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A2A 2008 Race Report - A Breakthrough Year for Skatey-Mark!

skatey-mark's picture

First, let me say WOW! In all my years of doing this event, this was the year I least expected to exceed my expectations. To be perfectly honest, I had NO IDEA what to expect this year. My training has been so vastly different than prior years, that I just assumed my performance would be worse...

I went through a bit of a slump last fall & winter. I basically got burned out on skating, put on a ton of weight (over 50 pounds) and was just about ready to throw in the towel and succumb to fat, middle-aged existence. But fortunately for me, some friends encouraged me in the right ways and I ended up joining a gym in January. Shortly thereafter, I started working with a personal trainer who kept me focused and made weight training bearable. The excess weight starting coming off and pretty soon I was rivaling my fitness levels of 2003 and 2006, the years that I put in my personal bests at A2A: 6:27 and 6:21 respectively.

However, during all of this, I was actually skating much less than in prior years. My fitness level continued to improve and I can honestly say I'm in the best shape of my life right now. (Kinda sad in a way, since I think I still have a ways to go before I get where I want to be.) The lack of skating resulted in some interesting things. For one, my feet just weren't conditioned to be in my skates for long periods of time. Also, I noticed that my left shin & ankle became fatigued on longer skates (40+ miles). I certainly wasn't doing enough hill training or interval training to be competetive at A2a, or at least that's what I thought.

As A2A approached, I did try to address some of the issues. I worked in a few long skates (including a 75-miler at Tour to Tanglewood.) I also adjusted my frame position the week before A2A, hoping it would help with the fatigue on my left foot. (Since I seemed to be pronating a bit.) Still, I didn't have much confidence in what I'd be able to do. There were just too many unknowns. Would fitness make up for the lack of skating miles this year? I was 10 pounds lighter than I' had been at any other A2A, so that should certainly help... Would the weight training make a difference?

And there were even more variables... I switched to 110mm wheels this year. I decided to wear shorts & jersey instead of a skinsuit. I shaved my head to improve cooling during the race. I had a plan to eat more than I've ever eaten during A2A... So many variables, it's hard to say what made a difference, and how much.

So it was that I found myself at the start line on Sunday, having no idea who I'd end up skating with or what my strategy was. I had scarfed down my breakfast of 2 bagels and 3 nutrigrain bars earlier. I also drank a 24oz gatorade while warming up and ate a pack of sport beans and one hammer gel ("plain" flavor, which tasted AWFUL.) The gel being the last thing I ate, just 5 minutes before the start. I had another 24oz bottle of gatorade, a 24oz bottle of water, some "lite salt" to use later on, and probably a dozen Gu gels... The plan was to eat every 30 minutes, whether it was a Gu or a banana from a checkpoint. I also took a big dose (800 mg) of ibuprofen an hour before the race, as a preemptive strike against any weird pain issues that might crop up. I had plenty more ibuprofen and tylenol on my to take during the race, as needed.

I also had a tentative plan to meet up with my girlfriend, Jaime, at checkpoint 5. She was volunteering at checkpoint 2, so I figured she would have plenty of time to get to checkpoint 5 before I did. I had pretty low expectations of my finishing time this year, so I figured I'd be at checkpoint 5 around 5 1/2 hours into the race. She'd have an ice-cold gatorade and red bull waiting for me, to give a little boost for the last 16 miles.

Anyway, I inched up near the front of the mass of skaters, not hardly believing that A2A was here and I was about to embark on an 87-mile journey that I felt totally unprepared for. And then, the horn sounded and we were off! First things first -- start the heart rate monitor! Start the GPS! Okay, at least the data capture is going... I'm scrambling off the start and find myself not too far from the leaders. Unfortunately, after a turn or two, I'm going a little too hard trying to stay in the pack. I drop and now I'm in no-man's land, waiting for the next pack to catch up. I make the turn at the Naval Supply Store (or whatever it is -- the turn I missed back in 2006) and start up the hill. I see a pair of skaters ahead that seem to be working together, so I decide to bridge the gap and join them. I caught them before the top of the hill and greeted them... They were both wearing Vancouver jerseys, although I don't recall their names.

So we chat a bit and verify we're all doing the 87 miles. I tell them that I'm not sure I'll be with them the whole way,as I'm not sure I'm up for the pace. At this point, I've been looking at my heart rate monitor -- but to my dismay, it shows "00" for my heart rate! It's not picking it up yet... Mostly likely it's just because of the cold and I haven't sweated enough yet to activate it. Still, it's troubling since I don't have an objective view of my effort. After maybe 15 minutes, though, I did finally get a reading and it confirmed what I felt -- that I was working within my ability and not pushing too hard.

A few days before A2A, I had gone back and looked at my heart rate data for 2003 and 2006 and discovered that my average heart rate for the race in both cases was 155. Blake had also recently suggested that a way of pacing oneself would be to look at your average heart rate, rather than the current value. So I decided that I would periodically check my average heart rate during the race and if it was around 155, then I was probably doing okay.

Our 3-person pack picked up some more skaters and soon we were a respectable paceline of 9 people! I stayed in the front half of the paceline to avoid the "slinky effect" even though it meant taking a pull more often. Frankly, taking pulls is less effort than dealing with the constant acceleration & deceleration you have to do at the back of a pack. It's bad enough when you're in 4th or 5th position, let alone 9th.

There were varied levels of abilities among the skaters, some of them looking a little wobbly, and some showing impatience at the lack of organization at times. I took relatively short pulls, usually 1-2 minutes at most, although there were some longer ones when it was impractical to rotate back. When we came upon the first significant downhill, I was maybe in 4th position. I'm watching the people in front of me carefully, having little or no experience skating with them before. I suddenly notice the person in 3rd position having some MAJOR skate wobble. By this time, we're easily going 30-35 mph. I'm thinking "please don't fall... please don't fall..." all the while getting ready for action if he does. He stumbles! Well, that's good enough for me - I step out to the left and the bulk of the pack follows me. (I think, some of the events are a bit hazy...) Anyway, Mr. Wobble recovers briefly but I see him stumble again and it's clear he's going down now. He must have realized it as well, because he was trying to get over to the left side of the road (he was close to the middle on his 2nd stumble, and the paceline was blocking the right side of the road) so that he could dive into the grass. I saw him make it to the grass, but didn't see what happened afterward. Someone else did though, and said his momentum took him down into the ditch, up the other side and to the treeline! That was a little more excitement than I wanted, but at least noone else got hurt. (He didn't seem to be hurt, either, but he could have easily taken out the majority of the paceline if things had gone badly.)

So we continue on our merry way and I stick to my plan of eating every half hour. So one Gu down... I also check my heart rate average: 156 bpm... Not bad... Could be better, but not bad... We're zooming along and I can't believe I'm hanging with this pack so far. I figure I'll have to drop eventually, but I'll stick it out until my heart rate goes nuts, or my legs start running out of steam. Odds are, they'd drop me on the climb into Dacula since I haven't done much hill training anyway. Then I'd just cruise until the next pack came along...

Well, before I know it, we're approaching checkpoint 1 and it's not even an hour yet! (About 55 minutes!) I grab a bottle of water and a banana, and we keep on going... I'm just amazed at how fast we're going and I can't help but think back to 2002 when I bonked at mile 60 after pushing myself way too hard. But I felt fine... I was having no trouble staying with the pack, my energy seemed good... My average heart rate had even dropped a bit to 154 bpm... So things were settling down a bit.

