1) It's really beautiful.
Even if you're not a competitive skater, this is worth the trip. Duluth is the cutest little town, filled with niche coffee shops and breweries, and there are a lot of outdoor activities. The town gets really into the marathon, which is the largest inline marathon in the US. The race course runs right along Lake Superior. I had never been to the Midwest before and wasn't expecting much, but Minnesota blew me away.
When I registered, I had intended to race on my speed skates, but for a variety of reasons this didn't happen. The day before the race I dropped down from Advanced 2 to Rec 1, which was a move I instantly regretted when the gun went off. My paceline was way too slow for me, and I know I could have finished a solid 3-5 minutes faster had I been in the correct wave. It was frustrating, but it was definitely a lesson learned for next time. Choosing a wave isn't the time to err on the conservative side--choose the wave based on your dreamtime, and if for some reason you get dropped, another paceline will always come along.
I had *just* placed a massive order on Inline Warehouse the day before AND paid for express shipping when I stumbled upon everything in that order being sold at the expo--for cheaper. I wasn't expecting a large expo, but the one at Northshore is similar in size to a running marathon expo. I spent way too much money on swag, but it was also a great place to talk to vendors about their products and get deals and discounts. When I wanted to test out the heel brake I'd just paid expedited shipping for, the vendor took it out of the package and let me test it, no problem, even though I wasn't buying it from him.
4) Have a rain plan.
Last year the marathon was in the rain, so I figured it couldn't happen two years in a row, right? Wrong. I went out on my new Bont Black bearings because I didn't have a choice, and even though it stopped raining shortly into the race, the roads were still soaked. My boots also got quite wet, which had I not had my Ez-fits on, could have created an uncomfortable situation. Other skaters were prepared with little bags to cover their boots, or had ceramic bearings they put in when they saw it was going to be wet.
5) Practice hills towards the end of your training skates.
The first half of the course is rolling hills, which suck a little bit, but they're nothing you have to worry about losing your paceline on. I would say that the majority of the course leans towards the downhill side. There are only two hills on this course, and they're both relatively small, and towards the end. On the first one, my teammate and fellow paceliner Lindsay outsprinted all of us, and I wasn't able to catch her after that. Had I followed her more closely, I would have gained a lot of places. Most people are super tired by the time the hills come, so if you get used to sprinting up a hill towards the end of your practice, you'll be golden.
6) Practice sharp downhill left-hand turns.
The marathon is basically a straight shot, until the very end. You come up your second hill (an exit ramp), and make a sharp left onto a bridge. Easy peasy, although there were a few crashes here. The second sharp left turn, though, comes in from a downhill. On this downhill, I found myself hitting my heel brake for the first and only time during the race, because I knew there was a solid possibility I'd spin out otherwise. Next year, I will be practicing downhill 90-degree left turns so I'll be able to make this turn without having heart palpitations.
7) Stick around for the awards ceremony.
The awards ceremony is at a bar across from the finish line, and it's a lot later in the day (starts at 4 pm), so you've got time for a shower, but it can be tempting to skip. It's a great after party--one of the sponsors provided free beer and there were free Northshore pint glasses. They broadcast a live feed of it on TVs all around the bar, and if you podium, they also broadcast your finish time as you're receiving your award. Don't miss it, especially if you're receiving a medal--it's a great chance to cheer on your teammates and make new friends.
8) Have fun!
When I came out of the finish line, I was still bumming about being in the wrong wave. For the first couple of hours, I focused on how my time could have been better. Lindsay saw me pouting and reminded me that first and foremost we are here to have fun, and she was right. Sonic reminded me that I hit a PR by 17 minutes and I blew past my goal finish time. Just because my race didn't go exactly how I planned it doesn't mean I didn't have a good race. And at the end of the day, I'm beyond lucky to be a part of such a wonderful skating community and race alongside a tight-knit worldwide community, no matter what my finish time is.
Written by Sarai Pegram
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