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PenguinMan Report #1 - Conversations with myself.
By:  Yves Fortin   (2008/04/01)

Yesterday was my first 100 km on skis. It is a great feeling to be able to cross this one off my list! A few years ago, I got so impressed from reading reports on the Forrestville Défi Boréal 100km ski. That seemed like such a huge endeavor, attainable only by the wildest buckaroos!

It was good, last week, to hear of Dev’s nutsy suggestion of a 100 K, something to cap the season. In my mind, this one was huge. The kind of thing that “is not done until you have done it.” Kind of like an Ironman. How would the body take it? What would fail first: legs, arms, back, overall energy, mind? Well, I was to find out.

I knew I could do 50. My plan was to do 75, and decide. That might just be a mental game, but it was my attitude coming in. For some intestinal reason, I clipped my skis on at 7:18 h. By that time, my fellow crazy skiers had their first Penguin climb behind them. I knew I had to take it slowly to survive the day but the biting cold on the finger tips was too strong an incentive to refrain from getting the old pump going. (There might also have been some instinctive yet elusive effort to attempt catching up with the group.) As I started, I felt my arms from the previous day’s swim. “What a wimp!” Actually, after that swim, James Young told me that, on his third loop in a previous Penguinman edition, he saw stars… Coming from James, that got me thinking and I knew that I would have to dig in sooner or later the next day.

The snow conditions were so perfect! Once on Ridge Road, one of the highlights of the day was meeting Dev and Sheila and someone I didn’t have time to recognize (was it Craig?) as they literally flew by me on their return. That was a nice boost of energy. It is interesting how the mind works, especially alone, when you have 100% of your time to feel and think: “humm, tibialis anterior is getting sore already after 12 K, so are the back extensors and the S-I joint? Will I be twice as sore after 50 K, and three times that after 75?? Will I have to stop after 50 K?” Oh well, while focusing on the task at hand, I knew that technique was going to be my best friend for the day. Now, if the rest of me feels good energy-wise, should I open it up or be more conservative? What is going to be my limiting factor: Too high a level of effort or my time on skis, which I figured would be at least 7 hours, and perhaps much more?”

The format of the day was perfect, enabling to refuel every 25 km and not having to climb with than one bottle at a time. It was such a beautiful day! Surprisingly, my second and the following climbs of Penguin were totally not an issue. It was actually quite pleasant. As a bonus, my back was less sore while climbing. By the middle of the second loop, I knew that this low back pain was going to be my limiting factor for the day, unless I had energy bonk. (Interestingly, two weeks before, I hurt my back and recall having had to hold on to filing cabinets and cubicle partitions work to walk.) “Relaaaax – gliiide” (and driiink) became my mantra. As the day got warmer, the better the muscles worked and the easier it was to drink. Although I skied alone, the Park filled up with its Sunday skiers as the day progressed, and that provided entertainment and motivation.

Between loop 2 and 3, added to the bottle exchange was a ski exchange, and a quick banana. By that time, people are fighting for parking spots: “Sorry, I am afraid I’m still here for a little while!” Okay, back on the snow; Now, after the first 50 K, it’s like someone had turned the page. I had been told that, in spite of logic, loop 3 was going to be the hardest. Technique, smile, and whew, Penguin is behind! I didn’t see stars but, after passing Huron, I thought I saw people skiing in the woods: “Wait a minute, there are no trails there, that I know of… Perhaps time to drink something sweet mon Yves!” By the middle of that third loop, aches and pains were no longer diffuse but quite specific. “Focus on the task at hand!” By that time, I figured that, as long as I felt good energy-wise, I should try to maintain good speed as the prospect of waltzing on those planks past 15:00 h was becoming less appealing. Every loop, I would get energized going by the Champlain Lookout, a place I find spiritually inspiring.

As the weather got warmer, the smiles became more numerous as skiers shared the joy of gliding in paradise. The North loop was getting more crowded and it was hard to resist to the temptation of keeping up with the highest pace. Near P8, an incredible boost of energy came from Lise’s and Dave’s Nightriders group who had just finished their Sunday outing. These folks have been so wonderful throughout the season as we skied in minus 20 temperature, rain, wind, icy conditions. Their smile said it all on that beautiful day. Alas, no one responded to my request of skiing an extra 25 km with me. Understandably, after three hours of skiing, they preferred to respond to the call of Mr. Java.

I started the last 25 km in a merry mood. It’s a bit like saying to yourself in an Ironman: “Okay, only 21 km to go; You can do that!” Yeah, we’ll see. The last Penguin climb wasn’t that bad. Well, it wasn’t that great, but the snow was now soft, and I was still passing people so, I had no reason to complain. With each loop, actually, it was surprising how hard the long flat sections seemed (or were they false flats…). Perhaps looking at the Parkway on the horizon was sub-consciously demoralizing as you see the distance that you have to cover whereas, in a steep climb, it is easier to focus on the task at hand. Or perhaps was it the wind although I think that having had company would have made it different. I was surprised to still be moving relatively fast, even in the last loop. Must have been the wax! The last North Loop was interesting. At the start, one man looks at me and starts going like a bullet. Now, was that an invitation? That was great fun. The second half! of the loop was even more colorful as a young lad wouldn’t give up once passed. What he didn’t know was that I had looked at my watch and saw the slim possibility of breaking 6 h 30 min mark. So, with slightly modified cool down plans: 6:29:56 and a big smile!

Aside from the perfect weather and snow conditions, there was something special about that day, about doing it alone and experiencing it all. As I always say, I feel very fortunate to have the health, the fitness and the resources to do those things. I also feel privileged to be around people who make these things possible: Thanks, Dev, and congrats to you and to all crazy skiers who took part in Penguinman 2008!

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