Saturday, 19 October 2013

Défi 2013: I still got a silver medal!

This year, a special feature for the TL;DR crowd: the really important parts appear in this font, while the rest of the text is in a lighter colour, so that you can quickly skip to the good parts.

0. Pre-Race: where I twist my ankle

On August 25th I went out to watch the first edition of the Lachine Canal Half Marathon. I was considering doing it next year if I saw that the event was well organized. I went on rollerblades...

Everything was fine until I hit the green bridge near the Dollard avenue, less than two kilometers from the place where the half marathon was happening. This green bridge has a very nasty turn, it's 180 degrees and it goes down two meters or more.

I tried to do that turn and it did not turn out too well. I started falling and tried to stop it, I twisted my right ankle pretty badly. 

Long story short: I could not skate for the rest of the season, I had to go for physiotherapy, so I didn't have high hopes for the Défi.

1. Phase 1: where we skate in the dark

This year it was not going to rain during the Défi, so the prospects were good. If my ankle could hold, I would be ok.

My wife and I arrived at the Verdun Auditorium at 5h30 am, I got my race pack and got ready for some real skating.

Even though our bib numbers were in the 60 to 80 range, I don't think I saw more than thirty people at the starting line.

Mr. Fortier did the traditional countdown just before 6 am, my wife and I said goodbye and off we went.

This year I had gotten a small lamp from MEC, it helped me quite a bit in that first hour until the sun came up.

I met a group of three skaters (numbers 69, 70 and 71) and a cyclist and stayed with them for the first twenty minutes or so. Then the girl (it was one woman and three men) had a problem on her skates and I left them behind.

But I was going slow, I didn't want to force my ankle, so they caught up with me by the middle of phase 1, right where we cross the Lachine Canal.

We had to go on the street because the bike path was closed there. I was less than fifty meters ahead of them and I missed the point where we should retake the bike path. The group of skaters shouted to tell me
that and then I wasted a few precious seconds to find how to go back to the path. They took off and I didn't see them anymore for a few hours.

So, by then I was alone, I did the rest of phase 1 by myself. When I got to the end of phase 1, a nice surprise: the volunteer told me it was only 7h33, so I had done the first phase in just 1h33. This is one of my best splits. Considering that I was not forcing the pace because of my ankle, this was a great result so far.

2. Phase 2: where almost nothing happens

Phase 2 was mostly uneventful. Mr. Fortier filmed me a little bit on the Senneville road, asked me if everything was ok and I continued to the hill.

At the end of phase 2 there were three nice volunteers, one of them a very young girl (she couldn't be older than 10) on roller blades. They offered me a chair, so I could rest a bit.

When I took out my left skate to survey the damage so far I got a bad surprise: there was a sizable red stain near the bottom of my sock. I didn't even feel the pain there, considering all the other pains I was feeling around my legs and feet.

Anyway, one of the volunteers helped me with changing my second skin and I could put sock and skate back to continue.

They told me it was 9h05, a very good time to complete phase 2, one of my best actually. Later I learned that many people got a new PB this year at the Défi, the conditions were really great.

3. Phase 3: where dogs attack me and I fall

At the Pierrefonds boulevard I got attacked by a dog. It didn't actually touch me at all, because his owner restrained him at the last possible instant.

Later on, another big dog also came running in my direction and stopped short of hitting me. Several smaller dogs were restrained by their owners while I passed them. Do you guys have experiences like that? What makes the dogs not like rollerblades? Is it the sound of our wheels on the pavement?

I met skaters 69/70/71 at the beginning of the Lalande boulevard, they seemed to be a bit lost. When they saw me continuing through Lalande, they took it, too.

I had to stop again at a park on Lalande to take care of my feet. The pain at this point was past the point of bearable. I used up the rest of my spare second skin. For next year I want a full sock made of thick second skin!

This year there seemed to be more traffic than usual on Gouin. On many spots I had to skate on the side walk, the cars were whizzing by dangerously close to the pedestrian area for me to skate on the road.

At the Parc de la Merci (around km 70 or so) I had my only fall of the day. It was nothing important, but when I tried to stop the fall, the cramps showed up on my left leg and I had to stay down for a while massaging my calf.

At the end of phase 3 I met two nice volunteers (Claudia and Mélissa) who offered me a chair, water, chocolates and even sandwiches! Nicest break of the day, for sure.

They told me it was 11h19, so I was still doing pretty good, all things considered.

4. Phase 4: where I meet a new friend

And then I started the real limping phase. They say the real Défi starts there, under the Pie-IX bridge at the end of phase 3. And it is so true. With almost 80 km of skating behind you, it's really hard to face the next 50 km or so.

At this point the pain in my legs and feet didn't allow me to properly skate, so I was mostly just trying to go forward with minimum effort, which slowed me down considerably.

There was some construction on Gouin, so I had to go up the 52nd or 53rd street and ended up on 3rd street, which is parallel to Gouin. It's wider and much better maintained, so I stayed on it as long as I could and only got back to Gouin when I really had to.

When I was going down on 68th street, I saw a skater passing by on Gouin. We went for a few minutes like this, him ahead of me some fifty meters or so.

He was on the other side of the road, so when he saw me he came to the left side, where there was the bike path and we skated for the next few kilometers exchanging a few words here and there.

When we stopped at the end of phase 4, he told me it was 12h58. There were no volunteers there and no water either. I started worrying about not having enough water to get to Verdun.

5. Phase 5: where two old men limp ahead

Later I learned that my new friend was called Randy. I told him that if he wanted, he could go on ahead, because I would go very slowly in this phase, due to all the pain everywhere.

But he was not in much better shape than I was, so we stuck together for the next three hours. Yes, it took us almost three hours to complete the last thirty kilometers...

We stopped many times along the way to catch our breaths, drink and eat. In one of these times, at the Bellevue park, he let me use his cell phone to call my wife. She thought that I was calling to ask her to get me because I was giving up. She was quite happy when she understood that I was going to finish the whole thing in the next ninety minutes.

Randy and I continued in our struggle, stopping here and there. My wife took this picture of us while we waited for the light to turn green for us.
Our last stop was just at the end of the Comune street. At this point two other skaters caught up with us and we continued for the last four kilometers more or less as a group.

In the final stretch Randy got some distance between us and was the first of the group to arrive at the finish line. The other two skaters also left me a bit behind and finished half a minute or so before me.

When I got to the end my wife was there to greet me and she took pictures of my triumphal arrival. Mr. Fortier told me that my total time was 9h53, good enough for a silver medal.

I was so happy to take off those skates...

And here you can see how utterly tired I was...

Going back home I was completely normal. Last year I had had a weird reaction to the electrolytes and shook pretty badly in the car, scaring my wife and my daughter. This time I just had the usual pains that are part of the Défi.

6. Thanks

Thanks to Mr. Fortier and his team of volunteers who made this Défi a success once more.

Thanks to my wife for all the help. This is our eleventh Défi together, she's always there at the start line (struggling with the cold temperatures) and at the finish line (cheering up for me and taking the last pictures!).

And, finally, thanks to Randy for being there on those last few hours of the Défi. It was quite a nice change to have someone to share the pain and the struggle that are the final kilometers of this madness of ours.

7. A month later...

I've got my medal and my diploma: