All posts by ActiveSteve

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!

 

I Made a Deal with the Devil… and Lost!

Greetings sports fans. It has taken me almost a week to write up this blog post, as I’m still recovering from a humiliating defeat right at the finish line of my latest race. That’s right, a mere 4 days into 2014, and I was testing my fitness at a Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race. Not just any race though, the dreaded ‘hilly’ course. This was over 10 km of grueling ups and downs around the property surrounding the Ark in 2 loops! I had rested for 2 days, and wanted to attack the course and see if I could improve on my 5th place finish from the previous race. Of course, I wasn’t alone in this mission, with a good group of hearty souls lining up with me at the start, including some real speedsters. So how did I do? Well, you’ll just have to read on to find out. I had a camera with me, but in the madness, only fired off a few frames after the race, which you can view on flickr as usual. Now read on!

Random Pics from Event

As you read on, and as you hear more about this race, you’ll see exactly why I’m having a hard time living it down. You really don’t need to do much more than glance at the race results page for proof of my shaming. Go on, click on over there, it’s in black and white right at the top “The race where James passed Steve right at the line! “ And so continues my embarrassment all week. Need more proof, well, please, dear readers, allow me to invite you to witness the exchange on Facebook as well. I am literally being put to task and humiliated publicly by friends and people I admire :-(. Good thing I have thick skin, right? You bet. It’s also good that I believe there is no such thing as bad publicity, and at least I will be remembered for this event, right? Of course, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s just step back and give a quick re-cap of my undoing, shall we?

The day started innocently enough for me. James Galipeau and I were carpooling together to the race, both intent on putting in a good showing. It looks as though we’ll get to do some great adventure racing together later in the season, so it’s good to push each other in training too. Plus, we often match up quite similarly in these sorts of events. Of course, according to him he was ‘totally out of race shape’, but I knew I’d have to watch out. I’d managed 5th place in the first race, and ideally, hoped for the same this time. ESPECIALLY once we arrived to see some of the tough competition. Once again, a couple of the local track, road, and cycling stars came out for this one. Never easy racing against a pro cyclist, the winner of the National Capital ½ Marathon, AND ex World Cup skiers, is it? Rare company indeed, but just another day in the life of a Mad Trapper event! We knew we’d be lucky to stay in the front heap in this one. Lucky for me, I got bib number 666, and decided that might be a good omen for some reason!

My Race Stats

Race_Results

Like it or not, we’d be in for a doozy. Temperatures were just right for a good race too. At about -10 degrees Celsius, it was warm enough to go with only race layers, and not overheat, while not so cold that we’d suffer. Well at least not suffer any more than expected. The race started about 5 minutes late on account of the large number of last-minute racers showing up, and as usual, I seeded myself in the front pack. Behind the biggest guns, but ahead of the hopefuls.

The pace started out quite reasonable in my mind. I didn’t feel like I was pushing overly hard, and hoped that I’d be able to stay with the front group. There was probably around 10-12 of us at the front working at this level. Truth be told, looking at the graph, it was only about the first 200m that were the warm-up. After that point, my heart rate broke 170 bpm, and basically stayed up there for the rest of the race (averaging 177 bpm over the race!). The heavy hitters slowly started detaching themselves from our front ‘pod’, We dropped a few on the way, until it was (apparently) a group of 4 off ahead, then a group of 5 of us in the 2nd pod. Natasha, Vero, Dave, Myself, and James, in that order. The two ladies are tough as nails, and I doubted I’d be able to stick with Vero through the whole thing. Her and Dave had both beaten me at the Anvil in December. Natasha on the other hand, I have beaten in the past, and James and I often jostle for spots here. So, with that in mind, we ran as a unit.

After a bit, Dave pulled off and let James and I go past. This was unexpected, and meant he was basically out. He just wasn’t feeling it I guess (then has the nerve to make fun of me! Lol). So we were down to 4 of us. After a bit, Natasha and Vero pulled off and had about a 15-20m gap on us, which stayed constant until basically the end of Lap 1. James and I held our spots, with him matching me step for step. I generally pulled ahead on downhills, only to have him chase me down on the uphills, but neither of us really gaining or losing. We passed the start/finish and embarked on lap 2.

I grabbed a cup of water, and James grabbed a bottle, both of us trying (and failing) to get much drink into us before the first hill on the other end of the driveway. However, with over half the race in the bag, I tried to step up my pace just a little and bridge the gap to the girls. Which we did successfully. After a few hundred meters, I felt like I could make a move and pass, which is where I pulled of a huge tactical move. There was steep downhill with an S shape to it. Picture the girls passing on the outer apex of that S, and me taking the straight line instead to jump in front. So after the first part of the S, I was ahead of Vero, then in the 2nd half, managed to just squeeze ahead of Natasha.

