Report - MJ Barrett



MJ Barrett skated the Défi in 2001. Almost a year later, with her memories of the event still vivid, she wrote the following:

I finished the event last year and wanted to share my experience with anyone who is considering doing it this year. I had a terrific time and am most thankful for the help I received from Rod Willmot and Robert Fortier and his wife. They were all very helpful to me as it was the first time I had ever entered any kind of race and the first time in Montreal. I am late getting this on Rod's web site, but felt compelled to do so because of the special attention and encouragement I was given by these folks.

Hopefully, my experience will encourage those that are thinking about it to get their registration in and travel arrangements made!

Why I Decided to Blade Montreal

I had heard about the race a few years ago when I discovered that the Athens to Atlanta race was too dangerous (hills) for pleasure skaters which I consider myself to be. I love to roller blade but skate at a nice, leisurely pace so that I can enjoy the sun, wind on my skin, surroundings, etc. i.e. relatively slow. I was delighted at the idea of seeing Montreal and going there just to skate and could not find any other long races on this continent, anyway. I knew I had lots of stamina as I always chose distance over speed when I bladed.

Never mind that I have terrible technique i.e. I blade as if I was a sailboat -- not low and tucked like the professionals. Being a 45 year old woman that had started blading a few years ago, I had never worried about technique as I wanted the harder work out. If I got more efficient, I would just need to blade more, right? I was already putting in one to two hours every few days blading just for fun so to add more miles a couple of days a week to train did not seem like a big thing. I was training in 105-110 degree F temperatures in Phoenix to build up stamina and was doing fine with it according to all the training tips I could find. I would blade every other day from 20 to 30 miles with up to 50 miles once a week so I was pretty confident I could at least finish the race which was my goal. I wanted to take lessons on technique but figured it was too late for them to make much difference for this year anyway.

What better race to start with than the Défi de Montréal on October 20, 2001. I had never bladed with groups, let alone in any type of organized race, so I thought this would be a good one to learn from as the emphasis is not on it being a race.

Of course, most of what I learned was what not to do...

The Skate

To begin:

I had remembered to bring my new wheels so that I could glide through the race, but had forgotten the tools to change them. Thankfully for me, I stayed in the same hotel as Rod, and he rescued me late the night before since I had spent the day "seeing Montreal" rather than getting ready. If Rod hadn't been there I'm not sure what I would have done since the wheels on my skates were very worn. Actually, taking new wheels is not a good idea, anyway, according to Rod, as if it had rained, I would have been hurting.

Since I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, I got up early so that I could drink some hot tea and make sure I could find the starting location. It was dark and chilly. Starting an 80 mile race that started at 6 am, my time should have concerned me a little...

I found the location without any trouble. I found I was quite intimidated, however, as everyone looked pretty darn professional in multi-colored spandex outfits. They were wearing few pads or fanny packs. Here, I had worn old cotton shorts and tee shirt with a thermal sweatshirt jacket that had a hood, and had brought all my pads -- wrist, knee and elbow -- and a water pack and a fanny pack... I was obviously out of my element. These folks looked like they should have been at a real race.

I hadn't gotten my race numbers in the mail before leaving Phoenix so I had to go through the registration process again. Everyone was very gracious and helpful but it did take some time to figure out how to get the numbers pinned on so that they weren't in the way. Also, since I had been training in heat, it hadn't occurred to me that I didn't know how to wear pads with clothes and jackets. I was used to wearing shorts and a sports bra only. Luckily, the old sweatshirt I brought with me had lots of room so that I could wear it over my pads.

I was still trying to get all my stuff on when everyone left right at 6 am, Montreal time. I was at least a half hour late getting started, which wouldn't have been bad except I didn't have anyone to follow and it was too dark to read the map -- which was in French anyway. Given all the hot tea I had drunk before starting it wasn't long before I was looking for rest rooms. A great way to start out!

Once I got going, I felt lost much of the time until I caught up with some other late starters. For a while I knew I was in the right place. Eventually, they stopped and I was suddenly lost. I pulled out the map but it was not of much help so I started looking for the yellow arrows that had been sprayed all along the route, but couldn't find any. I just took my best guess thinking that if I was really lost I would just look for a cab when I got tired and call it a day. Than all of a sudden, a young man came by to let me know I was at the first checkpoint, and should keep going though I was running late. With that encouragement, off I went thinking things were looking pretty good. At the second checkpoint, I stopped where others were lounging around and had a banana and some water. I didn't realize that I was still on my own as I don't think anyone else I saw there continued. Now we were in the city again and of course I realized I was blading in the street with the cars, when I should have been on a bike path on the other side of the street. I thought that made more sense rather than pretending to be a car, so over I went.

After about the third checkpoint, Robert and some of the other folks helping with the race started checking up on me every so often to make sure I was ok. I don't know if it was because I was so far behind or the fact that they knew I had been lost a lot, or if I just looked in terrible shape... Regardless, I really appreciated their efforts to keep me safe and on track.

I roller bladed through some beautiful country that day, on mostly smooth roads. The route takes you right through old town Montreal, which was delightful. By the time I got there though, I was pretty focused on finishing. When I got to the one real hill in town (which I had been warned about), I easily fell on my butt to slow down and than picked my way down gingerly rather than trying to skate. My stopping skills have never been good and by then I was feeling a little tired after skating for hours. The last stretch did seem awful long, but once I made the finish line I felt pretty good. There were several folks there to make sure everyone made it in, though by the time I finished it was late afternoon and a long day for those who had sponsored the event. I hung around with some of the others as several more skaters finished, then headed for the hotel to recuperate. Since I had taken food and water, I didn't really feel bad at all. Even the next day, I didn't feel I had been through any big ordeal, other than my ankles were sore.

What I Learned and Would Do Different

For anyone who has not entered any kind of race/run before, I would encourage you to carefully read all the tips on the website that Rod has created. It was the most helpful to me. If you don't know Montreal, I wouldn't worry much about the maps, as I was told the route changes somewhat from year to year and they do such a good job painting arrows on the street. I would focus on following them and more importantly, trying to stay with a group that has done it before.

I did lots of things wrong which I guess can be expected for someone entering any type of organized event for the first time. So in conclusion, my tips for anyone doing a long race for the first time are to:

My tips regarding things not to do include:

Good luck to everyone participating this year. I know you won't regret it!

MJ Barrett