Tag Archives: tactics

Race Report: Chicagoland Inline Marathon 2015

This report is a bit stale at this point.  As I mentioned previously, this was my first and only race this year because of everything that had been going on in life and in my family.  Training was decidedly on the back burner, and I had only skated a handful of times before this race.  The delay in this report is also a result of the craziness of life.

Going into this race, I was aiming for a time less than 1:45:00, but would have been happy with anything under 2 hours.  As usually, this course is difficult because of the hills, and the road conditions are typically an unknown.  This year didn’t disappoint when it came to conditions.  It wasn’t terribly hot, but it was humid.  Earlier in the day it threatened rain, so we had a bit of a breeze and the clouds kept it from getting too hot too early.  The sun did come out later in the race, and the temperatures noticeably increased.  The road conditions were only slightly worse than last year, with the already rough roads seeing some expected degradation, particularly on the long hills on Central Avenue.  The pace was noticeably slower in the pack than prior years too, likely because of the conditions.  And we had to watch out for strange hazards, like misplaced cones:

cones

Off the start, the pack formed quickly.  The advanced group for this race is usually made of experienced skaters and elite masters that drop down to the advanced group because the difficulty of the course.  Off the start, we had the usual sprint to Central to thin out the pack.  By the time we got to the stop light at Huntington, we were moving around 20 mph and had a good group working together of about 30 skaters.  this group stuck together for a good part of the first pack, but those not able to manage the hills started to drop off on Central and on Huntington.  I lost the pack in the same place I have lost them in previous years.  The pace wasn’t terrifically fast, but it was consistent.  Even losing the pack about 6 miles in, I still finished the first lap in about 30 minutes.  I connected with another guy on my team, Tom, and a skater from Iowa, Brad.  The three of us skated most of the rest of the race together.  Tom has been skating for a long time, and he can pull up hills like no one I have skated with.  Brad is a great skater, and definitely took his turn in the lead.  I managed to stay with them until the last couple of miles of the race.  We also picked a nice smooth line down the s-curve hill that is always a lot of fun as a downhill.  For example:

s-curve

I skated this race on a new set of Matter G13s.  I had to see what everyone was raving about.  I also used a fresh set, like just out of the wrapper maybe 15 miles total skating, of ILQ9 Pro bearings.  I have a good history with these bearings.  They come pre-lubricated with a gel style lubricant.  After skating this race, I can say that they require breaking in as they didn’t feel like they rolled as freely as my set that has been cleaned and re-lubricated.  That is totally subjective, though.  I also skated this race on softer wheels, F1s, to be exact.  That is Matter’s footprint system for wheel hardness or durometer.  It measures the size of the footprint patch made by the wheel under load.  This is probably the hardness equivalent of 86a in other wheels.  I went or something softer because of this typically rough course.  They roll well, but they didn’t feel meaningfully different than the 87a WRW Truths I skated last year.  The Truths are cheaper, and as long as that continues to be the case, I will probably continue to race on those in the future once I wear out this set of G13s.  I did notice that my top speeds were lower, but my averages were consistent with prior skating performance.  I can’t tell if this is due to differences in the wheels, though.  This set up is supposed to be lighter than with the Truths, but I couldn’t tell specifically.  The G13s are good wheels, but, for the money, I will probably stick with the Truths.  After all, WRW is a smaller company that makes a good product, and I am only racing myself.  If tenths and hundredths of a second mattered in a time trial or lap race, then maybe $25 per wheel would be worth.  However, for the weekend warrior, it probably isn’t.

My official finish time was 1:38:45.56.  This was far from a personal best, even on this course.  Overall, it wasn’t a bad finish.  I can’t complain as I basically came off the couch to this finish, without any meaningful training for almost a month in advance, and maybe 2 skate sessions in July prior to this race.  The fact is, I need to get back to training, for reasons that really have nothing to do with racing or skating.  I look forward to that happening soon.  In the mean time, the video of my race follows.  Watch out for cones, though.


Crickets and Tumbleweed…

For anyone that actively follows this blog, you are probably wondering what happened.  For those that are here looking through the archives, you may be wondering whether this blog has died the typical death of anything posted by a hobbyist on the internet.  Hopefully, this post will prove that this blog isn’t dead, at least not yet.

A lot has been going on in my life lately.  My wife and I welcomed our second child.  Within a couple months of that wonderful expansion of our family, we moved from Minnesota back to Chicago.  I started a new job, we sold our house, and I sold a considerable amount of my exercise equipment, but by far, the hardest item to sell personally was my barbell and iron plates.  I kept the standard plates, dumbbells, and bumper plates.  The other big stuff, including my bike, trainer, my dip stand, floor mats, Bosu, and some other items are in storage, but did make the trip.  My bigger items, like my plyo box and squat stands, went with the barbell set and iron weights.  Since the move at the beginning of July, I have skated a couple of times, but haven’t had the chance to lift.

As a result of family, a job change, and big move, training has hit the back burner.  My race season has been cut significantly based on what I had hoped for the year.  I have a presentation in the Twin Cities the weekend of the North Shore.  That means that my entire season is the Chicagoland Inline Marathon.  This race is hard.  I am looking forward to skating a familiar course.  My lack of training this year will make a good result difficult.  I have a low bar, hoping to finish the race in less than 2 hours.  At the same time, I have finished at least one other race with an unexpected result racing unprepared.  However, those were different circumstances, with a very different course.

For this race, I am looking to stick with the lead pack as long as I can and then to find a good, consistent pace line to roll with through the finish.  Pain stays at home tomorrow.  I can suffer for a couple of hours to know I put everything into this race.  My legs are strong enough to skate hard for that distance.  My lungs are decent enough to keep a manageable pace.  The skates are in good shape.  I have a brand new set of Matter G13 wheels and a full set of TwinCam ILQ9 Pro bearings fresh from the package.  I will, at the very least, have a good review of the wheels after tomorrow.

I hope to have a reasonable report and a video that is not too boring to share after the race tomorrow.


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…


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: 2014 Chicagoland Inline Marathon

This year, the Chicagoland Inline Marathon took place on July 20, 2014.  The weather is usually a source of concern for this race because, as one friend and fellow racer of mine put it, its like racing on the surface of the sun.  It is usually brutally hot and terribly humid, but that is what you get when you schedule a race in the Chicago area in July, basically the dog days of summer.  This year, though, the race start for the Advanced division at 8 AM, the weather was reasonably pleasant.  The temperature was in the mid 60’s and the humidity was around 70%.  The Elite group had a little tougher time weather wise, but it never got much more humid.  Generally, pleasant conditions for skating, all things considered.

The race started shortly after 8 AM, and the group came off of the line typically quick, with the speed of the lead pack jumping quickly up to 20 MPH.  As the group thinned to the 20 of us, or so that could hold that pace.  The pace stayed in that range, and for the first half of the race, we were averaging 18+ mph even over the hills.  Last year, I got dropped after the the hills on Central, headed up Huntington toward Lakewood.  This year, I managed to stick with the lead pack through the entire first lap, and through the long outbound stretch on Central to the turn around about 12 miles in to the race.  For this race, it is the longest I have managed to stick with the lead pack.

Like previous years, we lost half of the pack on the hills on the return on Central.  This group got together and hung together for the rest of the race.  The lead pack put some good distance on them in the half of a lap or so after we got away.  However, it wasn’t too much longer before I lost the lead pack.  At the turn around, I got shuffled to the back of the pack.  When we came around the corner back onto Central, I had the opportunity to jump up the line, but, mentally, I wasn’t there, and miss the opportunity.  The guy in front of me lapped the line, and I got stuck in the accordion effect of the sprint back toward the hills on Central.  I couldn’t get my legs under me and sprint after the pack to stay in the draft.

I lost the pack after 12 miles, and then skated the remainder of the entirely alone.  I tried to pick up a skater or two on the way, but wasn’t able to find anyone to skate with.  Another skater was on my tail, but not closing fast enough to allow us to work together.  I think we both may have done better if we managed to connect and work together.  Regardless, after seeing one of my team mates with a bit of a lead, I was hoping to catch him.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t close the gap and I spent the rest of the race in no-man’s land, skating solo in the wind, fighting for every minute I could manage.  I finished the race in something of a disappointing 1:35:20, 5th in my division and 16th overall in the wave, as I hoped to finish around 90 minutes.  However, I do think this is one of my highest overall finishes at this race, which does give me some hope that the work I have been doing on technique and fitness are helping.  This time was better than last year, but not better than the year before, which was a personal best at this course, if memory serves.  The advanced division race results can be found here.  The rest of the results by category can be found here.

