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Looking for Gold out on the Ski Trails

Never again… until next year. If any of you have ever done the Canadian Ski Marathon, you know that this is the unofficial slogan of the event. With 160km of challenging cross-country skiing over 2 days, this is one tough event. This is made even tougher for those of us brave (foolish?) enough to tackle the event as a Gold Coureur des Bois, which means we have to do the entire event wearing a heavy pack containing all we need for the weekend, since we would be sleeping overnight outdoors on a hay bale! For me, this was actually my 4th Gold Camp, and 6th year in a row that I’ve done the CSM. My run started in 2012, when I decided I wanted to try the ‘bronze’ category just one time. Well, surprise surprise, it is now 2017, and I’ve taken part in (and fully completed) every event since then! Read on for a bit more colour around this years’ event.

CSM 2017 - Gold Bar

Last year, the CSM was my only race / event of the entire winter. I had been suffering from pretty bad plantar fasciitis through the fall, and decided to minimize the stresses to my foot over winter by only having one big event. As such, I managed to put in some very solid dedicated training, and showed up fully prepped for this classic-only ski event. This year, I’ve decided to put more events on my calendar, and cover a range of sports, meaning I was training not only for Classic Skiing, but also skate skiing, snowshoe running, and other general strength training. This meant I had pretty high general fitness, but hadn’t overloaded on Classic training. Turns out, that worked just as well. Moral of that story? I’d say unless you are at the very pointy end of the competitive field, adding variety into your training program will give you a better overall fitness, and keep things interested. I plan to employ that going forward into this year. Even though all my races are focused on trail running, I’m planning to do a bit more cycling for variety.

Ok, back to the event. As you can appreciate, you never really know what you’ll get in February in this region. Will it be raining? Will it be snowing? Will it be windy? Super cold? That’s really the challenge of this event. The weather. The reality of the situation is that most times, the weather will change several times over the course of the event. This year was no different. Mornings started out quite cold, meaning we had to layer up appropriately. However, as the day wore on, temperatures rose enough to make it ‘comfortable’. These temperature changes can lead to some waxing challenges as well. I’ve gotten decent at waxing, which meant I had ‘ok’ wax the whole weekend, which I think is better than having ‘great’ wax part of the day, then crappy wax later. The other thing that adds a layer of complexity is when it snows. You can have really old snow base, but piling on a few centimeters of fresh powder can make a big difference.

Skiers Getting Ready

As with past years, the event started at Gold Dorm for me on Friday nights. As usual, pretty much a mad scramble to get my butt home from work, pack up the car, and get to the venue. Things were made a little more complicated by the fact that it was snowing quite heavily most of the way there. Things were ok for me, but Deanna had to drive all the way home after dropping me off. I probably got there around 8pm or so, giving me just enough time to sort through my gear, catch up with a few friends, and try to grab some sleep. The good news is that we’d all be able to walk to the start line. The bad news was that the start time was before 6am, which meant a 4am wake-up call!

After stuffing my face with breakfast, I bundled up and headed out. The snow accumulation was pretty decent, and the big flakes were still falling from the sky. I stomped over to the start area with my pack and skis, lining up with the rest of my CdB Gold friends, awaiting the starting signal. We got underway right on time, and as usual, everyone was jockeying for good positions from the start, knowing that inevitably, there would be a choke point on the trail. I made the mistake of starting a little too far back, which meant I was a victim of this choke point, and had to fight my way through a sizeable number of skiers before I finally found my stride and had some trail to myself. I’d say that for most of the first leg, I was in this kind of position. My wax was working well enough, but the tracks were pretty snow-filled. I suppose that was one fringe benefit of being further back. I didn’t have to break trail!

Day1 Track Image

Skiing the first leg is always somewhat unique, in that we are all skiing in the darkness and are all at peak readiness level. I’d like to say that the event gets easier, but that is not the case. What I can say is that it definitely becomes a better understood challenge. I’m starting to really know the trails, where the tough parts are, and what level of effort to put in at any point in time to ensure successful completion. I generally end up with a 1-2 hour cushion of time prior to the cutoff on each day. This is calculated on my part. I don’t really have any need to ‘race’ this event. All you do is get too tired, and end up sitting around Gold Camp with very little to do other than choke on campfire smoke and fight off the chill J.

This year didn’t seem to present us with any ‘really’ difficult challenges, but rather a series of smaller challenges that when put together apparently lead to a pretty high number of DNFs. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what that is, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I think it boils down to the notion that people who have done this event enough times, and/or are just very stubborn about endurance events, will always find a way to get through. After all, it is usually the mental aspects, not physical, that cause DNFs. The event really lets you learn about yourself. I can guarantee that every year I hit 1 or 2 patches where I swear I’m never going to do it again, and fail to understand why I’m there. But by the very same token, there are a number of places where you just pull your head up, look around at the beauty and the sheer awesomeness of undertaking something like this, and you smile to yourself. You hold on to those thoughts, and let the other ones go. That’s the key.

Frozen Beard at Checkpoint

While the first day was relatively cold, I kept moving, stuck to short breaks in the aid stations, and pushed on until things warmed up in the afternoon. I’d say the only real annoying part of the trail this year was based on mother nature. Given that the CSM is only really a groomed trail for a few days, there are major challenges to preparing the track. This year, we had a few sessions of heavy freezing rain earlier in the season. When the CSM people tried to prepare the track, the groomer was unable to fully chop up the ice to give a smooth track. Instead, it pulled up a lot of coarse ice. In some sections, it literally looked like I was skiing on an endless trail of ice cubes embedded in the snow. Bye bye grip wax! Within 5k of any aid station, much of the wax would be scraped off. To add to the challenge posed, some of the hills were VERY treacherous, especially if you were unlucky enough to ski down them AFTER a large number of the ‘Tourers’ had gone through (these folks pick and choose sections to ski).

In the end, I made it to gold camp safe and sound with at least a couple hours of light left. This gave me ample time to change into warm clothes (yay for new ‘puffy pants’), start trying to dry gear, get food into me, and set up my little mouse bed of hay. Once again, I linked up with my AR buddies from NY, several of whom had beat me to the camp. As usual, stories were swapped, jokes were cracked, and food and booze was passed around. And once again, like last year, we were actually provided with beer at gold camp! Bonus!

Around Gold Camp

Unfortunately, there was a bit of an ominous cloud hanging over the entire camp. News had been spreading of a fellow that collapsed and passed away on the trail. I had missed this, as he was a bit further behind me. However, one of my camp mates was actually the first on the scene, and essentially stayed with this fellow for over an hour (with 5 other), provide CPR the entire time until the paramedics finally made it to them. When he arrived to our camp, we could clearly tell there was some trauma there. I can’t even imagine going through it. He’d even left most of his dry clothes there, as he’d covered the person in an attempt to keep them warm. It was a very sobering couple hours as we all coped with this news and the ramifications. The next morning, there was a minute of silence to commemorate the skier before we took off, but the event continued, as it should, in my opinion.

Overnight, we were fortunate enough NOT to be snowed on. There is nothing worse than needing to dig your way out of your sleeping bag in the morning! Temperatures were low, but not super cold either. As with other years, getting up on day 2 proved to be one of the biggest challenges. The mere act of stripping down, re-dressing, and needing to prepare food and pack everything back into our backpacks is a drain. On the plus side, you really don’t have much of an option, and the day can only get better, right? I can’t even imagine how challenging it must be for people like Ray Zahab to pull off a self-supported Arctic Expedition in the dead of winter!

Day2 Track Image

Back on the trails at 5:30am the next morning, sliding away into the darkness as they prepared to ‘burn down the camp’. I once again let myself start at about ¾ of the way back in the pack. Definitely wasn’t in a rush (yet). I wanted to see how the skis felt and what kind of energy I had. Happily, I seem to have most aspects of this event dialed in now, down to the amount of food I bring for both the trail and camp, so I didn’t feel too drained. I suppose one other point worth mentioning is that I was once again filming the event, which always adds a little extra complexity for me. Filming in winter is a challenge in the best of conditions, but trying to keep gear dry, warm, and functional while taking part in something like this is a whole other challenge. Batteries need to be considered, clothing choices like gloves to operate gear. Mounts, where to stash the camera, etc. Bottom line is that while I can pull it off, there’s a lot more to those 2 minutes of footage you might see than you might imagine!

For the most part, I simply went with the snow, and enjoyed my day skiing a long way with several hundred other like-minded folks. Early in the day, the trails were pretty good, with just low temperatures to contend with. As the day wore on and the legs got heavier, the snow once again decided to attack us. The snow got progressively heavier as the day wore on, which made things VERY beautiful to see, but did get tiring as your face was constantly bombarded by little cold bits of precipitation. Oh yeah, and the wind also decided to pick up! By the time I found myself on the last leg of the day (which is always a great relief), I was ready to be done. This year, the changed the route slightly again, allowing us to basically ski right to the finish line behind the Lachute School. Unfortunately, this meant quite a bit of skiing on essentially city roads. We were lucky to have snow falling, as I suspect without that, the skis would have been completely destroyed (as opposed to only mostly destroyed, which is what you get at CSM!).

Snow Starts Falling

The finish line, which was meant to be a festive atmosphere, looked more like the frozen planet of Hoth, and I felt like Luke Skywalker just trying to find my way back to base. The snow was blowing hard, and there were no cheering crowds. Just a few hearty individuals, and the announcers huddled in an enclosed tent calling out names of finishers and playing tunes. As soon as I crossed the line, I took off the skis and headed inside to find heat, and a warm(ish) shower. Too bad my feet had gotten destroyed out there. They were quite raw from being wet and rubbing in my boots. When the water hit my body, I was jolted into full awakeness once again, as they pain went through my body. But the pain just served to remind me that I had done it once again, and collected my gold bar. Another year in the books.

As per usual, I had little time to celebrate or reflect, as the next weekend, I was slated to do 2 back to back ski races again. I hung around the school for a bit while I waited for Deanna to make her way to me again. Not an easy feat, as the snowstorm was wreaking havoc in the area. The entire highway had been shut down, so she had to take less-maintained side roads to reach me. Getting home was quite an ordeal, and I managed to stay awake long enough to first hit McDonalds, then get home and crash. After all, I had to work the next morning early!

I’d say that about wraps things up for this year’s story. I’m surprised my post ran this long, given that for the most part, it just feels like Groundhog’s Day to me. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my next race stories, which will chronicle my next week’s races. If you have a few minutes, why not check out my resulting video, posted below. At least you’ll get some of the visuals from the weekend! Till next time, stay active!

Triple Shot of Technical Trails

Greetings once again friends. Well, fresh on the heels of my last race, I had a brief 2-week reprieve before my next big adventure. And this one? A race I’ve been waiting to try out for a few years now known as XC de la Vallée. Located north of Quebec City in a little area known as St Raymond, I’d heard the stories of how this is one of the toughest trail races in Eastern Canada. Of course I had to check it out. There are numerous race options, but you just know I had to choose the toughest option, a 3-day staged version of the event, featuring a 10k night stage on Friday, a 38k stage on Saturday, and wrapping things up with a 21k stage on Sunday. Yes, the distances sound a bit ‘short’ for the type of running I’ve been doing this year, and YES, that did in fact come into play in my performance. More details as you read on….

XC De La Vallee 2016

As you read in my last post, one of my challenges in my last 3-day race was day 2. Well, as luck would have it, there was a repeat of that theme in this event, and its again completely my fault and some poor race planning on my part. You see, given the shorter distances, and the fact that I didn’t have to carry a heavy pack with me, I took this race as being a little easier on me. My original plan had been to treat this whole race as a training weekend, and go easy, just making sure that I was in good shape at the end of it in order to be prepared for the big kahuna, my 125k race 3 weeks later. However, for whatever reason, I chucked that plan out the window shortly after arriving onsite.

The problem with XC de la Vallee (and it isn’t really a problem), is the atmosphere of the event. You see, people like me who chose to race all 3 days in the Trans Vallee event as its called, were, for the most part, camping onsite en masse. The result is a giant collective of some of the best trail runners in eastern Canada (and in particular Quebec). You can practically feel the energy in the atmosphere as you pull into the rustic camping area (don’t expect showers, proper bathrooms or electricity here…). All around you are nervously excited race horses swapping war stories from past conquests and getting ready to do battle in this event.

In addition to a lot of strangers around me, there was also a pretty good contingent of the top trail runners that I train with in Gatineau Park. Of course, all of this was too much for me to simply hang back and treat this as a ‘training weekend’. Curse my inability to just take it easy.

Night Pic2

Stage 1: The 10k Night Course

As mentioned, stage one was a measly 10km to be run at night. 3 loops of a pretty technical little course in the woods. 10k. That’s nothing, right? So what did I do? Well, I went out guns blazing. To be clear, I was nowhere near the front pack, but I was most definitely pushing harder than I should. I was treating this stage as if it was a standalone race, like a Mad Trapper snowshoe race. Meaning, I let my heart rate ratchet up to around 164, and held it there the whole 10k. It wasn’t until somewhere around the middle of my 3rd and final lap that it occurred to me this might not be a good idea. I have ONLY been training for endurance running, not sprinting! Sure, I could pull it off, but at what price? Well, I’d find out the next day!

I slowed my pace down just a touch in the last lap to cross the finish line in just over an hour. Happy enough with my time, even though it was nothing spectacular compared to others. However, a LOT of people were ONLY there for the 10k night course, OR were racing 10k on Saturday instead of the 38k (which is known as the Trans Express). So of course I wasn’t going to place highly. After finishing, I enjoyed a very tasty Quinoa salad with cheese, bread, fruit,cookies and drinks. Not a bad spread to enjoy! From there, it was off to the tent to get a decent night’s sleep before the morning.

XC - Stage2 Tough Terrain

Stage 2: 38k of Technical Trails

The next morning came far too soon, and I shook myself awake, put on a fresh race shirt for this day while getting my food and drinks ready. Ahead of us was shuttle bus ride to the start area, then 38km of what was billed as the toughest trail race in Quebec. How tough could it be? After all, I really like technical terrain. I was feeling decent, and excited to test myself on this stage. I was all smiles, filming clips here and there and joking with my co-competitors. Before the shuttle was a great breakfast spread put on for racers once again. I was happily stuffed before jogging the 1km to the awaiting shuttles.

Racers assembled on a dirt road for a Le Mans style start. We were given a kilometer or so to try and sort ourselves before launching into the actual trails for the day. I will tell you right now that the first kilometer was pretty much the ONLY break we had in the entire day. There was gravel road again at the very end of the day for about a kilometer, and MAYBE another short stretch in the middle of the 38k stage, but that was it. Apart from those, it was single track. And I’m not talking a hard-packed trail like the #1 in the park or anything like that. Nope, Imagine somthing more like the #65 or #66 snowshoe trails in the summer. Not really meant for running, but you can do it if you really want to!

The theme of the day was relentless roots and rocks over 38k, mixed in with some pretty fun little climbs and descents to keep us on (or off?) our toes. Now as I mentioned, I should have cherished this terrain, but instead, I ended up cursing it. Remember that 10k ‘sprint’ the night before? It caused a curious thing to happen to my legs. They became cement after the first 8k or so of this leg. They felt super heavy and did not want to turn over at the pace I thought they should. It was like I was stuck in low gear all day. Then my plantar fasciitis started acting up as well, making the footfalls themselves hurt as well.

Mentally, I had not prepared myself to suffer the way I was out there this day. When you enter a 50 miler or more, you KNOW you will hurt and need to dig deep. But a 38k run? To me that should at worst have felt like a tough training day, not a complete slog. But that’s how I felt. By the 15k mark I was already in survival mode. I’d resorted to taking extra salt pills and advil to manage my discomfort. I tried to find beauty in the trail, and it worked for a bit, but I couldn’t help but groan internally each time I realized how much I still had to cover in the day.

I remember coming out at one of the last aid stations of the day. I knew I still had a giant climb to go, so I filled up my bladder and had a quick bite. I didn’t waste too much time there, but I remember for a brief moment wondering how quickly they could drive me from this station back to the finish if I bailed. There is NEVER room to think that way in a race, so instead, I thanked the volunteers and limped off into the woods for the next big climb. The last thing I saw was a medic helping someone who was cramping badly and needed stretching help. Moral here? Someone is ALWAYS suffering even worse than you (well, except for the person who is in the worst shape I suppose, but don’t worry, that won’t ever be you, right?)

With the dark cloud following me (although I should note it was actually a gorgeous day, if not a bit too hot), I steamed along. I ran along with a couple other people for a bit, chatting pleasantly enough. I tried to find that extra gear and eventually made a few passes and picked up my pace on the downhills, but the damage was already done. I remember eventually coming out to trails that I recognized from the night before, signifying the final steep descent before the gravel 1k. What a relief.

Cooling Off After 38k

I stumbled my way to the finish chute in what I consider an abysmal time of 7 hours!! Yeah, it was that bad. Deanna had been expecting me for at least 2-2.5 hours. As I approached the finish, she jogged beside and asked if I wanted her to stay with me. I asked her to just meet me after the finish at the beach. I needed a ‘me’ moment after crossing the line. Un-characteristically, I crossed with my head hung low and no arms raised in the air. It was a depressing finish. I dropped my pack and headed for the nearby cool river to sit in the water and pout and think about why I do these things, and if it was worth it, and what I should do next.

I would have been forgiven for ending my weekend there in that river. Taking off my bib and calling it quits. After all, I was in real pain, and had taken too much out of myself to reach the finish that day.  But as I sat there in the water, I knew what I had to do. For me. And that was brush myself off and finish the 3rd day on my terms. Mentally I needed a ‘win’ before heading to the UTHC 125k race. How would I feel knowing that I had abandoned my last race, and not been able to find the mental fortitude to finish in the face of adversity.

I shared my plan with an understandably concerned Deanna. She thought I should maybe re-consider, as did other people who had seen me on course. But I hold council first and foremost to myself. I know what I can do, and I knew I could overcome. To give myself the best shot, I had a huge meal for supper, did some massaging with my Compex unit, and went to bed early. Unicorns and rainbows and all that, right?

XC - Stage3 Start

Stage 3: 21km of more Technical Trails

Okay. Rise and shine. Let’s do this [again]! It took about 15 minutes of wandering around before I could convince my feet that they could walk without limping. I got dressed once again, did my morning rituals, and headed to breakfast, and then directly to the shuttle buses (walking back to the campsite first would have hurt too much). On the shuttle bus I hatched a brilliant plot. Don’t race. Just participate and enjoy. Listen to your body, and adjust plan accordingly. Deal? Deal.

And that is how I found myself at the VERY BACK of the start of the 21k race. I let the starting gun go off, and let everyone shuffle off. I know how frustrating it can be to be stuck at the very back of a technical trail race, but told myself it was the best idea. Don’t worry about it, and let things go. In that way, I was able to really hold back on my pace. I ran with a TON of really happy people They didn’t care about the pace either. They were there for the trail. For the experience. For the joy of it all. Refreshing, right?

I stayed with my happy-go-lucky racers for a long time. Into the technical trails, up the waterfall route along rocks and boulders, into the trees, and eventually high up into the hills that emerged at beautiful views. These are the people that are content to stop, pull out their phones, and snap a picture. You gotta wonder, who is really having a better time at these things? The competitive front runners, or these Instagram Athletes? I guess it really depends what you’re after. There really is no right or wrong way to race.

So I found myself at the 10k mark and feeling pretty decent. In fact, I decided it was time to open up the throttle a bit and make tracks. I knew for a fact there’d be quite a few racers ahead that probably went out too hard as well, and aren’t used to these types of races. After all, the 21k was the most popular event, and with good reason. The trail was easier than stage 2, and much more scenic overall. Definitely my favourite of the 3 days!

But I digress. Throttle open. Running with a renewed energy and purpose. I soon found myself passing people left right and centre. It’s not that I was purposely trying to get faster, it’s just that  I was feeling ok, and wanted to finish strong mentally. This was precisely the reason why I decided the night before that I had to run my own race on Stage 3. I raced much ‘wiser’ this time. By starting slow and staying slow, I had gas in the tank when it mattered. This was a good approach to test out before the 125k race, as I’d want to utilize the same approach!

Cheesy Grin
I ran lightly and with a spring in my step for the remaining 10k. Even on the uphills I was able to power up and pass people while encouraging them. It felt amazing. Ultimately, we finished yet again on the final rolling terrain from the first day, finishing with a steep descent back to the gravel road for the final kilometer. I picked up my cadence and had a much different finish line experience than the day before.  A smile on my face, and arms in the air. I’d done it! I’d overcome my own little demons from a bad day in Stage 2. This was no podium victory, but a mental victory for me, and that was just fine.

In the standings, my day 3 result was only 94th, but turns out there was a field of over 200 in this stage that were racing, so I’d passed over a hundred people by the end, given where I seeded myself at the start! Not too shabby. In terms of the overall 3 day racers, my results broke down a little like this:

XC - Final Ranking

As you see, my highest standing was on Stage 1, where I was 35th. This dropped way down to 66th on the ‘long’  day where I should have done quite well. Then, on the 3rd day, in spite of my very back start, I managed to finish in pretty much the same spot. All told, I wrapped up in 44th overall, and 15th in my category. A bit worse than middle of the pack. Definitely not the worst finish in history, but definitely reflective of a poorly executed race strategy.

So, that wraps up another exciting race re-cap. As with all my races this year, I lugged a camera with me and filmed the whole thing, so if you haven’t done so yet, feast your eyes on my video review for Get Out There Magazine.

 

Summer Camp for Adults

Welcome back to another VERY exciting chapter in the adventures of ActiveSteve! This post finds us high in the alpine meadows of the Colorado Rockies trying desperately to get enough oxygen to finish the last few stages of a 6-day staged trail running race. Yes indeed folks, welcome to the TransRockies Run. I had my choice of 3 days or 6 days of trail running nirvana in the mountains. So of course, you know exactly which one I chose, right? Yup, you guessed it, the 6 day version! In a nutshell, this was every bit as amazing as you might have imagined, IN SPITE of getting a nasty viral bug halfway through that is still lingering as I type this (the day before Ironman Muskoka!). Read on for all the tasty tales!

The story all starts ealy in 2015, on a visit to my friendly neighbourhood podiatrist (and skiing / trail running friend extraordinaire). Since I was turning 40 this year, I had decided to tackle some big fun races, and not turn down any exciting opportunities that presented themselves to me. Well. on this visit, Annie asked innocently “Have you ever heard of TransRockies?”, to which I answered “Yes”. Next question, “Do you think you might be interested in doing it this year?”. With barely a pause to contemplate this, I again said “Yes.” And there it was, I committed to 6 days to trail running in the mountains without so much as looking up the actual event! A few weeks later I’d already booked my plane tickets for the journey, just to show that I was fully committed!

Slideshow of Entire Week

Setting Up for Start

Fast forward to August, and I was Denver-bound on an airplane. I had barely run in the past 3 weeks on account of issues with my plantar fascia, but was no less excited. For the next week, Annie and I would be part of a roving tent city community, moving from start line to start line, and running anywhere from 26km to 40km each day in the high mountains. The whole thing was very much like a summer camp. At the airport we made our first tentative steps towards getting to know a few of the 400+ racers that would be toeing the line each day. From the airport, we’d be shuttled to our accoms in Buena Vista. We had 2 days more or less on our own before the race got fully underway. In that time we had a few training runs for fun, and visited the town a bit to get a sense of our surroundings.

There are SO MANY different stories and sub-plots that I could share with you all. Almost everyone there had their own story, and there were different life journeys unfolding daily before our eyes. For one, it turns out I *almost* got to race head to head with Lance Armstrong! Yup, he was supposed to be the team-mate for one Jenn Shelton. And yes, this is the one and same person known by many as the girl in the book “Born to Run” that was the party girl, and that got separated from the group and lost for a while… for the record, she is just as crazy as you might imagine, and there are several smaller stories about her that week that I won’t write out, but were quite hilarious. In other news, I managed to finish before her and her partner on 2 of the 6 days 🙂

Then there is the fact that one of the hottest current ultra-runners was there as well. Rob Krar. And his beard. Mind you his beard wasn’t the only one at the start line. It was funny as a number of the other bearded runners laughed and shared that they were often mistaken for Rob as a result of the big beards. Unfortuantely, no one seemed to confuse me with such a running legend, in spite of the fact that I was sporting a full growth ;-). In addition to Rob, there were a number of ‘elite’ racers as part of this event. Although they may have been a bit more ‘cliquey’ than the rest of us, they were all, by and large, just part of the group. I doubt the same would have been the case if Mr. Armstrong had been part of our camp! But I digress… onto the racing.

Day 0 was all about registration and race briefings. We learned more about how the race would unfold, and got introduced to the crew that we’d be seeing and taking care of us all week. One was a dude by the handle ‘Houda’. He truly is the pulse of the event. Every night during evening ceremonies, he’d bust out his one mad comedy act, reading various texts he’d gotten during the day, handing out ‘mountain heros of the day’ awards, and generally shaming and making fun of others, while simultaneously taking the blame for anything that went wrong over the course of the day.

I’ve been to a lot of events over the years, and I feel his take was the most refreshing and welcoming. No matter how big or small the problems, he’d openly tell us about them (even if we hadn’t noticed), say he was sorry, and they’d try to do better. Kinda like you wish they’d tell you what is going on when flights are delayed, or why your bags didn’t make it, etc. etc. Taking ownership and informing racers. Brilliant! I’d come back just for the fact that this race made itself accountable for all the good and bad. But really, it was all good! Behind the scenes everyone was busting their butts to see to that!

Crazy Rain in Buena Vista

Race briefing was cut short on account of winds that were picking up signalling the impending storm closing in on us. Rocky mountain weather? Unpredictable and quickly changing, which served as a good warning for possible problems in the days ahead on the high passes. Within 15 minutes of dispersing, we had an insane storm hit the little town. Main street as flooded and it looked like all hell was breaking loose. Luckily, I was indoor, with a beer, waiting on a tasty meal! By the time we’d eaten, the rain was gone, the water had drained, and we headed back to our sweet B&B for one final sleep in a bed before the race.

Grateful

Day 1 was a good intro to the racing. We had about 34km of running to do, on a range of roads and trails. It was indicative of a lot of the days of racing ahead. About 20-25% singletrack, with the balance being a mix of ATV-type trails, forest service access roads, and gravel backroads. Regardless of the terrain, for the most part, views were great. Mountains around us (or rather foothills maybe?), valley’s below, and plenty of pristine rocky mountain air. We were starting over 8,000′, and would be playing at this altitude and higher all week.

This was a ‘rolling’ day with no giant climbs, but a good amount of elevation. I opted to take it easy and see how the body would adapt to the race. I capped off the day in about 20th place, and felt decent enough that I’d try pushing harder in the next days. Annie had stormed off and managed to grab 3rd place in the open women’s category right away. This was a trend she’d repeat pretty much every day (except for that one day that she nailed 2nd!). That lady was truly amazing every single day out there. You could tell she was in her element and having the time of her life. Rumour has it, she didn’t even miss her bike that week! But don’t tell her bike that!

Start of Stage 1

At the finish of that day was a great cold river that we could rest our legs in while eating the plentiful snacks at the finish. There were no big standouts that day for me in terms of the trail. Just a great day of running overall. From there we hopped shuttles to our first ‘tent city’ experience. Wall to wall tents (around 400 of them) for the racers, and a whole host of other camp-like amenities.

To name them: massage tent with 12 professional therapists (for a price…). There was also an open area with all manner of foam rollers and therapy products free to use. Giant mess tent to hold the hundreds of racers and volunteers, keeping us dry as we ate our delicious catered food each night. Mobile shower truck ensuring ample hot water showers every day at the end of each stage. Of course the obligatory rows of porta-johns to do our ‘business’.

Finally, the relaxation station, later re-named “Blisters and Brews”. This was our daily oasis. It featured lots of plastic Muskoka chairs, sofa, tons of drinks (protein drinks, gatorade, water, and unlimited Michelob Ultra!) and snacks (think skittles, m&ms, doritos, toast and toppings, nuts, pretzels, rice cakes, licorice, etc!). There was also a giant bank of outlets so that everyone could recharge devices daily. Honestly, after 9 years, it was clear they’d pretty much thought of everything we’d need to stay happy and having fun all week. There was always musis playing, stories being told, and SOMETHING going on somewhere around us!

Each day we also had the daily awards during the afternoon to recognize the winners of the day for that stage. Medals and recognition all around. Later in the evening, after we’d eaten our chow, we had more awards, this time for the GC in each category. The GC winners for each category were given jerseys to wear for the next day. Pretty much like a Tour de France kinda thing. No kings of the mountain though. Just the leaders :-). Also each night was a de-brief of the day, a full briefing of the next day, and a quick slide show of the day. I also liked that for every ‘event’ of the day, there was a theme song, starting with ‘Highway to Hell’ each morning before the start, then certain award music each afternoon and night. It became very Pavlovian. You heard the song, and knew what was about to happen. Routine is important in camp, right?