It seemed I had at least gotten things right up until this point. The choices you make in the first 5 minutes of A2A will affect you the whole race. You almost have to start a little harder than you're comfortable with, since everyone goes out fast for the first couple of miles before the pacelines settle into a more manageable rhythm. So I was in a great pack and we were cooperating pretty well. The only real problem we had was sticking together on the downhills. People just couldn't get that right. I mean, it's not that hard. But we'd end up in 2 or 3 different pacelines passing each other, etc. Then we'd regroup. We didn't lose *that* much energy because of it, but it was annoying. We purposely broke apart on the downhill-to-90-degree-turn bit, but that's to be expected. I didn't remember the pavement being rough there, which makes the turn all the more difficult to navigate. But everyone made it through just fine and we regrouped quickly.

By now, we're starting to get some climbing in and, to my amazement, I'm doing okay. In fact, I'm really not struggling at all. For the most part, I'm breathing normally -- but I hear the person behind me gasping for air. So I figure that's a good sign (for me...) There were a few "characters" of note in our paceline... We had one guy that would get impatient with the pace and skate from the back of the paceline to the front and start pulling for a while (5-10 minutes) before returning to the back. I couldn't believe it when he kept doing it. Of course, we ended up dropping him later in the race when he wore himself out... A2A is no time for machismo... You have to be smart... Another guy would purposely take long pulls so he could control the pace on the uphills. (Some of the people would not skate a consistent speed on the uphills.) I found this to be a little annoying, since he seemed to be going a bit too slow -- even for me! At this point I was still considering myself lucky to be in the pack and not at all confident of finishing with them, but it was still annoying...

Of the 9 or so people, maybe only 5 were taking turns in front, which is pretty typical. I don't begrudge anyone that was in the back. If we wanted them to pull, we'd rotate all the way to the back. But, as I mentioned earlier, you then have to deal with the slinky effect. And of course there's always the chance that someone in the middle might let a huge gap open and you have to bridge that to stay with the pack. No - it's better to just stay near the front. We were all rotating pretty well, though, some taking longer pulls than others. For a while, we had one guy yelling out "rotate" or something after some time interval, which brought some order to things, but didn't last long. (Maybe we all just starting rotating more often and he stopped feeling it necessary to tell us...)

We blazed past checkpoint 2 at 1:45 -- at least 15 minutes faster than my 2 previous best times! I still had plenty to drink, so I just skated by. (I don't think they had any bananas.) There's always a little confusion at the checkpoints as people are grabbing stuff, so the pack inevitably gets spread out. We slow down in the front and let everyone catch up. At this point, it's better to keep everyone in the pack instead of dropping people. So a little coasting (and resting) pays bigger dividends than going off full-speed and making everyone sprint to catch up... At least in a cooperative pack like we had.

By now, I could feel a little "hot spot" on my right heel... Well, that's going to be a blister eventually, but there's nothing I can do. My right boot could be just a little tighter, but there's really no opportunity to adjust it. The left boot feels pretty good -- the frame adjustment was feeling about right too. Certainly I wasn't feeling any negative effects of changing the frame position. It's also around this time that I realize I've probably been hydrating myself a little too aggressively, since I can feel my bladder getting more and more full. There's no way I can make the whole race without peeing... I'm going to have to find an opportunity sometime to do it, but not yet.

My wheels feel absolutely great... Much better than the super-hard yellow Matters I was skating on all year. Another last-minute change that seems to have worked in my favor. As we start our climb into Dacula, I find it pretty easy to stay with the pack, and even drop them on many of the hills! Often, it would be me and another guy out in front -- we'd step out of the paceline to climb the hill at our own pace. It's not really any more effort than staying in the paceline, but we were getting to the top much faster, then of course getting some rest while we let the pack catch us. If I wasn't in front, I'd usually remind the person leading to slow down, since it did us little good to push the pace when the pack would just catch us anyway. By now, I think we had 12 people total. 2 people can not outrun a train of 10, at least not easily. At one point, we crested a hill and started a gentle downhill and I noticed the pack was probably 50-70 yards behind us. I took the opportunity to empty my bladder a bit while we coasted (I was in back of course) until we came around a turn and a police car was up ahead! Well, I at least eased the pressure quite a bit before having to cease my public urination... :-) Shortly thereafter, the pack rejoined us and we continued the climb into Dacula.

