Having almost all blading related events canceled this year because of COVID-19 is not something inline skaters have ever faced before. It is a versatile thing that we do, in the fact that we can pretty much skate anywhere there is pavement, while having a good time on our adventure… that is a large part of the sport’s appeal. The calendar was approaching the weekend that is usually reserved for the Apostle Island Marathon on Madeline Island in Wisconsin. The race takes place on a closed-circuit course around the beautiful and scenic island and offers optimum racing conditions. I recommend that anyone who skates should experience this event. Due to word of mouth, more people than ever seemed interested in attending this year. Unfortunately, with so much of our daily life and routines being affected by COVID-19, we have seen almost every skating event since April hit the chopping block.
Rollerblade Ambassador Tracy White and I discussed creating our own virtual marathon, choosing the third weekend in June to honor the Apostle Island race date. Tracy and Ben Price set up an Endomondo Challenge for us to compete in a virtual marathon, opening up the event from Friday through Sunday. We recruited several of our friends to join us for the very first Fake Apostle race. Sally skated her first marathon last year, but Collin, Joe, Jeff, Michael, and Scottie had never participated in one before. Hailing from an aggressive skating background, these five guys have spent a lifetime on skates, all having their own unique skating history. Now they are joining our race to challenge their bodies and minds to go the distance for the first time. Here are some stories on how our cool group of skaters accomplished our own virtual marathons to honor the awesome Apostle Island race weekend.
Sally Dolembo had a pair of inline skates back in the 90s when we all had them during the sports boom. She started skating again a couple of years ago, looping around the backside of Grant Park Skatepark in Chicago, when we would get together for Thursday Night Skates (FThNS). With newfound confidence and speed, she conquered her first marathon last year on her Rollerblade Macroblade 80 skates, with matching pink Hydrogen wheels, skating the North Shore Inline Marathon (NSIM) in Duluth, Minnesota. For the Fake Apostle virtual marathon, her goal was to beat her NSIM finish time. Sally knew this marathon would be more challenging for her. Without a well-manicured closed off course, having to carry her own water bottle (instead of having water stations along the way), and not receiving encouragement from a cheering section. Sally skated 140 miles in the two weeks before Fake Apostle to train for the marathon. The mostly solo training sessions took her on bike paths and trails around the Chicagoland area. To prepare for the race, she learned about technique, body motions, quality strides, edging, coasting, and just letting the wheels roll.
On the morning of the marathon, Sally had some coffee and a quick bite to eat before hitting the starting line at the Old Plank Road Trail in Chicago Heights, Illinois. During her skate, she had an accident caused by a biker trying to pass her too close. Looking over her shoulder after hearing someone shout “on the left” and being unable to locate them, she was bitten by a tar snake, fell, and slid to the side of the path. Despite a deep scar on the white cap of her left knee pad, she didn’t let the incident stop her, got right back up, and finishing the race strong. For Sally, the trail seemed narrow, having to navigate through all the tar snaked miles, and all the street crossings felt slow. But even with these conditions, there was enough decent road for her to beat her NSIM time! Mission Accomplished.
Jeff Metz, a regular at FThNS, has been skating around Chicagoland in every direction putting in a ton of miles on his big wheel skates. Jeff accepted the challenge to participate in the virtual marathon with his usual calmness and matter of fact responsibility that gives the guy so much charm. Jeff faced many challenges and various terrain during Fake Apostle, including road construction, grass patches, stop lights, curbs, sidewalks, paved streets, and riverfront paths. Jeff skated on a pair of Powerslide 3×110 Next skates, with a fresh set of Compass wheels. Earlier in the day, Jeff had a job interview, which I’m told went well, and after eating half a slice of pizza, he took off and began his race. While skating on the North Branch Trail, he was joined by his nephew Michael Wait. They skated together for quite a while, which gave Jeff a little reprieve from the challenging terrain that he faced most of the way. Jeff fought the good fight completing the race, full well knowing he’s hungry for another go and now has a finish time to beat.
After joining Jeff and skating 11 miles on the North Branch Trail, Michael Wait made the decision to wake up at 5:30 the following morning to attempt his first full marathon. For the virtual marathon, Michael rode a pair of Powerslide 110 skates he purchased while on vacation to Barcelona, Spain. He revisited the North Branch Trail that he had skated the day before with Jeff, then completed the remainder of the race zigzagging across Evanston, Illinois, under the early morning sunlight. Doing a virtual marathon can be easy because of the accessibility, but it is also challenging for the same reason. Close to home, one might be tempted to stop in for a quick glass of cold water, that little energy gel that they didn’t bring, or to change socks because of a blister. Michael might have had one of those issues, but chose to stay on the streets until the mile mark on Endomondo read 26.22. Like a competitive racer, he did not stop until the deed was done. Way to go, Michael, you did it!
