Time to wrap up my series of winter racing stories for this year. And what better way to do so than to re-cap the three Mad Trapper snowshoe races that I took part in this winter. Normally, this series starts off in December, and features a total of 4 races, but over the years, it has become challenging to predict the snow conditions for December, so instead, race director Mike decided to make this a 3-race series for 2018, with 2 daytime races, and one nighttime outing. As per usual, I signed up early for all three races, since that is the best bang for buck, and ensures I’ll eat delicious brownies at least three times! Read on for the full recap on how the races went for me this year. Continue reading Triple Crown at the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Races
Yes, I realize that writing up a race report from the depths of the winter may be odd, given the current season, but I really have to catch up on things, don’t I? This blog post takes us back a mere two and a half months ago to the Plains of Abraham where I was taking part in the unique Pentathlon des Neiges Quebec. As the name implies, the race has 5 stages; biking, running, skiing, skating, and finishing with snowshoeing. The entire race takes place in the historic Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, making it a fun destination. Read on to hear all about it.
This was not my first time racing in this event. I’ve done both the Pentathlon previously, as well as the winter triathlon that they also host. The Pentathlon is actually an event that spans several weekends with different events, and I had been invited back to tackle the Pentathlon. The last time, I raced in the ‘elite’ category of the triathlon, and had my butt handed to me by ex-Olympians, national team athletes, etc. Luckily, in the Solo Pentathlon, there was no ‘elite’ category, so I’d probably place a little higher (although still get my ass handed to me!).
Being early in March this year, my hope was that the weather would be decent. The last time I did the event, we had to drive over 9 hours through a snowstorm just to get to the start line, and I really didn’t want to go through that again. Given the extremely balmy temperatures at this year’s Gatineau Loppet, I assumed things would be relatively mild. I couldn’t be further from the truth, as in fact, this would prove to be one of the absolute coldest races I’d taken part in! Luckily, at least the drive from Chelsea was fairly uneventful on Friday night. We had decided to make a long weekend of it by taking Monday off, so we’d be spending three nights in the Chateau Laurier hotel in Quebec city, hopefully taking advantage of amenities like the hot tubs, as well as touring the city.
My race was the first on tap for Saturday morning, which of course meant the coldest possible conditions. Not only that, but we had a lovely little ice wind blowing just to make sure we got the full experience! On the plus side, the sun was shining brightly, so visibility wasn’t an issue. Luckily for Deanna, we had media / VIP passes, so she had a warm place to go to if required. No such luck for me, since I’d be racing. If nothing else, there was strong motivation to move fast and finish quickly!
The opening salvo was the 14.3 km bike leg, which was multiple 3.8 km loops along the roads surrounding the Plains, including a pretty significant decent off the plains to a U-turn where we had to pedal back up. It was bloody cold on that decent, screaming down a hill at 60km/h wearing only lycra in -35 temps feels more like -50, so as you can imagine, the bits and bobs were feeling it. Or rather, they felt nothing as things were slowly but surely going numb. The course itself was pretty nice, with no major surprises. After the final loop, we turned onto a groomed snow trail to head to transition. The fast dudes were all riding cyclocross, but for my part, it was my trusty mountain bike (hadn’t yet bought my cx bike…).
I rolled into transition as a veritable Stevie Ice pop, and had to get right out on the run. I’d opted to use flat pedals, which at least meant I didn’t have to change foot wear. Instead, my ice block feet got right to work churning snow on the multi loop run course. Something felt off right away, but it was hard to tell what it was, what with no circulation. Eventually, after about 600-700m, I realized the issue. While I had gone completely numb on the bike, the run was actually forcing some semblance of circulation in my feet, and it was causing extreme pain as it passed through my quite frozen tissue. Pretty sure had the bike leg been much longer, I would have had bad frost bite. As it was, the run ‘saved’ my feet, but caused much agony.
It wasn’t until I’d completed a full 1.6km lap and a bit of the run that my feet started to work again. I’d had to stop and shake them out for a while on lap 1 as well, which is quite evident from my split times on the run. Regardless, once I ‘found my feet’, I took the time to enjoy the scenery a bit more and get through the 5 km run. I gotta say, 5k of running has never been quite as challenging in some ways!
Coming into the second transition I’d now face my first ‘costume change’, as I had to remove my sneakers and put on my ski boots. This is where I was really, really thankful that I had heated gloves on! For once, I actually had feeling in my fingers during a winter transition, making it much easier to untie and re-tie footwear. That was a life saver for me! I had a relatively good transition, and was soon jogging to the ski put-on line. Obviously, I’d be skate skiing my way around this course, and after my race at the Gatineau Loppet, I had a feeling this might be my best leg of the event. I strode out of the stadium purposefully, hoping to make up some spots I’d lost on the first 2 legs.