We coasted through checkpoint 3, being careful around the uneven pavement... More bananas & water bottles... We regrouped again after the usual chaos. My average heart rate had dropped some more... Even with all the climbing, my average for the race was down to 152 bpm! Our time to checkpoint 3: about 2:24!! Still almost 16mph average... Crazy... But my legs still felt good... I was maybe getting a little more confident at this point, but still wary of bonking later in the race. I continued to force as much food & water down as I could. By now, I had finished my 2nd bottle of gatorade. I was worried about hyponatremia, etc, so I mixed some "lite salt" (courtesy of Blake) into one of my water bottles. That would provide some sodium and potassium for me. The downside of course was that it tasted like salt water! That's okay though... I'd take one drink from the salt water for every 2-3 drinks of plain water.

There were several of us that had whistles in our group, which we were pretty liberal about blasting when coming up to intersections. We'd slow down a little, and were ready to stop in most cases. But general we were able to roll through most intersections without stopping. Now we were getting into parts of the course with more police support, which was good. We passed the point of the course where the 52 mile skaters should have been, but there were none to be found. Were we ahead of them? A couple guys in the pack didn't think that was possible, and that the few people that signed up for the 52 mile race were speedy enough that they were out in front of us. I thought it was more likely that we were in front of them, which we later found out to be the case.

By now, I had hotspots on my left and right heels... Really, they were more than hotspots. I knew I had some significant blisters going on. My left seemed to be worse than the right, even though I noticed the right one first and the right boot wasn't as snug as the left. Must be a result of poor technique on my left side. At least my shin & ankle are still feeling good. None of the fatigue I had been feeling in Tanglewood or the other training skates. I'll take blisters over weak shins & ankles. Blisters I can deal with. I mean - it's not like they're pleasant... But at least you can just grit your teeth and move on. When your ankle and/or shin is fatigued, your whole technique suffers. Speaking of pain, around the 3-hour mark I took another big hit of ibuprofen which I figured would be enough to get me through the rest of the race. I wasn't feeling anything "bad" yet (aside from the blisters) -- this was just another preventative dose. I think taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen before you're actually in pain helps fend it off a lot more effectively than taking it after you're in pain... But that's just a theory.

It's a long stretch from checkpoint 3 (38 miles) to checkpoint 4 (56 miles). So it's important to have adequate water to get you there. This is the one section where one bottle really isn't enough. I usually carry two bottles anyway, just because I'm paranoid. But for the first 3 checkpoints I never drank more than one of the bottles before reaching the checkpoint. Now we were perhaps halfway between the checkpoints and 1 or 2 people in our pack were low on water. In some years, there has been a water stop at the hill around mile 50. The mileage on my gps said we were close. But when we got to the hill, there was no water to be found. They'd have to tough it out another 6 miles.

A2A is more than just skating. It's an 87-mile balancing act. You have to pace yourself properly. You have to eat. You have to drink. And you have to make sure you have the supplies you need to get from checkpoint to checkpoint. You have to have a plan, a strategy. Now, some of that comes from experience. This being my 8th A2A (7 if you don't count 2005), I know the course well enough to have a plan for completing it. I don't necessarily *know* the course (where to turn, etc) but I know the important bits. Unfortunately, the turn sheet on the website is majorly out-of-date. It still lists water stops that don't exist, the 6-mile stretch of gatorback, etc. So if someone planned their race according to the turn sheet, they'd be in for some unpleasant surprises.

Anyway, we eventually get to checkpoint 4 and grab more water, bananas, etc... I forgot to hit the lap button on my watch, but I'm pretty sure it was around the 3:30 mark. We were still making incredible time. However, there was more than the usual chaos at this checkpoint and we lost a few people from the pack. One guy had already planned on stopping there, which was unfortunate since he was a good worker in the pack. But he had his game plan and was sticking to it -- can't argue with that. Our sole woman skater dropped her water bottles (cycling water bottles that she was refilling from the small bottles at the checkpoints.) Nobody noticed she was gone until we were far down the road and she was nowhere in site. (We found out what happened later at the finish.) I think we maybe dropped one other person, bringing our pack down to 8 or 9 people. Still a very respectable size.

