Tag Archives: snow

Triple Crown at the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Races

Time to wrap up my series of winter racing stories for this year. And what better way to do so than to re-cap the three Mad Trapper snowshoe races that I took part in this winter. Normally, this series starts off in December, and features a total of 4 races, but over the years, it has become challenging to predict the snow conditions for December, so instead, race director Mike decided to make this a 3-race series for 2018, with 2 daytime races, and one nighttime outing. As per usual, I signed up early for all three races, since that is the best bang for buck, and ensures I’ll eat delicious brownies at least three times! Read on for the full recap on how the races went for me this year. Continue reading Triple Crown at the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Races

Doubling Down at the Gatineau Loppet

Hot off the heels of securing my permanent bib at the Canadian Ski Marathon, I found myself once again boarding a bus, skis in hand, ready to tackle another great adventure. Less than 6 days after finishing the 167km journey of CSM, I was set to race two days back-to-back at the 40th Annual Gatineau Loppet! Day 1 would be the 51km linear Classic race, followed by repeating the exact same 51km course the next day, but this time on skate skis. Beyond the challenge of just mentally preparing for such a feat less than a week after CSM, this time, I had to put myself in ‘race’ mode. As CSM was not a race, but an event, the mental game at the Gatineau Loppet was different. The reward however, is that by completing both weekends, I would once again be successful in getting my name on the wall of the ‘Triple Ski Challenge‘, a relatively small group of folks who tackle the full marathon, plus the two back-to-back long loppet challenges. Continue reading Doubling Down at the Gatineau Loppet

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!

Mad Trapper Triple Play

Howdy race fans! Well, I figure I better wrap up my series of blog posts on winter races before all the snow goes away. The process is slow because I’m still trying to get out there as much as possible, and squeeze as much out of old man winter as I can. Although, I am ready for a little change of pace, so I’ve started sprinkling in some road running and cycling with my cross-country skiing! But I digress, this post is, as you may have gathered, all about the Mad Trapper snowshoe races this year. Normally I’d write a post for each race, but this time, I decided to just re-cap the 3 (of a possible 4) races I took part in this year. Read on to hear more.

Every year, I’m pretty much a fixture at the grass-roots snowshoe races that take place at the Ark. I like the race courses, I like the venue, I like the vibe. So much in fact that I actually got married there! Mike faithfully puts on 4 races per year, with the earliest one often turning in to a trail running race due to lack of snow. Luck was with us this year though, and the season opener on December 13th had snow. It was an interesting race for me, as it was 1 week after returning from running a marathon in Jamaica, and 10 days before leaving for a Belgian holiday!

Obviously, running a marathon the week earlier meant I wasn’t at 100%. Beyond that, I’d also suffered several rolled ankles in the previous 2 weeks, including at the START LINE of the marathon in Negril!! Even though I was signed up to run the full 10k course at this opening showshoe race (2 loops), I approached the start line unsure where things might land. I decided that I’d play it by ear and drop down to the 5k if needed. I just didn’t want to risk further damage, and after all, I’m in it for fun, not to win! Ok, in all honesty, I’d love to win, but that is not too likely given the hot shots that regularly show up at the front. I’m usually good for somewhere between 5th and 10th overall.

In another twist, Mike decided that we’d run the course in reverse. No, not running backwards, but running the opposite direction we normally would. That essentially meant a whole new course. All the ups were downs, the lefts were rights, etc. Sounds minor, but when you know the loop as some of us do, it takes on a whole new dimension, not to mention risk.

Start of Final Race

The race got underway, and despite telling myself to go easy, I revved ‘er up and pushed out at pretty much my max effort. I held on as close the leaders as I could, but by about the halfway point of loop 1, realized I was flagging on energy. Then, as predicted, my ankle managed to find the perfect off-angle spot and rolled agonizingly. That was it. Limped for a bit and decided it’d have to be a single loop. My consolation was that I figured I was near the front of the 5k group. I don’t recall where exactly I finished, but at worst I was the 3rd finisher of the 5k loop. However, since I was registered in the 10k, there was nary a mention of my standing in the 5k group. Booo! Regardless, I drowned my sorrow in delicious Broadhead Beer and Mike’s classic brownies. What else could I do?

Fast forward a month and a half later to the 3rd race of the season. During our trip to Europe, Mike had hosted race #2, which was the night race, so obviously I had to miss that one. Too bad, since I love racing by headlamp! But I digress. This race was going to be a real showdown. You see, as part of my ‘ActiveSteve’s Day of Fun’ gift that I gave my buddy Kevin (who was celebrating his 40th Birthday), I bought him a race entry. Kev has for YEARS longed of finally racing head to head with me, and ultimately beating me. Earlier in my race career, I had a lead on him, and whenever we raced, I had been the victor. However, Kev has been one of the most dedicated runners I know since then, and I knew he could crush me on the road, but I had hoped the tricky trails may give me the edge I needed. However, never underestimate the desire to kick ass and competitive nature of two old and dear friends!

Knowing that Kev would be hot to trot to take me down, I went out full bore in this race. We were staying pretty near the front bunch, which meant it would be a tough race to hold the pace. Also, this was the ‘hilly’ course, and we’d be doing two loops. For most of the first loop, I stayed just a bit ahead of Kevin, but could never open up any sort of real gap. I was unsure if he was holding back, or pushing hard to stay up there. Shortly after we finished the first lap, I’d have my answer.

On lap 2, Kev essentially cruised up to end up right on my heels, and we stayed like that for a most of the loop. I decided to back off every so slightly, in hopes that I could pull off a finishing kick and out-sprint him to the line. However, that plan fell apart with about 2km to go. We were pushing along, feeling that we had a pretty comfortable gap to the next racer. At this point, we were running 5th and 6th overall I believe. A few more bends, and I noticed a shadow that seemed to be reeling us in from behind. Sure enough, I risked a glance, and noticed it was Nathan A. The trouble with Nathan is that once he has you in his sights, he goes all in. He busted his butt and caught us, and attempted to cruise right past.

Sprint to the Finish

We were now about 1k to go, but with the final killer climbs still to go. One of the toughest is behind the final dramatic finish. On the hill right before that one, I had no choice but to go pretty much anaerobic to deny him the chance of passing. He had managed to get between Kev and I at this point, which I knew would not sit well with Kev either. That left me with 2 guys gunning hard to pass me, and my dreams of a top 5 finish that day at risk. I will say I fought valiantly. I managed to hold both of them off all the way up the final tough climb, then all the way to the crest of the final run to the chute.

Unfortunately, that left me completely tapped, and with nothing in the tank to do any sort of finishing kick / sprint. As a result, on that final downhill sprint, Nathan cruised past me. Damn! Even worse, when we got to the final 50m flat section, ole long-legs Kev found his kick, and pipped me right at the line! What a blow! Truthfully, I had suspected he’d get me at the line by the start of lap 2, but I hadn’t expected the battle with Nathan to happen as well, which ultimately is what really cost me that one. Oh well, as true sportsmen, we all laughed about it (eventually) and congratulated each other and celebrated. At least Kev had the sweet victory for his birthday, but I promise you all it was NOT a gift 🙂

Post Race Collapse

With those two races down, there was just 1 race to go, and it was 4 weeks later. HOWEVER, I was racing hard each weekend up to that final race. First the Winterlude Triathlon, then the Canadian Ski Marathon (2 days and 160km of skiing), and finally 2 days of racing at the Gatineau Loppet. So, in some ways, I was wiped by the Mad Trapper Finale, but in other ways, I was in peak form, as I was focused on racing. As with all Mad Trappers, my eventual finishing spot was highly dependent on who showed up. Prior to the start, things were looking not bad, until who should show up, but Nathan A at the last minute! D’oh! I just KNEW he wanted a re-match and chance to once again stomp me at the finish. I really did NOT want that to happen.

Conditions were great for the race, and Mike even outdid himself by making this the first snowshoe race that was a full 10k of unique trail. Not 2 loops, but a solid 10k effort of all the best parts of the trails on his property. This meant no mental mid-point check, but just focusing on your race the whole time. I was looking forward to that. I brought  a small liquid flask with me and a Fruit2 to eat at some point on the course when I needed it.

As with most races, I went in hoping to win. Who wouldn’t, right? I seeded myself at the front of the pack, and when we got underway, I stuck to the leaders this time. Every race, I promise myself to try and stay with them, assuming I can keep up. However, by 1km in, I had dropped back probably 50m behind. Not a huge gap, but extrapolate that gap and you see why by the end I’m often quite a way back. However, I did manage to keep them in my sights. Oh, and did I mention there were only 2 people ahead of me in the 10k? Yup, that’s right, I was setting myself early in the race for a proper podium finish.

As I ran, I felt strong, and there was no one immediately on my heels in this race, so I silently prayed that I’d stay ahead the whole 10k. Ironically, I was doing great for the first 8k. But then, who should I notice silently catching up? Yup, Nathan!!! Dang. It was a section where there were lots of twists and turns, and I wasn’t sure exactly how much of a gap I still had, but knew that whatever it was, it wouldn’t be enough, because Nathan would once again burn down the forest to catch up and pass me if possible.

