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Bonk Series: 2004 Keskinada
By:  Edward McCarthy   (2005/02/17)


I have not bonked very many times in my racing career. While I'd love to ascribe this to great planning, or an amazing physiology, the truth is that I just haven't done enough long races to compile a book of bonks. Sure, I've run out of gas during a race (or as my old high school track coach would colourfully put it, "dropped an anchor") plenty of times, but it wasn't until last year's Keskinada 50k skate, my first race of that distance, that I think I first learned what a bonk really is, first hand.

It was my last year of racing as a junior, so I figured it would be fun to do the 50k; to get a leg up on the next year, so to speak, when as a senior I would be expected to do a 50k race at Canadian Championships. The Keski's on familiar home turf, and it shouldn't be that hard; a 50k's less than two 30ks back-to-back, right, and I'd been successful enough at those! Why worry? Ah, I can hear your cynical, knowing laughter - oh, the naïveté of youth…

I was confident in my support system for the race - I had a water bottle holder, with a full bottle, and replacement bottles to trade for waiting at several places on the course. Finally, as the temperature climbed to a balmy -25°C, the race start approached. The course had even been shortened to 42.5k, due to the cold - not even one and a half 30ks back to back! The race began well, as I decided to ski with Steve Hart of Peterborough, a more experienced skier who seemed to be going at a good pace.

A few kilometres in, I decided it would be a good idea to take a drink - and promptly fumbled and dropped my bottle. No problem, I'd be getting another one soon! I got that one, took a drink, and stashed it in my holder; 10 minutes later, it was frozen and useless. This pattern repeated itself over and over as, though felt I was skiing well, my consternation increased, for by about 35k, I had no bottles left, the one I carried had frozen, and the whole time I had had no more than half a litre or sport drink, if that.

About this time Steve began to pull away from me, and I had this horrible feeling as he did that there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was try to hold my technique together through a long flat section - acceleration, according to my body, was right out. Still, it didn't fully hit me until I hit the long uphill on the last 2 or so kilometres of the course.

In training, this hill is as benign as can be, but after about 2 hours of hard skiing, it reveals its true demonic nature. I found myself having to exert extremes of coercion on my limbs, promising them hot baths and 12-hour naps, just to take each next step up the hill. Putting any semblance of power into any of those steps was out of the question, as my body felt entirely hollow, like it could be caved in by a strong breeze. I could see Timo of X-C.com, and a skier who I'd taken to thinking of as "the guy in the Rossi suit" less than a minute ahead of me, and I could tell they were going about as fast as the average 10-year-old. Unfortunately, as I was going slightly slower than said 10-year-old's little brother, there wasn't much to be done. I cannot recall many times I've been happier than when turning the corner into the final downhill into that finish, at the top of this hill. Thankfully, the bonk came late, when it couldn't do much damage to my race - but I've been inspired to carry energy gels in 50ks from now on!

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