I have been doing the Défi for fifteen years now, I started in 2003 and have not missed a start ever since (I did miss the finish four times, but at least I tried...). And this year I came to the realization that maybe this is not for me anymore. Don't get me wrong, I still love inline skating and intend to continue rolling for as long as I can, but to subject my body to the torture that is the Défi, I guess the time has come to say "no more!".
On my first Défi I finished with great difficulty in 11h23m. This year, fourteen years later, I finished again with great difficulty in 11h25, so it will probably go downhill from here... During the Défi this year two volunteers (at the end of phases 3 and 4) told me that the important thing was to enjoy yourself while doing it. I didn't have the heart to tell them I was thoroughly not enjoying myself at all. I was in pain, multiple pains, really, so it felt more as a chore than something I would do for pleasure.
I know that pain and blister are part of the Défi experience, but this year it seems that I got a bit too much of them. I have never seen such big blisters on my toes before! And the pain on my lower legs, specially where the skates where grating my skin, were close to unbearable. The heat and the sun's brightness that I got all day long didn't help either.
And now, the proper review of this years Défi...
Phase I: they destroyed the bike path!
I woke up before 5 am, got all my stuff ready and left home at 5h50 to catch the metro at Pie IX. I missed the train by a few seconds, the next one came only ten minutes later, but I had plenty of time.
When I arrived at the Verdun Auditorium I saw that they had totally destroyed the bike path! It was closed off and there was heavy machinery all around. Rocky start we would have... :-)
We were only seven skaters this year, but I got the bib #16; I guess the organizers were reusing the ones that had not been used last year...
I put on my skates and protection, did some warm-up skating and was ready to roll when the organizer called us to the start line. At the seven am mark he rang the bell and off we were...
There was a small patch of gravel connecting the parking lot of the auditorium to the bike path, I was the last one of the seven skaters to cross it and that was a good thing, because I had some problem with it, my skates blocked and I had to put my hand on the floor to avoid a fall. What a good way to start the Défi... :-(
But then everything was fine when I got to the bike path. I even passed one of the skaters (Pierre Lamy, I believe) and joined with Raymond Savard and Eduardo Viadas, we rolled together for a while. Eduardo and I left Raymond behind and after a few minutes more Eduardo had to stop to take off his jacket, so for a few minutes I was in fourth place, with three skaters ahead of me and three behind.
There was a place with some construction where we had to skate on the sidewalk. Eduardo was slower on this one, so I left him behind. Raymond was faster to handle that trick part and put some distance to us.
Later on, when I was alone, I had a little "incident": an old woman in a car absolutely wanted me to go to the sidewalk to pass me and I indicated that she should go around, as going to the sidewalk at that point was not feasible to me. She honked her horn a few times, but there was nothing I could do about it. Eventually she did what everybody else was doing and went around me. Phew!
The first phase was very good, the temperature was still quite bearable, the skating was easy, I had no pain at all. The fact of having two other skaters with whom to share the road was also a plus. We went together for a few kilometers, right to the end of phase 1.
My average speed at the end of this phase was 18.8 km/h, pretty good for me.
Phase 2: nobody at the end!
After passing the end of the first phase Eduardo and Raymond left me behind, I was already starting to feel the heat and the pain the skates were beginning to create in my lower legs. But the skate was still good nonetheless.
At Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue I passed Eduardo, who had stopped to rest a bit. Then I stopped right before the
Senneville hill and he passed me back. We kept doing this a few times during the early part of the day.
The hill was not so bad, the downhill right after I could also manage (I'm always afraid of falling there like I did on my first Défi); the day was beginning to warm up, but it was still manageable. I started feeling the skates grate against my skin and I knew what was coming, nut for now it was still good.
Things started to fall apart close to the end of phase 2, around 10 am. The heat increased, the sun brightness was on my face the entire time, the grating on lower legs got to a point where it was starting to annoy me.
I did not find anyone at the end of phase 2 (Avenue du Château Pierrefonds with Boulevard Pierrefonds), there was no volunteer in sight. I thought that maybe they were at the other location, further north, that had not been used in the last three or four years.
My average speed for this phase had been 15.6 km/h, which brought my overall average to 17.1 km/h, still good.
Phase 3: things get rough
I stopped at a gas station two kilometers after the end of phase 2, took out my skates and applied second skin to four places in my legs that were causing me pain. I also rested a bit from the heat. And I continued, slower than before.
And I had to start making stops in the shadow every ten kilometers or so in order not to overheat.
We met some construction at the end of the Pierrefonds boulevard, but that actually helped, because it closed the end of the boulevard to the cars, so I could skate in all security in the middle of the street for a short stretch.
The beginning of the Gouin boulevard was too dangerous, I skated mostly on the sidewalk, the cars were going way too fast, way too close to the sidewalk, there was no point in trying to skate on the street. Also, because of the construction everywhere, I didn't even try to get to the Lalande boulevard, which in previous years had provided some shelter from the speeding cars on Gouin.
I stopped under the bridge of road 13 for another session of cooling down. Eduardo passed me one last time. I never saw him again for the rest of the day.
The heat was starting to get me delirious. I would be skating and would get sleepy, I just wanted to stop and have a nap.
I reached the end of phase 3 at 12h25. Another skater (Guillaume, I believe) was ready to go, so I took his place at the chair. I stayed for at least twenty minutes. The volunteer there was such a nice lady, her name is Pierra and she is an instructor at the VLR Club. She offered me water, juice, even a cold compress.
My average speed for this phase was 12 km/h, which brought my overall average to 13.9 km/h, which was already looking bad. I only had less than fifty kilometers to go, but it was not looking pretty...
Phase 4: Pain all the way
I was going slow, but even at this easier level I was suffering. I had to stop many times to let the heat go away. One of these stops was at a ice-cream place on Gouin. It wasn't the best ice cream I ever had, but considering the heat outside, it was very welcome.
Not much else to report on this phase other than that the heat by now was just killing me. I was so pleased to get to the end of it and find another very helpful volunteer with some cold water and juice for me.
My average speed for this phase was 10 km/h, which brought my overall average to 12.6 km/h. I knew the last thirty kilometers would be awful and I was not disappointed...
Phase 5: I'm going to finish this, no matter what
By this point I had already decided that this would be my final Défi (even before seeing the giant blisters and all), so my only thought was to finish, no matter what.
I did not take the 81st street because it was under construction. I continued on the shoulder area of the Sherbooke street. There was a nice long stretch there that it is not marked as a bike path bu may well become one in the future. I went through it for quite a while and when it finished I turned left to try and find the bike path that I was supposed to be on.
I did not find it right away, but I found a newly renovated street called Montigny that was very nice to skate on. I followed it for a while, until that one also got some construction. I turned here and there and soon I was lost. I knew more or less the general direction I should go, but after so many turns I was not sure I was in the right path.
I don't know exactly what I did, but I somehow ended up on Notre Dame, where I was supposed to be and continued through the path that is so well known to me from so many other Défis. By now I was stopping at every five kilometers to hide from the sun and rest a little bit.
Pierre Lamy passed me somewhere around km 115. I was having another stop to rest from the heat, I just waved him good luck. I got up soon after that but I never saw him again. I knew he was suffering too, but not as bad as me, it seemed.
After a final stop in the old port where I almost fell asleep, I finally arrived at the Verdun auditorium at 18h25 for a total time of 11h25, one of my worst times ever in a Défi.
My average speed for this phase was 8.2 km/h, which brought my final average to 11.2 km/h.
Pascal and Olivier were there to greet me, they even had a folding chair for me to sit on. Here is the medal that I received:
And the reverse of the medal showing my time:
I took out all my equipment, put my shoes back on, confirmed that I was still able to walk (difficult at the beginning), thanked them for all their patience and went home slowly, very slowly.
My wife was waiting for me because the organizers had called home short after 6 pm to see if I was still going to finish, so she was a bit worried about me.
I took a bath, I saw my gigantic blisters, drank a beer and rested a bit. Details of my blisters here (sorry if you are squeamish...):
My wife told me that the Montreal marathon (that was supposed to happened the following day) had been cancelled due to the heat that was hitting the city. Maybe the Défi organizers should also consider postponing the event in case of extreme weather like we had this year...