You have to understand that in a wilderness snowshoe race, passing chances are very slim. If you are on the trail, you’re in a nice little ‘snow canyon’ formed by racers packing the trail. To pass, you have to throw yourself in very deep snow which slows you down a lot, and then try to pass. I got lucky. James did not. Apparently after my heroic pass, which he admired, he decided to try one himself a bit later. Sadly for him, it backfired, and all the momentum he used to get in the deep snow merely propelled him, Superman style, headlong into the snow. He said it took a while to recover.

So now picture it, I’m ahead, and pushing myself to the breaking point, but realizing we have 3.5k to go. A bit early for a finishing kick… Regardless, I wanted to mentally put in a gap, and eventually got to probably 100m ahead, leaving at least a couple of them thinking I was out of the picture. However, as I feared, Vero had lots of reserves left. She was just shadowing Natasha, knowing that 1st place was hers if she passed Natasha. Sensing this, Natasha picked up her speed to stay ahead. The downside is that eventually Vero decided to turn on her own jets, and shot in front, but not before they had significantly closed the gap to me. With about 1k to go, Vero bore down on me, and passed me like I was standing still. I had tried to shake her, but there was no hope. Oh yeah, probably worth mentioning she was ONE of the pro cyclists there (the other being Derrick St. John, winner of the race).

I was okay with her passing, as I expected it, and just wanted to stay ahead of the other two. Glancing back, it was Natasha, followed by James another few meters back, and I seemed to be in good shape to stay ahead. Undaunted, I pressed on hard until the final 2 major climbs. At the top of the final climb, I was still ahead with 30-40m of a gap, and thought James was behind Nat. Turns out, he wasn’t He had passed her, and wanted to close in on me.
Feeling as though it was ‘in the bag’ for me, I started down the final steep downhill leading to the finishing chute, probably only going at about 80%. People were ‘cheering’ for me, and I enjoyed the moment. Crossing the line, I hear “He took it from you”, and noticed a shadow on my left. Turns out, they were NOT cheering for me, but yelling “He’s right on your tail”. WHAT??!?! Ahead of me, laying flat on his back and barely alive was James, who had undertaken a heroic sprint to push for me at the line. I had NO idea he was there, and had let him pip me at the line. RIGHT AT THE LINE!! I have NEVER lost at the line like that, and was really annoyed by it.

However, that’s racing, right? We live and learn. James realized that I had no idea, and acknowledged he honestly didn’t think he could possibly catch me, but went for it anyway, so ‘chapeau’ to him for the effort. I just wish I had noticed and made it a real sprint. Suffice to say, I would NOT have lost if I’d just noticed he was that close. Grrrr…. even reliving it as I type makes me mad. Not for him, but for me. Stupid stupid stupid. And even worse? It was for that 5th place I had hoped for!

You know what? That’s really all I have to say about that race. Extremely hard fought, fun as hell, and a great post-race social atmosphere with food and beer as usual. Already looking forward to the next Mad Trapper, which will be the famous night race. Of course, first, it’s time for a change of scenery. I’m off to Cornwall to race in a Dion Series snowshoe race with a few others. Should be a great time, and stay tuned for that story. I can promise you I will NOT be pipped at the line again. I probably won’t win either, but I will get what I deserve 🙂 Till then, pray for more snow… it’s too early for 8 degrees and rainy weather!

Chasing the Snowman… 2 Races in 1 Day!

Skis at the Ready

Hello all. It should come to no surprise to anyone who knows me that I will often enter and be interested in new and interesting races / challenges to keep me motivated to train and race. Well, recently, there was a new challenge unveiled at a Mad Trapper race (started as a mere suggestion, but ‘snowballed’ into the real deal). The challenge was that on January 26th, a ‘Snowman’ and ‘Snowwoman’ would be crowned. How so? Well, the fastest time combined in the Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon from the morning and the Mad Trapper Night Race in the evening. I do fairly well at the snowshoe races, and I also dabble in multi-sport, and most importantly, I have the energy reserves to race twice in one day :-). I was registered in both, so the stage was set to see if I could become the first winner of this mostly symbolic award. How did I do? Well, read on for both race reports (and videos!) and the conclusion. I didn’t take too many photos (was focused on fliming), but you can see them here and here before reading on.

Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon

The first event of the day was the Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon. This was a brand new event for this year, and I was keen to try it out. I generally take part each year in the Winterlude Triathlon, which takes place downtown in Ottawa, but the more rural setting of the Frost and Fire was appealing to me, as it was near Wakefield, QC. Also, whereas the Winterlude tri is skating, skiing, and running, this race would actually be snowshoeing, skiing, and running. I’m not much of a speedskater, so I thought I might do better in this race.

The day started out cold, but not completely unbearable. The race consisted of a 2.5km snowshoe (single loop), a 9-10km ski (double loop), and a final 5km out and back run. The entire event was spread over a large farm area, with the snowshoe and skiing snaking a bit into the surrounding woods. There was a reasonable contingent of racers on hand for this inaugural event (about 30 for the triathlon, with another 30 for the 10k run), and only later would I learn that some of the top local triathletes had come out to play.

I lined up at the front, next to Dave McMahon. Given that these were generally not the snowshoe racing crowd, I figured I had a good chance of finishing the snowshoe close to the front of the pack. Unfortunately, with a mere 2.5k of snowshoeing, even if I was fast there, I knew I’d lose a lot of time in the ski, as there are MANY faster skiers than me. The trail was more exciting than I had expected, and although some of it was in the field, there were still nice little hills to climb, and trees to snake around. At the end of the snowshoe, I was in 4th, and had a pretty quick transition to head out on skis, which as predicted is where I dropped a few spots.

The ski was a tricky course in my opinion. The track got pretty narrow in a lot of spots, and additionally, there were some really steep, wooded climbs that were almost bare ice. I was slowed down a lot here, but encouragingly, so was everyone else. Luckily, because of the numbers, clutter wasn’t too much of a problem, and I only had to execute a few passes on my 2nd loop as others were on their 1st loop. Looking at the raw numbers, it looks as though I had the 10th fastest ski, so I dropped a few spots. No time to dwell on that though, on went the running shoes, and out I went for the final 5k run.

The run was very straightforward. 2.5k on a country road, turn around, and come back. At the far end, there was a pretty steep climb to make sure you were still pushing, but all in all, easy peasy. I tried to hold my place, and managed pretty well on that front. I had the 8th fastest run, and when all the three events were tallied up, I finished 7th overall and 2nd in my category. Not great, but I was hopeful that most of these other folks either wouldn’t be in the snowshoe race, or that I’d be faster in a pure 10k snowshoe race! Post-race, we headed to a local restaurant for a chili meal and the awards ceremony for the triathlon. It was a nice atmosphere and went quite well. I would definitely consider this race again, and encourage others to look into it. For the best overview, check out the race video I put together:

Mad Trapper Night Race

What can I say about the snowshoe race that hasn’t been said in past posts? These races kick ass for so many reasons. They are just long enough that you can bust a lung and feel accomplished, but short enough that recovery time is fast. The post-race food and atmosphere is really great socially (brownies and beer anyone??!?), and the people that come out and take part are great, salt-of-the-earth types. BUT, there was some interesting twists for this race. Namely, the course!

Although we’d gotten heaps of snow this year, Mike decided to try something different for this year’s night course (yup, we race by headlights at this one). With the promise of record numbers of racers, and the fact that it was at night, he opted to actually groom the trail with his snowmobile! Not only that, but this was the most straightforward course he had ever laid out. Long, straight stretches, with only a few sizeable climbs, instead of the constant ups and downs and sharp turns we were used to.

Sadly for me, that meant this was not a race course that would favour me at all. I’m more of a technical runner, and rely on the tough conditions to stay ahead of the the speedier road runners that come out. However, I wouldn’t let that deter me. I lined up at the front and threw everything I had into the race, pushing my heart rate into the red zone the entire way. I had a good battle going with a couple other racers, but at the finish, only managed 9th place overall, and 8th in my category.

Regardless of my position, the race itself was beautiful. It was a perfectly clear night, and also a near full moon, guaranteeing amazing scenery on the run, with the twinkle of 80 racers’ headlights, and the moon glistening off the snow as we made our way around the property. Also, at the post-race, there was another fine fill of chili, and brownies, washed down with tasty beer. There were prizes galore, and we even held a mini-auction to raise funds for impossible2possible. So all in all, a great event once again.

So, what about that Snowman award you ask? Well, unfortunately for me, I only came in 2nd for the prize, being nudged out by the legendary Dave McMahon. Oh well, I guess having your coach beat you isn’t that bad, right? I was only partly sore about it, because originally he was slated to be in Lake Placid for a ski race. Had he gone… well.. you know… I woulda won it!! 🙂 Maybe next year, right? Unless of course he wants to defend his title. Either way, to see the video review I put together for the Mad Trapper, check it out below: