All posts by ActiveSteve

On Any Given Day….

Last weekend marked the season finale, series championship Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. I took part. I captured 3rd overall. I could stop there, but as you know me well, I won’t! You see, the season has been a bit up and down for me. There is no doubt I had a good season, and have raced hard and stayed at the front of the pack for most of the races, but the podium always seemed to be just out of reach for me, with the caliber of racers that were lining up with me at the start line. Read on to find out what went so right with this race.

As anyone who does a lot of racing, you will be painfully aware that a) anything can happen, b) never give up, and c) there will be good days and bad days.  Luckily for me in this race, there was relatively good mojo on all fronts. There’s a specific line that I’ve used for this race: “The right people didn’t show up.”. While all season the best of the best showed up, in this race, there was only 1 person at the front with me that I had no chance of winning (the series’ champ for the year). Apart from him, it was essentially a mix of other great runners, but people I knew I had a good chance of beating if things went well for me. I was motivated, and decided to give it my all.

mad_trapper_2014_finale

The weather was ideal for the race. It was sunny with a light wind, and about -10 degrees celsius. At the start line, I had a pile of nervous energy. A podium finish was what I was looking for, and all I would settle for. When Mike did the countdown, I was at the front and ready to rumble. I placed myself directly behind Gareth, knowing he would be in 1st. I did my best to stick close to his heels, but he was pulling away slowly within the first 800m or so. Luckily, glancing back, I could see that we had actually both pulled away from the next pack of runners. For some reason my HR was not registering correctly over the first 1.3k, so I was running a bit blind, and just hoping I wasn’t blowing up by running to hard in the opening.

This concern was amplified by the fact that this was, in my opinion, the hardest conditions we’ve ever had at the Ark for a race. Why? Well, there was essentially no track whatsoever to work with. The top was a relatively hard crust, but you punched through frequently, plunging into soft snow and needing to lift your feet up very high to move on. It was absolutely soul-crushing. I was sure that people would catch up and start passing, but I realized after a while that EVERYONE would be suffering on the first lap, particularly anyone heavier than me (which lets face it, is pretty much everyone!). Despite the mental obstacle this slog threw at me, I kept the pace up, and tried to keep pushing and catch up to Gareth. It was  long shot, but forced me to stay ahead of the rest of the chase pack.

Every now and again, I’d look back to see if anyone was getting within striking distance of me, but the gap seemed to persist and was likely 30s or so. Buoyed by this, I kept at it, sitting firmly in 2nd place, but getting really warm with all the effort. When I finally got close to the sugar shack, I peeled off my ear warmers, neck tube and gloves. I also unzipped by top as far as it could go, trying to prevent from overheating and sweating too much.

After another kilometer or so, I was heading down the steep hill to the lap marker, getting ready to start my second lap. The first lap had taken just over 40 minutes, and I’d ultimately end up with a negative split by running lap 2 in 36 minutes. At this point, you’ll probably note that I said I was in 2nd, yet came in 3rd overall. The pass happened in lap 2.

In fact, the pass happened pretty much right at the start of lap 2. This fellow came seemingly from out of nowhere. I was initially confused. I had slowed to grab a thermos I stashed at the start to grab a quick drink before the 2nd half of the race, and as I was jogging and drinking, realized I had a shadow. I hastily ditched the bottle and got back up to race speed. But it was too late. I was passed, and was now on the chase! I don’t know who this guy was, but he must have packed an extra lung for lap 2, as he was soon pulling away, in spite of the fact that I was pushing max trying to catch and pass him. He had clearly held back on lap 1!

Things were ironically made worse for me by the fact that the tough track had turned tame trough (like that?). We now had a narrow, relatively packed trail to follow thanks to all the racers that had come behind us on lap 1. My quarrel therefore had smooth trails to hammer it, and he did. I was in slight awe, but kept up the pace, as now I was genuinely worried that I had somehow dropped pace and was on the verge of getting passed by others. My heartrate rarely dropped below 180bpm the whole way.

Getting near the finish, I just had the steep final climb followed by the big descent into the finish chute left. I knew Nathan was not terribly far behind, and based on the 2nd race, where James managed to pip me at the line, I was NOT going to slack off at the end. I turned the amp up to 11 and pushed to the very last second, narrowly avoiding a collapse at the finish from exhaustion. Luckily, that left me with the podium slot I’d hope for. Sadly, the colour was wrong, but it was podium nonetheless.

As to my phantom chaser who got 2nd? Well, turns out it was a guy from France visiting a friend in Ottawa for a week, who decided to come out and try this. I’m pretty certain he’s an ultra trail guy who spends his time training in the Chamonix in France. Uncertain of this race, he had taken the first lap relatively easy, staying with his friend, then eventually decided to break off and push on ahead. Curse my luck, right? My toque was off to him though, as it was a great performance! Gareth had beaten me by 8.5 minutes for 1st!  2nd place had crossed the line 2 minutes ahead of me, and 4th was about 45s behind. All in all, a great race, and I was really happy with my performance. Yes, the best of the best were not there, but it was still a hard fought race!

The post-race meal and awards social capped off another fun season of [mostly] snowshoe racing at the Ark. Of course, given the way Mike runs things, there was not even a mention of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place finishers, just awards to the series champs 🙂 So this really is a race for personal glory only, no public fame. We had our fill of pasta, cookies, brownies, chips, and tasty  Broadhead Beer. After this, my next challenge will be racing the ITU Winter Triathlon in Quebec in the Elite Division. I fully expect to finish DFL in that one, as I’m racing against the best in the world and Olympians. You’ll get the whole story on that once I’ve completed it.

CSM Level Up: GOLD!

A week has gone by. The soreness has passed. The tally of toenails I’m likely to lose is up to three. I’m ready to tell my tale, and I almost think I’m ready to contemplate doing it all over again next year! Yes, I’m speaking about the Canadian Ski Marathon. The yearly pilgrimage between Lachute and Buckingham. 160km over two days of pure classic cross-country skiing bliss. This year I was tackling my Coureur des Bois Gold pin. This entails doing the entire thing with a pack carrying all your food and camping gear, and sleeping out under the stars on a hay bale with other CdB Gold skiers. Read on for the whole story.

Several of you will remember that in the past 2 years, I covered the event for Get Out There by putting together videos of the event (Check out my 2012 videos for Day 1 and Day 2, and 2013 videos for Day 1 and Day 2). This year, I wanted to focus on skiing, to ensure success, and hadn’t planned on covering it. However, at the last minute, I was asked to be part of a media team covering the event ‘semi-live’ from the trail. Of course I said yes. The downside was that it consumed more time than I hope fussing with cold electronics, but the upside is that I have a few pictures and videos to share. Check out my little slideshow below!

The night before the event started in earnest, I got to finally check into the ‘Gold Dorm’ in Buckingham, Que. This is the place nearest the start of the event, and is reserved for only the CdB Gold Participants. It’s not actually anything special, just a school gymnasium, but the company is exclusive and was a good chance to meet up with some people I knew and get the skinny on CdB gold strategies. We had to get up at around 4am the next morning, so I was in bed around 9pm, excited and nervous for the weekend. I’d been successful on my previous 2 attempts, but every year is a challenge, and the route reverses direction. This year was the ‘hard’ route. Easier (shorter, flatter) 1st day, followed by the harder (longer, hillier) 2nd day. All I could do was sleep well and be positive.

Day 1 Map and Profile

Day 1 Map

The next morning, I was up and ready with everyone else, and heading to the cafeteria to grab breakfast. I met up with the event director, and chatted with him a little bit before fueling up. We would see each other a little later in the day, under much different circumstances. I packed up all my gear, and got dressed to head out for the bus. That was when I hit my first snag. I was at the back of the crowd waiting for buses. As a result, they were all full, and a group of us got stranded and had to wait for a bus to make a return trip from the start line. Unfortunately, that meant we would actually miss the official start of the CdB Gold group, set for 5:40am!

Rather than worrying too much about, we rolled with it. After all, we only set out about 5 minutes after them, but it meant that we were not in the ‘pack’, and the CdB silver hotshots would be bearing down on us quickly. At that time of the morning, it is still pitch black, and we ski by headlamps only, travelling carefully on the hills we encounter.

The first day was split into 5 sections, and out opening leg was relatively easy and only 12km long. Pulling into the first checkpoint, the ski and terrain around us was just starting to lighten up. I had something to eat and drink, but didn’t bother re-waxing my skis yet, as they were in pretty good shape still due to amazing snow conditions. The second section was another ‘easy’ one and 13.6km in length. I got through that one with no problems, and could see this was going to be a beautiful weekend. The sun was finally rising, and the skies were blue overhead. It was great seeing all the skiers, and I was making good progress and the pace was great. I pulled into the second CP in very high spirits and made a little video, taking time to eat, drink, socialize a bit, and re-wax my skis. I left with a big grin, not realizing I would be back there in a bit…

The third leg was where things took an interesting turn for me. This section was an ‘intermediate’ level, and was 16.2km long. For me, however, it turned into a 24km ordeal. The first 2k were fine. Then, I passed a little hand-painted sign stating “narrow trail 2km”. Not a big deal, it just meant we’d be going single file. Up and up and up we went, making slow progress, but in nice conditions. At the top of this hill (in 1.8k or so), we inevitably had to descend. I should also mention that by this point, we’d actually passed 2 or 3 other skiers returning on foot with broken equipment. I made  a mental note to be very careful to not end up with them.

