2010/2011 Marathon Musings

Marathon Musings

By John Ambrose

John’s latest Marathon Musings are available from the Home page by selecting the “Marathon” category from the News tab.

Below are the installments from 2010/2011:

Installment #6

Quebec City Marathon

I didn’t compete

Lake Placid Marathon

I competed and performed well, beyond my expectations, but too lazy to write a report!

Halifax Common Oval Marathon

In preparation for the Canada Winter Games a refrigerated olympic oval has been established on the Halifax Common. The inauguration of the Common Oval was held on January 1st and much to the organizers surprise it attracted 3000 skaters for the day. This past weekend the Marathon Skate International group had the privilege to organize one of its series marathons at the facility. Six of us regular Ontario/Quebec marathoners made the long trip to support both the MSI as well as the small speed skating fraternity in Nova Scotia. Winter weather is always an issue in Halifax and this past weekend was no exception. We had a decent skating day on Saturday with no wind, overcast and temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. However, Sunday was a different matter. Our arrival at the oval was greeted with very light flurries, a slight wind and temperatures around -5. Within a half hour we were in the middle of an Atlantic blizzard. The race start was delayed by over an hour and prior to the start the oval was blanketed with 5 inches of snow. The original format for the weekend included 5 km, 10 km and 25 km races on Saturday and the traditional 40 km race on Sunday. The Sunday race was converted to a one hour blizzard challenge.

Both the 5 and 10 km on Saturday attracted 100 entrants (and a long waiting list) of mostly Halaginians in figure and hockey skates – I can’t describe the joy and fun that everyone had, all with big smiles on their faces. There was a scattering of speed skaters in the 10 km including four of us from the ‘west’. I won my group and was 14th overall. After a resurfacing the 25 km was held with 41 participants. This was a serious race between a local fellow (Andrew Kelty) and Ontario’s Ross Hanham (Burlington, Ont.) with the Nova Scotian beating Ross by about 2 laps (but the local lad had quite a few youth years advantage over Ross). I managed to place first in my group and 11th overall.

Sunday’s blizzard challenge was the toughest of all races with heavy winds and stinging snow crystals but it didn’t deter 35 competitors from taking to the start line. There was the usual mix of skates from canal blades and speed skates to hockey and figure skates. Again, Andrew Kelty made a strong showing but an even younger Nova Scotian (Michael Christie) beat Andrew by 3 laps (race objective: to skate as many laps as possible in one hour). This is very much a competitive race but the fun side is that everyone finishes at the same time. All five of us from Ontario/Quebec (Ross H. gave a pass on this one – not a bad decision) did very well, finishing in the top 10 overall positions with Suzanne Dionne from Ottawa and myself winning our groupings.

For me the most enjoyment from the weekend was to witness such an electric enthusiasm that everyone in Halifax has for the oval and the interest that seems to be surfacing in speed skating. After Saturday’s 25 km race there was 20 metre public lineup for rental speed skates that were distributed by the local SS Club free. Many of the weekend race skaters are paddlers, runners, bikers etc – very active in the non-winter months and are looking for a winter activity in the city. They have found it. The original plan calls for the dismantling of the oval following the Canada Winter Games next month but the very positive reaction of the people of Halifax to the oval is leading to a reconsideration of the plan. The mayor is on record as saying that the oval is good for the people of Halifax and he wants it to remain as a permanent feature of the Commons. The municipal council debate on the matter will now begin.

Future Marathons:

Jan. 29 – Portland Skate-the-Lake Marathon.

Unfortunately this marathon day (5km relay, 5, 10 and 25 km races) coincides with the SLSSC ability meet. Those of you who have been to Portland in the past know that this is a real fun day. A tough choice to make.

Feb 5/6 – possibly Ottawa at Brewer Park but this is not official yet

I encourage any of our members, especially the masters skaters, to consider this venue. It is close to home and will likely include 10, 25 and 40 km races. I will keep you updated on this one.

Feb 12/13 – Lake Morey, Vermont.

This is another double marathon (25,40 km) and it is held on natural ice in beautiful east-central Vermont. In my opinion this is the loveliest venue of all the marathons and the races are held immediately in front of the hotel – a lovely place to stay with the family for the weekend. In addition to the 1 km race track the hotel maintains a beautiful 5 km skate lane around the lake.

Installment #5

The Best Marathoners in North America – Joliette P.Q.

This past weekend I participated in the North American Ice Marathon Championships held at Joliette P.Q. This venue brought out a large group of very fast marathoners, many of whom have been hiding all winter awaiting the championships. The event was held on the Assomption River which runs through the picturesque community of Joliette, about 45 minutes east of Montreal. Normally the town opens up 7 miles of the river for public skating but for the event they sectioned off a one km length of river and gave it regular floodings in preparation for the championships. The 25 km event was held Saturday morning and attracted 42 skaters with the majority coming from Quebec, and New York state along with others from Ontario (5 of us), Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Alberta. Conditions were perfect and although the ice presented a few cracks, they were well marked with the result of only the odd tumble by our skaters. Skaters were split between wearing klap skates and nordic skates and for the first time I experimented with the nordics, having bent my klap blade quite badly on the previous natural ice venue at Lake Morey, Vermont. Two lead packs accumulated some 12 skaters in total early on with the fastest 3 skaters eventually breaking away and fighting it out for top spot. A newcomer to the game, Constant Montpellier from Montreal (a very fit and former jockey) pulling away in the last lap and taking the 25 km in a time of 48:40 minutes. Skaters from New York and Mass. captured the silver and bronze. I was with a very competitive group – of the 42 skaters, 11 were in the M-6 category and a very tough group to skate against. I was satisfied with my time, considering that I used the nordic skates which tend to be significantly slower (but safer on natural ice).

Twenty-two of us lined up the next morning for the more gruelling 50km under similar weather conditions of -5C with light winds. This was a tough one for me because I had no pack to skate with so I had to buck the wind on my own for the whole 2 hours and 20 minutes required to complete the race. The top three skaters, with Jim Cornell of Rochester dominating, completed the course in a very fast time of 1 hour and 40+ minutes. Two skaters from Alberta in the M-5 and M-6 categories blew a lot of the open competition away (gotta keep those guys at home!).

There was a lot of good camaraderie with folks that consistently show up at all of the marathons and when we weren’t skating we were cheering on our favourites in Vancouver in the short and long track events. Of course the Dutch skaters in our group had the biggest smiles following Kramer’s performance in the 5000 m.

This was the last marathon in the east for this year and the final marathon of the season will take place next weekend in Edmonton. I participated in all 4 events (eight races in total) and had a very enjoyable time and a satisfying marathon season. I am looking forward to next season’s opener in Quebec City and I hope that other members of our club can join me.

Installment #4

Deep Freeze in Vermont

After the Bytown marathon cancellation the marathon circuit picked up again this past weekend in Fairlee Vermont, about a six and half hour drive for me through the Eastern Townships and down the Conneticuit River on the eastern side of the state. The Lake Morey Resort provided us all with a spectacular venue for the events. The host resort ensures that there is a permanent (winter) skateable 4.5 mile track around the lake as well as for this occasion, a groomed perfect one km oval just offshore directly in front of the lodge. It was questionable as to whether we would even have an event one week prior. Good news/bad news: eight inches of ice but six inches of water on top! However, by the Thursday night we were given the word that it was a ‘go’. Saturday afternoon’s 25 km race was held under sunny skies but at race time the temperature was in the low -20’s with a wicked wind down one side of the track, yielding a wind chill factor that would rival with some of Ottawa’s coldest this year. The reward was the return trip down the other side where the wind would carry the skater the entire way (if this was his/her wish) without a single stride. The race attracted 31 hardy skaters from Canada and the US with the US skaters dominating in numbers. We had six skaters from Ontario comprising of three of the WWWs, three from Ottawa and a lone entry from Mallorytown. Ice was almost perfect with only a couple of crusty spots which caught some skaters unaware, resulting in a few non-serious tumbles. The cracks were tight and very manageable and overall the ice was excellent with about 10 inches of depth. However, times were slow for everyone as a result of the heavy wind and the very hard ice. Expectantly, Jim Cornell of the Rochester club won the race in 53 minutes with Patrick Kelly (former Can. National skate team member) placing 34 seconds behind. Yours truly finished 18 th in the field and took a third in my age category.

Sunday’s 40 km race started at 9 am and we were hoping for warmer conditions but the cold prevailed and we started with another -20 C day but in glorious sunshine. This race only attracted 16 starters comprised of 11 from the US and five of us from Ontario. Again, Jim Cornell took the overall position with a time of 1 hour and 20 minutes. I was a good half hour back with my skating pack but still managed a second place in the M-6 category. After the race we all agreed that the day was absolutely perfect. The hardest part of the weekend was the drive back home with a body that just wanted to sleep!

Lake Morey Resort was the perfect host for the weekend. The skate around the lake was enjoyed by a number of our skaters and the resort offers a wide selection of winter and summer activities. As well, they have on tap the best draught beer I have ever had – and I am a bit of an expert on the subject! I highly recommend the Resort as a destination weekend for families.

Next stop on the marathon circuit is the Joliette marathon in two weeks time. This is held on the Assumption River during Joliette’s winter carnival weekend. This is the prettiest (next to Lake Morey) of all the marathon race venues and takes place in a beautiful small town just 45 minutes east of Montreal. Hope to see you there. Incidentally, the races (25 and 40 km) are for the North American Championships and the best marathoners in the east (and perhaps from the west as well) will be racing. A good event at which to be a spectator.

Installment #3
Cold with Sticky Ice!

Whereas the SLSSC was enjoying a mini meet in the confines of the relatively warm Memorial Centre this past Saturday a small number of us silly souls were lining up for the 10 km race on the Lake Placid oval with an ambient temperature of – 25oC! However, with no wind and a sunny sky the cold was soon forgotten as we progressed through the race. If you have never skated the Lake Placid oval it really is a treat and a must for serious skaters – after all this is where Eric Heiden captured all five gold medals in the 1980 Olympics in every race from the 500m to the 10000m – a feat that will never be repeated. On the Friday evening, before the competitions on Sat and Sun we had a practice skate and it was so cold that the skate glide was extremely limited (no melting ice beneath our blades) and it was all we could do to stay out on the ice for 15 minutes at a time.

A half hour following the 10km (treated as a warm up!) about 50 of us partook in the 25km race (by then the temperature had risen by a couple of degrees). The ice was a little faster (and in excellent condition) and the race progressed with a number of skating packs representing the various speed levels of the contestants. The overall winner was Sergio A. from Ottawa (he won the same event in Quebec City two weeks previously) in a time of 46 minutes and change. It is interesting to note that the largest contingents were in the M5 and M6 categories (50-59 and 60-69) with 20 of the field filling these categories. Yours truly did well but still is looking for a sub-60 minute race. I skated 5th in an age category of 10 skaters One skater, Tony Zegers from Kingston who is 79, beat many skaters 20 and 30 years his junior – thus giving great hope for the grey power set. We had the afternoon off and most went shopping and/or cross country skiing. I was part of the Ottawa Pacers group who annually take over a popular B and B for the weekend and we enjoyed a beautiful evening meal presented by our hosts and followed by a two hour session around the piano singing carols. For this latter event we were joined by the WWW (the Waterloo Wonder Women – a great group of seven ladies from the KW SS Club who participate in most of the marathon sessions).

Early Sunday morning saw a group of about 30 skaters line up for the 40 km. Another sunny day without wind and with a temperature slightly warmer than the day before. Packs formed quickly according to speed and the winning skater (Sergio again) beat out Jim Cornell of Rochester by less than a second. Everyone was happy with their results – many personal bests including myself. I attribute this reasonable time to a small cooperative pack composed of me (the lone male skater) and three of the WWWs and as a result I managed to take a third place in my age group of six skaters. One of the wonders of the event was Bailin Xie, 13 years old (sister of Hugh – see last installment from Quebec City) who won the 40km in her category of under 19 and placed third overall for women.

The Marathon season now moves to natural ice with the first event in the new year being held the weekend of Jan 16/17. There will be 10km and 25 km on the Saturday and a one hour race on the Sunday. The novelty of the Sunday race is that everyone starts and finishes together so no one has to feel that they have been too slow. Let’s get some of our skaters out to support this local event (note: it clashes with the club’s ability meet but skaters could sign up for the Sunday one hour event). If anyone wants more information on the Ottawa or other marathon events you can contact me at trevelyn@ripnet.com or go to the MSI website (www.marathonskating.org).

Installment #2
Fun and Pain!

The weekend of December 5/6 in Quebec City was the kickoff for the Marathon Skate International (MSI) series. The weather was perfect for this double marathon held on Eastern Canada’s only refrigerated oval at the Anneau Gaetan- Boucher. The weather was perfect with just below freezing temperatures and little to no wind. The 25km was held early Saturday evening and attracted a total of 53 skaters representing every age category from under 19 up to M 6 (60-69). Results were very impressive considering it was the first marathon of the season and the winning time was just over 43 minutes, achieved by Jim Cornell from Rochester. He edged out Youri Juteau of Montreal by 0.3 seconds in an exciting fast lap finish. The ice was fast and with little wind, good times were set by all. This writer set a PB in the distance but is still a minute and change away from breaking the 60 minute barrier.

The real challenge was the next morning with the 40km starting at 9:30 following the previous evening’s race and an evening on the town. A lot of sore backs were dragged out on to the track but it was a fun event for the 31 of us who participated. There were 22 smart skaters who decided that it was wise not to put two long races together within such a short period of time. This writer was not amongst the wise and dragged himself out to the starting line. The race was conducted with several packs forming, all at different paces. But no one could catch Sergio Almeralla of Ottawa who won with a time of one hour and 13 and half minutes. Very impressive indeed. The real race was for 4th and 5th places between two M5s (50-59) with Hans Posthuma of Ottawa beating out Andre Gagne of QC by 1/10 of a second (after 40 kms!). Yours truly finished the race but couldn’t improve on last year’s time, falling short by two minutes.

The real story of the event was the remarkable Hugh Xie, the eleven year old skater from Gloucester. He did very well in the 25km placing 24th but he must have been saving himself for Sunday morning – in the 40 km he smoked the competition in all age groups and placed 9th overall (out of 31). Of course he wasn’t enjoying strong liquid refreshment the night before.

So the MSI series is off to a great start. The next venue is on the Lake Placid oval for another double marathon of the same distances and to be held Dec 19/20. A difficult time of the year but I am sure that similar numbers will be registered and I will once again try to break the 60 minute barrier for the 25 km. Following Lake Placid in the new year the series moves on to natural ice surfaces.

Please note that if you are not already aware, the Big Rideau (at Portland) marathon will not be held this season.

Installment #1

Are you tired of tight corners and lots of them? Of little chance ‘get into a stride’? Would you prefer to be enjoying winter outdoors instead of inside an arena? If your answer to any of these is yes, then I have the solution for you. Give long track skating a try – and specifically marathon skating.

The Marathon Skate International sponsors 12 marathon races at seven venues (see list below) between early December and mid-February. Now don’t get put off with the term ‘marathon’ even though the distances skated range from 25km to 50km (and there are a couple of other super marathons that are 100km and 200km in length). Skating a 25km isn’t as difficult as you might think – running the same distance is – and the average skater in our club would have little difficulty in completing the distance in under 80 minutes. It is a matter of pacing yourself and when possible, skating with a pack (a group of skaters).

In all of these marathon skates there is one group of ‘hot shots’ who will knock off 25km in less than 45 minutes but the majority of skaters complete the course in 55 minutes to 80 minutes. The marathons attract normally about 35 – 50 participants in all age groups with ages ranging from 9 to76 and usually represented equally between male and female. Because more or less the same skaters show for each event, we have become like a big family – as in short track. The Ottawa Pacers have at least a dozen masters who attend different marathons throughout the season.

Why do I enjoy marathon skating:

  • Don’t like skating tight corners with a group of skaters (I’m chicken)
  • Don’t like those fast starts in short track.
  • Like to skate outdoors and on natural ice (watch for the cracks!)
  • Believe it or not – love to skate with the winter elements
  • Enjoy skating 50km in a little over 2 hours as opposed to hanging around an indoor rink for two days to skate for 25 minutes!
  • Enjoy the camaradarie.

Marathons for this winter will take place in:

. Quebec City (10km, 25km and 40km) Dec. 5,6 (outdoor refrig. 400m oval)

. Lake Placid (25km and 40km) Dec. 19,20 (outdoor refrig. 400m oval)

. Ottawa (2,5,10km,25km and 50km) Jan. 13,14 (outdoor natural 400m oval)

. Joliette (10km and 40km) Feb.13,14 (outdoor on the river)

. Portland (5km,10km,50km) Jan 31 (outdoor 1km track: lake)

. Minnesota ? (outdoor on the lake)

. Edmonton Silver Lake (25km and 50km) Feb 20,21 (outdoor on the lake)

For more information go to www.marathonskating.org or talk to me (John).

Watch this spot “Marathon Musings” for further information and stories on the marathons.