My First Défi - Valdir Jorge



Part I: Preparing for it

I first read about the Défi in the Gazette last year. However, it was already September and there was no way I would be able to prepare myself for such a challenge in just one month. I'm not a very endowed skater and I had never skated for more than two hours in a row, so I let it pass, without thinking about it for the next six months.

But then the snow was gone in May and the idea of doing the Défi came back to me. Now I would have enough time to prepare both physically and mentally for such a grueling event! The first task was to read all of Rod's very instructive web site. When I read the skater reports commenting on the non-stop rain and winds they had had in 2002, I thought "it was a good thing I let it pass, I would never have been able to do it in those conditions". And I started wishing for a warm and dry day for the third Saturday of October...

Next in line was to get to know the path. I did this survey mostly by bike during the months of May and June. As I live near the second half of section 5, I got to know that section quite well, but I also visited all other sections.

Anyway, by the end of June I knew the path and I thought I was mentally prepared to do it. Now I had to prepare physically for it, so I started skating longer than usual. And I also started going to work on my bike in August, taking the bike path through part of section 5.

At the end of August my wife told me that she was willing to accompany me in our car to provide me with the water, food and clothing that I would need on the day. What great news! I had been doing all my skating with a backpack to carry my things and it slowed me down considerably. After long stretches it seemed to weigh a ton, so my wife's offer was really very welcome.

So, we got to go through the entire path, but this time by car to decide on which spots she would stop and wait for me. Other than the five official checkpoints, we also decided to have one stop at the mid-points of every section except the first. So we prepared a map for her with indications of mileage, time I expected to reach them, etc. After going through the path twice, we knew we were ready.

Unfortunately, the end of August also brought a forced halt to my skating: in one of my outings I went over a manhole cover, fell down and hurt my tailbone. I could barely walk, let alone skate, for more than two weeks.

When I was able to skate again, it started raining every weekend, so I couldn't do much training in the last weeks leading to the big event. But I was ready. Or so I thought...


Part II: Doing it

So the big day came! I woke up at 4 am to get ready, we left home at 5h10 and were at the Auditorium a little before 5h40. Just enough time to do a little bit of stretching, put on my skates and all my protective gear (let me tell you, having fallen as many times as I did during my training, I knew I would need it...), do some warm up skating and go to the starting line.

What a feeling to be there, minutes before the start with all those skaters! It's just indescribable! The organizer talked to us in those last few minutes, asking us to start gently to avoid accidents. When he asked who was doing the Défi for the first time, I didn't see too many arms showing up...

Anyway, 6 am came, we did the 10-second countdown and off we went. It was dark, the lights on the park didn't help too much, but it was an incredible feeling to be there in the dark with so many people starting a skating marathon.

Since the beginning of my training my goal was just to finish the Défi, the total time was not important. Twelve hours you say is the limit? Very well, I'll be happy if I can do it in 11h59! Therefore I had set very achievable goals for each section: 1h50 for each of the first two, 2h20 for the third, twenty minutes lunch break, two hours for the fourth section and 3h30 for the last one.

The first section went without much stress, I was skating faster than I expected and when I met my wife at the first checkpoint, she told me that I had done it in just under 1h30, so I had gained twenty minutes on my schedule, I was very happy with myself.

A few kilometers before the end of section 1 I met skater number 133 [Sylvain Bourdon] and his wife for the first time. She was on a bike, carrying their things, and she followed him all the grueling way. As they were going at basically the same speed that I was, we went together for the next twenty kilometers or so.

But then came Senneville. And the light drizzle. And the hill. Talk about reality check... I couldn't handle the uphill, I had to stop twice on the way up, it was just too much for me. But downhill proved to be even worse. As I started gaining speed I knew I would fall, there was no way I could handle all that speed. And after two thirds of the downhill, it finally happened, I went crashing down like a rock. I was well protected so I only got some minor scratches and light bruises. I stayed on the ground for a while, let a few skaters pass me assuring them that I was all right and then I got up, composed myself and took to the road again.

Whoever got the idea of skating through that next part of the Senneville Road? The Défi manual says "the road is very rough". Talk about understatement! That is just plain unskatable! What a nightmare it was...

Anyway, somehow I survived all that and got to checkpoint number 2 in Pierrefonds at 9h20, still twenty minutes ahead of my scheduled time. Here I changed my jacket for a lighter one as it wasn't as cold anymore. My wife helped me transfer my numbers from one jacket to the other (note for next year: apply the numbers to the pants to avoid all this hassle!) and off I went.

I knew that section 3 would be longer than the first two and I was also getting the first symptoms of fatigue, my legs were sending hints that cramps were on the way, the muscles started behaving strangely, I felt like they were twitching and turning inside my legs.

But somehow I got on. Through Pierrefonds Boulevard, which seemed like it would never end, then Gouin and Lalande and Gouin again, to finally meet my wife at the mid-point of the section, a little after the bridge of Highway 13. I met her ten minutes ahead of schedule but I was so utterly tired and sore that I had to lay down in the car for the next ten minutes. After this rest and the first of four Tylenols of the day, I got up and went, knowing very well that all the extra time that I had gained in the morning had just vanished.

The second half of section 3 was almost uneventful, just long stretches of lone skating. For the slowest ones like myself, the Défi is almost invariably a lone affair. After the first fifty kilometers or so, I rarely passed or was passed by other skaters, I was just skating on my own, which can be a bit depressing.

Two or three kilometers before Île de la Visitation I was passed by Sylvain and his wife. They saw that I was limping ahead and gave me words of encouragement. She also told me that it was already 11h40 and reminded me that the checkpoint was at twelve under the Pie IX bridge, so I had only twenty minutes to do it. I thanked them and away they went.

Getting to see the Pie IX bridge after a curve in Gouin was like a miracle. When I finally got there, Sylvain and his wife were there, they told me the time: 11h56! I had barely made it!

I skated a bit more and met my wife at a little park two kilometers after the Pie IX checkpoint. There I had my lunch break and rested for twenty minutes. We exchanged stories about the Défi so far and by 12h30 I was again on my feet and going, rather slow, to continue on section 4.

This section is the shortest one but the tiredness had set in, I was skating badly and I knew it. Nonetheless, I reached the end of section 4 at 2 pm, half an hour before my schedule. However I had to sit down in the car for more than ten minutes to recover from the effort so far.

Sylvain and his wife were also at the end of section 4 when I arrived. According to my wife he was limping badly when they got there, he had sat down in a bus shelter and hadn't moved for more than five minutes, he seemed to be in bad shape.

At 14h15 I went on to tackle section 5. I met Sylvain and his wife (who had left a few minutes before me) after a few kilometers. She said that his feet were badly hurt, he could barely skate. I stayed with them for a minute or two and then I went on.

I met my wife for the last time before the end at the Bellerive park, took my fourth and last Tylenol of the day and kept skating. It was 15h20, I had just fifteen kilometers to go and more than two hours and a half to finish, so I knew I could do it. The problem is, at this point the pain in my feet and legs was so excruciating that I couldn't skate anymore, I was basically "walking with skates". It took me two hours to cover those last fifteen kilometers!

On René Lévesque I met two 13-year old girls, numbers 124 [Mélissa Vézina] and 125 [Valérie Lelotte], sitting on the sidewalk. They asked me if I knew how many kilometers they still had to go. When I said "five to seven", they jumped and said to each other "just seven kilometers? Let's do it!". We went together for a minute or so but then I got ahead of them because of a street light and I didn't see them again until the end.

At the Old Port I sat down, I was beyond being tired. At exactly that moment my daughter showed up to say some words of encouragement! My wife was in the car nearby, they would be waiting for me at the finish line.

Getting to Wellington Street was such a relief, I knew that the Auditorium was less than three kilometers away. The sight of the Canadian Tire store marking the last kilometer almost brought tears to my eyes.

In the end I got to the finish line at 5h23 pm, with a total time of 11h23. Pretty good for someone who was just looking at finishing it, even if it took all the twelve hours.

As I got off my skates and protective equipment, the two thirteen year olds arrived with another skater [Benoît Beaupré]. While I was going home through Wellington Street, I saw one other skater limping towards the Auditorium. I don't know if number 133 got to finish the race, I hope he was ok in the end... [Ed: He passed you somewhere in those last 15 km.]


Part III: Words of thanks

Well, that is it, this is my report on my first Défi. I would like to thank Robert Fortier and his volunteers for all the cheers and encouragement along the way and all the hard work they put into bringing this event to life. Warm thanks also go to Rod for keeping such a wonderful web site, it really helped me a lot. I thank also my fellow skater Sylvain Bourdon and his wife, it was good to see a "familiar" face every twenty kilometers or so. But my biggest thanks go to my wife for being there every step of the way. Without her I just could not have done it.

Valdir Jorge, #88