Report - Mark Sibert



[Click here to see Mark's photos...]


Dave & I flew in Thursday night. The flights were of course delayed, so we got in very late and didn't get to the hotel until after midnight. By the time we got checked in and minimally settled into the room, it was almost 1 am. We stayed in the Hotel Nouveau Forum, which is right next the the Bell Center, where the Montreal Canadiens play hockey. (It used to be called The Forum, which is where the hotel got its name I guess.) Anyway, the hotel is very no-frills. Small rooms, but clean and cheap. It's conveniently located near downtown and is one of the closer hotels to the start of the race. Our room was a bit warm, since the air conditioner didn't work... You wouldn't think you'd need to run the A/C in Montreal in October, but we sure could have used it. Or if we had been able to open a window, that would have probably been more effective anyway... It was also a bit noisy since we were on the side next to a busy street. But otherwise, it was okay... I think I'd do a little more research next time and try to find maybe a slightly nicer place, but I'd stay there again if I couldn't find something else.

We got up Friday morning and it was raining of course. So that ruined our plan of skating the last few kilometers of the course, both to loosen up and to also familiarize ourselves with the end. We had visions of being in the lead pack at the end, and jokingly talked strategy on when we'd attack to drop the pack and skate to victory... All in fun, of course... While I had hopes we'd be in the lead pack the whole race, I figured there would be skaters there strong enough that they'd leave us in the dust at some point... :)

We did drive to the start, so we'd know how to get there in the morning. Then we parked and walked the last bit of the course, which was a bikepath, up to where the route went to the road. There wasn't much more we could check out at that point... Or at least we didn't want to tire ourselves out by walking too much the day before the race, so we got back in the car and got some supplies... Mainly, stuff to clean our bearings, since we knew they'd be getting trashed during the wet race. The forecast didn't look promising -- rain was predicted all weekend, but at least the temperature was going to be somewhat reasonable. So not much chance of hypothermia or anything. Just a bit chilly, kind of like the start of A2A in 2004.

We met Rod for dinner at Giorgio's, which is an AWESOME Italian restaurant. I think that was probably the best meal I had the whole trip. We also met Cheri Diedrich there, who was from Ohio and very nice despite that fact that she was a University of Michigan fan... ;) Rod gave some good advice about preparing for skating in the rain, and soon dinner was over. We went back to the hotel and got our gear ready for tomorrow. Since we had to get up so early, we went to bed at 8:30. We left wakeup calls for 3:50 am, and I set the alarm on my cellphone for 3:45 am.

Of course, it's not easy to fall asleep that early, especially when I'm used to staying up until at least midnight, if not 1am or later... But I was a bit tired from the late night before, and I also had a few beers at dinner. (My top-secret race preparation is 2-3 beers the night before...) Still, I found I had to do some relaxation exercises, and even then it probably took an hour to fall asleep. Then, before I knew it, I heard my cellphone alarm going off. It was a good thing I set the alarm on my cellphone, because we never did get that wakeup call! Cheri got hers fortunately. There were no alarm clocks in the rooms, so if you didn't have your own, and you didn't get a wakeup call, you were screwed...

Getting ready and getting to the start was uneventful. Dave & I met Cheri down in the lobby and drove over to Verdun Auditorium. Fortunately, Dave had the foresight to get some loonies and toonies, as parking was $7 and the little machine that printed the parking stubs only took coins. We went inside and registered, which was quick since we were the first ones there. They were actually still setting up when we arrived, right at 4:30 am.

Once we had our packets, we started to get ready. I choked down another barfit (I ate one on the way from the hotel, since Dave was driving... Barfits [Ed.: a home-made better-than-granola-bar, also called Muff-fits] are my other top-secret race preparation...) I pinned numbers to my Camelbak and shorts, tied fluorescent ribbons to my helmet, and put reflective tape on my rain jacket... I had some Ez-Fit neoprene boot covers, which I put on, then some nylon Bont boot covers over those. The plain black neoprene covers would keep the water out, but looked a little too plain... ;)

Once I had everything on, I dumped anything I wasn't taking back in the car, and skated around the parking lot to warm up... I kept a close eye on the time, since I wanted to be at the start with time to spare. In 2003, I didn't allow enough time and I was adjusting my boots when I heard the countdown start... I scrambled to finish and make my way to the start, but it was too late. The fast skaters were GONE and I was still weaving through the rec skaters trying to get in the open. By the time I was clear, the fast skaters had a 100 meter gap on me. I skated like crazy, but couldn't close the gap -- I was screwed. I eventually slowed down and skated my own pace. The only thing that saved me was the fast skaters were apparently skating a little too recklessly for the police to tolerate and they stopped EVERYONE about an hour into the race! So I was able to catch up to them (they had been stopped for 10-15 minutes already by the time I got there.) After that, I didn't skate in the lead pack, but I was in a good pack for my speed, and that's the only reason I was able to get a good time that year...

So I kept warming up, and with about 10 minutes to go, I decided I was warmed up enough, found Dave, and we made our way over to the start...

The Race

So unlike in 2003, I was ready to go at the start! Dave & I waited at the front of the group, which was maybe 100 skaters total. Someone did a rather long explanation, which was all in French of course, so it wasn't terribly useful to us. Then someone who apparently was responsible for the timing said something that I think meant "2 minutes"... A little more time passed, and the "time" updates came more frequently... Then, like I remember hearing in 2003, something that sounded very much like a countdown started happening. (Of course, it WAS the countdown.) Then suddenly, we were off!

We darted down the trail in the dark, around twists and turns. Visibility was "good enough", despite the early hour. But I was glad to be with skaters that knew where they were going! In 2003, I was unable to navigate the trail by myself, as there were parts that were marked ambiguously (in my opinion.) Now, I didn't even pay attention to where we were going, I just concentrated on staying in the pack. There were maybe 16-20 of us in the lead pack at this point, and I was around 5th place, if I remember correctly.

Occasionally, we'd come to a fork in the path, and there would be a flare about 10 feet down the fork we were supposed to take. It didn't take long for me to get my first French lesson, which consisted of "gauche" and "droite" which of course are "left" and "right". Although I think the French word for "straight" must sound similar to "right", because I got a little confused later in the day. I know in Spanish, they're very similar words, so it wouldn't surprise me if the same was true for French. We were moving along fast enough that we'd get to some of the forks just as they were lighting the flares, and in at least one case we were there before the "flare guy" -- good thing the guy in front knew where we were going! :)

Anyway, the weather was pretty crappy, with it being light rain and a little chilly. I was glad that I decided to put the leg warmers on, as well as the rain jacket and shower cap. No problems with the cold at all... The bike path was a bit slippery, especially the yellow center line that was painted on it. I kept slipping at the end of all my left pushes if I wasn't paying attention and let my skate get onto that paint... The skaters in the front of the pack took really long pulls, I'd say on the order of 5-10 minutes... I had my Garmin 201 set to beep every minute, so the times I got in front, I limited my pulls to 3 minutes, which is still a bit long... After pulling, I'd slip back to around 6th place and step back in the pack. I've decided I get too paranoid if I'm further back in the pack than that, as I don't want to have to work any harder than necessary to chase down people if a gap opens up...

I chatted a bit with one of the guys in the pack (who turned out to be a real workhouse during the day, and a really nice guy)... He asked if I was going to be in the lead pack the whole way, and I said I hoped to... :) He then asked if the pace was okay and I replied it was, and that I liked the speed. So then he said that we'd probably keep this up for a while, and if the pack was still too big, we'd pick up the pace for a bit and try to shrink it... During the day, he would usually be the one to explain things in English to me, when the rest of the pack was talking about which way to go, or if we'd stop at a checkpoint or not.

I've also found that I pay absolutely no attention to what's happening behind me when I'm in the pack. As far as I was concerned, I knew of the 5 or 6 other people that were rotating through the front, and that there was an indeterminate number of people further back in the draft. Dave was somewhere back there, but I didn't know exactly where. My heart rate was in an acceptable range... I think probably around 85%. Not something that's sustainable indefinitely, but not bad for the chaos at the beginning of a race. My skates were feeling really good, and the wheels were probably as grippy as could be expected. So no major issues on the bikepath...

Before too long, we moved off the bikepath onto the road. One thing I did not remember from 2003 was how bad the roads were. The thing that I remember most from 2003 was the "tar snakes" on the road. But it was cold enough that those were not an issue this time. Instead, I think the slippery conditions made the road much more treacherous, and made the bumps seem worse since I wasn't feeling completely stable. I noticed that I was rarely able to "relax" during my glide phase, and my shin muscles were very tense... I attribute this partially to additional stabilization needed for the slippery conditions, and partially to just being uneasy in the slippery conditions. I think that when the roads are dry, the little bumps and manhole covers, and cracks and such aren't nearly as much of an issue. But when the road is wet, they're bad, bad, bad...

I was actually getting a little too warm, between the bandana on my head and the shower cap on my helmet, so I decided to take the bandana off. Not too hard, as I've done it before, and it can be done without even unbuckling the helmet. I went to stuff it into my jersey pocket, though, and dropped it by accident. Damn! I thought, but there was no way I was stopping to get it. As much as I like it, it was gone... It was by Bont bandana, so I figured I'd just get another one from Glenn Koshi when I saw him in a few weeks. But then a couple minutes later, a guy skated up beside me, and had it in his hand! He managed to snag it when it fell... So I thanked him, and made a much more careful effort to put in away without dropping it...

We weren't on the road too long before the first fall happened. (At least the first fall I heard in our pack.) For some reason, I feared it was Dave - probably because I didn't know exactly where he was in the pack. It turned out that it was Dave. What I didn't know was that our pack had split. There were maybe 7 of us in the lead, and a huge gap had opened up that separated the others. Dave explained later that he saw the gap widening and decided it probably would stick (he was right) and made a heroic effort to close the gap. Just as he caught up to the pack, though, he slipped on a manhole cover and went down. When I heard the noise, I looked back to see what happened, and I saw the "other pack" and someone getting up. At that point, I still couldn't tell who it was, but I did know Dave was no longer in our pack. Shortly thereafter, our group of 7 lost sight of the other skaters for the rest of the day.

I had switched my GPS to measure kilometers, to make it easier to follow the directions. After the first hour or so, we had averaged 23.5 kph. I couldn't remember exactly where the checkpoints were supposed to be, but I thought the first two had distances of 17 km and 28 km. (I wasn't sure about which order those distances were though.) In any case, I didn't see anyone with water or anything. I guessed that we were going quickly enough that no one had arrived to set up those checkpoints yet. Fortunately, I had 2 liters of water in the Camelbak, and it was a cool day so I wasn't drinking as much water as I'd normally have to.

I should have followed Rod's advice on waterproofing my boots. I thought the EZ-Fit covers would suffice, but I felt water in my left boot after only 51 minutes. I felt water in my right boot maybe 10-15 minutes later. By 2 hours, both feet were soaked. But it wasn't too bad skating with wet feet. At the end, I had a couple tiny blisters, but really it wasn't bad at all, and the wetness wasn't uncomfortable. Still, dry feet would have been better and I learned later that Dave had dry feet the whole day (until the very end...)

I chatted some more with a couple of the guys in the pack. One of whom pulled up close and pointed out some points of interest, tour-guide style... That was pretty cool... We worked pretty well as a pack. For a while, I was hanging out up front and just the first 3 of us were rotating through. A couple other people decided they wanted some of the fun too, and took the lead for a while. Then we started rotating through the whole pack, which worked well. At that point, I noticed there were six skaters. I was never really sure how big the pack was until I rotated all the way to the back. I didn't dare take my eyes off the road long enough to look back, since you never knew when you'd hit a crack, or a manhole cover, or something else...

There were many close calls along the way, whether it was slipping on a spot on the road, or getting a skate caught in a crack, or a tricky curb, or a wet wooden bridge... There was one time in particular though, that I swear my heart rate must have hit my max. I think my skate got caught into a crack lengthwise and really stuck. I fell onto my other skate and the "stuck" skate came loose rather violently. Fortunately, the skater behind me wasn't too close or I may have accidentally kicked him. Arms flailing, I thought I was going to fall, but fortunately my support skate landed on some good pavement and I recovered my balance. Even though I didn't fall, each one of those stumbles takes a little out of you... I wasn't the only one stumbling, but some of the guys in the pack were definitely more comfortable with the road conditions that I was.

As a side note... A lot of times when I skate, I'll get a tune stuck in my head that repeats over and over and over... Well, this was one of those times... The particular tune was from the recent Family Guy movie. Stewie sings this cheesy song that I suspect is from a Julie Andrews movie, or something similar. It went something like "I have confidence in sunshine... I have confidence in rain... I have confidence that spring will come again... Besides which you see... I have confidence in me!" Anyway, not the most macho thing to have going through your head, but it was oddly comforting I suppose. I had been thinking that at my level, confidence really is something you need to have. It's a bit intimidating to think about trying to stay in the lead pack, but a lot of it is how you perceive yourself. At least for me, I decided that I had to change my perception a bit and believe that the lead pack was something I could do... It was where I was supposed to be, and that anything else would mean I wasn't putting in my full effort. Of course, this is being in the "lead pack" for my skill level... I don't see myself getting into Piedmont Park or Duluth with the "big boys" any time soon! Anyway, I guess this means I've changed my goals from simply participating in events to competing in events. Up until now when I've talked about these events with non-skaters, I've always been sure to say that I'm just there to do the event, not to compete... Now I'll have to qualify my participation by some other means, maybe saying I compete, but at a lower level than the pros... But I digress...

Getting back to the race now... At around 40km, we came to the only significant hill on the whole route. I didn't remember it being hard at all in 2003. But I guess I was working a lot harder this year, and was already a little tired by then. Plus the slippery conditions made it even harder to get up the hill. My heart rate probably hit 95% as we climbed. A couple guys went off the front, and I worked to make sure they didn't get too far ahead. No one got dropped on the hill, as the pace slowed a bit at the top and people were able to catch up. Shortly after "the hill" we hit "the gatorback". Again, I don't remember that at all from 2003. I think under dry conditions, it really isn't anything too bad. Certainly not any worse than the section at A2A, and probably not even that bad. But this was SLIPPERY gatorback, which SUCKED. I felt really, really unstable going through that. I was in 3rd position, and the two guys in front would periodically open a gap. They weren't necessarily trying to, I think, they were just able to skate more effectively on it, and I felt like a pig on roller skates... We'd hit an occasional smooth section, and I'd hustle to close the gap, just in time for it to get rough again. That section really took a toll on me. We eventually made it through though.

One thing about Le Défi, is that the course is really scenic. It's almost a shame to do it fast, because you really don't get to appreciate it as much. During the times when we happened to be skating a little slower and I could pay more attention to my surroundings, there were some really nice views. In particular, the falls are a really nice photo spot, if you bring a camera and don't mind stopping for a couple minutes to take a picture. Someday if I can manage to not go fast, I would like to do Le Défi as a "tour", which would be really fun I think.

One of my fellow skaters asked how I was doing and I said I was tired... (With a smile on my face of course, but I really was getting worn out.) He was very encouraging and said to hang in there and that the pack needed me. All the skaters were very friendly and encouraging each other along the way. Or at least that's what I think they were doing, since most of the conversations were in French. For all I knew, they could have been saying "let's see how much more punishment this dumb American will take before he drops!" :)

My lower back was really bothering me, and my left hamstring (which I had pulled in A2A 2003) was starting to bother me. So I took my emergency dose of Ibuprofen in an attempt to nip that problem before it got any worse. (I had taken a pre-emptive dose of 2 aspirin before the race even started, so that apparently wasn't sufficient.) After about 20 or 30 minutes, my back and leg stopped hurting excessively... Just the "normal" fatigue from skating at the limit of your ability... :)

There were 2 guys in our pack that were the real workhorses... I came to know that whenever one of them got to the front, I could expect my heart rate to go to at least 85%, if not higher. To make things worse, they were the guys taking the really long pulls, so it was a sustained effort. There were many times I just wanted to drop off the pack and skate at a more leisurely pace. But I just kept thinking "10 more kilometers... I know I can hang in for 10 more, then I'll re-evaluate." I was going through Gu at a pretty good pace. Every 35-40 minutes I'd have one. By the end of the race, I will have eaten 9 of them! (More than any other event I've done I think...) My water supply was holding up pretty well, although I was getting a little nervous that I might run out before we stopped at a checkpoint.

At one point, the "bikepath" was more of a sidewalk along a busy street through town. We were cruising along, and there was a supermarket parking lot to the left of us (and the road to the right.) A car was heading to the exit onto the street, and stopped right in front of us, blocking the path! I slammed on my heel brake, as did another guy. Others t-stopped, and one guy ended up running into the car! Even that did not seem to get the attention of the idiot driver, and he just pulled away. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any damage to the car, but hopefully there were at least some dents of scratches to make the driver think twice about doing something as stupid as that again.

Finally, someone mentioned that checkpoint 3 was coming up and we'd stop for a few minutes to resupply. Upon arrival, there was lots of cheering. The checkpoint is actually under an overpass, so it was sheltered from the rain -- an additional bonus! (Although by this time, the rain had actually stopped...) I made my way to a secluded spot and took a much needed pee break. Then back up to refill the Camelbak, which I didn't realize until then was virtually empty! So I topped it off, which would be plenty to get to the finish since we were over halfway there. (78 km.) I also took off my rain jacket, since it was no longer raining, and stuffed it into the Camelbak, and took off the shower cap... After a few minutes, we took off down the bikepath again. It was a bit chilly not having the extra layer on, by once some of the sweat evaporated and I warmed back up from skating, I was quite comfortable again.

Things had been in a pretty predictable rythm most of the day. Work hard when the "workhorses" were up front, and work slightly less hard whenever I or anyone else was up front. I really found myself appreciating any time when my heart rate was under 80% -- that was heaven compared to the other efforts! Still, the distance was starting to take its toll. I could feel myself getting more worn out, and could notice some of the others in the pack looking a little tired. Over the course of the day, we'd occasionally hit some pretty big puddles. Of course, there's not much you can do but skate through them. Water goes everywhere and splashes up on your legs, which is actually kind of refreshing. There's not much else you can do but laugh when you go through a puddle, or when you're slipping all over the place on leaves... I found it better to just embrace it... Or maybe I was just getting a little punchy from fatigue... :) Maybe both... There was one long section in particular that was covered in really wet leaves and there was NO traction at all. I was sliding all over the place, as if someone had greased the whole bikepath. I just started laughing hysterically the whole 10 or 20 yards that we covered...

At some point, one of the skaters dropped off the back, and we were down to just 5 in the lead pack now. We continued our rotation -- the 2 workhorses, myself, and the 2 other guys... It was pretty cool, having come this far, finding myself in the front five... Knowing if I could hang on, I'd be finishing in 5th place at worst. So of course I start "sizing up" the other guys in the pack, as I'm sure they were doing the same... Based on how tired I was, and how "not tired" the workhorses seemed to be, I figured they were most likely to finish first... I figured I had a decent shot at third place at that point. The pace was still pretty good after all the time that had passed. I think we were just under 23 kph, including the time spent at checkpoint #3. So the moving average probably hadn't changed much from the start of the race. We kept going, and I was feeling as well as could be expected. Checkpoint #4 (the last one) was coming up and everyone was talking about stopping for a couple minutes. I didn't really feel the need to stop, but I knew I couldn't finish on my own, so I stopped with the pack.

The pace we had been going would have been impossible if the other skaters were not familiar with the route. The course was marked well enough for a "touring speed", but with all the transitions from bikepaths to roads, it's sometimes hard to figure out where to go when you have to make a decision in a second. So I figured even if I was skating by myself (most likely if I decided to drop from the pack) I would be going a lot slower because I'd have to really watch for the markings and figure out where to go, lest I make a wrong turn and get lost. Not knowing the course would have slowed me down as much if not more than losing the draft...

We spent more time at the checkpoint than I would have liked, but it was a nice break. At this point, the sun was out, so that was good. Finally, we started off again towards the finish. Almost immediately, one of the "workhorses" seemed to be having trouble with his leg. (Cramps maybe?) It didn't seem to affect his speed or fatigue, but I'd notice an occasional grimmace on his face, and he'd be rubbing his thigh trying to work out the knot...

Fatigue really started in at this point. We were still rotating through the whole pack, so I found myself at the back. And then the 2 horses started just rotating between themselves... They weren't really skating any harder than they were before, but eventually a gap started to open up. The guy in 3rd place just wasn't keeping close enough to stay in the draft. So I watched the gap widen... We were on another sidewalk, with the road to the right of us. (So stepping into the road meant the cars would be coming toward you.) There was no room on the sidewalk to pass, but I knew I had to close that gap. So I waited for traffic to clear, then jumped off the curb, into the street. I passed the two guys in front of me, and got back onto the sidewalk. The horses were probably 20-30 meters ahead by now. They weren't really trying to break away, so closing the gap wasn't too hard. But it meant skating at maybe 92-93% for a few minutes to catch them. I finally did catch up, breathing very hard, and fell in behind them. Of course, a couple minutes later, we had to stop for a traffic light, and the other two skaters I passed just coasted right up to us.

So in hindsight, that chase wasn't necessary, but it could have been if the light hadn't been red. So I still think it was the right thing to do. In any case, our pack of five was reformed. I decided I'd stay in 3rd position from now on though, because I did not want to have to mount another chase like that one, and the other two didn't seem to have any desire to pull... It seemed to me that the horses could have broken away if they wanted to, but maybe were taking pity on us and letting the pack stay together. (Or maybe they were more tired than they were letting on...) Anyway, the five of us skated the rest of the way together.

Dave and I had driven around the end of the course, so I was a little familiar with the area. Once we hit Wellington, I knew we were getting close. All we had to do was turn left at Canadian Tire and we'd practically be on the last section of bikepath towards the finish (less than 1 km at that point.) It seemed to take FOREVER to get to Canadian tire! The anticipation only made it worse, of course! The road just went on and on and on... Up and down a few hills and still it was nowhere to be seen... But finally the sign came into view and I knew we were almost there!

The transition to the bikepath was very tricky due to construction. Fortunately, Dave and I had checked this out the day before and had already figured out a good way to traverse it. First, there was a right-turn into a parking lot, but the turn has tons of gravel. There was, however, a curb that you could jump onto, then off to avoid most of the gravel. The five of us made it through the turn without incident (I of course took the curb like I planned - I'm not sure what the others did.) I'm still in third place at this point... I'm not working particularly hard at this point, but my heart is racing just from excitement! The tension is palpable as we cross the little bit of parking lot to the entrance of the bikepath, which is probably 20 feet of gravel. We hit that, and it WAS ON!!!!

We ran through the gravel, got on the path, and the sprint started! I'm still in 3rd at this point, and we're flying down the path. Now the path had some MONSTER puddles on it, which Dave and I had seen the day before. But they didn't appear to be any worse than the others we had traversed during the day. Well, we got to one that was deeper than it appeared and the guy in front of me went down about a tenth of a second before I did. It turns out the water was probably at least 8 inches deep, enough to completely submerge our skates. We apparently didn't have our weight back far enough and we flew forward, superman-style!

I hit the water and was immediately drenched, head to toe. I banged my knee and uttered some obscenity, I'm sure, as did the other guy. The palm sliders I had on slid really well though, so my shoulders didn't take much abuse from the fall. My elbow got a little scraped. I looked up and the other 3 had made it through the puddle and were now 30 meters ahead. They glanced back to make sure we were okay, then proceeded to battle for the win. I got up, wincing from the pain in my knee, and started to skate. A little too gingerly at first though. I decided I just needed to grit my teeth and go for the finish. I could still get fourth place. I got through the puddle ahead of the other guy, who was moving a bit more slowly...

I skated as hard as I was able to, although I backed off slightly through the next big puddle so that I wouldn't take another unexpected swim. I didn't dare look back to see how close my remaining pack-mate was. I just kept gutting it out for the finish. I rounded a bend in the path and finally saw the finish, with the others just crossing it. I sat a little lower and pushed a little harder... Almost there... I can hear the cheers, there are people with cameras... I cross the line, completely out of breath and energy. I don't even have the energy to brake. Hands on my knees, I coasted past the finish, on down the bikepath until I catch my breath and slow down a bit. Only then do I stop, near where the other skaters had stopped also. Close behind, #5 came in and there were handshakes all around, everyone congratulating each other on the effort. I made sure to get a picture of the five of us, who had worked so hard together all day long.

I was elated, having accomplished my goal of staying in the lead pack the whole race. Maybe a tiny bit disappointed at having fallen at the end, but considering all the "close calls" I had during the day, I count myself lucky that I didn't fall before then. So I am quite happy with my placement. I'm more disappointed that I tore a whole in the sleeve of my jersey when I fell! :) I will definitely go back again. My next goal is to be in the lead pack when the course record (5:07) is broken! :)


Dave got in just before it started raining again, so we got into the car (he had the keys) and got our shoes and some dry clothes. A quick trip into the bathroom at the Auditorium and we had soggy skating clothes off and dry happy clothes on. Then it was off for some much-needed calories. First stop - St Hubert's Chicken, which was right next door. It was okay, but nothing really to get excited about. I probably would have liked the food at McDonald's better. Of course, I was so hungry at that point, I would probably have eaten just about anything put in front of me! And speaking of McDonald's, we decided that we really needed some ice cream, and there was a McDonald's in view... So we headed over there and got some McFlurries.

Then back to the hotel... There was a hot shower with my name on it... While I got cleaned up, Dave disassembled his bearings and started cleaning them. We had anticipated the need, and stopped at Canadian Tire (the one near the start/finish) the day before and picked up some carburetor cleaner. That stuff rocks for cleaning bearings, although it isn't the best thing for the environment... I finished in the bathroom and swapped places with Dave, cleaning my bearings while he got cleaned up. Pretty soon, we were done with bearing maintenance, had our wet clothes hung up to dry, and were ready to head back out.

My knee hurt bad from the fall, and my legs were a bit tired, but I felt pretty good overall. I feared I wouldn't be able to move the next day though! I took some more ibuprofen as a pre-emptive strike against the inevitable soreness... One thing that came as a suprise was that my groin muscles were really sore! I attribute that to the extra stabilization needed to maintain my balance on the wet and rough pavement, just as my shin muscles had been getting sore too. Or maybe the many "stumbles", and slips at the end of my pushes... Hard to say... Anyway, while my quads and such weren't sore, walking was a bit... weird... We hung around the finish line for quite a while, hoping to see Cheri come in, but there was no sign of here. I was a bit worried, as was Dave, especially once it started to get dark and we hadn't seen her or heard from her. We tried calling her cellphone and left messages to no avail. Finally, we gave the organizer our cellphone numbers in case he saw her. We drove the last bit of the course and still didn't see her. Having exhausted our options to help, we decided to join some of the other skaters for dinner at a nearby restaurant - Magnan's... It was a cool sports bar kinda place and the Toronto-Montreal hockey game was on. (They were playing in Montreal, at the Bell Center...) So we got to watch a great hockey game and ate some good food.