My legs continue to climb the hills without much trouble and I'm dropping pretty much everyone on the uphills now. That's good since it gives me a little rest as I wait for the pack to catch up. I definitely noticed many of the guys were struggling on the hills a little now. I can't believe I'm not struggling even more than they are -- I guess all those squats in the gym were a reasonable substitute for hill training... The skate is pretty uneventful for a while. We're working better together by now. We're sticking together on the downhills, etc. The police support was good. And we're still zooming along. I check my average heart rate and it has nudged down to 151 bpm! Incredible...

We start our climb to Silver Hill and one guy gets way out in front. I initially stick with him but notice the pack getting way behind. I say something to him that it does us no good to drop them now -- it's unlikely we can outrun 6-7 guys with 20 miles left to go. But he keeps going. I slow a bit and let him go, preferring to play it conservatively and let the pack catch up. We're still on an uphill, though, so it takes forever. No big deal -- cram some more calories down, drink some water. They finally catch me at the top of the hill. I had slowed down quite a bit so that I could be with them on the downhill. It takes very little time for us to catch the guy out in front. I don't think he was necessarily trying to drop the pack, he was just skating his own pace. But sometimes you have to recognize when it's better to just coast & rest. Because the pack will catch you eventually.

We make the final turn on our climb to Silver Hill and discuss if we're going to go down the hill in a paceline or not. The general consensus is "not". One guy even (seriously) threatened to "take out" anyone that tried to push him from behind. Well, that's a bit harsh in my opinion but whatever. As we crested the hill another guy was beside me and I asked him if he wanted to draft on the downhill. He wasn't sure so I told him to just get behind me and that, if he felt unstable, he could just stand up and catch some air. We started our descent and picked up speed pretty rapidly. Now the legs are starting to feel tired & wobbly. Wobbly enough that we split apart and even I stood up briefly to catch some air. I resumed my tuck for the 2nd part of the downhill and again had to stand up because I felt unsteady. I held the tuck for the 3rd part of the hill, to get as much momentum as possible before the long climb ahead.

The pack reassembled quickly as we started our climb towards checkpoint 5. Amazingly, the climb did not seem nearly as difficult as in past years. It practically flew by. Before I knew it, we were at the checkpoint. Again, I forgot to hit the lap button, but it was right around 4:30. WOW. It looked like breaking 6 hours was all but certain now, with only 16 miles to go. Hell, even 5:30 was within grasp -- but I thought that was probably unlikely. We grabbed water & bananas of course. With a smaller pack, things were a bit more organized now. And, since checkpoint 5 is on an uphill, we were moving slower so it was easier to stay together. The checkpoint is only maybe halfway up the hill, so we continue our climb and I continue to be amazed at how well my legs are holding up. Average heart rate is steady at 151 bpm. Confidence is growing.

Unfortunately, I realize that my plan to meet Jaime at CP5 is totally blown. Well, actually, I realized it before since we were making such good time. But there was always the chance she'd get wrapped up at CP2 early and make it over to CP5 before me. Nope... So no ice cold gatorade or red bull! Oh well. I didn't feel like I needed it, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt. Most importantly, I was hoping to get word to her that she should go directly to the finish line if she wanted to see me finish. I didn't have my cellphone (no room to carry it.) I asked the others in my pack if anyone had a cellphone and got no reply. That seemed a bit dubious to me, since a few of the had camelbaks. My only reason for not carrying a cellphone is lack of space for it. If I had a camelbak, I'd definitely carry one. It's just the smart thing to do in case you run into trouble. If these guys had room and weren't carrying one, well, that's just stupid in my opinion. But maybe they just didn't want to dig it out and let me use it, etc... It doesn't matter. I wasn't able to call her, so it was likely she'd miss the finish. Assuming I didn't bonk, that is.