Again, we were set to do multiple loops around the Plains covering a total of just under 10 km over 3 loops. The snow had been groomed quite nicely prior to the race, so although the air was very cold, the snow hadn’t become too frozen. I had good glide without being too icy. I was able to find a decent grove and sure enough, I was passing people along the way. Going into this leg, I had been 52nd on the bike, and 46th on the run, but wrapped up the ski in 30th. In my category, it was even better. I had been 16th in bike, 14th in run, but emerged 7th on the ski! With only 2 legs left, my intention was to hold my spot as best as I could.
Lucky for me, with my endurance base, I can generally maintain my pace for quite a while, even when things get tough, so I was pretty confident I could stay in my place, in spite of not being a strong skater. This would prove to be another interesting leg. All told, I’d been out skating precisely ONCE prior to this race, so I was both practicing and racing at the same time. Round and round the perfect ice oval for 21 laps, that you had to count yourself. On the plus side, once again I avoided a shoe change since my blades clip right onto my ski boots. Thank goodness for technology.
I did my best to imitate the form of a speed skater, leaning way forward and trying to keep my arms in that oh-so-cool looking relaxed behind the back posture. Sadly, looking at some of the pictures, I’d say I was only about half as aero as I felt like I was. It may not have been pretty, but it was hopefully effective. Sure enough, stepping back off the ice and back into transition for the last time, I had maintained my exact standing.
And now for the penultimate stage of the Pentathlon. The snowshoe! This leg could prove interesting for the simple fact that I was running on completely untested gear! I (or rather Deanna) had literally picked up a pair of snowshoes in a mad scramble on Friday afternoon that had ordered in a few days earlier. A completely new design consisting of a plastic frame that I’d seen around a few races, and wanted to try. They were TSL symbioz hyperflex racing snowshoes, and were almost HALF the weight of my other snowshoes, so I was keen to try them out. As Deanna was driving us on Friday, I was in the passenger seat making adjustments and setting them up to fit my shoes perfectly. My only testing consisted of jogging in the hotel about 10 feet to make sure they were secure!
Lucky for me, things worked very well. These beauties were so light that you barely felt any swing weight at all as you were running. I took note on the course of just how many people had converted to this snowshoe. They have definitely taken the top-end racing scene (at least in Quebec) by storm. I can also vouch for them now. They are sturdy. Given the very cold temps, this was a good test for whether they’d become brittle or cause blistering issues. I’m happy to report I emerged unscathed, and also managed to gain a spot in my category, and 2 in the overall classification.
So, the final tally for me? Well, in what I’d consider a very competitive field, I ended up 29th overall, 26th male, and 6th (of 24) in my category. I was happy with that. And even more happy that I could get out of the cold!! It was time to warm up first with a hot chocolate, and later, a beer and a meal! We did also find time to hop into the hotels hot tubs (which were cruelly located outside, meaning a VERY cold bathrobe stroll to get into them. Although we had grand plans to tour Quebec City a bit more this time, we decided it was too bloody cold to make that very enticing. The following day, we watched the elite team competition, which was pretty exciting to watch. Lucky for them, the weather was a little warmer.
All in all, we had another great time at this event, which is definitely one of the best organized winter events I’ve had the privilege of taking part in. I was also covering the event for the magazine, so I had plenty of camera gear in tow. Sadly, footage from my own event was pretty tough to obtain, given that all my gear basically instantly froze out there. Batteries are no match for those really low temps. However, I had much better luck the next day when I could protect the gear between shots. As a result, if you haven’t done so yet, please check out the video I shot below. Till next time, see you out on the trails!
Howdy race fans! Well, I figure I better wrap up my series of blog posts on winter races before all the snow goes away. The process is slow because I’m still trying to get out there as much as possible, and squeeze as much out of old man winter as I can. Although, I am ready for a little change of pace, so I’ve started sprinkling in some road running and cycling with my cross-country skiing! But I digress, this post is, as you may have gathered, all about the Mad Trapper snowshoe races this year. Normally I’d write a post for each race, but this time, I decided to just re-cap the 3 (of a possible 4) races I took part in this year. Read on to hear more.
Every year, I’m pretty much a fixture at the grass-roots snowshoe races that take place at the Ark. I like the race courses, I like the venue, I like the vibe. So much in fact that I actually got married there! Mike faithfully puts on 4 races per year, with the earliest one often turning in to a trail running race due to lack of snow. Luck was with us this year though, and the season opener on December 13th had snow. It was an interesting race for me, as it was 1 week after returning from running a marathon in Jamaica, and 10 days before leaving for a Belgian holiday!
Obviously, running a marathon the week earlier meant I wasn’t at 100%. Beyond that, I’d also suffered several rolled ankles in the previous 2 weeks, including at the START LINE of the marathon in Negril!! Even though I was signed up to run the full 10k course at this opening showshoe race (2 loops), I approached the start line unsure where things might land. I decided that I’d play it by ear and drop down to the 5k if needed. I just didn’t want to risk further damage, and after all, I’m in it for fun, not to win! Ok, in all honesty, I’d love to win, but that is not too likely given the hot shots that regularly show up at the front. I’m usually good for somewhere between 5th and 10th overall.
In another twist, Mike decided that we’d run the course in reverse. No, not running backwards, but running the opposite direction we normally would. That essentially meant a whole new course. All the ups were downs, the lefts were rights, etc. Sounds minor, but when you know the loop as some of us do, it takes on a whole new dimension, not to mention risk.
The race got underway, and despite telling myself to go easy, I revved ‘er up and pushed out at pretty much my max effort. I held on as close the leaders as I could, but by about the halfway point of loop 1, realized I was flagging on energy. Then, as predicted, my ankle managed to find the perfect off-angle spot and rolled agonizingly. That was it. Limped for a bit and decided it’d have to be a single loop. My consolation was that I figured I was near the front of the 5k group. I don’t recall where exactly I finished, but at worst I was the 3rd finisher of the 5k loop. However, since I was registered in the 10k, there was nary a mention of my standing in the 5k group. Booo! Regardless, I drowned my sorrow in delicious Broadhead Beer and Mike’s classic brownies. What else could I do?
Fast forward a month and a half later to the 3rd race of the season. During our trip to Europe, Mike had hosted race #2, which was the night race, so obviously I had to miss that one. Too bad, since I love racing by headlamp! But I digress. This race was going to be a real showdown. You see, as part of my ‘ActiveSteve’s Day of Fun’ gift that I gave my buddy Kevin (who was celebrating his 40th Birthday), I bought him a race entry. Kev has for YEARS longed of finally racing head to head with me, and ultimately beating me. Earlier in my race career, I had a lead on him, and whenever we raced, I had been the victor. However, Kev has been one of the most dedicated runners I know since then, and I knew he could crush me on the road, but I had hoped the tricky trails may give me the edge I needed. However, never underestimate the desire to kick ass and competitive nature of two old and dear friends!
Knowing that Kev would be hot to trot to take me down, I went out full bore in this race. We were staying pretty near the front bunch, which meant it would be a tough race to hold the pace. Also, this was the ‘hilly’ course, and we’d be doing two loops. For most of the first loop, I stayed just a bit ahead of Kevin, but could never open up any sort of real gap. I was unsure if he was holding back, or pushing hard to stay up there. Shortly after we finished the first lap, I’d have my answer.
On lap 2, Kev essentially cruised up to end up right on my heels, and we stayed like that for a most of the loop. I decided to back off every so slightly, in hopes that I could pull off a finishing kick and out-sprint him to the line. However, that plan fell apart with about 2km to go. We were pushing along, feeling that we had a pretty comfortable gap to the next racer. At this point, we were running 5th and 6th overall I believe. A few more bends, and I noticed a shadow that seemed to be reeling us in from behind. Sure enough, I risked a glance, and noticed it was Nathan A. The trouble with Nathan is that once he has you in his sights, he goes all in. He busted his butt and caught us, and attempted to cruise right past.
We were now about 1k to go, but with the final killer climbs still to go. One of the toughest is behind the final dramatic finish. On the hill right before that one, I had no choice but to go pretty much anaerobic to deny him the chance of passing. He had managed to get between Kev and I at this point, which I knew would not sit well with Kev either. That left me with 2 guys gunning hard to pass me, and my dreams of a top 5 finish that day at risk. I will say I fought valiantly. I managed to hold both of them off all the way up the final tough climb, then all the way to the crest of the final run to the chute.
Unfortunately, that left me completely tapped, and with nothing in the tank to do any sort of finishing kick / sprint. As a result, on that final downhill sprint, Nathan cruised past me. Damn! Even worse, when we got to the final 50m flat section, ole long-legs Kev found his kick, and pipped me right at the line! What a blow! Truthfully, I had suspected he’d get me at the line by the start of lap 2, but I hadn’t expected the battle with Nathan to happen as well, which ultimately is what really cost me that one. Oh well, as true sportsmen, we all laughed about it (eventually) and congratulated each other and celebrated. At least Kev had the sweet victory for his birthday, but I promise you all it was NOT a gift 🙂
With those two races down, there was just 1 race to go, and it was 4 weeks later. HOWEVER, I was racing hard each weekend up to that final race. First the Winterlude Triathlon, then the Canadian Ski Marathon (2 days and 160km of skiing), and finally 2 days of racing at the Gatineau Loppet. So, in some ways, I was wiped by the Mad Trapper Finale, but in other ways, I was in peak form, as I was focused on racing. As with all Mad Trappers, my eventual finishing spot was highly dependent on who showed up. Prior to the start, things were looking not bad, until who should show up, but Nathan A at the last minute! D’oh! I just KNEW he wanted a re-match and chance to once again stomp me at the finish. I really did NOT want that to happen.
Conditions were great for the race, and Mike even outdid himself by making this the first snowshoe race that was a full 10k of unique trail. Not 2 loops, but a solid 10k effort of all the best parts of the trails on his property. This meant no mental mid-point check, but just focusing on your race the whole time. I was looking forward to that. I brought a small liquid flask with me and a Fruit2 to eat at some point on the course when I needed it.
As with most races, I went in hoping to win. Who wouldn’t, right? I seeded myself at the front of the pack, and when we got underway, I stuck to the leaders this time. Every race, I promise myself to try and stay with them, assuming I can keep up. However, by 1km in, I had dropped back probably 50m behind. Not a huge gap, but extrapolate that gap and you see why by the end I’m often quite a way back. However, I did manage to keep them in my sights. Oh, and did I mention there were only 2 people ahead of me in the 10k? Yup, that’s right, I was setting myself early in the race for a proper podium finish.
As I ran, I felt strong, and there was no one immediately on my heels in this race, so I silently prayed that I’d stay ahead the whole 10k. Ironically, I was doing great for the first 8k. But then, who should I notice silently catching up? Yup, Nathan!!! Dang. It was a section where there were lots of twists and turns, and I wasn’t sure exactly how much of a gap I still had, but knew that whatever it was, it wouldn’t be enough, because Nathan would once again burn down the forest to catch up and pass me if possible.
Sure enough, closing out the race, we were in almost the exact same situation as we had been in the last race. This time, I dug even deeper, and pushed myself to the very brink. My average heart rate over the race was 176 bpm, but hitting a peak of 192 bpm near the finish. So how exactly did it play out? Well, let’s just say I pulled together my very best Simon Whitfield kick in that closing 100m, including a wild descent on the final downhill.
When it came to that 50m flat, there were claims I tried to block him, but I honestly couldn’t even see straight at that point, I was purely anaerobic and pumping my legs for all my worth. I made a critical stumble right AT the line, and apparently, that is what saved me. In my stumble and subsequent fall forward, my nose apparently crossed the line first, so I was awarded the ‘official’ third place. Of course, that’s 3rd in a race where there are no prizes, or barely a mention for that matter. At the awards, Mike claimed Nathan had it, but subsequently, I was chosen as the official 3rd place. I suspect it really was too close to tell. Either way, it was a very dramatic end to my winter race season, and great way to close off 5 weeks of back to back intense racing.
What better way to close it then with the excellent, yet small Mad Trapper Race? I enjoyed great food, courtesy of Mike and Monique’s continued efforts, washed it down with delicious beers courtesy of a generous sponsor, and also enjoyed the camaraderie that you can only find in a vibrant and active race and training community. The battles that play themselves out in these settings will never be viewed by masses, or even experienced by most, but they are what always put a smile on my face and keep me coming back for more! Thanks Mike as always for great races. You know I’ll be back for the series next year!
However, for now, it is time to now turn my attention to summer sports. I’ve already logged several hundred kilometers to running and biking in the early season, but it’s shaping up to be another epic year of racing! Stay tuned to ActiveSteve.com for all the stories!
I know what you’ve probably all been thinking. ActiveSteve must have gone into hibernation due to the cold winter we’ve been having! Well, rest assured, that is most definitely not the case. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve been so busy between training, traveling, racing, magazing obligations, and getting settled into the new house, that there just hasn’t been enough time in the days to bang out the requisite blog posts. As such, I’m taking some time while on a business trip to Edmonton to try and bang out a whole pile of posts to put up. I now present you with the first of these posts, a tale about my participation in a snowshoe race at night in Upper Canada Village in early January. I was taking part and covering the event for Get Out There, so you can view the video at the end of this post.
Now, obviously, over the holidays, I didn’t get a whole lot of run training in, and with this race early in the year, I wasn’t sure if wanted to go whole hog and sign up for the 10k version of the race (there was a 1 loop 5k race, and a 2 loop 10k race). I decided that it would be more fun to redline the 5k race and hopefully have a better chance at filming the beautiful surroundings. After all, this race was called ‘Ignite the Night’ and featured the amazingly well lit-up Upper Canada Village. To attract people to the village, which is open most of the year, they had decided to string up what I think may have literally been a million coloured lights throughout the property. The effect was absolutely breathtaking. Well, that and the cold temperatures (which will be a main theme of this year’s winter roster).
I convinced Deanna to join me for the evening, seeing as it should prove to be quite nice. There was also a pretty decent contingent of racers from the Ottawa area, given that Cornwall is not all that long a drive, and conditions for driving were pretty decent. Snow cover was not stellar yet at that point in the season, but definitely enough snow for a race. The course itself started in the heart of the village at the big barn, and saw us sprinting through the main areas of the village. However, after the first kilometer or so, we veered off into open fields and closer to the St. Lawrence River.
Due to a surge in race-day registrations, the event start time ended up getting pushed back around 30 minutes or so, and there was a fair bit of confusion leading to people going in and out of the heated barn a few times before the actual start. Temperatures were cold, but bearable. What was not quite expected was the arctic blasts when we actually did hit the aforementioned open fields.
At the start line, I seeded myself near the front, but not at the very lead pack. I wasn’t sure how fast things would go, given that this was a pretty flat course, which definitely doesn’t favour me. I knew the speedy road running dudes would destroy me out there. So, when the start gun did finally go off, I did my level best to kick into high gear right away. Unfortunately, so did the fellow behind me. To the point that he actually ran onto my snowshoe, causing me to fall down, 20m from the start!! I was a little annoyed, and got an instant adrenaline rush, causing me to surge ahead, and catch [briefly] up to the leaders. I stayed up there a bit until it was clear I’d fade fast. Sure enough, on the first little climb, with the howling arctic winds blowing, I had to dial it back.
In spite of the slight slow in my pace, I still had a good clip, and was near anaerobic levels. I had a string of racers sitting on my heels, and didn’t know if I could hold them off. All I could do was keep turning over the legs and hoping for the best. I also wasn’t sure whether people behind me were in the 5k or 10k race, so I had no idea whether I was truly ‘racing’ them or not. Of course, none of that really matters. Your best bet is to simply give it your all and hope its enough. Sure enough, as the course made it’s way over the hills and through the fields, I was passed a few times.
I decided to basically coast in and try to get footage. Sadly, with the cold wind and gloved hands, I was having problems getting my camera gear to work properly, so I didn’t get too much actual race footage. What’s worse, is that with he fiddling with camera to get shots at the finish line, I ended up letting 2 other racers basically pass me for free within 300m of the finish, when I could have stayed ahead. Ultimately, I think that’s what kept me off the podium in the 5k race, where I think I finished in 5th when all was said and done. Regardless, I had registered just for the heck of it anyway, so there were no tears shed.
Deanna and a few other were at the finish cheering everyone on. I got right back into the race, now just following other racers and getting clips of runners in the lit-up village. I also back-tracked into the final 200m of the course, to make sure I caught and cheered on the winners of the 10k event. Several of the talented folks I train with managed to take the podium slots in both the male and female categories of the 10k. In fact, they crushed it! It was great to watch the winners come across the line. I don’t often get to see that on account of being out there myself.
After the race was done, it was back into the warm awaiting barn for a post race meal, the camaraderie with fellow competitors, and the awards ceremony. Spafford Health and Adventure puts on this race, and they always dig up some great sponsors and price swag. There were prizes for the top finishers as well as a good number of door prizes. We stayed around till the very end, enjoying the evening, before finally piling back into the car and making the journey home. All in all it was a great race put on by great folks. It was little unfortunate that we had the late start, but the rest went smoothly. Personally, I prefer more varied terrain when racing, but the twinkling lights did make for a unique way to enjoy what would have otherwise just been a mental slog for me!
Now, if you haven’t done so yet, take the time to check out the race video I put together below! See you in the next report.
So there I was, setting up my transition zone. The reporters scurry over in the hopes of interviewing me before the race. Cameramen in tow, sound guys with microphones and a pretty host. “Hello” she starts, “Welcome to Quebec, where are you from?”. “Ottawa,” I reply. They are no longer are interested in speaking to me, mumbling something about it must be the person next to me. Yup, it turns out that my time as a ‘Pro’ or ‘Elite’ racer came and went just as fast! As it turns out, I was sitting next to an American racer, and 2 seats away from a 2 time Olympian and eventual winner from Slovakia. Yes folks, I’m writing about my experience racing in the Elite category at the world premiere of the ITU Winter Triathlon format in Quebec City.
Dusan Simocko was not the only storied athlete standing shoulder to shoulder with me. There were a total of 25 men in the race and 9 women. Among them were Olympians, World Cup Biathletes, Professional Speed Skaters, and all-around amazing athletes. Oh yeah, and me! Countries represented were Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Russia, France, USA, and Canada. I was there to cover the race for Get Out There and also race. A month earlier I had tried to convince the race director that I should just race in the age group race, to focus on filming the elites, but he’d have none of that. He knew me, and said I’d be fine and signed me up with the elites. Oh well, if nothing else, I got my brush with greatness, and saw a whole other class of racing. To save you all the suspense, I can at least report that I was NOT DFL (dead F*cking last). That honour went to another well-known adventure racing fellow I know by the name of Simon Donato. If you haven’t done so yet, you really should check out his TV show: Boundless.
Okay, so back to me and the race. I was petrified. The race was a 5km snowshoe, followed by 12km of speed skating, and wrapping up with an 8km ski. And there was a 90 minute cutoff! I knew I’d be fine with the snowshoe, and could push through the ski, but it would be tight. 3 weeks ago, my total skating consisted of 1 practice for 45 minutes and then skating 12k in another race! I managed to squeeze in 3 more practices, and had the time down to about 30 minutes, which should do. For the ski, I decided to pull the trigger on buying new skis, boots, and bindings, as I still had my ‘beginner’ skate skis, and found a good end-of-season sale on a higher-end pair. If conditions were ok. I would be fine.
My race was set to start at 2pm, with the age group race taking place at 10:15am. I hung out most of the time filming footage for my video, as I decided there was NO WAY I’d wear a camera while fighting for my life in the elite race :-). Turns out it was lots of fun filming that race, as Mike Caldwell was in that race, and Deanna and I could cheer him on. He was even worse than me, in that he hadn’t skied OR skated at all this year until this race! And he still pulled off a 1hr 40min finish, giving me hope. Have a look at the pictures below to see some great pics of the entire day.
Conditions for the morning race were perfect. The sun was up, and temperatures were around -6 or so. Both the snow and ice were really nice, and it looked like they had great conditions. Unfortunately, the day got progressively warmer, and was above zero by the time our race was gearing up. They had re-groomed the snow and zambonied the ice, but it might be a bit rough.
On the plus side, the elites were treated like champions. There was a ton of spectators, and lots of media onsite. In fact, there will be a full 30 minute special airing on TV about it. Watch my tweets for that one. Before the race, there was a full-on athletes procession where each of us was called by name to the starting line. Again, it was funny, as they’d call the name and list accolades for racers, but for me it was just “Stephan Meyer, from Ottawa!” Yup, I was a nobody in a bright red racing suit. Regardless, I was there to race hard, and finish where I’d finish.
The Race Gets Underway
The starting gun went off, and with it, a flurry of high-speed snow and testosterone. Snowshoeing would be my strongest suit, but the voices echoed in my head “don’t blow up in the opening leg…”. Keeping that in mind, I tried to keep my speed in check. It was amazing to see the racers start spreading out right away. I was holding my own, and over the 3 loops, managed to finish only 2.5 minutes behind the eventual winner. I’d go so far as to say I was ‘in the mix’ in the first leg… sort of. The course, although on a wide-open area, was a narrow, single track. Passing opportunities were VERY limited, and I only managed a few passes on the downhills, where for some reason, other racers were much more timid than me. Mad Trapper Racing pays off! I’d hoped to finish further ahead of some people, but had no time to think about it. I cruised into transition to shed the snowshoes, don the ski boots, grab my nordic blades and head for the oval.
Whereas the snow conditions really didn’t matter for snowshoeing, the ice conditions were critical for the speed skating. I got my blades on and hesitantly began my 28 loops. My focus was simple. 1) Stay low 2) Bend my knees 3) Push to the side… just like the YouTube video I had googled a week earlier showed me. Pretty sure I didn’t look like the guy in the video, but I was doing my best. For whatever reason, my cornering SUCKED. I watched as others seemed to glide around and push at just the right time and keep momentum. Me? It was a mix of gliding straight, clumsily trying to cross legs, straighten out, lose momentum, and eventually get around. Luckily there were really only 112 turns to make. Ha!
To complicate matters, the ice was not good for us. The middle was rutted and chipped out, so you had to really stick to a narrow line. A few times, cutting too tight on the corners, my blade actually punched through the ice into a void underneath! Not cool. Luckily, THAT didn’t cause me to fall. However, I did fall. And YES, the media was there to capture it in high-definition glory. Don’t believe me? Just check out the video below. Skip to the 2 minute mark to see my moment of fame. Oh, and the guy that fell first, causing me to fly out? Yup, that was Dusan, the eventual winner! I maintain that he was just worried I’d beat him (although I’m pretty sure he was 5 or 6 laps ahead of me by then!
For the skate, we were responsible for counting our own laps, which can get very difficult with 28 laps to count off. Happily, there was a giant video screen that would flash a list of names and how many laps they’d done. With only 34 of us on the ice, it actually worked ok for tracking, and I luckily did not do any extra laps. Overall, I’d say my skate was average. I think I could have been much smoother if I wasn’t so worried about the ice. It was cool watching some of the pros and their absolute skill on the ice. Probably the coolest to watch was Jay Morrison, national team member for 9 years (and yes, brother of 4xOlympic medalist in Sochi Denny Morrison).
But enough of the ice time, it was time to head to the chairs and get ready for the ski. I hadn’t looked at my watch at all, instead focusing on my race. I grabbed skis and poles, gulped some Nuun, and ran to the line to put on the skis. The snow was definitely getting a little soft in the warm sun, but overall, I can’t blame the snow, as my skis actually felt great. I had great control and glide it seemed. In fact, on my first lap (of 3), I felt strong, and technically good. That’s saying a lot, as it’s taken me the whole season to finally feel like I’m getting the hang of skate skiing.
Towards the end of each lap, we were faced with a long, steady climb into the stadium area. Here, there were thick crowds cheering everyone on with reckless abandon. It was exhilarating… and horrible. You see, the more they cheered, the harder you pushed, which was my undoing, as on the second lap, I felt the definite twinges of impending leg cramps. Calves specifically. Each steep little incline, when I’d dig in and push off with my legs, the calves would respond with fiery pain and literally spasm. It was mentally killing me, as I wanted to push, but each time I did, falling was a distinct possibility. It got so bad that I even resorted to double poling on some sections (which explains my sore abs and ribcage 2 days later!).
If there is one redeeming thought on the final laps of the skiing, it was not being passed. Of course, that was because I was already in the back, fighting shadows more than anything else. I struggled through the final climbs and pain, cruising in the sunlight to cheering fans as I did the final run to the finish line, and to my awaiting wife. I finally looked at the race clock. 1:22:25! While that time should have made me really happy, I was more relieved at being done, and not finishing last. Thinking back on it though, I will say that in spite of finishing 24th of 25 males, I’m very proud of my race. Comparing my result to the age groupers, I would have actually finished 9th overall and 4th in my category (perhaps higher, as they had better conditions). So yeah, I done good!
Luckily, the fun didn’t end with crossing the finish line, as I first had a chance to pop into the Media / VIP area and snag a beer (AFTER enjoying a delicious post-race General Tao’s Chicken), and Deanna a glass of wine. While there, we mingled with some international racers, and volunteers. From there, we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed another beer and 30 minutes in an outdoor hot tub. From there, it was on to a post-race social in the race organizers suite, where many of the International athletes were hanging out. That’s where I got to know Dusan and some of the others much better.
But wait! That still wasn’t it for the night. Deanna and I headed out to meet some of the American Crew at a pub for a beer, then when they went back to the hotel, we popped into a micro-brewery for a beer, and THOUGHT we’d call it a night, but upon returning to the hotel, ran into Mike and some others heading to a club, which is how I found myself dancing the night away with a Slovakian, a Czech, a Finn, Mike, Deanna, and Simon Donato. It was an absolute blast!
Next morning, Deanna and I strolled aimlessly in old Quebec before finally making the drive back to home, reality, and the ‘non-elite’ life that I’m accustomed to. To close off, if you are thinking of trying out a winter triathlon next year, you should seriously consider this one. Well worth the price, and makes a great weekend getaway!
To close off, here is the video that I put together of the weekend:
Last weekend marked the season finale, series championship Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. I took part. I captured 3rd overall. I could stop there, but as you know me well, I won’t! You see, the season has been a bit up and down for me. There is no doubt I had a good season, and have raced hard and stayed at the front of the pack for most of the races, but the podium always seemed to be just out of reach for me, with the caliber of racers that were lining up with me at the start line. Read on to find out what went so right with this race.
As anyone who does a lot of racing, you will be painfully aware that a) anything can happen, b) never give up, and c) there will be good days and bad days. Luckily for me in this race, there was relatively good mojo on all fronts. There’s a specific line that I’ve used for this race: “The right people didn’t show up.”. While all season the best of the best showed up, in this race, there was only 1 person at the front with me that I had no chance of winning (the series’ champ for the year). Apart from him, it was essentially a mix of other great runners, but people I knew I had a good chance of beating if things went well for me. I was motivated, and decided to give it my all.
The weather was ideal for the race. It was sunny with a light wind, and about -10 degrees celsius. At the start line, I had a pile of nervous energy. A podium finish was what I was looking for, and all I would settle for. When Mike did the countdown, I was at the front and ready to rumble. I placed myself directly behind Gareth, knowing he would be in 1st. I did my best to stick close to his heels, but he was pulling away slowly within the first 800m or so. Luckily, glancing back, I could see that we had actually both pulled away from the next pack of runners. For some reason my HR was not registering correctly over the first 1.3k, so I was running a bit blind, and just hoping I wasn’t blowing up by running to hard in the opening.
This concern was amplified by the fact that this was, in my opinion, the hardest conditions we’ve ever had at the Ark for a race. Why? Well, there was essentially no track whatsoever to work with. The top was a relatively hard crust, but you punched through frequently, plunging into soft snow and needing to lift your feet up very high to move on. It was absolutely soul-crushing. I was sure that people would catch up and start passing, but I realized after a while that EVERYONE would be suffering on the first lap, particularly anyone heavier than me (which lets face it, is pretty much everyone!). Despite the mental obstacle this slog threw at me, I kept the pace up, and tried to keep pushing and catch up to Gareth. It was long shot, but forced me to stay ahead of the rest of the chase pack.
Every now and again, I’d look back to see if anyone was getting within striking distance of me, but the gap seemed to persist and was likely 30s or so. Buoyed by this, I kept at it, sitting firmly in 2nd place, but getting really warm with all the effort. When I finally got close to the sugar shack, I peeled off my ear warmers, neck tube and gloves. I also unzipped by top as far as it could go, trying to prevent from overheating and sweating too much.
After another kilometer or so, I was heading down the steep hill to the lap marker, getting ready to start my second lap. The first lap had taken just over 40 minutes, and I’d ultimately end up with a negative split by running lap 2 in 36 minutes. At this point, you’ll probably note that I said I was in 2nd, yet came in 3rd overall. The pass happened in lap 2.
In fact, the pass happened pretty much right at the start of lap 2. This fellow came seemingly from out of nowhere. I was initially confused. I had slowed to grab a thermos I stashed at the start to grab a quick drink before the 2nd half of the race, and as I was jogging and drinking, realized I had a shadow. I hastily ditched the bottle and got back up to race speed. But it was too late. I was passed, and was now on the chase! I don’t know who this guy was, but he must have packed an extra lung for lap 2, as he was soon pulling away, in spite of the fact that I was pushing max trying to catch and pass him. He had clearly held back on lap 1!
Things were ironically made worse for me by the fact that the tough track had turned tame trough (like that?). We now had a narrow, relatively packed trail to follow thanks to all the racers that had come behind us on lap 1. My quarrel therefore had smooth trails to hammer it, and he did. I was in slight awe, but kept up the pace, as now I was genuinely worried that I had somehow dropped pace and was on the verge of getting passed by others. My heartrate rarely dropped below 180bpm the whole way.
Getting near the finish, I just had the steep final climb followed by the big descent into the finish chute left. I knew Nathan was not terribly far behind, and based on the 2nd race, where James managed to pip me at the line, I was NOT going to slack off at the end. I turned the amp up to 11 and pushed to the very last second, narrowly avoiding a collapse at the finish from exhaustion. Luckily, that left me with the podium slot I’d hope for. Sadly, the colour was wrong, but it was podium nonetheless.
As to my phantom chaser who got 2nd? Well, turns out it was a guy from France visiting a friend in Ottawa for a week, who decided to come out and try this. I’m pretty certain he’s an ultra trail guy who spends his time training in the Chamonix in France. Uncertain of this race, he had taken the first lap relatively easy, staying with his friend, then eventually decided to break off and push on ahead. Curse my luck, right? My toque was off to him though, as it was a great performance! Gareth had beaten me by 8.5 minutes for 1st! 2nd place had crossed the line 2 minutes ahead of me, and 4th was about 45s behind. All in all, a great race, and I was really happy with my performance. Yes, the best of the best were not there, but it was still a hard fought race!
The post-race meal and awards social capped off another fun season of [mostly] snowshoe racing at the Ark. Of course, given the way Mike runs things, there was not even a mention of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place finishers, just awards to the series champs 🙂 So this really is a race for personal glory only, no public fame. We had our fill of pasta, cookies, brownies, chips, and tasty Broadhead Beer. After this, my next challenge will be racing the ITU Winter Triathlon in Quebec in the Elite Division. I fully expect to finish DFL in that one, as I’m racing against the best in the world and Olympians. You’ll get the whole story on that once I’ve completed it.