Collin Martin has been Big Wheel Blading a lot with his two sons while experimenting with all kinds of skate setups. Most of us are continuously learning and expanding our knowledge of various disciplines of skating, equipment, and skate setups. Collin showed up on a pair of Them 909s, equipped with a 4×110 Wizard frame and MPC Black Magic wheels, which is quite an unusual choice for a marathon. His first attempt skating a marathon was also his first time on the Old Plank Road Trail. Collin is tough enough to finish a marathon on any skate, but riding on a squeaky boot and heavy frame wore on him towards the end. I’d love to see what his finish time is once he finds the perfect setup. He will likely participate in another marathon, with his kids involved, and I would love to see them at a big event once things get back to normal. Collin is looking for detailed explanations of proper foot positioning and how to perform the mythical double push. Me too Collin, me too.
Joe Dummit, aka Coach, surprised us by showing up to the social distancing FThNS session and at the Eleventh Hour became part of our squad to skate Fake Apostle the next morning. He has attended Apostle Island Marathons in the past, but only to provide support for his friends and to bump up their spirits during the race. This year, however, Joe would be skating Fake Apostle through the South Suburbs of Chicago to complete the first marathon of his life. For the race, Joe armed himself with a pair of K2 Unnatural skates, mounted with colorful Ground Control UFS 80mm freeskate frames, that were loaded with Hydrogen wheels. Although he was skating on an aggressive skate setup, he was upfront most of the way, until the turnaround on the Old Plank Road Trail. Joe is full of wisdom and knows when to give supportive advice at just the right time. It was a benefit for everyone in attendance to be surrounded by his positive energy during this event. True to self, Joe had a great day! Long-distance skates like this can be mentally exhausting and make you a little sore, but when Coach gets into his flow, there is nothing to worry about, and there’s no stopping his good vibes.
The Enormous Half Way Point Marker Turtle
Once reaching the turn around point on the Old Plank Road Trail, we saw something right out of a work of fiction. There was an enormous turtle, the size of a backpack, marking our halfway point. Seeing a turtle while skating a marathon became a real sign that slow and steady can help you finish the race. Fake Apostle is not about who has the fastest finish or about winning. It is about being able to virtually complete a marathon with your friends who are unable to get together because of COVID-19. The virtual marathon was a winning day for all of us! Moving forward, if we are smart and take precautions, we will all be back together to skate before we know it.
Tracy White, a tortoise he is not. No stranger to the podium, this guy has about twenty rocks from Apostle Island. Rock trophies are awarded to podium finishers in all age groups, with larger rocks given to the overall winners. Tracy has enough stones from that place to build with. I’d like to thank him for getting us together for our first virtual marathon. Tracy is a very passionate guy, so when a marathon is coming up he begins to get what he calls “race nerves”. Most of us can relate to being excited about something big coming up the next day. You know, you’ve triple-checked your gear, plans are in place, everything checks out, and all you have to do is go to sleep, but you can’t because you’re so excited. Yeah, that.
Tracy chose a beautifully manicured subdivision with perfect asphalt outside Rockford, Illinois, as his course. He filled the back of his race kit with choice items and put on his favorite Rollerblade skate setup. The 100mm Hydrogen wheels, with red hubs, that he put on his Rollerblade Powerblade skates look menacingly fast. On his route, usually reserved for training before NSIM, Tracy ripped out an extremely fast finish for someone who has been off skates all winter due to shoulder surgery. In the future, Tracy is very excited about the possibilities of getting groups together from all over to participate in more weekend events, including 10ks and half marathons.
To Tracy, skating has always been hardcore, and that is a part of what makes him so good at it. When he was competing in NISS competitions during the 90s, it was all about catching air, going big, skating insane courses, and making it all look good. He says the beauty of a marathon race is the toughness required to compete. In aggressive skating, being able to jump a big gap or switch up on a handrail are measures of seriousness and hardcore skating action, but so is having lung capacity, leg strength, and strategy to kick ass in a marathon. They are both hardcore in different ways. To Tracy, the coolest part of skating is simply the act of doing it, no matter which discipline you have chosen to do. Tracy has been competing in the Apostle Island Marathon since 2015, and every year brings his family for a fun weekend of skating and camping on Madeline Island. When not competing in the race, you can find him at the Rollerblade Tent exhibiting skates and answering questions.