Sure enough, closing out the race, we were in almost the exact same situation as we had been in the last race. This time, I dug even deeper, and pushed myself to the very brink. My average heart rate over the race was 176 bpm, but hitting a peak of 192 bpm near the finish. So how exactly did it play out? Well, let’s just say I pulled together my very best Simon Whitfield kick in that closing 100m, including a wild descent on the final downhill.

When it came to that 50m flat, there were claims I tried to block him, but I honestly couldn’t even see straight at that point, I was purely anaerobic and pumping my legs for all my worth. I made a critical stumble right AT the line, and apparently, that is what saved me. In my stumble and subsequent fall forward, my nose apparently crossed the line first, so I was awarded the ‘official’ third place. Of course, that’s 3rd in a race where there are no prizes, or barely a mention for that matter. At the awards, Mike claimed Nathan had it, but subsequently, I was chosen as the official 3rd place. I suspect it really was too close to tell. Either way, it was a very dramatic end to my winter race season, and great way to close off 5 weeks of back to back intense racing.

Finish of Final Race

What better way to close it then with the excellent, yet small Mad Trapper Race? I enjoyed great food, courtesy of Mike and Monique’s continued efforts, washed it down with delicious beers courtesy of a generous sponsor, and also enjoyed the camaraderie that you can only find in a vibrant and active race and training community. The battles that play themselves out in these settings will never be viewed by masses, or even experienced by most, but they are what always put a smile on my face and keep me coming back for more! Thanks Mike as always for great races. You know I’ll be back for the series next year!

However, for now, it is time to now turn my attention to summer sports. I’ve already logged several hundred kilometers to running and biking in the early season, but it’s shaping up to be another epic year of racing! Stay tuned to ActiveSteve.com for all the stories!

Reaching the “Peak” of Winter Racing

Howdy once more race fans! I have one final race report from the 2014 winter racing season to share with you. Actually, I *think* it’ll be the final winter race report. Given the winter we’ve had, I can’t really say with any conviction that I won’t be racing in snow next month! At any rate, I’m here to tell you all about the Mount Orford Snow Trail Race, which is an interesting race featuring 3 different summits, which you attain by either running, snowshoeing, or skiing. You have to complete the entire race in one of those disciplines, and are ranked against those that chose the same mode of locomotion. For those not familiar, Mont Orford is about 3.5 hours away, south of Montreal, near Sherbrooke. I made the trip with two of my AR teammates, Nat and James, with the intention of just having a fun race and enjoying the final winter race of the season. I got that and more, so read on to hear the whole story!

As I was under no obligation to provide any media coverage, I haven’t put together any videos this time around. However, I lugged a camera along and at least snapped a few pictures before and after the event, which you can see below.

I hadn’t originally intended to do this particular race, but when I heard James and Nat were planning to head out and race, I decided to play third wheel and tag along. The first choice to make was how to run the race. Skiing really wasn’t an option for me, as I don’t own the right kind of skis (back-country randonneur skis with metal edges). That left snowshoeing or running. While I’m a pretty strong snowshoer at this point in the season, I made the decision to run, with the intention of using it as good hill training for the upcoming 50k race in Bear Mountains, NY. All 3 of us chose the same, which meant I’d at least share my misery with them. I also found out that Alex Provost (another AR buddy) would also be doing the race on foot.

I just realized I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself, as I haven’t described the actual race! Besides choosing one of 3 disciplines, competitors had their choice of completing 1 peak (at a distance of 5k) or 3 peaks, with a total of 12km to cover. Of course, the distance really wasn’t the main concern here, it was the elevation gain. Over those 3 peaks, I’d be climbing 1200m over a distance of about 6km. By any comparison, that is a LOT of climbing. I’ve put two pictures into this post below to illustrate the challenge. The first is my GPS log of elevation compared to heart rate, and the second shows a comparison someone put together for elevation gain / 10km of this race vs. other well-known trail races with lots of climbing. Yeah. That’s right. This one was number 1 far and away. I suppose that wasn’t too surprising considering we were basically running straight up (and down) three different ski hills!

Elevation and HR Data

Elevation Comparison Image Orford

The other unique aspect of this race? Well, it was actually run at night, by headlamps. You can imagine the scene a little bit I’m sure, but allow me to cast a little more light on it by way of narrative. We left Ottawa around 2:30 in the afternoon, and made it to our hotel just after 6pm, with plenty of time to make it to registration and get set for the 7:30pm race start. There were already a good number of racers milling about getting themselves and their gear ready. The weather had been good for most of the day, with slightly overcast skies, but not too cold. However, that would soon be changing.

