The need for speed

22 07 2010

It’s about time I wrote something about one of my passions in life.

I am an avid and obsessed inline skater.

You may be more familiar with this sport under its colloquial name: “rollerblading”. It continues to be associated with the brand that first began to make and sell this particular kind of skate in the 1980’s. Today, Rollerblade is one of dozens of skate manufacturers but the misnomer has stuck. I have never skated Rollerblade. Today I skate K2.

I first put on a pair of inline skates in July 1993, near Vancouver’s spectacular Stanley Park. Everyone was doing it, it looked so easy, I figured I’d get the hang of it in a snap and be cruising on the Seawall in no time. Radiating naiveté, I took my first tentative steps in what felt like ski-boots on wheels. An amused crowd savored the free entertainment from the sidelines.

Evelynn skates, Vancouver, 1993

As in all endeavors in life, you only need to get up one more time than you fall down. And hell, I fell down a lot that afternoon. The crowd roared. And I kept getting up again.

Taking up skating was one of the best decisions of my life. I’ve discovered that it’s the closest you get to flying without ever leaving the ground;  a full-body aerobic workout without pounding pavement. And it’s a way to simply feel free. During the summer months, I try to knock off a cool 20 km or more every other day, weather-permitting.

About ten years ago I started to race and my competitive skating credentials now include everything from 10 km sprints to full marathons. I know I will probably never actually WIN anything, ever, but the thrill of the chase and the chance to push myself to my physical and psychological limits are what keep me coming back for more. It’s the speed that is particularly intoxicating.

My injury list is mostly harmless – scrapes, shredded skin, bruises and strained joints. Lesson number one was learned early: the street usually wins whatever fight you try to pick with it. There’s been the one or the other collapse due to exhaustion. And I’ve only had to be whisked away by ambulance once – with a season-ending triple compound fracture that required two surgeries, a titanium plate and seven screws to fix. (You should have seen the other guy… yeah, he was fine.)

This year, barring anything serious, I will hopefully peak on the final weekend in September at the Berlin Marathon – a European classic, and one of the five World Marathon Majors. In addition to the 40,000 ascetic sadomasochists who sign up to actually run the 42.195 kilometers through Germany’s capital, about 9,000 slightly more sane skaters also have the opportunity to compete. Our motivation? Fame, fortune, bananas and free beer at the finish line.

Evelynn's skate, Berlin, 2008

It will be my sixth full marathon in Berlin, a city that embraces athletes from wherever they hail and puts on a great show. I have simply not found a better-organized, cooler race, or more appreciative and enthusiastic spectators, anywhere.

As an over-40 amateur, I can only dream of reaching the finish in under an hour and a half.  The professional (female) athletes, 20 years younger than me, complete the circuit in about an hour and 15 minutes. My goal this year is a pretty respectable 1:45:00. In 2008 I came close, missing that mark by a mere 2 minutes. (Or, if you would rather have an even more heartbreaking statistic: 3.5 seconds per kilometer.) The days of a personal best (1:42:32) are probably over – I was still a spring chicken thirty-something the last time I set one of those. But, you know, impossible is nothing, right?

65 days to go. I’ll keep you posted.



2 responses

22 07 2010

Those are some futuristic looking skates. Without brakes. I think you’re a bit crazy, but truth is I’m envious, standing here with my two flat feet firmly on the ground.

23 07 2010

I’m with ironicmom….I remember putting on a pair of in-line skates shortly after meeting you for the first time, I wish I’d read your blog back then. I fell more than I got up so now my daughter owns them.

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