NorthShore Inline Marathon expands reach in roller sports
In its 24th year, Duluth skating race rebrands by adding SkateFest to name
A year ago, the NorthShore Inline Marathon teamed up with Harbor City Roller Derby for it’s 23rd edition and the partnership — along with an international tournament for roller sports in Barcelona — inspired race director Mike Ward to think differently about the three-day event.
The result was a rebranding for the 24th year of what’s billed as “the nation’s largest skating race.” Introducing the NorthShore Inline Marathon and SkateFest, which gets underway Friday and runs through Sunday throughout the city of Duluth.
The signature event remains the 26.2-mile marathon that begins in Two Harbors and finishes in Canal Park, with a trip through the Interstate 35 tunnels along the way. But that race is now one of a handful of races and disciplines — some with wheels, some without — that take place on race day, and just one of the many events that take place throughout the weekend.
And it all came from last year’s partnership with Harbor City.
“It worked out really well and it kind of sparked in me that, ‘Hey, these roller derby enthusiasts, they're coming up to do the race, too,’” Ward said Wednesday from his office in Canal Park. “They want to do the race for fitness and fun and team camaraderie, but they're also interested in roller derby. So the idea was, how many other cross discipline people are out there?”
New to race day in 2019 is the Tunnel 10K skate, which will start before the Tunnel 10K run. Ward said the race caters to aggressive skaters who aren’t used to skating long distances, as well as to kids and those who are new to inline racing.
“What excites me about the Tunnel 10K skate is almost 75 percent of the registrants are first timers,” he said.
In the spirit of including more skating disciplines, a 21-kilometer rollerski half marathon was added in addition to the 42-kilometer rollerski marathon. That has resulted in a jump of rollerskiers from 50 a year ago to 75 this year, Ward said.
And NorthShore continues to create more opportunities for roller derby teams and enthusiasts to take part in the weekend. Ward said they’ve expanded the quad skating division, adding a roller derby team award this year.
“I think the more we develop the the SkateFest concept, bringing in different disciplines, the more that we're going to grow the main event, which is the race,” Ward said.
Another addition to the weekend is Sunday’s Lincoln Park Takeover, which will feature aggressive skating competitions at Midtown Skatepark from 1-2 p.m. and Wheeler Park from 2:15-3:15 p.m., followed by awards at Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
Other events include an expo Friday and Saturday at Pioneer Hall, the 7:30 p.m. Friday Night Skate, which is an informal group skate through the city of Duluth starting at the marathon finish line on Harbor Drive, and the Saturday Skate Jam at Pioneer Hall, which Ward describes as an event reminiscent of the old roller rinks.
“Why can't Duluth be the epicenter for all roller sports,” Ward asked, “like extreme skating, downhill skating — we got the hills — all different types of skating disciplines?”
Kuwada chases bounty
Ken Kuwada recorded the fastest time ever in the 23-year history of the NorthShore Inline Marathon, winning the elite men’s race in 56 minutes, 56 seconds. His time was not a course record, however, since the course was shortened due to the Superior Street construction.
Kuwada is back this year to defend his title and break Chad Hendrick’s 1998 course record of 57:18. If he succeeds, he’ll net a $10,000 prize. Same goes if a woman breaks Heather Hunnin’s time of 1:10:26, also set in 1998.
Ward said the women’s elite marathon is wide open this year — “That could be anyone’s game.” — with neither of the last two champions back to defend their crowns. But Kuwada will have stiff competition from 2017 winner Sebastian Guzman of Venezuela and 2016 champ Justin Stelly of Utah.
As of Wednesday morning, Ward said numbers are up from the previous two years with around 500 runners and 1,500 skaters registered for the weekend, including over 1,000 signed up for the marathon.
2019 NorthShore Inline Marathon and SkateFest Schedule
Race packet pickup and expo, Pioneer Hall, noon-9 p.m.
20th Annual Kids Sprints, Harbor Drive, 4 p.m.
Friday Night Skate, Harbor Drive, 7:30 p.m.
Raceday start times
Half marathon skate, 6:45 a.m.
21K rollerski, 6:50 a.m.
Wheels-Off Half Marathon Run, 7 a.m.
Tunnel 10K skate, 7:45 a.m.
Tunnel 10K run, 8 a.m.
42K rollerski, 8:30 a.m.
NorthShore Inline Marathon, 8:45 a.m.
Race expo, Pioneer Hall, 8:30 a.m.-noon
Running awards, Grandma’s Sports Garden, noon
Skating and roller ski awards, Grandma’s Sports Garden, 2:30 p.m.
Skate Jam, Pioneer Hall, 7-9 p.m.
Lincoln Park Takeover
Midtown Skatepark, 1-2 p.m.
Wheeler Park, 2:15-3:15 p.m.
Awards, Bent Paddle Brewing Co., 3:30-4 p.m.