As daylight moved into darkness, so did the calm(ish) weather. First thing we noticed was the temperature drop several degrees, although still not too cold. More disconcerting was the marked increase in wind speed, coupled with the beginnings of snow coming down. If we were hanging out in a pub downtown, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but knowing we were going to tackle 3 different peaks, I had a sneaking suspicion that the conditions as we hit the summits may be a  little less than ideal. How true I’d be…

At the start of the race, I was trying to gauge how many people were tackling the race on foot vs. snowshoes vs. skis. It seemed that runners were the most represented. The year before, the first place overall racer was on snowshoes, but different conditions favour different disciplines. Our money was on snowshoes again this year, if for no other reason than it seemed that going uphill would be faster running instead of skinning up on skis. Of course, downhill, the skis would always have it! In the end, looking at the results the numbers were: 45 Runners, 11 Snowshoers, and 24 Skiers. My money should have been on skiers, though, as ultimately, the first 5 people to cross the finish line did so in fine form on skis.

James and I did a quick warmup running part way up the hill before the start, and even that little bit of running was enough to convince me this was going to hurt. Since this was my last winter race, I decided to just put my head down and suffer the whole way and push myself hard. When the race started, I took off, and rarely looked back at all. I wasn’t at the very front, but definitely in the mix. On the first of 3 peaks, I managed to start passing a few people, and just hoped I could hold onto the pace for the entire race. I was blown away by how fast the ski-laden folks were skinning up the hill. For those not familiar, they use special skis with climbing skins to basically ski / hike up the mountain. They loosen the boots, and have a special heel plate for climbing. The top skiers were as fast (and in some cases faster) than me on foot!

To make the climbs as easy on my legs as I could, I had opted to use my trekking poles. Not everyone had them, but my guess was that by the 2nd and 3rd peaks, I’d be very happy to have them. By the top, steep section of the first peak, I was already relying on them a lot for weight distribution and keeping my running momentum uphill. Luckily, the snowpack was strong enough that they didn’t punch through. Glancing back, I could see a long trail of headlamps all the way down the way I had run up. It was a very cool sight. Sadly, shortly after that, there weren’t many lights to see. For starters, I had hit the top and had to run like a madman back down. Secondly, it was whiteout conditions up there! The wind was howling, and I was really glad that there were a few volunteers calling out from the top and with bright lights to guide us.

I crested the run, and was told to vaguely follow the mountain down to the left. Hmmm, easier said then done. If I tried to look forward, my eyes were stung with ice crystals, and the light just reflected off the snow. I was forced to look sidelong, and count on peripheral vision to see the contour of the run. Light on, light off, didn’t make a difference. At one point, I chose poorly and faced a cordoned off steep run. Had to double back a bit and find the right trail. With the wind, there weren’t many tracks to follow. Luckily when a skier whizzed by, I had something to at least follow on the snow, and I did so with reckless abandon.

I arrived at the bottom, grabbed a glass of gatorade, and veered off to start the 2nd and longest uphill grind. I was now mostly by myself. I could see a few people ahead in the distance, but we were basically all in our own worlds. I had been passed on the downhill by a couple runners, but managed to pass them on the long climb, only to once again get passed on the downhill. There was one particularly nasty section 3/4 of the way up where we had to cut across the hill in really deep snow, where we punched through. It was tough, but that was another plus for me, as I was able to make up 2 more spots here!

By the 3rd climb, I was starting to feel that familiar twinge in my calves and hamstrings telling me that I was starting to risk cramping. Thankfully, due to having the poles with me, I was able to keep fighting my way up the hill at a pretty good pace. I wasn’t sure where I stood in the standings, but I could only make out a few pairs of clear shoeprints in the snow (as opposed to ski or snowshoe tracks). With a final push, I summited and proceeded to run down the mountain as fast as I could to the finish.  When the snow (and several timing issues) cleared , I learned that I was 4th overall for the runners, ahead of a few people I expected to beat me. Given that it was a race in the heart of Quebec, I was pretty impressed. For some reasons, races in that neck of the wood seem to be very hard fought. I had been listed as 3rd for quite a while, but in the end, I had to vouch for the true 3rd place winner, as he had definitely beat me (less than a minute ahead).

After the race, we all retreated to the onsite pub for a tasty meal (at 10pm!) and some well earned beer. James had come in on only a few spots behind me, and Nat, despite really being worn out from the race a week ago, pulled in a good time too on the women’s side. All in all, a race that was much more fun than I had expected, given the tough challenge. Unfortunately, 1 week later, I *still* feel it in my calves! Oh well, luckily I have a few weeks to recover and train before the first ‘spring’ race, an 8km prediction run. Keep your eyes open for that report! Till then, stay warm, since it appears winter is never leaving.

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: