Défi de L'Île de Montréal
128 km on inline skates
I felt I was motivated for this year's Défi. After all, I had done many weeks this summer of up to 12 or more hours per week. Three consecutive days of 3 to 4 hours. The morning of the Défi, I was up early enough to arrive before 5:15. I had my Salomon extended-chassis Elite blades well worked in and comfortable. Although a little cold at this hour, I was encouraged by the lack of strong winds. Even though at 59 I was 2 years older than for my first Défi, I still felt in good shape.
As happened two years ago, much of the field passed me early on in Section 1. I was not discouraged, as I had done the first section last week as a trial, and had done 1:35 at a good pace for me. I met up with a small number of individuals and one couple whom I passed, and later was repassed by them. At least they looked familiar! I didn't feel too great when the two young female participants passed me.
Then came Section 2, and the slippery moist surface mixed with fine layers of earth residue from construction. And to make matters worse, I felt a calf cramp just when I arrived at Ste-Anne de Bellevue. It just wouldn't leave me. Then as I approached the 'hill' it began to rain, making climbing more slippery, and suddenly both of my quadriceps began to cramp. I couldn't believe it! I almost never have suffered cramps in all my years of blading and here at the Défi I start falling apart.
Since I live in the West Island the poor road surface on Senneville road was no surprise. I struggled on to make my deadline of meeting my son to refill my Camelbak at Pierrefonds and St-Charles at 9:00, but knew I would be half an hour late. I called ahead to warn him. When I finally arrived, I rested for a minute to take off my windbreaker and unzip the bottoms from my cargo pants.
I knew from the cramping of my legs and the lateness of my arrival that I would be breaking no personal records today. I had planned for a second refill at the end of Section 4, but told him not to come, and that I would stop myself to purchase Gatorade at a Dépanneur. I started wondering if I would even have the strength to get that far.
The evening before, when my teenagers asked about the Défi, I told them that if anything, I had perseverance. When I made up my mind to do something, I did it. I guess I was trying to make a point of them never giving up in their endeavors. But here I was, starting to have doubts of my own.
I continued through Section 3, and began to feel a bit better with my jacket off and pant bottoms unzippped. I met up with a group of single skaters, whom I passed but again was passed by a few of them. Through the area of the Saraguay woods near the Albert-Prévost Institue I finally passed the two young girls skating on the other side of the street, arm in arm. I began to chuckle to myself. Here this aging guy passes two teenagers. Was I giddy, or what?
I struggled on with my aching leg muscles, and even felt a bit better when I picked up a bottle of water at the Pie-IX Bridge. The water seemed to diminish the cramping and I started to wonder if the Gatorade was not the cause of the cramps. Upon finally reaching the end of Section 4, I came to the sad realization that I was not going to break my time of two years ago. The first part of Section 5 was not too bad, but all I could think about was the finish line and that no matter what, I would be crossing it. I was passed by someone along the train tracks and then again in Bellerive park by a couple. They left me in the distance. I pulled out the mileage sheet and started counting the kilometers until the finish. All along the section of René-Lévesque, between the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and Berri, I kept on wondering how much longer until Berri and finally the Old Port.
At last, the bridge at the old port, and as I struggled to climb the hill there was Bob Fortier with his video. I lost concentration for a second and almost didn't negotiate that sharp turn after the bridge. I had done this section three times before, since it was the most unfamiliar part of the Défi to me. But at last I made the final turn off of the bike path, following those yellow arrows and then onto Wellington. I knew then that I was going to do it. I always worried about getting lost, but there ahead, I could see the Canadian Tire landmark. Finally onto the bike path, trying to pick up the pace to prove to myself that I still had some semblance of strength.
Then, I looked up and heard that small group cheering me on to the end. I raced past the finish line and came to rest near the end of the Auditorium. I wasn't out of breath, but had to hold onto the parking barriers just to give my legs a rest. A woman came over to ask if I was okay. I thanked her and said that yes I was fine... What was my time? She replied "9:19"... I've had a few days to digest this accomplishment. Of course I couldn't expect to keep up with the elite skaters. I hadn't beaten my previous time. I had even hoped for less than 8 hours. But I couldn't feel disappointed.
There were many positive things. Firstly, just finishing the Défi... a challenge indeed. But when I thought about it... this was the longest time I had ever bladed, virtually without stopping. Nine hours and nineteen non-stop minutes, at the best speed I could accomplish today. After all, the winner just had to skate for a little more than five hours, at his top speed. I showed myself the stamina I had within me. When I tell people about the Défi, they can't believe it. "You skated for more than nine hours, nonstop...? I can't believe it... One hundred and twenty eight kilos, non-stop... you must be crazy."
Most of all, as a father, I was able to show my children that if you have a goal and you are true to this goal, no challenge is too hard to overcome.
As for Robert Fortier and his group of organizers and volunteers, I thank them immensely for all of their hard work and dedication to the 200-plus participants. Mostly, hearing about the Défi has caused me to visit parts of the island of Montreal, and even become familiar with parks along Gouin, Bellerive in Section 5, and even the Lachine Rapids, which believe it or not I had never stopped to visit in my entire life here in Montreal. I found the bike path along the Soulanges Canal and skate there often. Next year I plan to do the trip from La Macaza to Mont-Laurier.
I enjoy the relaxation blading provides me, with my radio, music or talk show... I promised that I would never make my wife a golf widow, but instead I have made her a blading widow. Probably the thing that keeps me going and gives me hope and promise of continuing this great exercise is the motivation of the elderly gentleman (I have been told he's almost 90) whom I often see, bent over with his radio in the crook of his arm, blading in René-Lévesque Park in Lachine.
Hmmmm.... if only I can keep this enjoyment until 90.
My next goal is to lose some weight from my 200-plus pound frame. I figure that if I don't have as much weight to drag around, I might still dream of beating the 8 hour limit.
Saul E. Levine, #40