The skate to checkpoint 6 was quick an uneventful. It's only 8 miles and we covered the distance in about a half hour. I finally remembered to hit my lap button and our overall time was 5:01... Heart rate is still only 151 bpm. I still had an almost-full bottle of water, so I didn't bother getting a second one for the final 8 miles. No point in carrying the extra weight. No bananas there (just oranges I think). I skipped the oranges and jammed another Gu down my throat instead.

I think we still had at least 7 people in our paceline at this point. After we passed the checkpoint, though, there was a definite change in the air. Or maybe it was more like blood in the water... The finish line was getting near. The pace quickened and my heartrate ceased its easy metronome beat and climbed rapidly as I tried to stay with the pack.

I'm struggling at this point and it doesn't take long for me to seriously doubt my ability to stay with the pack. We're still rotating, but when I get to the front, I'm not recovered at all. I can't pull hard enough to keep the same pace, so I end up slowing the pack down. There would be none of that, as the others impatiently go around me and resume the pace. I keep struggling to hang on. Noone else has dropped yet... But I am seriously thinking about dropping and just finishing at my own pace. After all - I'll still break 6 hours... 5:30 is out of reach... Why kill myself? This was pretty much the low point of the race for me. I was hurting and just had enough. But I hung in there.

The pace settled ever-so-slightly and I was able to stay in the pack. But it was damn tough. We climbed the dreaded gatorback hill at the end and I suggested we go on the sidewalk instead. Which, in years past, has been much easier than the street. But noone joined me. And, at the pace we were going it was to difficult to navigate the obstacles on the sidewalk. (Normally, I'm going much slower at this point.) So I rejoin my pack on the road. Still, we're making short work of this difficult section and soon we turned onto the exit ramp and much smoother asphalt.

At one point, a guy was pretty far out in front on what appeared to be a breakaway. But, coming up to a turn, he turned into an alley instead of at the street ahead and we passed him. I'm not sure if he caught back up to us. At this point, my brain was totally fried just trying to hold on to the pack.

On the flat, smooth asphalt it was a bit easier to stay with the group. Soon we jumped the curb at the cafe and I made a huge jump to get over the sewer grate that appeared in front of me on the other side. I knew from looking at the turn sheet that the finish line was only 2.5 miles away. The pace quickened again and the pack broke more-or-less in half. I was in the back half, of course. I briefly contemplated staying there, but then decided to make a quick effort to bridge the gap to the leaders. I moved around the guy in front of me, got really low and did some long hard pushes. Soon, I was back with the others.

One thing I did notice during the race is that I didn't really "panic" like I normally do when I have to make up some distance. Of course, I fortunately didn't have to deal with that more than a couple times. But in the past my solution to close ground was to increase tempo. Which sounds okay... But for me it was more like "skate harder, not better." Especially in this case, I was definitely skating better, not harder. And I made up the ground easily.

At one point, I had enough of a breather to check my average heart rate and it had bumped up to 152 bpm. Which doesn't sound like much, but it raised 1 bpm in maybe 6 miles against the previous average over 79 miles. That's significant. Still, I was getting partial recoveries every now and then. And now the finish line was truly close. Less than 2 miles. I could tough it out.

We dashed through the twisty turns of the neighborhoods leading us to Peidmont Park. There were 4 of us in close proximity, but I wouldn't really call us a "pack". We broke apart often and weren't really working together anymore. It was every man for himself. As we neared the park entrance, I found myself getting dropped. I struggled to keep close as we rounded the turns. I resigned myself to fourth place and we came up on the final turn. But the guy in 3rd place had slowed significantly. I had to try to pass him. Some quick, hard pushes and I got around him. He didn't try to catch me. We approached the finish line and saw that it indeed had been moved further up the hill, as Henry mentioned in the Saturday-night-rant. It didn't look like much, but that extra 30-40 yards was tough! My pace slowed, but I kept pushing and crossed the line right around the 5:34 mark. I think I can honestly say I couldn't have done it any faster. My legs, which had served me well all day, were now dead.

