Report - Bruce Winham



I've got to admit it. This was the most enjoyable inline experience I have had yet.

I started inline skating 4 years ago in order to help reduce my cholesterol level (and my beltline). When I refused to take medication, my doctor recommended that I change my diet and take up a very vigorous aerobic exercise routine. Since my knees protested when I ran and my butt protested when I biked, I decided to try inline skating. I had played hockey in school and was fairly adept at ice skating. Also, my wife of 40 years was also an excellent skater. To make a long story short, we fell in love with inline.

Being very competitive, three years ago I tried the 5K Chris Thater Memorial race in Binghamton, NY, and the 5K in Cromwell, CT. I was very unhappy with the results: I am definitely not a sprinter!! Last year on my 61st birthday, I did the Ottawa Marathon and was quite pleased with my time of 1:58. I then did the Greenland, NH 10K with fair results. This year I repeated Ottawa with the same exact time, did the NYC Central Park Marathon in 1:55 in the pouring rain (which really was enjoyable), and did the Festival de la Santé marathon in 2:05.

On to the Défi! After finding this on the Internet, I was smitten. I had to complete the Défi! I intended to try it in 2002, but a flu bug in September ended that plan. This year my goal (do or die) was to at least try the race. I skated hard several times a week, trying to log at least 50 miles each week throughout the season. My training spot is the Lake George bike trail. This is a very hilly 16 mile course in the lower Adirondack Mountains of New York. There is one two-mile uphill section which I am certain gave me the stamina for the Défi.

The third weekend of October finally came

Friday evening found Millie and me at the pasta dinner in Montreal, visiting with other skaters. The evening was helpful for me, because we had never met other "distance" skaters. Due to our remote location, Millie and I don't get a chance to skate with others very often. My dear wife is not a competitor but has been really great concerning my "Défi obsession." She runs and skates in Glens Falls, NY while I skate on to Lake George to do "my hills." Saturday morning came very early. We stayed in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu so that she could skate and bike on the great canal trail there. Arriving in Verdun about 5 am gave me time to prepare. Talk about luck: another Vermont car parked right next to me. Dileep Netrabile from Burlington and his skating buddy, Henry Busetti from Stowe, were both going to go for it! I had met Dileep at the Montreal marathon in September but had never bumped into him in Vermont. This impressive young lad had just completed the NYC 100K as well as Athens to Atlanta, and was going for the Triple Crown of long distance skates.

The first third of the race went great. I had learned in previous marathons that you must draft to survive. Not knowing anyone traveling the speed I was (and not speaking a lick of French), I just tagged along with anyone that didn't mind. As soon as I reached the hill, I hit my stride. I began to out-distance others and found myself skating solo. When I came to the new housing development with the three gravel sections, I attempted to "rocker" and skate on through. This worked for the first two strips, but on the third I tumbled (thanks for wrist protectors). Despite torn wind-pants and wounded pride, I ventured on. Luckily this was my only mishap in the whole race.

It was in this area that I met a new skating buddy. François Buteau #181 was skating with his friend John Gosselin #28, and he stopped to make sure my mishap wasn't too disastrous. We skated together for the next 20-30 miles. It just so happened that François lived on the route at about the 45-mile point. He graciously invited me to stop at his house for a break. His wife met us as we approached, holding out a big plate of grapefruit sections (Ever see an angel when you need one?). François was having a problem with blisters, so we took the time to remove our skates and I introduced him to "2nd Skin," a wet dressing quite helpful in distance skating. We leisurely re-outfitted and continued our race after a 30-35 minute rest. We were rejuvenated! We started passing the same people we had passed previously. After several miles we caught up to friend John; we all skated together for many more miles.

It was somewhere around 60 miles that we started skating in a small group, but soon the steady pace started taking its toll. François and John decided to stop for a coffee break at a small restaurant. I didn't see them again until the finish line. At this point in the race, I realized that gold was possible. And I owed it to myself to at least give it a try. My determination must have rubbed off on François and John: they both finished in under eight hours!

Section 5 was a real challenge. The surface was very rough on tired feet and the traffic lights were annoying. I had been skating with a group that dwindled down to only two or three. It was because of a young couple that I was able to finish this race and achieve a gold medal. I started drafting Catherine Allard #171 and her partner, Gilles Bouchard #172, and stuck with them like glue through to the finish. Since I am unable to speak French, I was unable to tell them at the finish line just how important it was that they let me tag along. I just hope that they may someday read this.

This race was a great experience! I definitely plan to do it again. I learned from my mistakes:

  1. Although I only needed to stop for one break, resting must be limited to 15 minutes. I became very cold after our long rest and needed 30-45 minutes of skating time to get back in the groove.
  2. Being in a foreign country, not speaking the language, and being unfamiliar with the area, I carried in my pack enough survival gear (including shoes) to last a week in the Arctic! This was about 20 pounds I had no need for. Next year I plan to be much more conservative.

Thanks are definitely in order, starting with my loving wife! To you, Millie -- Thanks, Honey. I could not have accomplished this without your support and patience.

To you Rod -- Your e-mails gave an old man courage to try.

To Rick of Rick's Bike Shop in Queensbury, NY -- Your pacing me on the hills was invaluable. It's tough to skate alone -- bikers rule!! (Especially ones that can compete in the Mt. Washington Hillclimb!!)

To François, John, Catherine, and Gilles -- Your backsides were greatly appreciated. Without drafting you, I'd still be on Notre-Dame looking for the finish line!

To all the Défi organizers and competitors -- Thanks for a great time!!!

Bruce Winham, #115