Tag Archives: Pentathlon des Neiges

Freezing my Bits Five Times at Pentathlon

Yes, I realize that writing up a race report from the depths of the winter may be odd, given the current season, but I really have to catch up on things, don’t I? This blog post takes us back a mere two and a half months ago to the Plains of Abraham where I was taking part in the unique Pentathlon des Neiges Quebec. As the name implies, the race has 5 stages; biking, running, skiing, skating, and finishing with snowshoeing. The entire race takes place in the historic Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, making it a fun destination. Read on to hear all about it.

Pentathlon des Neiges 2017

This was not my first time racing in this event. I’ve done both the Pentathlon previously, as well as the winter triathlon that they also host.  The Pentathlon is actually an event that spans several weekends with different events, and I had been invited back to tackle the Pentathlon. The last time, I raced in the ‘elite’ category of the triathlon, and had my butt handed to me by ex-Olympians, national team athletes, etc. Luckily, in the Solo Pentathlon, there was no ‘elite’ category, so I’d probably place a little higher (although still get my ass handed to me!).

Being early in March this year, my hope was that the weather would be decent. The last time I did the event, we had to drive over 9 hours through a snowstorm just to get to the start line, and I really didn’t want to go through that again. Given the extremely balmy temperatures at this year’s Gatineau Loppet, I assumed things would be relatively mild. I couldn’t be further from the truth, as in fact, this would prove to be one of the absolute coldest races I’d taken part in! Luckily, at least the drive from Chelsea was fairly uneventful on Friday night. We had decided to make a long weekend of it by taking Monday off, so we’d be spending three nights in the Chateau Laurier hotel in Quebec city, hopefully taking advantage of amenities like the hot tubs, as well as touring the city.

Trying ot Stay Warm Before Race

My race was the first on tap for Saturday morning, which of course meant the coldest possible conditions. Not only that, but we had a lovely little ice wind blowing just to make sure we got the full experience! On the plus side, the sun was shining brightly, so visibility wasn’t an issue. Luckily for Deanna, we had media / VIP passes, so she had a warm place to go to if required. No such luck for me, since I’d be racing. If nothing else, there was strong motivation to move fast and finish quickly!

The opening salvo was the 14.3 km bike leg, which was multiple 3.8 km loops along the roads surrounding the Plains, including a pretty significant decent off the plains to a U-turn where we had to pedal back up. It was bloody cold on that decent, screaming down a hill at 60km/h wearing only lycra in -35 temps feels more like -50, so as you can imagine, the bits and bobs were feeling it. Or rather, they felt nothing as things were slowly but surely going numb. The course itself was pretty nice, with no major surprises. After the final loop, we turned onto  a groomed snow trail to head to transition. The fast dudes were all riding cyclocross, but for my part, it was my trusty mountain bike (hadn’t yet bought my cx bike…).

Finishing Bike Leg

I rolled into transition as a veritable Stevie Ice pop, and had to get right out on the run. I’d opted to use flat pedals, which at least meant I didn’t have to change foot wear. Instead, my ice block feet got right to work churning snow on the multi loop run course. Something felt off right away, but it was hard to tell what it was, what with no circulation. Eventually, after about 600-700m, I realized the issue. While I had gone completely numb on the bike, the run was actually forcing some semblance of circulation in my feet, and it was causing extreme pain as it passed through my quite frozen tissue. Pretty sure had the bike leg been much longer, I would have had bad frost bite. As it was, the run ‘saved’ my feet, but caused much agony.

It wasn’t until I’d completed a full 1.6km lap and a bit of the run that my feet started to work again. I’d had to stop and shake them out for a while on lap 1 as well, which is quite evident from my split times on the run. Regardless, once I ‘found my feet’, I took the time to enjoy the scenery a bit more and get through the 5 km run. I gotta say, 5k of running has never been quite as challenging in some ways!

Working on Fast Transition

Coming into the second transition I’d now face my first ‘costume change’, as I had to remove my sneakers and put on my ski boots. This is where I was really, really thankful that I had heated gloves on! For once, I actually had feeling in my fingers during a winter transition, making it much easier to untie and re-tie footwear. That was a life saver for me! I had a relatively good transition, and was soon jogging to the ski put-on line. Obviously, I’d be skate skiing my way around this course, and after my race at the Gatineau Loppet, I had a feeling this might be my best leg of the event. I strode out of the stadium purposefully, hoping to make up some spots I’d lost on the first 2 legs.

Again, we were set to do multiple loops around the Plains covering a total of just under 10 km over 3 loops. The snow had been groomed quite nicely prior to the race, so although the air was very cold, the snow hadn’t become too frozen. I had good glide without being too icy. I was able to find a decent grove and sure enough, I was passing people along the way. Going into this leg, I had been 52nd on the bike, and 46th on the run, but wrapped up the ski in 30th. In my category, it was even better. I had been 16th in bike, 14th in run, but emerged 7th on the ski! With only 2 legs left, my intention was to hold my spot as best as I could.

Heading onto Ski Course

Lucky for me, with my endurance base, I can generally maintain my pace for quite a while, even when things get tough, so I was pretty confident I could stay in my place, in spite of not being a strong skater. This would prove to be another interesting leg. All told, I’d been out skating precisely ONCE prior to this race, so I was both practicing and racing at the same time. Round and round the perfect ice oval for 21 laps, that you had to count yourself. On the plus side, once again I avoided a shoe change since my blades clip right onto my ski boots. Thank goodness for technology.

I did my best to imitate the form of a speed skater, leaning way forward and trying to keep my arms in that oh-so-cool looking relaxed behind the back posture. Sadly, looking at some of the pictures, I’d say I was only about half as aero as I felt like I was. It may not have been pretty, but it was hopefully effective. Sure enough, stepping back off the ice and back into transition for the last time, I had maintained my exact standing.

Non Ideal Form

And now for the penultimate stage of the Pentathlon. The snowshoe! This leg could prove interesting for the simple fact that I was running on completely untested gear! I (or rather Deanna) had literally picked up a pair of snowshoes in a mad scramble on Friday afternoon that  had ordered in a few days earlier. A completely new design consisting of a plastic frame that I’d seen around a few races, and wanted to try. They were TSL symbioz hyperflex racing snowshoes, and were almost HALF the weight of my other snowshoes, so I was keen to try them out. As Deanna was driving us on Friday, I was in the passenger seat making adjustments and setting them up to fit my shoes perfectly. My only testing consisted of jogging in the hotel about 10 feet to make sure they were secure!

Lucky for me, things worked very well. These beauties were so light that you barely felt any swing weight at all as you were running. I took note on the course of just how many people had converted to this snowshoe. They have definitely taken the top-end racing scene (at least in Quebec) by storm. I can also vouch for them now. They are sturdy. Given the very cold temps, this was a good test for whether they’d become brittle or cause blistering issues. I’m happy to report I emerged unscathed, and also managed to gain a spot in my category, and 2 in the overall classification.

Last Minute Push

So, the final tally for me? Well, in what I’d consider a very competitive field, I ended up 29th overall, 26th male, and 6th (of 24) in my category. I was happy with that. And even more happy that I could get out of the cold!! It was time to warm up first with a hot chocolate, and later, a beer and a meal! We did also find time to hop into the hotels hot tubs (which were cruelly located outside, meaning a VERY cold bathrobe stroll to get into them. Although we had grand plans to tour Quebec City a bit more this time, we decided it was too bloody cold to make that very enticing. The following day, we watched the elite team competition, which was pretty exciting to watch. Lucky for them, the weather was a little warmer.

All in all, we had another great time at this event, which is definitely one of the best organized winter events I’ve had the privilege of taking part in. I was also covering the event for the magazine, so I had plenty of camera gear in tow. Sadly, footage from my own event was pretty tough to obtain, given that all my gear basically instantly froze out there. Batteries are no match for those really low temps. However, I had much better luck the next day when I could protect the gear between shots. As a result, if you haven’t done so yet, please check out the video I shot below. Till next time, see you out on the trails!

White Knuckling it to Quebec City

Stylish Skate

Howdy folks! Well, as we hurtle towards the inevitable spring time change, and the warming temperatures, I’m going to take us back in time to just over a week ago, where we got that sudden dramatic snowstorm. You know. The one that dumped buckets of snow all over the area? Oh yes, the one and same that I had to drive through to get to Quebec City for the Pentahlon des Neiges. There is a well-known adage that goes ‘getting to the start line is the biggest challenge’. Well, it would certainly appear that was the case for this race. In fact, I’d probably rate this drive the worst in my life! The normally 4.5 hour drive took over 9 hours, and that was with only 2 short stops. One for a sandwich, and one for a washroom / nerve break. It was absolutely atrocious, with blowing heavy snow, uncleared roads, and darkness the entire way. Did that affect the race? The rest of the weekend? My sanity? Well, read on through my little post to get the answers to all those, and a few other questions. This’ll be the last race report for a while, so enjoy it my friends! As always, pictures have been posted, and I did a video review as well.

Pictures from Race


Lucky for me, I didn’t have to make the journey all on my own. As the race was so far away, Deanna and I had decided to make a fun weekend of it. We chose to book at the race venue hotel, which was literally 30 seconds from the start and finish of the race, and also located on the beautiful Plains of Abraham. Yes, THE Plains of Abraham that you may or may not recall from high school Canadian history. This also happens to be only a kilometer or so from the beautiful and historic old Quebec area. Our tentative plans for the Saturday included touring the city a bit, hitting up a maple syrup museum, a chocolate museum, and at least one brewery. This was all possible because my actual race wasn’t until Sunday morning. That being said, there WAS a race on Saturday morning too, and I actually got up after only 5 or so hours of sleep to go watch a bit of it and do some filming for my race review. It was a great chance to get familiar with the race site and how my own race would work the next day, so it was time well spent.

You might think that after our horrible drive on Friday night that the weather would clear up nicely and leave us with an excellent rest of the weekend. Sadly, the weather decided not to co-operate, and most of Saturday was overcast, and brought with it slush, periods of rain and very wet snow. Temperatures were fine, but everywhere we wandered, we were getting wet. Apart from that, it was still really nice to take a walk around the citadel on the Governor General’s promenade, which takes you into the heart of Old Quebec, to the foot of the luge (toboggan) track, and spectacular vistas of the mighty Saint Lawrence River. We paid our fees and rode that fun little luge, which had no line-ups whatsoever on account of the weather. From there, we made our way to the tourist info building to figure out where the maple syrup museum was. Another wet stroll, and we were rewarded with tasty maple treats. And from there? Yup, the chocolate museum, rumoured to have the best hot chocolate in all Quebec. Unfortunately, we were stuffed, so we by-passed that treat and headed back towards the hotel, and ultimately, a brewery called INOX just down the street. I ordered samples of all their wares and had a half pint of my favourite. It was tasty, but pretty quiet at that time of day. Our Saturday culminated in a failed attempt at finding a fancy restaurant we both were keen on, and instead ended up in a gluttonous feast at St. Hubert! Stuffed, and happy, we retired for the night to rest up for the race.

Race Stats


So how about that race you’re asking at this point, right? Well, it was really really fun. I love trying new races and events, and this was a format I hadn’t been exposed to before. Mind you, it was not unlike any other triathlon. In that sense, we each had a transition area, and you completed each event back to back, returning to your transition area between each leg. The best part of the race was the fact that each participant had their own numbered transition spot, complete with 6 or so feet of rack space for all the gear. The five events of this Pentathlon, in order, were cycling, running, skiing, skating, and snowshoeing. I entered the race with fairly high expectations, given that I’m fairly proficient at each event, and kinda hoped maybe many other weren’t. Boy was I mistaken! There was a TON of really excellent competitors. I was able to tell pretty much right off the bat that I would NOT be placing highly in this race.

That being said, I felt like I had a decent race, was able to push a bit, get some good footage, and be exposed to great sights and witness a very-well run race. This event is now apparently the largest outdoor winter event in Canada now (when you add ALL the various race events that form the series). They had an army of volunteers, and a very well laid out series of courses with excellent opportunities for spectators as well. Provided you are not too uncomfortable being immersed in French (all instruction was in French, with no translation), I would highly recommend this race. The only thing I was surprised and sad about is that there was absolutely no souvenir for completing. No medal, no toque, mitts, anything. Mind you, I’m not for wanting any of those things, but it still would have been nice. Of course, if you were willing to pony up cash, they did have plenty of stuff for sale there! Now on to a quick synopsis of my own race event by event.

Bike: 5 laps of 3km each. Any bike accepted as long as you had ‘studded’ tires. However, by studded, knobby rubber was fine. This The course was on pavement for 95% of the course, and the only snow section was in the transition area, where you had to run with the bike anyway. The start was LeMans style, which meant we parked our bikes first, then had to run back to them from the start line, in order to spread out the field. I unfortunately got a pretty late start, getting stuck in ‘traffic’ and starting towards the back. On the plus, it meant that I spent most of the 15km passing other people and trying to make up ground. In spite of not having biked much lately, my climbing legs seemed intact, and I did most of my passing on the climbs. I came off the bike feeling pretty good, but a little wistful. As it turns out, this would be the last race I would use my beloved blue Epic bike. I have since bought a new ride, and knew that would probably be our last race together. Definitely a little bittersweet.

Run: 3 laps of 2km each. I put on my running gear and headed out as quick as I could I haven’t been running much on flat pavement, so I felt a bit out of my element of twists, turns, and hills, but I still managed to keep the speed up. I wasn’t blazing fast, but managed to keep a 4:30/km pace including the snowy patches which inevitably slow you down. Again, the running was mainly on pavement, and took me through the side streets, and through the plains.

Ski: 3 laps of 3km each. Still new to the skills needed for skate skiing, I was nonetheless going to be trying the skate skis once again. If nothing else, this was an excellent little 3k loop to race on. It was surprisingly challenging for a relative novice like me. Lots of little twists and turns, many of which would occur on steep downhills. There was also a great lung-busting climb taking us back up to the transition area. With so many racers, there was a lot of crowding to get out of the way of speedy skiers, as well as making some quick passes. I witnessed more than a few wipe-outs, but luckily managed to avoid any spills of my own. By the 3rd lap, I finally felt like I had the hang of it, but then it was time to switch again!

Skate: 12 laps of 500m each. Round and round we go. Racers were responsible for counting their own laps for all 12. If you missed one, you got a 5 minute penalty. With a time of under 20 minutes, you can see that a 5 minute penalty is huge. Probably for that reason, I actually ended up doing 13 laps. You see, even though we counted our own laps, there was an electronic system keeping tabs on us for the final results. Looking through results, you can see that many people messed up. One speedy guy I know ended up doing 15 laps! Others 14. I’m okay with one bonus lap. The first lap is wasted anyway, as your legs aren’t quite working 🙂

Snowshoe: 3 laps of 2km each. To wrap up the race, it was time to strap on the snowshoes and run our way to the finish. This course was almost the same as the ski portion, only cut through the middle of the Plains instead of doing a full loop. Unfortunately for me, what seemed challenging on the skis was anything but on snowshoes. Wide flat trails, with no tree cover, no tricky trail twists or anything. In that way, it reminded me of the Dion snowshoes race in Kingston, where I was throttled by the fast runners, as it favours the speedy racers over the technical racers. In spite of that, it was a fun course, and the last bit was cool because we ran over a man-made overpass of scaffolding and snow to run to the finish line. I will at least say that in comparison to the other legs, this was my fastest in comparison to the rest of the field.

If you’ve done your math, you’ll note the total race distance was a tidy 42km, or exactly the distance of a marathon. Luckily though, it didn’t hurt nearly as much, and I finished in 1:50, which I’ll never see in a running race of 42k! The hardest part of the race I think was coming out of the transition and starting a new leg of the race. As an endurance athlete, I’m just starting to fall into the groove of the event when I had to switch sports and engage new muscles. The first 1 or 2 laps of each leg I felt very sloppy. All told though, I was very happy and would definitely do the event again. Kinda wish they’d host something like that here though so I wouldn’t have to make another super-long trip in the winter. To wrap up the day, all participants got to head to the hotel for a great buffet lunch in the ballroom. At the same time, the organization was giving out the prizing, and you could chat with fellow racers. All in all, a top notch event, and I have no bad memories resulting from the drive. Just trauma 🙂 So, that’s it for my winter race season. Time to move back into training mode and get ready for another busy summer. Till then, keep active my friends!

Video Review