Getting my Tri On at Winterlude

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Greetings again friends. Winter is always an interesting time to be racing. And it seems that the annual Winterlude Triathlon is one of the more interesting events that I’ve done now many times. The usual format is a skate, followed by a ski, followed by a run. However, over the years, due to weather situations, it’s been modified to ski and run only, or skate and run only, or run-skate-run, or even just a pure run. Well, I’m happy to report that this year’s edition featured the full traditional triathlon format. Although leading up to the event it was looking doubtful that we’d have enough snow for a ski, we managed to get a decent dump mere days before the event, giving organizers just enough time to groom out a nice loop in the Arboretum.

Once again, I was not only participating in the event, but also collecting footage from inside the race to put together a race review for Get Out There Magazine. As always, that brings its own set of challenges, and does impact my ability to focus purely on me. However, it’s fun to be able to bring the event to others who might be interested in trying these events out, and want to know what it’s really like to race in them! Another reason I was there this year is that I’ve decided to take a crack at another Rudy Award this year, and the Winterlude Triathlon is a mandatory event. So if you miss it, no award for you! Doesn’t matter where you finish, but you gotta finish! So with that, and the fact that I hadn’t skated at all until 3 days before the race, I knew what I was in for.

So I’ve mentioned that we got a nice little snow dump in advance of the race? Well, what we didn’t have advance warning of was how bloody cold that morning would be! Deanna and I often muse about the fact that on most weekends, we’re awake and out of bed EARLIER than we would be during the work week. Sad fact of the life we lead I guess. We roused ourselves out of bed somewhere around 5:30am that morning, and glancing at my bedside weather display, I noted the temperatures outside under the deck were around -21C. That means cold hands, cold toes, frozen batteries, and challenges with snow conditions! For those not aware, when cross country skiing, very cold snow is tough to deal with, as your ‘glide’ can be quite compromised, to the point where people liken it to skiing on straw. I’ll learn this over and over again this year….

Regardless of the temperatures, there was a job to be done, and I’ve never shied away from a challenge or race due to weather. What’s the point? You’ll just regret it later, and generally speaking, once you’re out there, it never seems that bad (until you stop!). Arriving onsite with time to spare, I quickly set about getting my transition zones laid out. That entails prepping and setting up the skis in one area, and laying out the running stuff in another area. We had also driven in morning glow, as the sun wasn’t yet up. As a result, I got to take advantage of the most amazing sunrise over the canal to get some decent footage in beautiful morning light. Unfortunately, the sun did NOT bring heat with it today. The winds weren’t super bad, but it was frigid.

I went for a quick warm-up skate (if you can call it that), before toeing the line and getting a bit of footage of the front of the race pack. As is customary, Rick and the race crew managed to get the event started promptly on time. As is also customary, the beginning was fast and furious. The long blade skaters (myself included) seed themselves closer to the front on account of the much more efficient skating longer distances, and begin to put a gap on the other skaters quite quickly. However, there are always a few ‘hockey skate’ skaters that blow my mind with their ability to keep up with at least us slower long blade skaters. A point of pride for me in this event is to at least finish before any of those ‘hockey skate’ skaters. I think the tally was 1-0 this day, as one fellow did finish before me.

I’ve gotta say this much for this year’s edition. With the super cold temps leading up to the event as well, the Canal was in absolutely fine form. That was probably the best skating I’ve ever seen on the canal. Almost no cracks, and only a few bump bits on the entire 8k course we skated. Kudos on that front. This portion is over before the 20 minute mark for most people, and from there, it’s time to throw on the planks, grab the poles, and hit the snow. Traditionally, that is my weakest discipline, but I’ve been trying to improve. Sadly, I hadn’t taken the time to properly prepare my skis for these temperatures (I had a ‘warmer’ glide wax on), so I’d say that while I was okay out there, I was not looking like an Alex Harvey. Regardless, I got ‘er done, and only had some annoyances on the second lap when the lanes were getting clogged with the racers that were on their 1st lap. However, some well-timed and executed passes, and I’d say I was no worse for wear.

The camera, on the other hand, did not fare as well. The batteries died in the first 30 seconds of the ski, so I got no footage of that. This also meant that when arriving for the next transition, I had to make a detour to my video gear bin in order to dump one camera and find another to carry with me on the run. Thank goodness for at least a little forward thinking on my part with battery charging the night before on an older camera. With that in hand, and with my running booties on, I charged back out, having lost a minute or so.

The run is interesting, in that probably half of the 5k is literally on the ice of the canal, at the edges. Knowing that, I made the tactical choice to use my Salomon Snowcross shoes, which not only have high, water / wind proof tops on them, but also feature 10 or so micro spikes on the sole, giving amazing traction on snow and ice. With those, I was able to run with less trepidation about slipping on the ice, especially on the turns and exit / entry points. As such, I was able to make up a few spots on the run, passing a few people as I went. For some reason I didn’t feel I quite had all my energy with me, but I kept going steadily.

An interesting thing happened in the closing kilometer of the race. With the sun in the low horizon at our backs, we cast long shadows as we ran the final 400m stretch to the finish. The bonus? You could actually see if someone was closing in on you. This was the case with me. As I was preparing for filming the finish, I saw a shadow closing in fast. I strode out a little quicker, thinking I’d lost my pursuer, and went back to filming. Then, it was there again, gaining speed and steam… in the last 100m!! I was NOT going to have that happen again this season (happened at a recent Mad Trapper race). I dug deep into my ‘sprint’ reserves and turned it up to 11. I could see by the shadow that I was keeping my lead, but barely.

I crossed the line exhausted by the effort, turning to see my quarry. Turns out, it was some kid under 19! He had gone to the line, and obviously had the competitive drive to pass me even though we were in completely different categories. I congratulated him and thanked him for pushing me, but as you may imagine, at that age, they really aren’t all that gracious or into the spirit of the chase. Regardless, it was a nice push at the finish. Deanna was there waiting for me as well, staying warm in her big parka and the ski pants I’d loaned her. We hung out a bit longer, so I could have a hot chocolate and do more filming, before deciding we’d had enough. Try as I might, I just didn’t have it in me to stay till the awards ceremony. It was just too cold.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they can’t have an indoor venue for the post-race. The cadet hall I next door, and we had used it in previous years. It is really hard to keep anyone around after they race due to the freezing temps and not much to do. I hope in future years they may be able to come up with something. However, in spite of that, I got all my footage, and put together a decent little video of the day. If you haven’t done so yet, check it out below! Till next time, stay warm, and stay active!

The Video

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