Saturday, 17 September 2016

Défi 2016: under new direction


After last year's Défi Amical, four young skaters took upon themselves the organization of the Défi. They created a new web site called Défi 128km. They took two very good decisions: first, to bring the Défi from October to September; and second, to move the start time from 6 am to 7 am. Two huge improvements.

The temperature was much better, hanging around 20 degrees Celsius (in previous years we got even negative temperatures!). And the fact that we had one hour more to sleep really helped.

For the first time I could go to the Défi by metro, which is a nice change. I arrived there at the Verdun Auditorium at 6h30, with plenty of time to get ready for the 7 o'clock start.

As I had been the first to register, I got assigned the number 1. Later on I would comment with one of the volunteers: "I'm the fastest on the registration and the slowest on the course"... :-)

We were only nine participants, eight men and one woman (one of the organizers). I knew they were all faster than me, so last place was a given for me from the start.

Phase 1

At 7 am the organizer gave the go ahead and we went off. He told us that he had painted a sign on the pavement at every 10K to indicate to the skaters how much they had already covered. I did a quick mental calculation and saw that I should pass each 10K mark in 40/45 minutes if I wanted to finish around 9h. To my surprise, when I passed the 10K mark it was only 7h32, I was going considerably faster than I thought.

For a few kilometers I passed one of the other skaters, so for a very short time I wasn't last. But soon he passed me and I never saw him again.

When I passed the 20K mark, another 32 minutes had gone by, so I was keeping my speed, I was quite happy.

Around km 26 I met the first volunteers at the end of phase 1. I sat down to rest a bit, they gave me water, which I added to my CamelBak. I took off my jacket and they offered to take it to the finish line for me. That helped quite a bit, I didn't have to carry it the rest of the day.

Phase 2

In phase 2 I started slowing down already. The day was still great, sunny, the best conditions ever for a Défi, but my legs started feeling the lack of training. This year I devoted most of my time to running and didn't take care of the skating. Today I was paying the price for that mistake.

I arrived at the end of phase 2 at 9h50, one of my best times in all my Défis. There were two volunteers there, I sat down in their chair and rested for a good ten minutes. The feet were already hurting, despite the second skin and the cloth band around my lower legs.

Phase 3

I had gone just a few kilometers on the Pierrefonds boulevard when I got a bad case of cramps in my left leg. I had to "walk" for a few minutes, not putting much effort on the bad leg. Fortunately, the problem went away the same way it came in and I could resume normal skating again.

Many parts of Gouin were under construction, with just one lane for the cars. Therefore, I was forced to skate on the sidewalk, which was not always easy. The streets may be badly kept, but the sidewalks are even worse...

I was already having problems of my own, my legs were getting really tired, and the bad sidewalks didn't help at all. I started sweating cold, I was having a bad day and began thinking about giving up.

I stopped under the bridge of highway 13 and ate some pickles that I had brought with me. The salt and the acidity of the pickles gave me the boost necessary to continue a bit more.

The rest of phase 3 was quite uneventful. One good thing that I noticed was that there were practically no leaves nor branches on the bike path. On previous Défis they had been a big nuisance, but this year, because we were doing it a month earlier, they were not a problem. That helped a lot.

Phase 4

I arrived at the end of section 3 at 12h15, a full hour behind the last group of skaters. I sat down on the volunteer's chair and had my longest pause of the day, fifteen minutes to have my lunch.

After this point I had to stop every five to seven kilometers to rest a few minutes. My skating was suffering a lot, just going forward was hard enough. Fortunately this is the shortest section of the Défi, it didn't take as long as the other ones.

There was heavy construction on Gouin, it was completely closed at a certain point. I had to take the parallel road for a few minutes in order to get back where I wanted to go.

Phase 5

For this year they moved the end of phase 4 some 500m from its usual location. The volunteer was there with his car, I could stop and sit down for a while.

Soon after I left him, I hit a gravel patch and a small pebble lodged itself in my right skate and I could not continue. I had to sit down, take off the skate and force the pebble out.

As it is usually the case, this was the slowest section for me. My lower legs were really hurting, I could barely continue. I stopped four or five times in this section.

At 16h20 a light rain started. The pavement got wet, but that didn't affect me much. I was already going so slow that the wet pavement didn't hinder me at all.

I had agreed with my wife that she would go to the Verdun Auditorium around 5 pm to get me back home. We met by chance on Berry, we exchanged a few words and we both continued our way to the auditorium.

The rain returned in force and now it was really pouring. On Wellington I had some close encounters with a few angry drivers, so I had to go to the sidewalk a bit more.

It was 17h23 when I finally arrived at the finish line. Pascal, one of the organizers, was there waiting for me with my medal. The poor guy had waited for two hours for me...


The last Défi always feels like the worst ever because it is the one that we remember the most, but this one was particularly hard on my feet, even with all the precautions I took.

I also didn't like the fact that I made the volunteers wait hours for me. Everybody was absolutely great, super nice, they all told me not to worry, that the Défi is not a speed contest and all that, but I know that if it wasn't for me, everybody could have gone home a lot earlier, so I feel bad about it. So bad that I mentioned to my wife that this may have been my last Défi; I don't want to repeat this kind of experience again. The Défi is already hard enough without me having to worry about the volunteers.

For next year I'll wait to do my registration. If I see that there are only a few participants and they are all much faster than me, I won't bother. Or I may tell the organizers upfront not to wait for me after section 3. I can get my medal by mail later... :-(