All posts by steve

Solid 5th Place at Season Opening Mad Trapper

Howdy race fans! Back again for another dramatic race re-cap from the wilds surrounding my humble abode. This time, the start was at the venerable Ark, and the event was [supposed to be] the season opening Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. Each year, Mike puts on a total of 4 snowshoe races on his property, including a super-fun night race. Although we’d gotten a good dump of snow over the course of the previous 2 weeks, we also unfortunately had a day and a half of warmer temps that brought rain. So, while there WAS snow, the coverage was poor and there were lots of rocks and exposed open fields. As a result, a Mad Trapper Trail Race was held instead. Not the first time this has happened in December! Check out some pics I snapped an put on Flickr, then read the rest of my recap.

Pictures from the Race

If you’ve spent any time whatsoever on this blog, you’ll likely have read quite a few posts about Mad Trapper races out at the Ark. Mike is celebrating 10 years of hosting races up there, and I’ve been a part of almost all of them. There are only a handful of us that can lay claim to that distinction, and it’s still fun to see them out there and share the trails in friendly competition. Snowshoe races are the classic out there, but as you may know, Mike has branched out over the years, hosting trail running races, orienteering races, obstacle races, and even a beer mile! Can’t wait for whatever is next, but first, let’s talk turkey about this race.

The traditional December race is the ‘flatter’ course, and for this one, Mike would the clock back to one of his classic course designs from years gone by where we traipse over his neighbour’s property, in the open fields. This truly is one of his flatter runs, which should lead to some pretty speedy results by the front runners, which I hoped to count myself among. Thanks to the Anvil race a couple weeks before, I had what I considered would be the best footwear for me, my new Mudclaws. Yaktrax or similar shoe attachments might have been ok as well, but they tend to get in the way, and I don’t own any spiked shoes. With the conditions being what they were, the race consisted of about 40 hearty souls in total. Just the right number to make it a fun challenge.

I showed up a touch earlier than usual, and did a nice little warmup on the trails and with a bit of bushwhacking for fun. This was mainly to determine the state of the course. Luckily, it was a little warmer than the Anvil had been, so the footing was a little safer, as the ground wasn’t completely frozen solid (better purchase in grass and leaves). I got back to the start with a few minutes to spare, lined up with my like-minded friends, traded friendly taunts, and got ready to go. Mike warned us to take it easy on the first lap, as by his estimation, this would be the most dangerous Mad Trapper he’s hosted! That seemed to translate to a classic ‘gentleman’s’ start, with no one seeming willing to push hard off the start.

My Race Log

Race Results for Me

Instead, at the front of the pack, we just all sort of gradually picked up tempo as we got comfortable with the trail. It was the usual suspects out front. I was sitting 7th or so, but gradually picked my way up the field until I was sitting in 3rd overall, behind Nathan Underwood and Dave McMahon (both ski phenoms). This didn’t seem quite right, as I knew there were faster people behind me. Well, once we hit the flat, open fields, that’s where I lost a couple spots, to find myself sitting in 5th. I was determined to hold onto that spot, and pushed hard to stay in contact with the front 4. The plan was working well, and for a bit, I thought I might actually regain 4th place. However, such would not ultimately be the case. I crossed the end of the first lap in a time of about 28 minutes. Pretty good for the opening 5k. Knowing that someone was on my tail, I opened it up a little more to press on hard for the 2nd lap.

My second lap consisted of my wondering whether or not I could maintain my pace, with my average heart rate sitting at over 175bpm, and my will being tested. However, I knew that physically I could hold on, so it was just a mental game. I used my standard practice of pretending that someone was right on my heels at all times and that if I let up, I’d get passed and lose my top 5 slot. It worked quite well, and although I never quite caught 4th place again, I sailed through the course for a dead-even 2nd lap sitting at about 28 minutes again. My total time was 56m30s, good enough for 5th overall, and a full 6 minutes ahead of my next closest competitor. My litmus test had me at 2.5 minutes behind Dave McMahon (3rd place) and about 6.5 minutes behind the winner. In other words, I was clearly in the lead pack, with a good gap to the rest of the field. Sweet! Only the 5 of us beat the course in under 1 hour. Here’s hoping that I can keep this sort of fitness for the actual snowshoe races as well.

As usual, the post race socializing was as much fun as the race. There were heaping helpings of both meat and veggie lasagna, homemade brownies, chips, cookies, fruit, and of course fresh Broadhead Beer on tap (kegerator this time!). Everyone milled around until Mike decided to do his version of an awards ceremony. This of course is random prize-giving, random good-natured insulting, and general rambling to the amusement of all present. All in all, a good season opener in spite of not getting to try out my new Dion Snowshoes in a race setting. However, judging by the weather we’ve had so far in December, I think I’ll be in good shape for snow activities for the rest of the winter. Now with that, I have to go shovel, slap some green grip wax on my classic skis, and head to the Parc for some training. See you all out there!

Dropping the Hammer at the Anvil

Hello race fans! Long time no speak. My last big race was in September when I did the 65km UTHC race in Charlevoix. After that, it was full swing into final wedding preparations, honeymoon planning, and various other things. I realized that it was high time I threw myself back into the mix, so on a whim, I decided two days before the race that I’d sign up for a local cross-country running race, known as “The Anvil on Foot“. The main event over the weekend is actually a series of cyclocross races, but on Sunday morning, before the bikes races, they also host a foot race, which I, along with several from my trail running group, decided to lace up for. It was relatively short and sweet, but very cold. Deanna was onsite snapping pictures during the day as well, and I had a great run. Check out her pictures on Flickr, then read the rest of my race story.

Pictures from the Event

October / November are traditionally my low months, where I try to squeeze in some prime vacation time, as well as just generally let my body recover from the racing I did in the summer, in order to prepare it for the winter onslaught of snowshoeing, skiing, spinning, and running. However, if I sit idle for too long, I go a bit stir-crazy. So, wishing to test myself against some of the best runners in the area, I plunked down the paltry sum of $15 to do two laps of the 3km course (for a total of 6km). If you know anything about cyclocross, you’ll know that the courses are very twisty and turny, with little hills and obstacles to hop over (when cycling). Never having done one of those races, I showed up a bit early on Sunday to check out the course.

Did I mention the temperatures plummeted AND we got snow the night before? Yup, the snow was just a dusting, but the temperatures were cold, and there was quite a little wind. Combine that with the open nature of the course, and you’ll see why it was in our best interests to run fast. The race took place at the Nepean Equestrian Park, so we actually started in one of the big barns out of the wind. Prior to the race, I did a full loop of the course to get a feel for it at slow speed, and nearly froze my fingers off! In spite of that, I took an extra layer off, knowing that we’d warm up fast.

The Racecourse and Results

Anvil on Foot Results

I lined up with about 39 other hearty souls and awaited the starting gun. The pace at the front was very fast. Turns out some of the top track / cross-country runners from Ottawa U had shown up and wanted to blow the field up, which they did. I was at a constant redline the whole way and watched as the front pack pulled every so slowly away from me. Despite that, I was actually having a fantastic race. I was well rested, and felt good enough to push hard. Completing the first lap, I was in the top 10, which doesn’t sound that amazing, but considering the company, was an accomplishment!

