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Keski Report #7 - Character Building
By:  Matthew Ladd   (2007/02/23)

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My race was basically what I refer to as a "character building" experience. Many people in my situation may not have even entered let alone started the race. I knew it was going to be tough with cold slow snow and a severe lack of training. Also, an injury had kept me from skiing for two weeks from the end of Jan until early Feb. This season I had only been out skiing three times. (Authors note: make sure you ski more than 3 times before the big race!) My first big challenge was being put in the A-wave which was totally unexpected. I am actually more comfortable in the B-wave and based on my time this year, the C-wave would have been more appropriate. The good part of the start was there seemed to be much less congestion than usual since I was basically at the very back of the group. The bad part was the increasingly gusty winds making the -11C feel like -20C. Even with the wind chill it was still one of the warmest years for the event since I started doing it. On th e trail I could feel the slowness of the snow but my wax issues (and probably fitness as well) were not evident until reaching the parkway. I opted for a layer of start graphite followed by 2 layers of Swix CH4.

At this point I felt as though I could not keep up with those around me and B-wave folks were catching up easily. After the first lap through the stadium I knew it would be a tough go for the rest of the course. I was passed quite a bit so I figured I would take my time and not push it up Pink Lake hill. I wanted to stop at as many aid stations as possible to avoid bonking later on. It really helped to have people cheering and ringing bells at various places, especially the Penguin turnaround. It was good motivation to keep going and think positive thoughts. Heading back along Gatineau parkway the sun was rising higher in the sky, yet there did not seem to be much warmth in the air at all. The gusty wind would sometimes almost stop me in my tracks and the deep snow just seemed to swallow my skis sometimes. I found that skiing off to the side of the parkway (on or near the classic tracks) was easier. I made the turn up Champlain Parkway and almost wished I could just head back to the start. Coming up the hill towards Black Lake I saw the fast people returning. The fun part was trail number 7 around Mackenzie King Estate to break up the monotony of parkway skiing. A volunteer at the aid station told us that we were only 50 minutes behind the leaders! Skiing up around Etienne Brule and Champlain makes you realize how little snow we've had this winter. Finally, coming back down the parkway I felt alone and really had no gauge of how well I was doing. I only saw a few skiers in the opposite direction and hardly anyone around me. It was definitely colder and windier now, especially on the descents. The last aid station was Notch and I refueled big-time. The rest of the race went okay, until I bonked...yep...at about km 47 or 48. Luckily I had a clif bar and some nice Eload (this stuff really is awesome!) to get me back on track. At this point, around Hickory I saw a few skiers fly by me. I thought, oh they must be doing a cool down lap or something. Then there were more and more, until a whole crowd showed up. This was actually the start of the 10 km race. The last thing I needed was to get caught up in a sprint for the last few kms. One guy noticed my bib and yelled to me, "Do want to just go ahead of us?" I told him that the pace was a little quick for my liking. I think the group motivated me to pick it up and I finished fairly strong.

So what did I learn from the experience? First, it is important to do a lot of training, especially ski specific training (and easy long distance workouts), for a race like this. Second, make sure you use the fastest wax possible. In my case, it felt like my skis were faster much later in the race maybe because the Swix green had worn off and I was down to the graphite. I did not use any fluro waxes at all which may have been a big mistake. Maybe someone at XCOttawa has some thoughts on the use of fluoros in those conditions? Third, some days are good, some not so good. So if things aren't going well just suck it up and pull through so you can finish the race. I knew this would be much slower than last year but I was happy to be out there. I'm doing something that 99.9% of others don't ever do. As for the course, I actually preferred last year's with the super-fun trails #1, 3, and 15. Also, it would be good to have some gels at the aid stations. This was a tough year but I'm already looking forward to the 30th edition!


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