I skied my first Keskinada Loppet as a member of the McGill Cross Country ski team. This was a LONG race for me, and my biggest recollection is stopping at feed stations to inspect the offerings and ingest copious amounts of oatmeal cookies and chocolate covered raisins (yum, free chocolate) . . . to think, a career in nutrition research was on the horizon! I also remember trudging along questioning if I’d ever finish; and wondering who told me the last 15 km was all downhill! I don’t recall being particularly competitive, but do remember a smug feeling as I chugged past a teammate who hadn’t taken advantage of the feed stations like I did (I guess he didn’t mind my smugness – since he ended up marrying me!). This first Keskinada was an epic outing, but I knew it was something I wanted to do it again!
I raced the Keskinada a few more times before moving to Southern California for graduate school. With a climate more conducive to running and cycling, I didn’t ski much for 7 years. But when I returned to Ottawa, I was keen to ski again and eventually was accepted to join XC Ottawa. Though I focused on shorter events, the Keskinada skate loppet was still a highlight of the winter, allowing me to see old friends and race on familiar turf. I managed many 4th, 3rd, and even 2nd place finishes, and although sometimes painfully close, I never made it to the top step on the podium!
Racing had gone pretty well thus far this year, but I wasn’t entirely confident about how this 53km race would pan out: my training focused mainly on events raging from sprints to 15km, and to be sharp for these races and stay sane with the rest of my life, I was training about 7 hours/week with only about 3 ski outings lasting longer than 2 and 1/4 hours.
Race Day. I got off to a pretty good start, had a tumble at about 1km on the congested uphill but recovered and settled into a group of guys with my XC Ottawa teammate Megan - we were the top two women at that point. She has been faster than me in every skating race this year, and seems to be getting stronger with every event she races, so I hoped I could stay with her. Over the first 10km I judged that this might not be a problem: I felt great, and my skis were really fast!
Getting fuel (E-load) after 10km, and my father in law looking on with a spare pole just in case - we have many supporters to thank!
I spent most of the race skiing with Megan and a pack of guys. For the most part the guys seemed content to let us pull them along (or maybe they were letting us have our own race - and thanks Dev Paul for reminding them of this!), but we did enjoy the company of Kevin Jones at the front. I tried as much as possible to stay in the front 3 of the pack -- out of trouble, but ready to pounce if a gap started to form. I was feeling almost too good and finding the pace pretty easy. I was staying energized with regular e-load feeds from XC Ottawa helpers (thanks!), which I supplemented with CLIF Shot gels. After a few half-hearted attempts to get away or reduce the pack to a more manageable size, I realized this wouldn’t happen on the parkways, so I might as well ski relaxed, enjoy the fast conditions and great weather, and wait until the end to make a decisive move.
Megan and myself leading the pack around Kingsmere, Dev behind me, herding the pack (photo by Kenmore)
Three km from the finish, at the base of the quad-crippling Mont Bleu hill (GAT-zilla), it was time to go. I took off as fast as I could and the effort didn’t hit me until after about 45 seconds when the hill got steep (and my body finally reacted to this insult after the pleasant skiing!). My legs turned into little cinder blocks but I somehow clunked them to the top of the hill, figuring Megan was right behind me. Kevin Jones passed me towards the top, offering some words of encouragement, which really helped! I never looked back and just went as hard as I could to the finish, and it wasn’t until the final stretch that I realized Megan had dropped back, and first place was mine!
What a great day for XC Ottawa – Megan wasn’t far behind me in 2nd, our former teammate Eva Szabo (now in Calgary) was third, and Karl had a great race too and finished 2nd . While most of us weren’t overjoyed with a parkway-only race course, we seemed to have made the best of it. Many thanks to the race organizers and volunteers, as well as XC Ottawa’s wax guru John Suuronen and Rossignol for the super fast skis.