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2008 Gatineau Loppet Reports - Back of the pack race report.
By:  Hazel Ullyatt   (2008/02/20)


Saturday’s weather was perfect, a bit cold if you stood around but great once you got moving. The mass start seemed normal enough but I soon noticed that my glide wax wasn’t the best of selections, either that or with fear of not having enough grip, I may have extended the grip wax too much. This was my first lesson learned, I would have benefited immensely by getting my skis professional waxed.

The grooming conditions were great and directions signs were everywhere. The first feed station at Mont-Bleu came up earlier then expected and was well organized with hot Gatorade and hot water with honey. Life was grand as I enjoyed the race but I was dropping further behind the pack and with that the head games started….would I meet the cut offs, how would I handle the dreaded bib removal, what could I do about my glide, how could I decrease the time it took to drink and eat on the move. This was my second lesson learned. It was frustrating to remove either my wet hand from the glove, then reach back to my pouches or worse remove my gloved hand from the pole where it was nicely Velcro’ed in. Next time I’ll try one of the backpack hydration systems and perhaps find the pole handle arrangement that lets you disconnect the strap from the pole with your gloved hand still fastened in.

The second aid station at Notch was fun with the Swedish contingent having decorated it with flags; a fire was going with volunteers huddled about, hot drinks, cookies and frozen chocolate covered raisins. I didn’t know it but this would be the last stocked feed station I would encounter. The next one at Penguin was being taken down as I went by, no water, nothing. The fourth station was the one I feared most. I was now so far at the back of the pack that potentially I’d be prevented from continuing along the course. Ridge Road leading up to Keogan is not the section to make up time as it’s mostly up hill and occasionally I had to pull over to let the descending, non racing, uncontrolled skiers shriek by. My strategy on reaching Keogan was to keep moving oblivious to any cutoff times. The station was picked clean except for one measuring cup of cold Gatorade. I grabbed that, said hi to the volunteers and kept skiing.

The next section struck me as truly peaceful, no one around, the most deep blue sky reminiscent of the colours used in paintings of Lake Louise, the trees were grand, the pristine crunchy white snow punctuated by yellow holes. hum, obviously by gentlemen more hydrated then I was.

I soon had company, an official snowmobiler complete with rescue sled. He would stalk me for a couple of kilometers, pulling ahead leaving me to inhale his exhaust fumes, then he’d stop somewhere around a corner and wait to ask me how I was doing. Every time I heard the engine, I’d ski with the best form and speed I could muster, smiling away and when asked how I was doing I’d comment on what a great day it was. In truth, I was having trouble with my shoulder; there was an unfamiliar ache which made poling difficult and my speed even slower.

The stalking continued for the next 10 or so kms and at Champlain Look Out my fear again of being pulled off the course was reinforced by the sight of a posse of snowmobilers gathered to watch my arrival. I perked up my form, brought my head up in an effort to impress then got side tracked by the unbelievable clear view of the valley. Sure enough that was enough to set off my balance completing a nose plant worthy of at least an 8.5 all right in front of the officials. I got up quickly and immediately commented on the gorgeous view. The official identified himself as one of the medical team and asked for my name and how was I doing. I knew I was being assessed for the suitability to continue and with the hope that passing this test would allow me to go on, I just kept on about how great a day it was for a ski and how, gosh this skiing required way more technique then the Ironman a few months ago. Ok, I knew I was name dropping but I so wanted to continue the race. His next q! uestion was did I know how many kms were left and did I have enough water? Oh yes, and before he could say much more I mentioned that I really should keep moving and off I went.

My shoulder was now very sore, I could use my elbow and wrist but that was it. I still faked it when ever I heard the engine.

Around 3:45 I saw the snowmobile coming towards me instead of the customary approach from behind. As Murphy’s Law would have it, someone had discarded a white Kleexex that had landed in the track and I made my second spectacular face plant in full view of the official. The guy was off his machine very quickly and asked me for the umpteenth time if I wanted a ride, he also said that the race was over. I declined the ride, I wanted to finish the race but his news was discouraging. The head games continued with thoughts such as I’d never been DNF’d in a race and how finishing the course would be better then quitting.

My right arm no longer worked, I could will it to move but it was sore and there was no power left. For the next 8 km it hung down at my side just dragging the ski pole along for the ride. I hadn’t seen or heard my snowmobiler buddy for some time. It was warm but the sun was going down and I hadn’t had a drink or food in a while.

The finishing sign was a welcome sight, there was no one around waiting to cheer on their family or friends and it felt lonely. Then with a couple of hundred meters to go I heard the familiar sound of my friend on his machine. As he passed me he gave the thumbs up sign and I realized that while I hadn’t seen or heard him for some time, he had been watching out for me. The timing mats were gone but there was one spark of a friendly fellow holding a clip board and congratulating me on my finish. He noted my time and I headed toward the school.

The gym was pretty much empty with my bag the only one in the middle of the floor. While changing my boots I realized that the timing chip was still strapped around my ankle. At the Sportstat desk, the guys were busy wrapping up and I mentioned the chip, it’s then I heard the best news of the day. Your time is already entered into the computer! I had an official finish, not a World Loppet finish but a finish all the same. My official time was 7:47:40, I was 8/8 in my age group and out of 364 competitors from around the world including Japan, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Italy, Spain and the USA, I was the last finisher at number 358, way faster then all those people who didn’t sign up!

With my lessons learned will I do it again next year? Oh yah for sure. The Gatineau Loppet is an extremely well organized race and a lot of fun. We’re so very lucky to have such a stellar event in our own back yard and to have such a great community of volunteers that make it happen.

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