Mad Trapper Finale: Showdown in the Snowshoes

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Wow! I’ve been so excited and happy with my result in the last Mad Trapper snowshoe race of the season that I couldn’t find the time to blog about it! Can you believe that? Well, it’s partly true. I thought about writing up the story Saturday afternoon, but that seemed too ambitious. Then, life got in the way for a couple days, but here I am to fill you all in on my winter race-season closing race. As some of you may have already looked at the pictures and/or read Mike’s own race report, you’ve probably heard that I WON first place overall!! No joke! I’ve looked back on all my race results, and it turns out this is only the 2nd time I win 1st place overall in a race. Last time was in August of 2007! While some of the top guns were not present this time, it was still a hard-fought battle, and I invite you all to read on for the rest of my happy story.

For starters, this race capped off a busy month, where I took part in four separate events. First was the 3rd Mad Trapper race, followed the next week by the Winterlude Triathlon. I had a week off from racing, then it was off to the 50km Gatineau Loppet last week, and finally capped off by this event. I made sure I recovered between events, and didn’t train too hard, but I was still pleased that I was still able to push myself so hard. Things are looking good for some of the longer races that I plan to do this summer. At any rate, it’ll be good to take March off in order to prepare for the Boston Marathon, which is my next major event in the calendar. But what about this race?

Well, weather was once again the wild card. Snow was still not plentiful or generous to us leading up to the race. A couple days, we got big dumps of snow, but the temperature would also spike, leading to a lot of slushy messes in the city. Luckily, at the race site, things fared better, with the snow staying longer, but being extremely heavy. We’d all learn soon just how heavy. I put together a hasty car-pool before the event, and four of us drove out to the race, in an attempt to be as zero-impact as we could, which is the spirit of these races as well. On arrival, we saw that the assembled racers were pretty much the same faces from all the events. There’s always a few new people, but it’s surprising how few people are willing to make the [easy] 40 minute drive to Ottawa for such a spectacular event. These run like clockwork and have so much to offer. What does Mike have to do to get people out there?!!?

At any rate, the big story is the race, right? Well, the sun was shining this morning and as a result, we had the luxury of dressing down for the first time this season. No jackets or hats this time, just tights and a long-sleeve tee. Gilles, another front-runner opted for an even simpler shorts and gaiters combo. Fashionable and functional :-) At the start line, it was clear right away that there was a chance I could pull something special out of my own ‘hurt locker’. The top 3 guys were not here this day (Andrew, James, or Alex), and I didn’t see any big wild card racers lining up at the front. As such, there were about 5 of us that I thought might be overall contenders and I vowed to myself to stay in touch with the lead longer than ever before. Might be hard with the snow, but here goes nothing…

Mike counted down the start, and I fired myself up for a strong start. We’d first be taking on the flat course, and finishing with the hilly course. In the 1st loop, that would mean breaking trail in deep, wet snow, but for the 2nd lap, we’d have a packed trail, as the 5k racer were doing only that trail. In my mind, I was pretty sure that would favour me, as my light frame and endurance capacity would fare well on the final steep hills. Or so was my plan. At the word ‘go’, I stepped right into the snow trail of John Ranson, who chose to take the early lead on Lap 1. Of course, there were 2-3 others right on my tail, and put me in a panic early, as I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to keep it up the whole way. I just gritted my teeth and thought of the Olympic spirit, and pushed hard.

And hard it was! That snow was insane. Mike had pre-walked the course, so there was a track, but it was one single pair of footsteps using a short gait and pressed deep in the snow. For me, it felt like I was doing some sort of tire-running drill you see them do in football, as your feet went deep down, the top of the snowshoes piled up with snow, then you had to explode up, showering your neck and back with cold wet snow as you made your next stride. Luckily, it seemed everyone else had the same challenge, so I maintained my position for the entire first lap, exchanging only a few words with John in front and Gilles behind me, as we were racing too hard for any sustained chatting.

I felt great coming down the hill after Lap 1, flying fast and hard, and not willing to slow down for nutrition. I ditched my headband, and tried to grab my drink bottle, but missed. Luckily, James, who was watching, was nice enough to pass me his bottle, so I managed to grab a quick gulp before carrying on to lap 2. What a relief it was to start that lap, as we now had a nice flat track to follow and could go more on ‘cruise control’. I knew the real race was about to start, and felt that I’d kept enough in the tank to make a challenge. At one point in lap 1, John had made a little sprint getaway, which certainly put a fright in me, but I had tracked him back down. However, he didn’t seem to be fading like he had in the last race, and I speculated he was holding back to ensure I didn’t get ahead at the end.

Meanwhile, behind me, Gilles and one other person were also being very persistent. Our order had gone pretty much unchanged for the past half hour, and I was getting nervous. What exactly was going to happen? A few times during the first half of lap 2, John would get a little ahead of me, but I’d catch back up on the hairy descents. Talk about pressure and tension! Finally, I decided to do a gut check and make a decision about whether I wanted this race or not. This was as good a chance as I’d ever have to put my stamp on a snowshoe race. I waited till about 2/3rds through the lap, when we got to the last 2 really steep hills. This was where I’d make my stand. When John slowed to a shuffle on the bottom of a steep hill, I said ‘passing left, I’m gonna try to make a move here’, to which he replied ‘go for it’. After all, I wouldn’t be content sneaking a victory on the final sprint, I really wanted to come out on top.

Once past John, I focused on just pushing hard and RUNNING up the steep hills, hoping my lungs and heart would hold out till the finish, which was still about a kilometer and a half or more away. My other concern was that Gilles would take this chance to attack both John and I. I did my standard mental game of “he’s right on your tail” to keep moving fast. I hazarded a glance back a few times, and to my surprise, I saw only daylight! On the final big hill, I kept pushing hard just to make sure, but it was soon obvious there was no threat of losing now. Before I knew it, I was barreling down the final downhill chute to the finish and throwing my arms in the air. Much to my surprise (and others at the finish too!), nothing else happened for a full 1 minute and 15 seconds. Yup, I had a very comfortable margin of victory to my credit! I was elated. After all the tough stuff I’ve been dealing with and working through, this was a bit of vindication for me. John and Gilles finished close together, with Gilles actually doing a nice faceplant when trying to pull out a finishing sprint. Too funny. We the congratulated each other at the finish and had a couple pictures taken. Perfect end to a perfect race with great friends and competitors!

I won’t keep you all much more than this, as the rest of the story should be well known by now. Of course, I’m talking about the post-race social, which is as legendary or more so than the race itself. It always feels like we’re just sitting in a living room with friends at the end. A living room with a full spread of food, prizes, and lots of great stories. Everyone who had taken part had a great time, and this being the last race of the season, the series champions were crowned. Most weren’t on site, but Tanya Hanham managed to dominate the women’s 10k series and as a result got an awesome pair of Atlas Race snowshoes. Not bad for a first season racer who normally only rides bikes! The 5k champs were also crowned, receiving bottles of wine for their accomplishments. Alex was the overall 10k winner, which had already been determined prior to this race. The other exciting news for me? My victory today had actually propelled me into 3rd place overall for the 2009-10 series in points! Awesome. That matches my prior standing from another series.

I didn’t get any prizes for winning 1st in this race or 3rd in the series, but I still managed to get some nice recognition by Mike. He called me up for a prize in light of my ongoing support of the race and my attempts to get more people to come out, as well as blogging all about it. So once again, I implore you one and all to sign up for one or all of these races next winter. I PROMISE you’ll have a good time and will at least walk away with a smile on your face and a belly full of food. Plus, you’d get to hang out with ActiveSteve :-) So endeth my chilly tale. Hope you’ve liked it, and that you’ll come back again and read more of my race stories. Till then, rest up, train hard, and see you on the race course!

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