Ron Marfori’s A2A Race Report

 

On race day, the weather websites boasted an early morning temperature of 60 degrees with a 20% chance of rain. Luckily, we landed on the 80% side and stayed dry. No need for rain wheels this year. Better yet, temperatures were to remain in the low 60’s all day. A slight headwind was expected, but not predicted to be much of a factor.

 

At the start line, TWINCAM”s Eddy Matzger was sporting a crude cardboard costume which I was told is an A2A tradition. When the gun sounded, he quickly shed it and took off with the rest of us, leaving shreds of cardboard strewn on the street. The race started out fast due to a downhill course leading out of town. If you are in a bad position or make a wrong move, you can get left behind early. Almost immediately, half the field followed one of the police escort cars down a wrong road, including Peter Doucet. I looked back to see him just off the lead pack fighting to latch on. He made a valiant effort, but ultimately couldn’t bridge the gap. In typical Peter Doucet fashion, he still finished in the top 10.

 

On our way out of town, I was trailing TWINCAM teammate, John Schulte, who hit something in the road and did his best ballerina pirouette, ending up nearly completely turned around. I quickly popped out of the pace line to avoid the carnage, but somehow he managed to stay upright. Speeds were high and a fall at that moment would not have been pretty. A few minutes later, John was the first skater to fall off the lead pack on one of the larger ascents early in the race. He skated the next 60 miles alone which is a feat in itself. The fact that he kept skating alone that early in the race rather than pulling up and waiting for the next pack to come along speaks volumes about his character.

The first twenty miles of the race were extremely difficult for me. I felt like I was fighting my skates and kept wrestling internally over the possible reasons. My suspicions included the lack of warm up, the extra turn I gave to each axel, or possibly the remnants of a cold that refused to go away. Whatever the reason, it was not the start I was hoping for in a 87 miles race. For anyone considering a future A2A, here’s a quick tip for you. Make sure you warm up! I unwisely thought there would be plenty of time to warm up during a 5 hour race. WRONG!!!

When skating A2A, there are two things that you notice right away; the hills and then more hills. The hill climbs are relentless and yes, they are as bad as everyone makes them out to be. Skaters who think they are good hills climbers find out what it really means to be good. Most walk away with a different opinion. I certainly did. The descents provide some needed relief, but with that comes a whole new problem. The speed! The speed is intense and I never felt fully acclimated to it.  At one point, we were descending one of the larger hills and I caught myself squeezing the water bottle of the skater in front of me so hard that it was starting to cave in. The top speed as clocked by my Garmin GPS watch was upwards of 47mph. At those speeds, wheel wobble definitely comes into play even for the most seasoned skaters.

Eddy Matzger said it best when he said the race doesn’t really start until mile 60. Until that point, it’s purely about survival. The overall pace was relatively high for an ultra-event although it was slow compared to a normal marathon. Pinnacle skaters Steffen Howard and Bill Numerick did the lion’s share of the pulling. I could always tell when one of them was at the front because the pace would ramp up. The rest of the pack was content with accepting the free ride with some of the well-known skaters lurking in the back of the pack. Occasionally a handful of skaters would skate off the front, but the pack was slow to react, if at all. In most cases, the leaders looked back to realize they were unknowingly out on a breakaway and stand up to rejoin the group. Near the 50 mile point there was a fairly strong surge led by Steffen, Bill, and MPC skater, Francisco Ramirez. I think it was an opportunistic move rather than a planned attack, but it successfully shed about half of the lead pack, dwindling the numbers down to about 10. Then at mile 60, Eddy attacked on one of the larger hills. I was towards the back when I saw him go by but was slow to react due to the cramping in my legs.

They started around mile 40 and progressively got worse throughout the rest of the race. Unfortunately for me, they were severely limiting my push, especially when climbing hills. When the pack crested the hill, 4 skaters including myself had fallen off. I jumped behind Bill Numerick who had also fell off but was surging hard to get back on. Together we worked hard to bridge the gap and had a couple pivotal moments when I thought we had a chance. The pack was working hard to shake us which was evident by their constant backward glances. After a 2 or 3 mile chase, we let up in defeat and watched the leaders skate away from us. I skated with Bill for a few miles and was happy to have him there as he is an extremely strong skater. However, he was struggling on the hills likely due to the monumental effort put forth a few minutes prior. I stayed with him for a little while longer, but ultimately had to skate away from him even though I didn’t want to. The thought of skating the last 20 miles alone didn’t appeal to me at all, but I had set a personal goal to finish in less than five hours. At this point, I wasn’t sure I could achieve that either way, but had to give it my all.

The last twenty miles of the race were grueling and lonely. The benefit of the lead pack motorcycle escort was long gone and I was truly on my own on an unfamiliar, open course in which the cars and drivers would rather I not be there. Each unmarked intersection you pass raises questions of doubt if you are going the right way. I noticed the wind for the first time in the race. It was definitely a head wind and stronger than expected. The constant hills make it difficult to settle in to any sort of rhythm. At times, I felt like I was literally crawling. I kept looking back thinking somebody was sure to catch me. Luckily that moment never came. Finally around mile 80 I decided to make my last stand. I had a packed a small bag of Ibuprofen, salt pills, and Nuun tablets and emptied the remaining contents into my hand. Rather than sort through them, I threw them all in my mouth in dramatic fashion. I also scarfed down a Clif bar and slammed the rest of my water. That provided a much needed mental and physical boost to continue on towards the finish.

The finish of the race is fairly technical including a couple quick turns into the home stretch which was under construction. The construction literally cut the road in half lengthwise barely leaving enough room for a single skater.  It’s a near certainty that the place you hold skating into this stretch is the position you are going to finish. Of the 6 skaters in the lead pack, two of them missed one of the final turns costing them any sort chance at victory. One of them was last year’s winner Thomas Detwiler. He later told me the finish was slightly different than last year which is why he wasn’t expecting the turn. This left the door open for the remaining 4 skaters who sprinted for the win. Jarrett Paul crossed the finish line first followed by Francisco Ramirez, Eddy Matzger, and Steffen Howard. I skated in alone about 10 minutes later for 7th place. Only 9 skaters would cross the finish line in less than 5 hours. I was just glad to be one of them.

 

1 4:43:49 18.4 Jarrett
2 4:43:49 18.4 Francisco Ramirez
3 4:43:51 18.4 Eddy Matzger
4 4:44:00 18.4 Steffen Howard
5 4:44:15 18.4 Thomas Detwiler
6 4:44:16 18.4 Jerome Comtois Urbain
7 4:53:21 17.8 Ron Marfori
8 4:59:28 17.4 Dennis Humphrey
9 4:59:28 17.4 Bill Numerick