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Athens to Atlanta 2010: TomB's A2A Report


Before I start, let me share two quotes that put A2A in perspective, for me at least:

"Hide your crazy next to your passion. They can't tell the difference." —rands

"You're mad, bonkers ... but I'll tell you a secret: All the best people are." - Alice's father, to Alice, in Tim Burton's film Alice in Wonderland.

Is it craziness? Is it passion? Is there a difference?

At dinner on Sunday night we talked about how A2A is like an addiction. People come back year after year for it, it's something we wouldn't miss. It has become that for me, as it has for others before me. But it is a strange, difficult addiction. I said, it sure would be a lot easier to have a "normal" addition, like alcohol or something.

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah, A2A. Athens to Atlanta.

Here is a Google Map showing the route.

2010 results for the 87 mile skate are here:

Well, last year I resolved not to overtrain. I certainly kept that promise! Truth is, I did a lot of traveling in the weeks prior to A2A this year and didn't get much of a chance to train. I tried to skate to and from work when I could. I did some skating in the city streets and hills of Smyrna when I could. I played hockey, of course. But it didn't amount to much, not compared to what I should have been doing.

Having said that, it was way better than overtraining! Last year the muscles in my butt were really hurting. This year I felt pretty good. In my mind I figured a time of 6:00:00 would be a miracle. 6:30:00 would be good. And 7:00:00 would be disappointing.

I got into a great pack early on and we were tearing it up. Lots of APRR skaters in the group, along with some Team Rainbo skaters (from Chicago). We were on, or close to, a 6:00:00 pace. The weather was perfect. I was feeling good. The pack I was skating with was great. Things could not have been going better.

Interesting note: The roadkill was really in season this year. I saw a lot more dead animals on the road this year than I can remember. One possum was extremely ripe; we smelled it hundreds of feet away and it just kept getting worse the closer we got. It was bad. Another time a car swung left to pass us and ran over a possum or raccoon or something, spraying its guts everywhere. Extremely disgusting.

We grabbed refreshments at Checkpoints #1 and #2 but did not stop. At some point (I think it was around Checkpoint #2, maybe a little after it?) our rather large pack split into two packs, and I opted for the slightly faster of the two. We did stop at Checkpoint #3 for a little break, and the slightly slower pack caught up to us when we did. We rolled out together and with minor changes in our group we stayed together until Checkpoint #4.

At Checkpoint #4 the game changed. I rolled through but most of the group stopped. I ended up with John Silker, of Team Rainbo, who was part of our group prior to Checkpoint #4, because he also rolled through. After a little while we picked up Stacey Wiggins, who was doing the 52. Still later, we picked up Molly Robertshaw, who had fallen off one of the faster packs earlier in the day and had been on her own for a while. At some point we also picked up Michelle Beyer-Gillen. So we had a very nice group of five skaters. I thought we were in great shape at that point, as we approached the Stone Mountain area.

I was even more happy when we picked up Doug Tyler, who is an Atlanta skater I have skated with many times during different events. I know that if I'm with Doug I'm doing pretty well because he is definitely faster than I am. Doug (and his friend Tom Elkin, who is also great to skate with) always sign up to skate the 38-mile option officially, but try to skate the whole 87 depending on how they feel, even if they don't get full credit for it.

Anyway, we picked up Doug on Burns Road, around where we crossed Indian Trail Lilburn Road. (As you can tell, it's always easier for a pack to catch a lone skater.) We had already rebuilt a great pack (looking back to Checkpoint #4 where it was just John and I) and adding Doug only made it stronger.

Unfortunately, at this point I was starting to struggle. This was a new feeling for me. Although I'm not the fastest skater I've never really bonked before. Well, first time for everything, I guess. By the time we crossed the railroad tracks on Harmony Grove Road, and then began climbing some of the hills on Old Rosser Road, I was starting to lag the group. First I lagged a little, then a lot, and before long I lost touch with the group.

I've heard people say that different parts of the course are the toughest for them. The hills leading to Dacula, for example, are mentioned a lot. Well, for me the series of hills leading up to the big downhill on Silver Hill are the worst. That is where I struggle the most, and this year was no exception.

I knew I was in trouble when I reached for water and for the third time I grabbed an empty water bottle--when I knew very well that I had a full water bottle in my other pocket! My mind was leaving me, slowly but surely. I've been physically tired before but never mentally exhausted like this. How could this be happening? The skate started out so well and now this???

I decided, although I hated to do it, that I had to stop. I stepped off the road. I ate two or three gels. I took some endurolytes (pills with sodium, potassium, and other stuff you lose when you sweat). I drank some water. I let my heart rate come down. It was only a few minutes but it helped a lot. I then proceeded to go go down Silver Hill alone, which was disappointing because I wanted to see how fast I could go in a fast pack. And I managed to stagger into Checkpoint #5.

Checkpoint #5 was when the agony ended and the skate began anew. Checkpoint #5 was my savior. I sat down in a chair. After two pints of chocolate milk (and about 10 chocolate chip cookies!) I was re-energized! Thanks, Candy Girl!

At this point I saw many members of the slightly faster group that I had been in early in the skate, including Sam Fistel (who did an A2A2A again, just like he did in 2008!) and Tom Grosspeitsch (who carried me during A2A 2008), pull into Checkpoint #5. I was rested and ready so I rolled out but I knew that they would catch me before long. Michelle, who had also dropped from the group prior to Checkpoint #5, joined me.

