I wasn’t planning on attending the Apostle Island Inline Marathon, but when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance. My wife and I decided to make the trip to Ashland, Wisconsin, around mid-morning, and tried to set plans in motion to leave at the end of the work day the day before the race. I hurriedly prepared gear and registered for the race while my wife found a hotel for us to stay at on Friday night. The race was scheduled for the morning of June 14, 2014. For those that are not familiar with this race, it takes place on Madeline Island which is off the cost of Wisconsin in Lake Superior near Bayfield, Wisconsin. You get to the race by taking a ferry from Bayfield to the Island. Once on the Island, it is a short walk to the start/finish line and the event location. This area of the North woods of Wisconsin is beautiful, and we happened to be driving through a national forest on the shore of Lake Superior just in time to see the Honey Moon. It was a fun, though impromptu, road trip to be sure. We got to our hotel in Ashland, Wisconsin, late Friday night, and, after reviewing the schedules, determined we needed to be up early Saturday morning in order to make it from Ashland to Bayfield (a roughly 30 minute drive) and catch the ferry to the island.
Packet pick up is typically held on Fridays at the Amory in Ashland, and it stays open pretty late. However, we didn’t arrive in Ashland soon enough, and opted for race-day packet pick up. It wasn’t hard, and everything was very organized. We got on the ferry and made it over to the Island with about 30 minutes prior to the start of the first race wave. I signed up for the recreation/fitness wave because most of the guys I usually race with in the Advanced divisions signed up for that wave. It was cold, probably high 40s for the temperature, and it felt like it was going to rain prior to the start of the race. By the time I was dressed and took about a mile or so skate to warm up, I was ready for the race. We lined up by division in our different waves, and the race organizers started the event promptly at 8:30 AM, with each consecutive wave leaving about 30 to 60 seconds behind each other. The rec/fit men lined up behind the pro women.
The race is a three lap circuit around the island that is just short of 9 miles per lap. The weather was mostly dry, a little cool, and I was worried it would rain during the race after looking at the weather. We did get a little bit of rain, but only enough to wet the pavement. It wasn’t hard or steady, and it didn’t seem to change the course conditions. I chose to race on my 110mm World Record Wheel Truths that are 87a hardness. This is stiffer wheel, and I was hoping to get good roll. They rolled very well, with good grip, even in the wet conditions. It wasn’t wet enough to get a good feel for how they would work in a steady rain, but they stuck during the race, and that is all I cared about.
We got the call for the start of our wave, and, as the gun went off, a group of about 1o of us came off the line and took the first tenth of a mile to figure out how the line would start. One or two guys got out front, and as the line formed going up the first hill after the first left hand turn, we caught up and formed up in the line. The pace started pretty quick and stayed there. We eventually caught up with the chase pack for the pro women’s group and, at some point, the advanced skaters from the 50+ group. There wasn’t anything really exciting that occurred during the race. There weren’t any real attacks, but the faster skaters did pick up the pace when they reached the front and pulled the pace line. The action didn’t heat up, really until the last lap. There was a lot of anticipation in the pace line on that lap. The pace didn’t start to pick up until about 4 miles in when people from the back of the line started to move up. Those of us in the front of the pace line kept pace, and the attacks built until we were 6 miles into the lap. At that point, the line broke up and everyone was skating for the finish, hoping to gap the group and lead a flyer to the finish line. We finished as a pretty solid group, all within about a minute of each other. It made for an interesting pack sprint in the last half mile. Unfortunately, my helmet camera died and I didn’t get video of the pack sprint. My wife did get finish line video, though. What makes the finish on this course hard is the 90 degree right hand final turn. It is narrow and sharp, and only leaves a couple hundred meters to the finish. Once we got through that corner, which everyone seemed to take wide when I cut right at the curb, it was a full sprint to the finish.
My goal for this race was to hang on to the lead pack in my division. I didn’t train for this race, had only done one interval skate, and was coming off of a training week that included a heavy lift and a tempo skate. Even with 2 days off before the race, I didn’t feel 100%. Also, sleep the night before was a bit elusive thanks to a fitful toddler that couldn’t seem to get comfortable. So, with little or no preparation, I signed up for this race, and just hoped to finish, ideally with the lead pack in the wave. I couldn’t be happier with the result. I ended up pulling the line a couple of times and finishing with the pack in the pack sprint. I used a lot of what I learned at the Joey Mantia Clinic the week before, and the changes in technique helped to insure I had the energy to finish with the group. I plan on doing a lot more technique training, too, in hopes of increasing my average pace and have solid finishes in the rest of the races this year. My finish time was 1:25:08, a new personal best marathon by nearly 7 minutes. I also managed to win my division and finished in the top 10 or so of my wave. It was a great race.
I can’t extol the virtues of this race enough. The course is amazingly smooth. I don’t think there is another Midwest race that has tarmac in such good condition. This meant the pace was fast the whole race since we weren’t fatigued from rough road. The weather was not as great as it could have been, but it was far from terrible. The race was well organized and in an spectacular location that is only rivaled by the NorthShore for its scenery. While the race can be a little hard to get to, it is a must for any skater that wants to skate a full or half marathon. I had spent a couple of years trying to make it to this race, and now I never want to miss another one. My helmet camera video follows. Check it out: