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Looking for Gold out on the Ski Trails

Never again… until next year. If any of you have ever done the Canadian Ski Marathon, you know that this is the unofficial slogan of the event. With 160km of challenging cross-country skiing over 2 days, this is one tough event. This is made even tougher for those of us brave (foolish?) enough to tackle the event as a Gold Coureur des Bois, which means we have to do the entire event wearing a heavy pack containing all we need for the weekend, since we would be sleeping overnight outdoors on a hay bale! For me, this was actually my 4th Gold Camp, and 6th year in a row that I’ve done the CSM. My run started in 2012, when I decided I wanted to try the ‘bronze’ category just one time. Well, surprise surprise, it is now 2017, and I’ve taken part in (and fully completed) every event since then! Read on for a bit more colour around this years’ event.

CSM 2017 - Gold Bar

Last year, the CSM was my only race / event of the entire winter. I had been suffering from pretty bad plantar fasciitis through the fall, and decided to minimize the stresses to my foot over winter by only having one big event. As such, I managed to put in some very solid dedicated training, and showed up fully prepped for this classic-only ski event. This year, I’ve decided to put more events on my calendar, and cover a range of sports, meaning I was training not only for Classic Skiing, but also skate skiing, snowshoe running, and other general strength training. This meant I had pretty high general fitness, but hadn’t overloaded on Classic training. Turns out, that worked just as well. Moral of that story? I’d say unless you are at the very pointy end of the competitive field, adding variety into your training program will give you a better overall fitness, and keep things interested. I plan to employ that going forward into this year. Even though all my races are focused on trail running, I’m planning to do a bit more cycling for variety.

Ok, back to the event. As you can appreciate, you never really know what you’ll get in February in this region. Will it be raining? Will it be snowing? Will it be windy? Super cold? That’s really the challenge of this event. The weather. The reality of the situation is that most times, the weather will change several times over the course of the event. This year was no different. Mornings started out quite cold, meaning we had to layer up appropriately. However, as the day wore on, temperatures rose enough to make it ‘comfortable’. These temperature changes can lead to some waxing challenges as well. I’ve gotten decent at waxing, which meant I had ‘ok’ wax the whole weekend, which I think is better than having ‘great’ wax part of the day, then crappy wax later. The other thing that adds a layer of complexity is when it snows. You can have really old snow base, but piling on a few centimeters of fresh powder can make a big difference.

Skiers Getting Ready

As with past years, the event started at Gold Dorm for me on Friday nights. As usual, pretty much a mad scramble to get my butt home from work, pack up the car, and get to the venue. Things were made a little more complicated by the fact that it was snowing quite heavily most of the way there. Things were ok for me, but Deanna had to drive all the way home after dropping me off. I probably got there around 8pm or so, giving me just enough time to sort through my gear, catch up with a few friends, and try to grab some sleep. The good news is that we’d all be able to walk to the start line. The bad news was that the start time was before 6am, which meant a 4am wake-up call!

After stuffing my face with breakfast, I bundled up and headed out. The snow accumulation was pretty decent, and the big flakes were still falling from the sky. I stomped over to the start area with my pack and skis, lining up with the rest of my CdB Gold friends, awaiting the starting signal. We got underway right on time, and as usual, everyone was jockeying for good positions from the start, knowing that inevitably, there would be a choke point on the trail. I made the mistake of starting a little too far back, which meant I was a victim of this choke point, and had to fight my way through a sizeable number of skiers before I finally found my stride and had some trail to myself. I’d say that for most of the first leg, I was in this kind of position. My wax was working well enough, but the tracks were pretty snow-filled. I suppose that was one fringe benefit of being further back. I didn’t have to break trail!

Day1 Track Image

Skiing the first leg is always somewhat unique, in that we are all skiing in the darkness and are all at peak readiness level. I’d like to say that the event gets easier, but that is not the case. What I can say is that it definitely becomes a better understood challenge. I’m starting to really know the trails, where the tough parts are, and what level of effort to put in at any point in time to ensure successful completion. I generally end up with a 1-2 hour cushion of time prior to the cutoff on each day. This is calculated on my part. I don’t really have any need to ‘race’ this event. All you do is get too tired, and end up sitting around Gold Camp with very little to do other than choke on campfire smoke and fight off the chill J.

This year didn’t seem to present us with any ‘really’ difficult challenges, but rather a series of smaller challenges that when put together apparently lead to a pretty high number of DNFs. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what that is, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I think it boils down to the notion that people who have done this event enough times, and/or are just very stubborn about endurance events, will always find a way to get through. After all, it is usually the mental aspects, not physical, that cause DNFs. The event really lets you learn about yourself. I can guarantee that every year I hit 1 or 2 patches where I swear I’m never going to do it again, and fail to understand why I’m there. But by the very same token, there are a number of places where you just pull your head up, look around at the beauty and the sheer awesomeness of undertaking something like this, and you smile to yourself. You hold on to those thoughts, and let the other ones go. That’s the key.

Frozen Beard at Checkpoint

While the first day was relatively cold, I kept moving, stuck to short breaks in the aid stations, and pushed on until things warmed up in the afternoon. I’d say the only real annoying part of the trail this year was based on mother nature. Given that the CSM is only really a groomed trail for a few days, there are major challenges to preparing the track. This year, we had a few sessions of heavy freezing rain earlier in the season. When the CSM people tried to prepare the track, the groomer was unable to fully chop up the ice to give a smooth track. Instead, it pulled up a lot of coarse ice. In some sections, it literally looked like I was skiing on an endless trail of ice cubes embedded in the snow. Bye bye grip wax! Within 5k of any aid station, much of the wax would be scraped off. To add to the challenge posed, some of the hills were VERY treacherous, especially if you were unlucky enough to ski down them AFTER a large number of the ‘Tourers’ had gone through (these folks pick and choose sections to ski).

In the end, I made it to gold camp safe and sound with at least a couple hours of light left. This gave me ample time to change into warm clothes (yay for new ‘puffy pants’), start trying to dry gear, get food into me, and set up my little mouse bed of hay. Once again, I linked up with my AR buddies from NY, several of whom had beat me to the camp. As usual, stories were swapped, jokes were cracked, and food and booze was passed around. And once again, like last year, we were actually provided with beer at gold camp! Bonus!

Around Gold Camp

Unfortunately, there was a bit of an ominous cloud hanging over the entire camp. News had been spreading of a fellow that collapsed and passed away on the trail. I had missed this, as he was a bit further behind me. However, one of my camp mates was actually the first on the scene, and essentially stayed with this fellow for over an hour (with 5 other), provide CPR the entire time until the paramedics finally made it to them. When he arrived to our camp, we could clearly tell there was some trauma there. I can’t even imagine going through it. He’d even left most of his dry clothes there, as he’d covered the person in an attempt to keep them warm. It was a very sobering couple hours as we all coped with this news and the ramifications. The next morning, there was a minute of silence to commemorate the skier before we took off, but the event continued, as it should, in my opinion.

Overnight, we were fortunate enough NOT to be snowed on. There is nothing worse than needing to dig your way out of your sleeping bag in the morning! Temperatures were low, but not super cold either. As with other years, getting up on day 2 proved to be one of the biggest challenges. The mere act of stripping down, re-dressing, and needing to prepare food and pack everything back into our backpacks is a drain. On the plus side, you really don’t have much of an option, and the day can only get better, right? I can’t even imagine how challenging it must be for people like Ray Zahab to pull off a self-supported Arctic Expedition in the dead of winter!

Day2 Track Image

Back on the trails at 5:30am the next morning, sliding away into the darkness as they prepared to ‘burn down the camp’. I once again let myself start at about ¾ of the way back in the pack. Definitely wasn’t in a rush (yet). I wanted to see how the skis felt and what kind of energy I had. Happily, I seem to have most aspects of this event dialed in now, down to the amount of food I bring for both the trail and camp, so I didn’t feel too drained. I suppose one other point worth mentioning is that I was once again filming the event, which always adds a little extra complexity for me. Filming in winter is a challenge in the best of conditions, but trying to keep gear dry, warm, and functional while taking part in something like this is a whole other challenge. Batteries need to be considered, clothing choices like gloves to operate gear. Mounts, where to stash the camera, etc. Bottom line is that while I can pull it off, there’s a lot more to those 2 minutes of footage you might see than you might imagine!

For the most part, I simply went with the snow, and enjoyed my day skiing a long way with several hundred other like-minded folks. Early in the day, the trails were pretty good, with just low temperatures to contend with. As the day wore on and the legs got heavier, the snow once again decided to attack us. The snow got progressively heavier as the day wore on, which made things VERY beautiful to see, but did get tiring as your face was constantly bombarded by little cold bits of precipitation. Oh yeah, and the wind also decided to pick up! By the time I found myself on the last leg of the day (which is always a great relief), I was ready to be done. This year, the changed the route slightly again, allowing us to basically ski right to the finish line behind the Lachute School. Unfortunately, this meant quite a bit of skiing on essentially city roads. We were lucky to have snow falling, as I suspect without that, the skis would have been completely destroyed (as opposed to only mostly destroyed, which is what you get at CSM!).

Snow Starts Falling

The finish line, which was meant to be a festive atmosphere, looked more like the frozen planet of Hoth, and I felt like Luke Skywalker just trying to find my way back to base. The snow was blowing hard, and there were no cheering crowds. Just a few hearty individuals, and the announcers huddled in an enclosed tent calling out names of finishers and playing tunes. As soon as I crossed the line, I took off the skis and headed inside to find heat, and a warm(ish) shower. Too bad my feet had gotten destroyed out there. They were quite raw from being wet and rubbing in my boots. When the water hit my body, I was jolted into full awakeness once again, as they pain went through my body. But the pain just served to remind me that I had done it once again, and collected my gold bar. Another year in the books.

As per usual, I had little time to celebrate or reflect, as the next weekend, I was slated to do 2 back to back ski races again. I hung around the school for a bit while I waited for Deanna to make her way to me again. Not an easy feat, as the snowstorm was wreaking havoc in the area. The entire highway had been shut down, so she had to take less-maintained side roads to reach me. Getting home was quite an ordeal, and I managed to stay awake long enough to first hit McDonalds, then get home and crash. After all, I had to work the next morning early!

I’d say that about wraps things up for this year’s story. I’m surprised my post ran this long, given that for the most part, it just feels like Groundhog’s Day to me. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my next race stories, which will chronicle my next week’s races. If you have a few minutes, why not check out my resulting video, posted below. At least you’ll get some of the visuals from the weekend! Till next time, stay active!