Anyway, back to the descent. It didn’t look super-hard. There were tracks heading straight down, and thought that would be the way to go. I let the skiers ahead of me get a little gap before I started off. Well, my skis were gliding great, and by staying in the tracks, I was bearing down fast on them. I had to try to snowplow of step out of the tracks to slow down. That didn’t work so well. In very slow-motion in my mind, I realize my left ski (and body) were heading for the trees on the trailside (as it was quite narrow). I managed to avoid the trees with my body, but heard a “crrrrrack!” and suddenly found myself airborne. I knew what had happened, but was still processing it.

As I flew through the air, a thought crossed my mind. “Hmmm, cross-country ski bindings don’t automatically release, do they? My left ski doesn’t seem to be attached to my foot.” I hit the ground, no worse for wear thankfully, and fearfully stomped back up the hill to the little group of 2-3 trees where my left ski had gotten wedged. It wasn’t in two pieces, and I was hopeful. Until I fished it out. The binding (and entire top layer of the ski) had been torn off the base, as you can see in this picture.

Busted SkiUpon retrieving my broken ski, I started to evaluate my options. My first thought was to head to the bottom of the hill and fix it somehow to keep going. Once at the bottom, realizing that the binding was actually completely broken too, I realized there was just no way I’d be able to ski out on this. In a snap decision, I realized i’d have to hike out of my predicament. Yeah, 4 km, with a big pack, carrying broken skis, on snow that I kept punching through and sinking into while trying to avoid literally hundreds of skiers coming the opposite way. Luckily, one of them was my lovely wife, so I did manage to get a nice kiss and some words of encouragement. I wasn’t giving up, but distinctly realized this might be it for my dreams of a gold finish for this year.

When I finally got to the last checkpoint, 40 minutes had easily gone by. I went straight to a ski tech on site. He took a quick look and confirmed I was screwed. Then, someone said ‘go see the Swix guys, they can fix anything’. Nope. Another confirmation of my horrible position. It could possibly be duct taped, but that would mean having the tape in the grip zone, making things really bad. Then, my guardian angel appeared. A man with a piece of cardboard hung around his neck with a hand-written event number and the words, “The Prez” on the sign.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Tennessee Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

This was none other than Boomer Throop, the actual presidenc of CSM. After a few moments consideration, he offered, no, insisted, I take his skis. One glance confirmed from me that unfortunately, he used NNN bindings, whereas mine were SNS. Completely incompatible. “Well, what size are you?” he asked. I replied 8.5. “Perfect, mine are 11”. Well, in my world, that isn’t a perfect fit, but could work. Before I could even think about protesting, he was taking off the skis, boots, AND his socks, standing barefoot telling me to “take the f*cking skis, and don’t say another word. Get out there”. Another volunteer ran off and found me another pair of socks, bringing my total to 4 pairs of socks. I layered them on, slid my own orthotics into the ski boots, and stuck my foot in. They were nice and warm, and I was able to get them tight around my feet, albeit with quite a bit of room in front of my toes.

So that is how I spent 134 km of the 160 km event. Skis that were too long, with an unknown kick zone, boots nearly 3 sizes too big, and 4-5 pairs of socks. This would make for quite a finish if I could pull it off. Needless to say, when I started back out, things were a bit awkward, but I WAS SKIING! That’s all that mattered. I hadn’t given up, and I now had the MEANS to finish, I just needed the right SPIRIT. My parting words to the president were that the only way I could think of repaying him for his kindness was to actually compete the event and get my gold, which was precisely what I inteded to do. Unfortunately, by the time I set out again, I was well over an hour back. All the golds, silvers, bronzes, and even tourers were gone by, and meeting the time cutoffs later down the trail were weighing heavy on my mind. As such, I put my head down and just focused on skiing as efficienatly and quickly as i could. I made steady progress, eventually catching and passing lots of fellow skiers on the way, but lots of these tourers, meaning they weren’t trying to meet a time cutoff. As such, they were quite happy to encourage me on and move aside if needed. For their part, the skis were pretty decent. I had a heck of a time controlling them in some situations due to the longer length, but I was getting decent kick and glide. For that, I can probably also thank the very forgiving snow conditions!

Coming out the other end of the 3rd leg, I was happy to make if to the next checkpoint feeling good. I was now up against the longest leg of the day at over 20km, and the looming cutoff. Without even looking at the time, I set about grabbing a quick bite and drink, and re-waxing the skis, taking a complete guess at where exactly to apply the grip wax. Knowing that Boomer was a bit bigger than me (who isn’t?), I assumed I could go pretty far forward, even with my pack on. I guessed correctly, as starting back out again, things still felt decent. I kept pushing hard the entire leg, uncertain of exaxctly how much time I had, as i was afraid to look. It was indeed a long and demoralizing leg when you are on borrowed gear, but I did eventually find myself at CP4. Time to spare to cutoff? Nearly 50 minutes!!! My hard pushing paid off, but now I worried I’d put too much into the effort. I vowed to take the next and final leg easier, as it no longer mattered how long it took. The only thing to do on arrival at gold camp was to eat, drink, set up camp, wax skis, and sleep. I knew I’d have friends there, and likely a reserved spot.

In spite of taking it ‘easier’, I was still feeling competely drained by the time I hit the gold camp turnoff near Montebello. On the plus side, I’d never seen Deanna again, which meant that she had easily completed Day 1 herself, and was likely gliding into the finish for the day. This lifted my spirits a touch, and I set off on the final 2km slog, with a few other skiers. Happily, I can report I was by no means the last camper in either! Sah-weet! Another nice thing on arrival was seeing my buddy James basically waiting for me. He grabbed my skis, and showed me to our camp, where the fire was already roaring. I dropped my pack, and headed off to claim the 2 hay bales that were assigned to me. One to sit on at the fire, the other to spread out as an insulative mattress. Luckily, even though the sun had technically set, there was still some light, and I got mostly settled in before it was dark.

Day 2 Summary

Day 2 Map

After getting myself organized, I joined everyone else around the fire, trying to dry my ski clothes, eating and drinking as much as I could, while swapping war stories with my fellow skiers. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with a bad day. One of our friends had had an accident, and dislocated his shoulder, needing a medical evac. So things could have gone much worse for me. However, I was completely and utterly exhausted, and quite concerned about the next day, which was the harder of the two days of skiing! It didn’t help when I was assured I would absolutely hate getting up the next morning in the cold trying to make food, break camp, and head out by 5:30am. Yikes. I decided to live for the moment, and tried to just have a good time around the fire, which was quite easy with the fine company I was sharing the time with. We were amongst the latest people to still be up, finally turning in around 9pm, after filing a quick video, and dropping Deanna a line to see how she was.

I’d love to report that I had an amazing sleep, but I really didn’t. I tossed and turned, trying to keep my ski clothes warm and dry with me in the sleeping bag, and also recharging both my GPS watch and cellphone. I wasn’t overly cold, as temperatures hovered around -12c, which all things considered, was pretty good for gold camp it turns out.I perhaps got 1.5 hours of fitful rest before hearing my alarm go off at 4am, and trying to figure out just how i would get ready for the day. In the end, I decided to just get out of my bivy, and stand outside in the head area while I got dressed. That actually worked out quite well, and I was soon bundled up again, and bustling around getting breakfast ready and packing up my campsite. I’d also decided to throw on a 5th pair of socks for this day, as the pain on the tops of my toes was getting bad, and wanted to try padding them a bit more. I had waxed the skis the night before heading to bed, and was ready to take off. All the campers were making their way to the exit area to be scanned out and start their 82 km day of skiing. I felt pretty stiff and sore, but optimistic.

One of the funny things about CSM is that although you are skiing with hundreds of others, you are, for all intents and purposes, on your own. Everyone has their own pace, and most people just opt to ski at the pace they want to, which means you may find yourself with people for a little while, but then one person will speed up or slow down, or stop for a break, and you’ll be on your own. As such, all my camp mates basically left at different times, and I only bumped into them again along the route at checkpoints. I don’t mind too much though, as I like the solitude at times anyway. Pacing was going to be the word of the day anyway. The ratings on the legs for the 2nd day were intermediate, intermediate, hard, intermediate, and finally, easy. In other words, the first 4 legs would be hard fought. Lots of long climbs, steep descents, and road sections. My plan was to just ski at a pretty steady pace all day and see where that left me for the cutoff at the end of the 4th leg, which for today was 3:30pm. It certainly didn’t seem an impossible task, given that we still had great conditions.

