Athens to Atlanta 2010 Report: Skatey-Mark's A2A Inline Skate Event Journal
This was an usual year for me, as I was more unsure than usual about how well I would do. I didn't feel like I had trained enough, or at least hadn't done enough of the right training. I was a little heavier than I would have liked. I had had a few dissatisfying skates over the summer where I had struggled to complete 60 miles.
I have done A2A enough to feel confident I would finish. It was just a question of how long it would take. Last year, my time was 6:12:44. The course was 2.4 miles longer than normal last year, due to a detour. So I figured that completing the course in 6 hours would mean I was in roughly the same condition as I was last year. A sub-6-hour time seemed ambitious, but within the realm of possibility. Still, I went in without any expectations, and figured I would play it by ear the day of the event.
A couple other curve balls ad been thrown at me the weeks leading up to A2A. First, I cracked one of my frames. After a few days of scrambling, I was able to find someone with a lightly used set that was willing to sell them. (The frame I'm skating on isn't made anymore.) Switching equipment so close to the event is definitely not a good thing for me, so finding a replacement set of frames was definitely lucky. Still, I had trained all year with the frames positioned a certain way and, while I tried to mount the new frames in the same position, they felt a little "off". I honestly think it was all in my head, but I just didn't feel confident on fast downhills when I did my last long skate a week before A2A.
The second thing that happened was, after a month without rain, we had a whole week of it in Raleigh, right before A2A. My normal pre-race tradition is to put my race wheels & bearings on early in the week, then skate on them during our Wednesday social skate. Well, because of the rain, I didn't get to skate on them at all in the week before A2A. So I had an equipment change that was untested before I drove down to Georgia... Definitely not a reassuring thing...
So, Jaime and I drove to Athens on Friday. We weren't able to get to Atlanta in time for the Friday Night Skate (which would have been a good opportunity to road-test the new wheels and bearing) so we went straight to Athens. All week, I had been going to bed early and Frida night was no exception. I hoped that I could make up some of my lack of training with being extremely well rested. In any case, I figured it couldn't hurt...
Saturday was pretty typical. We got a late start in the morning and had a large brunch. (At least I did...) Turnout at registration was anemic. All the vendors except one had backed out of the expo. I can't say I blame them. With such a low turnout of skaters, it doesn't make sense financially for them to have a presence there. I took it easy that afternoon, then went on my first Saturday skate in the 10 years I've been doing A2A. There were only 5 of us, which is also pretty sad. But it gave me the opportunity I needed to confirm that the wheels & bearings were spinning fine. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting my equipment ready, and organizing the food I'd eat before and during the event.
We hung around for Henry's rant, which is a tradition. I still wonder if it does anything more than freak out the first-timers though... :-) I had to reassure Jaime that there really isn't a fast downhill to a gravel-covered 90-degree deathtrap turn...
We had made plans to meet everyone for dinner at Mellow Mushroom after the rant. (That worked out great last year.) Unfortunately, the UGA football game started around the time that the rant ended, so the wait at Mellow Mushroom and many other places was an hour or more. We wandered a bit, then found a mexican place that had enough room for us. I think it was called "Picantes Mexicanos", or something like that. The food was good, and the company was great. We hung out for a little while, then hit Ben & Jerry's for dessert. Before long, it was time to get some sleep.
I woke up at 6am, and started getting ready. A2A starts at 7:30am sharp, and I like to have 30 minutes or so to warm up ahead of time. The temperature was good -- about 50 degrees. The high was predicted to be in the low 70s, which is about as perfect as you can get. The wind was a bit of an unknown -- it appeared that it would be a cross-wind for most of the course, but you just never know what it's really going to be. Whatever direction it was, they were predicting it to be around 15 mph, which is significant.
I choked down as much food and drink as I could... I ate 2 large muffins, drank 32oz of gatorade and 12oz of red bull. i drank another 16oz of gatorade while i was warming up. Before I knew it, Henry was giving the 5-minute warning. Dave and I made our way towards the front of the skaters. Then, we were off!
