Tag Archives: snow

CSM Level Up: GOLD!

A week has gone by. The soreness has passed. The tally of toenails I’m likely to lose is up to three. I’m ready to tell my tale, and I almost think I’m ready to contemplate doing it all over again next year! Yes, I’m speaking about the Canadian Ski Marathon. The yearly pilgrimage between Lachute and Buckingham. 160km over two days of pure classic cross-country skiing bliss. This year I was tackling my Coureur des Bois Gold pin. This entails doing the entire thing with a pack carrying all your food and camping gear, and sleeping out under the stars on a hay bale with other CdB Gold skiers. Read on for the whole story.

Several of you will remember that in the past 2 years, I covered the event for Get Out There by putting together videos of the event (Check out my 2012 videos for Day 1 and Day 2, and 2013 videos for Day 1 and Day 2). This year, I wanted to focus on skiing, to ensure success, and hadn’t planned on covering it. However, at the last minute, I was asked to be part of a media team covering the event ‘semi-live’ from the trail. Of course I said yes. The downside was that it consumed more time than I hope fussing with cold electronics, but the upside is that I have a few pictures and videos to share. Check out my little slideshow below!

The night before the event started in earnest, I got to finally check into the ‘Gold Dorm’ in Buckingham, Que. This is the place nearest the start of the event, and is reserved for only the CdB Gold Participants. It’s not actually anything special, just a school gymnasium, but the company is exclusive and was a good chance to meet up with some people I knew and get the skinny on CdB gold strategies. We had to get up at around 4am the next morning, so I was in bed around 9pm, excited and nervous for the weekend. I’d been successful on my previous 2 attempts, but every year is a challenge, and the route reverses direction. This year was the ‘hard’ route. Easier (shorter, flatter) 1st day, followed by the harder (longer, hillier) 2nd day. All I could do was sleep well and be positive.

Day 1 Map and Profile

Day 1 Map

The next morning, I was up and ready with everyone else, and heading to the cafeteria to grab breakfast. I met up with the event director, and chatted with him a little bit before fueling up. We would see each other a little later in the day, under much different circumstances. I packed up all my gear, and got dressed to head out for the bus. That was when I hit my first snag. I was at the back of the crowd waiting for buses. As a result, they were all full, and a group of us got stranded and had to wait for a bus to make a return trip from the start line. Unfortunately, that meant we would actually miss the official start of the CdB Gold group, set for 5:40am!

Rather than worrying too much about, we rolled with it. After all, we only set out about 5 minutes after them, but it meant that we were not in the ‘pack’, and the CdB silver hotshots would be bearing down on us quickly. At that time of the morning, it is still pitch black, and we ski by headlamps only, travelling carefully on the hills we encounter.

The first day was split into 5 sections, and out opening leg was relatively easy and only 12km long. Pulling into the first checkpoint, the ski and terrain around us was just starting to lighten up. I had something to eat and drink, but didn’t bother re-waxing my skis yet, as they were in pretty good shape still due to amazing snow conditions. The second section was another ‘easy’ one and 13.6km in length. I got through that one with no problems, and could see this was going to be a beautiful weekend. The sun was finally rising, and the skies were blue overhead. It was great seeing all the skiers, and I was making good progress and the pace was great. I pulled into the second CP in very high spirits and made a little video, taking time to eat, drink, socialize a bit, and re-wax my skis. I left with a big grin, not realizing I would be back there in a bit…

The third leg was where things took an interesting turn for me. This section was an ‘intermediate’ level, and was 16.2km long. For me, however, it turned into a 24km ordeal. The first 2k were fine. Then, I passed a little hand-painted sign stating “narrow trail 2km”. Not a big deal, it just meant we’d be going single file. Up and up and up we went, making slow progress, but in nice conditions. At the top of this hill (in 1.8k or so), we inevitably had to descend. I should also mention that by this point, we’d actually passed 2 or 3 other skiers returning on foot with broken equipment. I made  a mental note to be very careful to not end up with them.

Anyway, back to the descent. It didn’t look super-hard. There were tracks heading straight down, and thought that would be the way to go. I let the skiers ahead of me get a little gap before I started off. Well, my skis were gliding great, and by staying in the tracks, I was bearing down fast on them. I had to try to snowplow of step out of the tracks to slow down. That didn’t work so well. In very slow-motion in my mind, I realize my left ski (and body) were heading for the trees on the trailside (as it was quite narrow). I managed to avoid the trees with my body, but heard a “crrrrrack!” and suddenly found myself airborne. I knew what had happened, but was still processing it.

As I flew through the air, a thought crossed my mind. “Hmmm, cross-country ski bindings don’t automatically release, do they? My left ski doesn’t seem to be attached to my foot.” I hit the ground, no worse for wear thankfully, and fearfully stomped back up the hill to the little group of 2-3 trees where my left ski had gotten wedged. It wasn’t in two pieces, and I was hopeful. Until I fished it out. The binding (and entire top layer of the ski) had been torn off the base, as you can see in this picture.

Busted SkiUpon retrieving my broken ski, I started to evaluate my options. My first thought was to head to the bottom of the hill and fix it somehow to keep going. Once at the bottom, realizing that the binding was actually completely broken too, I realized there was just no way I’d be able to ski out on this. In a snap decision, I realized i’d have to hike out of my predicament. Yeah, 4 km, with a big pack, carrying broken skis, on snow that I kept punching through and sinking into while trying to avoid literally hundreds of skiers coming the opposite way. Luckily, one of them was my lovely wife, so I did manage to get a nice kiss and some words of encouragement. I wasn’t giving up, but distinctly realized this might be it for my dreams of a gold finish for this year.

When I finally got to the last checkpoint, 40 minutes had easily gone by. I went straight to a ski tech on site. He took a quick look and confirmed I was screwed. Then, someone said ‘go see the Swix guys, they can fix anything’. Nope. Another confirmation of my horrible position. It could possibly be duct taped, but that would mean having the tape in the grip zone, making things really bad. Then, my guardian angel appeared. A man with a piece of cardboard hung around his neck with a hand-written event number and the words, “The Prez” on the sign.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Tennessee Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

This was none other than Boomer Throop, the actual presidenc of CSM. After a few moments consideration, he offered, no, insisted, I take his skis. One glance confirmed from me that unfortunately, he used NNN bindings, whereas mine were SNS. Completely incompatible. “Well, what size are you?” he asked. I replied 8.5. “Perfect, mine are 11”. Well, in my world, that isn’t a perfect fit, but could work. Before I could even think about protesting, he was taking off the skis, boots, AND his socks, standing barefoot telling me to “take the f*cking skis, and don’t say another word. Get out there”. Another volunteer ran off and found me another pair of socks, bringing my total to 4 pairs of socks. I layered them on, slid my own orthotics into the ski boots, and stuck my foot in. They were nice and warm, and I was able to get them tight around my feet, albeit with quite a bit of room in front of my toes.

So that is how I spent 134 km of the 160 km event. Skis that were too long, with an unknown kick zone, boots nearly 3 sizes too big, and 4-5 pairs of socks. This would make for quite a finish if I could pull it off. Needless to say, when I started back out, things were a bit awkward, but I WAS SKIING! That’s all that mattered. I hadn’t given up, and I now had the MEANS to finish, I just needed the right SPIRIT. My parting words to the president were that the only way I could think of repaying him for his kindness was to actually compete the event and get my gold, which was precisely what I inteded to do. Unfortunately, by the time I set out again, I was well over an hour back. All the golds, silvers, bronzes, and even tourers were gone by, and meeting the time cutoffs later down the trail were weighing heavy on my mind. As such, I put my head down and just focused on skiing as efficienatly and quickly as i could. I made steady progress, eventually catching and passing lots of fellow skiers on the way, but lots of these tourers, meaning they weren’t trying to meet a time cutoff. As such, they were quite happy to encourage me on and move aside if needed. For their part, the skis were pretty decent. I had a heck of a time controlling them in some situations due to the longer length, but I was getting decent kick and glide. For that, I can probably also thank the very forgiving snow conditions!

Coming out the other end of the 3rd leg, I was happy to make if to the next checkpoint feeling good. I was now up against the longest leg of the day at over 20km, and the looming cutoff. Without even looking at the time, I set about grabbing a quick bite and drink, and re-waxing the skis, taking a complete guess at where exactly to apply the grip wax. Knowing that Boomer was a bit bigger than me (who isn’t?), I assumed I could go pretty far forward, even with my pack on. I guessed correctly, as starting back out again, things still felt decent. I kept pushing hard the entire leg, uncertain of exaxctly how much time I had, as i was afraid to look. It was indeed a long and demoralizing leg when you are on borrowed gear, but I did eventually find myself at CP4. Time to spare to cutoff? Nearly 50 minutes!!! My hard pushing paid off, but now I worried I’d put too much into the effort. I vowed to take the next and final leg easier, as it no longer mattered how long it took. The only thing to do on arrival at gold camp was to eat, drink, set up camp, wax skis, and sleep. I knew I’d have friends there, and likely a reserved spot.

In spite of taking it ‘easier’, I was still feeling competely drained by the time I hit the gold camp turnoff near Montebello. On the plus side, I’d never seen Deanna again, which meant that she had easily completed Day 1 herself, and was likely gliding into the finish for the day. This lifted my spirits a touch, and I set off on the final 2km slog, with a few other skiers. Happily, I can report I was by no means the last camper in either! Sah-weet! Another nice thing on arrival was seeing my buddy James basically waiting for me. He grabbed my skis, and showed me to our camp, where the fire was already roaring. I dropped my pack, and headed off to claim the 2 hay bales that were assigned to me. One to sit on at the fire, the other to spread out as an insulative mattress. Luckily, even though the sun had technically set, there was still some light, and I got mostly settled in before it was dark.

Day 2 Summary

Day 2 Map

After getting myself organized, I joined everyone else around the fire, trying to dry my ski clothes, eating and drinking as much as I could, while swapping war stories with my fellow skiers. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with a bad day. One of our friends had had an accident, and dislocated his shoulder, needing a medical evac. So things could have gone much worse for me. However, I was completely and utterly exhausted, and quite concerned about the next day, which was the harder of the two days of skiing! It didn’t help when I was assured I would absolutely hate getting up the next morning in the cold trying to make food, break camp, and head out by 5:30am. Yikes. I decided to live for the moment, and tried to just have a good time around the fire, which was quite easy with the fine company I was sharing the time with. We were amongst the latest people to still be up, finally turning in around 9pm, after filing a quick video, and dropping Deanna a line to see how she was.

I’d love to report that I had an amazing sleep, but I really didn’t. I tossed and turned, trying to keep my ski clothes warm and dry with me in the sleeping bag, and also recharging both my GPS watch and cellphone. I wasn’t overly cold, as temperatures hovered around -12c, which all things considered, was pretty good for gold camp it turns out.I perhaps got 1.5 hours of fitful rest before hearing my alarm go off at 4am, and trying to figure out just how i would get ready for the day. In the end, I decided to just get out of my bivy, and stand outside in the head area while I got dressed. That actually worked out quite well, and I was soon bundled up again, and bustling around getting breakfast ready and packing up my campsite. I’d also decided to throw on a 5th pair of socks for this day, as the pain on the tops of my toes was getting bad, and wanted to try padding them a bit more. I had waxed the skis the night before heading to bed, and was ready to take off. All the campers were making their way to the exit area to be scanned out and start their 82 km day of skiing. I felt pretty stiff and sore, but optimistic.

One of the funny things about CSM is that although you are skiing with hundreds of others, you are, for all intents and purposes, on your own. Everyone has their own pace, and most people just opt to ski at the pace they want to, which means you may find yourself with people for a little while, but then one person will speed up or slow down, or stop for a break, and you’ll be on your own. As such, all my camp mates basically left at different times, and I only bumped into them again along the route at checkpoints. I don’t mind too much though, as I like the solitude at times anyway. Pacing was going to be the word of the day anyway. The ratings on the legs for the 2nd day were intermediate, intermediate, hard, intermediate, and finally, easy. In other words, the first 4 legs would be hard fought. Lots of long climbs, steep descents, and road sections. My plan was to just ski at a pretty steady pace all day and see where that left me for the cutoff at the end of the 4th leg, which for today was 3:30pm. It certainly didn’t seem an impossible task, given that we still had great conditions.

I could explain in detail all the legs, but there is no need. I skied well. The snow was great. The climbs were at times longs and brutal, but I’m actually a bit of a masochist, and felt a purity in all the climbs on the day. The didn’t bother me at all. I’m good at just powering up hills and getting through them. I’ve developed a pretty good mental toughness over years of racing, and I guess it pays off now and again. I was making reasonable time all day, and pausing at each checkpoint, letting the wax techs take care of my borrowed skis while I ate and drank. I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up bonking later in the day. At various points early in the day I got to ski with Dave, Lise, Nathan, and Annie, all four of which are amazing skiers, and were doing the whole course with the CdB group, but skiing at a pretty good pace. The legend of my story had also propagated through the event, as a number of times, when I’d be chatting with people about my day, they’d inevitably ask ‘oh, are you that guy that had the broken ski and had to borrow skis and too-big boots?’. It was pretty funny. Some of these people even remembered seeing me the day before as I was hiking out, and were impressed to see me still in it, let alone being able to bounce back and get my Gold CdB in the process. Truth be told, that’s probably the main reason I pushed so hard. I hate failing at anything, and this one was basically 3 years in the making!

You might be now wondering how close I was with the time cutoff the second day. Well, amazingly, I still had about 1 hour and 20 minutes to spare at the cutoff. In other words, it was no problem at all. In fact, this year, even with the problems, was the most comfortable times I finished with. Granted, the gold skiers did get a 2 km head start, and a 30 minute lead as compared to the bronze CdB people, but I was still mighty elated when I saw the time we had left. Rest assured, that does NOT mean this was an easy day by any stretch of the imagination. Heading out on the final leg, it was a great feeling. There was only about 12 km to go, and I’d wrap things up at a decent time. I decided to push hard anyway, in hopes of being there with lots of time to shower and be ready to greet Deanna. I will say though, the final 3 km felt like they took forever. After speaking to several other skiers, we are convinced they lied about the distance of the last leg. We are pretty sure it was about 3 km longer than advertised. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve mentally prepared yourself to be done in 2 km, then see a sign saying 5 km to go, it makes a difference!

Regardless, I finally found myself on the final steep downhill run before the finish line, with the smell of sausages (and victory) in the air. They called my name as I crossed and I realized I’d done it. I was now a Coureur des Bois Gold finisher at CSM. That felt great, and exhausting. An organizer found me shortly afterwards to reunite me with my busted ski, and collect my borrowed gear. What a tale eh? I had a sausage at the finish, then made my way to the shuttle bus to head to the gym where the luggage and awards were being dealt with. Unfortunately, that is when I also learned that Deanna had sadly missed a cutoff on day 2, and was on her way to pick up the car. I felt crushed for her, but also extremely proud of what she managed to accomplish this year, and the improvements she has made. Tackling the full CSM is a monumental challenge, and there are loads of stories of people not making it. But she killed the first day, and was having a great 2nd day too. She has already vowed to return to get her “G-D Bronze!”. And I believe her.

That pretty much does it for this story. As I type this, I’m still nursing some pulled muscles in my groin, resulting from dealing with the skis that were too long and having to herringbone up the hills. I’m also nursing my toes back to health, and see about 3 toenails that are dead and will eventually fall off. But I have GOLD! That won’t fall off! Will I return? Quite possibly. After all, if I do just 4 more gold CdBs, I get a PERMANENT BIB! They always have something to keep us coming back! Hope you enjoyed my tale. I’m off for one weekend, then back in action for the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race Season Finale. Till then, take care of you and yours, and see you out in the snow!

I Made a Deal with the Devil… and Lost!

Greetings sports fans. It has taken me almost a week to write up this blog post, as I’m still recovering from a humiliating defeat right at the finish line of my latest race. That’s right, a mere 4 days into 2014, and I was testing my fitness at a Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race. Not just any race though, the dreaded ‘hilly’ course. This was over 10 km of grueling ups and downs around the property surrounding the Ark in 2 loops! I had rested for 2 days, and wanted to attack the course and see if I could improve on my 5th place finish from the previous race. Of course, I wasn’t alone in this mission, with a good group of hearty souls lining up with me at the start, including some real speedsters. So how did I do? Well, you’ll just have to read on to find out. I had a camera with me, but in the madness, only fired off a few frames after the race, which you can view on flickr as usual. Now read on!

Random Pics from Event

As you read on, and as you hear more about this race, you’ll see exactly why I’m having a hard time living it down. You really don’t need to do much more than glance at the race results page for proof of my shaming. Go on, click on over there, it’s in black and white right at the top “The race where James passed Steve right at the line! “ And so continues my embarrassment all week. Need more proof, well, please, dear readers, allow me to invite you to witness the exchange on Facebook as well. I am literally being put to task and humiliated publicly by friends and people I admire :-(. Good thing I have thick skin, right? You bet. It’s also good that I believe there is no such thing as bad publicity, and at least I will be remembered for this event, right? Of course, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s just step back and give a quick re-cap of my undoing, shall we?

The day started innocently enough for me. James Galipeau and I were carpooling together to the race, both intent on putting in a good showing. It looks as though we’ll get to do some great adventure racing together later in the season, so it’s good to push each other in training too. Plus, we often match up quite similarly in these sorts of events. Of course, according to him he was ‘totally out of race shape’, but I knew I’d have to watch out. I’d managed 5th place in the first race, and ideally, hoped for the same this time. ESPECIALLY once we arrived to see some of the tough competition. Once again, a couple of the local track, road, and cycling stars came out for this one. Never easy racing against a pro cyclist, the winner of the National Capital ½ Marathon, AND ex World Cup skiers, is it? Rare company indeed, but just another day in the life of a Mad Trapper event! We knew we’d be lucky to stay in the front heap in this one. Lucky for me, I got bib number 666, and decided that might be a good omen for some reason!

My Race Stats

Race_Results

Like it or not, we’d be in for a doozy. Temperatures were just right for a good race too. At about -10 degrees Celsius, it was warm enough to go with only race layers, and not overheat, while not so cold that we’d suffer. Well at least not suffer any more than expected. The race started about 5 minutes late on account of the large number of last-minute racers showing up, and as usual, I seeded myself in the front pack. Behind the biggest guns, but ahead of the hopefuls.

The pace started out quite reasonable in my mind. I didn’t feel like I was pushing overly hard, and hoped that I’d be able to stay with the front group. There was probably around 10-12 of us at the front working at this level. Truth be told, looking at the graph, it was only about the first 200m that were the warm-up. After that point, my heart rate broke 170 bpm, and basically stayed up there for the rest of the race (averaging 177 bpm over the race!). The heavy hitters slowly started detaching themselves from our front ‘pod’, We dropped a few on the way, until it was (apparently) a group of 4 off ahead, then a group of 5 of us in the 2nd pod. Natasha, Vero, Dave, Myself, and James, in that order. The two ladies are tough as nails, and I doubted I’d be able to stick with Vero through the whole thing. Her and Dave had both beaten me at the Anvil in December. Natasha on the other hand, I have beaten in the past, and James and I often jostle for spots here. So, with that in mind, we ran as a unit.

After a bit, Dave pulled off and let James and I go past. This was unexpected, and meant he was basically out. He just wasn’t feeling it I guess (then has the nerve to make fun of me! Lol). So we were down to 4 of us. After a bit, Natasha and Vero pulled off and had about a 15-20m gap on us, which stayed constant until basically the end of Lap 1. James and I held our spots, with him matching me step for step. I generally pulled ahead on downhills, only to have him chase me down on the uphills, but neither of us really gaining or losing. We passed the start/finish and embarked on lap 2.

I grabbed a cup of water, and James grabbed a bottle, both of us trying (and failing) to get much drink into us before the first hill on the other end of the driveway. However, with over half the race in the bag, I tried to step up my pace just a little and bridge the gap to the girls. Which we did successfully. After a few hundred meters, I felt like I could make a move and pass, which is where I pulled of a huge tactical move. There was steep downhill with an S shape to it. Picture the girls passing on the outer apex of that S, and me taking the straight line instead to jump in front. So after the first part of the S, I was ahead of Vero, then in the 2nd half, managed to just squeeze ahead of Natasha.

You have to understand that in a wilderness snowshoe race, passing chances are very slim. If you are on the trail, you’re in a nice little ‘snow canyon’ formed by racers packing the trail. To pass, you have to throw yourself in very deep snow which slows you down a lot, and then try to pass. I got lucky. James did not. Apparently after my heroic pass, which he admired, he decided to try one himself a bit later. Sadly for him, it backfired, and all the momentum he used to get in the deep snow merely propelled him, Superman style, headlong into the snow. He said it took a while to recover.

So now picture it, I’m ahead, and pushing myself to the breaking point, but realizing we have 3.5k to go. A bit early for a finishing kick… Regardless, I wanted to mentally put in a gap, and eventually got to probably 100m ahead, leaving at least a couple of them thinking I was out of the picture. However, as I feared, Vero had lots of reserves left. She was just shadowing Natasha, knowing that 1st place was hers if she passed Natasha. Sensing this, Natasha picked up her speed to stay ahead. The downside is that eventually Vero decided to turn on her own jets, and shot in front, but not before they had significantly closed the gap to me. With about 1k to go, Vero bore down on me, and passed me like I was standing still. I had tried to shake her, but there was no hope. Oh yeah, probably worth mentioning she was ONE of the pro cyclists there (the other being Derrick St. John, winner of the race).

I was okay with her passing, as I expected it, and just wanted to stay ahead of the other two. Glancing back, it was Natasha, followed by James another few meters back, and I seemed to be in good shape to stay ahead. Undaunted, I pressed on hard until the final 2 major climbs. At the top of the final climb, I was still ahead with 30-40m of a gap, and thought James was behind Nat. Turns out, he wasn’t He had passed her, and wanted to close in on me.
Feeling as though it was ‘in the bag’ for me, I started down the final steep downhill leading to the finishing chute, probably only going at about 80%. People were ‘cheering’ for me, and I enjoyed the moment. Crossing the line, I hear “He took it from you”, and noticed a shadow on my left. Turns out, they were NOT cheering for me, but yelling “He’s right on your tail”. WHAT??!?! Ahead of me, laying flat on his back and barely alive was James, who had undertaken a heroic sprint to push for me at the line. I had NO idea he was there, and had let him pip me at the line. RIGHT AT THE LINE!! I have NEVER lost at the line like that, and was really annoyed by it.

However, that’s racing, right? We live and learn. James realized that I had no idea, and acknowledged he honestly didn’t think he could possibly catch me, but went for it anyway, so ‘chapeau’ to him for the effort. I just wish I had noticed and made it a real sprint. Suffice to say, I would NOT have lost if I’d just noticed he was that close. Grrrr…. even reliving it as I type makes me mad. Not for him, but for me. Stupid stupid stupid. And even worse? It was for that 5th place I had hoped for!

You know what? That’s really all I have to say about that race. Extremely hard fought, fun as hell, and a great post-race social atmosphere with food and beer as usual. Already looking forward to the next Mad Trapper, which will be the famous night race. Of course, first, it’s time for a change of scenery. I’m off to Cornwall to race in a Dion Series snowshoe race with a few others. Should be a great time, and stay tuned for that story. I can promise you I will NOT be pipped at the line again. I probably won’t win either, but I will get what I deserve 🙂 Till then, pray for more snow… it’s too early for 8 degrees and rainy weather!