I could explain in detail all the legs, but there is no need. I skied well. The snow was great. The climbs were at times longs and brutal, but I’m actually a bit of a masochist, and felt a purity in all the climbs on the day. The didn’t bother me at all. I’m good at just powering up hills and getting through them. I’ve developed a pretty good mental toughness over years of racing, and I guess it pays off now and again. I was making reasonable time all day, and pausing at each checkpoint, letting the wax techs take care of my borrowed skis while I ate and drank. I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up bonking later in the day. At various points early in the day I got to ski with Dave, Lise, Nathan, and Annie, all four of which are amazing skiers, and were doing the whole course with the CdB group, but skiing at a pretty good pace. The legend of my story had also propagated through the event, as a number of times, when I’d be chatting with people about my day, they’d inevitably ask ‘oh, are you that guy that had the broken ski and had to borrow skis and too-big boots?’. It was pretty funny. Some of these people even remembered seeing me the day before as I was hiking out, and were impressed to see me still in it, let alone being able to bounce back and get my Gold CdB in the process. Truth be told, that’s probably the main reason I pushed so hard. I hate failing at anything, and this one was basically 3 years in the making!

You might be now wondering how close I was with the time cutoff the second day. Well, amazingly, I still had about 1 hour and 20 minutes to spare at the cutoff. In other words, it was no problem at all. In fact, this year, even with the problems, was the most comfortable times I finished with. Granted, the gold skiers did get a 2 km head start, and a 30 minute lead as compared to the bronze CdB people, but I was still mighty elated when I saw the time we had left. Rest assured, that does NOT mean this was an easy day by any stretch of the imagination. Heading out on the final leg, it was a great feeling. There was only about 12 km to go, and I’d wrap things up at a decent time. I decided to push hard anyway, in hopes of being there with lots of time to shower and be ready to greet Deanna. I will say though, the final 3 km felt like they took forever. After speaking to several other skiers, we are convinced they lied about the distance of the last leg. We are pretty sure it was about 3 km longer than advertised. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve mentally prepared yourself to be done in 2 km, then see a sign saying 5 km to go, it makes a difference!

Regardless, I finally found myself on the final steep downhill run before the finish line, with the smell of sausages (and victory) in the air. They called my name as I crossed and I realized I’d done it. I was now a Coureur des Bois Gold finisher at CSM. That felt great, and exhausting. An organizer found me shortly afterwards to reunite me with my busted ski, and collect my borrowed gear. What a tale eh? I had a sausage at the finish, then made my way to the shuttle bus to head to the gym where the luggage and awards were being dealt with. Unfortunately, that is when I also learned that Deanna had sadly missed a cutoff on day 2, and was on her way to pick up the car. I felt crushed for her, but also extremely proud of what she managed to accomplish this year, and the improvements she has made. Tackling the full CSM is a monumental challenge, and there are loads of stories of people not making it. But she killed the first day, and was having a great 2nd day too. She has already vowed to return to get her “G-D Bronze!”. And I believe her.

That pretty much does it for this story. As I type this, I’m still nursing some pulled muscles in my groin, resulting from dealing with the skis that were too long and having to herringbone up the hills. I’m also nursing my toes back to health, and see about 3 toenails that are dead and will eventually fall off. But I have GOLD! That won’t fall off! Will I return? Quite possibly. After all, if I do just 4 more gold CdBs, I get a PERMANENT BIB! They always have something to keep us coming back! Hope you enjoyed my tale. I’m off for one weekend, then back in action for the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race Season Finale. Till then, take care of you and yours, and see you out in the snow!

Chasing Helicopters in Saint Donat

Ahhh, winter racing. As you know, sometimes, I plan to enter races far in advance of their actual occurrence, and sometimes, I just sort of throw my hat in the ring for something to do. This post, a report from the Endurance Aventure Winter Triathlon, falls pretty much into the second category. I knew about the race for quite some time, but since I didn’t know anyone heading up for it, I didn’t sign up right away. However, upon learning that a few friends were heading up for it, and the fact that I had some space in the calendar, I decided to make the 2.5 hour drive up and make a go of it. And just to make it more memorable, I opted to cover the event for Get Out There. Read on to find out how this race played out and how I did.

