Back to School For Me

 

I just came home from one of the greatest inline races in the world, The North Shore Inline Marathon inDuluthMinnesota. I love the NSIM because I get to see so many different types of skaters all showing up to celebrate our great sport. Racers, fitness types, children, age groupers and people looking to say they had finished a marathon (checking it off of the bucket list). The amazing venue that is Lake Superior and the great point to point course which adds so much to the scenery. The finish line and exhibit hall in downtownDuluthwhich make us skaters feel important as well as the great hotels near by.

As you might guess by my many years in the sport, I have done this race a number of times. I am really not sure how many times I have raced here but I know it is well over 10. Recently I have noticed a personal lack of excitement on event day as I stood waiting for the race to start. Not sure if I was just bored with skating or if I had too many things going on in my life that the NSIM seemed unimportant. Last year it was the only race I skated and although I crossed the line first, I was not inspired leading up to it. This year I decided to try and be really in tune with what I was thinking and feeling before the race as I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing with my time. If God was laying it on my heart to do one thing or another, I wanted to make sure I was listening.

Showing up on race day to see if you are still passionate about something is not the best plan for anyone but I didn’t have many alternatives. I have been racing bikes all summer with some good intensity so I figured I would be in shape. I have also been highly involved with roller derby so I have been skating a fair bit as well. I knew from an athletic perspective that I would be fit but I was not sure how I would be in my head. So after driving nearly through the night on Friday (had to wait until my son’s Friday night football game was finished as he was my wingman for the weekend), I showed up ready to skate in my Bont skates and Bont uniform for the first time.

Once the race started I had to quickly get my head focused and into the event as it was coming at me fast. A large group of racers from Team Twin Cam had decided that they were going to burn some legs out and they went right after it. The first 5 plus miles was freshly laid pavement which was as smooth as I was back in high school. We had a subtle tail wind which made being out in front a little more comfortable on the legs so the pace was fast. I kept checking my watch as the miles clicked by and noticed we were averaging under 2:20 which is darn fast forDuluth. If the Twin Cam guys weren’t enough, Mike Anderson out ofMinnesota’s Team Alou Up was a beast with the attacks. He was very tactical and sneaky about when he would go and after catching me off guard, he would keep attack on for nearly miles at a time just making me chase. If others chased on he kept on going but as soon as I made contact he would shut the speed down. At this point begins the tale of two Tony’s. The 2012 Duluth Marathon version was excited that I was able to bridge up alone, excited that I did not feel finished but also scared that if this happened too many more times I couldn’t keep chasing. The bold and confident Tony would have counter attacked and kept Mike and the rest of the pack guessing and chasing. That Tony did not show up but later, he kept talking back to me throughout the drive back home asking me why I was such a coward.

Somewhere at the mid point in the race, a couple things happened. I decided that I was tired of Mike surprising me and then me having to work to chase him down, so I sat on his wheel so he couldn’t get a jump. The pack also had taken it’s damage and a number of the race leaders decided that they had spent enough time near the front so they fell back somewhere in the group. With the benefit of those two things and the courage to continue the attacks, the Twin Cam racers kept sending skaters off the front. Eventually a couple guys at different times got off of the front but were unable to bridge to each other. The pack cruised along for many miles waiting for the next attack from Mike and then after we would slow back down to a crawl when he was caught. Meanwhile up the road, we kept one Twin cam racer in site but we had lost track of the other. Brent Bovitz, one of the Twin Cam racers had pushed through any doubts in his mind and had escaped. By the time the pack realized it, we knew that who ever did the work to bridge it would be at the mercy of the next attack Mike was going to make and we were all in a bit of fear of that. Eventually, Danny Frederick, Norm Kirby and Rich Cassube all made decent attempts at catching the leader but because they were never organized or together, the pack would keep shutting down and losing anything we had gained.

We all settled in for a sprint for second place as we knew that good money was still on the line. Sprinting is typically what I do best and normally it comes naturally. It was at this year’s marathon that I realized that I was only good when everything goes the way I planned. I sat in my normal front part of the pack but not in the lead position as we exited the main road to head for the finish line. I had set myself up behind one of the better sprinters in the bunch, Nikko Ramksasoon from New York. As we got near the turn in perfect position (first Nikko then I then my team mate Norm Kirby),Nikko catches his wheel on something and he goes down right in front of me. Keep in mind that this is near the finish so we are going at a decent clip and just heading into a corner so the pack has a small window to fit through.Nikkois down, my foot is caught in some part of him and I am fighting crashing as I hear my teammate Norm go down behind me. At this point I am doing everything I can to avoid road rash as it is the gift that keeps on giving while at the same time, watching my perfect position for the sprint go away. My roller derby skating paid off at that moment as I was able to hold it together and stay upright on my skates. I was now near the back of the approximately twenty man pack and I turned to full on panic mode (sound like an experienced sprinter?).  I quickly went full thrusters, nitrous and plaid (Space Balls reference) in order to get back to the front. Although that was not the smart thing to do, looking back I still think I could have over came that mistake. As I came up to the very front of the pack, I kept panicking and attempting to find a clear line to the front. Had I raced it as planned, I would still be sitting in the front of the pack, waiting for the perfect moment to take it home to the finish line. Unfortunately, coming from the back with all of that speed, and no plan in place, I suddenly turned into an amateur. I was trying to split the leaders

the crack that divides the road and that in itself was a bad decision. You have to skate that area with a straddled step as to not get your wheels stuck in the crack, a mistake I made a few years back while crashing in the finish sprint. Rich Cassube saw me make my move and he went full speed on the outside keeping me from over taking him. While I was slowly losing speed and energy in the middle, Danny Frederick came by to take the third position on the podium. Both of those athletes raced a super fast and hard race and finished with great strategy. Kudos also to Jim Larson who was in the front of the pack down the finish sprint and certainly had his best NSIM finish. Brent Bovitz comes away with a hard earned National Championship and Mike Anderson earned the special award in my book for changing the race plans for everyone.

So after some thought and deep sole searching I noticed a number of things. The NISM itself is an amazing event and deserves focus and respect. The sport of inline speed skating is a unique and challenging sport which requires both a special fitness and technique. Any time you get alone time for a number of hours with your child in a car, seize it as that time is priceless. As I sat concentrating before the start I really wanted to be inDuluthright where I was and doing what I was doing. God had blessed me with a gift and I loved being able to use it. As I spent more time after the race thinking, I realized that even after all of my years and experiences I was still challenged by the speed and strategy that speed skating gave me.

I am so thankful that Bont and Debby Rice encouraged me to race this event. I am thankful that Tone Coughlin made it comfortable to drive up last minute to the event. I am thankful my wife covered for me at home so I could sneak away and play for a few days. I am thankful that my son skipped his weekend fun to help me stay awake on the drive. I am thankful for the other athletes who taught this old dog a reason to learn a few new tricks. I am thankful that God gave me the gifts that I use to compete at such a high level. Lastly, I am thankful that I will have another shot at the NSIM next year when I try and bring a little bit better me.

 

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