Hot off the heels of securing my permanent bib at the Canadian Ski Marathon, I found myself once again boarding a bus, skis in hand, ready to tackle another great adventure. Less than 6 days after finishing the 167km journey of CSM, I was set to race two days back-to-back at the 40th Annual Gatineau Loppet! Day 1 would be the 51km linear Classic race, followed by repeating the exact same 51km course the next day, but this time on skate skis. Beyond the challenge of just mentally preparing for such a feat less than a week after CSM, this time, I had to put myself in ‘race’ mode. As CSM was not a race, but an event, the mental game at the Gatineau Loppet was different. The reward however, is that by completing both weekends, I would once again be successful in getting my name on the wall of the ‘Triple Ski Challenge‘, a relatively small group of folks who tackle the full marathon, plus the two back-to-back long loppet challenges. Continue reading Doubling Down at the Gatineau Loppet
Howdy folks! While the sun may be shining, and thoughts are definitely fully turned to summer training and adventures, now is as good a time as any to put fingers to keyboard to muse a little about another weekend of Winter racing I partook in during the depths of our winter in February. I’m talking about the venerable Gatineau Loppet, part of the World Loppet Series of cross-country ski events that takes place right in my backyard. Pit your skills against crusty Norwegians who have been at it since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. Or something like that. The race does have an International flavour and attracts a broad swath of avid cross-country skiers. Much the same as a big event like the Ottawa Marathon does for the running community. I always love the vibe at this event, and like to participate every year. As I have done in the past, I opted to race 2 days back to back this year, starting with the linear 51km Classic Ski event on Saturday, and ending with the fast and furious 27km Skate Ski event on Sunday. So which was good and which was bad? Read on to find out!
Astute ActiveSteve followers will note that precisely one week prior to this event, I willed myself to ski 160km in questionable ski conditions, and slept overnight on a peasantly hay bale with only the clear skies overhead to shelter me. In other words, my body was likely somewhat cooked to begin with, right? I think I only got out for 1 ski during the entire week between the events, and definitely spent more time worrying about waxing and ski conditions for the weekend. I tell you, this stuff can really do a number on your head. It’s an art to get the skis just right, and makes a heck of a difference.
Leading into the weekend, the conditions on both days looked as if they’d be rather trying. Specifically, at the time we were to start the events, it would be relatively cool, with temperatures below zero. However, on both days, ma nature really wanted crank the heat fast, with temperatures rising FAST in the morning. I’m talking +8 degrees Celsius kind of heat. And intense sun. What does that lead to? How about nice ski tracks magically turning into mushy slush faster than you can say ‘klister’! The general online concensus was ‘ski fast’ in order to get the best conditions early in the day, and wrap the event up before things really went to shit. I picked up some new wax the day before the Classic event in hopes that it would do the trick.
I lovingly prepared my skis, with numerous coats of hot wax ironed, scraped and brushed out. These are my ‘race’ skis, so they were completely different from the skis I used in the CSM the week before. My theory was that I should be able to fly, since I had light, fast skis, and no giant, weighty pack on my back to contend with. Deanna and I were both doing the same events, so we both got a decent nights sleep before heading off to the buses for the start in the morning. Caught up with a bunch of other friends that were skiing before finding my way to my start wave, watching the elites take off at an astounding clip while I was doing laps on the warm-up track near the start.
Now it was time for me to go. For whatever reason, I’d been placed in the second to last wave. I knew that I was capable of skiing much faster than most of my fellow wave skiers, but didn’t really care that much. I made sure I was at the front of this wave, which would mean very little start line issues, and only had to navigate my way through thicker crowds as we closed the 2 minute gap on the wave before (it didn’t take long!). I felt decent at the start, but my skis just didn’t seem to have the kick that I wanted. I was having a devil of a time getting into the groove, and felt my skis slipping just the slightest bit with every stride. This did not bode well for my overall time.
Lucky for me, I was also filming this event, so I could take a bit of extra time to try and get footage while I was skiing, and use that as an ‘excuse’ for poorer performance than I would have liked. To be clear, it isn’t like I was the slowest skier ever, and my overall finish time was certainly respectable, at 4h11 minutes (I had been aiming for sub 4 hours), and about mid-pack. However, I KNOW I’m capable of better, and that was definitely playing head games with me while I was slogging through. It became exceptionally trying when the sun really started slushing up the tracks. Lucky for me, that didn’t happen until the final 1/4 of the event, where things were mostly downhill. It was very bizarre in certain areas. I’d be flying down a hill in the shade, in full tuck, but if I crossed into a sunny patch, the skis basically got stuck right there, and I had to PUSH downhill. I could only laugh about it, as everyone was in the boat as I was. Wax was no longer a factor.
I crossed the line feeling as good as I could hope, and tried not to think too much about the fact that I had to race once again the next day, in a discipline that I felt was my worse of the two. In potentially even more trying conditions. Ugh… what could I do? Rather than dwell on it, I milled about in the lovely sunshine (for spectating anyway) awaiting the lovely Deanna to finish her race, so that we could then both enjoy the post-race meal. She also wasn’t too happy with her time, and had been slower than hoped. We both agreed it was the weather and snow, not us! Food consumed, it was time to head home and prep skis for the next morning.
Our goal was to get to bed early, resting as much as possible. However, between more eating, and methodical hot waxing, it still felt hurried. As a last ditch effort, I contacted a certain ski guru friend of mine to lend their mad skills to our efforts. You see, I wanted to put ‘rills’ into our skis. These are essentially like the sipes you see on tires that help channel water away from the tire. I didn’t have the tool, but I knew people who did. And they were kind enough to let me intrude on THEIR race prep to help out. Even more than that, they took it upon themselves to actually help out by putting on some finishing layers for VERY high-end race wax onto our skis. I swear this stuff came out of a giant custom-built wooden chest that contained only a tiny nubbin of this rare earth material bestowed only to Ski Gods from Nordic spirits. Either way, I was very thankful for the help and the special wax job. I went home and went to sleep dreaming of how special my skis would be the next morning.
And you know what? They WERE!! Even on a short warm up, they felt extra ‘slippery’ which is very good indeed for skate skiing. I just hoped I’d be able to control them. Again, the temperature swings would ultimately determine how people finished the day, but knowing I had the right rills and a high-fluoro topcoat certainly gave me every advantage I could hope for. In an effort to somehow prove my worth to my guardian ski angel, I vowed to ski my heart out on this event. Once again, for reasons not completely clear, I was relegated to a wave much further back than I felt I deserved. But again, I stuck myself at the very front, and when the start signal went off, well, you can see by the picture that I veritably launched myself into this race. My body completely ignored the 2 weekends of punishment I’d put it through, and responded to my every command to muster strength.
In no time flat I was flying UP the first hill, and at the same time weaving my way through the entire wave that had started 2 minutes ahead of me (or so it seemed). Having really no clue where I was sitting in overall standings, I just focused on my race, and skiing smoothly, channeling all the pointers I’ve gotten over the years. Most importantly though, I was having FUN. A blast really. The pain was there, but numbed by the sheer joy of skiing in such a great place in such great conditions. On the longest climb of the race, I settled in at a reasonable pace, as there was virtually no way to pass many people on the uphill, due to the narrow track. This let me save up a little extra energy for the next push. Back on wide tracks, I had the thrill of seeing the leaders (and yes, my guardian ski angel was at the pointy end of the stick in this event, finishing 2nd overall!
For my part, when I finally crossed the finish line, arms held high, I still didn’t know how I fared. My time was a very happy 1h38mins, better than my target time. It wasn’t until later at the ski expo that I learned that I actually got 3rd in my age group! I was 38th overall, in what I would consider a VERY competitive field. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little proud of my result. I *think* it may be my best ever ski result! The real takeaway was to never give up or assume you are starting a race in a certain condition. Trust your training and trust your abilities. The body is a remarkable machine capable of great feats. By all rights, on paper, I might have just thrown in the towel and opted to just cruise on the day, but I opted to push myself and see what might happen, even after a hard 3 days of racing in the past week.
Of course, it DID help that I had fast skis, no doubt about that! Deanna also had a great race on Sunday, and it both left us feeling a lot more upbeat than the Saturday slog. Considering we were heading to a potluck supper that night with fellow athletes, it was nice to finish on a high. After all, we’d be surrounded by literally the best racers of the weekend, including the fellow who won both the 50k classic AND 50k skate events!! It’s always so inspiring to hang out with these casual, yet top-performing athletes. I don’t claim to be anywhere at their level, but I can still relate to what it takes to get there, and the enormous pressure people put on themselves internally, even if they don’t seem to.
All in all, this was a great weekend racing doing the things we love. I was happy to once again lug a camera with me both days in order to pull together a review video of the events. If you haven’t done so yet, why not check the video out now, and see how things looked from ‘the inside’. Till next time, stay active, get out there, and have FUN!
Would somebody PLEASE turn up the heat on this year’s winter? Please?? I’m starting to really get tired of taking an hour or more to thaw out from training and racing activities. In fact, I’ve gotten more mild frostbite and windburn this year than I ever have, this in spite of the fact that winter actually came a little late this year! But I digress, you don’t want to hear me moan about our frosty temperatures, do you? Nope, you’re all here to read yet another race story, aren’t you? Well, in fact, you’re in for a double story this time, seeing as I raced in not one, but two races on Loppet weekend. More specifically, I was actually signed up to take on both of the long events, that’s a 51km classic ski race on Saturday, and a 51km skate ski race on Sunday! I’ve never tried that out, and never even skate skied that far in one sitting, so this could be interesting!
So just what got into my head to do both this year? Well, chalk it up to a bit of a desire to prove to myself that 40 is just a number. Yes, friends, dear ActiveSteve will be celebrating his 40th birthday later this year, and to celebrate, I’ve decided to audaciously tackle a slew of endurance challenges this year. I already mentioned the Rudy Award in a previous post. Well, this time, I’m talking about a little-known, completely innocuous thing called the ‘Triple Ski Challenge‘. The only reward? Your name goes on a simple website listing the year of the accomplishment. To get your name on it, one only needs to complete the CSM at any of the CdB levels, then follow that up a week later by finishing both the long events at the Loppet. And so I found myself covered in lycra and polyester at the start line of the 51k classic event with lots of fresh snow and freezing cold temperatures.
The beauty of the Loppet this year is that once again, for the long classic event, the race was point-to-point. We started out at the Wakefield Parking lot, making our way to Lac Phillipe, then O’Brien Beach, up towards Huron Cabin, then making our way to the finish at the Mont Bleu School in Gatineau. This is truly a beautiful course, and I’m really glad they are able to make it work logistically. Given that I’d skied 160km the weekend before, I stayed pretty low key during the week. I did get out for maintenance skis on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but just at low tempo, and testing my waxes out. For the classic, I was actually using brand new skis, so I had to ensure the wax pocket was set correctly. These skis are super light, and I was looking forward to trying them on a long ski. However, I could have done without the -20 temperatures! To compound the problems, there had been about 10cm of fresh powder dumped the night before, and the trails were not groomed! Of course, this was more of a problem for the leaders, but it affected everyone.
I was set to start in Wave C, which got underway at 9:04. Luckily, the buses that took us to the start stayed on site, allowing us to stay warm on the buses until it was time to line up. The start area was funny, as the trail basically snaked around the fields near us, so you could see all the people ahead for quite a while. It made things look very busy, but all told, the start managed to go off without a hitch and I never felt like there was much of a bottleneck. They really do have this even dialed in.
Although the going was tough, and my legs were tired, the sun was shining brightly, and it was hard not to smile when I raised my head just a bit to take it all in. It was a quintessentially beautiful winter day in Gatineau Parc. Skiing on fresh snow, blazing sun, and snow covered trees everywhere you looked. Now if only there wasn’t this pressure to go FAST for 51km! For my part, knowing I had the next day’s race ahead as well, I focused again on a steady pace at about zone 3 rather than pushing my max level. This did allow me to enjoy the day a lot more and make sure I didn’t burn out. Aid stations were well spaced, and although I had brought some of my own food, I stuck purely to race food, which included chocolate covered raisins, and my favourite, Fruit2, washed down with warm Gatorade.
I actually felt great the whole day. Probably due to the fact that I wasn’t pushing too hard. When I saw people on the trails that I knew, I was quick to have a chat with them, and pull away all smiles. I felt like I had energy on all the hills, and was never lacking grip either. What more could a fellow ask for? Well, the finish line I suppose.
I ended up crossing the line after about 4:48. Definitely not breaking any land speed records, but pleased with the way the day had unrolled. Heading inside at the school, I was happy to bump into friends and talk for a while, and also enjoy the post-race meal. There was much laughter and happiness. Even better was learning that Deanna had snagged 2nd place in her category for the 27km classic ski. I was stoked for her as she picked up her medal. Although we could have lingered longer, we hastened a retreat home, on account of me needing to prep skis for the final challenge. I was racing the 51k, and Deanna was again challenging the 27k.
A funny thing happened later that day. As I was prepping all our skis, I was checking the weather. It was now calling for temps of -24C with windchills hitting -40C, and steady winds of about 30km/h during the entire event for the next day. This was bad news. It gets VERY difficult to race in those kinds of conditions, and in fact, I had never had the prospect of quite as bad a race. Shortly after seeing that forecast, word started filtering through that the races were being modified in light of the extreme cold. My 51km race was shortened to 42km, and Deana’s was being shortened from 27k to 21k. These don’t seem like big changes, but it was still a nice thing to read, given how much I was now dreading getting up early for these races.
At the end of the, all we could really do was laugh. Oh, and dress even warmer, including taping and using vaseline on our faces. Frostbite wasn’t just a risk, it was a likliehood. In a race, the plan is to wear as little as you can get away with, to promote moisture management while not getting cold. However, this was going to be pretty tricky to race for. In the end, I did wear a light jacket as an outer layer, but stuck to just thermal and tights on my legs. I had also picked up nice lined boot covers for my feet, which should keep my feet warm. We were dressed and out the door shortly after 8am, anticipating our 9am start. Once there, we bumped into lots of people we knew, every one of them worried about the conditions. Some were talking about not starting, others about bailing at the 8k mark (there is a first loop of 8k that takes you back to the start). However, for most of us, it was just a matter of wanting to get things started, and see how it went.
We stayed indoors until the last possible moment, as the winds in the field at the start were quite miserable. There were only a handful of spectators actually standing outside to cheer us all on. It was really tough to keep any warmth on my body before getting underway. The gun went off, and I double poled for the first couple hundred meters, as much to warm up as to avoid tripping over other racers. The skate races are always tricky at the start with flailing limbs and skis. People always snap poles at the start, and trip over skis. I focused on staying upright and avoiding danger. But there was no avoiding the crazy headwinds we were skiing into. I couldn’t wait for the first set of hills, which would take us into the trees and provide some relief from the wind.
I knew there was no way in hell I’d have a stellar race day. It truly was a race of attrition. Only the strongest would get through a day like this. Between the past weekend and the day before, I was starting at less than peak physical shape, but my mental toughness was probably at an all-time high. As such, my thoughts of abandoning at any point were only a low-level nagging voice, not a screaming lunatic. The same can not be said for many others. When I was finished and reunited with others in the cafeteria, I heard lots of stories of people, including good friends, deciding to throw in the towel at 8k. After all, with any exposed skin, you’d have basically no feeling there, and be risking frostbite, with the hardest sections yet to come.
Back onto the trails after that 8k point, I redoubled my efforts to stay smooth and ignore the pain. I also made it a conscious point to fully stop at each aid station and have at least a couple cups of warm drinks, and eat a few things. I can’t imagine the calories I was burning up out there. With the 42k course we were now on, the hardest work was front loaded. Meaning the first 24km or so had a lot of climbing in the woods to get to the highest points in the parc. Normally, that would mean you could be excited about the second part, which featured lots of downhills, most of them on wide open parkways for easy descents. However, if you combine the windchill factors along with very high speed descents on skis with very little clothes, and you’ll understand why even the downhills were painful on this day.
One thing I will say is kudos to the race organizers for being very cautious and taking good care of us. At every aid station, as well as at the bottom of pretty much every descent of consequence, they had first aiders stationed. These volunteers would make sure each and every skier showed them their face and confirmed how they were feeling. They pulled any skiers with obvious frostbite off the course at least for a short bit to try and warm up their faces before letting them head back out. For my part, I did a good job maintaining circulation. On all the downhills, I’d just tuck in, bringing my big mittens up and covering my exposed face. This, combined with breathing warm air on my face in those moments ensured that I could at least briefly get blood flow back into those areas and prevent any serious damage. That being said, 4 days later and I’m still showing a bit of windburn and brown spots on my face which are telltale signs of exposure. But, I’m no worse for wear!
My strategy of slow and easy also seemed to finally be paying off. I had been using what’s called one-skate technique for much of the course, which kept me balanced and skiing smoothly. The upshot was that the further we went the more people I would slowly overtake on the way to the finish. However, that really wasn’t my motivation anymore. I just wanted to get this damn race over with, and make my way back to warmth and my awaiting friends and wife. At a time of around 3hours and 48 minutes, I pulled under the finish line banner. I promptly went to retrieve my down jacket and head for the cafeteria. There, I bumped once again into my friends, and learned who had stuck it out, and who had pulled the plug. Unfortunately, Deanna was one of those who pulled the plug. She had serious concerns for her face, as she couldn’t feel anything, and was unsure about frostbite, so rather than risking it, she joined a group of 6-8 people we know that also decided to stop at 8k. I was sad for her, but completely understood. Not everyone is as foolish as I am 🙂
After warming up a little bit, and trading stories with other warriors from the day, it was time to finally head back home. But not until I stopped at the medal table to retrieve my certificate showing I had tackled both the long races, and receiving the commemorative pin that goes along with it. No medals or podiums for me that weekend, but another great testament to perseverance. However, needless to say, I was happy it was over. After all, we had sort of given up Valentine’s Day weekend, and I was also about to fly out to Edmonton on Deanna’s birthday, so to say it was without some form of sacrifice would be a lie. Luckily, I have a very loving and understanding wife, who supports my desire to challenge myself the way I do, and gets that it is part of who I am. Thanks Deanna! You are the best!
To celebrate the end of the challenge, we had gotten a great invitation to join some ski friends for a post-Loppet and CSM pot luck party. When we arrived, the house was full of race-weary ski friends, all engaged in swapping stories of this year’s races, sprinkled in with tales of many other races in years past. Although I had been reluctant to go out on account of being beat, it was totally worth it. It is always invigorating to hang out with others who know what you’ve been through, and truly appreciate what it takes to get through it all. For that, I would definitely say we have an amazing group of friends.
As with the CSM from the weekend past, there aren’t may pictures that tell the tale of the struggle, so my words will just have to do this time around. Just one last race to go this winter season before I start turning my mind to trail running, mountain biking and kayaking! Stay tuned for the final chapter in Winter 2015! Till then, as always, I hope you are all staying warm, but don’t forget to still get out there and enjoy what we have around us!
As you have all seen from the flurry of recent race reports that I’ve finally got around to posting, the winter racing season has been in full swing on my end! Luckily, things are starting to wind down, and I’ll soon be turning my mind to spring and summer active pursuits. However, I’ve still got a couple events to knock out here and write about. For this post, I’ll give you a little colour around the 35th Annual Gatineau Loppet that I took part in on February 16th. As the title implies, this event draws an International crowd. With over 2000 racers from 17 different countries taking part in this years offerings, it was a very cool event. The Loppet is a whole weekend of races, ranging from 5 to 55km, and in both classic and freestyle categories. For my part, I was taking on the 55km classic race, which was on Saturday. I also lugged cameras and did filming for Get Out There Magazine, so stay tuned for the video below, and don’t forget to also Check out the pictures that Deanna and I snapped.
The Gatineau Loppet is yet another of those gems that we have at our fingertips here in the National Capital Region to race in. It is part of the World Loppet series of ski races, and as such, draws participants from around the world. And the start/finish line? It’s a mere 10 minutes from my driveway by car! As it is set in Gatineau Parc, this is also terrain that I’m intimately familiar with and spend a lot of time in over the full year. However, I never grow tired of exploring its beauty, and in winter, things are completely different visually from summer and fall! Gatineau Parc is basically the entire reason I moved to this side of the river from Ottawa, so I try to spend as much time as possible there.
Pictures from the Event
At any rate, enough babbling about how great it is to run / ski / bike / hike, and snowshoe in Gatineau Parc. You came here to read about the Loppet! This year was the 4th time I took part in the event. I have done the 55km classic race in 2010 and 2011, then did the 27km skate race in 2012. For this year, the 35th anniversary, I was going back to classic, as I put a lot more time and effort into classic technique then skate, owing to the CSM preparation. Oh yeah, CSM. That little 160km skiing effort I completed only 5 days earlier! It’s quite possible that might have an impact on my performance in this race. Whereas CSM was a touring event, this was a bona fide ‘race’ entailing proper nutrition, hydration, and high-level sustained effort with minimal comfort. Aaargh! What have I done by signing up for this?!? Luckily, apart from some achilles tendonitis in both my heels, I felt like I would be good to go. Of course, tendonitis may be just enough to slow me down, mightn’t it?
One of the interesting aspects of this year’s classic race was that we were going to have a remote start. From the finish line at the relais plein air, all participants were to be bussed out to P19 at Lac Philippe. This posed a few logistical challenges, which organizers did their damndest to address before the big day. The P19 parking lot is quite small, so only 3 buses at a time could drop racers off, but there were probably close to 20 in total that had to get there in time to let racers start their waves. This was to be mitigated by the fact that different waves started 5 minutes apart, but as it turned out, it took longer than 5 minutes for buses to turn and unload, which meant that by the time the E wave was getting ready to go, I heard there were a few bottlenecks. Lucky for me, I was in Wave C, and arrived with just enough time to hit the porta-pottie, finish getting dressed appropriately, and even doing some quick footage for my video. HOwever, I still found myself scrambling, and throwing my gear bag to the side of the trail and trying to get my pole strap on just as the starting gun was sounding.
The weather was absolutely stunning. Although it started out a little chilly, the sun was shining bright, and I knew I’d be working hard, so I had forgone the extra layers in the anticipation of pushing hard and staying warm that way. I’m not sure if it was just the C wave, but my start actually seemed pretty tame. We all pulled away in a pretty good grouping, with 6 lanes to pick from. In about a kilometer or so, that narrowed to 4 tracks, and in another kilometer or so, it finally narrowed to a 2 track trail. However, because of the distances, there was never any real bottleneck, which was nice. I found a pretty decent pace early on, and found myself surrounded by a group of others heading approximately the same pace. Sure, there were sprints and lags depending whether terrain was flat, uphill, or downhill, but the same outfits always seemed to be within eyesight. Although there is no doubt that this is a race, things still felt generally convivial on the snow out there. This made me pretty happy, as it made me feel as though I was still in the thick of a race, and my performance hadn’t been too negatively impacted by my 160km slog the weekend before.
As usual, I rely a fair bit on my gps to give me feedback about how I’m doing in the race. That was all well and find for the first 13-14km… until I apparently lost my satellite lock. It would be about 25 or so km before I started getting any data again on my pacing, etc. Luckily, the time was still ticking, so I knew by time at the various marked distances, but no instant data on my pace. In other words, it took me to about kilometer 38 when I realized that my goal of a 4 hour 55km race was definitely not in the cards. By then, I had skied my way along many of the nicest parts of the course. Namely, along the 50, then onto my fave, the 36, before heading up the all-to-familiar parkway to join back up with the number 1 near Keogan shelter.
Once at the Keogan turnoff, we veered right to tack on an out and back section along the number 1 trail in order to get the full 55km distance. This of course also resulted in us popping out at Champlain lookout. I realize many of you have been up there on bikes, but for those who aren’t into skiing, it’s a different world up there in the winter on the skinny skis. I paused a little on top to admire the view, then smiled to myself knowing that the really hard work was over, and that the remaining 18km or so would be predominantly downhill. Doing some quick math, I thought maybe I’d wrap it up in 4:15 or so, which would still be respectable. I pushed off down the hill and onto the final sections of the race.
I should mention the aid stations at this point as well. They’re awesome. Staffed by a small army at each checkpoint, they spread themselves out from a bit before to a bit after the checkpoint. Each person yelling out what they have, and doing their absolute best to get you fed and hydrated with minimal effort from you. My favourite snacks were the chocolate chip cookies, the cut up cereal bars, and washing it down with warm gatorade. At every aid station, I’d generally take 2 cups of drink, then 3 ‘cups’ of snacks, which equated to maybe 2 bars and 2 cookies. There was no science behind my nutrition, but this appeared to be just right to keep the engine running. Also, thanks to my easy clip in and clip out poles, I would always have 1 had free to eat / drink while the other continued to propel me. I never fully stopped at any point, which mentally is a big plus in my game!
When I got past Pink Lake and started the final descent, I realized there was still about 5k to go, but there had been 2 fellows trading the lead with me for quite a bit. I decided then and there that I’d have to beat them. One fell off the pace going downhill and hitting the flats again, but the second guy kept surging and pushing. However, I felt I was keeping something in the tank, and decided just to shadow for a bit, the turn up the heat later. That’s right. A battle for 167th place 🙂 Well, I eventually got my chance, and on the final flats, I took off. We then had a sharp left turn onto the narrower trails for the final 2-3km. I pushed hard, worried he’d be right on my heels, but instead, I opened up a little gap that I maintained to the finish. In the end, I only beat him by 36 seconds, but it still felt like a huge gap. We both laughed about it at the finish and congratulated each other for the good push!
Video Race Review
My final time was just under 4:25, and as mentioned, good enough for 167th of 375 participants. So while I was in the top half, it was the lower top half. Not as speedy as I’d dreamed, but given that my body could NOT have recovered that fast from CSM the week before, I took the result with a big smile.
I’ve had an absolute blast this winter training with the group, and skiing lots with Deanna in our lead up to the big events. It’s a bit weird now, as the skiing is all for fun. No need to be fast or get ready for any events, just enjoy the snow. And given the 30cm we got in the last 30hrs, things are looking up for a few more enjoyable skis! It’s also been a lot of fun capturing some of that skiing on video, which I hope gives you some idea of the fun we have out there during winter! Now that the Loppet is over, there remains only 1 race for the winter season, and that’s the season finale in the Mad Trapper series. For that race, no video! Just hard racing, and pictures to go with my impressions. Stay tuned for that story!
Trail-Only Footage of the Loppet
Sorry for the delay in getting this post up everyone. In the past 10 weeks, I’ve done 8 races, and between the pictures, the videos, the training, the racing, the editing, the working, etc. etc, I just ran out of time to write my traditional post-race summary 🙂 However, I’m here tonight to rectify that and share with you all just a few thoughts from the Gatineau Loppet this year. I was particularly excited to take part in the event this year, as it would be my first time taking part in a longish race where I skate skied! Yes, this is still my first year on skate skis, so there is still a lot to learn, but it didn’t stop me from signing up to do the 31km (eventually classified as 27.5km) event at the Loppet. I was also there covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, so as has been the case quite frequently lately, I have a video review of the race for all to enjoy at the end of this post too. In addition to the video, I snapped a fair number of pictures over the weekend for you to check out. Click on to read the rest of my thoughts on the weekend, which I’ll keep on the brief side.
The first thing I’ll note (and no, it’s not totally an excuse) is that the Loppet fell exactly 1 week after my completion of the Canadian Ski Marathon, where I skied 160km classic style in 2 days. I’m no expert here, but I’m willing to bet that 6 days is not a sufficient amount of time to fully recover from such an event, especially in light of the lack of training I put into that event! So, strike 1 was no recovery from CSM, strike 2 was the fact that I’m pretty much a rank amateur. Strike 3? Easy, there is no strike 3. I make no excuses for my performance at the Loppet. In fact, I really didn’t care how I really did in the event. I’ll say this much. When I did cross the finish line at the finish, I was completely satisfied, and think I did a great job. By the numbers, I was 20/22 in my category! And 161/213 for men. Yup, pretty low down in the standings. But I’m getting ahead of the story, aren’t I? Let’s rewind and actually have a look at the race prep and action.
Now, let’s be honest here. My desire certainly wasn’t to be that far down the rankings. I’m not boasting here, but that’s not a spot I’m used to being in during a race. Particularly where nothing actually went wrong. I even tried to help myself by having my skis professionally prepped for the race. Ok, not a real professional prep, but I did at least drop them off at a shop for tuning rather than doing them myself. A nice wax job of molybdenum low fluoro for the first layer, scraped and brushed, followed by another top coat of low fluoro scraped and brushed. Sound like Greek to you? No worries, it just means I had then nicely waxed to be fast and slippery in the snow conditions we were expecting. And they WERE good. I had great glide the whole time. The weather was also pretty ideal. Blue skies and the works. The wind picked up a few times during the race, but overall, I was pretty comfortable. So off to the start line we go!
Lucky for me, I had seeded myself pretty far back in the race. I was in wave D, with a planned completion time of around 2hours. Nothing spectacular, but a nice, realistic goal. The starting gun sounded, and all around me we were double-poling like mad to get to the line where we could start skating. However, with the crowds and some hills, it was a little while before I could actually finally try some skate strides. Around me, people were stepping on other folks’ skis, falling, etc. One poor guy had his carbon fiber pole snap like a twig under the weight of another skiers ski. I felt bad, and made a note to make sure I kept my poles to myself.
Once I started hitting the more open areas, I got myself into a nice rhythm and focused on trying to pull out a good technique. I’d like to think I was doing a fairly reasonable job of that, but the video playback definitely showed me some points I could improve on. Deanna had been nice enough to do some filming, and there was a spot where she caught all the front crowd, and eventually, me. Because of that, I had great reference footage of good, average, and bad technique. I placed myself into the ‘average’ category. Weight shift yes, but too short a glide phase.
The course itself was a real treat. Good mix of different trails. Some parkways, some fields, and of course, some nasty little climbs, including the ever-popular climb up to Pink Lake from the backside. Trust me, it’s a great trail to practice your climbing. We also managed to grab a trail I was completely unfamiliar with, which I think was the #15 heading left off the parkway up towards MacKenzie King after the T intersection. This was a nice narrow, climbing, twisting trail where I got to do a lot of practice. While I had started fairly far back, I felt good about the fact that I was seldom passed on the trails. On the contrary, I was doing my fair share of passing. In other words, I was holding my own in my start wave.
After the long, twisty climbs up to MacKenzie King, it was time for the return to the start/finish at the Relais Plein Air, which had a lot of downhills to carry us there. These ranged from short little hills with nice run-outs, up to the very long descent from Pink Lake on the parkway. It was there that I threw caution to the wind and totally bombed down the set classic tracks to see how fast I could hit. In the end, that was 51.2km/hr! If there had been the slightest problem with the track, I would have been a tangled mess of skis and melted spandex! Luckily, I emerged unscathed, and with a giant smile on my face. Unfortunately, my race wasn’t completely without falls…
It happened in the stupidest of spots. Completely flat and skiing smoothly along the parkway. I was a little surprised to see a cyclist heading towards me! Yup, on a mountain bike with knobby tires, this joker was just riding along the ski course heading towards me. Luckily, it’s very wide, and there was absolutely no problem. However, afterwards, as I kept going, my mind wandered a bit, and before I knew it, I planted my pole in front of my ski, causing a nice tumble in front of a couple others. I got up lightening fast, but quite embarrassed. After making it through all the technical bits, this was a blow to my ego. However, with only a few kilometers to go, I could care less.
I finished out the race uneventfully, having a great time in the sun on a gorgeous winter day. Deanna was waiting for me at the finish, and I did my best flying bird impression on the final 100m stretch, by flapping my arms. Nearly fell again, but I was a happy camper. My final time was 1hr 50, so I had beat my goal, although with the adjusted distance, I was actually pretty much right on track. I hung around for a bit for the podium ceremony for the top 51km race finishers, then had a bite to eat, then headed home with Deanna so I could work on the video. All in all, another brilliant race day and a good result for my first long skate ski race. Although I really love skate skiing, I’m not sure I want to race again. It’s a bit maddening to be soooo much slower than others. I suppose with practice and training…. Who knows. Stay tuned to see if I try again next year I guess! That’s it for now. Next up: Snowy ride to Quebec for the Pentathlon des Neiges… Adios amigos.
Video Race Review
Welcome back to another race report. This was a tough one, and one which required me to try a new skill the night before the event! I’m talking of course about the Gatineau Loppet, a 50km cross-country ski race that I just completed over the weekend in the classic category (as opposed to skate skiing). The real challenge in this year’s race was the crazy weather that we had in the days leading up to the event. In spite of the crazy conditions, I had what I would call a successful race, and was very happy to cross the finish line. The best part of the event was that once I completed it, I was able to say I was now 40% of the way to my 2011 Rudy Award. Yup, event number two is in the bag, and the next 3 events will be in MUCH warmer conditions! Obviously, I wasn’t about to tote a camera around with me on the course, but there are a few pictures from before I started, as well as some thumbnails I grabbed from the ZoomPhoto page. To see all the pictures, check out the folder on flickr. After that, click on back and read the rest of the story.
Ahh, the Gatineau Loppet. One of the biggest winter events in Canada, and at a minimum, the largest cross-country ski race in the country. As part of the World Loppet series of ski races, this event draws people from all around the globe to take part in it. Over the course of the weekend, over 3,000 racers will don their skis and take a crack at the skiing in Gatineau Park. There are a full range of events, with distances of 5km, 16km, 29km, and the big one, 50+kms of skiing. On Saturday, all the events are classic style, and on Sunday, all the events are skate skiing style. Naturally, I was signed up to do the 50km classic style race. Earlier, I mentioned 50+km. The reason is that depending on conditions, the course is quite often modified from year to year, and this year was no exception.
For starters, this season sort of had a slow start when it came to snowfall. Although I’d bought an actual ski pass for the park, the conditions a lot of the time just hadn’t been all that great. However, in early February, it finally looked like things might be turning around for us. We got a substantial dump in one storm, and I had hoped we’d see more. Regardless, with that snow, the groomers got to work, and the trails were pretty good. As such, I hit the trickier sections of the Loppet course several times to train, concentrating on the steep, narrow, twisty trails, which are the most fun, and where I could make up ground. But that would only happen if they were part of the race. After all, last year things had been shortened somewhat, and the tricky bits removed.
Well, Deja Vu set in for 2011. The week leading up to the Loppet was an absolute nightmare when it came to snow. We had a string of 3 days of unbelievably warm weather, peaking at 11 degrees Celsius on Friday! Yes, THE DAY BEFORE THE RACE!! Snow was melting at an alarming rate, and no new snow would be there. Grooming would be difficult, and conditions uncertain. Well, wouldn’t you know it though. The forecast over night had the temps going from 11 degrees down to MINUS 12! Can you say flash freeze on the course? It was likely to become very icy when we lined up for the start. Accordingly, the wax recommendations all called for blue klister.
Blue klister?!? I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I thought klister was really only for warm days, with the snow was too wet for hard wax. Well, it turns out klister is also really good for ice. However, the forecast also called for a light dusting of snow, like 1-2 cm overnight. In a nutshell, the absolute worst possible conditions. Hard icy base covered in a little powder. That meant the klister would need to be covered with hard wax. Again, I didn’t even know that was possible, as klister has the approximate consistency of honey! How does one ‘crayon’ hard wax over top honey?
Internet to the rescue. I followed all the advice, and did the following. 2 days in advance, I started by ironing in 2 layers of green base binder to my kick zone. At the same time, I started my glide waxing by hot waxing my glide zones. The night before the race, I applied my blue klister, using a hair dryer and spreader. Weird stuff. I then set the skis outside to sit overnight and hopefully freeze up. In the morning, I pulled them in, and sure enough, the ‘honey’ was set nice, but tacky. Over that I was able to put two light layers of blue hard wax and cork it in lightly. You really don’t want the klister and hard wax to mix. When I was done, I was pretty impressed with my wax job. I didn’t test them, but put full faith in my job, and Deanna and I headed to the start line.
Conditions were crazy. There was a bitter, howling wind blowing in our faces, and the thin layer of lycra covered in nylon made me a little cranky. I just wanted to get going, but they pushed back the start by 30 minutes so we were stuck hanging around waiting. Luckily, we were in a heated building (with the skis outside, as you REALLY don’t want to warm up the klister!). By the time we were finally lining up for the starting gun, I just wanted to get skiing to warm up. Luckily, and happily, I had a new set of bluetooth headphones to try out, and my iPod was streaming heavy tunes into my skull as I twitched in anticipation.
At 9:30am, the elites in Wave A took off. It wasn’t until 9:36 that my group, wave D, departed on the trails. It was a pretty painful start. Slow going, lots of wind, and lots of ice. In the first 10km, I took two mild spills, but already started making up ground and passing people. The engine was running smoothly, and the skis were working flawlessly. I had a stupid grin on my face everytime we hit any type of incline. In spite of the ice, I was able to run up almost effortlessly, barely once slipping in the tracks. I couldn’t ask for better. The only downside was that once again, all the tricky trails had been cut out, and we were left racing almost exclusively on the [boring] parkway trails.
Another consideration of a long race like this is nutrition. To address this, I had decided to carry my camelbak, and had 1.5L of nuun with me, as well as 3 gels, and 2 packs of honey stinger chews. The bad news? My hose froze right at the start, so I basically carried the extra weight the whole time for nothing. Also, I never ate my own food, as I was too focused on racing. Instead, I would grab a drink and snack at each aid station when possible. This is where the clip-on clip-off poles were a god send. I’d grab the food and drink, then keep moving, using only one pole while I fueled up. This worked quite well.
I am pleased to say that I felt good for the entire race. One of my early falls was on my wrist, which made my double-poling pretty difficult, but luckily, my grip was good, and I was able to ski for virtually the entire race without losing traction, even at the end. Throughout the day, the weather changed several times. Sometimes, we’d have gorgeous blue skies and sun beating on us. Then for the next 15 minutes, clouds would roll in, wind would pick up, and we’d even have a bit of snow. Very odd stuff. I’m also happy to say that I was not really passed at all the entire time. I think I counted only 2 or 3 people that ever passed me. On the contrary, I seemed to make up spots the whole time, which gave me a great feeling all day. Rather than fading out, I seemed to stay strong the whole time. There must be something to this more relaxed approach to training eh? Or perhaps my 8 years or base endurance training are finally paying off?
When I finally crossed the finish line, I felt great. I attempted a mini jump at the finish line and even pulled it off! People were laughing and cheering for me, and I had a big grin on my face. Moments later, I was re-united with Deanna, who came back for the finish, and we hung out at the finish for a while, as I chatted up a few other friends that I knew in the race. We all agreed it was a tough day, but for the most part, it seemed everyone stayed pretty warm and enjoyed themselves. That’s always nice to hear. So how did I stack up year over year? Well, my pace was up 0.2km/hr. Last year I was 183rd, this year, 156th. Category-wise, I was 13 of 14 last year, but this year, a respectable 9 of 22. Not bad at all! I’ll definitely take it.
With that race out of the way, I have only one final winter race left, the 4th Mad Trapper snowshoe race. My next Rudy Award events aren’t until the warmer weather sets in, with my next likely event the Ottawa Marathon in May. Guess it’s time to start thinking about summer training. But before that, there’s still time to enjoy winter, which is precisely what I’ll be writing about in my next post. Till that time, stay cool friends 🙂