Solid 5th Place at Season Opening Mad Trapper

Howdy race fans! Back again for another dramatic race re-cap from the wilds surrounding my humble abode. This time, the start was at the venerable Ark, and the event was [supposed to be] the season opening Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. Each year, Mike puts on a total of 4 snowshoe races on his property, including a super-fun night race. Although we’d gotten a good dump of snow over the course of the previous 2 weeks, we also unfortunately had a day and a half of warmer temps that brought rain. So, while there WAS snow, the coverage was poor and there were lots of rocks and exposed open fields. As a result, a Mad Trapper Trail Race was held instead. Not the first time this has happened in December! Check out some pics I snapped an put on Flickr, then read the rest of my recap.

Pictures from the Race

If you’ve spent any time whatsoever on this blog, you’ll likely have read quite a few posts about Mad Trapper races out at the Ark. Mike is celebrating 10 years of hosting races up there, and I’ve been a part of almost all of them. There are only a handful of us that can lay claim to that distinction, and it’s still fun to see them out there and share the trails in friendly competition. Snowshoe races are the classic out there, but as you may know, Mike has branched out over the years, hosting trail running races, orienteering races, obstacle races, and even a beer mile! Can’t wait for whatever is next, but first, let’s talk turkey about this race.

The traditional December race is the ‘flatter’ course, and for this one, Mike would the clock back to one of his classic course designs from years gone by where we traipse over his neighbour’s property, in the open fields. This truly is one of his flatter runs, which should lead to some pretty speedy results by the front runners, which I hoped to count myself among. Thanks to the Anvil race a couple weeks before, I had what I considered would be the best footwear for me, my new Mudclaws. Yaktrax or similar shoe attachments might have been ok as well, but they tend to get in the way, and I don’t own any spiked shoes. With the conditions being what they were, the race consisted of about 40 hearty souls in total. Just the right number to make it a fun challenge.

I showed up a touch earlier than usual, and did a nice little warmup on the trails and with a bit of bushwhacking for fun. This was mainly to determine the state of the course. Luckily, it was a little warmer than the Anvil had been, so the footing was a little safer, as the ground wasn’t completely frozen solid (better purchase in grass and leaves). I got back to the start with a few minutes to spare, lined up with my like-minded friends, traded friendly taunts, and got ready to go. Mike warned us to take it easy on the first lap, as by his estimation, this would be the most dangerous Mad Trapper he’s hosted! That seemed to translate to a classic ‘gentleman’s’ start, with no one seeming willing to push hard off the start.

My Race Log

Race Results for Me

Instead, at the front of the pack, we just all sort of gradually picked up tempo as we got comfortable with the trail. It was the usual suspects out front. I was sitting 7th or so, but gradually picked my way up the field until I was sitting in 3rd overall, behind Nathan Underwood and Dave McMahon (both ski phenoms). This didn’t seem quite right, as I knew there were faster people behind me. Well, once we hit the flat, open fields, that’s where I lost a couple spots, to find myself sitting in 5th. I was determined to hold onto that spot, and pushed hard to stay in contact with the front 4. The plan was working well, and for a bit, I thought I might actually regain 4th place. However, such would not ultimately be the case. I crossed the end of the first lap in a time of about 28 minutes. Pretty good for the opening 5k. Knowing that someone was on my tail, I opened it up a little more to press on hard for the 2nd lap.

My second lap consisted of my wondering whether or not I could maintain my pace, with my average heart rate sitting at over 175bpm, and my will being tested. However, I knew that physically I could hold on, so it was just a mental game. I used my standard practice of pretending that someone was right on my heels at all times and that if I let up, I’d get passed and lose my top 5 slot. It worked quite well, and although I never quite caught 4th place again, I sailed through the course for a dead-even 2nd lap sitting at about 28 minutes again. My total time was 56m30s, good enough for 5th overall, and a full 6 minutes ahead of my next closest competitor. My litmus test had me at 2.5 minutes behind Dave McMahon (3rd place) and about 6.5 minutes behind the winner. In other words, I was clearly in the lead pack, with a good gap to the rest of the field. Sweet! Only the 5 of us beat the course in under 1 hour. Here’s hoping that I can keep this sort of fitness for the actual snowshoe races as well.

As usual, the post race socializing was as much fun as the race. There were heaping helpings of both meat and veggie lasagna, homemade brownies, chips, cookies, fruit, and of course fresh Broadhead Beer on tap (kegerator this time!). Everyone milled around until Mike decided to do his version of an awards ceremony. This of course is random prize-giving, random good-natured insulting, and general rambling to the amusement of all present. All in all, a good season opener in spite of not getting to try out my new Dion Snowshoes in a race setting. However, judging by the weather we’ve had so far in December, I think I’ll be in good shape for snow activities for the rest of the winter. Now with that, I have to go shovel, slap some green grip wax on my classic skis, and head to the Parc for some training. See you all out there!

Hitting the Slopes One Last Time

And Down I Go Again

Howdy everyone! I hope that everyone is enjoying the long overdue spring weather that we may be finally getting. Just today, I finally noticed some buds appearing on the branches, so I *think* we may finally have bid adieu to winter! However, it does appear as though I was a tad premature in my final post when I indicated that it was my last race for the winter season. As it turns out, thanks in part to late snow, I had one final crazy race to try my luck in. XCZone’s Camp Fortune Nordix Skier-Cross Races. Yup, quite a mouthful, but if you’ll bear with me, I can explain (and show) it all. To put you in the right frame of mind, imagine if Red Bull put on a race downhill using cross-country skis. Oh wait! THEY DO! This was the ‘local’ version of that kind of thing. Before you read on, please feel free to look at the pictures I took (embedded below), then hear my story.

Pictures from the Event

I’m a sucker for cheap races. When Dave started drumming up support for this race, and I saw it was only $10, I saw no possible reason NOT to sign up. Less than a week from the race, we trekked up to the lower slopes of Camp Fortune to do some course scouting for the race. That is when I started seeing some possible reasons. First off, it was icy. Really icy. Cross country skis don’t exactly have biting edges like downhill skis. Also, with a loose heel, you definitely don’t have the same control. And of course, there’s that whole ‘gravity’ thing that Newton postulated about so many years ago. It tends to make my skinny plastic skis propel me rather rapidly to my pending doom at the bottom of icy downhill ski runs! Oh, and did I mention that this course would take place on the snowboard parc? Yeah, interesting.

But, you all know me. Taste death to live life and all that. I wasn’t going to let a little risk deter me from throwing my hat in the ring. On that Tuesday, we did 2-3 practice runs, and then I stuck around on my own to re-try some of the tricky bits to see if I could avoid falling repeatedly. We were also assured that come Sunday, the slope would be well groomed and not that icy death trap that we had been dealing with. Time would tell.

I’ve definitely had a great winter of skiing this year. Although there have been some interesting times, what with the crazy heavy snowfall causing snowmageddon in the park, for the most part, we’ve had great coverage and plenty of opportunities to explore. I was just about to put on the storage wax and call it a year, but figured that one final day of skiing would be fun.

On Sunday making the first climb to the top of the hill (yup, that’s right, no chairlift for us!), I watch someone take a practice run and snap their binding right off their ski, and someone else break their pole. Suddenly I had a flashback of my final bike commute in 2011, where I ran into a parked truck and snapped my bike in half. Was I tempting fate once again by a late-season risky activity….? Hopefully not, but I had no time to dwell on that. Only time for a couple practice runs of the redesigned and re-groomed course. Thumbs up to a great design and more reasonable conditions as compared to Tuesday. Of course, I did quickly realize that going through the trouble of re-waxing my skis just for this race was an exercise in folly. There was no need to eek out more speed than what I was getting with our old friend 9.8m/s/s!

I’ll cut right to the chase here. After the practice runs. the 60 or so participants amassed at the top and broke into groups of 4-6 for individual heats. The first was a throwaway. I came last in that one. The 2nd one was for real, but again, I came last. My reward? Stripped of my race bib and relegated to spectator status. I can safely say that after 4 runs, I was done anyway, and grateful I hadn’t broken either my equipment or me! For the rest of the morning, Deanna and I hung out watching the ‘pros’. I had also brought along my GoPro and another camera, and in spite of the grey skies, shot some footage and snapped some pics. Below you’ll see my little video that I put together hurriedly.

All in all, this was a great way to close out the cross-country ski season. It was interesting to note that of the 60 or so people racing, there were less than 10 of us that were in the ‘masters’ category. Apparently, my normal skiing friends are a bit wiser when it comes to risking life and limb playing the younger man’s sports. With that being said, kudos to my fellow Natural Fitness Labs teammates. We had fun, and teased each other a fair bit. And at the end, to soothe my bruised ego and refuel, I treated myself to a hot dog, grilled cheese, fries, AND a beer in the lodge! It was heavenly, and a good time to finally bid adieu to the winter ski season till next December!

With this out of the way, it is now time to start focusing on the true summer pursuits. Time to ramp up the biking and running volume, both on the road and on the trails. I predict another amazing summer of fun doing the things I love with the person (and people) I love! Bring on the hot tub and bring on the sun! Oh, and the BBQ too please 🙂

Video From Race

One Final Mad Dash for Winter Race Season

Moments Before Start

Huzzah! One last race to write about for my winter race season. It’s been a very busy February, with 6 races in the past 5 weeks! With all the racing, I hardly had time to update my website, as a result of all the videos that I had to put together, coupled with the training I had to to do prepare for those races! Luckily for me, I have a little bit of a breather now. In fact, I have no events on the calendar at the moment until the first weekend of May. Of course, in the meantime, I’ll be keeping busy with wedding planning, and a little road trip to Las Vegas for my bachelor party! But of course, that’ll not be blogged about. However, the Mad Trapper Finale of 2013 will be! And if you are here reading this, you came to the right place. No re-cap video this time, but plenty of pictures for you to check out! Once you’ve had a look, read on for the story of this challenging final race!

Photos from the Event

Although the Mad Trapper Snowshoe race series started with a bit of a hiccup in December (remember the trail run that we had?), the subsequent 3 races were absolute treats as far as snow cover went. It seems as just before every race, we had a nice big dump of snow a few days before, forcing race director Mike to head out and to some serious trail setting. The finale was no different in that respect. Whereas most years, you can count on a ‘flatter’ course, a ‘hilly’ course, a ‘night’ course, and the ‘finale’ being a combination, this year, it seemed every race was a whole new course for us. Sure, there were some common trails from past years, but by and large, these were new inventions of Mikes. For this particular race, Mike apparently pulled out all the stops and decided to put together an incredibly challenging course for all, just so that when you crossed that finish line, you KNEW you had accomplished something!

Race Summary / Stats

Race Results

The picture above pretty much says it all. I was pushing in zone 5 the whole way (well, about 80% of the time according to the raw numbers. My average HR was 169, and my max was 191. We covered almost 11km, and that took me a total of about 1hr20mins. The numbers are actually a little off, as I forgot to hit stop at the finish, but rather pressed lap, so really it was 90% zone 5, and all other numbers higher! But of course, numbers only tell some of the story. The real story is in the experience itself, and the competition that I was racing against. Happily, my performance against my betters was quite strong, and the course, although painful, was also quite beautiful.

Mike himself was out on the course at a few spots to not only cheer people on, but to also secretly laugh as we suffered in spots that we’d have to climb up steep sections, only to come barelling right back down again, and then have to head back off on an uphill slog. I’m not quite sure how it was possible, but it felt like we spent most of the race going uphill rather than flat or downhill sections. Of course, given the lower speed when you climb, and the grades we were faced with, that makes sense.

For the finale, there were about 55 participants finishing the course, split between the 5k and 10k courses. Looking at the results, there were 33 racers in the 5k, split pretty evenly between males and females, and 22 racers in the 10k, with only 5 females. However, there were more racers that actually started than finished. I know this for a fact because 2 of the toughest 10k competitors both dropped out after the first lap and officially DNFd! Who are these characters? Well, for starters, Dave McMahon, who had been having stomach issues, and the other was none other than Nick Best, the fellow who actually won the NCM 1/2 marathon, and placed 2nd at the Army ½ as well. Yup, he’s that fast and talented!

What does that all mean for my race? Well, looking at the names of those who did beat me, I can safely say I feel pretty damn good about it. When the race was officially started at 10am, I found myself sitting probably around 10th place, which I wasn’t too enthused about, but knew that after the first couple climbs, I’d likely claw past a few people who started a little too enthusiastically. I’ve done enough of these to know my pacing. So I stuck to a hard, but steady pace, soon finding myself behind Natasha Elliott, the ALWAYS victorious female, and a person whom I usually have a very good battle with out there. I had just beaten here on the first 2 courses, and she had just beaten me in the night course, so I know staying with her would be a good pacing plan.

However, after about a kilometer with her, I felt like I had a bit more to give, and decided to make my move and pass her. James Galipeau followed me, and we steadily made our way forward, opening up a little gap as we huffed and puffed. Not long after, we caught sight of both Dave McMahon and Rob Lefebvre, another speed demon out there. They had been gapped by the lead pack and were running together. Sure enough, James and I closed in on them (no easy feat). When we finally did catch up, Dave encouraged us to pass them and keep pushing, to hold off any others coming behind. The encouragement was good, but also seemed foolish in retrospect. Buoyed by this, James and I made the pass, and tried to pull away, however, it just felt as though it had forced us to push even harder, and the terrain was NOT easy!

After a few more km, we did managed to open a small gap, and by then, James was apparently feeling even better than I, as on a particularly nasty steep incline, he offered to take over the lead and break trail. I agreed, and once he got past me, I simply could not stay with him. He seemed a man possessed. We had seen others in the distance, but the gap was not one I thought we could bridge, so I was happy to just keep others at bay behind us. I should note that all this was during the first of two loops, and probably around the 3.5-4k mark at that! There was still a lot of racing to do. It was clear to me there would be NO easing up, as I knew both Rob and Natasha would be gunning for me.

Lucky for me, I had the motivation and drive today. I wanted to push hard and leave it all out there. I was not lugging any cameras and did not have to get any pretty footage. I could turn myself inside out for this final race, knowing that I would have the following weeks to finally recover from a hard month of racing. So I did just that. I pushed till I ran out of steam, then told myself to push again, and harder, as otherwise I’d be caught out. I really wanted to catch back up to James, but that wasn’t going to happen. Somewhere midway through lap 2 I found a 4th wind, and kicked up my pace again, and managed to start closing on James, probably reeling back about 45 seconds, but it was all for naught. He ended up crossing the line 40s before me. In turn, I beat Rob to the line by a mere 34s. Turns out he was being chased hard, with the next fellow only 6s after that!!

All in all, I had a great race. I knew I was in for a rough ride when at the 1k mark, I was already tasting blood in my throat. However, the engine was running smoothly and the body did not resist my pushing. I’m extremely happy with how things finished. Particularly considering the cast of characters that beat me. If you scan the names, they are the who’s who of top runners, cyclists, triathletes, skiers of the region, and finishing 6th in that crew was a great accomplishment and rewarding way to cap my season off.

Of course, as usual, the real fun only started after crossing the line. I cheered my fellow competitors in the warmth of the ARK with a nice cold beer compliments of the Broadhead Beer Company. My beer of choice? A tasty pale ale known as ‘Underdog’. How fitting, given how I feel in these races 🙂 I also scarfed down 3 delicious chocolate brownies, and enjoyed helpings of both the delicious soup and chips that were on offer. All this while socializing with all the other racers, and Mike giving out all the prizing from his generous sponsors. I walked away empty-handed, but smiling nonetheless. I’ve long stopped racing for any sort of prize I think. It’s all about the experience, and this was another Grade A experience!

So, what do you do after a hard race like this? Well if you’re me, you have plans with friends. Including a nice cross-country ski in the parc, and putting a traditionally Swiss raclette for supper afterwards. The wine and board games went over stunningly well, and when I finally turned in for the night, I did so knowing I had a pretty much perfect day. Lots of playing outdoors, time spent with friends and loved ones, and enjoying great food together! Yup, this sort of day makes a 5-day stretch in a cubicle all vanish from my mind. If you haven’t gotten out a lot this winter, the best is yet to come with piles of snow and milder temps. Do your mind a favour, and head out there!! That’s it for me for now, and I’ll be quiet for the next little bit as I focus on spring training and making sure wedding plans are well at hand before the summer race season! Hope to see you all out on the trails though.

Racing with an International Flair

Rehydrating at Finish

As you have all seen from the flurry of recent race reports that I’ve finally got around to posting, the winter racing season has been in full swing on my end! Luckily, things are starting to wind down, and I’ll soon be turning my mind to spring and summer active pursuits. However, I’ve still got a couple events to knock out here and write about. For this post, I’ll give you a little colour around the 35th Annual Gatineau Loppet that I took part in on February 16th. As the title implies, this event draws an International crowd. With over 2000 racers from 17 different countries taking part in this years offerings, it was a very cool event. The Loppet is a whole weekend of races, ranging from 5 to 55km, and in both classic and freestyle categories. For my part, I was taking on the 55km classic race, which was on Saturday. I also lugged cameras and did filming for Get Out There Magazine, so stay tuned for the video below, and don’t forget to also Check out the pictures that Deanna and I snapped.

The Gatineau Loppet is yet another of those gems that we have at our fingertips here in the National Capital Region to race in. It is part of the World Loppet series of ski races, and as such, draws participants from around the world. And the start/finish line? It’s a mere 10 minutes from my driveway by car! As it is set in Gatineau Parc, this is also terrain that I’m intimately familiar with and spend a lot of time in over the full year. However, I never grow tired of exploring its beauty, and in winter, things are completely different visually from summer and fall! Gatineau Parc is basically the entire reason I moved to this side of the river from Ottawa, so I try to spend as much time as possible there.

Pictures from the Event

At any rate, enough babbling about how great it is to run / ski / bike / hike, and snowshoe in Gatineau Parc. You came here to read about the Loppet! This year was the 4th time I took part in the event. I have done the 55km classic race in 2010 and 2011, then did the 27km skate race in 2012. For this year, the 35th anniversary, I was going back to classic, as I put a lot more time and effort into classic technique then skate, owing to the CSM preparation. Oh yeah, CSM. That little 160km skiing effort I completed only 5 days earlier! It’s quite possible that might have an impact on my performance in this race. Whereas CSM was a touring event, this was a bona fide ‘race’ entailing proper nutrition, hydration, and high-level sustained effort with minimal comfort. Aaargh! What have I done by signing up for this?!? Luckily, apart from some achilles tendonitis in both my heels, I felt like I would be good to go. Of course, tendonitis may be just enough to slow me down, mightn’t it?

One of the interesting aspects of this year’s classic race was that we were going to have a remote start. From the finish line at the relais plein air, all participants were to be bussed out to P19 at Lac Philippe. This posed a few logistical challenges, which organizers did their damndest to address before the big day. The P19 parking lot is quite small, so only 3 buses at a time could drop racers off, but there were probably close to 20 in total that had to get there in time to let racers start their waves. This was to be mitigated by the fact that different waves started 5 minutes apart, but as it turned out, it took longer than 5 minutes for buses to turn and unload, which meant that by the time the E wave was getting ready to go, I heard there were a few bottlenecks. Lucky for me, I was in Wave C, and arrived with just enough time to hit the porta-pottie, finish getting dressed appropriately, and even doing some quick footage for my video. HOwever, I still found myself scrambling, and throwing my gear bag to the side of the trail and trying to get my pole strap on just as the starting gun was sounding.

The weather was absolutely stunning. Although it started out a little chilly, the sun was shining bright, and I knew I’d be working hard, so I had forgone the extra layers in the anticipation of pushing hard and staying warm that way. I’m not sure if it was just the C wave, but my start actually seemed pretty tame. We all pulled away in a pretty good grouping, with 6 lanes to pick from. In about a kilometer or so, that narrowed to 4 tracks, and in another kilometer or so, it finally narrowed to a 2 track trail. However, because of the distances, there was never any real bottleneck, which was nice. I found a pretty decent pace early on, and found myself surrounded by a group of others heading approximately the same pace. Sure, there were sprints and lags depending whether terrain was flat, uphill, or downhill, but the same outfits always seemed to be within eyesight. Although there is no doubt that this is a race, things still felt generally convivial on the snow out there. This made me pretty happy, as it made me feel as though I was still in the thick of a race, and my performance hadn’t been too negatively impacted by my 160km slog the weekend before.

As usual, I rely a fair bit on my gps to give me feedback about how I’m doing in the race. That was all well and find for the first 13-14km… until I apparently lost my satellite lock. It would be about 25 or so km before I started getting any data again on my pacing, etc. Luckily, the time was still ticking, so I knew by time at the various marked distances, but no instant data on my pace. In other words, it took me to about kilometer 38 when I realized that my goal of a 4 hour 55km race was definitely not in the cards. By then, I had skied my way along many of the nicest parts of the course. Namely, along the 50, then onto my fave, the 36, before heading up the all-to-familiar parkway to join back up with the number 1 near Keogan shelter.

Once at the Keogan turnoff, we veered right to tack on an out and back section along the number 1 trail in order to get the full 55km distance. This of course also resulted in us popping out at Champlain lookout. I realize many of you have been up there on bikes, but for those who aren’t into skiing, it’s a different world up there in the winter on the skinny skis. I paused a little on top to admire the view, then smiled to myself knowing that the really hard work was over, and that the remaining 18km or so would be predominantly downhill. Doing some quick math, I thought maybe I’d wrap it up in 4:15 or so, which would still be respectable. I pushed off down the hill and onto the final sections of the race.

I should mention the aid stations at this point as well. They’re awesome. Staffed by a small army at each checkpoint, they spread themselves out from a bit before to a bit after the checkpoint. Each person yelling out what they have, and doing their absolute best to get you fed and hydrated with minimal effort from you. My favourite snacks were the chocolate chip cookies, the cut up cereal bars, and washing it down with warm gatorade. At every aid station, I’d generally take 2 cups of drink, then 3 ‘cups’ of snacks, which equated to maybe 2 bars and 2 cookies. There was no science behind my nutrition, but this appeared to be just right to keep the engine running. Also, thanks to my easy clip in and clip out poles, I would always have 1 had free to eat / drink while the other continued to propel me. I never fully stopped at any point, which mentally is a big plus in my game!

When I got past Pink Lake and started the final descent, I realized there was still about 5k to go, but there had been 2 fellows trading the lead with me for quite a bit. I decided then and there that I’d have to beat them. One fell off the pace going downhill and hitting the flats again, but the second guy kept surging and pushing. However, I felt I was keeping something in the tank, and decided just to shadow for a bit, the turn up the heat later. That’s right. A battle for 167th place 🙂 Well, I eventually got my chance, and on the final flats, I took off. We then had a sharp left turn onto the narrower trails for the final 2-3km. I pushed hard, worried he’d be right on my heels, but instead, I opened up a little gap that I maintained to the finish. In the end, I only beat him by 36 seconds, but it still felt like a huge gap. We both laughed about it at the finish and congratulated each other for the good push!

Video Race Review

My final time was just under 4:25, and as mentioned, good enough for 167th of 375 participants. So while I was in the top half, it was the lower top half. Not as speedy as I’d dreamed, but given that my body could NOT have recovered that fast from CSM the week before, I took the result with a big smile.

I’ve had an absolute blast this winter training with the group, and skiing lots with Deanna in our lead up to the big events. It’s a bit weird now, as the skiing is all for fun. No need to be fast or get ready for any events, just enjoy the snow. And given the 30cm we got in the last 30hrs, things are looking up for a few more enjoyable skis! It’s also been a lot of fun capturing some of that skiing on video, which I hope gives you some idea of the fun we have out there during winter! Now that the Loppet is over, there remains only 1 race for the winter season, and that’s the season finale in the Mad Trapper series. For that race, no video! Just hard racing, and pictures to go with my impressions. Stay tuned for that story!

Trail-Only Footage of the Loppet