I turn in my tear-tag and head over to the grass so that I can get my skates off... As expected, I had torn up my heels pretty badly. I normally get a little wear on them and try to prevent blisters by putting some sport tape on them. But it seems I was rubbing lower than where I put the tape. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was rubbing the whole heel but the untaped part blistered up. So next time I need to tape a larger area I guess. Or improve my technique so that I do less toe-pushing and get less rubbing on my heels... A noble goal, but taping is easier... ;-)

I see Danny standing nearby and call him over. Danny & I have skated together several times in the past. He also had a great day with a new personal record, breaking the 5-hour barrier at 4:54! I had been looking for him at the start, but didn't notice him because he wasn't wearing his usual purple Yahoo jersey. Maybe next year I'll be able to skate with him again... But if he keeps improving that's not likely -- heck, he may win the damn thing next year! ;-)

Eventually, my girlfriend arrived thanks to some navigational help from one of the finish line volunteers. A friend of mine who now lives in Atlanta also came out, and was a little disappointed he had missed me coming in. I got my blisters bandaged up, then the three of us walked over to Willy'z for some burritos. We took our food back to the finish line and got there just a few minutes before David Kaplan came rolling across. Blake & Elizabeth followed a few minutes later. We all spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, relaxing, and watching the remaining people finish. The last person rolled across around 10 hours, 45 minutes. If you think that sounds unimpressive, you've never tried skating for 10 hours and 45 minutes! They may not be fast, but it takes real grit to stay upright for that long!

For the data geeks, here's some data from the race:

Time: 5:33:55
Place: 25th overall, 5th in age group (M30-39)
Avg speed: 15.6 mph
Calories: 4193
HR Average: 153
HR Max: 186

Time in zones:
90-100% : 00:01:15 0%
80-89% : 02:02:25 37%
70-79% : 03:00:45 54%
60-69% : 00:30:40 9%
0-59% : 00:00:00 0%

Food consumed:
breakfast: 2 bagels, 3 nutrigrain bars
pre-race: 24oz gatorade, 1 pack sport beans, 1 hammer gel
race: 4 bananas, 7 Gu, 24oz gatorade, 12oz water w/ lite salt, ~96oz plain water

Equipment used:
Custom Bont Vaypor boots
Bont S-Frame, magnesium, 13.2", 4x110mm
Bont High Roller wheels, 110mm 85a (mint green)
Super-sweet Roadskater.Net 2008 Jersey :-)

Graphs, etc:

Well, that's about it... I still can't believe my finishing time. I guess next year I need to try for a sub-5:30 time, although so much of it depends on whether you can find a pack that can achieve the time. Looking at the results from this year, there were only 3 stragglers between my pack and the guys that finished under 5 hours. My immediate goal is to not get out of shape over the winter (like I normally do) so that next year I don't have a huge hole to dig myself out of.

Thanks for reading... And be sure to sign up for A2A 2009! We need more people for the event to succeed!

- SM -


MikeB's picture

Congrats to Skatey-Mark!

Dude that was awesome. Sub 5:34 on 87 miles? +15mph average? Very very nice. Congratulations. I don't have to sign up for '09 cuz after reading your report I feel like I skated '08. Well, maybe not the full 87 - I'd have been the guy that went into the forest. What a tremendous experience and thanks for sharing. It's really obvious that to do organized events well, you have to have a strategy that includes months of training and serious forethought to the immediate 48hrs prior to the race. Kudos on keeping to your strategy. I know you did a lot of prep, but the super sweet '08 Roadskater jersey must have been the game changer. ;-)
eebee's picture


Congratulations on your excellent A2A, Skatey-Mark. The report was a great read, too.
skatey-mark's picture

Anyone can skate 87 miles...

