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Keski Report #1 - Keski This!
By:  Parham Momtahan   (2007/02/20)

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A meandering view of the 2007 Keskinada Classic 53 from the middle...

Reaching a half century appears to create a curious desire to come up with new challenges: Perhaps it is for want of a reassuring view of the valley after cresting the hill. And so it is that Iíve turned racer after all this time. As a 50th birthday project, after years of participating in the CSM (bib # 166), I will be heading to Sweden for the Vasaloppet. This is the oldest and the longest ski race in the world: the CSM being the oldest and longest ski tour in the world.

Living in Ottawa, I decided to do the Keskinada 53 Classic, our very own World Loppet event as a prelude; and also to attempt improving my seeding and move up from the last wave, 10, of the Vasaloppet, with 14000 skiers in front. My goal for the Keski was to ski it under 4 hours.

XC Ottawa racer, Pierre-Olivier Dorego has become my ski fitter and chief technical advisor: I ski with his dad, Jean-Louis, on the CSM, and heíd not hear the end of it if I had slow skis. Iím happy to report P.O. knows his mťtier. Thanks to him, I have my fastest pairs of skis ever: RCS Carbon Lites. Hereís how I waxed them. Glide: Vauhti green base (3 layers). Then topped with the only HF wax I had, donated to me by my friend Pierre Leblanc at the last minute, Swix HF6 ( 1 layer). Grip: Swix VR40 at home, and then on the race course adjusted with a CeraF -1-8 covering. While the conditions were generally slow for glide, my glide was relatively good. My grip was less so.

Saturday morning up at 6, light breakfast, and I drive up to the start with my friend, fellow CSM Coureur des Bois, and latent competitor, Trevor Plestid. I had picked up both our bibs the previous day. As I hand over his, I break it to Trevor nonchalantly, but I canít hide a bit of an edge to my voice: Iíve used my results at the Craftsbury Marathon in Vermont a few weeks back, together with a $10 late change fee, to move to wave B from wave C. Trevor who is registered in wave C, smiles nonchalantly, but has the slightest hint of an odd twitch at the corner of his mouth.

We set off to warm up and test our skis. I have my last swig of pre-race drink and then I go at an easy pace for about 15 minutes. When I climb the first hill up from the stadium a few times, I realize that Iím getting too much slip on my kick wax. Not good. I cover the VR40 with three thin layers of trusty old CeraF -1-8 corked on. Now I have grip. By the time Iíve done all this, itís 10 minutes to the start. When I check my HRM, Iím shocked, Iím about 20 BPM above what Iíd expect: race nerves I guess.

Quick pit stop and into the wave B coral. I find my ski friend, Peter Hoffman, a Master and World Loppet racer from Waterloo. I park my skis next to his. As I look back to Wave C, there is Trevor, still with Ďthe lookí, and just behind him my friend and fluro wax Ďsponsorí Pierre Leblanc. Bon chances are exchanged and the Aís are off. Pretty soon so is the B Wave. The Cís have to wait a bit...

Iím mindful of my new carbon poles. But everyone around is starting considerately. Good clean start. I double pole all the way to the first hill, kick DP most of the way up, and kick stride the last few meters. I pass quite a few people and end up behind a train of people. In front of me is a guy with a nice Velotique jacket and an interesting beard. I notice the jacket because Iíve just ordered the same one, for its Canadian motif, to wear in Sweden.

Iím feeling good as we turn on to the Parkway, but my HRM says about 15 beats higher than where I want it to be, so I try to settle down on the parkway, ski smooth, DP and KDP a lot. I keep with the pack, and even overtake ĎVelotiqueí, till we turn on to the trail 5 downhill from the parkway. I go conservatively, too much so, and a whole group of skiers pass me, including ĎVelotiqueí. I keep up just behind them until we climb the Mont-Bleu hill when I realize my kick still isnít quite what I would like it to be and they disappear. A few people pass me on the hill, but then I pass them again on the flat. I go full out on the downhill to the stadium and DP to the feed line. I take two hot sport drink cups, gulped down while moving. One too many.

