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A2A 55-mile skate -- Sunday morning fun skate went out of control

johnnyChen's picture

The Texas Flyers had planned to send a team to 2005 A2A [which was canceled that year --roadskater].  I wanted to participate in the worst way.  I was too weak to skate at the time and started to ask skaters to go to A2A.  “Don’t wait ‘til you’re ready.  Go while the event exists.”



I wasn’t recovered from Montreal.  A2A was still the one event I wanted to support, and it lacked bodies.  I signed up for 52-mile race that I never skated.  It’d be a fun skate. I’d skate Silver Hill again!

8 days before A2A I narrowly avoided a bike crash at a cycling time trial.  I came in near last after getting lost on the simple loop course.  The goals for 2008 A2A:

  1. no crash
  2. stay on course



52-mile skaters seemed relaxed before the start.  All eyes were on Herb Gayle.  Herb kept whining about weight and climbs.

Bob Clare from Virginia asked me about Texas Flyers and talked about the year Mike Harris won 38.  I wasn’t aware there was a following on short distances.  Bob was determined to do well this year.  I vaguely recall he skated away from me at last mile of 2007 38-mile race.

Team Red Confusion from Birmingham was well represented.  The young guns seemed fast.  The question was whether they could stay fast for 3 hours.  Most of them looked light and immune to gravity.

Several APRR skin suits were in the mix.  Rumor had it a Chuck had his eyes on the 52-mile trophy.  They all looked like Chucks at the start.  Knowing the route was a huge advantage.


Inexact Start

The little lead motorcycle took off; one Chuck followed slowly.  We had a long pace line going 11 mph for a few minutes.  Next thing I knew I was in a small pack of mostly Birmingham skaters pushing each other down the hill at 29 mph.  Not what I had in mind but had go with the flow.  My strategy was to stay close to lead motorcycle so I wouldn’t skate off the course.  I’d back off where 52 and 87-mile courses merged.

Shortly after the loop, the lead vehicle stopped to block traffic.  I followed the 3 lead guys into the wrong turn.  We ran on grass and dirt while their teammates waited.  I was determined not to skate off the course again.


Cat-1 Racer

Herb showed up.  He was re-lacing when the race started unexpectedly.  He kept pushing the pace.  My heart rate hovered around 91%.  Eric Gee warned me about this.  I decided to hang on ‘til my legs fail.  I heard so much about Herb’s superpower I wanted to see it first-hand.  My HRM started to beep 56 minutes into the race.  The alarm was set at 95% max.

Herb started to gap the pack on the false flats.  I struggled to match cadence in his slipstream.  GPS said 31 mph.  Bob patiently sat in the peloton.  I didn’t have to hammer, but going fast was so much fun.  I decided to stay with Herb ‘til my legs quit.  This is probably the only race I could hang with racers of Herb’s caliber.  I didn’t care if I bonked but wished I had lost a few lbs for this day.  I let the pack go when my HR crossed 95% for the 3rd time.  We hit an unmanned red light.  I stayed behind Bob after the unscheduled stop.


20-Minute Detour

2 hours into the race, the lead pack dwindled.  After a left turn, the painted arrows stopped showing up on the course.  Advancing at 0 mph, we spoke of the unthinkable: “are we lost?”  The pack included no females; hence were unable to ask for directions.  Someone decided to stay the course, counting on the organizer’s failing to mark that intersection.  I stopped following the pack.  My legs felt like jello and were unlikely to stay with leaders.  I skated back toward the turn: if I saw the chase pack coming toward me, I’d join; if Herb and company went the wrong way, I had gained distance on them.

Lead pack U-turned.  The detour cost 3 miles.  Herb radiated frustration waiting for the red light while Bob’s anger propelled him up the road alone.  I was a little depressed how quickly they caught me.  I soon redlined but the legs miraculously tapped out Herb’s pace.  The Red Confusion dudes looked dead tired by now.  I yelled at them, “Stick together.  No one gets away before Silver Hill.”  I felt like coach Mike.

I also felt discouraged.  There was unknown number of competitors in front with possibly 15-minute lead.  Herb had twice my talent and stroke length.  Bob was out of sight.

I had forgotten about the relaxing Sunday morning fun skate.


42.3 mph

We finally reached the long ass downhill.  I grabbed the 2nd spot to minimize the number of skaters I had to trust.  My right foot speed-wobbled all the way.  What a rush!  It’s hard to believe Nicolas Ratthe, the backward skater, only crashed once.


2nd Half

Inevitably, Herb attacked.  I told the young skater in front, “It’s up to you.  We have the number.”  He lacked will.  I took over.  I kept the gap constant.  Let the big boy spend the energy skating alone on those big wheels; downhill momentum was on my side.  Pretty soon my pack was down to 2.  I didn’t bother to ask my shadow to pull; I just needed downhill weight.  Plenty of climbs left.  It pays to be the skinny Asian when it comes to hotdog eating and A2A.  For miles, I watch in awe as Herb dragged his Greek God-like physique up each hill using unnaturally long strokes, never faltered.

Herb finally slowed.  My heart rate dropped enough to consume the overdue gel.  I bridged.  No one followed.  Herb and I started to work together.  Bob was nowhere in sight.  We didn’t know how many directionally gifted were still ahead.  I ran out of hills to threaten Herb.  All he had to do was pick a straight stretch to drop me.  I worked with him anyway.  I could use extra cushion to hold off my chasers.  We could still catch Bob.


Easily Lost Strong Man

Bob caught up from behind.  “I went the wrong way.”  Curselessly, he flew away fueled by fury.  He was 30 meters ahead.  Herb chased.  I shifted gear.  My right quads cramped.  The body finally reached its limit.  It was exhilarating while it lasted.  “Thank you, legs.”

I wished I were stronger.

10 miles to go, mostly rough flat road.  I concentrated on not getting lost.


Free Ride

An APRR skin suit showed up with 6 miles to go.

“Do you know the route?”


“Good!  I don’t know where I’m going.”

The Chuck had great form and was easy to follow.  He demonstrated Southern hospitality by leading the whole way.  He surged repeatedly when pavement turned smooth.  It didn’t occur to me he was trying to drop me.  Piedmont Park.  I was confident in my sprint after the long rest but decided to let chuck cross first.  It seemed right.  I started moving out of his draft.  A small dog moved in front of Chuck.  Chuck went down avoiding the canine and leash.  I narrowly escaped and crossed the finish alone.  The mutt walked away tail-high, oblivious to the near collision.



I was surprised to find Bob, Herb, and I reclaimed the 52-mile race lead.  Bob pulled Herb for miles and asked Herb not to sprint, “Herb, don’t be a donkey.  Let me have this.”  (Inexact quote!)

Bob finally got his A2A title.

In 2007, 3 of us finished 5th ~ 7th behind 4 young skaters at 38-miles.

The 38-mile title was more achievable this year.  But I wouldn’t trade the lead pack experience for the 38-mile win.

I ended my season directionally challenged, but it gave me small satisfaction that...

  1. My skate was shorter than Herb’s 56 and Bob’s 57 miles.
  2. The big boys of 87-mile race also got lost at a different intersection.  One guy actually got on 4-lane highway.

In medical tent Chuck complemented on how tough I hanged.  I finally understood the surges.


The Real Race

Peter Starykowicz from Chicago won the 87-mile race, followed by Luis Carlos Mejia who looked fast even sitting down.  Eddy Matzger claimed 3rd with big smile.  I asked Eddy,

“How do you recover from NY100k last week?”

“I didn’t.”

Randy Bowman didn’t have the race he wanted.  Dennis Humphrey was happy with his 5 minutes behind the winner Peter longlastname, who was less than half Dennis’ age.


Meeting my Hero

Dan Burger showed up at massage booth with big camera and hairy arms.  He offered to fight me for the spot in line and shared details of his 6- and 12-hour distance record.  Eddy also came to the booth.  Contrary to the myth, they didn’t look like twins.  When his turn came up, Eddy gave the masseuse a massage.


Friends from the Montreal race

  • Luke helped me getting out of greased skates without mom’s support.
  • Morgan talked to me about his underpush during those 2.7-mile sprints.
  • Bryan McKenney’s non-imaginary hammerhead girlfriend came to support Bryan, who was not recovered from dominating UMCA North America 12-Hour Championship 8 days ago.
  • Jessica looked as tall and fast as last time I saw her.  She was so fresh that 87 miles seemed insufficient.
  • Renee showed up at awards in a skirt.
  • The German skater turned down my invitation to Cow Tippers.  She alleged to be a vegetarian.


I went back to Piedmont Park alone after dinner with Blake and NC crew.  I closed my eyes and could still see the 1999 sprint finish when the skater collided into a photographer.  I rearranged my life to train for the 87-mile.  I made friends through the event.  Thinking about skaters fighting the hills always warms my heart.

I wished A2A would prosper again.


  • 3:34:23
  • 55.28 miles
  • Avg speed: 15.5 mph
  • Avg HR: 89%
  • Calories: 2922

Posted Data

  • 3:34:14
  • 52 miles
  • Avg speed: 14.6 mph

On-Course Nutrition

  • 1.5 Perpetuem
  • 1 gel
  • 16 oz diluted Gatorade
  • 28 oz water



MikeB's picture

Out of control for sure

Johnny, your reviews always crack me up. They totally rock and I love the descriptive touches: *I didn’t care if I bonked but wished I had lost a few lbs for this day. *The pack included no females; hence were unable to ask for directions. *It pays to be the skinny Asian when it comes to hotdog eating and A2A. *“Herb, don’t be a donkey. Let me have this.” (Inexact quote!) That is classic. Thanks - felt like I was there.
eebee's picture

Way more fun

As usual, Johnny, I laughed more reading your report than I did over the whole 87 mile skate (that is supposed to be a compliment). Thanks for coming to A2A again!

"The Chuck" LMAO. we had

"The Chuck" LMAO. we had the same opening mentality. the start of the race i was unfamilir with myself but skating around Atlanta i know the "mentality" of where the "S" are marked and i went over the route from the overhead satelite view at least a hundred times. i hope you guys learned a valuable lesson. Don't Drop the local!!! :-D (I'll take all the help i can get) i thought it was funny to read about my "southern hospitality" HAH!!! Johnny, if you only knew what i was thinking along the course. but as i tried each acceleration, or side juke i knew i had a good skater with me and i had to change my tactic and hope i could take you on the sprint up the hill. I have no idea how you avoided me in the crash, that skill alone told me how good a skater you are and help lessen the bruising (however mildly though) some. October 27 was my first day to get back on my skates after A2A and yes i went thru the Park too, wanting to punt little dogs and the clueless owners but more i though about that skinny asian i couldn't shake off. i look forward to skating with you, Herb Longlastname and the kids from Red Confusion too. the kids were fun but io know some of them will be scary

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