Time to wrap up my series of winter racing stories for this year. And what better way to do so than to re-cap the three Mad Trapper snowshoe races that I took part in this winter. Normally, this series starts off in December, and features a total of 4 races, but over the years, it has become challenging to predict the snow conditions for December, so instead, race director Mike decided to make this a 3-race series for 2018, with 2 daytime races, and one nighttime outing. As per usual, I signed up early for all three races, since that is the best bang for buck, and ensures I’ll eat delicious brownies at least three times! Read on for the full recap on how the races went for me this year.
As most folks will realize, I generally use the winter as a season to dial back my running. It’s a great chance to focus on other sports (and muscle groups), to maintain the aerobic / endurance base, while limiting the impact on my feet. The thought being that it’ll give my running biomechanics a chance to ‘rest’ a bit. However, I do make an exception when it comes to snowshoe running. It’s just too darned much fun NOT to do a few snowshoe races. It’s like trail running, only with more snow ;-). The heart rate can go sky-high, and it’s the HOTTEST winter sport out there. You are guaranteed to work up a major sweat sprinting through the woods on tiny snowshoes. So, with that in mind, I like getting out to the Ark to test myself against the heavy hitters from the region.
Unfortunately, since I waited so long to put this little post together, my specific memories of the first couple races are a little fuzzy. The first race was waaaay back on January 6th, freshly back from the East Coast and our Christmas adventures. Thankfully, the area got enough snow to make a good go of it (prior to the holidays, snow situation was a bit grim). In addition to the snow, it was a pretty chilly race. Forecasted temperatures were around -40 Celsius with the windchill! As I recall, after the race, I changed, went skiing, and promptly got frost bite since my ‘better’ cold weather gear was wet from the morning race.
My main memory of race #1 is that I felt really good out there. My running fitness had apparently stayed pretty high through the fall an early winter in spite of not running as much. As usual, I raced in the 2-loop 10k option, and was not too far off the pace from the front pack (except for Mathieu Dore, who shredded us all, winning by almost 5 minutes ahead of 2nd). I crossed just off the podium (nothing new for me there), finishing in 4th, just behind a couple other speedsters and ahead of others! Regardless of where I finished, there was tasty casserole awaiting, along with the famous brownies and BEER. No complaints on race 1.
Race 2 was on January 27th, and was the annual Bushtukah Night Race. Everything is better when done by headlamp, no? Luckily, with a good headlamp, the running at night is not much different than day. In fact, you have less peripheral vision to distract you, instead forced to focus on the small bath of light around you. Conditions for race 2 were even better than race 1, which attracted a larger cadre of racers (read: competition). The results speak for themselves, with the top 2 breaking 1 hour for the 10k course (no one broke 1 hour on race 1).
For my part, this night race was tactically not strong for me. Why? Well, of course, I, along with many others, had opted to go for a nice hard ski during the day. In fact, I pushed through a 42km CSM training ski with a pack on my back. Not the wisest choice a few hours before a race. I’m pretty sure the top runners there did NOT choose that sort of daytime punishment. Lol. At any rate, I had fun racing with friends, spending much of my race running with Annie Jean for company. I crossed the line just after 1 h 6 mins, good enough for 6th overall, and a pretty good result all things considered. More importantly, I was able to push harder than I thought I might, and had a great time. It’s always magical looking behind in a night race and seeing bobbing headlights in the woods around you from racers on other parts of the course.
This brings us to the final 2018 race, which really looked touch and go leading up to it. The region had suffered yet another mild spell, with much of the snow cover GONE from the area. The race took place on February 24th, at the end of a string of hard races for me. 2 weeks earlier, I’d completed my 5th gold camp at CSM (earning my permanent bib!), skiing 167km with a pack over 2 days. The week prior, I raced in both the 51km classic AND 51km skate ski races at the Loppet (bagging a sub 3-hour skate race on day 2, my fastest ever!). So, I was heading into this final race a little worse for wear, but with nothing to prove, since it was just for fun!
Upon arrival at the Ark, it was clear conditions would be ‘interesting’. It was around -3, so temperatures were good, BUT the starting area and nearby open areas were very low on snow, with lots of solid ice and expose rocks to taunt us. Ugh. However, I noticed there weren’t the usual suspects that I would expect to ‘run away’ with the victory. Overall, it seemed we were a rag-tag group of die-hards that just refused to admit that this wasn’t ideal snowshoe racing weather. Mike pronounced that snowshoes were required, so even though we COULD have ran in micro spikes, snowshoes were mandatory. Fair enough. Luckily mine are super light and flexible plastic, so I figured they’d work fine. Due to the ice starting chute, Mike also started us in the horse field at the base of the first big climb (which was rather rocky).
When the start signal was given, I immediately found myself at the head of the race. Not a normal position for me. I was so convinced that I wasn’t ‘racing’ this race that I had opted to carry a camera with me to take pictures during the race. However, realizing I was in the lead, and didn’t feel too stressed, it became clear that I was, in fact, going to be racing! I started overheating shortly after the start, but kept my steady pace going. One fellow appeared to be intent on staying on my heels and likely passing later, but somewhere in lap 1 he faded out (eventually finishing 8 minutes behind I believe). I hadn’t seen him before, so I think it was his first snowshoe race, and may have been a bit ambitious with his pace.
At any rate, my true competition became clear to me after a little bit. My friends Bruno and Francois. Bruno and I were 1 for 1 each in beating each other at this race, and had also seen each other at CSM and the Loppet, so we were pretty evenly matched. Francois is in my group, and we often ski and run together, and I knew he had a good engine. I maintained my place the entire first loop. However, it was becoming clear something wasn’t right. In retrospect, my bindings had been a little loose, causing movement and friction at my heel. This spelled misery for me. Unbeknownst to me until the finish, I had thoroughly shredded the outside rear of both my ankles, with a nice blood-soaked sock on one foot. The pain set in during the latter part of lap 1, with me feeling like there was ice or rocks in my boot.
I clocked my first lap with a slight lead on the next two lads, but soon had to stop. I was trying to dig out the rock / adjust the snowshoe to minimize the pain I was feeling. Eventually, I gave up 1st AND 2nd place during the first part of that loop, hoping I could fix my foot. When it became obvious I wouldn’t be able to fix it, I did my best to block the pain, by now realizing what I’d find in my socks later. Instead, I focused on fighting my way back into contention. To those ends, I eventually clawed back into 2nd place, keeping my eyes fixed on Bruno in the distance. I had better descending skills, and knew that was where I could make a move. I found a place to pull a pass, and promptly found the ONLY deep snow in the course, causing me to fall directly in front of Bruno, who then fell in a heap on top of me.
Feeling bad about that, but unable to wriggle out, it took us a second or two to get sorted, when I finally got up and reclaimed the lead. I kept pushing hard, opening up a slight gap in the rolling and downhill sections of the race. Sadly, when we got to the last bigger climbs, I had to relent, and also let Bruno get past me again. I held Francois off, but there was nothing in the tank to re-pass Bruno in the last uphills. Given the course, this meant the positions were now pretty much written. I passed by Lise on the final climb, mustering all I could to try and catch Bruno, but it was of no use, after cresting the hill, it is a straight, steep downhill sprint to the finish, and I just wasn’t close enough to challenge.
Regardless, I sprinted as hard as I could, finally collapsing at the finish line about 10 seconds after Bruno. It was a hard fought 2nd overall for me (and first / only podium of the season). About 40 seconds later, Francois ran in to round out the top 3 for the day. We were joined about 1.5 minutes later by the first female finisher nabbing 4th overall in her first snowshoe race. All in all, despite challenging conditions, this will go down in my mind as one of the great battles out in the snow for me. I may very well also have the scars to prove it, as nearly 3 weeks after the race, the skin is still peeling / recovering on my heels!
So ended the 2018 Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race series. The closing post-race social as usual had great food, prizes on offer, and plenty of opportunity to mingle with all the racers who had taken part. I *nearly* walked away with a new pair of snowshoes as well. Racers that were in all 3 races were in a special draw for 2 new pairs of snowshoes, 1 for men, 1 for women. We played the 1-2 game with Mike, and it was down to Cal and I for the men’s snowshoes. I chose…. poorly, and lost. So close! At any rate, as per usual, I thoroughly enjoyed all 3 races, and will continue to sign up for all the races every year, because, why not? Hopefully I’ll see some of you out there next year. You have almost a year to get trained up! Till then, have fun!