On Pink Lake hill Iím about even, passing and being passed, I donít stop at the Notch feed station since I feel pretty good and hydrated. I DP and KDP all the way to the hill before P5. There, I get passed by a woman who skis like the energizer bunny, and a guy with a Vasaloppet waist pack. I try hard to stay with them, but no dice. I see Steve Paradine of my ski club, Nakkertok, coming the other way, heís about 10 minutes ahead of me already. I feel a strong need for a feed and try squeezing gel out of my bottle on the way down to P5 but I hardly manage to get any in my mouth: too viscous. I should have stuck to my trusty fudge bars. Luckily thereís a feed station at P5 and I get some food and drink and move on.

As I crest the hill from P5, I see Trevor and then Pierre who started in wave C, coming over: so they have gained on me by at least a couple of minutes. The thought of them overtaking me starts worming in my head. I have pretty good speed going down the hill, and pass a few people. That makes me feel a bit better. As we start towards Mackenzie-King, I get passed by a couple of guys who look more senior and Ďbiggerí than me. They are striding with picture perfect technique. One of them takes a pit stop and re-passes me. But when I look at the flag on his hat I donít feel so bad. Heís from Norway. In fact, I consider it good psychological training for Vasaloppet, not being psyched out by older Scandinavians passing me.

Quick feed and drink at Kingsmere, and then as we head up Blacks I notice the front runner skiing down. Itís Phil Shaw. And there is no one else for kilometers behind him. Amazing! I start getting into a nice striding rhythm going up Blacks and am feeling good, focusing on technique, and I actually pick off a couple of skiers. I ski with one guy, swapping leads occasionally for a while until we get to the top. Then my glide proves much better and I pick up the pace all the way to the feed station at Huron and onwards to Champlain. At the turn around at Champlain I check my time: 2:40 so far. I know my chances of a sub 4 hour finish have now dimmed. I start to relax and say what the heck. But then I have a surprise to wake me up: I see Trevor coming the other way. I estimate heís only 3-4 minutes behind me now. We say hi a bit too formally, and the look on his face has now undeniably a hint of a smirk. This does it for me.

I put the hammer down and I pass more people on the way down than I get passed by, double poling back most of the way. When Iím almost at the top of Pink, I take a good look back to see if I see Trevor. No. But I donít relax. It doesnít mean he isnít out to get me! One guy passes me on the way down Pinks and I decide to use him as a hare. Heís faster but I manage to keep visuals all the way down the parkway, until we turn on to trail 5 again. Iím a bit slow up Mont-Bleu since my kick wax is wearing off but I give it my full. I double pole the downhill all the way to the stadium and as Iím rounding the corner, I catch a glimpse of Claudia Van Wijk, the Canadian paddling and skiing legend, and my very occasional employer at Madawaska Kanu Centre. She cheers me on. I try to wave back. I loose my balance, with one ski dangling precariously in the air. But I somehow manage to bring it home. I give it everything left to the finish line.

Iím done. Iím over my four hour goal by thirteen minutes. But proper pride is served: Trevor didnít catch me! At finish line I see ĎVelotiqueí again. Later when I check the result, heís the next guy up in my category, I surmise he is Saul Goldman, co-owner of Velotique, whose ski stories of his World Loppets Iíve lately been reading and enjoying from their web site.

Trevor arrives five minutes after I do having started 10 minutes later than me. At the finish line we smile and embrace. Trevor came in at 4:08:04.7, 105th overall, top half of his category, top 3rd overall. A most impressive result considering, he also finished the CSM the week before! I came in at 4:13:00.1, 118 overall, top 40% of my category, top 3rd overall. My friends Pierre Leblanc and Peter Hoffman, who impressively was on the podium for his category, also report a satisfying race alas with slow glide conditions.

But most importantly, we all had a great day of celebrating skiing, where we motivated each other to do our bests: in time, effort, respect for our competitors. And with pride in a measure proper to our pursuit!

I thank greatly the organizers and the volunteers for a great job done under challenging conditions. I look forward to heading over to Sweden at the end of this week for the Vasaloppet, with a motivating race experience under my belt thanks to my ski community and my friends. As they say in Salen-Mora, Sweden: "I Fšders SpŚr fŲr Framtids Segrar" (In the footsteps of our forefathers for the victories of tomorrow.)

Parham Momtahan, Ottawa, Canada, 20 Feb 2007 (All rights reserved.)


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