The 1996 Bridge to Boardwalk Roll
What follows is my experience skating in the 1996 Bridge to Boardwalk Roll.
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On July 13, 1996 I participated in the annual
Bridge to Boardwalk Roll.
This is a roadskate from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
The official race is 97 miles and begins at Ocean Beach (on the west side of
Gate Park) after a preamble from the bridge, through the Presidio and Golden
Gate Park, and down to the beach. The preamble is not part of the 97 miles.
How far is 97 miles? It is more than 1/2 million feet.
Everyone who attempts an event like this has a compelling story of their
struggle against fatigue and injury, whether they finished or not.
I did not finish last year, and while I was
somewhat disappointed, I knew I had given more than I thought I ever could
in the attempt.
This year my father, Jerry Cohen,
provided support for me through the entire race.
My dad was behind me the whole way, both physically and spiritually.
He drove behind me in his truck the whole way carrying skating supplies,
water, clothes, food and a positive attitude, and providing
a margin of safety from speeding traffic. He never questioned
my choices, and he was enormously patient and supportive throughout. Like
many other lessons in my life, he taught me about how to support someone in
an event like this by demonstrating it competently for me this day. I will
pass the favor on to someone else in the future if I'm not skating in this
This year was a struggle on every level for me, but first things first. I've
been preparing for this event since January, 1996. I stepped up
my miles per week,
focusing on long distances on Sundays in the Park. I would skate the
Lake Merced Loop
twice each Sunday. I sold my K2 Extreme Speed boots and bought
Bont Hustlers with Mogema frames. I worked on technique, learned more
about skating, and got myself psyched up for the upcoming century skate.
About a month before the event I began skating the
Lake Merced Loop three times
On the morning of the race, I ate my usual small bowl of mueslix and soy
milk as a light breakfast. I'd been hydrating for a couple of days too,
thanks to the frequent urging of the Bald Eagle. I had packed a supply of
Gu and energy bars, and plenty of water and Gatorade. I felt physically,
mentally and emotionally ready to skate 100 miles.
We skated the Preamble, and then we assembled for the start of the race at
Ocean Beach. I ate one Gu, and then the race started a short time later,
at about 7:10 am. Somewhere around Lake Merced Blvd. in Daly City, I saw
my friend and fellow racer Sue Boicourt getting into a vehicle. She was
drafting in the lead pack when she hit some sand and went down hard. I
learned later that Eddie Matzger actually stopped, and skated back to her to
see if she was OK. Eddie went on to *win* the race with the best overall
time ever. Can you appreciate the bond between skaters this demonstrates?
I was skating with "Team Love Train", which was myself, Kris Miller and Jeffry
Stelly. We were in a pack near the front along with Dan Filner and Paul
Pillitteri. These folks are all faster than I am, but I was keeping up and
feeling good. About 45 minutes into the race, I began to run a little low
on energy, so I grabbed another Gu, but to my surprise, it was totally
unpalatable! I tried to swallow gobs of it without tasting it, but it was
a struggle, and I had to throw it away before I finished half of it. I
could not afford to become nauseous, because that would prevent me from
finishing the race, and every fiber in my body wanted to finish.
On the other hand, you have to eat something. Nobody skates 100 miles
without eating something. All I had with me was Gu, Stoker Bars and Cliff Bars.In my dad's truck were some bannanas and some Odwalla smoothies I'd packed.
As I skated along El Camino toward Trousdale Hill (Misery Hill), it dawned
on me that I had a serious problem: nothing sweet was palatable for me, and
that was all I had with me. That was my first hint of what lay in store for
me, and I began to worry.
I kept up with Team Love Train, although I could tell I was beginning to
hit the wall (run out of energy). They slowed up a bit, so as not to drop
me, and we made it to the 50K point together. At this point, I was weak,
although my legs didn't hurt much. I wanted to eat, but I could stomach
nothing that was available to me.
Then we started up King's Mountain Road, known to the skaters as Heartbreak
Hill. Under the very best of circumstances, this five mile hill is absolutely
brutal, climbing over 2000 feet, to meet highway 35 a couple miles from
Skylonda. Some skaters skitched or got a ride to the top, which disqualified
them technically, but you don't skate this race for the prizes, you know?
It's about confronting your limits without killing yourself. Each person
handles their limits in their own way. I was fortunate enough to reach
Heartbreak Hill before the mosquitos came out... Other folks skating to
Santa Cruz were not so fortunate, making the hot, agonizing climb
significantly more annoying.
Why would somebody do this? Correction, why would somebody *pay money*
to do this... Can you understand how much these people love skating, to
even attempt such a hill, let alone in the middle of a 100 mile race.
I'd hit the wall before King's Mountain Road, but I struggled up the hill,
and was shocked and amazed to find myself only a couple hundred yards behind
Team Love Train at the top. They had been joined by Betsy Firebaugh, and we
all stopped at the top for a breather. The hill took everything I had left,
and by the time we reached Skylonda, I had hit the wall so hard my body was
shuddering from the impact, so to speak. I was hot, but I was shivering.
I stopped at Skylonda to reconsider my situation. Team Love Train continued
on without stopping and went on to complete the race in about 8 1/2 hours
total time. My plan had been to skate with them through to the end of
the race, but that wasn't in the cards this time. I had to come up with a
new plan for how I could somehow finish the race under my own power.
So, I'm sitting there at Skylonda, weak and tired and dispairing because
I feared I would not be able to finish due to not being able to eat anything.
I changed my wheels and bearings (I had been on 76mm wheels, and changed them
to 80mm with brand new Swiss Bones bearings). My low energy state didn't
help my emotional situation at all, and I held back my tears as I swapped
wheels. I really wanted to finish, since I'd been training all year, and
because I didn't finish last year. I thought I might be able to eat some
chicken soup, but there was none to be found at Skylonda.
My dad had some food with him: a can of sardines, a bag of thumb-sized baby
carrots, and some cashews. I nibbled a tiny bit of a sardine, and ate
three carrots. Then I laced my boots up and went down highway 84, a long
downhill stretch. My dad clocked me at 37 mph at points down highway 84.
I was only coasting. If I had had the energy, I would have been working
down the hill and would have been going at least 45 mph. Half way to San
Gregorio, I ate two more baby carrots. When I arrived there, I ate 1/4 of
a bannana that either Glen Kirby or Geoffrey Farrighan handed me. I could
stomach no more of it. They were both very positive and encouraging -- it
makes a big difference when people are positive and supportive. I ate one
more carrot and headed south on Highway 1, to begin the last leg of the
race: 38 miles to Santa Cruz. I'd been skating alone since Skylonda.
I felt very sad and disappointed in myself for failing to anticipate my
food needs. I had focused on the subtleties of conditioning, technique and
equipment, and missed the big picture of food and energy management. I felt
like I was trying to swim across the ocean, a task at which I would be sure
to fail. The only question was: how long it would take before I could
go no further? The physical struggle is more than enough to deal with. If
anyone was skating next to me they would have seen the occasional tear
mingling with my sweat, as I dragged myself up one hill at a time. Not a
mile went past that the recurring urge to sit down, give up and just cry
didn't test me.
Last year I had a similar problem, and little of the food I brought with
me was palatable either. You'd think I'd have learned a lesson from that...
I made it as far as Davenport last time. But last time I wasn't in as good
a shape, didn't have as good of equipment, and didn't have as good of a
technique. This time, those factors were in my favor at least. Thankfully,
there was no headwind into Santa Cruz, and it might have even been coming
from slightly behind. Last year I skated in 84A wheels (ouch!) and my feet
hurt badly from the pounding. This year I skated in 81A wheels (Hypershocks),
and my skates were awesome. No foot pain, no ankle pain, no blisters, no
speed wobble. I felt like I was on rails racing down the steep hills at
The Energy Vacuum
As I skated South on Highway 1, I tried to use my brain to get me through
this, instead of just sucking my strength away on negative emotions.
I estimated the calories I'd consumed that day, and how much I would
"normally" need for a race like this. I was several thousand calories
short. So how could I have gotten so far? I thought about what I normally
eat when I skate, and I realized that those foods were higher in fats and
protein. What I brought with me was mostly carbohydrates. Hmmm, maybe
it isn't a good idea to completely change your diet just when you are
trying to get extrordinary performance out of your body... So where was
my energy coming from, if not from the food I was eating? I was burning
body fat. In his book "Smart Exercise", Covert Bailey says that we all
have a nearly inexhaustible supply of body fat. He says we'd die of
other effects long before we could consume all of it, even for very
thin people. So I realized that I had a slow and steady source of energy,
and that is what was allowing me to continue skating.
Incidentally, it was Covert Bailey's book which 2 1/2 years ago educated
me and convinced me I could become an athlete, at a time when I was leading
the sedentary life of a software engineer. I began rowing as a workout, but
I quit that when I started skating a few months later.
But you can't sprint for very long fueled only by burning body fat. It isn't
a large volume of energy, it is a trickle. It is enough to allow you to walk
out of the woods for three days without food -- but not *run* out of the woods.
So, I focused on how I was using my energy. I realized that I was getting
cold when I went down hills, due to the apparent wind chill. So I put
on a jacket, and zipped it up when I went down hills. I couldn't afford to
overheat on the uphills, so I unzipped it each time. I took the downhills
at top speed (again over 35mph) but I allowed myself to go as slow as I
wanted up even the minor hills. I focused on a pendulum-like skating stride
which preserved most of the momentum of my legs. I couldn't get low, because
it took too much energy. I couldn't use my best technique, because it too
took too much energy. But I used subtle hints of my best techniques --
to catch just a bit of outside edge, to glide a little longer, to place my
feet down a little more in-line with my direction of travel. As I skated,
I tried to focus all my available energy on moving forward, and nothing
else. I nearly walked up the steepest hills, and I stopped every 5 to 7
miles for a few minutes rest once I left Skylonda. I put my hip bag into
my dad's truck somewhere after San Gregorio. Whenever I wanted water, he
was right there for me. The absence of the pack's weight helped.
I was looking for any possible means to reduce my energy consumption, so
what was left could be used for skating.
Friends and Chicken Soup
At one point when I stopped another skater friend, Carmen Segovia, who was a
volunteer race supporter that day drove up. I was laying on the ground next
to my dad's truck. She was really supportive, and massaged my lower back,
which hurt from being on my feet for so long. Tom McCue passed me at
that point. Someone suggested that I try to follow Tom, but I knew I
had to set my own pace. After a few minutes of rest I continued skating.
Then there was a long time where I skated in the low-energy stride I've
described, and I was very, very tired. And my father drove patiently
behind me all the way. At least I knew that if I wanted to give up, I
had a ride waiting for me. I didn't have to fear sitting on the highway
completely exhausted, cold and hungry, waiting for a ride.
In many ways, this was the hardest part of the race for me, because there
was still a long way to go, and I had passed what I thought was my limits
Then, I saw the cement plant tower at Davenport. Somehow I had reached the
point where I had given up last year. I skated to the exact spot where I
had given up, and laid down there for a rest. I felt so exhausted, and a
Westerly wind had picked up, chilling me through my jacket as soon as I
stopped. I layed down in the back of my dad's truck, and thought for a
bit. What could I eat? I have to get warm...
I asked my dad to find me a can of chicken broth, hoping the the small
grocery store in Davenport would have it. I climbed into my dad's truck bed,
which was warm, and pulled over me the canvas and nylon bags I and others
had stashed there for the end of the race. They kept me out of the wind,
and I warmed up. While I waited there, from out of nowhere Jim Wipff drove
up and saw me laying in the back of my dad's truck. He was encouraging, and
said "just don't give up". Then he wet a handkerchief and washed my face
off, drying it with another. Jim is another skater friend, but he wasn't
skating in the race. Do you have a better idea of the bond between skaters
I drank the broth cold, right from the can, in about 90 seconds. It was like
the nectar of the gods. It was about 50 calories worth of food, but it was
like a shot of adrenaline, considering my energy vacuum. I got up and
began skating toward Santa Cruz. I soon realized that I had consumed enough
energy to reach Santa Cruz, as long as I was conservative in how I used it.
I continued the low energy technique, but on the flats and downhills, I added
a slight touch of the speed techniques I'd been practicing. My dad clocked
me at 17 mph on the flats and slight downhills that lead into Santa Cruz, but
the uphills were still slow.
Cruzing to the End
When I reached the Santa Cruz city limits, I was exhilarated, because it
wasn't much further to the end. As I skated through the city, people were
stuck in rush-hour traffic, so I skated on the sidewalk. Suddenly I was at
Bay street, which is only a couple miles from the finish line. I picked up my
pace. Then, I could see the Coconut Grove only a few hundred yards ahead,
and all thoughts of tears and the fear of failure evaporated. I leaned over
and sprinted at my top speed and in my best form, to reach the finish line,
crossing it for a final time of 10 hours, 30 minutes, and 20 seconds.
