Tag Archives: half marathon

Reviewing the Season

Looking back on my training and racing season this year, there are a lot of positive results and mixed experiences.  My ongoing goal was to skate a sub-90 minute marathon, stay with the lead pack as long as possible during the Chicagoland, finish at the front of the pack in the MN Half, and set a personal record in the NorthShore.  At the start of the year, I planned four races:  Roll  for the Roses, Chicagoland Inline Marathon, Minnesota Half, and the NorthShore.  I ended up skating five races, adding the Apostle Island Marathon the day before the race because the stars aligned to allow me to attend.

My plan for the year was to train focusing on technique, working the basics of form and focusing on base fitness to build my race day performance.  I had a slow start to the season, with a very short skate.  The Mantia Clinic was a great experience, and I have been working on everything I learned during that clinic since April.  My VO2 Max test was an interesting and eye-opening experience, and forced me to re-evaluate my cardiovascular training.

In reviewing my goals, I beat my 90 minute goal by finishing Apostle Island in 85 minutes.  I stuck with the lead pack longer than I ever have for the Chicagoland, but didn’t finish with the pack.  I had my first top 5 finish at the Minnesota Half Marathon in the advanced pack, and suffered through a cold in Advanced Wave 1 for a course personal best at the NorthShore.  It wasn’t a bad season, overall.  I could have done a lot better for a lot of reasons, but I can’t write this season off as a lost year.  I was stronger than I have ever been, thanks in large part to my strength training.  My cardiovascular fitness still needs work, though, even though my less than stellar NorthShore was largely due to an ugly chest cold.  So, this year, while not a banner year in my skating, it was still full of valuable experiences.

As Aryton Senna once said, “[t]he past is just data, I only see the future.”

This season provided a lot of good data.  I can, and did in two races, hang with some of the fastest advanced skaters in the Midwest.  I didn’t prepare properly for the Chicagoland.  Tactics are everything in a race with a large pack.  All things considered, I was in very good physical condition for the NorthShore.  The mental component is significant, and the second the thought of “I can’t” crosses my mind, I have lost the race.  Strength is good, power is just as good if not better.  Cardiovascular training can’t be sacrificed over the off-season.  Finally, technique is 70% of speed skating.

In reverse order, I was only able to keep up during the Apostle Island Marathon because I had been working on technique.  Efficiency kept me in that race without enough training to get to the finish.  My first couple of on-skates workouts this year were painful, and, while I was more efficient because of my technique focus, I didn’t have the fitness I would need for the upcoming races.  I got to the point of thinking “I can’t” twice this year, first in the Chicagoland and second during the NorthShore, but there was a time during the Minnesota Half that I thought “I can” where I chased down a break away and pushed the pace while pulling the line.  The fact that, with a brutal chest cold, I kept pace with the main pack of Advanced Wave 1, the fastest of the non-pro skaters, at nearly 20mph average for 11 miles, meant I was in very good physical condition, and, had I not had a cold that prevented adequate breathing, I could have kept up with them.  Tactics in a large pack are all about smart drafting.  I didn’t stay with the front part of the pack during the Chicagoland or the NorthShore, got caught in the accordion of the pace line, and couldn’t keep up with the repetitive intervals that result from rolling hills at the back of the pack.  I didn’t skate enough hills or do enough intervals for Chicagoland, period.  I hung with the fast skaters at Apostle Island and at the Minnesota Half.

It was a good year and I learned a lot.  Now it is time to take this data and look forward.

Looking forward, the off-season is here, and with it comes a couple of weeks of planning, a lot of weight lifting, time on the bike, and off-skate technique work.  But more on that in another post…

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Race Report: 2014 Minnesota Half Marathon

A lot of people question the value of the Minnesota Half Marathon.  However, after the race this year, this event should be considered a staple of the Midwest outdoor racing circuit and anyone within reasonable driving distance should put this race on their calendar.

I have often felt that this race rejuvenates my confidence as a skater after the Chicagoland Inline Marathon, as I haven’t been able to keep up with the main pack at that race since I have raced it.  Coming out of the Chicagoland, I was aggressive with the two weeks of training I had getting ready for this race.  I like this race, generally, even if it is only a half marathon.  The road conditions are decent, there aren’t a lot of big hills, and the pace is pretty fast.  This is a local race for Minnesota skaters, and it usually draws a big crowd from the local speed skating contingent here.  This year was no exception.

I got out of the house and on the road by the time I had planned, but didn’t get to St. Paul, where the race took place, until 7:15 AM.  The race was scheduled to start for the Open Wave at 7:33 AM, so I was very late.  The line for parking was long, and I still had to get to packet pick-up and get my skates on before getting to the start line.  The gear drop was also in an odd place.  Thankfully, one of my teammates from Team Rainbo was kind enough to drop my gear bag for me at gear drop while I got my skates on.  When I checked in and got my bib, I didn’t get an ankle chip.

I made it to the start line, but just barely before the National Anthem.  I got in with the group of skaters in the open group, but was shuffled a couple of skaters back from the start line.  The conditions were tight, and it took a bit to get across the start line.  At the start, the pace was predictably fast through the turn around.  The main group filtered out after a couple of miles.  We had a solid group through the first half of the race.  Oddly, at about mile 5.5, I was pulling the line and found myself alone.  I looked back to see the line dropping off behind me.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold that pace through the rest of the race, and opted to let the line catch me.  We rotated out, I continued to draft, and as we approached the turn around a couple of skaters got away.  Cale Carvell gave chase, and caught the group on the flyer.  The line broke up a bit up the hill to the turn around, and I opted to see if I could catch the flyer. It took about a mile, but I managed to reel them in.  Unfortunately, the rest of the pack came with us.  The last couple of miles were very fast.  I managed to duck in behind Roger Olson and hang on to the finish.  We were cruising into the final sprint, and I looked to my right only to see one of the other skaters closing, so I shot my right foot out to cross the line first, finishing in the top 5 for the wave, first for my age group, and 33rd overall, finishing in 42:02.30.  Full results can be found here.  The open wave was lead by Matt Melanson, Cale Carvell, Roger Olson, and myself.  However, the official results list Dan Stietz as finishing first, though I don’t know we ever saw him in or around the main pack, and he finished about 3 seconds ahead of the pack.  There was some great racing in the open division this year.

Inline Skate Minneapolis‘s race report from the overall event can be found here.  Kelin Dunfree pulled out the overall win, followed by Rob Bell and Alex Fadek with Hernan Diaz and  Team Rainbo’s Steve Meisinger rounding out the top five finishers.  Kaari, over at the Longtrack Life also pulled out her inline skates and raced the event.  Her race report can be found here.

My technique was better in this race, but after watching the video and observing some of the other skaters, I can say that the big problem with my technique is where my center of gravity sits over my skates.  The other fast skaters have their center of gravity further back over the heels of their skates.  Mine tends to be over my skates.  I noticed this after the Chicagoland, but this certifies the problem.  I have been working on this aspect of my technique.  I need to get my balance and weight farther over the heels of my skates, and I will continue to work on this body position.  The big benefit of doing this is it forces me to push out to side more effectively, thereby transferring power to the ground more effectively to generate more speed.

The race was a little slower than last year, but my finish result was better in the main pack.  While there was a little hiccup with the timing because I didn’t have an ankle chip, the race organizers were very accommodating to add my time to the final results.  My helmet camera video follows:

I used DashWare to make the gauge overlay for this video.  This process is shockingly more cumbersome than using CycleCam.  CycleCam creates the gauge videos with just the use of the Garmin TCX file.  However, it doesn’t have very many options for gauges.  DashWare has considerably more gauge options, and the gauge designer is very powerful, though not entirely user friendly.  DashWare, though, is designed to make the entire video, start to finish.  DashWare has options for titling, but isn’t very capable as an editor.  I had to make a background to make the green screen so I could use chroma key to overlay the gauges on the camera footage.  I like the gauge options, but you have to render the video with audio in DashWare then edit the camera video and gauge video in Lightworks.  I am going to keep working with DashWare to see if I can construct a viable workflow.  I will have a review of DashWare specifically in the near future.


Race Report: 2013 Minnesota Half Marathon

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).

20130803 MN Half Award Picture w Medal

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: