Défi de L'Île de Montréal
128 km on inline skates
Let me start off with a message to anyone who's never done the Defi and is feeling intimidated, by saying that I've never been nor had the desire to be a good long distance performer in any discipline. Although I am active and still pretty young, I've only been getting into endurance training only recently.
It was only 5 weeks before the event that I even heard about the Défi, when an article in the Gazette caught my eye. Somehow, the idea of skating with a bunch of delirious skaters for 128km sounded sadistically interesting to me even though I usually don't go blading more than 4-5 times a year. Curiosity brought to me to Rod's excellent website, a wealth of useful information and tips, that further fueled my desire to participate. I had just started doing runs on Mt. Royal as part of conditioning for hockey and decided to throw in some long skating sessions on weekends to see how I would fare. I still have my first and only skates that I bought over 2 years ago and found that they did the job on my first two training runs of 40km and 60km out on the Gilles-Villeneuve track. It was then that I decided to register for the race, with the goal of finishing under eight hours, and continued my training until the last week, when I made sure I was well rested and loaded up on carbohydrates. I changed my wheels (never rotated!) from 76mm to 80mm/82A, as well as my bearings (never cleaned!) which I bought from Kinecor, an industrial parts wholesaler that charged me $20 for the bearings instead of the ridiculous prices at sports stores.
Despite waking up at 4:40 am on the day of the race, I managed to miss the 6:00 am start and began five minutes behind everybody, largely due to the fact that I got lost on my way to the Verdun Auditorium and had to deal with a small lineup at the parking lot. So I hopped into my skates and started off without any benefit of a warmup or stretch. And oh yeah, it was raining. I quickly discovered how many things become slippery when wet: wood bridges, leaves, and even the paint used to mark the lanes or crosswalks on the asphalt. I dressed much warmer than usual with layers that could come off easily -- let me just say they never came off. With the prospect of being in wet conditions for very long stretches, I wore my Gore-Tex hiking jacket over my fleece at the expense of aerodynamics and a bit more weight, well aware that humidity in cold weather is really what makes the difference.
It wasn't long before I caught up to some skaters and met a fantastic couple by the names of Jocelyn and Stéphanie who were going at a good clip. I had made up my time after the first section but unfortunately had to leave J&S behind. For most of section 2 I skated with a man, his nephew, and another woman (in jeans & a leather jacket!) who were excellent company, but my foggy memory doesn't allow me to remember their names. I was going along pretty merrily despite the rain until I hit that god-awful hill in Senneville followed by asphalt that looked like it was used as bombing practice for Afghanistan. I started catching up to some more people along the way, wishing them well as I passed by and usually getting a grunt and a smile of camaraderie as a reply. As I left the farmlands and hit Pierrefonds boulevard in section 3, some of the organizers (Robert?) in a dry cozy van drove by and started videotaping me. My left foot started to hurt, and doubts were beginning to cloud my mind, but about an hour later either the cause of my pain disappeared or my foot went numb; I couldn't really tell.
Despite being horribly demoralized by the prospect of still having two thirds of the way to go, I just kept blading on and hit Gouin boulevard at roughly the halfway mark. A bit further on, I reached Pie IX bridge at section 4 where I met my friend and saviour Paxton who agreed to bike with me for the last 50km of the course in the rain. I have to say that it was a heck of a thing to do for a friend, and finishing the race would have been many times more difficult without him there. A little bit later, we rounded the eastern tip of the island at Pointe-aux-Trembles in section 5, right on pace to finish in good time. ...Only to head straight into 20-30km/h winds.
That was also when I ran out of Gatorade in my Camelbak. Although I still had an extra bottle in my bag, taking it out every time was such a hassle that I stopped drinking and eating, figuring that I would have enough left for the last two hours. Big mistake. By the time I was on the "lovely" Notre Dame boulevard at around the Olympic Stadium, I got completely exhausted and would have been quite happy to just lie down on the ground in the mud and rain. I finally resigned to a little piss break, scarfed down an entire energy bar, and drank most of what I had left. Another skater passed me at that point, and I made up my mind to try to keep with her. As I reached downtown, I felt my strength return and by the time I got to the Old Port, I could sense the finish coming close and gave it everything I had left with Paxton cheering me on. I finished just behind the skater that I wanted to keep up with, who turned out to be Sue Hayward, the person responsible for the appearance of the article in the Gazette and ultimately how I even got to participate in the Defi!
My final time: 8 hours, 17 minutes (8:12 if you deduct the 5 minutes I lost at the beginning). I'm quite happy with my standing, although a little disappointed that I was so close to finishing under 8 hours for the gold medal but not quite making it. But what's really important is the satisfaction of completing something I would have usually deemed utterly absurd and taking that stand for myself in the event, complete with the rain and cold. I think the people who were determined to stick it out in the rain, cold, and eventual darkness despite being behind the 12 hour cutoff deserve extra recognition. Much respect!
Thank you Rod for setting up and maintaining such a great website that really brings the event to everyone.
Thanks to Sue; I've never spoken to you but I owe you big for bringing the Défi into my life.
A huge thanks to my buddy Paxton for making sure I never even thought about giving up.
And the biggest thanks go to Robert and his gang of volunteers for giving me the opportunity to measure and define myself against such a rewarding challenge.