Racing 87 miles is a different matter, but anyone can skate 87 miles with some modest training if they're smart about it.The first year I did A2A I trained on a very flat bike path (no hill training) and I had never done a road skate. I ramped up my distance over 5-6 months to 57 miles. I trained with a heart rate monitor, so I knew what heart rate was sustainable for a long skate.It took me 9 hours to do A2A that year. But when I finished, I felt I could continue except for the blisters on my feet. I was just a rec skater then, with no ambition to race. I didn't even draft anyone the whole day.You do have to be a little nutty to do any event that takes that long. But as long as you manage you hydration & food, and don't push yourself too hard, then it's quite manageable.Racing adds more variables. Since you're going at a much higher heartrate, there's less room for error and fitness plays a larger role. Drafting and pack dynamics are a huge part. As you get more competetive, racing strategy comes into play, at least at the end of the race.My point is that you don't have to train long hours to do A2A. Just spend time on your skates and treat the event as a long "social skate". Sometimes I envy the social skaters, since they get to enjoy the journey a little more. Racing is fun too... And it only takes a good performance to reinforce the addiction... I'm a little bummed the season is basically over for me now. I can't wait for things to pick up again in the spring!- SM -
johnnyChen's picture

I'm shaving my head for next race

It's cool you manage the pace so well. Nutrition: do you always do about 200 cal / hr? Now the very personal Q: What's your max HR?
dtg's picture

Congrats on the breakthrough!

Dude - I'm so incredibly happy for you! A tremendous accomplishment after a lot of hard work and excellent execution. Just goes to show you that it's not necessary to skate thousands of miles in a year to do A2A well. Thank you for proving that Mark! Maybe one just needs the right personal trainer and the right pack. ;-) Or maybe it's cumulative miles/experience that paid off. The thing you note about your average HR over the race is interesting. I have noticed the same thing. I've even proven to myself that if I try to deviate from that average I will end up going slower later and my overall average HR will come back in line. It's like there's something genetic there. In the last 2 years, my avg HR limit for the ~6 hours was to be 164 and 165.
dreeves's picture

Mark, thanks so much for

Mark, thanks so much for writing that; it was exciting to relive it! You've dragged me in to Atlanta twice in past years, and I'll never forget it. Well, the 2nd time maybe we were dragging each other. :) For those who don't know, I met Mark in 2003 somewhere between Athens and Atlanta in my first ever A2A. In fact, for old times' sake, let me dig up our parallel write-ups from that year. Ta-da: http://kibotzer.com/a2a-2003.html Danny
skatey-mark's picture

nutrition, max HR, heat management

I really do think shaving my head helped... Just sitting around the house in the days before the race I felt much cooler than I did with hair... And that's without air moving at 15 mph around me. I never really felt hot during the race. Of course, I had a plan for the heat too. I started out with a bandana and arm warmers. I took the bandana off before the race even started, since I didn't feel *that* cold at the start. The arm warmers came off around CP1 and I tossed them to my girlfriend at CP2. Around CP3 I unzipped the jersey maybe halfway down. CP4 the zipper was all the way down. After CP5 (1 hour to go) I slipped out of the arms of the jersery and just had it around my waist. The key was to keep from ever feeling warm, which worked out pretty well. Getting done as fast as we did, though, missed a lot of the heat that others had to deal with. So it was a little easier to stay cool. As for maximum heart rate, it used to be 197 bpm a couple years ago. I haven't tried measuring it in a long time, so I've probably dropped a few beats since then. maybe 194-195 now? For nutrition, I was actually consuming 300 cal/hr at the beginning since I was drinking gatorade in addition to the gels. This is much more than usual, and I think it had a positive effect. In past races, I'd probably consume 100 cal/hr -- like 1 gel per hour! I'd shoot for 45 minutes. but inevitably would forget. But again, it was easier to remember this time since I didn't feel like I was killing myself the whole way. Except for the first 15 and last 30 minutes of the race, I had plenty of opportunities to eat & drink when the pace was easier. - SM -

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