Tag Archives: skating

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!

Getting my Tri On at Winterlude

Greetings again friends. Winter is always an interesting time to be racing. And it seems that the annual Winterlude Triathlon is one of the more interesting events that I’ve done now many times. The usual format is a skate, followed by a ski, followed by a run. However, over the years, due to weather situations, it’s been modified to ski and run only, or skate and run only, or run-skate-run, or even just a pure run. Well, I’m happy to report that this year’s edition featured the full traditional triathlon format. Although leading up to the event it was looking doubtful that we’d have enough snow for a ski, we managed to get a decent dump mere days before the event, giving organizers just enough time to groom out a nice loop in the Arboretum.

Once again, I was not only participating in the event, but also collecting footage from inside the race to put together a race review for Get Out There Magazine. As always, that brings its own set of challenges, and does impact my ability to focus purely on me. However, it’s fun to be able to bring the event to others who might be interested in trying these events out, and want to know what it’s really like to race in them! Another reason I was there this year is that I’ve decided to take a crack at another Rudy Award this year, and the Winterlude Triathlon is a mandatory event. So if you miss it, no award for you! Doesn’t matter where you finish, but you gotta finish! So with that, and the fact that I hadn’t skated at all until 3 days before the race, I knew what I was in for.

So I’ve mentioned that we got a nice little snow dump in advance of the race? Well, what we didn’t have advance warning of was how bloody cold that morning would be! Deanna and I often muse about the fact that on most weekends, we’re awake and out of bed EARLIER than we would be during the work week. Sad fact of the life we lead I guess. We roused ourselves out of bed somewhere around 5:30am that morning, and glancing at my bedside weather display, I noted the temperatures outside under the deck were around -21C. That means cold hands, cold toes, frozen batteries, and challenges with snow conditions! For those not aware, when cross country skiing, very cold snow is tough to deal with, as your ‘glide’ can be quite compromised, to the point where people liken it to skiing on straw. I’ll learn this over and over again this year….

Regardless of the temperatures, there was a job to be done, and I’ve never shied away from a challenge or race due to weather. What’s the point? You’ll just regret it later, and generally speaking, once you’re out there, it never seems that bad (until you stop!). Arriving onsite with time to spare, I quickly set about getting my transition zones laid out. That entails prepping and setting up the skis in one area, and laying out the running stuff in another area. We had also driven in morning glow, as the sun wasn’t yet up. As a result, I got to take advantage of the most amazing sunrise over the canal to get some decent footage in beautiful morning light. Unfortunately, the sun did NOT bring heat with it today. The winds weren’t super bad, but it was frigid.

I went for a quick warm-up skate (if you can call it that), before toeing the line and getting a bit of footage of the front of the race pack. As is customary, Rick and the race crew managed to get the event started promptly on time. As is also customary, the beginning was fast and furious. The long blade skaters (myself included) seed themselves closer to the front on account of the much more efficient skating longer distances, and begin to put a gap on the other skaters quite quickly. However, there are always a few ‘hockey skate’ skaters that blow my mind with their ability to keep up with at least us slower long blade skaters. A point of pride for me in this event is to at least finish before any of those ‘hockey skate’ skaters. I think the tally was 1-0 this day, as one fellow did finish before me.

I’ve gotta say this much for this year’s edition. With the super cold temps leading up to the event as well, the Canal was in absolutely fine form. That was probably the best skating I’ve ever seen on the canal. Almost no cracks, and only a few bump bits on the entire 8k course we skated. Kudos on that front. This portion is over before the 20 minute mark for most people, and from there, it’s time to throw on the planks, grab the poles, and hit the snow. Traditionally, that is my weakest discipline, but I’ve been trying to improve. Sadly, I hadn’t taken the time to properly prepare my skis for these temperatures (I had a ‘warmer’ glide wax on), so I’d say that while I was okay out there, I was not looking like an Alex Harvey. Regardless, I got ‘er done, and only had some annoyances on the second lap when the lanes were getting clogged with the racers that were on their 1st lap. However, some well-timed and executed passes, and I’d say I was no worse for wear.

The camera, on the other hand, did not fare as well. The batteries died in the first 30 seconds of the ski, so I got no footage of that. This also meant that when arriving for the next transition, I had to make a detour to my video gear bin in order to dump one camera and find another to carry with me on the run. Thank goodness for at least a little forward thinking on my part with battery charging the night before on an older camera. With that in hand, and with my running booties on, I charged back out, having lost a minute or so.

The run is interesting, in that probably half of the 5k is literally on the ice of the canal, at the edges. Knowing that, I made the tactical choice to use my Salomon Snowcross shoes, which not only have high, water / wind proof tops on them, but also feature 10 or so micro spikes on the sole, giving amazing traction on snow and ice. With those, I was able to run with less trepidation about slipping on the ice, especially on the turns and exit / entry points. As such, I was able to make up a few spots on the run, passing a few people as I went. For some reason I didn’t feel I quite had all my energy with me, but I kept going steadily.

An interesting thing happened in the closing kilometer of the race. With the sun in the low horizon at our backs, we cast long shadows as we ran the final 400m stretch to the finish. The bonus? You could actually see if someone was closing in on you. This was the case with me. As I was preparing for filming the finish, I saw a shadow closing in fast. I strode out a little quicker, thinking I’d lost my pursuer, and went back to filming. Then, it was there again, gaining speed and steam… in the last 100m!! I was NOT going to have that happen again this season (happened at a recent Mad Trapper race). I dug deep into my ‘sprint’ reserves and turned it up to 11. I could see by the shadow that I was keeping my lead, but barely.

I crossed the line exhausted by the effort, turning to see my quarry. Turns out, it was some kid under 19! He had gone to the line, and obviously had the competitive drive to pass me even though we were in completely different categories. I congratulated him and thanked him for pushing me, but as you may imagine, at that age, they really aren’t all that gracious or into the spirit of the chase. Regardless, it was a nice push at the finish. Deanna was there waiting for me as well, staying warm in her big parka and the ski pants I’d loaned her. We hung out a bit longer, so I could have a hot chocolate and do more filming, before deciding we’d had enough. Try as I might, I just didn’t have it in me to stay till the awards ceremony. It was just too cold.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they can’t have an indoor venue for the post-race. The cadet hall I next door, and we had used it in previous years. It is really hard to keep anyone around after they race due to the freezing temps and not much to do. I hope in future years they may be able to come up with something. However, in spite of that, I got all my footage, and put together a decent little video of the day. If you haven’t done so yet, check it out below! Till next time, stay warm, and stay active!

The Video

Chasing Olympians on the Plains of Abraham

So there I was, setting up my transition zone. The reporters scurry over in the hopes of interviewing me before the race. Cameramen in tow, sound guys with microphones and a pretty host. “Hello” she starts, “Welcome to Quebec, where are you from?”. “Ottawa,” I reply. They are no longer are interested in speaking to me, mumbling something about it must be the person next to me. Yup, it turns out that my time as a ‘Pro’ or ‘Elite’ racer came and went just as fast! As it turns out, I was sitting next to an American racer, and 2 seats away from a 2 time Olympian and eventual winner from Slovakia. Yes folks, I’m writing about my experience racing in the Elite category at the world premiere of the ITU Winter Triathlon format in Quebec City.

Dusan Simocko was not the only storied athlete standing shoulder to shoulder with me. There were a total of 25 men in the race and 9 women. Among them were Olympians, World Cup Biathletes, Professional Speed Skaters, and all-around amazing athletes. Oh yeah, and me! Countries represented were Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Russia, France, USA, and Canada. I was there to cover the race for Get Out There and also race. A month earlier I had tried to convince the race director that I should just race in the age group race, to focus on filming the elites, but he’d have none of that. He knew me, and said I’d be fine and signed me up with the elites. Oh well, if nothing else, I got my brush with greatness, and saw a whole other class of racing. To save you all the suspense, I can at least report that I was NOT DFL (dead F*cking last). That honour went to another well-known adventure racing fellow I know by the name of Simon Donato. If you haven’t done so yet, you really should check out his TV show: Boundless.

Okay, so back to me and the race. I was petrified. The race was a 5km snowshoe, followed by 12km of speed skating, and wrapping up with an 8km ski. And there was a 90 minute cutoff! I knew I’d be fine with the snowshoe, and could push through the ski, but it would be tight. 3 weeks ago, my total skating consisted of 1 practice for 45 minutes and then skating 12k in another race! I managed to squeeze in 3 more practices, and had the time down to about 30 minutes, which should do. For the ski, I decided to pull the trigger on buying new skis, boots, and bindings, as I still had my ‘beginner’ skate skis, and found a good end-of-season sale on a higher-end pair. If conditions were ok. I would be fine.

My race was set to start at 2pm, with the age group race taking place at 10:15am. I hung out most of the time filming footage for my video, as I decided there was NO WAY I’d wear a camera while fighting for my life in the elite race :-). Turns out it was lots of fun filming that race, as Mike Caldwell was in that race, and Deanna and I could cheer him on. He was even worse than me, in that he hadn’t skied OR skated at all this year until this race! And he still pulled off a 1hr 40min finish, giving me hope. Have a look at the pictures below to see some great pics of the entire day.

Conditions for the morning race were perfect. The sun was up, and temperatures were around -6 or so. Both the snow and ice were really nice, and it looked like they had great conditions. Unfortunately, the day got progressively warmer, and was above zero by the time our race was gearing up. They had re-groomed the snow and zambonied the ice, but it might be a bit rough.

On the plus side, the elites were treated like champions. There was a ton of spectators, and lots of media onsite. In fact, there will be a full 30 minute special airing on TV about it. Watch my tweets for that one. Before the race, there was a full-on athletes procession where each of us was called by name to the starting line. Again, it was funny, as they’d call the name and list accolades for racers, but for me it was just “Stephan Meyer, from Ottawa!” Yup, I was a nobody in a bright red racing suit. Regardless, I was there to race hard, and finish where I’d finish.

The Race Gets Underway

Quebec_ITU_Tri_Results

The starting gun went off, and with it, a flurry of high-speed snow and testosterone. Snowshoeing would be my strongest suit, but the voices echoed in my head “don’t blow up in the opening leg…”. Keeping that in mind, I tried to keep my speed in check. It was amazing to see the racers start spreading out right away. I was holding my own, and over the 3 loops, managed to finish only 2.5 minutes behind the eventual winner. I’d go so far as to say I was ‘in the mix’ in the first leg… sort of. The course, although on a wide-open area, was a narrow, single track. Passing opportunities were VERY limited, and I only managed a few passes on the downhills, where for some reason, other racers were much more timid than me. Mad Trapper Racing pays off! I’d hoped to finish further ahead of some people, but had no time to think about it. I cruised into transition to shed the snowshoes, don the ski boots,  grab my nordic blades and head for the oval.

Whereas the snow conditions really didn’t matter for snowshoeing, the ice conditions were critical for the speed skating. I got my blades on and hesitantly began my 28 loops. My focus was simple. 1) Stay low 2) Bend my knees 3) Push to the side… just like the YouTube video I had googled a week earlier showed me. Pretty sure I didn’t look like the guy in the video, but I was doing my best. For whatever reason, my cornering SUCKED. I watched as others seemed to glide around and push at just the right time and keep momentum. Me? It was a mix of gliding straight, clumsily trying to cross legs, straighten out, lose momentum, and eventually get around. Luckily there were really only 112 turns to make. Ha!

To complicate matters, the ice was not good for us. The middle was rutted and chipped out, so you had to really stick to a narrow line. A few times, cutting too tight on the corners, my blade actually punched through the ice into a void underneath! Not cool. Luckily, THAT didn’t cause me to fall. However, I did fall. And YES, the media was there to capture it in high-definition glory. Don’t believe me? Just check out the video below. Skip to the 2 minute mark to see my moment of fame. Oh, and the guy that fell first, causing me to fly out? Yup, that was Dusan, the eventual winner! I maintain that he was just worried I’d beat him (although I’m pretty sure he was 5 or 6 laps ahead of me by then!

For the skate, we were responsible for counting our own laps, which can get very difficult with 28 laps to count off. Happily, there was a giant video screen that would flash a list of names and how many laps they’d done. With only 34 of us on the ice, it actually worked ok for tracking, and I luckily did not do any extra laps.  Overall, I’d say my skate was average. I think I could have been much smoother if I wasn’t so worried about the ice. It was cool watching some of the pros and their absolute skill on the ice. Probably the coolest to watch was Jay Morrison, national team member for 9 years (and yes, brother of 4xOlympic medalist in Sochi Denny Morrison).

But enough of the ice time, it was time to head to the chairs and get ready for the ski. I hadn’t looked at my watch at all, instead focusing on my race. I grabbed skis and poles, gulped some Nuun, and ran to the line to put on the skis. The snow was definitely getting  a little soft in the warm sun, but overall, I can’t blame the snow, as my skis actually felt great. I had great control and glide it seemed. In fact, on my first lap (of 3), I felt strong, and technically good. That’s saying a lot, as it’s taken me the whole season to finally feel like I’m getting the hang of skate skiing.

Towards the end of each lap, we were faced with a long, steady climb into the stadium area. Here, there were thick crowds cheering everyone on with reckless abandon. It was exhilarating… and horrible. You see,  the more they cheered, the harder you pushed, which was my undoing, as on the second lap, I felt the definite twinges of impending leg cramps. Calves specifically. Each steep little incline, when I’d dig in and push off with my legs, the calves would respond with fiery pain and literally spasm. It was mentally killing me, as I wanted to push, but each time I did, falling was a distinct possibility. It got so bad that I even resorted to double poling on some sections (which explains my sore abs and ribcage 2 days later!).

If there is one redeeming thought on the final laps of the skiing, it was not being passed. Of course, that was because I was already in the back, fighting shadows more than anything else. I struggled through the final climbs and pain, cruising in the sunlight to cheering fans as I did the final run to the finish line, and to my awaiting wife. I finally looked at the race clock. 1:22:25! While that time should have made me really happy, I was more relieved at being done, and not finishing last. Thinking back on it though, I will say that in spite of finishing 24th of 25 males, I’m very proud of my race. Comparing my result to the age groupers, I would have actually finished 9th overall and 4th in my category (perhaps higher, as they had better conditions). So yeah, I done good!

Luckily, the fun didn’t end with crossing the finish line, as I first had a chance to pop into the Media / VIP area and snag a beer (AFTER enjoying a delicious post-race General Tao’s Chicken), and Deanna a glass of wine. While there, we mingled with some international racers, and volunteers. From there, we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed another beer and 30 minutes in an outdoor hot tub. From there, it was on to a post-race social in the race organizers suite, where many of the International athletes were hanging out. That’s where I got to know Dusan and some of the others much better.

But wait! That still wasn’t it for the night. Deanna and I headed out to meet some of the American Crew at a pub for a beer, then when they went back to the hotel, we popped into a micro-brewery for a beer, and THOUGHT we’d call it a night, but upon returning to the hotel, ran into Mike and some others heading to a club, which is how I found myself dancing the night away with a Slovakian, a Czech, a Finn, Mike, Deanna, and Simon Donato. It was an absolute blast!

Next morning, Deanna and I strolled aimlessly in old Quebec before finally making the drive back to home, reality, and the ‘non-elite’ life that I’m accustomed to. To close off, if you are thinking of trying out a winter triathlon next year, you should seriously consider this one. Well worth the price, and makes a great weekend getaway!

To close off, here is the video that I put together of the weekend:

 

 

Chasing Helicopters in Saint Donat

Ahhh, winter racing. As you know, sometimes, I plan to enter races far in advance of their actual occurrence, and sometimes, I just sort of throw my hat in the ring for something to do. This post, a report from the Endurance Aventure Winter Triathlon, falls pretty much into the second category. I knew about the race for quite some time, but since I didn’t know anyone heading up for it, I didn’t sign up right away. However, upon learning that a few friends were heading up for it, and the fact that I had some space in the calendar, I decided to make the 2.5 hour drive up and make a go of it. And just to make it more memorable, I opted to cover the event for Get Out There. Read on to find out how this race played out and how I did.

I’ve been burned in the past by making winter road trips for races, but decided that the 2.5 hour drive shouldn’t be too bad, even it we got snow. Luckily, conditions were actually perfect for the drive. The race was actually set to get underway at 8:30am on Saturday, so Deanna and I opted to make an overnight out of if an booked a little room in a local motel, along with others from the Ottawa crowd. I was actually pretty happy that Deanna joined me, as it meant that she was able to snap some great pictures of the event. She posted them up on flickr and on facebook, but to make it easy, I’ll just let you check ’em out here 🙂

Another good reason to take part in this race was that it would give me a chance to see how I might stack up when I take part in the ITU Winter Triathlon Format race in March, where I’m racing as an ‘Elite’ race. It’s a long story, but I really think I should be an age grouper there, but in the end, I’ll be lining up with Olympians and Pros. Yup, I’ll probably be dead last in that race, but wanted to see if I can actually make the 1.5 hour cutoff time limit! But I’m jumping ahead, aren’t I? What exactly is this race? Well, as a triathlon, it’s 3 events. In this case, the format is Snowshoeing (4.2km), followed by Speed Skating (12km), and capped off with Skate Skiing (6km).

The part that really had me intrigued was the venue, and specifically, the speed skating portion. At 12km, and this being my worst discipline (I only skated once this year before the race!), I knew I would be slow, but the course looked cool. We had to do 14 laps of a natural course that wound its way through the forest! No joke! The night before, 3 of us headed over to check this out, and it was pristine. Perfectly smooth ice, wide enough for about 2 racers side by side, and featuring s-turns, inclines, and declines. It would definitely be a challenge, but a cool one. So, let’s look at my performance.

StDonat Results

The first thing you might notice is that I *did* make it in under 1:30. Not by much, but I’m pretty sure I can improve on that with a different course and different conditions. Although the weather had called for relatively warm -9 or so, when we awoke early to head to the venue, it was more like -25! I was freezing, and not at all looking forward to the start. I knew I’d warm up, but I had to change gloves, and ended up keeping a jacket on the whole time. Cold fingers make transitions painfully difficult, and low temps wreak havoc on my filming as batteries tend to die quickly.

For the snowshoe, the course started pancake-flat for about 400m, then went on a wild romp straight up a mountain. I hadn’t counted on that. You can see by the relief in the image that this site was in fact a large hill, featuring 125m of climbing in about 1.8km. One racer directly in front of my at one point decided to toss his breakfast and had to step aside. Others also mentioned that breakfast was quite possibly coming back up on account of the effort. Luckily, mine stayed put in my stomach, but it was still tough. James and I were running neck and neck pretty much the whole course, with him right on my heels, matching all my passes. We had started the race back in the pack a bit, but made up several spots on the snowshoe, which I knew would be my strongest discipline in the race. I pulled into transition just ahead of James with the 10th fastest time, and would only drop back after that.

I had a pretty quick transition, and made it onto the ice just ahead of James, but while I was fussing with camera and gloves on the opening lap, he caught and passed me. Oh well, I could only work at trying to approximate something like a proper skate technique for the next 14 laps. Sadly, somewhere around lap 11 or 12, James actually LAPPED ME! I was crushed. But not overly surprised, given my single, 40 minute skate of the year. Mental note: must do a *little* more training before my big Quebec City race in March! I ended up losing about 4 or 5 spots in the skate, but on the plus side, I got to enjoy the scenery for much longer than my competitors! Ha ha ha. A nice part was that on every lap, Deanna was there to cheer me on and snap pictures. I won’t share most of the images as it is painfully obvious how poor my skate form was!

Back into transition, and it was time to slap on the skinny sticks and head out for a nice little ski. I have been working a lot more on my skate skiing this year, and hap hopes of at least making it look decent. Switching from skating to skiing took a little adjustment in the first few minutes, but something seemed off. Turns out the cold snow, and less than perfect grooming conditions made my progress feel much slower than I’d hoped. Plus, we were back out on the hilly part. Not quite as pronounced, but there was some pushing to be done. Luckily, I learned later that lots of other people found the ski a tough slog as well. In practice, I can tell my skate skiing is improving, I just need one good race with good conditions to prove to myself that I actually know what I’m doing now!