Scottie Butler and I watched our first Apostle Island Marathon last year, and we lucked out because the weekend was gorgeous. My favorite photo from that whole weekend was Scottie and Summer (Tracy’s daughter) skating the MADSKATE together, playing slingshot, and smiling ear to ear. The MADSKATE is one lap around the 8 plus mile loop set up around Madeline Island. This is the same loop marathoners complete three times during the race. This kind of event, where the whole family can come participate, is a truly unique vacation adventure. Ben called this event “Fake Apostle,” and that added the perfect amount of sarcasm to spark Scottie’s interest. This would be his first marathon achievement thus far. Leading the way down the Old Plank Road Trail with Joe Dummit, Scottie rocked his custom painted Rollerblade Enduraces fitted with the 125mm marathon frame setup. He loves the Hydrogen wheels in any size, 60, 80, 110, or 125mm. On his last outing to get in some miles, he had an unfavorable day, which proved to be a good lesson because he was well prepared for the virtual marathon. Breakfast, coffee, water, snacks, check check check check. He liked skating the Old Plank Road Trail but would like to find new paths and trails with fewer surface issues and intersections. He felt the marathon was very doable, but learned that pace and control were defining factors to a successful finish. Beginning your race being hyper and skating an inconsistent pace can result in using up too much of your energy early on. Set a pace that is consistent and comfortable for you, so that you can keep skating the duration of the race without getting a crash in energy. Scottie enjoyed the virtual marathon setting because it allowed him to skate at his own pace, without feeling the pressure of a group or others around him. Going to Madeline Island was so much fun last year that when the race returns, Scottie will be there.
Ben Price spent a lot of time researching to create a unique route for his virtual marathon in Phoenix, Arizona. His route took him around an airport, past scenic bridges, canals, around a mercantile mart, and a section of the Salt River Trail. It pays to know your city because this route is not found on Google Maps. Clever Ben always finds his way. He started his race at a fast pace, with a rare Arizona breeze at his back, and a slight decline in elevation had him feeling like a prince. He has carved out this path a half dozen times before, and mid-race put up multiple miles with an average of over 20mph. His fortune reversed once he began his return route which ended up being uphill and into the wind. His Seba Trick skates, with a 3×125 frame, and Rollerblade Hydrogen wheels held on for as long as they could. His frame bolts and axels kept unscrewing causing temporary stoppages, seven to be exact. After a blistering pace for most of the race, the mostly human “Beep” finished the weekend with our group’s fastest marathon time and was awarded the predetermined prize of happiness.
(left) Selfie on the Old Plank Road Trail | (right) Tracy making sure I’m paying attention during last year’s AIIM Photo by Mary Bos
I have known about the Old Plank Road Trail for years but never skated it. The trail spans the expanse of most of the world I grew up in, and I was always amazed by its length and how straight it was. As a kid, we would pass segments of this trail when visiting family. Looking out the window from the backseat of my parent’s car, I would see bikers and runners on the trail. I would try to see where it went, gathering what visual information I could before the days of the internet. In my mind, the path seemed to go on forever. I have skated a few marathons before, but last year was my first time participating in the Apostle Island Marathon. Now that I was planning a marathon of our own, I wanted to make sure to select a route with the least possible chance of getting lost or making a wrong turn. My childhood memories of the Old Plank Road Trail resurfaced and I decided this would be the perfect trail for the marathon.
We started in Chicago Heights, began heading west, and I immediately noticed how friendly the other trail users were. Almost everyone on the trail greeted us with “hellos” and “good mornings”. I skated my stock Rollerblade Endurace skates that have been my distance setup for the past couple of years. We kept together on our way to the turnaround but eventually had to stretch my legs. Once we said goodbye to the turtle, I hit my stride and chased off all the chipmunks and rabbits along the side of the path. Seeing all the wildlife with its little animals and creatures were one of my favorite parts about getting out to the suburbs to do this marathon. Hindered by miles of tar snakes, my strides were small and choppy, but I stayed in my rhythm pretty well and opened it up every chance I had. For the next marathon, I would love to find a different route for next time or even just continuing where we left off on the Old Plank Road Trail. Wherever I choose, it will be nice to have this group out there skating with me.
(left) The virtual crew | (right) Charcoal Drawing of Anthony Anderson by Sally Dolembo
The various routes people choose for the virtual marathon was the biggest performance variable we faced. The fastest times were achieved on paths with the least amount of interruptions and hazards. An urban route through city streets might be closer to home, but you have to deal with more stop and go scenarios. Making your way to the suburbs to skate a nice and long trail can be scenic and pleasant, but there is also the risk of poor surface conditions and other traffic. A secluded suburb in a low traffic neighborhood may provide a perfect skating surface to complete unlimited laps. If you are someone who likes adventure and enjoys exploring your city on skates, then you have a better chance to find ways to link up your route. Virtual races can connect us with skaters from all over the world while providing us with endless places to skate. Looking forward, I am excited to experience and share skate adventures with my friends any way I can. COVID-19 has changed the face of marathons and skating events for the unforeseen future, creating the need for virtual races and resulting in us completing our first Fake Apostle!
- For more information about the Apostle Islands Inline Marathon visit apostleislandsinline.com and follow them on Facebook.
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