Winter helping of chills and thrills

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:08 PM ET

The most important question during yesterday's Keskinada Loppet was this: Why?

Why would any sane human squeeze into a skintight outfit and face the biting wind and frigid temperatures to compete in a cross-country ski marathon?

The common answer: Why not?

While weather forecasters warned folks to stay indoors, hundreds of brave souls tackled the elements during yesterday's Keskinada events, laughing in the face of the the brutal cold at the edge of Gatineau Park.

"It really wasn't that bad," said 61-year-old Randy Storey, who covered 251/2 kms. "It was cold at the start in that big open area this first time through, but I didn't really notice it the second time around."

The temperature was minus 31 C with the wind chill when the long races began yesterday at 10 a.m.

On their way into the park at the start, racers faced a steady wind in their faces.

The conditions were so brutal that Keskinada organizers and representatives from the International Ski Federation reduced the distances for the 53-km and 29-km events to 51-kms and 25.5 kms, respectively.

They also closed the upper part of the course due to its icy condition created by Thursday's freezing rain and followed by Friday's flash freeze.

But today's forecast for a balmier temperature of minus 6 C (without the wind chill) has organizers speaking of ideal conditions, which would allow for the entire course to be opened.

Many of yesterday's skiers who had registered for the longest race switched to the shorter 25.5-km event.

Stephan Latour drove in from Waterloo yesterday to register for today's 53-km freestyle event.

'IT'S JUST TOO COLD'

"I was going to ski (yesterday), but when I checked the forecast I decided that there was no way I'd be doing that," said the 38-year-old. "Not with that wind. It's just too cold."

Eight years ago, Latour competed in the Keskinada and suffered frostbite on his cheeks when the temperature with wind chill was minus 18 C.

Despite yesterday's conditions, the first aid centre wasn't much busier than in previous years.

"We've seen a few more people because of the wind, but it hasn't been real crazy," said Marc Verrett, who supervised the first aid post.

Barb Woodruff, who travelled from St. Paul, Minn., with her husband Bob to compete for the first time in the Keskinada, said the key to staying warm was wearing many protective layers of clothing.

"I've got four or five on," she said after finishing the 25.5-km course. "I talked to people out there with long-race bibs on, and they were trying to decide whether to keep going or not."

Heading to the registration area, Stephanie Boyer of Montreal looked for an entry form for yesterday 5-km distance.

"I'm doing the 5-K," she said. "I'm not that crazy."

Phil Shaw of Rosemere, Que., won the 51-km classic race, covering the makeshift course in 2:30.46, ahead of Stefan Desfosses of Ste-Adele, Que., and Stig Morten Fakstad of Norway.

The top local time in the longer distance belonged to Natalya Kuziak, who finished the women's 40-44 race in 2:40.44.

Eva Nohl of Germany won the women's 51 km, ahead of Kuziak and Robin Valeri of the U.S.

In the 25.5-km event, Ottawa's Michael Vieira finished first in 1:19:18, just two seconds quicker than Eric Rouleau of Gatineau. Fifteen-year-old Mathieu Fortin of Mont-Tremblant, Que., placed third.

The top three women in the 25.5-km race were Karla Mika of Collingwood, followed by Caroline and Stephanie Drolet of St-Faustin-Lac Carre, Que.

barre.campbell@ott.sunpub.com


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