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Canada's Ted-Jan Bloemen competes in the 10,000-metre speed skating event at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, Feb. 15, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

Paul Chiasson

What are the last few laps of an endurance race like for a speed skater? Agonizing, painful and sometimes mind-numbing.

Skaters say they feel like their entire body has been anesthetized, their minds have been erased and that they are overheating, like a lobster in a boiling pot of water.

In winning the 10,000-metre long-track race at the Pyeongchang Olympics this week, Canadian Ted-Jan Bloemen made it look easy. But don't be fooled by his calm outward appearance.

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While the newly crowned king of speed skating seemed to be gliding around the track in a state of pure serenity, his lungs were actually burning, his leg muscles were screaming with pain and his body felt like it was on fire.

But for Bloemen, it was just another day as a distance speed skater.

"It was a tough race," he said afterward, acknowledging there's not a lot that goes through his mind as the laps count down – only that he shouldn't quit, even if his body wants him to stop. "I just had to keep it going."

The physical demands of racing 10 kilometres in less than 13 minutes takes an unusual toll, and speed skaters have different ways of describing what they go through.

Ivanie Blondin, who competed in the 5,000-metre event, the longest race on the women's side, said the final laps can leave a skater feeling numb.

"It almost feels like you're about to be put under for surgery," Blondin said. "It's kind of an odd feeling."

Jordan Belchos, who finished fifth in the men's 10,000-metre race, said the strain on the body builds throughout the race. Eventually the exhaustion plays havoc with a skater's ability to maintain form.

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"I think it's a little bit like cooking a lobster," he said. "The water's just warm, it feels nice at the beginning, you feel like you're skating really well. Then it gets hot, and it's hard to keep executing the technical things right."

The challenge comes in the last half of the race, he says, "when your body doesn't really want to do the technical things you're trying to make it do."

That's the point when he feels like the lobster in the pot, "getting cooked."

Blondin said the challenge is the buildup of lactic acid in her legs. The resulting pain has an effect on the head, too.

"There is so much lactic acid, you can't even think straight," she said. "I don't even know what I was thinking at the end of the race, just trying to focus on technique to drive me through that [finish] line."

The day after competing, Blondin will spend much of her time ensuring she recovers properly, so that the soreness doesn't affect her next race.

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"The next morning, I just try to sleep in," she said. "Sleep as much as I can, and eat as much as I can, and recover."

Bloemen's gold medal in the sport's most gruelling event is a historic one for Canada.

The country typically hasn't been a contender at the Olympics in speed skating's longer races, with most of its medals coming in the sprints or the middle-distance races. His victory is the first time the country has won a medal in the 10,000-metre race since 1932.

"For a speed skater, this is the biggest stage you can perform on," an exhausted Bloemen said after the victory.

When skaters cross the finish line, they usually double over, spending a few laps circling the track just to cool down. After that, there is little energy left for anything else.

But when the time came for Bloemen to ascend the podium, he jumped straight from the ground to the top step, like a man whose legs had never felt better.

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"When you win, you always have that little bit of extra energy," he said. "And I think that's the right time to release it."

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