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Bonk Series: Running out of gas: A lesson learned at an early age.
By:  Karl Saidla   (2005/02/15)


Around these parts, one of the most famous races used to be something called the Nakkerloppet. About 15 or 20 years ago, it might have been described as one of the "the big three' of Ottawa area ski races, along with the Canadian Ski Marathon, and the Gatineau 55 (now the Keskinada). The Nakkeloppet does still exist, but only as an organized tour, not as a race.

What made the Nakkerloppet special was that it was deceptively hard. The distance was only 25 to 30kms, but the winning times, as I remember, were often close to two hours. The point-to-point course was hilly, bumpy, twisty and narrow. It could almost be described as a backcountry race.

When I was about thirteen I made my first attempt at the Nakkerloppet. Of course, I fell into the trap of trying to keep up with older and more experienced competitors, a couple of whom were parents of other kids in the Nakkertok racing program that I was in at the time. Still after about 10k or so I finally settled in to my own pace. Somewhere just around 18kms in I began to feel the warning signs of impending bonk. I was a bit unsteady on the downhills, I felt a touch of hunger, and I kept catching myself looking behind me. This was before the days when people carried water or energy gels with them, so all you could do was make a mental note that it would be important to fuel up at the next feeding station. I didn't really have to worry, because I didn't have more than a few kms to go before the last one at Moral cabin. Those were a long few kilometres though. I started to move more lethargically, and imagined little chocolate bars dancing away in front of me. Finally I arrived at the feeding station. I stopped completely, and drank about four cups of that old honey-lemon drink. Needless to say it tasted very good. I also gobbled up some chocolate chip cookies or something. I recall hearing one of the volunteers warn me that this was not an "all you can eat buffet".

It was about here that my personal nightmare started. Standing at the feed station I could see Alain Roth (one of the aforementioned parents) coming around the corner to also fuel up. Perhaps you can understand how I most definitely did not want him to catch me. He was close to 50 years old! Now granted, I was thirteen, but thirteen-year-old boys have a habit of thinking they are much older than they are. Him beating me would have been shameful at best.

I left the feed station with my mouth still full of food. The trail has a significant climb at this point and I struggled. I would not give up. I figured if I could make it to the top with a good advantage I should be able to negotiate the mostly gradual downhill sections back to the finish. Through the switchbacks I could see that old Alain was not far behind me. In fact, he was making up time. While the food in my stomach felt good, I can' t say my energy levels felt higher.

By the top of the climb I was completely spent. My legs felt like they were attached to some kind of twisted and evil pulley device, and my ski poles were about as heavy to iron rods. Still, I kept pushing. The tiredness and pain were so bad I could have cried for my mother. But this battle mattered. Humiliation was about 30 metres behind me, and charging hard. Still, I kept at it. Old Alain was inching up on me ever so slowly. Every time I stole a glimpse he was a few metres closer to catching me. Finally we came to the finishing stretch on a farmer's field. I could see Alain's skis pulling up along side mine. Everything was a blur of very justifiable pain and fatigue. I did not look to see where he was until I crossed the finish line. When I did I realized that I had conquered by the slimmest of margins!

Boy, was I tired. I could hear myself slurring my speech as I searched for my warm up clothes and limped over to the cabin where I would drink about 20 cups of hot chocolate and finally eat those chocolate bars that I had been dreaming about.

15 years later I still look back on that day with a certain degree of bewilderment at why I thought this was so important, but also with a touch of pride for how hard I pushed on a completely empty tank of gas. These days I still push hard, but with luck and a little less ego I tend to measure my effort a bit better, and eat and drink more frequently.

Interesting Reading. . .
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