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Tour of Chicago: 2011 Race Report Part 1

Ok, picking up from Methods of Endurance Training: 2011 Season Part 14, it’s time for the first part of the race report.   There will actually be a bit of overlap with the previous article just in terms of the days.  And if it seems a bit more stream of consciousness than usual, it’s because I’m doing it on the fly to kill time in the hotel.


I slept like a log Thursday night and this was actually a weird weekend sleep wise. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I tend not to sleep on the night before a race but so long as I got a good night’s sleep the night before the night before I’m fine.  The problem being that I was racing two days in a row.  I was worried that a bad night’s sleep tonite would affect me on Sunday.   Mind you, this wasn’t worth putting much mental energy into; I couldn’t do anything about it.

I puttered around the house Friday morning, dealt with dog stuff and did one last equipment check; I’m always worried about forgetting something and that’s where I get a little bit OCD about it, checking and rechecking.  I had my main skates with the 110 mm wheels (and the wheels I’d skated Thursday) and just in case of rain, I packed my 100mm frames as well (along with some normal 100mm race wheels); I have some wheels that supposedly run on wet pavement.  I had some extra bearings to dick around with those as well.

Travel, as always was a nightmare.  Between a weather delay and then sitting on the runway for an hour waiting for something to let us leave, it was mainly frustrating.  I truly hate traveling of late for this reason but driving the 15 hours would have been too exhausting.  Not that I didn’t still consider it if only to avoid dog separation anxiety.

The upshot was that I rolled into Chicago at 4pm, by the time I got my bags and my rental car, it was rush hour.  Joy.  So I ground my way down to the event site to get my race packet and find the actual race course even if all I wanted to do was go to the hotel.  Glad I did too, where we picked up the packets was NOT where the race was going off.  I went to the actual race site and got a chance to check out some of the course.  The pavement wasn’t as smooth nor as flat as the event site had led me to believe but I had made the right wheel selection anyhow.

I got to the hotel, checked in and then it was time to go in search of food.  I didn’t really want to spend the entire weekend living on synthetic food of the protein bar and fruit variety (it gives me gas) but neither did I want something heavy in my stomach.  I ended up at Applebee’s but ended up walking out when they couldn’t figure out where to bring my damn food.  A sandwich and fruit from Walmart would have to do and I stocked up on food for both Saturday and Sunday along with sodas and such.

I did one last skate check, tightening bolts and setting everything out so that I’d be ready.  The one ‘nice’ thing about the first day is that the 10k pack race didn’t go off until 12:50pm.  I certainly wouldn’t be dealing with an early morning.  Of course, the drawback was that they had called for a heat warning; it’d be HOT. But I was nothing if not adapted, Austin summer had been brutal and that I was used to.  I feel bad for anybody who shows up to this shindig without being heat acclimated and I bet some people drop during the running events.

Somehow, the Tour De France was on tv so I watched a bit of that for motivation before taking a short walk to stretch my legs and then heading to bed.  While walking, I saw some ominous looking lightening in the distance.  Uh oh.  And was calling for a chance of rain.


Saturday Morning

I slept shockingly well given it was the night before a race.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  However I was awoken during the night to my worst fear: rain.  Got up that morning and the pavement was soaked and it was still drizzling.  This isn’t good as urethane skate wheels and water don’t work well unless you define ‘well’ as ‘having your skate slide away from you every time you try to push.  The runners wouldn’t have too much of an issue but we would.

However, as I noted above, I had brought my 100mm frames just in case with some wheels that are supposed to run on wet pavement (I’m told they actually work but have never had an opportunity to test them).   The weather report said it was supposed to sunny up at 9am and if it did, it should burn everything off by the time the 10k went off. So I sat around and waited before I did anything to my skates.  And as I kept pounding refresh on the weather report, they kept pushing back the sun until past the 10k start time.  Shit.

Just in case, I headed down to the race course early.  Mainly I wanted to see if the first event had been pushed back at all. While things were a bit late there was no indication that the event as a whole was being moved.  I also saw the same familiar faces from the Road Rash: Mantia, Stelly, etc.  It’s a pretty small sport that way.

I asked Justin if he was running Storm Surge wheels and he said yes.  Another guy said they were night and day on wet pavement (but run terribly on dry pavement).  Sadly, none of the vendors had thought to bring them in 110mm size.  Gahh, it’s been sunny and cool in Chicago for weeks and it rains this weekend with a heat warning.  So I headed back to the hotel to obsessively watch the weather report and then make my final decision about equipment.


The 10k

As of 11:30 it didn’t look like it was going to clear and the 10k was supposed to go off at 12:50. Just in case, I took my 110’s out into the hotel parking lot and they would not run on the wet pavement.  So I quit dithering and put my 100mm frames and Storm Surge wheels on.  Headed back to the course and, just in case, took my normal race wheels.

And once I got there it was drying out, slowly and the folks I had talked to were switching back to normal race wheels.  Gah.  Which meant that I could have raced on the 110’s but I didn’t even bring them as I wouldn’t have had time to do another frame and wheel switch and warm-up.  So it was the 100’s with normal race wheels.  Which was fine.

It’s not as if I’ve found the 110’s to be massively superior to the 100’s.  At best they are a touch faster and more efficient but that’s it; at worst they are a touch more unstable for me.  And while I’ve skated the 110’s for the last 6 weeks exclusively, frankly the 100’s just ‘felt’ better somehow even not having been on them for so long.  More stable, more solid.

It’s hard to explain, probably a function of being a bit lower to the ground.  Just more stable overall and I’d be willing to sacrifice a touch of top speed for more stability given the nature of the race and the slickness of the pavement.  The course was a slightly less than 1 mile loop and we’d do it 6 times.  A couple of hardish corners but nothing too serious.  And mostly dry except for some patches of water that we had to skate through.

There were about 30 of us in the elite group and we went last.  As usual, I just started in back so I wouldn’t get tangled up in the mix of guys trying to run.  Things started off fairly calmly, around the roundabout and out the first straight until we hit the first uphill.  The pavement certainly had some wet spots (and invariably big pools of water in the corners) and I was extra careful to stay more on top of my skates when pushing through water (or just roll through it).  I started to move up the line from the back and got boxed in, had to step up onto a raised center pavement piece to avoid getting tangled up.  I still won’t establish my space well.

By the time I got back down, I was off the back and didn’t have the gas to catch the main line. It wouldn’t have mattered, I still don’t have the motor to stay with the fastest guys (the same world class guys from the Road Rash were here again).  Not yet anyhow.  Another winter of development on my power outputs (and speed work on my inlines) and a touch lighter and I think I can do it.

I passed one guy and bridged to another, then a third.  Eventually ended up in a small pack of 3 with all of us working together for the second half of the race.    Around and around we went with nothing really changing except switching off leads.  They were wearing the same jerseys so they were teammates and we weren’t going too hard since there wasn’t any chance of catching the main pack at this point.  We weren’t dawdling but we weren’t going balls out either.

On the last lap, I tried to drop them on the climb but it was clear I couldn’t crack them so I backed off; no point wasting energy where it didn’t matter and dragging them up the hill.  We came into the final sprint and I just let them go.  It wouldn’t have impacted anything in the big scheme of things and it wasn’t worth wasting energy or crashing to try to improve my placings by one or two spots.  I also just don’t have the sprint at this point to make it worth my while.

Overall I was happy with how I raced even if my placing was low; this is my first year in the elites and I’m at least hanging in with the back group.  Of far more importance than my placings was this: since my mid-20’s, I have been tortured by not ever having skated a sub 20 minute 10k. I’ve mentioned having some ‘unfinished business’ with this distance and that was it.  I was always close but couldn’t ever break through the 20 minute barrier when I raced in my 20’s before I ‘retired’ the first time.

And for literally 16 years it’s bugged the ever-loving shit out of me that I had never done it; given the lack of 10k races, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get a chance (part of why doing this event was so important to me).   So I just went ahead and did it today at age 41.  My 10k time (adjusted for the slightly shorter nature of the course) would have been 18:36 (based on an average speed of 20.0 mph exactly, top speed of 26.8mph) and I can live with that.  I also saw an average heart rate of 183 and a max of 193.  I definitely didn’t hold anything back.  Here’s the Garmin output for speed and heart rate.

This can't possibly be healthy.
This can't possibly be healthy.

I dragged myself to the car, went back to the hotel to change into a fresh skin suit and get a little break.  Did a bit of PNF stretching to loosen everything up and even considered remounting my 110’s but just didn’t bother.  Probably best given the nature of the time trial course (which I only found out after making the decision).  I didn’t really have time anyhow and might as well stick with what’s comfortable.  In about an hour and a half it would be time to go again.


The 2 Mile Time Trial

To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, never done one on inlines and it’s not quite the same as the ice.  After my brief rest, I got back to the race site and checked out the course beforehand.  Glad I did, it was…interesting.  Actually, I’ll be honest, it was kind of screwed up.  I was told afterwards that they wanted to make it technical but it was just laid out strangely.  And by strangely I mean stupidly.

We’d start into half of a roundabout, long gradual downhill into a 180 turnaround. This is hard to do on inlines, no brakes and you will crash if you don’t slow down.   Back up the gradual uphill, through the turnaround to another long straight.  Another 180 degree turn and back.  Then a hard right into an uphill into another right into a short steep climb.  Which meant you couldn’t carry much speed into it. Then it got truly stupid as we went into a dark, slick, rippled pavement underground parking garage with a 90 degree right into a 90 degree left.  Back out into a screaming downhill to a hard right to the finish.  Seriously, just make it out and back or something.  There were plenty of good roads to be had; we’d just raced them during the 10k.

I predicted that someone would crash on this course.  Turned out I was right…..

We went in the reverse order of the finish for our category which meant I was second in line for the elite men.   My ideal goal was to catch the guy in front of me and NOT get caught by the guy behind me.   And, of course, skate well.  I had warmed up and went to the line.  10 second countdown and off.  I didn’t really run off the line, no point trying to make up a few tenths and risking a slip or fall or crash.  It was a brisk skate into the turnaround as I built my speed and tried to settle into a nice rhythm.

Everything went more or less fine and I handled everything about how I expected.  Down the gradual downhill, drag a skate, make the turnaround, back up the hill, around the roundabout, out and back again.  I kept up my speed on the climb well, all that bike work has paid off.  And was concerned as I entered the parking garage.  And rightfully so. I lost my push and my skate slipped.  Yeah, that’s right, I was the one who crashed, nailing my left shin, upper thigh and glute as always.   Dammit.


You covet my socks..

The hair shorts cannot be unseen.
The hair shorts cannot be unseen.

I got up pissed and took off, with a monster pain in….well, to be blunt, in my butthole.  A buddy of mine had actually torn his rectum crashing his bike 20 years ago sliding on his glute and I was worried I had done it too.  I hadn’t so far as I could tell as the pain went away pretty quickly.  So I skated it out and finished just avoiding getting caught by the guy who started behind me.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect time wise out of this given the hill nature and the turnaround.  Whatever, I survived it and that was fine.  Finish time: 6:13 with an average speed of 18.3 mph and a top speed of 23.  Average heart rate 177 and max of 183.  Here’s the Garmin, you can see the crash where speed takes a big hit.

Oww, my leg.
Oww, my leg.

I had a protein bar and a banana to start recarbing/recovering and then it was back to the hotel.   It was time to rest, eat and try to recover for the hell of the marathon tomorrow.   Which I’ll talk about in Part 2 of this race report since this is too long as it is.

Read Tour of Chicago: 2011 Race Report Part 2.

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