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2008 Gatineau Loppet Reports: 53-km skate-ski race
By:  Thomas Seniuk   (2008/02/22)


Gatineau Loppet 53-km skate-ski race
Sunday 17 February 2008



This Year: 4:14:40.9 (12.5 km/h), 301st of 377 overall (369 finsihers), 267th of 332 men, 58th of 66 men 40-44

Last Year: 4:33:12.0 [11.6 km/h], 304th of 360 overall (345 finishers), 274th of 318 men, 45th of 50 men 35-39)

I bettered my time of last year, when I was badly stuffed up with a head cold, by about 18 and a half minutes. Also, my average heart rate was a bit lower, 161 bpm compared to 164 bpm. Other stats for this yearís race are 915 m of vertical ascent (almost exactly the same as last year, despite the course being slightly different) and 3169 calories burned (compared to 3557 calories last year). So Iím definitely a bit fitter. Iím also about 2 kg lighter.


I wasnít quite as trained up as I'd have liked to be. I'd done only 324 km of skiing so far this season before this race, which might seem like a lot but it's not really, considering the vast amounts of snow this winter, a bunch of which arrived early. I have been doing some running, though, and a bunch of winter cycling. My weight is stuck at about 73.5 kg to 74 kg, which while slightly better than last year this time, is still not where I would have liked it to be by now when I got re-focussed on that this past fall. I also haven't done as much weight training or core work as I'd hoped when I got started several weeks ago. Still, I definitely feel a little bit stronger & faster than last winter, probably on account of some hard cycling I did this past summer.

A few days before the race I dropped in to Bustukah to see if I could pick up a pair of insulated CW-X "stability" tights in my size, not only for this race and generally XC skiing on warmer winter days, but also for running. I got really lucky and pulled the last pair of what I wanted, in my size, off the rack, and it was marked down to boot. I even liked the color (black with blue stitching). I also ran into coach Rick Hellard, local triathlon guru, who recognized me. We chatted about the upcoming XC race weekend, and I asked him about the big "Rock and Ice Ultra" winter adventrue race that he has coming up (itís all over TriRudy). Itís prettty darn cool to be on coach Rickís radar!

Also, the optical prescription insert on my Bolle sports glasses were also finally replaced. I picked them up at the optician on Friday.

Race Day :

I got up just after 6am to make a hearty breakfast. Normally for big days like this, I make a big pile of french toast, but today I had all the ingredients for peanut butter and date waffles. I think this is the best breakfast I make.

I got to Mont Bleu, where there race was being held, in plenty of time. The weather forecast today was bizarre. It was supposed to be a bit cooler than seasonal average overnight, about -12C, but then some time during the day it was supposed to warm up to 0C or above with freezing rain. The previous evening, I hot-waxed my skis with purple (warmer) wax. It turned out to be the wrong choice; I should have gone with the colder blue wax. Snow and weather conditions at the start were fast and cool. Fortunately, this wax error likely hardly made a bit of difference since Iím not an expert skiier and I was just using cheap, garden-variety hydrocarbon wax.

I headed over to the "D" wave corral to startóone up from last year, when I was in the slowest "E" wave. But both these waves were scheduled to start at the same time anyway. As I waited for the 9 :05am start, I chatted with a woman from Vermont whoíd come up with her kids during a break from school to take in the Ottawa winter. I explained the difference bewteen the two bib colors (green for the 29-km event, orange for the 53-km event) and also gave her tips for getting through the very crowded first few kilometres of the race.

The first 10 km was just like last year, a loop out and around and back to the start/finsih area at the stadium. I was feeling pretty good, and tried to hit the gas a bit to turn in a solid start, before settling in to the middle, climbing section of the race. In my haste, I took a minor spill at about the 7 km mark. No big deal. But at about the 9 km mark, I took a worse spill on a downhill section when my skis started separating. Not good. At first I thought I might be injured, but I just hurt my right hand slighly, and I think I tweaked my left knee a bit. Fortunately I got back up quickly enough so that someone barrelling down behind me wouldnít plow into me, but I was a bit shaky for a while after that. I took all remaining downhills on the trail sections quite timidly.

Back out of the stadium, we now headed up trails #5 and #15 to Pink Lake. Once on trail #15, I just settled into a group as we ground our way up to Pink Lake. Then it was back on the parkways for a while. I passed the13 km marker at bang on one hour. Just before the turn-off for the 29-km event, a gal in a red jacket noticed my (new) tights. "How do you like those?" "Theyíre great!" "Iíve got a pair, too, but I havenít worn them yet." Why not, I thoughtóespecially today, of all days.

After the split between the 29 km course and the 53 km course, it turns into a real "Omega Man" situation, at least for someone going at my speed. I turned off the parkway at Penguin to being the difficult climb on trail #1/Ridge Road. I barely saw a soul until Keogan shelter/"gossip corner", where the course turned onto Fortune parkway for a kilometre or so. It was about here that I caught up with about a half-dozen other racers, and we more-or-less stayed together much of the way on trail #3 when the course went back off the parkway. I was climbing better than most of them, but I didnít want to fall again so they pulled away during the descents. I passed the 24-km marker just a few seconds short of the two-hour mark.

I slowed down to take a cup of warm Gatorade and a chocolate-chip cookie at the aid station at Huron shelter. I made much more use of the aid stations this year than last, stopping in 3 or 4 times. I had a small pack with a bottle and one of my home-made energy bars with me, which I consumed just after completing the trail 1+1B loop to reach Champlain lookout, where I passed the 36-km marker at 3:01. The fluids and calories hadnít quite kicked in yet when I went past the aid station at Huron shelter a second time, where I kicked over a pylon after losing focus and straying a bit from the course. I waved off the volunteer at the aid station, who commented (after surely seeing my incident with the pylon) that I was dragging a bit. No kidding. I was hurting by this point.

The rest of the race course is almost entirely downhill from there, and almost entirely on the parkways so I did what I saw a few other racers do: just plant myself in the tracks and enjoy the ride. This lasted to the bottom of Pink lake, were I met up with the 10-km racers pulling onto the parkway. So it got busy, mostly with kids, all moving much faster than I was. But that only lasted a few kilometres, as I turned off the parkway to return to the start/finish area while the 10-km racers kept going. The final kilometre of the race included the downhill section I had my scary fall on earlier, but I downshifted and made it back into the stadium worn out and a bit battered, but in one piece. I collected my pin and special 30th-anniversary touque that is given to all 53-km racers.

At first, I was questioning my sanity for racing this hard for this long: average HR over 160 bpm for over 4 hours. Collecting a sore wrist and knee from taking a couple of spills on top of the usual full suite of aches and pains wasnít helping my attitude. But Iím finishing writing this up the day after, and even though my performance and overall standing didnít improve a whole lot over last year, it did get better. The competition in this event include a lot of national-class athletes, including from places like Sweden, Finland, and Norway, plus a whole bunch of people who are much better skiiers who train a lot more than I do. I am lucky to have a world-class race right in my own city that I can enter just like anyone else.

Thanks to Caroline for waking up in time to come along, cheering me on my pass through the stadium after the opening 10-km loop, snapping a few photos (which are going up on my Facebook profile), keeping busy folding origami projects while waiting for me to finish, carrying my skis away from the finish area when I needed help, and taking me to St. Hubertís for chicken afterwards.

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