As we were eating dessert, we finally got a call from Cheri. She had unfortunately taken a wrong turn and gotten lost. By the time she found the course again, it was getting late and she had probably close to an hour of skating left, assuming she could find her way in the dark. With it being long past sunset and the roads fairly busy, she didn't have much choice but to stop skating and take a cab. Still, she made it over 70 miles, most of that by herself, on a very tricky course. So that was very impressive! Hopefully she'll show up next year and conquer Le Défi! Cheri's cab brought her to the restaurant, where she stayed for a much-deserved glass of wine and dessert. We watched the end of the hockey game (Montreal ended up losing, much to the disappointment of the entire restaurant) and then went back to the hotel. Sleep came really easy that night...

The next day, we met up with Eric, a friend of Dave's, who showed us around a bit. We spent several hours hiking around Mont Royal Park. Just the thing for the day after a grueling 80-mile race! :) Thinking that buses were for wimps, we also proceeded to walk all over the city, and didn't get back to our hotel until almost midnight. (We stopped for lunch & dinner in there of course.) I figure we must have walked 15-20 miles that day! Part of the journey took us to a dessert place called "Kilo" where we each bought 3 slices of cake... We had a slice for dessert when we got back to the hotel, then the other 2 for breakfast on Monday morning... That's the great thing about being a grownup -- if we decide to have cake for breakfast, there's no one to say 'no'... :) And that cake from Kilo was AWESOME. I highly recommend the "Skor" cake if you're ever there!

Monday we did a little shopping, but soon it was time to head to the airport and end our adventure. Our legs were feeling surprisingly good. I suspect all the hiking and walking helped to keep the muscles from tightening up... (As well as my liberal use of aspirin and ibuprofen...) It's a little sad that the skating season is now pretty much over, but nice that I can now skate "for fun" for a few months before the serious training starts again. The race results really validated the training for the year, and definitely made me feel like I had made progress from the years before. It would have been nice to have A2A to use as the benchmark, but hopefully that will be back next year.

So now I'm sitting on the plane from Montreal to New York, satisfied, but already anticipating next year. I think it's safe to say I've got the racing bug in me now, and can't wait to get into some more races next year...

Final Thoughts

Needless to say, I enjoyed my weekend in Montreal immensely. The event was really well-run, and I have to commend the organizer, Robert Fortier, on doing such a good job. He even remembered Melanie and I from 2003 when we did the event. Rod Willmot showed us some "northern hospitality" by organizing a pre-Défi dinner, answering questions, and providing sage advice on rain skating. Rod wasn't able to participate this year because of work, but hopefully we'll see him out there next year.

Finally, the other skaters were very friendly, and I want to say a special "thank you" to the other guys I skated with most of the day. You were all very encouraging when I felt like I wouldn't be able to maintain the pace. You made me feel welcome and part of "the team". It was a great day for me, and I hope to skate with you all again someday.

I'd say on a dry day, the course is not quite as physically challenging as A2A, although it is a bit "technical" in that you're going on & off curbs, transitioning from bikepaths to roads, etc. However, on a wet, slippery day I would say that the course is on par with A2A in terms of endurance needed when trying to skate it "fast". (Of course, people that skate a lot in the rain and are comfortable doing so may disagree with me...) In any case, it's an event that is well worth doing, regardless of what level you're at. I recommend you add it to your calendar for next year -- it's ALWAYS the third Saturday of October...

Mark Sibert