Footwear was another key factor in the race. I did what some would say was a foolish thing. I ran in brand new shoes! However, it was with good reason. I expected either thick mud from heavy rains, or snowy tracks needing grip. Instead we got hard, frozen ground, with icy patches and treacherous ruts. On Friday, I had made an impulse buy of a pair of Inov8 Mudclaw Shoes, with very aggressive treads, and they were ideal for these conditions. People in racing flats or regular runners definitely had a harder time than me.

While there was a little bit of jockeying for positions where I was during the first lap (i.e. a few of us played cat and mouse along the way), the second lap was pretty much settled at the outset. I glanced behind and saw a couple people not too far from me, and decided to push even harder on the second lap to grow my lead, and maybe catch up to the next person ahead of me. Why push harder? Well, for one, the next person behind me was none other than Rick Hellard, a very experience tri coach, and organizer of the Winterlude Tri. On any given day, he would demolish me in a foot race, but he was likely having an off day, and I was in top form. Regardless, I wanted to beat him. Another spot or two behind him was Ian Fraser, another guy I would say could beat me if he wanted to, but I think his footwear choice was hindering his ability this day.

On the second half of the 2nd lap, my lead was secured, and I was pretty sure I’d stay in my current spot, but didn’t let up one bit. Dave McMahon, and Alex Michel were up ahead, getting close to finishing by this time, and now I was interested in what time gap I’d have on them. Putting it all out there, I crossed the line at 24m32s, good enough for 9th place male, and 10th overall. I was very happy with that result given the course and the competition. In the end, the gap between Dave and I was just over 1m30s, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Afterward, being a no-frills grass-roots event (this is only the 3rd time it was put on), there wasn’t much to stick around for unless you wanted to watch the bike races. There was a little awards ceremony recognizing the top 3 males and females, as well as some draw prizes to give away. Having won none of those, Deanna and I decided that rather than hanging out in the cold all day, we’d head home.

All in all, given the price, this was an excellent event. Due to the cyclocross races, the course markings were suberb, and there was a fun atmosphere at the start / finish. Granted, I wish it had been a bit warmer, but such is life. I’ll definitely head back out next year, as this is a perfect short race to test out the legs before the snowshoe racing season starts. Speaking of which, stay tuned for the next blog post, as only 2 weeks after this race was the season opener Mad Trapper race. I’ll have something up for you all then. Till that post is written, stay warm, but get out there! Layering and movement are the key!

Happily Ever After…


Hello one and all. Some of you may realize that this post has been a couple years in the making. For those of you not aware, I took that ‘leap of faith’, proposed to Deanna in May of 2012, and have now carried through with the grand plan. I am now officially hitched. I’ve even got a fancy cobalt ring to prove it. The official date was October 5th, 2013, but things have been pretty busy since then, what with a fabulous honeymoon and a ramped-up work schedule which has had me traveling to Toronto a fair bit. I also really wasn’t sure how to summarize such an amazing, life-changing day in my normal fashion. Suffice to say, there were cameras rolling for the event, and plenty of pictures taken, but they can’t possibly capture all that I felt that day. The emotion was on a level I dare say I have rarely ever experienced before, but all in a good way! Read on for a bit more insight into ‘the greatest day of my life’! While the final, edited pictures are not completed yet, we have nonetheless collected quite a few from friends and family, which are now on flickr.

I think I need to get one thing out of the way up front. Yes. I cried. It was impossible not to. It was only once and it was during the ceremony, but I know some of you picked up on it. As soon as my beautiful bride stepped out of the Ark and began descending the stairs, I welled up. It was the culmination of an amazing courtship and friendship started many years back, and I was just overcome with the moment. Yup, I can be a softie, and I DO have feelings after all, for those who were in doubt. But of course, I have gotten ahead of myself, haven’t I? Let’s reverse this tale just a little bit and review how we got here, and how the day shaped up.

I will avoid the long-winded story, but for the record, Deanna and I met in 2006. It was at an adventure race. I was racing, she was volunteering. I had a camera with me (what else is new) on the race, and snapped her picture at a checkpoint, later labeling it “A Friendly Volunteer”. We talked later that night at the post-race party, and got along well. From that time, I saw her at a few more races, and we always chatted a bit and joked around with each other (some may even say ‘innocent flirting’). Regardless, both of us had different lives, in different cities, and didn’t really make any efforts to get to know each other on any deeper level then racer / race staff friendships.

Fast forward to May 2010. We happened to both be in a different phase of our lives. Both single. Some might call it fate. Either way, the flirting was a little deeper after that particular race, and we lingered with each other just a little later into the evening at the post-race party, even taking a stroll by the waterfront of the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville. We went separate ways the next morning, but my curiosity was piqued. So, on the long drive home, while stopped in Dixie Lee Chicken in Barry’s Bay, I sent out a text that would change my life course. I invited Deanna to come visit me in Ottawa, from Toronto. Failing to come up with a decent reason why she shouldn’t, she agreed later in the week. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the following months, what started as a pretty innocent and adventuresome friendship / romance, grew in ways neither of us had foreseen. The weekdays spent apart felt agonizing to both of us, and I was soon setting up week-long trips to Toronto where I’d work in a local office. Of course, even with that, Deanna decided to make the big move, and in December 2010, we packed her up, and she started a new life in Ottawa! It was heady and exciting times to see where this would go.

The next year and a half were filled with endless fun and adventures, lots of talking and learning about each other, and a realization that we were both completely happy and couldn’t imagine not being together. So what was I to do? It was obvious to me. Propose to Deanna exactly 2 years after we got together, at the same race, in the same location, with her as a volunteer, and me as a racer. I didn’t win the race that day, but I won the greatest prize I could hope for. A lifetime of happiness, support, and understanding. And I do have to stress understanding. I’m so lucky to have found someone who doesn’t only understand me, but can relate and deal with it!! 🙂

Once the proposal was out of the way, the planning started pretty much right away. We knew immediately where we’d want to get married. At the ARK. This is a place where we’ve done snowshoe races, trail running, and is off the grid and in the middle of the woods. We could think of no better place to commit our lives to each other. Met outdoors, got to know each other outdoors, and now, get wed outdoors. It was perfect. Not to mention Mike, our officiant, was a good friend, and had known us for our ‘formative years’.

Being the slightly controlling / engineering / perfectionist -minded fellow, I had a pretty big hand in the process of planning our wedding. We wanted to make sure that all the little things were planned out, but even though we started a year in advance, I was amazed how many last minute things crept up on us. Through the whole process though, we reminded ourselves that at the end of the day, this was for US, and that if we were happy, our guests would be happy. However, to ensure that, we knew early on it would be open bar all day and night 🙂 To make that extra special, Deanna and I made two special batches of wine ourselves, and sub-contracted the Beer Baron (aka Best Brewmaster, aka Rob) to craft two special ales for the wedding.

The choice to go with an Oktoberfest theme was also pretty spur of the moment once we settled on a caterer. We looked at menu options, saw the ‘European Feast’ menu, looked at the calendar, and realized it would be perfect. Little did we know how amazing my Swiss cousins would be at playing the part, with some of them wearing traditional oktoberfest attire for the occasion. It was just so fun! We think most guests also agreed, with the first 2 kegs of beer pretty much gone before we even started the meal!! Good thing we had planned on 4 kegs AND lots of spirits as well. Happily, the bar didn’t run dry at all.

Of course, in my mind, music is also pretty critical, and early on, we also decided we should seek out live music. I was torn between live band all night or not, and ended up deciding to go with cocktail jazz for a couple hours, then personal music curation later in the evening (aka I decided to DJ our wedding myself, lol). We found an absolutely stunning 4 piece jazz band to entertain between the ceremony and reception, and they did a great job setting the mood while guests mingled, and we got our wedding photos taken.

This is probably a great time to also mention that we were VERY lucky with the weather. In spite of calls for rain on the day, instead, we were greeted by a perfect sunny day, with only chillier temperatures in the night once the bonfire was already raging in the back part of the property. This allowed everyone to enjoy the fall colours in the setting just as we’d imagined it. I think the smile was planted on my face the entire day, from the morning wake-up to the very very late bedtime.

The actual celebrating also started the day before, where we hosted a family and wedding party get-together at one of our favourite microbreweries, Brasseurs du Temps. It was a very laid-back evening, just giving a chance for everyone to mingle and get to know each other. With family and friends flying in from all over the world, it was a great chance to catch up without the big wedding day anxiety.

Wow, I have so many thoughts tumbling around as I type this. Big shout out also has to go to all the friends we had helping with the event. From the weeks leading up to the event, and through to the actual clean-up at the end of the wedding night, there were always people offering to help and give us tips and things to think of. In fact, now that I look back, I lied up above. I said I only cried once on my wedding day. In fact, I cried twice. The second came with my best man’s speech (Matt). He barely started speaking before he got choked up, which just got me all misty again. However, I’m pretty sure he made quite a few people cry that night with his touching words. Damn you mega-Matt!! 😉

Also, having Troy and Tanya fly up from Vegas was also pretty special. I can’t imagine having gotten married without all those close friends in attendance. We didn’t have a huge wedding by any stretch of the imagination, but every single person there was integral to making it a memorable day, and every one of them share a part in our story of coming together. They all mean the world to us.

I’m feeling a little disjointed in this post, so perhaps I should close it off. And how better than to talk about the end of the night for me. Don’t worry, this blog is generally rated G, so I’m not going to go anywhere crazy. BUT, I would like to send a special shout-out to all the ‘friends’ that helped prep our wedding suite. Rose petals and champagne? NOPE. Try: short-sheeted bed and a stack of 10 lawn chairs on the bed interlocked and stacked as a ‘puzzle’. Thanks guys! Add to that temperatures at freezing, no firewood or kindling, and you can see why it was a late night. We didn’t finish the clean-up till around 3am. THEN I had to somehow start a fire. Luckily, I’m creative. With only a box of wooden matches, a tiny bit of newspaper, and some logs that I pulled from the smouldering bonfire outside, I got things going. Deanna was a little worried when I stumbled in with two smoky logs, ember side up, staggering over to the woodstove to get things going, but I survived my caveman quest to bring fire to our wedding night suite.

3 hours later, when we had to get up, it was oppressively HOT in there. Ha ha. That was a good thing though, as it helped us get mobile, pack everything up into the car, then hurriedly rush off to a family brunch, before doing a really fast packing job and leaving for our European honeymoon!! But of course, that is for another blog post.

So, with all that, I close off with this thought for all of you. I have found love. Love has found me. Life has forever changed, and brought us both on a new course together, and the world is an even richer place than it was to me before. I couldn’t be happier or more fortunate to have all that I do in this life. I vow to never take that for granted, and in tough times, remember exactly what I have, and why it makes all other problems not matter. I love you Deanna. My love, my life, and now my wife!

Thanks to some great help from a friend at the wedding as well, I managed to get a fair bit of footage to help me edit together a few videos to commemorate the day. I’ve split them into 3 easy-to digest videos below. Enjoy :-). I promise you don’t have to sit through the WHOLE thing again!!

Wedding Video 1: Pre-Wedding

Wedding Video 2: Wedding Ceremony

Wedding Video 3: Wedding Reception

65Km Trail Trial in the Charlevoix (My First ULTRA)

Good day friends! Sometimes, you just have to take a chance on a race because it looks cool. Such was the case when I decided to head to the Charlevoix region of Quebec from the newly-minted Ultra-Trail Harricana 65km trail running race. I’ve been thinking about trying to tackle a really long running race for a little while now, and this one looked like it might fit the bill. Beautiful region, challenging course, small starting field, and a UTMB points qualifier. It was also going to be my only real running race of the year, after tackling a number of different fun races all summer. Seemed like the best way to close out my summer race season, and get ready for the lead-up for the wedding! So, Deanna, and I made a long weekend of it, and made the journey together. Read on for the full story, and don’t forget to check out all the cool pictures Deanna caught of racers during the event. Oh yeah, and I also covered it for the magazine as well.

Before I actually get to the race report, I feel I should explain a bit of the background of this event, because frankly, I’m a bit amazed at the whole organization of it. The race director (and one of the founders) is a fellow by the name of Sebastien Cote. He only started running 3 years ago. He has never put on an event before. He works in the IT side of things for CBC in the region working on their website I think. However, he had the idea to put on a great trail race. This year marked only the 2nd year of the event, and 1st year for the 65km option. However, he has secured major supporters including The North Face coming on as a title sponsor for the 65k event. This is HUGE, as it should allow the event to grow and get great exposure. To keep things manageable, the event featured a cap on racer numbers for both the 28k and 65k. Of course, this also serves to raise the prestige, as there was a lottery for people to enter as well. Seems pretty clever to me. But of course, the race and event can only be successful if everything works. So let’s break that down as we go.

Probably the worst part of the event for me had nothing to do with the race, but the drive. Deanna and I didn’t get out of the Ottawa area till after 11am, and with Friday traffic, and various construction projects, it took us over 8 hours of total travel time before we pulled into the race registration. Sadly, that can be a deal breaker if you want to go to a weekend race. However, it’s not too much of a damper if you’ve got a few days to spare. Also, it can make for a great road trip and mini-getaway. Unfortunately, we only have the weekend and extra day, so we were pooped. Luckily, on the drive home, we at least had time to stop at Montmorency Falls, as you’ll see below. The 65km race had a mandatory kit pickup and race briefing Friday at 8pm, so at least we weren’t too rushed. While that was going on, there were also guest speakers on site in rooms on topics such as nature photography and outdoor adventure, so if you weren’t racing, you had something to do. Nice touch. Unfortunately for Deanna, it was all in French, so there was a bit of language barrier.

My Pictures of Event and Montmorency Falls

We were given all the info we needed to know at the briefing. It had all been in the pre-race materials, but knowing not everyone reads those, it was spoon-fed to us that night. Personally, I would have preferred to go back to my BnB, get ready and sleep, but at least we were all in the same boat. Worst part of the briefing was realizing I’d have to get up at 3:30am, in order to be back onsite to be checked in and on a shuttle bus by 5am (we were staying 20 minutes away). YUCK! But enough of that. How was the race??

As some of you know, the Charlevoix region is not what you’d call ‘flat’. In fact, it is the opposite of flat. When all was said and done, my GPS tracked me as having run about 63km of distance, but also of having ascended over 2,700m! To be clear, that’s climbing only, not climbing and descending! I have never run that far in my life. Not in training, not in racing. I have of course done adventure races that covered much more total ground, and done other long MTB races and multi-day races, but for a single-day trail running effort, this was the pinnacle to date for me. While I have been trail running a lot this summer, my volume was limited mainly to my Tuesday and Sunday group workouts. In fact, my longest training solo training run was exactly 1 week prior to the race where I headed out and put in a 43km effort. Regardless, I was mentally ready.

The bus ride, as all 5am pre-race bus rides are, was dark and uneventful. I ate and drank, and chatted with other racers as we rolled through the rain and darkness. Happily, the rain let up before the start, and although cold and overcast, I’d have to say conditions were pretty much perfect. We lined up and got underway right at 7am. We were a group of about 120 racers at the start. Glancing around, I could tell that we were a pretty fit lot. Turns out that only people serious about running sign up for a 65km trail race. We were a sea of spandex, compression garments, ultralight race packs, and other various high-end outdoor gadgetry. Yup, I’ll admit it, I felt as though I were with my kin-folk!

My plan from the start was to hit a reasonable pace and not blow up early. The first sections were wide easy tracks, and going hard would be very easy. On the flats, I was trying to keep a pace of 5-5.5 minutes per km, knowing that on the hills, things would slow down a lot. My expectation was to cross the line with an average pace over the whole day of 7 to 8 minutes per km, including all stops. Put another way, I wanted to come in between 8 and 9 hours total time.

Things started out very smooth and easy for me. I felt awake and strong, and just fell into a comfortable running pace with a group of people around me. After a few km, there began to be natural breaks in the groups, with the ‘leaders’ having gone off, and the mid-packers splitting up as well. I was in a little grouping that seemed to have similar skill levels, but early in a race, you are never sure if that pace will break people ahead of you, or if others will surge from behind. To me, you truly are racing yourself out there. Also, you have to remind yourself the race is ahead of you, not behind you. In other words, always try to push forward to the person ahead of you, even if you can’t see them. Don’t wait for someone to catch you from behind, THEN push. You’ll already have lost your edge.

I know, that all sounds philosophical, but when you are running for 8 hours, much of it on your own in the woods, you do retreat to your mind, clear everything out except the task at hand, and work on it. Deanna often asks, “What did you think about out there”. And I struggle with the question. At times, I’m thinking about 100 things, but more often than not, I tend to just blank everything out, and focus only on the 2 feet to 10 feet ahead of me, picking out where my next footfall will land, what rock looks solid, which root to push off of, which void in the dirt will give me the best grip. In other words, I focus and think about running! Every footstep is new, so it never gets boring. It’s like a complex game with lots of obstacles. If you lose focus or get distracted, well, bad things can happen, as the people taken off the course in spinal boards by ATV will attest to.

As we made our way through the course, we traversed a lot of great terrain. There were, unfortunately, some sections of gravel roads that we had to use to link together the pure trails, and that’s where I lost all my time. In the woods, I felt in my element, king of the rocks and roots. I was almost never passed in the woods, and was probably strongest on technical climbs. However, as soon as I popped out onto a gravel road, within minutes, I’d get passed by other racers! It drove me nuts. At one point, I’d run probably 15-18km of trail on my own in the woods, sure I had a solid lead on others, but sure enough, hit the gravel, and they pulled up alongside seemingly out of nowhere. Grrrrr.

To break up the sections, there were also a total of 5 aid stations spread out on course. The longest stretch was from Aid 1 to Aid 2, which was kms 8 and kms 28. That station was the best thing ever, as we had just finished what was the toughest part of the course. They had something for everyone, and pretty much all of it what I’d call ‘real food’. Bananas, oranges, pita bread, honey, peanut butter, gnocchi, chocolate milk, water, hard boiled eggs, pretzels, yogurt, oatmeal. Yup, ALL that stuff! The aid stations in a race like this make all the difference. That, and the volunteers manning then, which in this case, were also top notch!

When the going got tough, You just had to figure out how long till the next aid station, or remind yourself that when you got to the top of a particularly grueling climb, you had the descent to look forward to. It also helped that we had some great views along the course, given where we were. Canada truly is an amazing country, and seeing all its various towns and natural gems is always invigorating. I often lament the fact that I don’t get to spend enough time in the places I race in, but at least when I’m racing, I do experience them up close and personal, and can connect with the land.

For the most part, my run was uneventful. Yes, there were periods when I wanted to stop. There were periods of pain, questioning my sanity, but that’s when you dig deep, and use your mental endurance to push through. The body can almost ALWAYS do what you think it can’t , but that’s the trick, you have to remind yourself of that fact. I would actually verbally tell myself to pick the pace up and jog up that hill rather than walk. My only near accident was when I passed one fellow, and we were running uphill in a boulder field. My foot slipped on a wet rock, and got lodged between a few boulders. Luckily, I stopped right away rather than snap my leg. The other guy did too, but the funny thing was my foot would not come out. I was pulling on it with both hands and it wouldn’t budge. To his credit the guy stuck around until we finally got my foot loose and kept going, but that was embarrassing. I let him go back ahead and ran behind him with my wounded ego.

At the 2nd last aid station, I was lucky enough to see my Deanna cheering me on. While it was 15km left for my race, it was also close to the 4km to go mark, so she had backtracked on the race course to see me there. It was great to see her, and at that point, I was feeling really strong, even though I was about 50k into the race. Sadly, after we parted, the wheels came off as I embarked on the last big climb of the race. I was sure that people would pass me in droves as my pace slowed to a near-walk. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one in that boat however, as I didn’t see anyone the whole way up or most of the way down (until I hit a cursed gravel road, at which point 2 guys passed me!). However, once back off that mountain, we had a mere 8k to go, and the closing 6k were flat and fast, with the rain now coming down to cool us off.

In the closing 400m of the race, I saw there was a racer bearing down on me. It was a fellow that I had passed earlier after leg cramps had made him fall and he had to walk it off. I had made sure he was alright, then urged to keep going. I was worried he might try to make a run at my position, so picked up my pace to an absurd sprint in the death throes of the race. After the final little climb to the finish chute, I realized he was not chasing me down, so I slowed back down and enjoyed the closing strides while filming the finish. After crossing, I waited for him, and he told me he’d had no intention of passing me in the last 400m of the race. I suspect it is a bit of an unwritten ‘ultra’ rule that if someone helps you out, you don’t pip them at the line!

Oh, and that time at the line? In spite of my feeling like crap in the last section, I realized I was actually quite ahead of track, and ended up finishing in 7hrs 42mins! Better than I’d hoped for by a fair bit. It put me in 31st overall, and 15th in my category. Definitely a finish I could be proud of. Interestingly, there were no medals, no shirts, pretty much no fanfare. They were already dismantling the finish expo when I got in. The 28k and 10k events have the bigger profile, so I couldn’t help but feel bad when the 9hour mark passed, and there was only the finishing arch left out there with the announcer.

After the race, I enjoyed great post-race meal which included duck, and also had a delightful propane heated shower in a tent set up for us specifically onsite. It felt amazing. My body, on the other hand, wasn’t feeling that great. My feet were in surprisingly good shape, but legs were quite stiff. We stuck around a bit longer, before heading back to the BnB to change and have some supper. To close the night off, we actually returned to the race venue, as Sebastien had promised the post race party would be hoppin’. I had my doubts, but when we showed up, the bar at the ski hill venue was filling up, the beer was flowing, and there was live music. I was impressed again. Only 2nd year holding the event, and he had even managed to pull off the elusive ‘post-race party’ that so many other events fail at. Perhaps it is a cultural thing, with Quebecer’s just that much better at enjoying life? Either way, it was a nice way to cap off the experience.

I think my closing thought here is that I really liked this event. Perhaps all ultras are like that, filled with passionate people and put on by people that truly want to put on a memorable event, but either way, I’d highly recommend Ultra-Trail Harricana, for so many reasons. It’s a long way to go, so I doubt it’ll become a yearly occurrence, but it has certainly made me curious to try another ultra for comparison. Perhaps something even longer… 100k perhaps?? Forgive me, clearly I have not suffered quite enough to make me think that I’m as crazy as others think I am….

Well, that about wraps it up. It’s time to go radio silent for a little while. I have to get married after all! Then head off for vacation. I’m sure I’ll fill you all in on some of those exciting things, but it might be a while, so I hope you enjoyed this little ‘tale from the trails’!

Video Review of the Event

Paddling to the Podium in the City with the Heart of Gold

Welcome to another edition of ‘Where the heck is Steve, and what is he racing in this time?’ Well, the briefest of answers to that question is that I was in Timmins, Ontario racing in the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge, and covering said event for Get Out There Magazine. I have to admit right off the bat that this event was not on my radar earlier this year, and I didn’t really have the intention of making that kind of trip. However, when a cancellation came up, and it was offered up to me, I decided: What the heck? Why not? I like paddling, and I like traveling, so why not combine them together? And so this trip was hatched. Sadly, it would be a solo trip for me this time around, as I was flying up, and Deanna had other plans. I didn’t have time to snap too many pictures, but I did put together a whiz-bang video review once again, so please check it out! The trip was also a pretty much in-and-out kinda trip, so I couldn’t play tourist as much as I’d hoped.

Right off the bat, I was faced with a few annoyances about my trip. I had booked the tickets months back, and even 12 hours before departure, my flight was confirmed AND I was checked in. Arriving at the airport at 6:40am, I learn my flight was cancelled from Ottawa to Toronto. Grrr. So, instead of arriving by 11:30am, I’d be touching down well after 6pm. Not only that, but due to work commitments, I was forced to stay in the airport all day and work over free wi-fi and take conference calls. Not ideal. I could have driven up quicker than the time it actually took me to get there. Oh well, I’d rather they ground a plane with mechanical issues than put me on it I suppose!

Pictures from the Trip

On arrival, I went straight to my hotel, the Cedar Meadows Resort, which had offered up special room rates and was only a couple kilometers from the event. I had opted to not rent a car, instead relying on the ‘sneaker express’. By Sunday, I walked the 4.6km round trip walk to the event grounds 4 times, including carrying all my paddling and filming gear with me. In the future, I’ll just spring for the rental. After all, just the taxi to and from the hotel cost me $50, while a car rental would have only been about $65 taxes in! Oh well, live and learn. Plus, I actually like the fresh air and walking around places to get a feel for them. The hotel itself was pretty nice for the price. My room even had its own fireplace for ambiance should I wish to get romantic with myself (no smart comments on that one!)

I wandered into town to see the race venue and grab a bite to eat at Boston Pizza (side note: BP is quickly going the East Side Mario route to me, meaning AVOID). Washed my meal down with a beer, and wandered back to hotel. The kayak race was more of a festival, and while paddling was a central theme, it was by far not the only thing going this weekend. There were events for the whole family all weekend, and the town is rapidly turning this into THE biggest yearly event in Timmins, and I must say, I think they are on the right track promoting healthy living in this way.

Next morning, I arrived on site pretty early, as I had to pick up a boat I was borrowing for the race. I had reached out to Shawn from Timmins Adventure Tours in the lead-up, and he had graciously offered up a craft for me to use. Shawn runs a number of businesses, including a paddling outfitter, tackle shop, and lots of other outdoor products. He is a really energetic guy, and also runs the local boxing club. It was great meeting him and chatting about life in Timmins. Plus, when he learned I was racing in the ‘elite’ division, he didn’t hesitate to pull down his very own racing boat to loan. Once he was convinced I wasn’t a total amateur, I was off. If you’re in Timmins, and need some gear for outdoor pursuits, make Shawn and his folks your first stop! He’ll go out of his way to help, and with a smile.

The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge is not one event, but a whole slew of events, starting with the Elite 35km Challenge starting at 9am Saturday, and ending with sprint events on Sunday afternoon, and all distances between. I was in the 2nd most competitive event, the ‘elite recreational’ 16km race departing at 10am. This one of the few races I’ve entered that actually has a healthy purse, with prize money awarded in pretty much every single race 5-deep for both men and women. It added an interesting dimension to the front of the race. Obviously, my eye was on victory, but it wasn’t long before I was humbled in the water, and realized that there are people that paddle more than 4 times in a season and actually focus on paddling. That being said, I did have a good race.

Although the raw numbers in each event were pretty low, the overall participation has been steadily going up every year in this events’ 5-year history, and should continue to grow. Especially given all the media exposure they are getting. While I was considered ‘media’ as well, there were tons of others there, including live-to-satellite coverage from Eastlink. There was also a HUGE production crew of professionals shooting for Ontario Tourism for the purpose of commercials. They had a really expensive drone in the air covering the race, as well as boat crews with fancy water-ready camera gear in the thick of it. I’m sure they’ll distill their hours of footage into 15 seconds as part of a bigger commercial, but WOW! Talk about a big crew. I was a small fish out there. On the plus side, there WAS a ‘media boat’ so I got to go out for a cruise on my own on a party boat to do some filming, which was fun. Right, how about the race? Let’s get back to that.

As is usual in events like this, racers were sort of sizing each other up by looking at the boats and gear of everyone. Seeing the camera on my head, I was asked if I was actually racing or just filming. I assured them I was racing, hence my fancy paddle and gear. There may have only been 7 men in my grouping, but they were all pretty well kitted and proficient. When the starting gun went off promptly at 10am, we took off in a hurry under a blazing hot sun. I’d taken 1L of hydration, but ran out about 2/3rds through the race. Not long after the start, the front 2 guys in Epic boats were already building a big lead on the rest of us. In the first 4k of the race, I was in a nice little grouping of 4 guys (including me) and 1 lady. We tried to do a little drafting and staying together. I secretly hoped they’d gone out too fast, but it turns out that might have been me! I found I had to push hard just to stay with them. Eventually 1 guy and the lady pulled away, leaving me in a group of 3 guys.

I started falling back a little bit and worried for my chances. I was now sitting in 6th place, which was off the podium, and in my mind, unacceptable. I wanted to bring honour to Shawn for lending me his nice Stratus to race in. Our first part of the race was downriver, with the wind at our backs. Once we hit the buoy turnaround, the refreshing wind hit our faces, and the real work began. Essentially, we paddled 2.5k downriver, then 9k upriver, only to turn another buoy and finish the race with a 5.5k downriver run. Anyway, now that the wind was in my face, I started feeling a bit more refreshed and energized. I slowly but surely starting eating into the lead the guy ahead of me had. Eventually, I overtook him. That put me in 5th place. I set my sights on 4th and stayed focused.

He seemed to always stay just out of reach. Another 5k or so of paddling, and I was surprised by a flash of yellow on my right. Dude I had passed got a fresh set of arms and passed me! Turns out, his shoulder had been hurt, but he popped it back in and found his mojo (or so I learned after the finish)! Filled with fire again, I charged after him to try and keep up. After all, I had already passed him, so why was I losing ground? The good news is that this effort actually caught us up to 4th place, which my guy then handily passed too! Of course, as you can imagine, this ignited the other dudes’ fires, and he pressed on hard. By this time, we had just made the final turn, and had the 5.5k downriver finish run to do. That worried me, as I seemed to lose ground downriver.

Not giving an inch though, I kept paddling hard, determined to get back to 5th place. The real challenge now was that I was over-heating and had run out of water. I’d have to dig deep and enter the pain cave to pull this off. It seems a little silly to have such a perceived battle for 5th, but that’s the way the competitive spirit works, right? Mustering what I could, I found a good cadence and kept at it. However, when I finally got broadside of this fellow, he also turned up the jets, pulling slightly ahead again. I wasn’t until the final bend in the river, with about 500m to go, that I found an opportunity again.

I took the inside corner, pulling up broadside once again. Only this time, I decided to go for broke. I put on the blinders and put everything I had into my final sprint. I’m not an adept paddler, and am not really sure how to execute a sprint, but I tried anyway. I hunched over, dug my paddle deep in the water, and went into the redzone, complete with audible grunting and breathlessness. It worked, and I pulled ahead and stayed ahead by a couple boatlengths, just to take that final podium place! My little group of 3 all congratulated each other on a well-fought race, and then essentially went our separate ways. There were no hard feelings, as we had all worked hard for that final part of the race. In fact, the guy did comment that it was fun pushing to keep up with me!

Although my race was over before noon, the overall awards wouldn’t be until 5pm that day, so I spent the rest of my day hanging around the festival grounds taking it all in. As mentioned, I also went out for a cruise to watch a 5k race in progress. Eventually, I walked back to the hotel to shower and change before heading back for the awards. Once back onsite, I helped myself to some BBQ grub as well as a couple celebratory malted beverages. Although clouds had started rolling in, the weather was still thankfully holding out. This was a good thing, as later that evening, the party was set to start up, with live bands, a big beer gardens, and fireworks! I collected my medal and award with a big smile, and stuck around a little longer for draw prizes. At one point, my name was called for a camp chair, but I decided to just pretend I wasn’t there. After all, checking the chair with my luggage would cost more than it was worth!

After the awards were over, I made an impulsive decision to pamper myself in the early evening. How so? Well, my hotel was called Cedar Meadows Resort and SPA for a reason. The spa portion was actually a Nordic baths kinda deal, like Le Nordik in Chelsea. For a mere $25+tax, I had full access to all the facilities. Seemed like a plan to me, seeing as I didn’t really know anyone, and the first few bands back at the festival were going to be country-oriented. Once back at the hotel, I spent the next 2.5 hours alternating between hot treatments, cold treatments, and relaxation. It was pretty awesome. When I finally dragged myself out and had a shower, I felt super relaxed and my skin was all squeaky clean. I should also mention that earlier in the day I had also opted for a free chiropractic treatment. A spine adjustment if you will. So all told, I was mellow and relaxed.

The thought of heading back to a rowdy beer gardens didn’t quite appeal, so I decided instead to stick around the resort, and just head out for a solo nature walk to check out the fireworks. I’ve gotta say, they were actually really good. Much bigger than I had expected from a relatively small town. Even from the resort, I could hear the bands raging on, and could only imagine the quantities of beer being consumed down there! I was quite happy to buy a bit of junk food, retreat back to my room and watch ‘The Dark Knight’ on TV. I’d had a good day, and didn’t want the end of my trip to involve elbowing my way through drunk locals!

The next morning, I got up at a reasonable hour, and headed down to the hotel gym for a nice treadmill run. Why treadmill? Well, it was pouring cats and dogs outside, and I didn’t feel like running in the cold and wet, only to pack my wet clothes into my bag for the flight home. I put in a good hour and a half, showered, then treated myself to a great brunch buffet in the restaurant before grabbing a cab and heading home. All in all, a great weekend experience, and frankly, if I was a paddler with a family, I think that this event would make a great destination race for the closing days of summer. The atmosphere was very family friendly, the river very forgiving for a paddler, and just the right distance away to make it feel like a worthy road trip! For me however, it wasn’t the last race of the summer. 2 weeks to go till my final event, a 65km trail running race with 2,000+m of climbing! Check back in a while for that report.

Video Review of the Event

Breathing Deep and Racing Across the Sky

Without further ado, I finally bring you my story about racing in Leadville, Colorado at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. This is a [now] storied event that has seen the likes of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and Floyd Landis try their luck in the high altitude around Leadville on mountain bikes. As it turns out, it was also a race that was on my bucket list that I wasn’t even aware should be on it! It seems the more I get involved in the racing community and travel to different events, the more I learn about amazing races in far-flung places that I wish I could do. I’ll have to settle with a handful of them, and this race now gets added to my memory banks as one of the biggies! There is of course a video review, and also lots of pictures, thanks to Deanna being there (this doubled as our vacation!). Now read on for the whole story.

Pictures from the Race

The official story starts over a year ago in the Adirondacks in NY State. Specifically, the Whiteface Wilmington 100 bike race, which was a qualifier for Leadville. I knew about Leadville, and love riding my mountain bike, so when I heard about the qualifier less than 4 hours from home, I figured I’d give it a go and see what happens. Although I hadn’t raced quite fast enough to be in the top slots for qualifying, I stuck around after the race and during awards just in case. They were drawing for extra spots at the end, and my name came up. After meeting the founder, Ken Chlouber and seeing his infectious enthusiasm, it was clear I had no choice but to say yes. My 2012 calendar was already full, so I ‘deferred’ for a year. The only downside to deferring is that my starting place was somewhat compromised. Instead of being put in a corral related to my Whiteface finish time, I would be put in the very back corral. I didn’t think it would matter much, as I really just wanted to experience the event, not go for the win . I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t you always go for the win?”. Well, yes, I always give 100%, but I’m also realistic. Being one of over 1500 racers fighting out in an internationally-renowned race with elite racers meant I had zero chance of getting on ANY podium!

Over the course of the next little while from Whiteface, I managed to parlay my way into doing some media coverage for the Leadville race, which meant at least my entry fees were covered. I then booked flights using reward points for both Deanna and I, and also tried to scare up some old contacts for places to stay. The whole goal was to try and not spend too much on this far away race, as we are counting our pennies while we save up for our wedding and honeymoon. In addition to 3 nights with friends, we booked 2 AirBnBs (if you haven’t used this service before, I can highly recommend it), and a couple nights in a motel (the night prior to and after the race). We rented a nice car, and were all set (even got an upgrade to a fully loaded Subaru Legacy for a good rate).

Deanna was also excited as she had some distant relatives in Denver, and we managed to attend a family reunion of sorts where she could talk all about family history stuff with new-found family connections. This was also her first time in Colorado. As such, we had a brilliant week playing tourist, trying out lots of local beers (and mead), and getting up into the mountains (like Pike’s Peak, Mount Evans, hiking, Red Rocks, etc.). There are, of course, lots of pictures from our touristy stuff as well. Check ‘em out! But of course, this post is meant to be all about the race, so with that little digression out of the way, let’s get back to the action!

Pictures from the Vacationing

Leadville itself is located at over 10,000’ above sea level, so going into this thing, I knew that my biggest challenge may very well be the altitude which I’d be pushing my body at. I have been fairly diligent about training and putting mileage under my belt, but there is no easy way to prepare for the altitude. I knew that I had the legs and physical ability to bike over 100 miles, but the challenge would be in doing so in the time allotted (plenty of people don’t finish every year). My race plan was simple: don’t blow up early. I would race mainly by feel, using my heart rate monitor as a back-up to make sure I wasn’t creeping up my heart rate trying to keep up with people going too fast. In the end, I also relied on the theory of numbers. I felt that if I stayed in the midst of the crowds in the back 1/3rd of the pack, I should finish right on time.

Our hotel was about 40 minutes from the race start/finish, so we had to get up bright and early on race day. The day before we’d gone through registration and race briefings. Once again, Ken was an inspirational force with his words of encouragement, making us all anxious to get going the next day. The medical director was also a hilarious fellow, but he was of course delivering serious messages about the risks. The final thing sorted out the day before for me was a bike. I had rented a bike for the race from Cycles of Life, a great local bike shop in Leadville. They hooked me up with a sweet 29er that I put my own seat and pedals on for the race. After a test ride, things seemed dialed in, and the fact that it was a hardtail should make it the perfect bike for a ‘road race on mountain bikes’, as this race had been referred to as.

Race morning was FREEZING! There was frost on the ground, and being ‘bundled up’ in spandex wasn’t all that toasty. I had on my wind jacket and even borrowed Deanna’s jacket at the start line, where I had to wait for 45 minutes or so before the start. The sun had not poked up over the mountains yet. However, soon enough, we were under way. The start was downhill, making things even colder for the first while. As a result, I had some early camera issues. I had 2 GoPros with me, and neither seemed to want to stay on. I had to stop a couple times to remove batteries, re-set, etc. Not a groovy start. I found myself in pretty much the very back of the entire race at this point! Luckily, there was nowhere to go but up. Both literally and figuratively. Literally because we started climbing our first big hill, and figuratively because I’d spend the rest of my day slowly making up ground and passing people.

Much of this race made its way along gravel roads, and mountain access roads, with only a few little sections of true singletrack. In that regard, it really isn’t a very technical race, just long and challenging from an endurance perspective. Climbing out of that first valley was an amazing precursor to the rest of the day. As we climbed, we eventually popped out on a dirt road high above the valley, where the sun had not quite penetrated. So while we were now bathed in warm light the valley far below was still very misty, still and cold. My racing companions also agreed with my assessment that THIS was what the race was all about. Of course, I’m sure things were a lot different far ahead of us, where new records were being pursued by the leaders. We were having amazing weather conditions for the day, and the course was in good condition, meaning that new records may be possible.

While I had no official race plan or schedule, deep in my heart, I had been hoping for a finish around 10.5 hours, with a realistic goal of 11 hours, but a stated goal of ‘just finishing’. As it turned out, I would be somewhere between stated and realistic. In all honesty, I think I could have made my secret goal, but with caveats. Firstly, I was stuck in the back of the race, meaning thick crowds, lots of bottlenecks, and difficulty making passes on tricky sections. This obviously cost me time. Also, I did stop on numerous occasions for filming duties, which also costs time. I don’t regret it at all though, as it was really nice to actually soak up the atmosphere and let the scenery overwhelm me a few times.

In order to stay on some sort of schedule, I had a little timesheet that told me time checks for reaching certain checkpoints in order to finish in a given time. I didn’t get the chance to check that out until about 60k into the race, and when I did so, I learned I was about 30 minutes behind my target time! Yikes! As a result, I had to turn up my own internal pressure to the next CP. The next section included some pretty neat bits of singletrack trail, as well as the most fearsome descent in the race, Pipeline. This is a long technical descent, very rutted out in places, and making it very difficult to pass people. I held my own while barrelling down, but one of my cameras didn’t fare as well. My GoPro snapped right off the mount and went flying off. I had to stop to recuperate it from the trail and tuck it back into my pack before heading back down the trail. I was also distinctly aware that my brakes seemed to be wearing down rapidly, and I still had another VERY long descent to make after the high point of the race.

With respect to the next checkpoint and time check, that was where my sweet Deanna was awaiting me. When I arrived, I was a bit of a whirlwind of energy. I dumped my gear, grabbed what I needed to and basically headed back out, in order to make up some time. I was legitimately worried about cut-offs already! Luckily, I had made my time back up, but was now about to embark on the long climb up Columbine Mine. This is a climb from around 10,000’ all the way up to 12,500’ with some pretty steep grades. The good news is that I felt good, and was able to dig in and push hard uphill. I actually passed a pretty large number of other racers. At one point while I was filming and providing commentary, I was accused of having ‘too much energy’. Not like I haven’t heard that before!

Of course, I have to say that the climb to the top was well worth the suffering. From the high point of Columbine, you have a commanding view of the entire area and surrounding peaks. It was absolutely breathtaking. And yes, once again, we’re talking literally AND figuratively  I took a good long pause while up there to take it all in, shoot some video, re-fuel on food and drink, and chat with racers and volunteers. I was feeling a little more confident about my time now, and even though I knew I wasn’t racing fast, in my mind this was the halfway point, and I had less climbing on the second half of the race. The climb up had taken over 1.5 hours, but to get back down? About 30 minutes. It was great. And not too tiring. The most tiring thing was squeezing the brakes and keeping the bike under control.

Arriving back at the bottom of the climb gave me a second chance to see Deanna. Determined to be a little more social, I stopped fully and chatted for a few moments with her. Gave her a kiss and thanked her for all her help and patience hanging out during the day while I raced. It really was great to see her again, and agave me a little pick-me-up before I pedaled off again. Sadly, as is usually the case with a race of this distance / duration, I did eventually hit a low point, and it was between this CP and the next one. The terrain wasn’t all that bad, just a lot of rolling trails and roads to follow. Sort of a hum-drum section. The views around us were great, but there were some wicked cross-winds that you really couldn’t avoid, due to constant curves. It sapped a lot of energy out of me. I could feel my pace slowing down and energy waning. I didn’t like it one bit! But I recognized it for what it was, and kept pressing on. I knew there would be fresh food at the next aid station, and just had to get there.

Speaking of aid stations, I should mention that these were well-stocked, and very well run by an army of volunteers. They would offer to help in any way they could and even anticipate your needs by looking at your bottles, etc. There were a good range of food options for racers. I guess after 20 years of putting a race on, you pretty much know what the crowd wants. For my part, I actually raced on ‘real foods’ for most of the race. At aid stations, I’d eat bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, watermelon, etc. It seemed to be doing the trick, so who was I to argue? This formula is exactly how I got over my low point. When I finally cruised into the aid station, I ate a pile of watermelon and bananas. I got back out on the bike, and within 10-15 minutes, I was feeling refreshed and much better. Which is a good thing, because up next was Pipeline again. And this time, going UP the climb. Another long drawn out affair.

My new-found energy came in very handy, as did the small can of Coke I got from the fine folks of Strava along the road before Pipeline. Although the sun was absolutely blazing on us, I tackled the climb with the fresh energy of earlier in the day, and beyond all expectations, I managed to bike the entire think (save for the very first, super crazy exposed section at the bottom. I got a lot of encouragement from other riders, most of whom were walking around me. They were polite and gave me right of way as a ‘rider up’. It felt amazingly good to pedal up while others were walking. Just what my spirit needed. When I finally reached the top and started making my way back down, I felt a great weight lift. I had done some calculations, and was pretty sure I’d make it to the finish well before the 12 hour ‘official’ time cut-off. But only if I kept pedaling!

The last couple hours of the race seemed to go on forever, with a never=ending slog of pedaling up and down climbs. My fellow racers were equally feeling the day wear on them now, as we’d been out for over 9 hours already and had struggled mightily through all the challenges to date. There was one FINAL long paved climb to tackle and energy was fading again. Enter the cycling Gods to my rescue. As I was pedaling, a shiny can on the side of the road caught my eye. An unopened Coke…. Hmmm…. Should I? I circled back and picked it up, intent on getting a shot of sugar and caffeine into my system. I carefully pried the top up as I kept making my way uphill. It was well shaken up, but I was careful to not open it too fast in anticipation of that. It was also swelteringly warm, having obviously been in someone’s jersey pocket a long way. HOWEVER, the sweet nectar was like medicine for my tired legs, and helped me turn the cranks over with a little less effort again. As someone eyed my comical act from behind the whole way, I finally ventured “Well, that just shows you, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!”. Not only did I get a boost, but I was also picking up road litter. Karma points and energy points. Nice!

Now how can I describe the final ride to the finish? Well, for starters, the inbound route is slightly different from the outbound route. In fact, it adds 3 extra miles onto the race. So in fact the Leadville 100 is more like the Leadville 103! I had been warned about that in advance, but it made me no less comfortable as I passed the last few signs announcing distance to finish. I am almost positive they were fibbing with the signs, as it dragged on and on in the gravel. However, almost without warning, we popped back out onto pavement, and I realized it was about 800m to the finish! Another right hand turn and there it was, looming in the distance. The finish line crowds and yes, a red carpet! We actually get to roll up on a red carpet to cross the line. I filmed the moment, and scanned the crowd for Deanna. I also gave a big sweaty hug to Merilee (Ken Chlouber’s wife), who was putting my finisher’s medal around my neck. She has been doing that every year at the finish line for 20 years, regardless of the weather. I truly felt like I had arrived home to my family. It was an intoxicating feeling, and very emotional.

I finally found Deanna, yelling for me from the sidelines. I ran over and squeezed her hard over the barricades, letting the emotion and enormity of the day finally crash down on me. I had just biked over 100 miles in the high Rocky Mountains and finished the Leadville 100 in 11.5 hours. And it was good! Of course, the good feeling was soon replaced with the exhaustion, but not before doing a little touring around the finish area, having a celebratory beer, and eating some tasty kettle corn that Deanna had picked up for me. When we finally got back to the hotel, I was completely beat! Deanna poked fun at me as I lay in the bed nearly motionless. I knew I needed to eat something, but was having a heck of a time getting motivated. Our final meal choice? A horrible one I’m afraid: Taco Bell. I had 4 tacos and nachos supreme. But at least it was better than nothing.

The adventure wasn’t completely over however. The next morning we had to get up early once again in order to head to the awards ceremony. After all, it was the only way I’d be getting my belt buckle, the one and only reason to actually do this race . In addition, there were the presentations to the top racers, and we were also going to each get a finisher’s sweatshirt. Not until that very moment did I learn that the actual sweatshirts were completely custom, screened with both our names and exact finishing times! They had been made up overnight! Sadly, this customization is what also lead to us having to wait hours while they sorted them all out. However, in the long run, I’m okay with the wait, as I have one heck of a race memento now .

So ends my tale from Leadville. I’m sad to say that there are so many sub-plots that I didn’t get to share with you all. The stories I traded with riders, the pleasure and the pain I saw on faces, the absolute crushing sight of seeing people cross the finish line knowing they were not ‘official finishers’ due to being cut off. The near accidents, the mechanical issues. Yes, there is a LOT more that could be written, but it would simply be too long. Suffice to say, this sort of race needs to really be experienced to be fully appreciated, and if any of you are into mountain biking, I would absolutely suggest putting this one on your to-do list. Although I’d love to go back and challenge it again, I’m afraid the cost, and fact that there are so many other interesting races to try, probably means that I won’t. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t return to Leadville. After all, I’m now part of the family there, and it would be a homecoming of sorts! Next up in the race roster? Timmins for the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge! Stay tuned for that one!

The Video Review