Tag Archives: snow

One More Tri During Winterlude

Mad Trapper Mike

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

Pictures from Event

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

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

Race Summary / Stats

My Race Stats

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

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

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

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

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

Video Review

Chasing the Snowman… 2 Races in 1 Day!

Skis at the Ready

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

Frost and Fire Winter Triathlon

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Trapper Night Race

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

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

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

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

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

‘Tis the Season

Carving the Roast Beast

Howdy friends! I realize the humour of writing my Christmas post in February, but I’m going to go ahead and write it just the same. I feel like I need to get this posted, and need to close the loop on 2012 so that I can move forward into this year, and catch you all up on the latest races, of which I’m in the middle of several at the moment in February. It’s sort of ‘peak season’ for my winter races, and while that can be draining, it’s also a good time to reflect back on Christmas and the rejuvenation that it brought for the coming challenges 🙂 With that in mind, I invite you to do a few things. First, you can check out this year’s Christmas newsletter, as well as have a look a folder of pictures from the season. After that, read on friends, for a little colour.

When I last checked in with you, I was lamenting in part about the snowshoe race that turned into a trail race. Well, luckily, before Christmas was fully before us, we got a huge dump of the white stuff to guarantee that walking in a winter wonderland and a white Christmas was in our cards. It also meant that the lovely Deanna and I should hopefully get out to do some great skiing in the freshies. Why ‘hopefully’? Well, although we had opted not to go anywhere over the holidays, we did open our doors to Deanna’s family, and they accepted. All told, we’d have 4 more mouths to feed for 4 days. Deanna’s mom and dad joined us, as well as her sister and current boyfriend. So while the visions of skiing danced in my head, the reality of hosting family and putting on a spread at every mealtime would invariably lead to less outdoor time alone 🙂

However, that was definitely not a detractor, as the holidays is about spending time with family and enjoying a good meal together, and making fun of each other, right? Given our low reserve of vacation days, neither Deanna nor I took any extra days off over the holidays, which meant I’d be off starting Monday at noon, and back in the office on the Thursday. Deanna had it slightly better, as the office gave her Monday off completely. The guests, for their part, landed on Sunday. The other thing that happened on Sunday was MORE SNOW! Although we’d had our share of shovelling already, the possibility of heading into Gatineau Park was too tempting.

As a result, Deanna and I headed out later on Christmas Eve afternoon to squeeze in a ski. And boy were we glad we did! Just have a look at the slideshow below to see just how gorgeous things were out there. I’m quite certain that is the most beautiful I have ever seen it in the park. Of course, with beauty often comes some sort of destruction when it comes to natural events, and this one was no different. The heavy snow load on treed caused massive amounts of damage on some of the trails which are still visible today, and not completely cleaned up from! Regardless, it made for a great ski and some awesome visuals.

Christmas Eve Ski Pics

After that nice ski, it was back home to have a great feast, which consisted of a roast beef supper and all the fixings. Once we had eaten our fill, we turned our mind to the Christmas gifts under the tree. Rather than wait till the next morning, we adopted the Swiss tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve. Not only that, but we also had the candles on the tree which I lit for everyone to get a sense of that other Swiss tradition. To me, it isn’t Christmas until I’m sitting in a darkened room with only the flickering of candles on a tree to put me in the mood. A few moments of quiet reflection for everyone before the gift distribution got underway.

Once again, we had done our best to keep things reasonable as far as gift exchanges go. After all, we have to save up quite a bit of moolah this year to pay for trips to Denver, our honeymoon to Bhutan, not to mention the actual wedding itself! As tempting as it is to spend spend spend, we’re trying to be a little thrifty. However, that didn’t stop Deanna from buying me what was probably the most unique gift I have received for Christmas. Beer. However, not just any beer. Westvleteren XII, rated as one of the rarest, and one of the best beers in the world. Deanna had braved long lines and limited availability earlier that month to secure a 6-pack for yours truly. Admittedly, I have yet to even sample the beer, but have some ideas on which occasions may be appropriate to try one out 🙂

All in all, it was a great Christmas spent with family. Although we didn’t get to see any of my family over the holidays, we had funny and interesting chats with my Swiss relatives over Skype, as we toasted glasses of Roetli (a local aperitif only available in Switzerland – we’d taken a bottle home while on vacation) across two different continents. We also had some good video chatting with my Dad and Nicole out East, so it did feel like we spent some time with everyone. Prior to the weekend, we’d also had my sister and her family over for a meal and gift exchange. Suffice to say, the love was felt over the holidays from family, and we felt lucky to have such a great group of family and friends to celebrate with.

On account of even more snowstorm warnings, our company left a day early by heading out boxing day evening after an early supper. With the house once again to ourselves, we started making plans for heading back outdoors over the weekend and the extra day off for New Years. We made no specific plans for January 1st, instead opting to have a quiet night in with a big bowl of popcorn and bottle of white wine. This is of course a far cry from some of the years gone by, but with everyone getting a bit more ‘mature’, and many young families, the big parties don’t just seem to materialize, but that’s okay. Instead of a NYE party, we instead headed out on January 1st to Dave and Meghan’s house for a levee, which was very well-attended, giving us a chance to ring in the new year and catch up with a lot of friends we hadn’t seen in a while. I’m guessing this will be the new trend. Brunches and levees on January 1st rather than rip-roaring parties on New Year’s Eve. My, how the times have changed :-). However, I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the life I have now! I hope you and yours all had a great holiday season, and wish you all the best in 2013.

Mad About Winter

Snowshoe_Running_Jan2013

Yup, you read right. I’m mad about winter. But in a good way 🙂 I know it’s been a little while since I updated my blog, so I figured I’d do a 2 for 1 race report in this post, seeing as both races form part of the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race series. The first one occurred way back in early December, and the 2nd took place a little earlier in January. Both races were quite unique, and ironically, both races saw me finish in 5th place overall in the 10km race category. In a departure from most race reports of late though, I carried no cameras, and took no photos or video. My focus was purely on the races and the camaraderie, so you’ll just have to re-live the events through my words, and a little video clip put together by Dave McMahon further below. In spite of the lack of visual stimuli, I promise the story will still paint the picture for you. Now read on and learn about both of these fun races!

Mike Caldwell has been putting on races at his property “The Ark” for many years now. He’s held snowshoe races, trail running races, and even a rogaine out there, not to mention he hosts weddings, corporate retreats, and teambuilding events. It is not just his place of business, but his home. In that regard, whenever you attend a race out there, it feels quite ‘homey’. And not in an urban city kind of way ;-). He and his wife Monique offer not only a great race, but they also put on a spread that should make most race directors envious. After almost every event out there, they put on a veritable post-race buffet for everyone. It’s no wonder some people sign up solely for that reason. It certainly makes the money worth it from my perspective. But at the heart of it all, I come out for the racing.

Numbers have stayed relatively small, but growing, in the years I’ve been racing there. It was not impossible, for example, for me to outright WIN at races there, and I have done so. However, increasingly, word has gotten out about the fun and the food, which has gradually drawn in some of the more dedicated racers out there. While this has meant a drop in standing for me, it has equally meant I have to up my game to feel competitive out there. And the results speak for themselves. I’m getting faster, but falling lower in the placings, but I’m totally fine with that.

The other nice thing about holding races at his own venue is that Mike can roll with the punches. A fine case in point is the December race. It was supposed to be a snowshoe race. We had no snow! Was that a problem? Nope. Just make it a trail race. Mike didn’t mind. Most racers didn’t mind. The numbers may have been a little lower as a result of the change of plans, but things still went off just fine anyway. I’m a big fan of trail running, so I was happy to put the hammer down and see how my body was doing.

Race Summary According to my GPS Watch

Mad Trapper Dec2012_Result

This race was the first time since my ankle injury that I went really hard. As you can see by the result above, I pushed. Hard. I stayed in Zone 5 the entire race, with an average heart rate of 182 bpm. That’s high. I’m guessing that part of this was due to my body angry about pushing my weakened ankle so hard, but I know my limits, and I know that I can push my system to that limit for about an hour with no dire consequences. The result for me was a satisfying 5th place overall, and several people commenting that I had a great race out there and seemed faster than last year. I’ll take the compliments, but obviously, with no step on the podium, I still have room for improvement 🙂

After a quick re-fueling, it was time to head back home, and start enjoying the Christmas season. There were no other races until Mike’s next race in January, so it was time to pray for snow and start the training in earnest for the Canadian Ski Marathon in February with Deanna, since we were both signed up and that means 160km of skiing in 2 day.

So with that, once the new year was upon us, it was time for a bona-fide Snowshoe race, the Mad Trapper ‘hilly’ course. We’d had a TON of snow in the time since the trail race of December, and in fact, there was so much new snow that week alone that Mike was uncertain how to lay the course. There were no discernible trails anywhere. To prepare for it, Mike just strapped on Snowshoes and followed deer trails around his property, giving racers a completely new course layout with different twists, hills, and turns than we’d seen in the past. Again, rolling with the punches and doing what needed to be done. The course probably couldn’t have been better if he’d tried!

Race Summary According to my GPS Watch

Mad Trapper Jan2013_Result

As the results above show you, it was another redline fiesta! The casual observer will note that my average heart rate was a bit lower at 174 bpm, but have a look and compare the distance and times. Nearly the same distance, but almost 50% longer! That was thanks to the incredibly deep snow. Once again, I wrapped this race up in 5th place, and was quite pleased with that result.

Why so slow? Well, being that this is 2 loops, and I was in 5th, it means that for the entire first loop, I was out at the front of the pack trying to break trail with the big boys and pack down the snow. This is not an easy task. The reward for this is supposed to be a much faster 2nd loop. However, after all that effort, I only managed a negative split by 2 minutes. The second loop seemed just as hard. The snow still made for tough going.

On the plus side, this was probably the absolutely most gorgeous race I’ve ever seen out there. The snow was not only thick on the trail, but also in the trees. While we’d had a lot of snow, there hadn’t been a lot of wind, so all the snow stayed intact in the branches, making for an absolutely breathtaking course (from the running AND the views). All racers agreed this was the whole reason we all like coming out and running around in the winter; sights like this! Luckily, local videographer and racer extraordinaire Dave McMahon was onsite not only running, but also stopped racing after one loop to get the stunning footage I’m embedding below for you all to admire.

Video Footage from Dave McMahon (XCZone.tv)

Afterwards, another great feast, and plenty of commiserating, congratulating, and camaraderie between all the participants. With this race under our belts, it was only a few more weeks before the next snowshoe race, and I’m pretty sure everyone was stoked for it, as it was going to be the annual Bushtukah Night Race! Yup, that’s right, racing under the stars. Plus, I was going to cover it, so I’ll have a video review of it for all to see, and I plan to focus on the party atmosphere, since shooting video at night is pretty tricky. Till the next post, hope everyone is getting out there and enjoying the wonderful winter weather!

White Knuckling it to Quebec City

Stylish Skate

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

Pictures from Race


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

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

Race Stats


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Review

Following the Trail of “Jackrabbit” Johannsen

Still Smiling after 160km

A warm welcome back to you all. I’m back from another epic odyssey over the past weekend. Although the Canadian Ski Marathon is not a race, strictly speaking, I’m still putting under my ‘race’ cartegory. This is mainly due to the fact that there are strict time cut-offs, which mean many skiers don’t actually complete the entire 160km distance. Ergo, it is a race against the clock in my mind :-). I also wish I got paid to race, because I would have gotten overtime. Over 20 hours outside in the bitter cold, and up at 3am and 4am! Seems like more ‘work’ than my job! At any rate, it was an amazing event, and I hope you’ll all read on for my personal take of the entire event. I covered it for Get Out There Magazine as well (videos appended at end), and took a bunch of pictures. Should give any skiers out there a great idea and reason to try the CSM next year!

Pictures from Race

So just what exactly is the Canadian Ski Marathon? Well, for starters, it is a quintessential Canadian winter activity. The event was envisioned as, and strives to continue to be, one of the toughest point-to-point cross-country ski events of the world for those who want it to be that. Hunh? What does that mean? Well, the event takes place over 2 days, and consists of 10 individual sections adding up to a total of 160km of amazing skiing. However, you can enter in a variety of different categories. Tourers are those who choose to take part in the event but only ski a few sections. You can choose as many sections as you like, and are recognized for the number of the sections you actually complete. For the masochists of the world, you can sign up to tackle the whole event in the Coureur des Bois (CdB) category.

However, in the CdB category, there is more stratification. If it is your first attempt, you automatically go in the ‘Bronze’ category, where your only goal is to complete the entire distance within the time limits. If successful, the second year you are entitled to sign up as a ‘Silver’ participant, with that you must not only complete within the time limits, but must also carry a pack weighing a minimum of 6kg for the whole thing. Now, if you are successful as silver, you can now try to attain ‘Gold’ status on the 3rd year. Once again, you must finish within timelines, and must carry a minimum of 6kg on your back. However, this time you also get the ‘privilege’ of sleeping outdoors on a bale of hay for the Saturday night. In other words, your pack MUST contain all you need to survive from Saturday 4am till about 5pm Sunday including food, sleeping gear, and ski supplies! Me? Well, as I AM a masochist, I was enrolled in the CdB Bronze category. So let’s now go through my weekend fun.

Day 1 Stats

Not to belabour this point, but the entire weekend was forecast to be COLD. By that, I mean temps which likely averaged around -15 most of the weekend with the early mornings obviously being colder than that. Why does that matter? Well, the week before, I spent nearly $80 on waxes suited for warmer snow. Ha ha. Oh well. They’ll be used some other time.

On Friday night, Deanna was kind enough to drive me to my luxurious digs… a gym floor in Papineauville. Yup, that would be my home for the next 2 nights. We checked out the opening party at the Chateau Montebello (and saw how the other half lived), then I returned to the school. Still had to do some waxing and gear preparation before trying to get some sleep before the 3am wake-up call, which came all too soon. Breakfast was devoured by 4am. From there, final ski prep, and piling on buses to the start line at Buckingham.

At that point, I tried shoving hot packs into my ski boots, eat some food, and get my camera gear ready for the start while watching the first 2 waves (Gold at 5:40, Silver at 5:50) get underway. It was obviously still pitch black out, so we started the event with headlamps. I think that was my favourite part of the whole event; skiing in a long row of headlamps in the still of the pre-dawn morning. Very peaceful. We also had some light snow falling, so it was absolutely beautiful. Things were so nice and peaceful that falling into a nice pace was very easy, and before I knew it, we passed by the ‘2km till next CP’ sign of the first section. Everything was working extremely well, and I was absolutely in love with the experience so far.

The first CP was the real introduction to the organization that went into this event. The army of volunteers (which yes, included the army!) took great care to ensure every detail was addressed. At each CP, we got scanned in electronically and physically marked off on the bibs. All CPs had food (usually dry fruit, soup, bananas and cookies) and drinks (warm water, honey water, Gatorade). Some CPs also had waxing stations, where you could drop off skis to be re-waxed for you while you ate / drank, etc. Of course, the key was to get back out as quickly as possible. This served two purposes. The first was to stay on schedule to make the cutoffs, but more importantly this weekend, it was to stay warm! As I type this, I still haven’t gotten full feeling back in two of my fingers!

Back to the trail! With the day now in full swing, it was time to make some serious tracks. I popped in my earbuds and asked Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) to sing me to the finish. Of course, that was still about 65km away, so it would take a while. My pace felt good, and without doing too much math, I was pretty sure I’d have no troubles with the cut-offs. I passed my time really taking in the world around me. Even though there were 1500 participants in CSM, and you are never really alone, you still have a lot of time to reflect. It was so invigorating to just let my mind wander, appreciating everything life has to offer, including the ability to do something like the CSM. The ski trails were amazingly good considering these are not official ski trails.

In fact, each year, CSM starts anew, with local farmers and landowners granting permission to have the snow groomers, and eventually the skiers, pass through their fields and hills. We are fortunate to have their co-operation. Even more so considering this has been happening for 46 years! The longest section of Day 1 was over 21km, and it was a tiring one. This was rated ‘intermediate’, and at the end of it, I was still well on schedule. I had to reach the 4th CP by 3:15pm, and found myself there around 2pm. Awesome. I lingered a bit longer there, allowing the pros from Swix to do a nice, 3-layer wax job with a sticky klister base under a glorious sun.

I skied the final 13 km with a smile on my face, knowing I had all but clinched day 1. There were some pretty awesome hills to climb through the day, but also a lot of fun, fast, and yes, sketchy, descents to make. It made the whole day interesting. Also, it was always impressive skiing with the CdB gold folks, navigating all the challenges with sometimes ridiculously large-looking backpacks! They definitely are the champs of the weekend! The finish line was at Chateau Montebello for the day, and about 15 minutes after finishing, the exhaustion hit me, and I just wanted to get back to the dorm and sleep.

Day 2 Stats

Unfortunately, sleep couldn’t come too quickly. There were a number of things to get done on Saturday before bedding down. First there was the matter of a quick, and sometimes scalding shower, followed by tucking into a big pasta meal at the cafeteria. Clothes had to be spread out to dry, new clothes picked out for the next day. Food stores in my pack replenished, batteries for all devices charged up (I had 2 cameras on the trail and my GPS and iPod, all of which needed charging). Turns out -20 is not a forgiving temperature for batteries and electronic devices! After all that, I HAD to turn my attention to my skis, which basically had to be completely re-stripped of all waxes and built back up, but the glide waxing and the grip waxing. This took about an hour of effort, in a room packed full of others doing the same. The stench of chemicals and waxes dancing in everyone’s nostrils as they worked feverishly to get the ‘perfect’ wax job, which would eventually get destroyed in the opening 20km or so of the next day! However, once done, I thankfully got to crawl into my sleeping bag after swapping a few stories with fellow participants.

Thankfully, the bus for day 2 was a mercifully short ride, so we got to ‘sleep in’ until 4am. Ha ha ha. Getting up was made even more difficult as several of my ‘neighbours’ had opted to not get up, thereby forfeiting their CdB bronze attempts. Seeing them sleeping soundly made it hard to pour myself out of my bag and pull on ski clothes again. However I had a mission, and would not fail. Not completing this adventure was NOT an option in my mind (are you surprised?!). Breakfast was a nice french toast with ham affair for me, and before I knew it, I had packed up all my stuff (which was being transported to the finish) and was sitting on the bus again.

Sunday was even colder than Saturday, but I felt even better prepared for it (and added an extra layer on my head). I didn’t have to fuss with anything at the start, and instead crowded around one of the 6 propane heaters to await the start of our wave. No snow this morning, just a still, cold air around all of our anticipation. On the menu today was another 80km of skiing. However, whereas on day 1 they were all ranked ‘easy’ and ‘intermediate’, today’s sections were all ‘intermediate’ and ‘hard’, including the infamous ‘Rouge Valley’ section with all of it’s many, many hills. This would be tackled on the 3rd section, so it was literally the ‘hump’ of the day, and the only real challenge to getting that little bronze pin I was coveting.

On the audio menu today? Well, I opted to listen to my catalogue of Depeche Mode tracks, including lots of hard-thumping remixes. This was definitely more appropriate to the physical challenges that lay ahead of me. The start felt a little slower than the first day, but that was to be expected, especially since we were heading uphill right away. First stop of the day was actually ‘Gold Camp’, where the CdB folks had spent the night. They had left about 25 minutes earlier, and all that was left were massive fires of the loose hay burning. It was a very cool sight. With the inspiration of that vision, I picked my pace back up and started picking my way through many of the skiers, eventually catching up to many of the Silver CdB, and Gold CdB skiers.

Throughout the day, I knew I was moving slower than I had the previous day, but that was not unexpected. I dug into my reserves and my endurance racing base to just steel myself and keep the pace moving. In the hills of dreaded section 3, I met a friend of mine and slowed to chat with him a while, before making the decision to keep my own pace and press on during the climbs. I’d been told that it is very hard to actually ski with anyone, as everyone has their own ups and downs. It can be the difference between finishing or being cut off to not go your own pace. Smile planted firmly on my face, I kept on skiing, knocking off the checkpoints. At the 3rd CP, it was only 1:05pm, giving me 2hrs 10mins till cutoff to cover about 14km. Awesome! Seemed like it would be easy.

I hadn’t accounted for the fact that my pace had slowed way down. Now, to be clear, I was in no great danger of failing, but I was still surprised when I got to CP4 at 2:45pm, a mere 30 minutes before the cutoff. As a result, I bypassed the volunteer waxers and just did my own waxing. I headed back out at about 3:05pm, now safe in the knowledge I had basically done it! Only 13k to go. Yeeee-haaaaawwww!

The final 7-8km seemed to take forever. Even though the track was good, and weather was good (and had even warmed up a bit), it was a real slog to keep pushing. I’m pretty sure my body did NOT want to ski much more. I was definitely on autopilot now. Finally arriving at the finish area, I pulled out my little camera to film the arrival at the finish. A smallish crowd of 20 or so felt like hundreds to me. Having anyone there cheering was a huge boost to get across the line. I kept the skis on for a few minutes longer to pose for a few finish line shots, but for all intents and purposes, it was DONE! I had done it! 160km, and a nice little bronze pin to show for it!

The closing banquet was a collection of skiers in various states of exhaustion, a hearty meal of lasagna, chicken, and other goodies, while the emcee tried to utter a lot of words while the masses generally ignored him. However, he recognized that the night was more for the skiers and sharing of their stories with each other, and was gracious about the fact that he was being ignored! I did a fair bit of story swapping myself, learning more about things like the rogue horse who was running loose on the trail, and about broken skies repaired at CPs, etc. A nice finish to the whole event. At 8pm, I got on one last bus which took me back to Gatineau and the end of the entire event.

Looking back now, I had a bit of a revelation about this event. Usually, in a long event, you have periods where you really ask yourself why you are doing it. More specifically, in almost every adventure race (particularly 24hr+ events) you hit a point where you hate it, and don’t know why you’re there. However, I can honestly say I never hit that point once during CSM. More often than not, I’d actually be smiling, and just marveling at what I was doing, and how great it felt. NO, it wasn’t easy. Not by a long shot. But I WANTED to do this. And I succeeded. And boy, did that feel great! I would highly encourage you to try the CSM, or parts of it, next year, if you are at all into skiing. It was a well-run, and very beautiful event! But, no time to rest for me, I’m 2 days away from my first Loppet using Skate Skis! Off to rest (oh, and celebrate Deanna’s birthday!!!)

Day 1 Video Review

Day 2 Video Review