People nearby cheered, as they do for everyone who reaches the finish line.
And, it was over! Then I ate: chicken, ribs -- as much protein and fat as
I could swallow, and I felt a lot better. My fears were replaced by a sense
of accomplishment and relief. My energy vacuum was replaced with a satisfying
fullness. Team Love Train was there to greet me, along with so many of my
skating friends, and they hugged me and spoke words of praise. I received
a 10 minute massage focusing on my calves, and that felt really good. The
massage was included in our entry fee.
Back on El Camino, when I was still skating with Team Love Train, we talked
while we skated, and someone mentioned a quote from Yogi Berra (I think):
"This [game] is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical." Too true.
If you aren't ready to give 140%, you won't make it to Santa Cruz. But almost
everyone who attempted it did make it (even if they skitched or rode up
King's Mountain Road). Some people, like John Sealy, fell somewhere along
the way, but skated to the end anyway, dripping blood but unwilling to let
the pain defeat them. Other people started the race already ill, like
Tsutomu Shimomura, Simonetta Turek, and Mo McGee, but they finished too!
One person fell and broke their wrist, and didn't finish. My friend Sue
didn't finish, because she had to go to the hospital for stitches on her face.
After more consideration, and discussions with friends, more of the pieces
fit now. I was suffering from very low blood sugar for most of the race
(ok, that wasn't a *big* leap of reasoning...). One friend of mine who used
to be hypoglycemic told me that when her blood sugar got low, she would become
emotionally upset or weepy. I certainly felt that way, but I believed it was
my fears challenging me, not my low blood sugar. I am relieved, because
even in the face of great fears or duress I usually react much better than
I demonstrated this day. I could not understand the mental weakness I
was experiencing. It was confusing because I had been psyching myself up
for months so that I would be prepared. From a broader perspective, the
mental preparation may have allowed me to cope with the ravages of low
blood sugar, and not give up. She also said that once she was in that
state of very low blood sugar, sweet things were unpalatable, and would make
her feel sick. I can relate...
As a result of low energy, I never really pushed my legs too hard after
the first 90 minutes, and I seldom felt any lactic acid buildup either.
As a result, I didn't hurt much on Sunday, the day after the race. I went
into Golden Gate Park and skated the Lake Merced Loop
like usual. I was a
little slower up some of the hills than usual, but I could skate fast if I
wanted to. I never really got dehydrated during the race, because even
though I couldn't eat, I continued to drink water and Gatorade the whole time.
The Bald Eagle and others had impressed upon me how important it was to keep
I lost a little less than four pounds on Saturday, but a lot of it was
water weight, since I had hydrated before the race and lost more water
during the race (I believe) than I was able to drink. I might have burned
5000+ calories from body fat, which would be about 1.5 pounds of body fat.
In the entire day up to the end of the race, I estimate I consumed a total
of less than 1000 calories.
Now I am thinking about next year, and whether I will attempt this race
again. It is too early to decide, but if I do, you can bet I'll have more
food with me that I can eat. Also, I'd hope to be able to skate without
stopping very much, instead of stopping here and there to rest, which added
up to at least an hour when I wasn't moving towards Santa Cruz.
Each person went through an incredible struggle to skate as far as they
could, whether they finished or not. The longer it took to finish, the
more exhausted they were, because often a slower skater is using as much energy
as a faster one, due to inefficiencies in their technique. To make matters
worse, slower skaters have to use their less efficient technique for a much
longer time, so they end up using more energy overall.
People like Eddy Matzger and
Kelly McCown, this year's winners, are truly
inspirational, because they completed the race after sustaining a brisk
pace for many hours. Few of use could ever hope to come close to their
abilities and conditioning, but we worked at and beyond our limits too,
even if our times were slower. No matter where our finish line was, or
when we reached it, we gave what we had and more. We encouraged and
watched out for each other along the way: car back! We cheered for each
other when we made it to Santa Cruz, whether we had a ride part of the way
or not. We undertook an odyssey together, and only we and our supporters
can understand what each other went through, whether our race ended in
Santa Cruz, or a Hospital emergency room.
Now, I think you can appreciate the bond between skaters, and see their love