I’ve been burned in the past by making winter road trips for races, but decided that the 2.5 hour drive shouldn’t be too bad, even it we got snow. Luckily, conditions were actually perfect for the drive. The race was actually set to get underway at 8:30am on Saturday, so Deanna and I opted to make an overnight out of if an booked a little room in a local motel, along with others from the Ottawa crowd. I was actually pretty happy that Deanna joined me, as it meant that she was able to snap some great pictures of the event. She posted them up on flickr and on facebook, but to make it easy, I’ll just let you check ’em out here 🙂

Another good reason to take part in this race was that it would give me a chance to see how I might stack up when I take part in the ITU Winter Triathlon Format race in March, where I’m racing as an ‘Elite’ race. It’s a long story, but I really think I should be an age grouper there, but in the end, I’ll be lining up with Olympians and Pros. Yup, I’ll probably be dead last in that race, but wanted to see if I can actually make the 1.5 hour cutoff time limit! But I’m jumping ahead, aren’t I? What exactly is this race? Well, as a triathlon, it’s 3 events. In this case, the format is Snowshoeing (4.2km), followed by Speed Skating (12km), and capped off with Skate Skiing (6km).

The part that really had me intrigued was the venue, and specifically, the speed skating portion. At 12km, and this being my worst discipline (I only skated once this year before the race!), I knew I would be slow, but the course looked cool. We had to do 14 laps of a natural course that wound its way through the forest! No joke! The night before, 3 of us headed over to check this out, and it was pristine. Perfectly smooth ice, wide enough for about 2 racers side by side, and featuring s-turns, inclines, and declines. It would definitely be a challenge, but a cool one. So, let’s look at my performance.

StDonat Results

The first thing you might notice is that I *did* make it in under 1:30. Not by much, but I’m pretty sure I can improve on that with a different course and different conditions. Although the weather had called for relatively warm -9 or so, when we awoke early to head to the venue, it was more like -25! I was freezing, and not at all looking forward to the start. I knew I’d warm up, but I had to change gloves, and ended up keeping a jacket on the whole time. Cold fingers make transitions painfully difficult, and low temps wreak havoc on my filming as batteries tend to die quickly.

For the snowshoe, the course started pancake-flat for about 400m, then went on a wild romp straight up a mountain. I hadn’t counted on that. You can see by the relief in the image that this site was in fact a large hill, featuring 125m of climbing in about 1.8km. One racer directly in front of my at one point decided to toss his breakfast and had to step aside. Others also mentioned that breakfast was quite possibly coming back up on account of the effort. Luckily, mine stayed put in my stomach, but it was still tough. James and I were running neck and neck pretty much the whole course, with him right on my heels, matching all my passes. We had started the race back in the pack a bit, but made up several spots on the snowshoe, which I knew would be my strongest discipline in the race. I pulled into transition just ahead of James with the 10th fastest time, and would only drop back after that.

I had a pretty quick transition, and made it onto the ice just ahead of James, but while I was fussing with camera and gloves on the opening lap, he caught and passed me. Oh well, I could only work at trying to approximate something like a proper skate technique for the next 14 laps. Sadly, somewhere around lap 11 or 12, James actually LAPPED ME! I was crushed. But not overly surprised, given my single, 40 minute skate of the year. Mental note: must do a *little* more training before my big Quebec City race in March! I ended up losing about 4 or 5 spots in the skate, but on the plus side, I got to enjoy the scenery for much longer than my competitors! Ha ha ha. A nice part was that on every lap, Deanna was there to cheer me on and snap pictures. I won’t share most of the images as it is painfully obvious how poor my skate form was!

Back into transition, and it was time to slap on the skinny sticks and head out for a nice little ski. I have been working a lot more on my skate skiing this year, and hap hopes of at least making it look decent. Switching from skating to skiing took a little adjustment in the first few minutes, but something seemed off. Turns out the cold snow, and less than perfect grooming conditions made my progress feel much slower than I’d hoped. Plus, we were back out on the hilly part. Not quite as pronounced, but there was some pushing to be done. Luckily, I learned later that lots of other people found the ski a tough slog as well. In practice, I can tell my skate skiing is improving, I just need one good race with good conditions to prove to myself that I actually know what I’m doing now!

Happily, the final 500m or so were downhill, and there was a nice steep descent to the finish chute where people were cheering all the racers on (and Deanna was waiting). I had a big smile on my face from the days’ effort. I knew I hadn’t cracked top 10 or anything, but it was a really enjoyable race. The race setting was pretty much perfect for this type of event. Small town, friendly people, good organization, amazing course, and good competitors to test myself against. Obviously I wish I had been higher in rankings, but I was happy overall. My final time was 1:26:09, good enough for 16th overall, 15h male, and 8th in category. I’m always impressed at the caliber of the Quebec racers. It’s no wonder the Quebec athletes are winning Olympic medals for Canada in Sochi!

So why did I mention chasing helicopters? Well, in spite of this being a relatively small event (there were under 200 total), they actually had a helicopter on the course filming the action! In all my years racing, this is the first time I have ever had a helicopter hovering overhead while I’m racing. It was pretty cool, and adds another bit of excitement to the event. Sadly, for my own coverage of the event, I had no helicopter support. I was left to my own devices as usual, consisting of the ubiquitous GoPro strapped to my chest, and a better camera on a tripod for before and after the race footage. In spite of my low-tech approach, I’m still happy with my coverage, so please check out the video I shot below if you haven’t already 🙂

As a closing thought, I’d definitely recommend this event to anyone who is interested in trying out a winter triathlon. I absolutely loved the course, and Saint Donat is a great little community not far from Mont Tremblant. We had a nice post-race break at a local cafe before heading to the awards at the host hotel, which also offered a great spread of food as part of the race entry. Top to bottom, it was a well-run event. I’m looking forward to taking part in another race they put on this summer, the Raid Gaspesie International, a 3-day adventure race in September! If this was any indication, that should be an awesome adventure as well!

 

Doubling Down in the Dead of Winter

Good day my friends! As most of you are well aware, I like to train. I also like to race. Sometimes, I may bite off a little more than I can chew. This post will be an ode to one of those instances. As my title alludes to, I made the great decision to race in two races in one day! Unprecedented? No, as I did the same thing last year with no ill effects. However, this time, things didn’t quite go as planned. Regardless, please read on to learn about the fun I had at the Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon in the morning, and the Mad Trapper Night Race in the evening, and find out where the wheels fell off!

I suppose I might as well do the cowardly thing right off the bat and make my excuses. You see, I’d been battling a flu / cold for over two weeks on the day in question. Even as I write this, over three weeks have passed (and 3 races!), and I’m still coughing a fair bit. I know I should have listened to my body, but the Snowman Award was up for grabs, and it’s always so much fun that I just couldn’t skip out on either of the two races.

Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon

First up in the morning was the Frost and Fire Tri. I’d done this race last year for its inaugural outing, and decided to give it a whirl once again. Last year, the race was plagued with horribly cold weather, and was a tough grind, and I had hoped this year things might turn out a  bit better. Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of the organizers, mother nature threw them another curve ball. How so? Well, let’s just say she huffed and puffed and blew the house down!

Last year, there was only a small tent for participants to seek shelter from the elements in the farmers field. So this year, they tripled the size of the tent. Unfortunately, 2/3rds of it blew away the night before! Not only that, but all the groomed tracks were completely covered in blown-in snow before the event got underway. So once again, we arrived to a cold, wind-swept race site, trying our best to stay warm, and figure out where the snowshoe and ski tracks were!

Frost and Fire Results

As you can see above, I managed a time of 1:40 for the entire race. However, that wasn’t an easy task at all. I seeded myself at the front of the race, hoping to do well. The snowshoe leg would probably be my best bet of doing well, but was also the shortest leg, at a mere 2.7km. I went out hard, and was rewarded by spending most of it in 4th, and for a few brief shining steps, finding myself in 2nd place! It was great. Whereas the show was quite soft and hard to find footing in the main track, I found spots beside the track that were quite crusted over, giving me a chance to ‘float’ past my competitor friends 🙂 Towards the end of the snowshoe I faded a little bit and slipped into a pace line of 4 other racers, coming into the first transition in about 7th place (but importantly, with all the leaders).

I tried my best to pull off a fast transition, slipping on my ski boots and running out. I fought a bit with gloves and poles before finally gliding off, ready for 2 laps of 4.3km each, for a total of 8.6km of skiing. I’ve been taking skate ski lessons, and had hoped to focus on strong technique. However, nothing could prepare me for this monstrosity. While the terrain was relatively flat, it was all buried in 20cm of fresh snow for a lot of it. Imagine trying to skate ski in sand. Yeah. Not fun. I didn’t know what to do. Not only that, but you couldn’t even pole well, as the tip would sink 2 feet down, on account of a non-packed trail! It was horrible. With a sinking heart, I contemplated throwing in the towel. However, realizing everyone else would be suffering, and that I wasn’t actually being passed, I figured I’d grin and bear it.

When I finally cruised back into transition, my spirit was crushed. Luckily, it was just a nice 5k road run out and back (albeit with some climbs), to finish the race. I re-grouped, and pushed hard to the finish line, trying to claw back any time I could. My end result was a respectable 9th overall, with a 5th in my category. The race was wrapped with awards at a local restaurant (for an extra charge surprisingly). This was a good spot to trade war stories with my fellow racers. No one got our unscathed. I was also there to cheer on the winners, who are people I train with. Very cool to be a part of ‘the team’.

Anywho, to close off on this race, you might as well watch my race review, if you haven’t seen it before. Sadly, I have no pictures from this one. Too focused on racing, staying warm, and getting the filming done!

Mad Trapper Night Race

The second race of the day is another perennial favourite of mine, the Mad Trapper Night snowshoe race. It’s really cool to watch a field full of headlights bobbing around as they race their way through the woods in the dark. As with all Mad Trappers, the focus is on fun anyway, so the only real competition is manufactured by those of us testing each other out. And of course, that means me! I was still stinging from the last race where I got pipped at the line, and wanted to see if I could kick some butt this time. My main adversary had also raced in the morning, so we were in the same boat. I figured that with a few hours of recovery at home, I should be good to go, right? Maybe not. Let’s see how that worked out…

In another funny twist, yet again this year, the night race was plagued by somewhat poor weather (read: there was a snowstorm!) on the lead up. Although it had been clear earlier in the day, by the evening, it was a full-on snowy stormy night. The past three years have basically had the same weather! The funny thing is, the crowds just get bigger in bad weather. But I digress. Due to the weather Deanna and I were running pretty late, and showed up pretty much right at the start time. Luckily, the race was delayed about 10 minutes on account of lots of other racers arriving late. Some had started wondering if I’d show, but of course, I wouldn’t miss the chance!

Headlamps on, snowshoes strapped to my feet, it was time to do the dance. I lined up at the front, aware of my competitors and where I should seed myself. The field was pretty much the same as the last race, so I settled in about 6th to 8th slot on the opening lap. James and I let the front runners take off, and we found ourselves in a little trio of racers. I felt OK, but not great. James also seemed a little tired, and at one point even pulled over to let me pass. For a brief moment, I thought that I would be able to just stay ahead and power my way to the finish ahead of him (I was probably in about 5th place now).

Mad_Trapper_Results

For most of the first lap, things just went along nicely like that, with me staying ahead of James and pushing along. However, with the last kilometer or so of the first lap, I started waning a bit, and let James pass me on the last big climb. I thought I’d just let things go at that, and stay behind him. However, he stopped for a drink at the Start/Finish, and I shot past again. As a result, I felt it was back in time for me to stay ahead, and pressed on bravely.

Unfortunately, the wheels fell off. Big time! See that graph above in blue? Notice how it shot up, stayed steady for a while, then just gradually drops off to nothing? Yup. That is my heartrate, and it shows quite dramatically where I fell apart, and got slower and slower, eventually falling off to a walk in the last 2km.

I felt horrible. I was completely parched, starving, and had no energy. I literally wanted to curl up into a ball and sleep on the side of the trail. I was cursing my body, and annoyed at the situation, but unable to do anything. Every now and again I’d get the bright idea to try and run again (usually on an uphill), only to crash back down. Eventually, if felt like everybody caught and passed me. I believe 7 people did so in the last km!

I was not a happy camper. A few asked if I was okay, and I just told them to race their race, and I’d be fine. The last person to pass me, Paul Shea, a fireman by trade, went the extra step. He offered to walk with me, to which I told him to race on. Once he finished, he got a gel from someone and BACKTRACKED to find me and give it to me to help me finish. I couldn’t argue and just ate the offering. This was probably my worst-feeling finish in a race since the last Ironman that I did where I don’t even remember certain parts of the run and had to dive in water to cool my core temperature down.

I know it was bad because at the finish, people didn’t even make fun of me, as they could tell I was a broken man. Even though there was beer at the finish, I didn’t pour a single pint for myself. I didn’t deserve it. However, I DID deserve the 3 brownies that I ate along with the delicious chili on offer. There was a nice festive atmosphere, but I was too pooped to really enjoy it.

So there you have it, a fun couple of races, but a disappointing way to cap off the day for me. In retrospect, I think I didn’t hydrate or re-fuel properly between races. I had gone home, and worked on some other stuff rather than focusing on me. As a result, I paid the price. Lesson learned, and time to move on, right? And move on was the key, as in 1 week, I’d be off for the next race, a winter triathlon in St. Donat, Quebec, but that’s for another post! Till then, stay hydrated, and enjoy the snow!