Chasing the Snowman… 2 Races in 1 Day!

Skis at the Ready

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

Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Trapper Night Race

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing Mountains to reach the Race Across the Sky

At the Finish

“I commit, I won’t quit!”. Those words were chanted by the Leadville Race founder, and he made us all recite those very words ourselves. So began the journey to complete the WilmingtonWhiteface 100km Mountain Bike Race. This was the pre-race briefing, and one of the most inspirational ones I’d been to in all my many races. I was in the beautiful Adirondack mountain area, a scant 9 miles from Lake Placid, and 3 miles from Wilmington, NY, the host town of this race. My mere presence at this event was somewhat unexpected, as it was not on my radar at all until I heard about it through Get Out There Magazine. I was there covering the event for them, and also there due to the allure of getting a shot at a slot to race in the the Leadville 100 Race. Yup, the one and same MTB race that has seen Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong, on 2 separate occasions, get beaten by local legend Dave Wiens. Also the same venue where Levi Leipheimer smashed a previous course record held by Dave. That race is only 18 years old, but has quickly become the stuff of legend, and only accessible by winning your way in, or winning a ‘lottery slot’. So there I was, seated in the room with another 300 fellow hungry athletes, looking forward to ripping up the course the next morning. The rest of my tale will take you through the whole race. But first, a word about the area and what Deanna and I got up to on our ‘weekend getaway’. Check out the pictures we took as well as my finalized race review video. Read on friends!

Pictures from Race

Amazingly, even though the Adirondacks are only 3-3.5 hours from Ottawa, I’d never been down that way. Well, let me say that after this weekend, we’d DEFINITELY like to get back there again, perhaps on the motorbikes. It was absolutely gorgeous, and the people quite friendly as well. Perhaps a fall trip will be in order. One of the big differences with this event was that it occurred on Sunday, which left us with a full day to enjoy the area and all its sights. As it turns out, that is much nicer when travelling for a race. It would make for a long Sunday and tough recovery day at work, but at least we got to truly experience the regions.

Not only was the Wilmington Whiteface 100 occurring this weekend, but it was in fact part of a larger festival known as the Wilmington Bikefest. They had a whole suite of events planned for the entire weekend, including a welcome party, an uphill-only race, a downhilling race, a slalom race, a beach party, the Whiteface 100, live music, a costumed parad, and so on and so on. In fact, their only downfall was that with so many things, attendance at some events wasn’t quite what it deserved to be. However, I’m confident that over the next few years, this should truly grow into a world-class event. I actually got to chat with several of the organizers a fair bit, as well as hoist a beer with the Wilmington town mayor. As the small cousin to the East of Lake Placid, Wilmington has all the beauty, but doesn’t get as many tourists. However, that could be a good thing. For rour part, Deanna and I made a point to attend all the events we could, as well as spend some time in Lake Placid, and spend money all around :-). A couple of the big highlights has to be the boat tour we took around Lake Placid, the gondola ride up Little Whiteface, and culminating with the awesome drive to the top of Whiteface mountain, the 5th highest peak in the ‘High Adirondacks’. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I did place in the top 5 of the ‘best calves in Wilmington’ contest held at the welcome party at a local watering hole just off the highway (Steinhoff’s). Great time was had by all.

Although I could go on and on about the fun stuff, I should really get to the meat of the issue here. The race. I mentioned Dave Wiens earlier. Well, both he and Rebecca Rusch (the Queen of Pain and an AR legend) were present here as ambassadors, and Rebecca was also racing as a pro and trying to encourage more women to get involved. I managed to get my picture snapped with her, and Deanna got me a signed poster while I was on the course! Given the region we were in, there was definitely going to be lots of climbing on tap for the day. While a lot of the course was slated to be on secondary and gravel roads, there were also a couple different purpose-built singletrack sections to play on, and of course the crowning jewel at the end of the race is a grueling climb UP Whiteface mountain before bombing down to the finish line. It was not going to be an easy course, but nor would it be super-technical. Basically, it was a classic MTB endurance race. Those who can endure the pain and keep up the pace longest would end up victorious.

Race Stats

Although podium was definitely not in the cards for me, I can tolerate pain, and am pretty accustomed to endurance events, so I knew I’d be finishing, and doing so having a great time. I seeded myself in the middle of the pack at the start line, as I’m well aware of my limitations. My plan was to keep a good, steady pace the whole day, and ensure I was properly hydrated, as the day was once again promising to be a hot one. Promptly as 7am, the starting gun went off, and we slowly started rolling uphill to get to the first highway. It was amazing how fast the speed ratcheted up. Once on the main road, we were basically in a giant peloton, rolling along at 38km/hr or so. This is no mean feat on bulky mountain bikes. Amazingly, this pace held for a very long time, due in large part that the opening section was predominatly rolling paved roads. There wasn’t a whole lot of chit-chat in the group, as I think most people were full of nervous energy and just wanted to hang in there. There were some inevitable ebbs and flows in the speed as we hit slight inclines or encountered traffic coming the other way, but for the most part, we were one giant mass. Of course, I say that, but I’m sure there was already fracturing at the front and at the back, but that’s the nature of a peloton. You have the bulk, then splits at front and back for the competitive folks and the unprepared folks respectively.

After the first 20km or so, the road finally took a serious uphill turn. The first of several major climbs of the day was upon us. Now, the group definitely started spreading out. Those who had pushed too hard slowed pace a fair bit, and places were jockeyed. I still felt pretty fresh, and bantered with some fellow Quebecer’s around me, as well as some locals. We had a good uphill pace, and just kept grinding it out. I also distracted myself from trying to shoot some footage for my review. The difference between the climb here and elsewhere is that it just sort of kept going for quite a while. However, I had actually been expecting much worse, so when we reached the plateau at the top, I was both relieved, and surprised that I still felt great. Of course, I wasn’t going to push my pace much higher, but happy that I could maintain my speed. As you can imagine, the downhill went MUCH faster, and I hit speeds approaching or possibly over 70km/hr! Also, I had the misfortune of loosing one fo the 2 cameras I had on me. It was in a pocket in front, and bounced out in a particularly bumpy area. Sadly, I didn’t notice until the bottom. On the plus side, I knew that I’d have to come back the same way later, and hoped I’d find it, or someone would turn it in. I didn’t dwell on that and kept going.

Now that the first of the 3 major climbs was over, it was back to the roads and making our way to the second aid station of the day, and the first singletrack section. Aid stations were spaced about 20km apart, and usually showed up just when you really needed them. All along the course, there were clear markings and volunteers to make sure we never took a wrong turn anywhere. All of the major intersections also had state troopers or fire department support ensuring our safety all the way. So far, my choices of food and drink were working well, so I just cruised past them this time and kept making my way along to the trails. This section was known as the Blueberry Hill trails. Just as I was about to duck into this section, a friendly volunteer said, “now you get a break from the sun”. Sounded good to me. Unfortunately, I soon found out that shade does not mean cool. These trails made some headway uphill again. With the added pressure of having to all be single file and making quick turns to avoid obstacles, it actually seemed warmer in there than on the road! A lot of that was no doubt due to the still air and slow speed. I will admit that at first I wasn’t all that enamoured with the trails in there.

Happily though, what goes up must come down, and the downhill singletrack in that area was quite fun. I hit some pretty hairy speeds while whipping between trees spaced barely more than my handlebar’s width apart. The smile came back on my face, and by the time I got back out of that section, I was once again renewed with energy on the roads. We were also now about halfway to the finish. Carrying back along the road we took to get there, we once again came across the aid station again. However, this time, I took a well-needed quick break. I grabbed two fig newtons, two 1/4 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and refilled two bike bottles. In fact, a really nice volunteer did the bottle filling for me. What service! Fig newtons firmly planted in my cheeks, and sandwiches clutched in my gloved hand, I tore back out of there.

Not far out of the aid station, I heard someone yelling ahead of me. Seeing no one around this lone rider, I could only assume he was yelling to himself. Intrigued, I decided to catch up and chat with him. His name was Keith, and indeed, he was psyching himself up for the next major climb. I commit, I won’t quit! Nice. As it turns out, Keith was a local. In fact, he is in the Bark Eater’s Trail Alliance (BETA), the local trail-building group. He was super friendly and we cycled and chatted a long way back together. We were pretty evenly matched, and pushed each other and others around us. As he would say as we passed people “join the pain train!”. And soon, we had a little train chugging back up Jay / Saddleback mountain. At one turn, there were volunteers. This was at the base of the hill where I’d lost my camera. As passing, I yelled about the camera, and the guy got on the bullhorn of the ambulance yelling he had it! I turned back, and collected my treasure as the train kept chugging.

I lost some time with my short turn around and stop, but worked hard to get back on the train. In fact, I caught up, and kept pushing hard, passing everyone in the train until I was at the front, and then I just kept pushing. To be clear, this was on the steepest area of this climb, but I felt good. The only person to stay with me was Keith, and we kept [laboriously] chatting as we went. Once on the plateau at the top and rolling along at good speed, he let me in on a secret. Apparently some local kids would be cooking up bacon at the next aid station for the BETA guys that were racing. He said he’d get me in on it. Unfortunately, I stopped at one point to relieve myself, and he slowly got away from me, so I put it our of my head. However, upon arriving at the aid station, a kid comes up and says “You look like you need bacon”. The word had been relayed to look for the guy in grey riding with a camera. I had 3 of the most perfectly cooked greasy strips of bacon ever in that short stop, and the biggest grin of the day as I chewed them. Chock full of salt and fat and bursting with amazing flavour, it was absolutely symbolic of the great community spiritof the race and the area in general.
With that climb out of the way, it was now back to rolling roads, heading to the 2nd singletrack section, and culminating in the tough climb up Whiteface. I now was feeling like I was slowing down a bit, but overall, the energy was still good, so I just focused on whomever I could see ahead, and slowly try to close the gaps. By doing that, I found myself closing in on the 2nd singletrack section. It had also mercifully clouded over a bit, and there were even a few drops of rain falling on us now. That was actually quite nice. The turn to get into the trails was not marked, so it took a last-minute swerve to get in safely, but soon enough I found myself navigating some really nice flowy singletrack stuff. This area was known as the Hardy Trails, and were brand new for this year. I’d say they were probably my favourite part of the entire course. The only downside was that I once again lost a few spots, and this was due to a mechanical issue. I was cranking hard up a short steep pitch, tried to shift into granny in the back, and the chain dropped into my spokes! Yikes!

