Black Ops 87a 110mm wheels, they are wearing well, continue to roll well, and are very smooth over rougher surfaces for such a hard wheel. My new boots and frames did excellently as well in the conditions. My new boots (2012 Bont Zs) are starting to break in very well, and get more comfortable every time I skate them.
The first part of the race was similar to last year. The front starters and fast skaters took off and set a fast pace. We were cruising at around 20 miles per hour headed to the first turn-around point. I stuck with some of my teammates, and the first trouble in the race really didn’t spring up until we caught the slower duathlon skaters. We had to maneuver through a small group of slower skaters, and the slower skaters basically covered the course from about a half mile in to the first turn-around point at around 2 miles into the race. Once through the turn-around, there weren’t any obstacles in front of the main pack. The dynamics of the pack were similar to last year, in that they were all over the place and the front of the line wasn’t calling hazards. There weren’t any major surges in the pace except for on the hills, which are mild and short by comparison to the hills on the Chicagoland course. The pack cruised along, swapping positions with skaters coming up on one side or the other of the line. We hit the big hills and I just hung on for dear life, working hard to close any gaps that opened in front of me. I kept checking my Garmin to see what my heart rate was doing. It is interesting to watch the video now to also see where I was with my heart rate. It wasn’t as elevated as last year, so I am in better physical condition, at least so it seems.
As we got to mile 9, and were coming up to the last turn-around on the course, I got nervous again because I started to gap the line at the same point as last year. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears, and decided to push through and stick with the pack as long as I could. We made the turn around, and with one of my race goals down, I was going to ride it out and see how long it lasted. However, we turned the corner and the pace of the group slowed. Not remarkably, but enough for me to catch my breath and recover a bit. As we headed into the hilly section on the return, there was a skater in front of the one of my team mates that kept letting other skaters in the line. My team mate decided he didn’t want to let this go on, so he jumped out of the line. I didn’t want to get left behind, so I went with him. What was supposed to be a tactical move up in the line turned into a short flyer. Next thing I know, we are out in front with a gap on the line as we crest over the hill. My team mate moved into the draft behind me and we started down the hill. He warned me that the line would likely come flying by us on the down hill. At that point, I was too spent to care, and just coasted the hill. The pack caught up, but the surge didn’t happen until we were headed back up the next hill. Thankfully, the down hill coast was enough for me to recover from the sprint. As the line went by, I managed to stay with the front 15 or so skaters.
The pace picked up from there. We crossed the 12.5 mile mark and the line disintegrated into an extended field sprint. The guys at the front of the line stayed together, but farther back, it was every man for himself. I really pushed the pace all the way to the finish, and my speed was considerably higher than what I usually skate. My heart rate was through the roof, but I made it to the finish. Officially, I finished with a time of 40:49.88, finishing first overall in the open masters division (age 30-39).
Much like last year, this was a great race, and anyone who is on the fence about whether to attend should take the plunge. It may only be a half marathon, but it is certainly one of the great races of the year that I have attended. I am looking forward to next year, and hope to be in the front of the open pack at the finish. The one thing I would change about this race is the way the duathlon starts. The slower duathlon skaters are a danger to the faster open group skaters, and this was blatantly apparent this year as we had to dodge several of them during the first 2 miles of the race. I think this could be fixed with better instructions to the duathlon skaters about staying to the right of the road way . That notwithstanding, this was a great race generally, and a good race for me personally. The video of my race follows: