In our 22-Year Skaters segment, NorthShore interviews a select, exclusive group of athletes who have completed every single NorthShore Inline Marathon since the inaugural race in 1996.
Today, we talk with John McLinn from Hoffman Estates, Illinois outside of Chicago. John is 65 years old and a member of Team Rainbo in the Chicago area.
NorthShore (NS): How did you get started with inline skating?
John (JM): I was rink rat when I was a little kid, got introduced to roller skating and after that, was all in. I used to go to a rink every weekend on my own and carried my skates across the handlebars of my bike. That was every week when I was a kid, I guess I was a freshman in high school when I did that. I did a little, tiny bit of of indoor racing, but mostly a classic dance-type skater. When I fell at the rink and broke my wrist, that ended my career. (laughs)
But in any case, years later, I was just trying to get into shape and we had a nice new 7 mile paved loop near the house, and so I got a pair of regular, old-style classic quad skates and put a pair of outdoor wheels on them and started skating around in circles. I went out there every day, year round. Even in winter I was going out there. It was a lot of fun.
Then one day, somebody went by in a pair of racer blades, the first generation, and I thought, “oh gosh, I’ve got to have a pair of those” so I got some racing-type skates. I came across Team Rainbo and that’s when it all started, I started attending a lot of races.
NS: What was it like skating those early years?
JM: A couple years before the NSIM started, just when it was heating up, I took an interest by just attending one of the local races, and my wife said, “maybe you want to go do a race”, because I was skating every day! Just going out to a trail, just skating because I had gotten a little bit out of shape. So one day I did a race, I think a 10k because that was what going on at the time, and I ran into a bunch of people from Rainbo, because that was one of the hot clubs at the time. I started going to their practices and shifting to new equipment, and actually starting going to a lot of races.
The early years were really terrific. It was the best. I mean, factory teams would show up to races, people like [Chad] Hedrick and Derek Parra and K.C. Boutiette would be there. We did Super Week in Wisconsin and those were really terrific times when racing was hot. I mean, it was hot!
So after skating in races for a couple of years, there was an announcement that the NorthShore Inline Marathon was coming up, this new event, and we were so excited. We had a big club [Rainbo], and this was prime racing. All the great teams and skaters were all together, and it was a culmination of great racing in the country.
I have some great memories and it’s been a fantastic trip for me.
NS: So what makes you come back to the NorthShore Inline Marathon year after year? When did you realize that it’s your “thing”?
JM: After the first year, I knew I was going to do all of them. We have a number of people who do the Birkie, and one of our guys… I think at the time he was on his 23rd Birkie. And I have a lot of admiration for someone who can go out there and do that every year. After I realized that, I said “I’m just gonna do ‘em, I’m gonna do ‘em all!” and that date has been set. It’s a great thing to shoot for, you can always do better. My goal is to get back in the top-5 this year in my age group. There are plenty of goals.
Everything about skating is what I’m about, basically. I’ve been on skates nearly all my life, quads or inline or ice. I just do it every year. After the NorthShore, I just go back to practice for the next year. I believe you need a goal every year, every workout is keyed towards that day – September 15 this year. It’s a big loop for me. I’m the only one out there some days on these trails.
There are always people faster than me… there are years when I win my age group, years when I’m in the top 10, and years that I’m just “participating” you may say. But every year at the end I just look up and say that there’s only one thing to do and that’s set another goal and get back in there.
NS: What is your training like?
JM: I do 6 days a week and average about 20 miles per skate. I’m out there, I’m training, but it’s really about the sheer joy of skating and what it feels like to be out there. I can’t help myself!
I bike about 1,000-1,500 miles a year with my wife and skate probably around 3,000 miles a year and because it’s just what I’m passionate about.
NS: Tell me about a memorable moment during a NorthShore race:
JM: Around year 5 or 6 and we were moving along in a pace line. I wasn’t into the Elite group, but was maybe in the top-50 group and we’re getting into the finish, going into the last tunnel. On exiting the last tunnel, I heard a click, and in my mind said “hey, somebody is going down”. It was me. My left foot goes flying to the right, up in the air. I hit the ground, was turned around sitting on the ground facing backwards, upright. I look around and there is a cloud of dust coming off the ground all around me. As quick as it happened, everybody was gone. In just like 5 seconds comes the women’s pros. My teammate was actually leading, she’s won the race a few times, Nancy Delanoy is her name. She is about to pass me and tells me, calmly, “get up John”. I said “oh yeah” and got up just on the end of their line and the race was over. So funny, there I’m sitting, facing backwards, and she calmly–she’s not excited, she’s trying to set up her finish–says “get up John” like she’s walking by me on a normal Sunday afternoon. I was laughing as I crossed the finish line!
Any number of things have happened in the race, from teammates and whatever, I suppose if you do it enough you experience everything.
NS: What is your favorite aspect of the NorthShore Inline Marathon?
JM: I think it’s the fact that is gives me a forum to set a goal. The course is great and skateable and you’re likely, now, to not have something on the course to take you out. The clean course is something that is exceptional to me. The fact that it gives me a venue… a place to focus on once per year and do it. It starts with a goal.
NS: What is your equipment setup?
JM: We transitioned from five wheel, but I’ve never gone faster on four or three wheels than I have five wheels. Of course, I was younger, but I still think the position you’re in in a five wheel and the lowness, it really works for me. I’m OK with new three wheel setup, however, and that’s what I’ll be on this year.
NS: What is your advice for somebody who has never done an inline skating race or doesn’t believe they can go 26 miles?
JM: I would say go out there and practice and skate the long skates. Then go to the race and just enjoy it. Simply move point to point and get through it. Enjoy the whole skate and everything about it. Don’t put any pressure on. Then you’ll think about next year you’ll say “boy, I think I can do better at this!” Do it for the fun.
Olympian Chad Hedrick once told me, “If you want to be better at skating, you’ve got to go skate”. And that is something that has stuck with me. Surround yourself with skaters and enjoy it and you will get better. The best thing you can do is just go for it, show up, find someone to do it with and do it for the fun of skating.
NS: You are part of less than 40 athletes that have done every NorthShore Inline Marathon, every year since 1996. That is pretty cool!
JM: Last year on the bus going to the start line, the guy sitting next to me on the bus was going for his 22nd NorthShore Inline Marathon! Of the thousands of people, here was another guy who has done every single one sitting right next to me on the bus to the start line.
NS: Any last thoughts?
JM: We’re at the point where people have to decide. I just read an article that 75% of millennials are overweight, which is just unbelievable. So I look at it like, if I’m going to be a good example for my children and people around me, I have to get out and do it. You just can’t pretend. I’m just about skating and I’m just that way. Plus, skating is just so darn cool to do and I can help myself!