Try as I might, I couldn’t yank the chain free, and it took the kindness of a stranger to pull off and help me for a minute to get back on the trail. Luckily, the damage was minimal, as the chain did not twist, and I didn’t ruin anything. Close call. However, i also noticed that my rear tire was really soft. In fact, it was down to around 10-15PSI! Not flat, but really close. No wonder I had been losing ground on the roads. It was obviously a slow leak, and instead of swapping the tube, I opted to just pump it back up. I’d already covered over 85km or so, and expected I’d be able to wrap up the race even with a slow leak. The slightly lower pressure may even help on the final climb and sketchy descent. Quick bite to eat, pedal pedal pedal, and I was back on the paved roads leading back to Whiteface. It was now time for the final showdown on the mountain!

With my tire inflated again, I felt yet another surge in energy and speed. Usually when you feel like you’re slowing, you want to think it’s your bike, but usually, it’s you, I was really happy to find out it was the opposite this time. I threw myself into the final 4-6km climb up the mountain. Now that it was overcast, temps were a little lower, and made the hurt dull just a bit. It got quite steep quite fast, and with sections sand and loose gravel abounding, a lot of people were disembarking and hiking a lot. I remembered the wise words, and focused on the spot right in front of my tire, and kept pedaling as much as I could. To my surprise, I started passsing people. In fact, I passed a good number of them! At one particularly nasty curve with a steep uphill there were a group of volunteers, and they cheered me on as I kept grinding slowly up while everyone around me was walking. Eventually, I also had to dismount, but had put in a huge effort and stayed on long, to much whooping and hollering from the volunteers! It felt great!

Once at the top, I paused just long enough to exchange a few words with Keith, whom I caught back up to here! We launched into the craziest of descents I’ve done in a long time. A downhill bike would have helped, but I just threw caution to the wind, knowing that it was the final push! Again, I made up a few slots on the downhill, and felt so pumped to see the finishing banner in the distance below. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line with the clock reading about 6:13! I had no idea what to expect, but that seemed like a damn reasonable finish time to me. Nowhere near the leaders, but I felt like a winner nonetheless, especially when the Leadville founders cheered me in and put the medal around my neck personally!

Upon finishing, there was a barbecue for finishers, live music, massages at a dollar a minute, and just an overall festive atmosphere. Deanna and I ducked out to grab a shower and pack all the gear up before the awards cermony, which was to get underway around the 8 hour mark. Upon return, we hung out with new friends we’d made over the weekend and awaited the final results. Although they started just a little late, awards were fun to watch…. for a while. Rebecca Rusch entertained us for a bit, and lots of people had things to say. To spare the suspense, I did NOT get a slot in Leadville on account of my great speed. It turns out I was quite a ways down the list in my age category. HOWEVER, there were also 30 slots to be drawn for in a lottery. Everyone who finished in under 8 hours had their name in the draw. First name drawn? Stephan Meyer!! Boo-yah! I graciously accepted the fabled coin, thereby committing myself to racing the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race in Colorado! I’m all registered now, but am defering to 2013 to make sure I get all the pieces in place to make this happen! How cool is that! You see, if you want something bad enough, and work hard enough for it, it’ll happen. I actually willed and called that I’d be the first name drawn, and it was!! It was fate for sure. I’m already excited at the prospect of this marquee event for 2012, and promise you all here and now that you’ll hear all about it! But for now, back to other events. Next up: the Perth Kilt Run in full regimental dress! Should help me stay cool if it’s a hot day, right? See you there!

Video Review

Ripping it up at Raid Pulse

View from Top

Wow! Another scorching, sunny race day. This was the third race in 3 weeks of back to back racing, so I was rather surprised that my ‘luck’ with the weather held up for yet another event! Where was I this time? Well, not too far from home. About one hour north of Gatineau in a little wilderness area near Denholm. And boy was it gorgeous out there! Definitely a spot I’d keep my eyes open for a little plot of land for a cabin/cottage. I was up there for the 5-8 hour Raid Pulse adventure race, a perennial favourite of mine that I’d once again be covering for Get Out There. As it stood, I was supposed to race this one solo, but two days before the event, I got a call from a friend of mine who was looking for a navigator / team-mate. I saw no reason to decline, so in a last minute twist, I was thrown onto a team. Would be fun to be put into that category and see how we did. Of course, I managed to snap some pics as well as get my video review done while on the race, but read on for a few more insights as to how the race went for us.

Pictures from Race

As mentioned, the day was bright and sunny, and since it was so close to home, I drove up the morning of the race. Of course, that meant being up at 5am, but the benefit and cost savings of sleeping in my own bed outweighed the early morning drive. My team-mate J-R was already on site, as he’d driven down the night before. We breezed through registration, and before we knew it, I was plotting the maps and we were getting through race briefing. There were a lot of familiar faces, and I could tell the competition would be stiff this day. All adds to the fun though, right? The course itself was no great surprise. Started with a long challenging bike, leading to an orienteeering-style trekking section, biking back to the water for the paddling section, which included an advanced section for those that made the time cutoffs. There was no doubt we’d be pushing to get that part done in this race. We were warned of the challenge of the opening bike leg, and that teams less comfortable on bikes and in trails would find it very tough. Given that J-R and I had both done the 7-day BC Bike race in the past, and had lots of experience, we weren’t too concerned.

Race Stats

We lined up on the dusty road with all the other competitors and awaited the start signal. We set ourselves up at the front, and when the flag dropped, we tore out of there with the leaders. We quickly got dust-blind and choked on dirt from all the racers. Luckily, we were soon in the woods speeding along the faint trails. Our pace was high, and I could already feel the strain. I should mention that J-R is a spinning instructor, and teaches 3+ times a week. He’s also about 6.5 feet tall. I was at a clear disadvantage here. I let him know that I knew what pace I could sustain, and had to dial him back a tad. Luckily, he’s experienced enough to take it in stride, and helped by pushing me a few times on some hills to keep the momentum up. We were in a comfortable position, somewhere in the top 3-5 teams, trading off with a couple other teams. We held on to that spot as best we could throughout the bike section. The heat was also starting to be a factor, as with the humidex it was well over 30. I feared that either he or I would crack later. Stay tuned for that…

Coming off the bikes at the transition, we could see we were still in good shape, as there weren’t too many bikes in the transition zone yet. We changed our shoes quickly and took off at a gentle trot into the trails. We had planned out our attack on the 5 CPs by making a few assumptions on the best way to bushwhack vs follow trails, hoping we had the most efficient routing. Our navs were very solid, and we found the checkpoints with very little difficulty. We crossed a few teams in the woods, heading various ways, but that’s never a cause for concern when you’re doing an o-style trek, as you can pick off the CPs in any order. At about 3/4s of the way through our trek, after having come out of the trickiest bushwhack section, we came out with one of the teams we were fighting hard with.

Kinetic had chosen a slightly different route, and although they’d generally be faster than us, our solid navigation put us neck and neck with them (so we thought). Sadly, not long after linking with them and jogging a trail together, I got afflicted with my traditional super-cramps in my hamstrings. DAMN! So much for a fight to the finish. We watched helplessly as they kept jogging along. We followed as best we could, but about a kilometer later, I really didn’t like the features I was seeing. Water on left made no sense, as we were supposed to be on a trail heading to CP5. I confirmed our mistake on the next bend, and we had to double back, and chose to bushwhack to grab it. We couldn’t believe they’d already gotten it and had headed out. They must have been a LOT faster than we thought. Luckily we saw no other teams, so the mistake hopefully didn’t cost us too much.

We finished the trek, hopped back on the bikes, and pedaled towards the paddle. Later, in the distance, we saw another team heading back towards us. Odd. Wait a second, that was Kinetic! Turns out they had totally missed CP5, got all the way to the paddle before realizing it, and had to double back. And just like that, we jumped up 2 spots (they were racing as 2 teams of 2)! Buoyed by this good fortune, we put on the jets and tore off for the paddle. At the put-in, we were told we were still in the top grouping, and were doing well. We also had lots of time for the advanced section, so we wasted no time.

Luckily, in the paddle, my cramping was somewhat alleviated, and there was no way either of us could be faster than the other as we were in the same boat :-). The paddle was pretty straightforward for navigating, and I hit every landmark dead on, which meant we didn’t waste any time. To do the advanced, we had to do a murderous portage up and over a very steep (but thankfully shortish) hill to reach another lake. That was a challenge, as there was no portage trail, and manhandling a big canoe is tough (they tend not to bend easily around trees). We cursed loudly and often, but put in on the other side in a fairly efficient manner. We grabbed the first advanced CP, and bee-lined for the next.

That was when we realized we were suddenly being shadowed by another male duo team. We kept the pressure on through the next CP, as well as another portage, and another 2 CPs. However, the eventually overtook us very slowly, and steadily starting putting distance on us. We had hoped to try to stay close and beat them on a foot race, but at the far end of the paddle, we knew it was a short 500m run up stairs to the finish line, so it looked doubtful. Our last chance was when they took a slightly longer route on one side of an island, and we hoped we’d pop out closer. No dice. We knew the game was up. We watched them pull out of the water, and slowly start making their way up the stairs. They were fully aware there was no need to run unless we got closer. It was a bit maddening, but the battle had been well fought, so I’ll take nothing from their victory over us :-).

In spite of all that, we still managed a nice little finish run, and were greeted with high fives from the co-director Annick who was there to record times. Best part of the finish? FREE BEER at the finish! I don’t think I’ve ever been in an adventure race that supplies beers at the finish. We treated ourselves to one, and milled about with other racers reflecting on the great day of racing. When all the results were tallied a few days later, we found out that we ended up 6th in our category, and a respectable 9th overall in a deep and talented field. Given our slight errors and my cramping, I’m pretty happy with that result. The race concluded, as always, with a great meal, and a chance to swap stories with all the other racers, as well as a lot of draw prizes and recognition of all the winners. At one point, there were calling us up as the 2nd place co-ed team, which we had to decline (J-R had originally been registered as duo-mixed!). Everyone got a pretty good laugh out of that.

With the Raid Pulse race out of the way, and 3 hard races back to back, I was taking the next 2 weekends “off”. Meaning I was going to build a shed, build raised beds, create a foundation for, and install a hot tub, etc. etc. But that’s just my life. I don’t like standing still. Hope you are all staying active and busy as well, especially now that the good weather is truly upon us! Next up will be the Super Spartan race in Mont Tremblant, where I’m hoping for a good result! See you all then.

Video Review

Stellar Start to Summer Season

Biking Through

The sun was beating down hard on my neck. My leg muscles were just on the edge of starting to cramp after over 7 hours of hard effort. A team up ahead had paused to debate the merits of taking one route over another at an intersection. With my head down and with determination, I blew past them and pedaled hard to the finish. Keeping a very short lead on them, I crossed the line as 4th solo male, and 6th team overall at the spring Frontier Adventure Challenge in Huntsville. In retrospect, had they made the turn, they would have had 1km shorter to travel, and would have beat me, but seeing me blow by made them change their minds and try to chase me down. I got lucky this time! Of course, dear friends, I’ve just revealed the punchline, the finish of the race. This was the first summer race of the season, and it was a great one. Read on for the full story, video, pictures, and all the good stuff!

Pictures from Race

Some of you may be wondering where I’ve been hiding these past couple months. Have I been eating bon-bons and playing video games and fattening up? Well, not exactly. I’ve enjoyed a couple months race-free, but that just meant I had the time to start tuning up for the summer sports, and get some things done around the house. Early May is a great time to get back into the racing season, and luckily, there are a few classics on the calendar to help with that. The first weekend was the Frontier Adventure Challenge, a 5-8 hour adventure race that draws racers from Montreal to London and points in between. I was racing solo, and covering the race for Get Out There Magazine through a video review, and hoped to put in a solid effort. As we got closer to race time, the finalized racer list indicated quite a few solo racers with solid record would be coming out. This would be no cakewalk, but I had nothing to lose. I felt great, was happier than ever, and just wanted to race hard. So let’s see how it all played out.

Race Stats

The course designer was tackling the race for the third time. His first course was a touch too challenging for many. His 2nd course turned out too easy for the top racers. This time? Nearly perfect! The front runners had to put in a hard effort to complete the whole course and get all the sections including the advanced ones. Beginners and novices had several points in the race with cutoffs which helped ensure most people finished the race around the same time. For nearly all racers, that meant over 7 hours of racing in the beautiful wilds of Muskoka. It was spectacular all around.

The actual course design looked pretty straightforward. Of course, they all do when you first get maps and plot the points. There were no complicated logistics, as all transitions occurred at the same central spot, and the final half of the race you needed to be self-sufficient, carrying all the food, water, and trek and bike gear required. Race morning was chilly but would get nice. Map prep went smoothly, and there was a big crowd of teams excited to hit the trails. To quickly step through my race, I’ll go over each section and summarize.

Section 1 was a bike and trek deal. Hop on bikes at the start, with a lead out on some pavement to spread the teams somewhat, before diving into the ATV and snowmobile trails well known to adventure racers. Recent rains made some of these trails interesting, with nice mud pits and plenty of water. Staying clean and dry, as usual, would be tough. I had a great ride, and hopped off my bike at the far end for the trek section in 3rd place overall. There were 2 checkpoints to grab in the woods, and I made a few errors in there which cost me slots. I also did it all in bike shoes. Back on the bike to head back to the TA with another CP to grab on the way. It should have been easy, and I almost hit it dead on. Unfortunately, I chose to search right instead of left, and wandered too far around a lake, costing me more time. I was rather frustrated. With a little angst, I roared off to the TA for section 2.

Section 2 was an out and back paddle along a nice lake. Thankfully winds were pretty low, even though somehow it managed to be a headwind BOTH WAYS! Never understood that, but have seen it on more than one occasion when racing. Murphy’s Law and all that I guess. I’d only been on my boat a couple times, so finding my rhythm was a bit tough. However, I clawed my way through a few more spots passing some friends in kayaks as well. No clue where I was now in the ranks, but I was having fun. At the far end of the lake, we had an out and back bushwhack up a stream to grab a CP. About 3k running total. This was a great way to see the gap between me and other teams. I think I was about 10th in this area, and the leader had probably 20 minutes on me already! Luckily, it was a really easy CP, and I was trotting back to the boat for the return paddle in no time. Lots more teams now beating the trail down, but I should be able to stay ahead. I made up a couple more spots on the paddle back, in time for the final real transition.

Section 3 was the crux of this race. To avoid the logistics of gear transfer, the race organizers laid out a big mountain bike leg, with the next trekking section in the middle, but with no access to gear. As such, you had to bring enough ‘stuff’ to last the rest of the race. That included the advanced section with extra biking on some slower trails. I had only a small pack, but with 2 full bike bottles, 1.5L of fluids, and food, and a Boost meal replacement (I love those in races!), I was off. I had also strapped 2 shoes for the trek outside my small pack, being held in place with an elastic. Bad decision. I took off from the final transition in hot pursuit of the phantom racers ahead of me (it’s always hard to know how close or far you are, but anything can happen!).

I had plenty of time to make the advanced section, so that decision was easy, and I took off for remote checkpoint CPA at the north end of our maps. From there, it was a long and often times frustrating bike slog through very mushy ground. I will say however that with the 29er, I was extremely pleased. I was able to roll through a lot more things on that bike. I made it to the final trekking section just as the leader was coming out. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten either of the 2 CPS in the bush. So, as long as I got at least one of them, I would be ranked higher. There were a couple other teams there, and we opted to work together a bit to try and get ahead of others. Oh yeah, and the shoes? Well, one had fallen out somewhere along the way, so I ended up doing the whole trek in bike shoes again! Although they were not easy, the CPS were definitely findable, and we made it out in what we felt was pretty good time. This seemingly short trek would prove to be the turnaround point for many. Those who succeeded were rewarded at the finish.

After the trek, I hopped back on the bike, and tore out hard racing for the finish. I felt strong so I left another solo racer at this point to see if I could pass more teams. I did pass teams, but at this point, it was hard to tell if they were on regular or advanced course, so it may or may not be helping my position. As you read from the opening paragraph, you’ll note that my efforts paid off, and I was extremely pleased with my strong finish in a tough field. Although not good enough for a podium finish, this was a strong placement and has given me high hopes for the next race (yes, that’s foreshadowing).

At the finish line, under a bright sun, I hung out and ate junk food with all my racing friends. It was a glorious day, and Deanna and much of her family had also come out to volunteer at the race, so it was a lot of fun. The whole race went without a hitch, until the awards later that night, when a snafu with the electronic results system meant a long wait for final standings. That was of no concern to me by that point, as I had other exciting news to talk about and share. But to learn about that news, you’ll have to read another blog post :-). Here’s a hint: Why would Deanna’s folks be at a race?? Stay tuned for the full story there. Next up, Storm the Trent near Tweed, Ontario, another 6-9 hour race. Yippee! Summer is here! To close off, have a look at the race video review that I put together for Get Out There below.

Video Review

1st Race of the 2012 Season in the Books!

Carl Sizes up Competition

Howdy sports fans! Welcome to 2012 and my first race report of the new year. The race in question was the second of 4 snowshoe races in the Mad Trapper series at the Ark in Denholm Quebec. I’ve made a decision this year that I’m going to try and shorten my race reports somewhat, since I suspect not everyone is a fan of epically long reports to go through 🙂 Instead, I’ll try to add some additional race information that’s easier to digest by everyone, including quick course and stat overviews, and video race reviews where I’ve done them. This was one such race, so I’d invite you all to check out the embedded video review at the end of this post. However, one thing that won’t change is my continued visual logs of events in the form of pictures I’ll post on Flickr. So, as usual, I invite you to browse the pictures I posted, then catch up with the rest of the report.

Pictures from Race

The weather for this race could hardly have been any more perfect than they were. We’d gotten a nice dump of snow during the week, so we had fresh snow that was only lightly packed by a few people that had prepped and checked the course. The great conditions also lead to an excellent turnout at the Ark for the race. It would appear that the word has finally spread more to the running community that these snowshoe races are excellent winter training. As such, there were a lot of speed demons there to challenge the course. Gone are the days of me hoping for a top 3 finish I think.

No matter, to me, the racing is increasingly just more about the pure enjoyment of it, and the lifestyle that it brings along with it. I couldn’t be happier than being out on a sunny winter’s day running through the woods on some snowshoes. I also wasn’t the only one from my house racing. Deanna, sporting her fancy new purple snowshoes, decided to come on out and race the 5k course. Awesome! She had also convinced a co-worker to come out and give it a whirl. I think they’ll also be giving the night race a try. Why don’t you all join us for this fun? What could be better on a Saturday night?

This was the so-called hilly course, named in honour of the many lung-burning climbs that competitors have to tackle on their way to the finish line. For the 5k course, you do 1 lap of this course, while the 10k competitors have the joy of crossing the line only to have to head back out for another loop. As usual, I lined myself up at the front of the pack with the speedy folks. I was also doing video for my review as we went along, which was a a bit tricky, but nothing I’m not used to. I stayed with the front group for a while, but I fell off a couple short kilometers into the challenge. There was a solid group of 6 guys that went off the front to not be seen again.

For my part, I was in a second group of 3 guys. We seemed to be pretty evenly matched, and I led our trio for the entire first lap, pacing us up the hills and bombing down the other sides. Unfortunately, at the end of lap 1 a little gap opened up after I paused for a drink of water. I fought to stay with the two others, and that was how I spent the rest of my race. Fighting hard, but just our of reach. I thought I’d get ahead of the guy right ahead of me, as on the steep hills, he seemed to be slowing down. However, he was aware of my presence, and seemed to dig deep just to make sure he didn’t lose his spot. Can’t say I blame him. It was a good battle, but in the end, I finished the race in 8th place. Not bad, but not awesome.

Race Stats

The post-race was spectacular as always, with a great spread of food, and lots of good friends to catch up with. Due to the numbers, there were some people there that I hadn’t seen in a while, so it was good to chat with everyone. Deanna was also very happy with her race, apart from some very painful blisters she developed on her heels. We’ll have to work on that to make sure the next race isn’t as painful for her! For the awards this time, Mike took an idea from our Christmas party where we did a gift exchange. Prizes were handed out, wrapped. Once there were no more prizes, winners had the option to steal from someone else. Also, people could either unwrap them or wait to see what was in them. It was pretty fun, although maybe a little long! No one seemed to mind though.

Once all the prizes were handed out and the food was gone, racers all went their separate ways to enjoy the rest of the day, which was stunning. It’s nice to be able to race, relax, and still be back home by around 2pm in the afternoon. We all left with smiles on our faces and looking forward to the next snowshoe race. I’ll be at that one as well, but won’t be doing a race video. Kind of tough to film in the dark after all :-), However, before that race is another snowshoe race I’ll be doing near Kingston, which will be a qualifier for the Snowshoe World championships! Wish me luck!! I will be doing a video from that one, so stay tuned. Till then, keep the waxed side down in the snow folks.

Video Race Review