Before the start  

During the race  
Food & Drink  
Pace yourself  

After the finish  

What if it rains?  

Tips for race-day (2)

Updated November 25, 2003

During the race...


 During the race -- Food and drink 

As soon as the race is under way, remind yourself to start drinking soon -- small quantities, often. If at any point you realize that you're thirsty, WAKE UP: that's a signal that you haven't been drinking enough, and though you may not know it, your muscles are already suffering. Although water is good, sports drink is better (provided you've used it in training); the carbohydrates and electrolytes in it will increase the rate of fluid absorption, and the salt will help you retain that fluid instead of losing it quickly as urine. Pay attention to your fluid supply. Whenever you approach a checkpoint, check whether it's time for a refill; can you definitely get to the next one with what you're carrying? You don't ever want to risk dehydration, and refilling at a checkpoint is the most convenient option there is.

As with water, so with food: you should consume small quantities often, starting within half an hour after the race begins. Exercise represses appetite, so unless you're taking all of your calories in fluid form (as Cytomax or Hydrafuel, for example), you'll need to remind yourself to nibble even when you're not hungry. Try to get most of your racing calories from easily-digested complex carbohydrates, as opposed to fat and protein. The Sports Nutrition section of recommends consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour, representing 120-140 calories. (This seems more realistic than another recommendation I've seen, to take 100 grams carbohydrate for 400 calories per hour.)

Even if you plan on taking the Défi at a relaxed pace, stopping once or twice for a rest and a meal, you should consider adjusting your food plans so that you nibble throughout the race (a few mouthfuls every 15 minutes, say). If you skate for three or four hours straight without eating anything, you will arrive at your rest point much more tired than you need to be, and won't begin to benefit from your meal until much later.



 During the race -- Race-plan 

You don't have to be an elite speedskater to have a race-plan. A race-plan is sort of a map of what you think you can and should do. It might be as simple as planning to stop at one or two places in particular, for rest, food, or refills. If you've got that set in your head, and have figured out the landmarks from the Course Guide, you'll have a greater sense of controlling your own destiny, and will be less likely to stop too often or to miss the ideal location for a pit-stop. A plan can also include things like: "I'll start with my jacket on, unzip when I get warm, and take it off and stash it before I get hot." Without such mental preparation it's easy to get caught up in the excitement and not do something when you should.

A more advanced sort of race-plan would be a list of projected arrival-times at each checkpoint. For this kind of plan, be realistic! Allow for the fact that not only will you be skating further than you've ever gone before, but you'll also spend a fair amount of time on slow surfaces or skating against the wind, not to mention down-time at intersections and rests. Take your training speed over 60 km, say, and calculate from that a comfortable time for 20 km; then add 10 or 15 minutes. Use that figure to project a time for each section: both the amount of time it should take, and when you should arrive at the checkpoint. Print this plan in LARGE CHARACTERS on a small card, and carry it somewhere convenient so you can check it out while skating. This plan assumes that you'll maintain a rock-steady constant speed, which you won't -- the varying conditions make that impossible, even if you never got tired! Consulting the plan as the race unfolds will give you a sense of understanding: instead of getting lost in a stroke-after-stroke eternity, you'll see how time is passing and how you're getting along. If at the end you actually achieve your projected time, or even beat it, you'll feel an extra sense of accomplishment. If on the contrary your plan was wildly unrealistic, that too is useful: it will help you do better next time, and you'll know yourself better.



 During the race -- Pace yourself 

Pace yourself: those magic words are most important exactly when? At the start, my friend! Take your time, take your time, take your time: if you make this your mantra while you wait for the starting gun, and obey it, you'll have a much better time for the whole rest of the day. Let the speedsters disappear into the remaining hour of night. Let the idiots rush past. (Okay, no one who does the Défi is an idiot, but all of us skaters do idiotic things now and then, so among ourselves it's all right to say: each year at the start, some of us are idiots.)

Look at it logically: you've got a whole lot of hours of skating in front of you. If you start too fast, sooner than you expect you'll begin slowing down, and for most of the way you'll be a whole lot slower than you could have been. Suppose over the first two sections you go 20 minutes faster than you should have. For the total remaining distance you'll be slower by an hour at least, probably more. When you consider the total distance of the Défi, the total length of time you'll spend out there, you can see that a tiny, tiny difference in your average speed will make an enormous difference in your finishing time.

Start slow, work into a pace you can maintain steadily. As the hours go by you'll catch up with many skaters who weren't so prudent; and you'll pass them.



 During the race -- Garbage 

If you plan on eating as you skate, plan too on carrying your garbage until you come to a convenient place to dispose of it (if necessary, till the end). Energy-bar wrappers, gu-packs and so on, even small water bottles, are easily tucked up a sleeve or into your tights. Please don't drop your garbage along the course! Besides the bad karma it will bring, you'll annoy the local residents and generate complaints about the Défi.


Before the start Ü Þ After the finish