Northshore Inline Marathon - 42K Rollerski Race Story

by David Knoop
September 18, 2019

The following is a Northshore Inline Marathon rollerski race recap from Dave Knoop, aka Nordic Dave (ND), who hails from Park City, Utah.  This was Knoop's first time racing the big distance event. -- Ed.

Roller ski races have been popular in Europe for years. In the U.S. they are blossoming. A roller ski race as this story unfolds is not exactly a 1 to 1 correlation to xc ski fitness and prowess for this upcoming winter, yet it’s not a bad way to check in and see how your feeling after the summer beat down of cross training and dreaming of winter.

September’s featured event is the 42k roller ski race from Two Harbors to Duluth, MN along the Lake Superior shoreline. Coming from Utah, Nordic Dave is stunned at the North Shore’s beauty and mightily impressed by some super fine pavement.

ND's equipment selection

Getting on the bus, ND is rolling with Swenor’s best racing skis. His eyes go wide as he notices the uber fast custom roller skis of all shapes and sizes with custom wheels purchased at roller blade retailors. Not quite ready for a $400 set of custom roller skate wheels to attach to your roller ski shaft ? As it turned out the Swenors were great and kept ND in the mix. There were also plenty of people with your average training roller ski who just wanted a go at this unique race course of closed roads. This also happens to be the U.S. National Inline Rollerskate [inline skate] Championships, aka “skaters” and it’s really the main event of approximately 1000 entrants vs. the 50 intrepid “skiers” who signed up. In fact we “skiers” had a separate race start time and our own buses to ride from Duluth to the start in Two Harbors.

Our bus is just about to leave when the thoughtful bus driver counts heads and see’s 3 seats open. She decides to wait as ND is getting impatient because we will have minimal time to warm up. Old guys do take a bit of extra time getting the blood and joints moving in the morning ?? . Being “Minnesota nice” pays off and the 3 show up nonchalantly, i.e. Audry Cyr, Caitlin and Brian Gregg The Gregg’s immediately recognized as celebs have a hard time saying hello to everyone and ND just smiles, can we please get going now that our race ringers have arrived? In fact, ND admonishes Brian for his late arrival as Brian allows being a new parents require a bit more time to prepare. On the other hand Caitlin privately allows how the new hormones of being a mother are only going to make her faster as she smiles eager to race again.

Rollerski bus is packed!
Including celebrities like the Greggs

Getting past the equipment review and fellow athletes, ND just wants to ski well, up tempo at a sustained high heart rate with no bone crushing mishaps at high speed. For Nordic Dave at 61, 60 is not 50, 50 is not 40, etc…

Starting out ND just worked on tempo and technique. Skiing on hard wheels has a different feel and it’s a matter of finding balance, cadence and good pole plants getting the timing right as the pace is exponentially faster than anything on training skis. Finding the rhythm, Nordic Dave is in the 2nd chase group behind the lead pack. After 50 years of being a race horse, ND clearly knows the difference of “rope a dope” strategy vs. surges and sustained high end efforts. Rope a dope meaning going just fast enough to stay with your competitor when they speed up and slow down. Although this tactic is critical in major events like the Olympics or World Cup races for achieving the best results, ND finds little honor in this tactic at citizen races and finds it quite boring. In this case the old man is pulling plenty of young bucks who should be in hammer mode yet they are drafting the old man as the pace becomes erratic when ND is not upfront setting the pace as his heart rate drops ten beats.

Brian Gregg out front (Credit: Northshore Inline Marathon)

Up ahead a guy has taken a spill from the lead pack of 10. ND says to himself, “self…let’s lose these posers and go after the guys a few minutes up the road. Multiple surges later, i.e. surge hard for a few minutes, rest go again, the chase pack is dropped and the guy up ahead is acquired. He’s younger in his 30’s , a bit bloody and bruised from his fall and responds well to having someone to ski with after the body slam to the pavement. Gathering himself, he gets into the up tempo pace ND is putting in and we soon take turns doing hard pulls for each other. ND is incredulous when 70% into the race, he offers ND a an energy gel as he fumbles around & digs it out of his pocket. ND was actually too nervous about the rate of speed and balance required and not confident enough to unzip his own pocket to get at his own supply. Total class and sportsmanship, thank you Patrick Horst !!

Nordic Dave cruising on smooth asphalt (Credit: Northshore Inline Marathon)

With 5 miles to go Patrick puts on a surge, ND doesn’t respond, something about the balance feels weird. 4 miles to go , ND’s stability is getting worse and it’s everything he can to just to stay upright and not fall. He’s thinking is it the pavement, his loss of balance from a previous stroke, what? He’s going too fast to feel confident to look down and doesn’t want to trip & fall so just keep looking ahead and making good pole plants is the focus.

This race actually enters Interstate 35 as you approach downtown Duluth, YES THEY SHUT DOWN THE ENTIRE SOUTHBOUND FREEWAY FOR THIS EVENT. The feeling is surreal like being in a post apocalypse Mad Max movie. All ND could hear in these long freeway tunnels was the plink, plink, plink of his own pole tips hitting the concrete. It was actually reassuring as no other sound could be heard, i.e. the chase pack that was surely closing in from behind as it was all Nordic Dave could do to stand up and make his skis roll forward. Sure enough hitting the off ramp with a mile to go, the skis wobble and ND is down. A fairly soft landing if that can happen on pavement as ND was going so slow.

Gathering himself with urgency he doesn’t look behind and resolves to finish asap. Meters from the finish line ND relaxes and stands up tall, no need to thrash hard and fall at the finish line. He crosses the finish line and seconds later the chase pack whooshes by passing Nordic Dave but after the finish line. ND smiles, he was hunted but not caught. He skied hard, no rope a dope and the strategy worked. Nordic Dave is 11th overall.

After the race, ND takes a look at his boots. The boots are pretty much toast as the carbon ankle cuffs are broken and that explains the lose of control and the ability to race & ski the last 5 miles. Apparently some roller skiers racing on hard wheels actually duct tape their ankles to prevent the equipment malfunction illustrated. The torque applied on hard pavement with hard wheels is a lot different than what the boot was designed for. ND wished he had his old beefy Salomon Pilot Skate boots for this event.

Assessing the damage