Finishing Time: 1:30:10 (official results available here)
Gender Placement: 4th
To say that my confidence was shakey before this race is a bit of an under-statement. I was sick on Wednesday and practice had not left me feeling good about my skating recently. In fact, I was considering not racing as late as Friday morning because my limbs were feeling so weak. Thanks to the support and encouragement of JaS and coach SZ, I managed to calm myself down. Oh, and a regiment of rest-water-food didn't hurt either to speed up my recovery.
While I was swinging back and forth between racing or not racing, SZ and I had an interesting exchange:
CW: Well, if I don't feel well enough to race, I can always go and skate easy.
SZ: You know as well as I do that there's no such thing as "skating easy" in a race. You either go to the race and give 100% or you stay home.
All I can say is SZ knows me well. :)
On race day morning, I got up at 5:20am for a quick breakfast before driving over the border from Windsor to arrive at Detroit before 7. There were plenty of time for me to get ready, including a warm up lap over the entire course loop. I asked many friends for reports on the course condition but obviously no description compares to skating the course myself. The surface was not as rough as I anticipated. The turnarounds and turns were not as tight as I feared either. I think my choice of well worn yellow Matters training wheel was a good decision.
I met up with CC at the start line and introduced her to BrS and BrO. I met the guys previously at The Great EsSkate so with a combination of recent race results, I was aiming to be in their packs. CC and I discussed the night before and the plan was for us to skate in the same pack so we could have a teammate in the pack. I positioned myself behind MS (from Montreal24) at the start line with BrS and CC on my left and right, just one level deep from the pros. As soon as the start signal went off, I was moving up and up in the sea of arms and legs. It only took a few seconds before I lost sight of any of the target skaters in "my" pack. All I could see was two packs skating side by side and I had to pick one quickly. I chose to stay on the left and before long, skaters from my pack merged into the pack on the right one by one. I was among skaters of all abilities but the front of the pack with all the pros were in clear view. At this time, I spotted BrS not too far ahead of me and he was moving up the pack. A gap was starting to form and there was no time for hesitation. I jumped out of the pack and worked my way up.
When I finally rejoined the pack, the pros were already pulling away and I was near the front of, well, everybody else. Still not quite the front yet but luckily, with the help of B and LX, we caught up to the first pack behind the pros. I was pleasantly surprised to be skating with BH and BrO. My effort felt laboured because I was still weak from my cold and the cadence of some skaters I was following. I quickly found out that I could only rest when I skated behind BH or BrO because their skating style helped me to maximize my weight transfer. With that in mind, our little pack of 6 ploughed through about two laps in the most coorperative manner.
Just as we reached the rough pavement around the fountain, BH and another skater attacked. I was already redlining for far too long so chasing them was not something I intended to do. The rest of the pack was in agreement but the fatigue was getting to us and for about 500m, we scattered all over the place with only me and B working together. B mentioned that a big pack was about 100m behind us and gaining steadily so we might as well wait up for them. I was hoping it wouldn't come down to this but the fierce headwind was chipping away at my determination.
"Candy, pick up your pace! I need your help!"
With almost perfect timing, my knight in shining armor appeared. Umm, actually, it was not a knight but Spiderman with his hands covered with blood. EL apparently had a crash early in the first lap which put him far behind the lead pack. He probably was in a good deal of pain but with his signature brand of limitless energy and positive attitude, he steadily made his way past one pack after another. Things got a lot more organized and our little pack of four caught up to LX. BrO caught up to us shortly after. We were moving like a train powered by EL. The goal was to chase down BH!
The next two laps were pure determination. EL cheered us on but my breathing was becoming less regular. We lost LX when he sprinted for his 21k finish. Later, B dropped off out of fatigue. I fought hard to hang on, partly because I didn't want to disappoint EL and partly because I wanted to escape the fate of the lonely skater dropped from a pack. When we started the last lap, BH was finally within reach but I was also tired beyond believe. I skated on my own for that last lap, fighting to stay ahead of that big pack behind me. Singing while skating was something I used to do long time ago to distract myself from the pain. I used this old trick again today...I was desperately in need of distraction. As I navigated around the fountain, I was still in the clear. However, just as I started to make the right turn towards the finish line, four sprinters from the pack caught up to me. Only then did I started to sprint. I was swearing at my own stupidity and managed to overtake one guy, fortunately. Lesson learned.
Sprinting for the finish line. Photo by Stephen Fisher.
This was a very hard race for me. I don't recall at any point of the race when I could just sit in the pack. Even when I was resting in the pack, it was brief and I was at risk of getting dropped anytime. However, my hardwork was rewarded as the first skater in the open women category to cross the finish line. I earned it.
More pictures available here.