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"My Best Bonk" Contest Entry - Mike Hayes
By:  Mike Hayes   (2005/03/03)


Lake Louise to Banff Loppet - 2004.

I raced the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet on Saturday. 65+ km classic. My 4th year in a row. First race was in 1929, so it's a classic on the Alberta race scene. Race day was a mixmash of conditions. Weather reports predicted a cold front to move in "sometime" overnight on Friday, with temps to drop during the day, new snow on top of junky old snow. Headwinds building through the day. Urrgh.

In the week prior to the race, I changed my wax plan 3 times finally decided my wax strategy on Friday night at 9:00 pm. I was debating between a klister base binder and hard wax. Ideally, I'd have 2 pairs (or 5) ready to go. I was aiming for a cold day, -12 avg with new snow.

On the drive out to Lake Louise on Saturday morning, -8 in Canmore, -5 in the parking lot at the Lake with 10cm new snow and snowing hard. Shit. Wrong glide wax and grip was a shade too cold. If you really don't care about wax, skip to the next paragraph. I ended up corking in an extra layer of Toko Dibloc Red warmer race wax for glide (that'll last 10km), and 4 layers of a slightly warmer and better grip wax, covered up with 2 layers of a really slick fluoro grip wax for the first downhill and double pole section. Meanwhile I was trying to poach wax recommendations off another club and one of the stronger racers in the field. All I got was vague advice. Oh well.

Race starts at 8:00 am, in the dark, high up in the mountains right on the ice on Lake Louise. There are a bunch of strong teams in the event, so I let them break trail down to the river valley. It was pretty funny watching these guys hammer up front while I sat in behind in a tuck. Once in the valley, things started to go a bit sideways. My poles were sinking through the snow and I couldn't get any push. I watched my main competition gradually pull away on the flats. After leg one (17 kms), I was about 30 minutes off my predicted schedule mostly because of the crappy track. 1 minute behind the leader. The track got marginally better after that and I was doing fine. The extra time and effort sacked a lot of my energy and I found I was going through my race food a lot faster than normal. By the end of leg 2, I was 2.5 minutes behind.

Leg 3 was a suffer fest, I was now out of food. I could feel a bonk coming on and I had to drop the pace to keep going. The first thing that goes when you bonk in a ski race is your glide. Instead of a nice glide of 10-15 feet on each foot, it cut down to 5 feet or less. For the same effort. No problem, I'll just go slow to the next feed, pick up some gels from my wife, and climb back up. The next feed comes right before a critical stage. No Leanne in sight. She just finished her leg (she was racing on a team) and was testing the limits of the snow tires trying to catch up. I'm 3.5 minutes behind now. I go through the exchange area with a bit of a glazed look and muttering incomprehensively. I'm hooped.

Leg 4 has a 4km long climb. I'm in ski-bonk-death-shuffle mode on the way up. Check the bottles and gel flask once more to see if there's any hope. Nothing. At the top, I get a bit of a break and can coast down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, Leanne is waiting with bottles and gels and real food! Cinamon Buns!!! Two days old and drier than a popcorn fart!!! I grab one fresh bottle and 4 gels to stuff in my pockets, squeezing one gel down my throat. Leanne force feeds me the world's driest cinamon bun and I hold it in my mouth for a few minutes to see if I can cough it down. No luck, out goes the bun and a happy raven swoops down on the fresh kill. For the next 3 kms, Leanne and my friend Andre are driving beside me, hopping out every once in a while to give me some food and to yell words of encouragement. I hear "blah blah blah, MIKE!" while the trees start to dance and the sky turns purple and all swirly-like. I felt like I was skiing like a 6 year old. From Cuba.

By the end of leg 4, I'm 5 1/2 minutes behind. I'm sure 3rd place is over my shoulder. I keep looking back and losing my balance. Frick. Maybe I can just sit down and sleep on the side of the trail. Leanne and Andre keep feeding me gels (caffeinated) and over the course of about 30 minutes, I had consumed 5 of them. Stomach shut-down imminent. So back into the woods over the toughest part of the course where it's skier set instead of snowmobile because of Parks Canada regulations. I keep two team racers in sight and get a bit of a recovery going.

I'm finally at the last exchange station. Time to take off the skis and run about 1 km to the next ski trail. Leanne shoves another (caffeinated) gel into my mouth as I take off up the road. Once on the trail, I'm feeling much better, but pretty dehydrated. Stomach muscles sieze up every stride. Then I hit the hills and I'm feeling great. I decided that I would hammer the last leg as hard as possible. There is little hope, but I'm pissed off at myself and am gritting my teeth and growling as I sprint up and down the hills. With about 2 km to go, I pop out of the trees onto the bow river. About 200m ahead is first place! I start hammering even harder. Every time he looks back, I'm hammering. When he faces forward again, I coast, wipe the drool off my face and try to recover from the near-puke effort. I put in a surge and pass into the lead with 1 km to go. Thankfully, he doesn't try to stick with me to settle it with a sprint. I cross in 5 1/2 hours and about 1 minute in front of 2nd place. 3rd win in a row. Slowest time by about 30 minutes.

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