As you have all seen from the flurry of recent race reports that I’ve finally got around to posting, the winter racing season has been in full swing on my end! Luckily, things are starting to wind down, and I’ll soon be turning my mind to spring and summer active pursuits. However, I’ve still got a couple events to knock out here and write about. For this post, I’ll give you a little colour around the 35th Annual Gatineau Loppet that I took part in on February 16th. As the title implies, this event draws an International crowd. With over 2000 racers from 17 different countries taking part in this years offerings, it was a very cool event. The Loppet is a whole weekend of races, ranging from 5 to 55km, and in both classic and freestyle categories. For my part, I was taking on the 55km classic race, which was on Saturday. I also lugged cameras and did filming for Get Out There Magazine, so stay tuned for the video below, and don’t forget to also Check out the pictures that Deanna and I snapped.
The Gatineau Loppet is yet another of those gems that we have at our fingertips here in the National Capital Region to race in. It is part of the World Loppet series of ski races, and as such, draws participants from around the world. And the start/finish line? It’s a mere 10 minutes from my driveway by car! As it is set in Gatineau Parc, this is also terrain that I’m intimately familiar with and spend a lot of time in over the full year. However, I never grow tired of exploring its beauty, and in winter, things are completely different visually from summer and fall! Gatineau Parc is basically the entire reason I moved to this side of the river from Ottawa, so I try to spend as much time as possible there.
Pictures from the Event
At any rate, enough babbling about how great it is to run / ski / bike / hike, and snowshoe in Gatineau Parc. You came here to read about the Loppet! This year was the 4th time I took part in the event. I have done the 55km classic race in 2010 and 2011, then did the 27km skate race in 2012. For this year, the 35th anniversary, I was going back to classic, as I put a lot more time and effort into classic technique then skate, owing to the CSM preparation. Oh yeah, CSM. That little 160km skiing effort I completed only 5 days earlier! It’s quite possible that might have an impact on my performance in this race. Whereas CSM was a touring event, this was a bona fide ‘race’ entailing proper nutrition, hydration, and high-level sustained effort with minimal comfort. Aaargh! What have I done by signing up for this?!? Luckily, apart from some achilles tendonitis in both my heels, I felt like I would be good to go. Of course, tendonitis may be just enough to slow me down, mightn’t it?
One of the interesting aspects of this year’s classic race was that we were going to have a remote start. From the finish line at the relais plein air, all participants were to be bussed out to P19 at Lac Philippe. This posed a few logistical challenges, which organizers did their damndest to address before the big day. The P19 parking lot is quite small, so only 3 buses at a time could drop racers off, but there were probably close to 20 in total that had to get there in time to let racers start their waves. This was to be mitigated by the fact that different waves started 5 minutes apart, but as it turned out, it took longer than 5 minutes for buses to turn and unload, which meant that by the time the E wave was getting ready to go, I heard there were a few bottlenecks. Lucky for me, I was in Wave C, and arrived with just enough time to hit the porta-pottie, finish getting dressed appropriately, and even doing some quick footage for my video. HOwever, I still found myself scrambling, and throwing my gear bag to the side of the trail and trying to get my pole strap on just as the starting gun was sounding.
The weather was absolutely stunning. Although it started out a little chilly, the sun was shining bright, and I knew I’d be working hard, so I had forgone the extra layers in the anticipation of pushing hard and staying warm that way. I’m not sure if it was just the C wave, but my start actually seemed pretty tame. We all pulled away in a pretty good grouping, with 6 lanes to pick from. In about a kilometer or so, that narrowed to 4 tracks, and in another kilometer or so, it finally narrowed to a 2 track trail. However, because of the distances, there was never any real bottleneck, which was nice. I found a pretty decent pace early on, and found myself surrounded by a group of others heading approximately the same pace. Sure, there were sprints and lags depending whether terrain was flat, uphill, or downhill, but the same outfits always seemed to be within eyesight. Although there is no doubt that this is a race, things still felt generally convivial on the snow out there. This made me pretty happy, as it made me feel as though I was still in the thick of a race, and my performance hadn’t been too negatively impacted by my 160km slog the weekend before.
As usual, I rely a fair bit on my gps to give me feedback about how I’m doing in the race. That was all well and find for the first 13-14km… until I apparently lost my satellite lock. It would be about 25 or so km before I started getting any data again on my pacing, etc. Luckily, the time was still ticking, so I knew by time at the various marked distances, but no instant data on my pace. In other words, it took me to about kilometer 38 when I realized that my goal of a 4 hour 55km race was definitely not in the cards. By then, I had skied my way along many of the nicest parts of the course. Namely, along the 50, then onto my fave, the 36, before heading up the all-to-familiar parkway to join back up with the number 1 near Keogan shelter.
Once at the Keogan turnoff, we veered right to tack on an out and back section along the number 1 trail in order to get the full 55km distance. This of course also resulted in us popping out at Champlain lookout. I realize many of you have been up there on bikes, but for those who aren’t into skiing, it’s a different world up there in the winter on the skinny skis. I paused a little on top to admire the view, then smiled to myself knowing that the really hard work was over, and that the remaining 18km or so would be predominantly downhill. Doing some quick math, I thought maybe I’d wrap it up in 4:15 or so, which would still be respectable. I pushed off down the hill and onto the final sections of the race.
I should mention the aid stations at this point as well. They’re awesome. Staffed by a small army at each checkpoint, they spread themselves out from a bit before to a bit after the checkpoint. Each person yelling out what they have, and doing their absolute best to get you fed and hydrated with minimal effort from you. My favourite snacks were the chocolate chip cookies, the cut up cereal bars, and washing it down with warm gatorade. At every aid station, I’d generally take 2 cups of drink, then 3 ‘cups’ of snacks, which equated to maybe 2 bars and 2 cookies. There was no science behind my nutrition, but this appeared to be just right to keep the engine running. Also, thanks to my easy clip in and clip out poles, I would always have 1 had free to eat / drink while the other continued to propel me. I never fully stopped at any point, which mentally is a big plus in my game!
When I got past Pink Lake and started the final descent, I realized there was still about 5k to go, but there had been 2 fellows trading the lead with me for quite a bit. I decided then and there that I’d have to beat them. One fell off the pace going downhill and hitting the flats again, but the second guy kept surging and pushing. However, I felt I was keeping something in the tank, and decided just to shadow for a bit, the turn up the heat later. That’s right. A battle for 167th place 🙂 Well, I eventually got my chance, and on the final flats, I took off. We then had a sharp left turn onto the narrower trails for the final 2-3km. I pushed hard, worried he’d be right on my heels, but instead, I opened up a little gap that I maintained to the finish. In the end, I only beat him by 36 seconds, but it still felt like a huge gap. We both laughed about it at the finish and congratulated each other for the good push!
Video Race Review
My final time was just under 4:25, and as mentioned, good enough for 167th of 375 participants. So while I was in the top half, it was the lower top half. Not as speedy as I’d dreamed, but given that my body could NOT have recovered that fast from CSM the week before, I took the result with a big smile.
I’ve had an absolute blast this winter training with the group, and skiing lots with Deanna in our lead up to the big events. It’s a bit weird now, as the skiing is all for fun. No need to be fast or get ready for any events, just enjoy the snow. And given the 30cm we got in the last 30hrs, things are looking up for a few more enjoyable skis! It’s also been a lot of fun capturing some of that skiing on video, which I hope gives you some idea of the fun we have out there during winter! Now that the Loppet is over, there remains only 1 race for the winter season, and that’s the season finale in the Mad Trapper series. For that race, no video! Just hard racing, and pictures to go with my impressions. Stay tuned for that story!