Happily, the final 500m or so were downhill, and there was a nice steep descent to the finish chute where people were cheering all the racers on (and Deanna was waiting). I had a big smile on my face from the days’ effort. I knew I hadn’t cracked top 10 or anything, but it was a really enjoyable race. The race setting was pretty much perfect for this type of event. Small town, friendly people, good organization, amazing course, and good competitors to test myself against. Obviously I wish I had been higher in rankings, but I was happy overall. My final time was 1:26:09, good enough for 16th overall, 15h male, and 8th in category. I’m always impressed at the caliber of the Quebec racers. It’s no wonder the Quebec athletes are winning Olympic medals for Canada in Sochi!

So why did I mention chasing helicopters? Well, in spite of this being a relatively small event (there were under 200 total), they actually had a helicopter on the course filming the action! In all my years racing, this is the first time I have ever had a helicopter hovering overhead while I’m racing. It was pretty cool, and adds another bit of excitement to the event. Sadly, for my own coverage of the event, I had no helicopter support. I was left to my own devices as usual, consisting of the ubiquitous GoPro strapped to my chest, and a better camera on a tripod for before and after the race footage. In spite of my low-tech approach, I’m still happy with my coverage, so please check out the video I shot below if you haven’t already 🙂

As a closing thought, I’d definitely recommend this event to anyone who is interested in trying out a winter triathlon. I absolutely loved the course, and Saint Donat is a great little community not far from Mont Tremblant. We had a nice post-race break at a local cafe before heading to the awards at the host hotel, which also offered a great spread of food as part of the race entry. Top to bottom, it was a well-run event. I’m looking forward to taking part in another race they put on this summer, the Raid Gaspesie International, a 3-day adventure race in September! If this was any indication, that should be an awesome adventure as well!

 

One More Tri During Winterlude

Mad Trapper Mike

Hello friends and fellow outdoor lovers. I’m happy to bring you another rapid race report on another of my recurring winter races. This time, I’m talking about the 35th annual Winterlude triathlon. This event is each year not only a challenge to participants, but also seemingly to the organizers, as the weather always seems to wreak havoc on what they have in store. This year was no different, as you will learn about shortly! For my part, I was once again covering the event for Get Out There, so I had cameras on hand, and filming duties. As such, I didn’t get too many actual race shots, but did manage to nab this sweet picture of Mike at the finish line. There’s something epic and so ‘Canadian’ about seeing a frozen beard at the end of a cold race, isn’t there? At any rate, check out the limited pictures I did take, the click through to read the rest of the story and see the video.

Pictures from Event

So, let’s get to the heart of this race. For starters, it isn’t terribly long or overly taxing. Now, of course, if you’re going max effort, even a 1k (or 100m for that matter) race is taxing. What I mean is that this type of event has wide appeal and is accessible pretty much to all. It happens in downtown Ottawa starting at Dow’s lake, and races along the canal for the skate, through the arboretum for the ski, and along the parkway for the run. In terms of distance, we are told about 8k skate, 6-8k ski (in 2 loops), and a 5k run. This of course all depends on what the weather dictates. For this year, a heavy thaw, snow, and re-freeze cycle had us guessing if there would even be a skate in the days leading up to the race!

Lucky for us, the event went off with all 3 events. However, the order was juggled. Normally it is skate, ski, and run, allowing us to wear ski boots for the first 2 events, and change footwear once. However, due to changing the run course (and presumably impacting road closure options), it was shifted to a skate, run, ski. This of course meant changing footwear twice. Luckily, I’d done the same thing the week before at Frost and Fire, so had learned a couple tricks. Most important being having the ski boots properly set up to get done up when you have limited feeling in your fingers (which is almost always the case on a winter day when it’s 8am and -20 out!!). However, apart from that little change, everything was set to go.

Race Summary / Stats

My Race Stats

The real challenge for me was going to be racing with the leaders here. I have gone skating a grand total of once (1) this year leading up to this race, and my skate skiing is still sub-par. In my mind, I still had hopes of staying with the lead pack on the skate, getting in a solid run, and holding on in the ski. Well, dreams be dashed! I held on for the first 1k or so on the skate, then gradually drifted off the lead pack after the first hairpin turn. Regardless, I pushed hard, and stayed with a smaller chase group, and had a respectable skate time of just under 22mins. No results given, but I’m guessing it was in the top 30 or so of 277. The ice was generally in good condition, and I have no excuses other than my own lack of technique and skate fitness 🙂

Next up was the run. I had a pretty quick transition thanks to my speed laces (elastic laces used for triathlon that let you just slip on your shoes). Grabbed my second camera (I wore one on my head the whole way, and carried a second one on the fun on a QuickPod), and jogged out of transition. I took it easy the first couple hundred meters, doing some filming and getting my legs used to running. Once I felt ready, I gradually turned the power up and got my cadence up higher. I started passing a bunch of people, and felt quite strong. I was only improving my spot in the race, and reckon I moved up maybe 8 spots. I had a bad stitch at one point, but was able to run it out and not lose any more spots. I think I was only passed by 1 or 2 the whole way, so I was happy with my 21 minute 5k time at -20 carrying 2 cameras and filming 🙂

Back into the transition zone to start what I was dreading most… the ski. I was of course skate skiing, as even if I was not a great skate skier, it would still be faster than classic. Due to the cold temperatures combined with the fresh snow, conditions were pretty slow. Even I noticed the sand-like or icing-sugar like snow conditions. I suspect my lighter weight made it slightly easier going for me, but it was still a tough two loops. I didn’t think I was passed by too many people, but it looks like timewise, I was probably out of the top 40 on the ski. Ultimately, this lead to a final placing of 37th of 277, and 11th of 48 in my category. Not great, but not bad. after all, I knew I was out of my league, and just out for a great day of exercise celebrating winter in our Nation’s Capital.

Whereas the run was a very simple out and back along the parkway, the ski took us on a fun twisting and turning romp through the arboretum with little climbs and hills to zoom down. They had done a good job grooming for the conditions, and I managed to avoid too many traffic jams on my second loop by politely skiing around the slower folks. On the plus side, it looked like most people were having a ball out there. That is, except for the poor fellow who had been chasing me down, and would have kicked my butt on the ski if he hadn’t snapped a pole on the pursuit. He skied in very shortly after me, to my shock (as I knew he was a much faster skier), then held the broken shaft aloft and cried “I nearly had you!!”. All in the name of fun folks.

Once the racing was over, there was some time to mill around and chat with people, but given the cold temperatures, most racers didn’t hang around too long. If you were a racer, however, there were some warm beverage options at the finish in the form of warm chicken soup or warm hot chocolate, which did help somewhat. As for me, I stuck around a little longer in order to get some race footage of people coming in, as well as to have a few words with Rick, the race director. The reason of course was to get what I needed in order to finish my race review. If you haven’t seen it, it’s embedded below, and should give you a good idea of the over-all race. With this one out of the way, it is now time to tackle my two biggest winter events: the Canadian Ski Marathon, and the Gatineau Loppet. Stay tuned for those reports next!

Video Review

Winterlude Triathlon Delivers the Fun!

Racers at the Start

Good day, ActiveFriends! Another week, another race report to fill you in on. This time, I take you to the 29th annual Winterlude Triathlon. An event I’ve done several times now, and still look forward to it each year. This, to me, is pretty much ‘the’ quintessential winter race that conincides with Ottawa’s winter festival, Winterlude every year. As with the past two years, we were lucky enough with the weather to actually have a full skate, ski, and run course laid out. This is pretty key to note, as for several years, they kept having weather issues forcing either no ski, or no skate, or only run, etc. Seeing as I was covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, it was great to be able to highlight the whole triathlon. Since I was doing full coverage this time, I can once again share lots of media with you all, starting with the folder of pictures on flick, as well as additional goodies found below. Click on through to read the full story, which I’ll try to keep brief again!

Race Pictures


For starters, I’m happy to say the weather was perfect on race day. We had a great sunny day, with temperatures cold, but not unbearably so. As the race starts at 8am, we are obviously out in the colder part of the day, but the fact that the sun was shining makes all the difference in how you feel. For the race set-up, they had chosen to create 2 different transition zones. In effect your running stuff was separate from your ski stuff, but all it really meant was that your skis were located 50 feet or so from the rest of your gear. Speaking of skis, I was pretty excited with the ski portion, as this would be my first official race using skate skis instead of classic skis. In past years, I felt that the skis held me back in the standings. Not that I was going to win, but it’s nice to go faster 🙂

The race itself is fairly straightforward. The order of events consists of skating, skiing, and running. The skate, as you might imagine, is along the canal, heading first from Dow’s lake south to Hartwell Locks, then out towards Pretoria Bridge, turning before the bridge, and returning to Dow’s like. This year’s total was about 9km. For the ski, the Arboretum is groomed the night before to take advantage of whatever natural snow features exist. When all was said and done this year, the double loop through the arboretum extended about 7km. Finally, the run portion is mainly along the canal as well. This is along packed snow for much of the way, again south to Hartwell Locks, up to the path for a while along the parkway, back onto the ice, back to the locks, and finally back to the Pavilion area. Run total was a fast 5k. That brought the grand total on my GPS to about 21km. A great distance for an early winter morning race.

Deanna and I arrived early enough for me to have a chance to set up my T-Zone, grab some footage, and even do a warm-up skate. The ice surface near the pavilion was quite rough, but workable. When the race finally got underway, I tried to position myself with my fellow long-bladers close to the front, but my speed was hurt by my inexperience on the poor ice at the start. I finally fell into a decent rhythm, but unfortunately was caught out alone, with no one to draft off. I was still pretty happy with my average speed of just a touch under 20km/hr and final time of 24 minutes. I got a few good shots out there, and managed not to fall 🙂

Next up was the ski. After stumbling through the snow / ice with my blades on, I finally managed to grab skis and poles and jog up the hill to the start area. Got the skis and poles on uneventfully and took off. My decision to have camera strapped to wrist was a bad one, and shortly after, I had to stop, undo everything, and stash the camera in my pocket. Probably lost a minute there! Yuck! On the plus side, the snow/ice was FAST. I felt like a total rank amateur, as my technique was horrible. I was trying to move fast rather than smoothly, and I’m sure you could see it. I had a hard time settling into any sort of groove in the snow. That being said, I’d say I held my own out there. Was passed by a few people, but also manage to pass a number of other skate skiers, which gave me some hope. I’d love to say I didn’t fall, but unfortunately, at the 98% mark, my tip caught some ice and down I went! And this in full view of my ‘fans’, Deanna and Jess. How embarrassing. I made up for it by getting up in lightening time and heading to the transition. I wrapped that up in 29 minutes.

Finally, the run! I’d made the very wise decision to slap the YakTrax on my shoes before heading out the door in the morning. Seeing as we were mainly on the canal, it was the right call. I wasted no time transitioning, and headed out into the blazing sun all smiles. This was my strongest leg of the race and I managed 11th in my category there. I passed quite a few people and felt good the whole way. Made a friend in the last 2 or so km who helped drag me forward, and ultimately, I reciprocated by giving her some motivation at the finish by leading us in strong to the finish banner. Once again, I managed to get some good shots, and had some fun moments like high-fiving the winner of the race as I passed him in the opposite direction. Nice to see our gap (It was pretty big!).

Race Stats


Post-race, I grabbed some delicious hot chocolate which was on offer. There was also hot soup, bagels and bananas for all the racers. Awards were sort of given out ad-hoc as there were still people on course, but no one really felt like standing around in the cold in the transition zone for an hour. Looking back on past years, it’s hard to say how whether I improved or not. With differences in the courses, distances, and equipment, it’s a lot like comparing oranges to pineapples. However, I certainly had a great time and felt like I had a strong race. I don’t have a single regret on the day, and hope I’ll get to do it again next year, especially since RD Rick Hellard confessed he’s hoping to make the skate a point-to-point for the 30th anniversary! Well, time to go for me. Lots to prep and lots to rest to get ready for the Canadian Ski Marathon next weekend! Keep your eyes on this site for the story that will unfold from that event. 160km of skiing in 2 days?? Yup, I’m nuts!

Video Race Review