This year’s NorthShore Inline Marathon took place on September 13, 2014. I have been on the fence about how to approach this race report. I have been training hard, tweaking work outs and spending a lot of time on skates, doing intervals, adding volume, and generally trying to train as hard as I can. The hope was I would move up to Advanced Wave 1 from Advanced Wave 2, where I raced last year. A lot has happened in the last year, and I registered early in 2014, not thinking I would be able to move up and stick with the guys in Advanced Wave 1. Then, the first race of 2014, I stuck with the lead pack all the way through the race. I also had a top 5 finish at the MN Half in August. This ultimately lead me to sign up for Advanced Wave 1, moving from Advanced Wave 2, because most of the guys I have been skating with all year were planning on racing that wave. My thought after the move was simply “I hope I can keep up.” This mindset provided one of the very important lessons for me for this year’s NorthShore.
So I moved up a wave, and I increased some of the intensity of my training, working on getting my average solo pace up to around 16 miles per hour on my “slow” wheels and bearings that I spent the summer skating. My last training session was, basically, as planned, at the end of three days of increasingly intense tempo and distance skates including one of my usual hill routes. This trip was, basically, my typical volume trail skate, but I only went 15 miles, and the pace wasn’t ridiculous, but for a typically unruly trail after some rain earlier in the week, I was happy with the pace. When I got home, though, my legs were totally dead, and I felt like I could barely stand up for about an hour. I actually spent much of that hour eating a little here and there and sitting, because my legs, and really the rest of me, felt so exhausted. This should have been a warning.
The following Monday, I woke up with head congestion and a sore throat, the sound indicators of a looming head cold. That head cold turned into some ugly chest congestion, and my attempts to ward off the illness with Zinc supplements and sleep didn’t save me from a wet, chesty, cough that persisted through the remainder of the week and into the morning of the race. Basically, I skated the NorthShore this year with one of the worst chest colds I can remember. In fact, a week after the race, I am still struggling to overcome whatever this bug is, and I really hope to get over it soon.
Before race day, I had been watching the weather. Friday, the weather said we could look forward to start time temps around 40 degrees, with a 5 mile per hour WSW wind. That WSW wind is, unfortunately, a headwind on the NorthShore course, as the course travels South from Two Harbors to Duluth, Minnesota in a Southwest direction. Still, 5 mile per hour winds aren’t much to worry about. However the forecast did call for an increase in the winds to 10 miles per hour through the morning, which meant skating into a wind that would be getting stronger the closer we got to the finish. Not the best conditions, but certainly not the kind of wind we fought in 2013.
The morning of the race, my wife dropped me off at the bus stop to the start line around 7 AM. My race was scheduled to start at 9:35, but I didn’t want to be rushed getting ready for the race like I have for just about every other race, especially Roll for the Roses, this year. The bus I happened to board was the first bus for the full marathon event, and included most of the roller-ski competitors who were scheduled to push off at 8:30. I was very early, and it was pretty cold, but it certainly wasn’t the end of the world, as I had plenty of time to jog a bit, catch up with some other skaters, find some of my Team Rainbo teammates, and get my gear on for the race.
We lined up at the start line in time to see the Elite Women take the course. After a 5 minute wait that felt like forever, the horn sounded, and Advanced Wave 1 was on the course. The start of this race is notoriously down hill, though not in the sense that it is steep, but just that the grade decreases over the first couple of miles. It was a fast start, as I expected, and it took about a mile before the pace line really started to form. I spent a lot of time trying to position myself well in the pack and not waste a lot of energy, as I couldn’t breathe very well with my chest cold. From that point, I felt the race was pretty predictable. Lots of little attacks here and there, but nothing really significant happening. About 7 miles in, I started to get tired, and as the line flexed and compressed going up and down the rolling hills on the course, the line began to accordion. This lead to a lot of sprinting on my part, and reminded me of the all the interval work I spent doing getting ready for the race.
Right around mile 9, we had the first, and thankfully the only, crash in the line. I am not clear on what happened, but what I saw were flailing limbs all over and the line exploding with people jumping and weaving to get out of the way of the tumbling bodies in the path of the skaters toward the back of the line. I managed to avoid the carnage, and kept skating with the main pack, though a couple of skaters had broken away from the main group and were opening a gap on the pack. I continued to struggle with the accordion of the line until just short of mile 12, where my chest congestion and poor mental state got the best of me. At that point, I couldn’t close a gap, and the main pack of Advanced Wave 1 skated away from me.
The rest of the race was pretty boring, and if you are watching the video below, feel free to stop watching the video after the first 42 minutes. That covers the first half of the race, and most of the racing action I was able to capture. I spent most of the rest of the race skating alone, though did manage to hang with a group for a little while after I lost the main pack, and picked up another group with about 5 miles remaining, that I lost headed up Lemon Drop Hill just before taking the entry ramp onto I35. From that point, I skated with an acquaintance of mine, Pat Stream, through the end of the race. My helmet camera died shortly after we got onto I35, as I started recording far too early thinking I would be finishing the race faster. As a result, I wasn’t able to film the last 3 miles, or so, of the race. The only real highlights from that period were the finish and being passed by the leaders of the Combined Wave (they skate the Half Marathon early in the morning, and skate the full marathon starting after Advanced Wave 3), who passed us like a freight train yelling “Pineapple!” as they went by. This was something that Pat and the leader of that group joked about the night before the race.
I crossed the finish line with a harsh burning in my chest, exhausted, and ready to take a nap.
My official finish time was 1:34:26, I finished 10th in my age group (men 30-34), at an average pace of 16.7 miles per hour, much of which was set in the first half of the race, as the average pace for the first half of the race was nearly 20 miles per hour. In looking at my heart rate data from my Garmin, my average heart rate was 159, and once it went up, it never really came down. I spent a lot of time in high Zone 4, and, even when skating on my own, never really allowed my heart rate to even out. I think a big part of this was due to my chest congestion, which prevented me from getting good steady oxygen intake. While I was in the best physical condition I could have been in for this race, having a chest cold held me back.
Looking back on this race, I learned a lot. My plan was to skate in the middle of the pack of possible to avoid the accordion effect that happens at the back of the pack. I didn’t skate aggressively enough for that to happen. Lesson number one, that I think applies to all of my races this year, is to be more aggressive in the pack. Lesson number two is that I can skate with the guys in Advanced Wave 1, even though I had doubts that I would be able to keep pace, absent a chest cold and skating more aggressively in the pack, I think a better mental and tactical approach to this race would see me keeping pace through the final sprint. My head wasn’t in the right place for this race, something that probably doomed my Chicagoland race this year, too. Lesson number three, I need to continue to work on my technique. I noticed that my heel was bouncing in the back of my boot while skating in the pace line, which is a strong indication my technique wasn’t consistent, and meant I was losing power in the push. This will continue to be something to work on in the future.
Overall, having a chest cold is what made this a tough race. I lost the battle of mental toughness at about mile 11.7 because I determined I was in too much discomfort. I didn’t want to keep up with the pack enough to tough it out. This was a great event, and I really enjoyed the race. I know what I need to work on for next year, and I am already working on a plan to get there, but more on that in another post. The less than entertaining video from the race with GPS and HR data overlay follows: