Tag Archives: Loppet

Doubling Down at the Gatineau Loppet

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!

Results of Triple Ski

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!

Racing with an International Flair

Rehydrating at Finish

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