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2003 Keskinada FIS Marathon Cup Race Report - A First Person Report
By:  Sheila Kealey   (2003/02/18)


The radio announced, “…Minus 28 degrees…” Most people hearing this would stay in bed under their warm blankets, but the Keskinada Loppet – the largest cross country event in Canada -- had people not only venturing outdoors, but skiing distances ranging from 800 meter Sprints to 50 kilometers. I was one of those crazy passionate skiers. The race was one of my big goals for this year’s cross-country ski season, and the weather did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

The 2003 edition of the Keskinada 50k freestyle race was one of eight international races comprising the prestigious FIS MARATHON CUP, and with $32 000 in prize money, would certainly attract top international skiers. The women’s field would feature several Marathon Cup overall contenders including the current top-three, Lara Peyrot from Italy, the Russian Svetlana Frizen, Germany's Monica Lazarut, as well as 11th and 12th ranked Natalia Alekseeva and Elena Ektova, both from Russia. Our field was rounded out with several elites from Canada and the US. The men’s field was equally strong.

One thing that I really like about the Keski is that race organizers give the top 20 seeded women brightly coloured lycra bibs (this year a beautiful blue). In a way this makes the women’s race stand out from the men’s, and helps us identify our competition. This year my blue bib had a large number 3 on it. In 2001 and 2002 editions of the Keski, I was given bib number 4 and came 4th both years – maybe this number 3 would break the spell – an optimistic thought in this highly competitive year. Nonetheless, the extra layer of lycra had the added benefit of cold and wind protection.

Race Day:
As I expected, the frigid temperature forced organizers to delay start of the race by 1 hour (the temperature at 9:00 AM was -26C, and FIS regulations stipulate that the temperature must be above -25C for the race to start). I appreciated the extra time to hang out in the gym and socialize, and learn new tips for cold weather racing. Friend Paul O’Blenes was a marathon speed skater so I figured he knew what he was doing putting protective medical tape on his face to avoid frostbite. I put a big strip on my nose and two on my cheeks, but then decided against this strategy since I typically cover my face with my balaclava on the descents. Also, though typically not concerned about appearances, I did wonder how I would look with the Quasimodo humpback of my camelback hydration system under my brightly colored suit and my face full of tape . . .

The Start:
Mass start skiing events can be a little rough, so, when possible, I try to surround myself with people I know. The Keskinada has five wave starts, and the 150 top skiers are seeded to leave in the first A wave.

I lined up at the start behind Sandy Tetreault, a new friend from Old Forge, New York, and a talented Team Rossignol skier who was second in last year’s Keski. Curiously she was wearing her team ski suit inside out . . . some new cold-prevention measure I didn’t know about? Apparently the FIS has strict regulations with sponsors’ logos, and the Rossignol logo on the suit was too big! I saw the marathon cup leader Lara Peyrot in the front line with a big strip of tape over her face and nose – hmmm, maybe I should have gone for the tape?

The start was slower than I had expected, but the pack of skiers created quite a draft that pulled me along effortlessly. The group was very relaxed; although I saw a few skiers fall, they got up quickly and didn’t cause any traffic jams. Once out of the draft of other skiers I realized that my skis were pretty fast. I was feeling great and after the first kilometer I just kept passing A wave skiers until the top of the famously long and steep Penguin hill, about 10km into the race. I wondered if I was skiing too hard and would pay for it later? At the top of Penguin hill I found out that I was in fourth place. Not bad, I thought, considering the steep competition this year. But I knew that anything could happen in a long cold race!

The Middle:
Sandy passed me shortly after the top of Penguin Hill. She skis so well and gracefully that I actually enjoy skiing behind her and was surprised that I was actually initially ahead of her. On the next climb (Kyber Pass), I felt pretty good and decided to pass Sandy and move to the head of the train of skiers. I skied through the Huron feed station, as I did for most of the others since I traveled with my own energy drink and food. As I expected, my Camelbak system eventually froze up, leaving me to rely on the feed stations for liquid, but I had ingested a good amount of energy drink during the critical first part of the race.

I managed to get in with a small group of men to ski the top half of the course. I realized how much easier it was skiing with a group, and was a bit concerned (and surprised) when I moved ahead of these guys and found myself skiing alone again after Champlain Lookout (about 30 km into the race). I decided that it was time for more calories, so squeezed a frozen gel into my mouth. I’m not sure if it was the gel or the downhill, but I started to feel terrific. So good in fact, that I had another gel just 15 minutes later. Although I felt energetic, I thought my body would need some water to go along with the concentrated sugars in the gels. I tried to grab some water at the next feed station, but big mittens combined with fancy but cumbersome pole straps ruined this attempt. Thankfully, at about 35 km, a team Rossignol manager spotted me and ran beside me to hand me a water bottle.

Being from Ottawa, I know the Keski course extremely well, and I knew by the way I was feeling at that point I would have a good finish - just one long downhill (Pinks) and a few small climbs to go. About half of the Keskinada is run on an open parkway, which can get pretty windy and cold. On the long parkway downhills, I would pull my balaclava up over my face to protect it from the wind. At this point in the race, the balaclava was like a sheet of ice, but it was still a barrier to the harsh wind.

The Finish:
I was still skiing alone, and starting to get used to the idea that I might actually take 4th place! Although I wasn’t sure who was ahead of me, I assumed it was the Marathon Cup leaders. I couldn’t believe that I was skiing so well, and ahead of some top Canadian and American skiers. With 2km to go, the course turned into the woods and headed toward the final uphill. I was ecstatic that I was holding on to fourth place and enthusiastically began the final ascent. Half way up this hill it felt like my legs were stuck, but the crest was near, and I somehow managed to get to it. My father in law was cheering me on at a sharp corner before the final descent 1,000 m from the finish. I was smiling the whole way down the hill, and crossed the finish line in fourth place. The number 3 bib didn’t help get me on the podium, but considering the international competition I was pretty happy.

The gold was won by Lara Peyrot (current Marathon Cup leader), the silver by Monica Lazarut, and the bronze by Svetlana Frizen. I was the top North American skier and quite proud of my accomplishment. I feel fortunate that I am able to balance skiing with my work as a health researcher, being a mom, and my many other athletic pursuits, including running and cycling. What is also exciting to me is that my skiing seems to be improving with age!

Editor's Note: This article first appeared on www.runnersweb.com.  Sheila is a member of the Ottawa Athletic Club Racing Team (www.OACRacingTeam.com). She is one of Ottawa's most accomplished multi-sport athletes. She recently won the Winterlude Triathlon (skate, ski, run) and last summer won the OAC Gatineau Triathlon. Her goal for this year is to make the Canadian Duathlon team.

The Keskinada website is at : www.keskinada.com.

Complete results are available from SportStats at: www.sportstats.ca.

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