In this segment, NorthShore interviews a select, exclusive group of skaters who have completed every single NorthShore Inline Marathon since the inaugural race in 1996.
This time around, we speak with Paul Holte, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast from the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota.
NorthShore Inline Marathon (NSIM): Hi Paul! Thanks for doing this interview. Can you start by telling a bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Paul Holte (PH): Well, I am a 67-year-old guy, a licensed psychologist, and as well I build furniture. I’ve been bicycling for about 60 years, I’ve been cross country skiing for 50 years, and inline skating for 30 years. I like the outdoors, and also used to be a Canadian wilderness guide in the Boundary Waters and Quetico. I just do a variety of things outside.
I worked for the State of MN for more than 30 years as a psychologist, before that I was special education teacher for nearly 10 years. So currently I work with the elderly population who are in need of some supported living, and I built cabinets and furniture, enjoy my social contacts.
NSIM: You’ve been cycling for a long time and it’s a big part of your active lifestyle. Is that your main sport?
PH: No, bicycling is more of a touring activity. I have bicycled across the state five times with the TRAM (The Ride Across Minnesota), the MS ride. I used to bicycle the MS 150, Twin Cities to Duluth or Duluth to the Twin Cities. And I have bicycled across the state of Iowa twice with the RAGBRAI. But I am more of a bicycle tour kind of a guy. I do have a mountain bike and appreciate the wonderful trails in Duluth, by Hayward, and the Loppet Foundation at Theodore Wirth Park in the Twin Cities, which is a group that I am very much involved with with skiing and training classes as well. And I’ve donated a lot of time and cabinet woodwork to the Loppet trailhead building over the years.
NSIM: Very cool! So how did you first get into inline skating?
PH: Well, I used to quad skate at an indoor rink in Mankato, MN. I lived in Mankato for about 20 years. That was probably about 30 years ago, and inline skating was becoming more available. Rollerblade was then a Twin Cities, a Minnesota-based company, so there was a lot of hub-ub there.
I’d skied the American Birkebeiner 32 times and was looking for some training. Skiing is probably my primary activity, I rollerski in the fall, inline skate in the summer and ski in the winter. Plus split wood. It’s a variety of things I do to stay busy. Inline skating also allowed me to do some commuting. I would sometimes inline skate from Mankato to St. Peter on Highway 169. You can’t do that now. But you used to be able to travel the 12.5 miles on the shoulder.
NSIM: Bring us back to 1996… How did you first hear about the NorthShore Inline Marathon?
PH: Some of the first skating events that I did were at Giant’s Ridge, from the ski hill to Embarrass and back. Some races in Chicago and Milwaukee. One of the first longer races I did was in Hayward. They used to call those “roll and pole”, and some people would have rollerskis and some people would have inline skates and poles. But we’ve learned over time that inline skates with poles is really not that functional, you have different mechanics and motions. In fact, there can be a danger with that, because I’ve rollerski raced before and you do a cross over and you cross over with your pole and you end up in a heap on the ground!
Then the next race to come around was the Big Granite, over in Marengo, near Ashland, Wisconsin. That has morphed into the Apostle Island Inline Marathon on Madeline Island. So the NorthShore was a continuation to the end-of-the-year big race.
NSIM: Did you first hear about NorthShore from word of mouth, posters, from those other events? How did avid athletes such as yourself find out about it?
PH: There was, and still is, a magazine called Silent Sports out of Wisconsin, and a national inline skating magazine, so NorthShore was billed in print media. Then I talked to my skating buddies. I used to go to the Roseville Oval on Wednesdays for track skating and racing. Now I am on the board of Friends of the Oval, interestingly enough.
NSIM: What about that very first year? What are your memories? Did you have expectations? Did you think this was like the Superbowl or just another race in your calendar?
PH: Well, I didn’t have much money so I think I probably camped out at Spirit Mountain and slept in a tent (laughs). Riding the bus to the start I was still warming up. Of course, there has been a lot of variation in the start line temperature through the years.