This race is challenging.  While the road conditions get a lot of complaints, that isn’t what really makes this race hard:  it’s the hills.  To race Chicagoland, you have to be ready for hills, intervals, and hot weather.  Without that combination, you won’t last.  The road conditions are just another layer that will separate those who are comfortable skating on any surface from those who aren’t.  I will keep attending this race because I like the challenge.  I wasn’t prepared mentally, and could have used a little better physical preparation, but I learned a lot (like how my form on hills falls apart when I get tired, leaving me with heel blisters to remember the experience).  My hips were pretty sore after the race, too, which also gives me confidence that my work on technique is helping as the kind of soreness and fatigue I came away from the race with is a good indication that my technique wasn’t as bad as my feet would have me believe.  That said, the goal for next year is to hang with the lead pack through the entire race.  I have a better idea of how to train now, generally, and will be adjusting my off season work to accommodate a lot more base cardio, something I missed this last winter.  Mixed with a strong helping of weight lifting, a little bit of ice skating, and a mix of other things that I will probably discuss more at length come October, I am hoping for a stronger finish next year.  Overall, I can’t complain much about this race.  I did better than last year and placed higher, overall, than I have at this race.  My time wasn’t spectacular, but given the other gains, I can’t say that this race was a total loss.  I know now what I need to work on, and if I am not learning something in this sport, I am doing something very wrong.

From a gear perspective, I have been messing with my frame placement, and I think it was a little off on both skates, but more so on my left skate. That is where the biggest blister was after the race.  I skated some earlier this week and noticed the placement issue.  I moved the frames in a couple of millimeters, and they feel dialed in at the moment.  I am going to stick with this placement for the near future, probably through the end of the season.  While cleaning my bearings before the race, it became apparent that my Adam’s Swiss bearings were dead after not being properly clean after getting wet during the Apostle Island race.  It was a stupid mistake that forced me to replace the bearings with ILQ9 Pro bearings.  I like the ILQ bearings from TwinCam generally.  They are a good product, but I wish I had more break in time on them.  They roll very smoothly, and I couldn’t complain about the team price.  It is also what a lot of the guys that skate in Minnesota run, too.  The WRW Truth wheels seem to be doing reasonably well, but they are wearing more quickly than I anticipated.  I will have to see how they fair over the next two races to provide a better review.  Any experience I had at Chicagoland this year will be colored by a lot of other gear changes that contributed to my struggles in this race.

The next race is the Minnesota Half Marathon on August 2. I don’t feel ready for this race, but I didn’t feel ready for Apostle Island this year or the Minnesota Half last year.  My goal is ambitious, though I don’t know if I am capable.  Last year, I accomplished my goal of staying with the lead pack.  This year, I am shooting for a top 10 finish in the open division.

My race video follows.  I am switching to DashWare to create the gauges, but building custom gauges in that program takes some time.  I hope to have that program in the mix for the NorthShore in September.  Beyond that, I used Lightworks to do all of the editing, rather than having to create the titles with an image editor and importing them into the video.  The new version of Lightworks is great.  If you need an NLE video editor, check it out.  As for the video, judge for yourself:

 


Race Report: Chicagoland Inline Marathon

The 2013 Chicagoland Inline Marathon took place on July 21, 2013.  I had been working on preparing for this race since the Metrodome Marathon in March.  However, as my posts on this blog have detailed, it has been a challenge to train.  Between the weather, a new baby, and a new job, skating became less of a priority.  In addition, the week prior to the race, I only managed one relatively slow skate and was battling a head cold.  Going into the race, I was nervous about my potential performance.  Tactically, I wanted to hang with the lead pack of the advanced division as long as I could, and try to get to the front as much as I could to keep pace.  This plan was based on my experience last year getting dropped by the pack on the first lap headed up the return hill on Central Avenue.  I thought I had a pretty good plan going into the race, but was concerned about my fitness level and the lack of training the week before the event.