We zoomed through Athens, staying with the lead pack the whole way. This isn't a new experience, but it's just as cool every year. Being up near the front with the likes of Eddy, Bruce, Lenny, and everyone else is definitely a rush. It normally doesn't last very long, as the leaders usually break free on the first uphill. This year, though, Dave & I stayed right with them. I suspect the leaders weren't attacking with their usual gusto, and perhaps we were skating harder than we should have been. But we stayed with the lead pack for 17 minutes (I checked my watch when they finally started pulling away.) It was another 15 minutes before they disappeared from sight.
Now, almost everyone starts out skating harder than they should... There's just so much adrenaline at the start line, it's hard not to. So I resign myself to the fact that the first 30-40 minutes are going to be painful. Then, eventually, things settle into a more reasonable pace for the rest of the day. My heart rate was a little high, but surprisingly not bad. Dave did a great job of reminding me to eat. I did break one rule by trying a new beverage for the first time that day. I bought some of the single-serving Gatorade G2 mix packets, and mixed those into the water bottles I picked up at the checkpoints. That worked fairly well. Hopefully by next year, Gatorade will get with the program and make the original Gatorade in the single-serving packets also. G2 only has half the calories, but it's better than nothing - and you at least get the electrolytes.
We fell into a small pack, and initally it was just four of us. Off in the distance, we'd occasionally see a pair of skaters. We figured that it was only a matter of time before we caught them, as it's hard for a pack of two to outrun a pack of four. Another skater caught us from behind, and then we were five chasing two. The pair kept their distance for a while, until one of the skaters in our pack decided it was time to make an effort to close the gap. We picked up the pace a little bit and got close enough that the pair (probably knowing that we were sure to catch them eventually) slowed down and joined us.
Our pack worked very well together, and we made very good time to the next checkpoint. we took it easy on the "deathtrap" downhill turn, and made it through without incident. As we started the climb into Dacula, my legs were already becoming tired - not good!! My heart rate wasn't bad, though, which gave me some hope. But I think, in retrospect, that I should have done more focused strength training on my legs. Dave was hurting too, and ended up dropping off the back of the pack on one of the final climbs to the 38-mile checkpoint. I agonized over whether I should stay with him, or stay with the pack. I didn't have much time to think, though, and ended up deciding to stick with the pack. I took a few strong strokes (no easy task on the steep uphill) and closed the gap. I was not confident at all that I would be able to stay with the pack, but I wanted to give it my best shot. I fully expected to eventually drop and have Dave catch me later in the day.
We passed the 38-mile checkpoint at 2:33, which is 10 minutes slower than 2009 and 2008. (I didn't realize it at the time - I just looked up my data from the previous years.) 2:33 is still pretty good, since it's a sub-6-hour pace. But my legs hurt already and my back was bothering me as well. A couple miles after Dacula, things flatten out a bit. So I was able to recover. Still, I was definitely not feeling strong, and let my fellow pack-mates know. We were back down to four people again, losing some on the climb into Dacula and another one at the checkpoint. So it was Luke, Lin, Greg, and me... As is always the case at A2A, everyone was very helpful and encouraged me to stay in the pack. It's to their benefit too, even if I'm not pulling, since it gives the pack more momenton on the downhills. I pulled for 30 seconds at the most when I found myself up front, and managed to hold on.
We were passed by a faster pack which I assumed at the time were 52-mile skaters that had caught us. Luke started to chase them, and I couldn't follow. Greg & Lin decided not to follow as well. So Luke (who was looking really strong that day) was fortunate and found a stronger pack to skate with. That left 3 of us now, with about half of the course still ahead of us.
Our pace getting to the 56-mile checkpoint was still good, but there was still a lot of road left, and a lot of climbing. I made sure I had plenty of water, since it's the longest stretch between checkpoints on the course, and easy to run out of water. Greg and Lin were great, and I did what I could to pull... But they were doing the lion's share of the work for sure. We occasionally would catch another skater, or have one catch us. But for the most part, it was just the 3 of us.
We actually got stopped by the train, which was a first for me. It's a fairly fast downhill to the train tracks, and we saw the train going by as we started down the hill. So we simply braked the whole way down and were fine. Another skater was already down there. The train was gone by the time we came to a complete stop, so we lost very little time. And we gained another skater in our pack for a little while, as we started the long climb up to Silver Hill.