I remember being fairly pumped and excited about the event, and ready to put it all on the line with pack racing. I think that first year I nearly obtained the jersey by two seconds. Being that close, I could have powered a little bit if I knew… I remember not being totally spent by the finish. It was fun, and fun to be able to enjoy it.
NSIM: Did you hit a point that you had to do all of the NorthShore Inline Marathons? When did this become a streak?
PH: I just keep participating in the races. I really love the course at Madeline Island and it became a social, regular event. That one is a camping trip, and we do some bicycling the next day. About 30 years ago, my son and I had done some bicycling up past Duluth and I always appreciated the North Shore and the Two Harbors to Duluth route in many forms. Lately, I’ve enjoyed the cycling on the Sunday after NorthShore, visiting the Hawk Ridge birding area. Plus, with the mountain bike and hiking trails, there is a lot of draw to the Duluth area.
The streak is critical, though. I am not pedal to the metal anymore, I just want to stay up and enjoy the opportunity.
NSIM: Do you have any special memories from the past 24 years at NorthShore?
PH: The 2001 race, the politician Jim Oberstar organized and arranged for jets to fly over the start. Many people, with the travel ban that year, weren’t able to make it to the race. It was a sense of awe to have the fighter jets fly low over us and have us the feeling that we were going to be protected on our skates that day.
Some years there is a headwind, some years there is a tailwind. The tailwind can be wonderful but sometimes you get going so gall darn fast that it can be a challenge! One of the years when the north end of the course got rebuilt some of those packs got going 30… 32 miles per hour in a pack! You would just hope nobody would fall down.
NSIM: Any thoughts from the pack? Skating in a paceline can be intimidating for many people, what are some tips for someone who wants to skate at the next level and join a paceline?
PH: Every time I’ve skated NorthShore, I connect with people in the paceline and I try to teach people to roll out to the left and drop back to the end of the pace line. The new leader needs to communicate with the recovering pace line leader, now at the back of the pack to hold the group members together. What you want to have is consistency, so you roll out to the left. Then you ask the next person up if they’re on because sometimes there’s a little lag when the lead changes and they rotate back.
It’s very interesting to meet people from around the country and around the world, and you develop a trust. There are plenty of guys and gals who want to power, who want to be real racers, so you kind of have to train people to be in line, in unison. Sometimes you get two or three pacelines, and that’s almost too many.
NSIM: What is a piece of advice that you’d offer to someone wanting to get into the sport and/or to finish a marathon distance skate?
PH: It’s important to be realistic and it’s important to develop your capacity to skate 10k and build up from there. Terry Holm has said the he typically skates a minimum of 10 miles an outing. I follow that advice. However, when learning to skate a mile or two might be right for the first outing or two. Here in the Twin Cities, the Three Rivers Park District, there are a variety of wonderful trails to skate on. Baker Park is one of the best.
The key is to get together with people, and to support one another. Having a training partner is critical. You have people that you skate with, you can skate with and talk, you can do powerful surges… intervals then recover. That’s the way to build up stamina.
NSIM: Last question. What keeps you coming back to the NorthShore Inline Marathon?
PH: Well it’s the social connectivity to my friends from Winnipeg and Toronto and Kansas City, Hayward and Duluth and the Minneapolis skating community. From the entire time when I arrive in Duluth I’m connecting with old friends, connecting with people that I’ve talked with and skated with and shared with over the past 30 years. That social connectivity is what it’s all about.
That being said, there’s beauty of Lake Superior and the watershed. There’s also the opportunity to see hawks and saw-whet owls and other birds and Hawk’s Ridge. The opportunity to get on the bike trail on Sunday and head up the NorthShore… there are numerous things. I also appreciate the Duluth Grill. That is a wonderful place. Duluth has got a lot of positive things.
NSIM: Fun! Thanks for your time, Paul. Good luck with your races in 2020, see you in September!