Report - Yves Letalien



Believe in Yourself: (I can do it!)

OCT 1998. One afternoon, on Wellington, I meet a couple of skaters in their fifties. They've got numbers on their chests and don't seem to be in too much of a hurry. I figure they're coming back from a competition. Nope! These two idiots are finishing the "Défi": 128 km on skates! An extraordinary challenge for (it seems to me) ordinary people! The seed is sown: I'm 42 years old and look about as much like an athlete as they do. I can ice-skate, I push hard; the only thing missing is some inline skates. Just 6 months ago I stopped smoking after 25 years, a 2-pack-a-day man. I cycle a little and I've started swimming courses to try to get my lungs back in shape (totally winded after a single length).

Springtime rolls around, and my sweetheart buys me a pair of second-hand skates. I put away the bicycle for my new means of transport. Now and then I think about the Défi, but I don't know where to find out about it. In June I start running (totally winded after 5 minutes of jogging). I skate regularly (never winded!). In August I manage to run 15K: I'm on cloud nine, dreaming about doing a marathon (42K run on foot). But, I tell myself, marathons are for "young guys", "real athletes", the "élite".

Then I start seeing flyers for the Défi along the trails. I remember those "ordinary old skaters", and sign up! ...and I finish it! From then on I'm initiated, a disciple of Robert Fortier! I've just been exercising for 8 hours straight! So does that make me young or old? Ordinary or extraordinary?

Getting Better: (I can do it fast!)

One thing for sure, the Défi proved that I could do it, and now there's no stopping me. The next summer, I do my first triathlon (a spring: 750m swim, 20K bike, 5K run), along with my first marathon, (42K run), both of them in pretty ordinary times, but I know that just being at the starting line is what makes us champions, heros. I concluded my season with my second Défi, with my good old 4-wheel skates, a little more used now, in an excellent time despite the tough conditions. And 5 minutes after crossing the finishing line, I'm thinking already about how I can do better next year. What's happening to you, old man? Isn't it enough anymore to participate? You don't like seeing 5-wheel skates in front of you? You care about what time you finish in!?

I Can Compete: (equipment won't stop me!)

2001: lots of snow, lots of cross-country skiing, running (never winded), swimming (100 lengths, no problem), I don't stop for winter. Big season ahead all planned: a marathon in Ottawa in May, a triathlon sprint in Verdun, olympic triathlon in Montreal (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), half-marathon in Montreal (21K), a marathon in Toronto, and then the Défi. But Destiny (guided by my ignorance of good training methods) decided otherwise: I trained too much and too hard for Ottawa. Result, injured feet, and I have to give up on doing the Montreal half-marathon and the Toronto marathon. It nearly makes me cry, but I can still do the Défi: my injuries don't prevent me from skating. After the Montreal triathlon, I've got 8 weeks to get ready. I throw myself into my skating: intensity, long distance, sessions with weights on my legs. My aim is to finish in 6:30 on 4 wheels.

Ten days before the start I'm raring to go, but my old skates are hurting me. I find some used felts for $5: when the sales-clerk sees my skates he exclaims, "You're doing the Défi on those things!?" That's when I discover the psychological element of training: the first small blow to my confidence.

A few days later, I'm out skating hard, when another skater passes me and says, "Keep it up!" I accelerate at 95% intensity and realize I couldn't maintain that speed for very long. 10 minutes later I finally catch him: another disciple of Robert Fortier. We talk about the Défi, he tells me about his skates, 4 wheels but with longer frames, almost like speedskates, makes all the difference he says. Oh-oh, another little blow to my confidence.

Final Saturday before the big day. Last long skate: my Camelbak has a hole in it! Better now than during the Défi... I fix it with Krazy Glue and silicone: will it hold up? A third little blow to my confidence.

During the week before the Défi, I reduced my training, and "carbo-loaded" to stock up on energy. Apparently I haven't mastered the process, because on the morning of the Défi I weighed 5 pounds more than usual: fourth little blow to my confidence. [Carbo-loading implies eating more carbohydrate but less fat and protein, so that total calories are the same. A temporary weight gain is normal, because most of it is water. --RW]

5h55, the morning of the big day: there are 5-wheelers everywhere, my legs feel heavy... At least 25 skaters explode in front of me and quickly disappear into the night. Maybe my goal is too optimistic? Soon Mr. Willmot's train catches up to me, and I skate with them for a while: going ahead of them is too hard, I feel like I'm slowing them down; but in back I can't see where I'm going and it's too easy, so I try passing them again. Rod tells me: slow down, the race is young. I follow his advice and they too disappear.

Forget about ambitious goals, Yves, I lean into the breeze, push right, push left, push right... Everything's going fine, I don't pass anyone, nobody passes me (except a late-starting speedster, #53, who passed me so fast it felt like I was standing still).

Senneville, I pass my first skaters, 1, 2, 3, 4, then another after climbing the hill, a few 5-wheelers, nice boost to my morale! I push a little harder. At Lalande Blvd I meet a few more skaters. A cyclist accompanying them tells me our average speed is 20.9 km/h. Autoroute 13, HALF-WAY in 3:03 -- my goal is attainable! From then on I feel like I have wings. With some difficulty I pass a few more skaters. Push hard right Yves, push hard left... Around 102nd Ave. I see 6 skaters far ahead: 2 in royal-blue skinsuits, and Mr. Willmot's train, which stops just when I catch up to them. It's an incredible boost to my morale -- nearly 100K since I'd lost sight of them! Endorphins and adrenaline are running high: the Défi isn't a race? It just became one for me! Even when the train passes me during a break. I pass them again as one of them is lying on the ground stretching his back, and a while later I catch another skater. How far are we from the end? About 15K. He's looking forward to the end. Me too: I dig in, Radio-Canada, Old Montreal, Wellington: a 6th sense tells me the train is catching up to me. Final sprint to the finish: 6:13!!! Six hours and 13 minutes! on 4 wheels!

My feet don't touch the ground. I'm still full of energy. The only thing my body wants to do is keep going: when will we do a Double-Défi, Robert? For the craziest of crazies.

Competition: (coming soon!)

2002: This year I'm 37 (I swear! I'm getting younger!), I'm aiming for 6 hours with my good old 4-wheel skates (is it possible?). The year after when I'm 35, maybe I'll buy a pair of 5-wheelers. But that's another long story!

thanks honey for buying me those skates

Yves Letalien