Now, the wind situation was brutal all day. The cross-wind ended up being a full-on headwind. So, that gave me even more incentive to hold onto my pack, since being alone in the headwind would have been miserable. The winds seemed to pick up as the day went on, or maybe it just felt that way because I was more tired. We trudged along, and eventually got to the top of Silver Hill. We went down separately, since it's not worth the risk of going down in a pack. I certainly didn't have confidence in my rubbery legs at that point. I stood up in the middle 1/3 of the hill to slow down a bit, then tucked on the final 1/3 to get some momentum for the climb that comes afterward. We all made it down without incident, and climbed up to the next checkpoint. We started getting more spread out on the climbs, but would regroup. The climb up to the checkpoint isn't as bad as the climb after the checkpoint. Again, I think I must have been really tired at this point, because I don't remember it getting that hard in previous years.
We finally made it to the top, and passed the Lickety-Split store. The trek to the final checkpoint was without incident. At that point, I still had plenty of water, so I rolled past without getting anything. The best thing about the last checkpoint is knowing that there are only 8 miles between you and the finish line. And, with the exception of two hard climbs, it's mostly flat.
The worst part is that, if there is anyone in the pack that's still feeling strong, the pace tends to quicken at this point because you're so close. We had picked up a fourth skater that was definitely feeling strong and would push the pace whenever he got in front. I assumed he was a 52-miler, but when I looked at the results, I think he did the full distance. I was having a really hard time keeping on and was on the verge of giving up several times. There's one particularly brutal road (Dekalb Ave) near the end, which I knew was coming up soon. We were on a flat section, perhaps a mile before that, and the pace was just to much. I couldn't hold on and told Greg I was going to drop. Then, the pace slowed ever-so-slightly and I again had a split-second decision to make: drop, or try to hold on a little longer. So, I mustered up a little energy and closed the gap, deciding to hold on until Dekalb if I could.
Dekalb is 1.8 miles of really rough road (gatorback), which is mostly uphill. It's nothing short of cruel having it so close to the end of the course. I was able to stick with the pack the whole way, although "skater 4" had broken away. Once we turned off of Dekalb, we were only 3 miles from the finish. That's a pretty busy road we turn onto, which gave an incentive to stick with the pack. The remainder of the course is pretty flat, so that helps too. And, knowing you're so close definitely helps since you can gauge how much energy you have left.
We turned into a neighborhood with less than 2 miles to go, and the pace was reasonable enough I could actually talk. :-) I told my pack-mates, who had been so kind to pull my for 50 miles, that if they wanted to sprint for the finish, that that was fine but I was okay with a tie if they wanted to do that -- assuming I was still with them at the end. We made our way to the park entrance and were still together. We nearly caught up to the skater that had dropped us, but we didn't make an effort to pass him. (He probably would have just spedup anyway.) Instead we kept close as we approached the finish line, which is a cruel 100-yd uphill finish. It's not a steep uphill, but it feels harder than it is after 87 miles. We held hands, arms raised, as we crossed the finish line - signalling that we wanted to score it a tie.
Our finishing time was 6:12:40 -- 4 seconds faster than last year. Unfortunately, the course was 2.4 miles longer last year so my average speed was slower this year. Still, it's a respectable time considering that I didn't feel well-trained and how much I suffered all day. I certainly couldn't have done it without the help of my pack-mates! And, mentally, it was one of the most challening events I've done, fighting off the urge to drop from the pack again and again.
I hung out at the finish line and watched most of the remaining skaters come in. Dave, David, Mark, Elizabeth, Blake, Jonathan, and many others. There's pretty much a universal sense of relief as the skaters crossed the finish line, regardless of how long it took them to get there.
Please everyone, if you're reading this... Sign up for A2A 2011! It's the 30th anniversary of the event, and it needs the support of the skaters if it's going to continue. It's a one of a kind event, an epic journey... If you haven't done it before, you'll meet tons of great people and have a great time. And, if you have done it before, get your butt back there and do it again! :-)
- SM -