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2009 Gatineau Loppet Report #1- Jay Heins Saves My 20th!
By:  Dev Paul   (2009/02/16)

How was your Gloppet? You end up telling and retelling your race tale to all your competitors and friends so why not share it with the rest of the ski community here on the website? Send us an email with your story and even photos and we'll post it for all enjoy.

Short version: I finished Gatineau Long/Keski Long/Gat 55 for the 20th time in 20 years. I guess I am thankful that I pulled it off. Final time 2:24, 43rd place.

One of my goals for this year was to make it to the start line of this race and if things went well, try to aim for a top 25. As I warmed up, my skis felt bullet fast. Thanks to Chris Bloch Hansen at Fresh Air Experience, who let me use multiple pairs before I arrived at a set that were bang on....then a Wayne Johansson cold grind and the rest is history. The skis were fast. I wish I could say the same for the "rider".

With the Gatineau Loppet changed to an all parkway course, I knew that position in the first 10K would be key to get into a pack of "riders" with the same ability. The race would be like a bike race with drafting playing a big part.

My double pole start has always been weak and this year, I practiced it on every ski. I had an excellent start position that I offered up to both Sheila Kealey and Meaghen McTavish. Sheila said she was happy with her third row position, but Meaghen took me up on my second row position sandwiched between Wayne Dustin and Craig Storey. I felt I had no business starting with skiers like that, so Meaghen took it and I slid back to third row.

The gun went off, and my double pole start was terrific, and by the time we got to the parkway, I was settled into 25th or so, not working that hard. Back into trail 5, it was a bit hairy with the peleton flying though Asticou 6K in 14+ minutes and then things settled, in. We looped through 10K in 24 minutes which also happened to be a 10K PB for me on account of fast snow.

Then back to the parkway for 40K of "grinding". I was in a nice group with Kevin Jones, Sheila and Meaghen and five to six others. I really felt the pace was perfect and was cruising. Also, since the ladies were playing for money I was aware that I needed to give them space, not step on a poles or their skis. Coming up to P5 at the top of the hill, one of the guys stepped on my pole and SNAP.

....shit, broken pole....first time in 20 Keski's. OK, calm down. Arriving at the P5 aid station, a nice guy lent me a pole, however, I do need to apologize as that pole was way off for my body.

I saw a guy with a Cyclery team jacket. Turns out to be Jay Heins, who waves his pole at me. I put down the first one and took Jay's. I quickly realize that Jay is probably 8 inches taller than me, but by now the pack is moving away. I strapped on the pole and away I went. As it turns out, my height is 168 cm. Jay's pole was 167.5!!!

This is when it really felt like a bike race. Here I was, a solo crashed rider down and trying to chase down the peleton. No teammates, no team car, no nothing. And now my body is lopsided with the right arm planting 1 foot behind my boots on account of a long pole. Fun games ! "Put it behind you I tell myself!" Unfortunately, I could not do a higher tempo 1 skate because of the length of the pole and was limited to a slower rate arm swing 2 skate, which was fine for most of the parkway, but not great on the few technical sections !

But seeing the peleton pushing away was tough, and I pushed harder and harder, however, 1 man chasing 10 usually never works. Finally cresting Blacks Lake, Carl Johnston and Marcus Boyle pulled the next pack up to me....Carl and Marcus have both done the 50K classic. They are total studs. Anyway, nice to have company and I tuck in and after a variety of surges by Champlain we have regrouped.

Now we are in a pack of 20. Everyone is good, and the pace gets harder and harder. It seems there is always someone who is strong leading each hill. There was so much traffic, that I could barely drink without the fear of bumping into someone, or worse yet, being dropped just as someone attacked, with a bottle and pole and fumbling around. Even though the pack "ride" was fun, it was also tense.

This is mistake 2....mistake 1 was chasing hard and blowing my pacing plan. Mistake 2 is blowing my nutrition plan. I had a bottle with 600 calories of Infinit, and by the end of the race I had barely consumed a quarter and 150 calories...YIKES.

Anyway, I was getting nervous in the pack about another broken pole. After the Pinks Lake descent, I shouted at the guys to make sure that they gave the girls some space and did not get in between them before the trail so that they could cleanly race a sprint finish and not have some bonking guy stuck in between determine the outcome of the women's race.

I was in around 3rd place in the pack of 20 on the long downhill before turning into 5, but frankly between low blood sugar, fear of breaking a pole and lack of desire, I did not feel motivated to muscle in for a good position entering the trail and let a bunch of the guys go. At this point I just wanted to finish my 20th race. I could not one skate very well, and trying a higher cadence offset up steeper hills seems almost impossible between mismatched poles and the body turning to jello.

My son names the hill on Trail 5: "GATINEAU-ZILLA" and it felt just like that. Gino Ainsly passed me and I don't think he was feeling that much better. I was just thanking Jay in my head for saving my race. Doing the event legs only would be a tough was to finish, but that was my number 1 goal....just finish this one.

In the end, I had great fitness and great skis, but I did not mentally deal with a broken pole well and threw out my game plan, and that is what undoes all athletes on race day. You can't change your fitness on race day, it is a matter of how well you use it, and frankly I did not use my fitness as well as I could.

For a great example of someone who did, see Chrissie Wellington's comeback race win in Hawaii after a flat tire. That's having you "game head screwed on straight".

To close things off, maybe another streak started as my son did his first 10K skate event along with a bunch of kids from the Track Attack program at the Kanata XC ski club. It is a lot of fun coaching these kids!

Thanks for reading. See you at the races. Thanks a million to Jay....my right shoulder is sore today...maybe I need some more "height"....then again, I always did!

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