At the start, I had gotten a pretty solid position near the front of the pack.  When the race started, I managed to get out ahead of pretty much everyone except for 3 or four skaters.  Two of the skaters ahead of me formed a pace line pretty quickly, and we stuck together out onto Central Avenue with the rest of the pack on our heels.  The entire lead pack formed up quickly on the first uphill, and we cycled through pulls on the line.  As we headed out on Central Avenue, I had my first experience pulling the lead.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last long and only happened once.  I pulled off the front of the line after pulling up the big hill at a solid pace for me headed up a hill.  I moved back into the line about 5 spots back.  At that point, my plan was moving along fine.  There weren’t very many attempts to push the pace as we were moving pretty fast, and the breaks usually hold off until the return hill on Central.  I gave up a few spots as we moved down Central, and gave up a couple of more spots heading into and around the turn around on Central.  As we headed back up the hills on Central, the only thing I wanted was to stay in the line and not lose the pack.  As we came back up the hill on Central, the line kept a steady but quick pace.  I managed to stick with the line, and as we turned on to Huntington from Central, the line broke and picked up speed again on the uphill there.

At that point, I was completely drained, and had gassed out.  I started way too fast, and expended far too much energy trying to lead the pack.  The long set of hills on Central and onto Huntington took their toll.  I was hoping to get a gauge for where my heart rate was at this point, but for some reason my heart rate monitor wasn’t relaying data to my Garmin.  As a result, the only thing I can look back on is the feeling of my heart pounding in my ears and the lack of power in my legs telling me that I needed to spend more time on cardiovascular fitness.  I lost the main pack and skated the rest of the first lap solo.  As I came around the finish, I could see the pack starting to break up.  I picked up one skater towards the end of lap one, and the two of us eventually picked up another skater out on Central.  A group then caught us, and I skated most of the second and the beginning of the third lap with them.  On the return hill on Central, we caught a couple more of the stragglers from the main pack.  However, I lost this group headed back up the hill on Huntington and ended up skating the section on Lakewood solo.  As I made the turn off Lakewood, I was passed by another group that I was able to jump in with.  I finished the race with this group, setting a good pace over the last mile.  Making the final turn of Central, there was standing water on the course in a prime line around the corner, and as we came around the corner, I broke for the finish only because the pace picked up and I was number 2 in the line.  I couldn’t hold the pace and lost a couple of positions at the end.

I finished the race in 1:35:58 per my Garmin, but the official time had me at 1:36:01.  I placed 27th out of about 45 total racers in the Advanced division.  This certainly wasn’t my goal, but I finished without any serious problems, and managed to stick with the main pack longer than last year.  This is a hard course, and every time was several minutes slower this year than last year.  Whether it was the degrading road surface (there were a few more holes in the road this year), or the standing water on the course I can’t say.  This was a great learning experience.  I am glad I jumped out front.  I know I can keep that pace in the line.  However, I may be better off staying a little farther back in the line and avoiding the pull until later in the race.  I am taking this experience into the Minnesota Half Marathon in about a week and a half and the Northshore Inline Marathon in a little under 2 months, and will try to develop a better game plan for those races.

The big take away from this race, though, was my lack of cardiovascular fitness.  I need to work on harder intervals.  Lately my work outs haven’t been pushing my limits because I have been focusing on technique.  I think the technique is working for me, now I need to refocus on cardiovascular fitness to make sure I can continue to hammer the pace all the way through a 90 minute race.  Also, I struggled with wasting energy trying to match stride in the pace line.  I am going to work on becoming more efficient in shorter strokes, also, since that was an area that cost me in the race, and will continue to be an issue.  It seems like training solo has made this difficult.  Regardless, I need to refocus on my cardio moving forward.  I will also not be taking cardio out of the rotation over the off season this year, and I hope that hard bike intervals mixed with some potential ice skating will keep me in reasonable condition going into the early season races next year.

This was my first outdoor race on my new 2012 Bont Z boots with 3PF frame.  I used the same wheel/bearing set up as last year.  The skates did very well, and I think I have them about where they need to be with being broken in.  I need a new pair of EzeeFits, which I am going to buy at the Minnesota Half, but otherwise, the set up worked great.  The new helmet was terrific also.

The video follows, but I warn you that after the first 10 minutes or so it gets kind of boring for about 20 or so minutes.  Things get interesting again from that point.  Also, the heart rate gauge is dead because my Garmin didn’t track any heart rate data.  Otherwise, the video looks good.