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Athens to Atlanta: Finding a Paceline that's "Just my Speed"

eebee's picture

Most oft uttered statement to me by other skaters this year on T2T, T2T training rides, and A2A: "I was skating alone (and therefore bonked) because I couldn't find a paceline/other skater that was just my speed."


This has prompted me to follow that statement up each time, with "There's no such thing as a paceline/other skater that is just your speed."


I will leave the true speedskater paceline tactics up to those fast people with sub 6.5 hr A2A times :-)


However, if your A2A time* is +6.5hrs you are going to be much better off pottering behind or in front of somebody who may be even slower than you. The ugly truth of the matter is, during a preposterously long and arduous course such as Athens-to-Atlanta, whatever energy you can conserve at any point along the way is like fuel in the tank later when your body decides it won't go a step further after 7 hours without more calories/salt/water/electrolytes/ice etc. If you breeze along in a slightly fast-for-you feel-good paceline, you may look like a speedskater in the event photos, but I guarantee you will be pursued by debilitating cramps, nausea, faintness and general sideline-relegating bonking episodes. These can easily add 30 mins to your time, if not give you a DNF. If you can dare to cramp your style by rolling along behind slower skaters you believe yourself to be better than, you will be sure to keep moving the whole time until the finish (assuming the paceline keeps rolling, too!).


Even if you link up with just one other flailing soul, who has legs spasms instead of a double-push, the both of you will multiply your efforts if you can tuck in behind each other and rotate, rather than skating up and down all those murderous hills together seperately, if you know what I mean.


So for A2A, as long as I'm with the 6.5+ hr mortals, I'll be looking for skaters that are going at  almost too comfortable a speed. This seems to be one of the laws of A2A!


* = Please note that my opinion here pertains primarily to the full A2A - Athens to Atlanta, 87 miles, as opposed to the 38 or 52 mile courses. The added complication of strenuous exercise above 6.5 hours or so makes it even more imperative, in my opinion, to conserve energy where possible on the 87 miler, that the 38 or 52 mile events don't really touch on.


(Again, I claim no knowledge of real speedskating paceline tactics, but I'd welcome those points of view for next year when I'll need them...ha ha).


skatey-mark's picture

Pacing yourself is hard to do...

With all the excitement at the beginning of A2A, pacing yourself is definitely hard to do. Holding back when others are passing, tantalizing you with the hope of cruising in the draft fr miles and miles...


My first A2A, I had never skated in a pack before. (Had never skated on the road before!) Yet I was confident I could do 87 miles, by myself... Why? Because I had trained all year with a heart rate monitor. And I knew if I kept my heart rate below X beats per minute, I could skate all day and keep on going... Of course, it would go above X on the uphills, but not too much. Slow and steady... Tortoise beats the hare... That sort of thing. 9 hours and 6 minutes later, I finished and if I hadn't had blisters the size of grapefruit (okay, maybe not THAT big) I could have easily kept going for several more hours.


Now... The myth of the pack that's "just my speed"... The same thing applies here, for the most part. Watching your heart rate and exercising some discipline will get you to the finish line in much better shape than letting it run wild and hope you don't run out of gas too soon! The ideal would be to form a pact with several other skaters to stick together and cooperate the whole day. A group from Texas did this a few years back, and it was a very inspiring story! They worked together and crossed the line somewhere around 6 hours I think! Now that's teamwork!


Of course, things don't usually work out that way, so you're stuck trying to find a suitable pack during the race. I think it's important to start out a little faster than you normally would for the first few miles. Then, slow down and take your pick of the packs that catch up to you. The important thing is to watch your heart rate and not let it be too high. For me, staying below 80% is a recipe for success. That's on flat ground, in the draft. Up hills, under 90% is good for short bursts. Downhill, I should be recovering to under 70%, even 65% on a good day.


Now, if you're racing, it's a completely different story. And as you get faster, the packs tend to be less and less conservative. So your only chance many times is to grit your teeth and hope you don't run out of gas. In that situation, you have to know when to stop though - or else you won't make it to the finish line. For me, this year I had to drop out of the pack at around mile 42 or so, because I would have completely bonked if I had stayed. Unfortunately, I think the only way to know when to do that is to experience it -- which is not fun at all!


Others will say to just keep hanging on like it's life or death... Never drop willingly... Basically there you're gambling on if you can make it all the way to the finish before blowing up. It's a nice payoff if you make it. But limping your way in after bonking (or even worse - sagging) is the price you pay usually.


- SM -

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