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A2A & Ultramarathon Personal Psychology: Paceline or Go It Alone?

eebee's picture

Sitting here safely in the inactivity of mid-winter, I've been pondering the subject of pacelines during A2A and other ultramarathon outdoor skate events. Since I never did the full 87 miles at a faster pace than 12.25 mph, my viewpoint is from the (s)lower range.


Is A2A best viewed as an individual or team event?


What does it take to reap the full benefits of training and competing with your own 'team' (for most of us, 'group of skater friends')? Do those benefits outweigh your giving up x% of control over your performance during an event? I think most of us have asked ourselves that question, albeit not as clumsily, somewhere during A2A or another long-distance event.


Are these leading questions the result of me watching too many Sex and the City reruns? And just like that, my editorial-type blog lost its spark.


My personal A2A paceline history ranges from "I'm too afraid to have my skates that close to another persons' skates so I think I'd rather go it alone out here in this torrent", to "I'm gonna latch on to any fast paceline with the biggest wind-shielders possible and leech off them until I find something better". The latter sounding more like a dating strategy.


On the lower-end of my fitness scale, I'd venture to say that pacelines got me through to the finish line. However, there is always the temptation to believe, especially when you've trained your butt off all season, that a paceline is holding you back because some members may be struggling at times when you're not. I guess at that point, the Sex and the City type question would be: is my A2A finish time dearer to me than my allegiance to this pack/my friends/my spouse?


Phew! That's a tough one! Relationship politics! Hmm, maybe I could just plod on ahead and blame it on delirium: I didn't know you weren't there! Or rub salt in the wound and say sometimes it's just harder to skate slower! Exactly how long do I want to stay in the doghouse afterwards?


Blake reminded me of the stunning example the Texas Flyers demonstrated a few years back at A2A 2003 in their matching jerseys. If anybody knows of a link to an insider's story of that team, please post it.  I'd like to know more about their experience. The Carrie-esque questions dangling in front of my eyes, are: did they have to screen or weed out those who posed a threat to the whole team, or did it all just come together in beautiful harmony? Did they all sign a stupidity clause ("I promise to check my hardware thoroughly the night before A2A") or an ego-waiver up front, that this was to be first and foremost for the good of the team - and ultimately individually for an A2A personal best?


Letting destiny, or the dominant personality, take its course instead of having the same discussion over and over again with those you skate with, turns this issue towards the question: by default, what kind of training or racing philosophy does your regular skate-training social-circle tend to employ? Back when I had the time and money to go to the Atlanta (aprr) nightskates, the only skater really with any conscience for stragglers was, of course, the sweep. Those faster nightskates are a clattering, clamoring free-for-all, and the whole point is to be the first one to the red light. Ok, I know not everybody takes part in those nightskates for those reasons, but that's how it was for me. What a whole lot of fun, combining fartlek and agility training without really having time to consider muscle pain or fear-of-falling! My point here is that due to the transient nature of the group, varying fitness levels and personalities, each nightskate had me skating with or against different people and nobody felt particularly beholden to anyone else. Although not everybody from the nightskates did A2A, there was the benefit of serious sprint training and sometimes paceline juggling, without the baggage!


Back to the issue of how to maximize the efficiency of a paceline comprising varying fitness levels, rather than skating down to the slowest skater's speed in the pack (which is only going to happen among a group of friends rather than random paceline compatriots)?


Hah, like I'm some highfalutin speed coach! Any thoughts, anyone? I'd suggest the obvious, but I don't think pushing the slower person from the back is a particularly safe idea.


What I'm slowly concluding here is that if your A2A is going to be a team event, then team consistency over the whole training season is the only way. And I guess during the course of the season, each member's strengths rather than weaknesses should rub off on the others.


kjg's picture

When I feel good I want to

When I feel good I want to make progress and when I don't I feel bad to have people waiting on me, however the safety/security of having people to look out for you is nice to have.......having said that once you are out there you always find people who are skating the same pace as you, but sometimes they are not people that you particularly want to spend 8-10 hours with!

The problem I have particularly had with pacelines seems to be how to stay together on uphills and downhills - the flat does not seem to be a problem once you get in a rhythm - and how to communicate without forever saying slow down I am off the back.... I think this is something that Blake does well with his shouts of no spanking off the front and keeping controlled rotation times, something else that other pacelines I have been in don't do.

I would be interested in the perspective from nearer the front, is it just cut throat and you better keep up or else or do you guys let each other know if you are having a rough patch to keep the group together?

eebee's picture

Survival of the Fittest!

I'm pretty sure from my limited previous experience of scrambling to keep up with some 'fast' skaters, was pretty much "If you can keep up, great! If you can't, then sayonara pipsqueak". You do what you can and when you're done, you're out. Can't keep up? Then go away and train harder or smarter. That's not to say there aren't faster packs that like to collaborate because they may be redlining it also, but I'm pretty sure you won't find that kind of collaboration among those jostling for position way up at the front unless they're on the same team. And that brings up a whole 'nother issue of cross-drafting...
eebee's picture

More on Texas Flyers Team, A2A 2003

There is indeed a wealth of information on the Dallas-Ft.Worth Inline Skaters yahoo group. I believe the messages are public, so you can access the archive here:




Find messages starting Sept. 29th 2003 for various reports of the 10 pack members who finished together for a time of 5:50! From what I can gather, there was indeed plenty of Skateylove along the way, with a certain amount of tolerance for those struggling (putting them in the middle of the pack), or cramps (taking it easy for a few minutes until the cramps eased up). At one point they headed up a 30+ person paceline.


One person even said they trained on the only hill they had out there in their part of TX. Excellent stuff. No matter what, they had to all be in great shape to have achieved a sub 6hr finish time.


If there is anybody from Texas who took part in the group training and A2A pack for 2003 reading this, please post what you remember, and what made it work.


So a skateylove, encouraging paceline isn't just for dodderers!

profjb2000's picture

Texas Flyers

     Some of our skaters here in St. Louis actual skate as Texas Flyers (note the jersey in my pic) thanks to Chris Ritter, who is our local skater-guru / pro level skater. I will probably see Chris next week at indoor speed practice if he is in town. I can ask him about their training program. 

skatey-mark's picture

Texas flyers and other thoughts

I *LOVE* that story about the Texas Flyers!  In my opinion, that's what A2A is all about...

That said...  I think that my personal experiences have been more along the lines of "If you can keep up, great...  if not, sayonara..."  Dave & I skate together all the time, but when we get into the race, then you never know when someone is going to have an exceptionally good day, or maybe isn't feeling at the top of their game.  When Dave has been feeling stronger than me, I always let him know when I'm dropping (and of course he encourages me to stay on longer, which I sometimes do before the inevitable.)  I think our goals have been to challenge ourselves as much as possible, which translates into getting into the fastest paceline we can hold onto.

In an event like A2A, there is almost always another paceline coming up behind, so there's no need to skate by one's self for long...

So I think, for me, it does come down to a group effort -- I just never know what group I'll be in...  I think it would be great to train and participate as a team...  Maybe someday...  :)

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