Along the way we caught up with Bob Harwell. We made a nice team, but before long we dropped Michelle. Bob and I then picked up Stacey. Unfortunately, he did not hang with us for long. I believe some of the short but steep hills near Clarkston got him.

Prior to Checkpoint #6, as I expected, the Sam Fistel, Tom Grosspietsch, et al. group caught us. We also caught up with another skater along the way. I don't remember exactly who was in the group but it was great to be in a large group again.

At this point I need to mention the wind. We had perfect weather at the beginning of the day but over time the wind gradually turned into a headwind. I would guess it was about 15 mph, sometimes gusting higher. The A2A Twitter feed documented this: "Wind is quite strong today. Almost knocked over our tent." At one point after I finished the wind blew down the A2A finish banner.

We had been fighting the wind just a little bit early in the day but by the time we turned east on College near Avondale Estates/Decatur it was a full-blown headwind. Thank goodness we had a good pack at that time. We all took turns pulling so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

By the time we turned onto Moreland Avenue our group was starting to stretch out. We smelled the finish and wanted it. I was extremely fortunate to be in the second position in our paceline at this point. Bob Harwell was in first, and he gradually began to pick up the pace. Before long he was flying, especially as he tore down Virginia Avenue and then Park Drive. Bob is another legend in the inline skating world. He's 66 years old but don't let that fool you. He can SKATE.

Well, if I hadn't been right behind him I'm not sure I would have been able to pass others in the group and catch him. But I barely managed to stay within 5-10 feet of him. I knew, because I had skated with him for the last hour, that I was stronger on the uphills than he was, at least on this day. I also knew that A2A finishes on an uphill. I knew that as long as I could stay close I could pass him at the end.

Which is exactly what happened. As soon as we got into Piedmont Park I was able to pass and pull away. Okay, I'm 40 and he's 66 so it's not like this is some great feat, but after my difficult day I was extremely happy just to finish strong. Both Bob and I managed to open up almost a 1-minute gap on the rest of the paceline in a relatively short distance so I'm very proud of what we did at the end. I'm also happy that I was able to recover enough after my difficulty in prior to Checkpoint #5 that I was able to catch and pass 3 of the 5 other people in the group that I could not keep up with earlier.

So I finished with a time of 6:44:46. Not bad. But even including my short difficult period, I felt like I skated a lot better than that. My legs still felt strong at the end. I am encouraged to see that the winning time was 5:04, when Eddy is capable of a 4:30, as proof that the wind really did slow us down. Maybe I'm over-optimistic, like the baseball fan who says "next year, for sure" the minute the season ends, but I like to think I could have done a 6:15 with favorable conditions! Who knows. Only one way to find out. When do I sign up for A2A 2011? ;)


roadskater's picture

Just Like a Junkie! We Coulda Been Contendahs

Great report TomB! The power of (lowfat?) chocolate milk again! I drank some in your honor on two excursions of the Carolina Century development routes recently. Good. Mmm.

I didn't know my time all day but felt like you did that we skated a lot better than the time showed. We really got caught at stop lights and the GPS data shows that. Did you guys have any ATL police help? As DavidK pointed out, when there's one or two of you going into an intersection it is lots easier to deal with picking your way along without police help. For us the last was Sam's Crossing, N. Clarendon before that, bottom of that hill, CVS on Central, none at 10, none at SMV at the 5 points at Lickety-Split. If slow enough to miss those, your time goes way up, so that's good incentive to keep the pace up if you can. Packs in the country, split up after the last stop might be a good strategy. Not sure. But yeah there's always next year is the fervent hope. Thanks for sharing your notes of the day with us! Any other thoughts?

eebee's picture

Burns Road

"Anyway, we picked up Doug on Burns Road, around where we crossed Indian Trail Lilburn Road."

I didn't think it was possible to catch anybody where Burns Rd crosses Indian Trail. :-D That's one nasty little hill!

Right you are about the roadkill this year, but it did provide some members of our pack with a mental diversion from foot pain (keeping a tally - I forget...did the possums win?).


roadskater's picture

Roadkill Roadskraper Report Sympathy for the Burns and Dickens

OK. I think when JonathanS can get past some unimportant details of life...like life...he may have the Roadskraper.net report. It was 5-5 possums v. squirrels at one point methinks. We caught DavidK at the top of Burns at Indian Trail but he escaped handily as one skater as opposed to a shotgun blast of uncertainty. He was looking strong and at ease. And since you said Burns I should just say Dickens Road crosses Burns twice or Burns crosses Dickens twice and I always say, at the top of that little three-way stop, "It Burns like a Dickens," though it might ought to be "It Burns like the Dickens." Just an old mountain phrase or an old tobacco field one, not sure. OK Google gets 165 for ...a... and 13,300 for ...the..., so I guess that settles something. Seems to be a substitute for the matchless king (I guess in hell there's no need for matches) of that book PL by that poet JM who said rage against the dying of the light in a somewhat less dark moment but still involving death (don't want to pimp his book that scared so many and made them think they knew about hell, but he came up with so many great words I can't say it's useless, like pandaemonium...blah blah blah...now I hear "please allow me to introduce myself"...and think how funny were it called Sympathy for the Dickens. So the it is ever more fitting that burns and the devil encircle each other. Stream of Bonkiousness!

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