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2008 Gatineau Loppet Reports: Is it more challenging to race both 29kms or one 53km?
By:  Stephanie Rees   (2008/02/24)


(Author’s Note: I would like to thank Peter Tregunno, veteran of the 29km double, for his contribution to this report. The funniest ideas are all his. If you don’t find this report funny, then that was all me.)

I have always admired skiers who choose to ski either of the 53km events at the Gatineau Loppet and especially those who choose to punish themselves by skiing both events. In fact, when asked, I frequently react to the question of “What are you racing this weekend?” with an “Only both 29kms” response in due respect to those skiing the longer events. However, the question has been raised whether it is in fact more difficult to race one 53 km or both 29kms (We’ll leave the discussion of “What are the people thinking who do both 53kms?” to more qualified experts). Now may be the time for me to expound on my theory of why racing the two medium events can be the better, and sometimes harder, option.

Finishing a 29km

Why is skiing a 29km better? As a wise man recently pointed out to me, the volunteers are still happy and impressed to see you at the finish line when you finish the 29km because they have yet to be inundated with a plethora of finishers. You also get freshly mixed unfrozen Gatorade and the best choice from the cookie tray. The only downside of the 29km is that they don’t hand out toques (as in the 53km) or hot chocolate and mugs (as in the Mini). Trust me - this last fact is seriously making me reconsider changing my strategy for next year. Two kms for a mug and hot chocolate? Sign me up!

Finishing two 29kms?

Over the past several years, I have annually signed up for both 29km events. Although my intentions have always been good, I have only completed the 29km double twice, wasting much money on entry fees and establishing a good list of excuses. The problem is that getting out of bed on the second morning can be the most arduous task of the whole weekend. I mean, you already know what’s in store for you and if it wasn’t pleasant the first day, it’s unlikely to be pleasant the second day! Let’s not even talk about getting up for work on Monday…. as an employee of the federal government, I did not benefit from Family Day or the “Recover-from-the-Gatineau-Loppet” day this year.

The 28 km warm-up, 1km sprint

On the second day of competition this year, I had to duke it out for second place. After being passed by the third placed woman (who in passing me became the second place woman, making me the second place going into third place woman… well, you get the point) with two kms to go, it became evident that an epic battle was shaping up. Sticking together through the final stages led to a sprint in the last 50 metres. Somehow I managed to pull off the big upset proving yet again that my sprinting prowess is only evident after many kilometres of racing (however, we won’t talk about how many minutes my competitor beat me by the day before). How is this better than one 53km? For this weekend warrior at least, racing 29km is still a race while racing 53km would be more like aggressively touring with a bib. Enough said.

Just a few numbers

What is a theory without some well-collected data? After a very rigorous and scientifically sound study, it was found that there is definitely more climbing in two 29kms than in one 53km. Having to climb 500m (2 x 250m) versus 350m hardly seems a contest, “proving” that two 29kms are obviously harder than one 53km. Probably all this really proves is that at least one person (ie. me) looked at the course profile maps. More numbers I can throw at you? 2 x 29km = almost 60km while 1 x 53km still only equals 53km. Yet all experience too many racers on Trail 15 which starts to resemble Champlain Bridge during rush hour.

As a good scientist; however, I have to draw your attention to one confounding variable in this analysis: that one night’s rest between the two 29kms. That night of rest where your arms are letting you know you did too much double poling, where your hip flexors are screaming for a couple of weeks off, and where you stayed up too late debating what wax to use in response to the ever-fluctuating weather forecast. But maybe that was just me?

In all seriousness..

In reality, comparing two 29kms to one 53km is probably like comparing apples to oranges: both fruits, but different enough to have fierce fans of each (I’m an apple person myself). Until I subject myself to the rigours of a 53km (and no, I have no aspirations to try two 53kms), I can hardly be considered an expert for this comparison. Unfortunately, my surprisingly successful results this year (perhaps due to some hard mid-week workouts?) are practically guaranteeing my registration for both 29km events next year, so the 53km will have to wait. Until I collect more data, I look to my esteemed colleagues to provide food for thought on this debate.

In a final promotion of the 29kms double, I would like to say that I highly recommend the challenge: you get to race both classic and skating in the company of an elite few crazy enough to appreciate the beauty and grace of the less infamous Gatineau Loppet double.

Interesting Reading. . .
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