Holy cow is this post late!! Here I sit in the cold winds of January typing out a race report for a race that I took part in almost 3 months ago! You may be asking yourself why I’m so tardy with this season-closing post, especially given my pretty good result? Well, less than 1 week after the race, I was leaving for a 3 week expedition / vacation in Patagonia, and upon my return, I discovered I was going in for ankle surgery less than 1 week later. Since that time, my focus was on recovery and a host of other pre-occupations. Nonetheless, dear readers, I did NOT forget about you, nor did I forget about the race. With that rambling apologetic introduction, let’s get into it, and try not to go too deep into analyzing a race I don’t fully recall at this point :-).
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
My trail running race season had wrapped up. It was time to turn my focus to winter sports. So why then did I find myself on a Thursday night hitting ‘register’ for a 50k trail race in 2 days? Some might say I have an addiction of sorts. They would be correct. The bottom line was that my feet felt good, my legs felt good, and I was looking for that little bit of motivation to keep active going into winter. Plus, the race was taking place at the Ark, which has a soft spot in my heart. All told, I couldn’t really find a reason NOT to race on the weekend with friends in the beautiful fall colours. So begins my tale from the Mad Trapper Relentless 50k Trail Race. Read on, friends. Continue reading Spontaneous Trail Triumph
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!
Good day race fans! As the weather finally seems to be warming up, it’s time for a few things to happen. Firstly, time to put away the skis and snowshoes, and break out the trail shoes and bikes. Secondly, it’s time for the maple sap to run and make delicious syrup. In the spirit of these different things, it was time to take part in a race that celebrates both! Yup, this report is a brief recap of the inaugural Mad Trapper Pancake Prediction Run! The premise is pretty straightforward. At the Ark, there was an 8k out and back run on the dirt roads near the property. No watches, no GPS, no electronics. You guess how long it will take you, and the person that guesses closest, wins. That’s it, that’s all. After the race, you retire to the Ark for a full maple syrup pancake breakfast. Read on to see how I did.
As with all races at the Ark, you really never know who might win. Most times, it depends on who shows up, but this time, it would all be about who had the best internal timepiece I suppose. But I had a plan! Part of the plan involved not carrying a camera with me, so sadly, I only have a few pictures from the event, and they’re all from the post-race feast.
So what was my other magic plan? Well, for starters, with a 50k trail ultra in less than a month, I figured I really needed to try and squeeze in a long run, and figured the best way might be to just repeat the course a few times for good measure. Which led me to conclude that I could predict my time more accurately by pre-racing it right before the start. Seemed foolproof. Run at my long, steady distance pace (LSD), and time it on the first loop. Use that as my predicted time, then do a final cool-down loop to get me 24k total of running before eating. With that in mind, I showed up early and did just that. It was raining, and fairly windy, and with the hills and gravel, I figured I should have the best sense of timing of anyone coming in ‘cold’ and making a prediction.
My first loop was a pretty pedestrian 48 or so minutes, so I used that in my prediction and figured I would replicate the effort pretty closely a second time. Of course, regardless of what you think, having others around you mentally pushes you a little harder. To counteract that, I actually waited about 20 seconds at the start and let everyone go out first so that I wouldn’t get caught up in a group. This worked well, and I was running slow and steady. I could tell quite early that most people would be far faster than their predictions. The times had been quite high, but many of the people were ahead of me, and I was confident I wasn’t running SLOWER than my prediction. That being said, I just kept it steady, enjoying the day, and chatting with other racers as I went.
As I was still heading out, speedy Dave McMahon flew past on his return route. He had predicted 43 minutes. I believe he ultimately got 34 minutes or so. He definitely got caught up in the competitive mode. I felt I was more or less on pace, if not slightly quicker this time. On my first loop, I’d had Mike’s dog Fred with me, and I had spent some time trying to keep him off the road away from cars, so I guess that time added up.
As I climbed the final 300m to the Ark up the hill, Dave was there, circling, waiting for me. That’s when he told me how badly he beat his prediction, making me wonder if a) he was just trying to trick me into slowing down or b) if I was also too fast. However, it was too late to think about. I crossed the line, and Mike told me I’d run a 44:55. Dang. 3:55 off my prediction. The current ‘leader’ was only 15 seconds off, but I was sitting in 2nd. I headed back out for my final 8k cool down, and cheering on the remainder of the competitors on course. I’d been assured there would be lots of food left.
In the end, I ran 27k, as I had run 3 full loops, plus another few km before the race had gotten underway. As a result, I was ready to eat when I got back to the Ark. As I entered, there was a big line for the buffet, so I changed. Once back out, I saw that the food was basically gone (for now), so I just chilled out while waiting for the additional food to make it out. Little did I know it was Monique working away upstairs making this amazing spread of food. Orange juice, eggs, potatoes, pancakes, sausages, bacon, and beans! It was AWESOME! Of course, you could top it all off with as much maple syrup as you wanted from 1L bottles at each table, fresh from the sugar shack. I had a great time just sitting around, getting stuffed, and trading racing stories with other people for the next hour.
After the food, the final winners were announced, and I was nowhere in the mix, 1st, 2nd and 3rd actually finished within 13, 14, and 15s respectively of their predictions! Oh well, maybe next time. In the end, it was a pretty small crew of about 30 or so racers that made the trip, so it was a nice size for socializing. This event was just what I needed to start my transition into the summer race season. I felt so good that the next day, I followed up my 27k run with another 32k run at home :-). Volume is my friend at the moment, and will help make sure I can run injury-free in a few weeks at the 50k race in Bear Mountain, NY. Tell then, keep up the training everyone, and rest easy knowing we are finally into warmer temps!
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.