The other day as I moved alongside the pack to take a photo, I clicked skates with the lead skater, who looked at me and gave me the stinkeye. She was pushing with her right skate and I with my left, and we were lucky to both escape a worse fate. If anyone was to blame it was me, since I was the lone skater skating too close and out-of-phase (not matching strides).
Skating in packs has many potential pitfalls — I’ve been kicked in the shin, slapped in the face by an armswing, had snot blown in my face, and gotten upended by unseen tar snakes. But generally the benefits of pack skating– namely faster times and an awesome feeling of camaraderie — outweigh the risks many fold, as long as you take a few basic precautions.
1. Side by side pacelines need to stay in sync, or stay apart. Probably the most common paceline problem is when two or three pacelines are spread out over the road, and skate collisions occur which sometimes lead to falls. In the early phases of the NorthShore, when the double and triple paceline problem crops up, I make a conscious effort to match strides with the skater closest to me, which lets me to be closer without making contact. If the other pack is moving faster than mine, then I will slide in when I see an opening.
2. Keep proper distance with the skater in front of you. If the skater you’re following has excellent technique, that is they’re pushing sideways and not backwards, then it’s possible to skate up nice and close like nested spoons. This is where you will feel the greatest benefit from the draft and save lots of energy, but it’s also where you stand the greatest chance of getting kicked in the shin from an errant push. Adjust your distance to the skater in front of you based on their technique — or lack of it!
3. Try to stay towards the front of the pack. This is where the least amount of accordion action takes place, which can compress the pack uncomfortably during slow-downs and then force you to play catch up as the speed increases. The more you can maintain a consistent speed and avoid this stop and go action, the more energy you’ll conserve for Lemon Drop Hill, the I-35 off-ramp, and the final sprint around the DECC!
4. Speaking of pointing, if you intend to move into the paceline from a position outside, signal your intent by indicating where you’re going. This common courtesy will generally convince a skater to let you in.
5. When in doubt, learn how to skate skinny. If you don’t push all the way out like you normally do, you’ll occupy a narrower lane, and avoid the frightful possibility of making unwanted skate contact with someone else. Skating skinny will make you increase your tempo to maintain a given speed, and may get tiring, so save it for when you really need it.
6. Be courteous and point out obstacles, or relay the message on down the line. Sometimes verbal calls are better, like “road kill!” or “gravel!”, and other times just pointing suffices, like for a flattened gel pack. The more trust and teamwork that gets established, the less chance falls will occur, and the more your pack will skate a fast time like a well-oiled machine.