Okay, Day 2… this would be the first big test, as it was a true ‘Mountain’ stage. The profile was straight up and straight back down. I was hoping this was a day for me. It started with a bouncy bus ride to the start, helping loosen the knots in our stomachs from the nerves. Weather was great, and I knew this was a day to fly. Opening part of stage was 3km of gravel before hitting the climb that was narrow singletrack. I knew that to get a  good finish I’d have to hit that singletrack before crowds.

At the gun, I took off at a good pace, staying close to the front packs. I had trekking poles with me, intending to use them on the 11km of climbing ahead. They came in VERY handy in my opinion. When we turned to up, it really went up. There was no climbing, only speed walking / hiking. While I had passed Annie at the start, she came past me on that climb, finding her mountain legs. We stuck together for a bit before I told her to hit it and keep going. I loved this climb. Looking behind, we could gradually see the valley and mountains behind as we climbed up out of the tree line. This as the climb to Hope Pass. At 12,600′, it was the highest point in the race and afforded some of the best views too. I was truly on a high at the top. Mind you, the air was thin, so I didn’t stop too long to film or take pictures. That’s when the fun started.

The descent was sweet singletrack, and I FLEW like a man possessed. I passed a bucketload of people again on the way down, feeling really good. The lower we went, the more oxygen I had, making me even more energized. When we finally hit the bottom of the mountain, we were faced with about 4-5k of rolling trails again. A bit agonizing, and nervewracking for me. I kept worrying people I’d passed would catch up and pass. Sure enough, they caught up, but I decided I wanted to keep my standing so I dug deep and stayed ahead, using the little climbs and descents to keep a tiny gap. I finally crossed the finish to learn I hit 9th on that day! I was ecstatic (and secretly worried I’d burned up too much!).

View to Twin Lakes

This days’ finish took us to the town of Leadville, that I had a good recollection of from 2012 when I did the Leadville 100 mile MTB race. We strolled the streets and enjoyed the sunshine in the two mile high city. I was pooped, and my plantar issues were causing me to limp a bit, but it was a grand day. Tonight’s meal was in a banquet hall in town, interrupted midway through by fire alarms, forcing an evacuation. Too funny. Later that evening, I felt the unfortunate telltale tickle and pain in the back of my throat telling me I was getting sick. I hoped for the best and crashed as early as I could.

Turns out it is REALLY hard to sleep in a tent at high altitude when you are racing every day, and surrounded by hundreds of other campers separated only by thing wisps of nylon! I don’t think I slept more than an hour at a time any night, and usually only a few hours per night at best! Good thing I thrive on sleep deprivation, right?

Next morning came, and sure enough, I could feel the cold growing within me. Bad timing. This was the longest stage of the entire race, and one of the tougher ones with all the ups and downs. I don’t think I even want to revisit it too much. I suffered. I had some good moments, but also some pretty low ones. I even took a stumple tha day, bruising up my thing and putting a little hole in my hand. Nothing major, but indicative of my state. Luckily, the people racing with you at any point in time are always amazing. Everyone is there for the fun of it. We are all passionate about this sort of thing, so whenever I had the opportunity, I’d latch on to other racers, and chat with them to pass the time and help me forget the pain.

Best evidence of this on the last part of the stage, where we came out at Camp Hale, and faced a mentally gruelling 5km+ run in the sun on a gravel road to the finish. I was cooked, and needed help. So, I latched onto a guy, told him we’d run it together, and proceeded to pick our pace up to a painful speed. I kept my eyes fixed on the gravel at my feet, not daring to look out at the distance we had to cover. However, just having him at my side struggling with me made it better. We crossed the line together, hand in hand, arms raised high. Don’t remember my place on the day offhand, but think it was 17th or 19th.

The highlight of Day 3 though? The camp! We were spending this night and the next here, at a place called Nova Guides. You’ve no doubt seen the picture already. Tents in the valley surrounded by mountains and a little lake? Yup. Pretty much paradise. Didn’t hurt that there was a fellow giving out free Margaritas that day to any who wanted them. Against better judgement, I had a big one with LOTS of tequila, hoping to drown my cold. As this was the end of the road for 3-day racers, there was some celebrating going on, and time to bid adieu to some friends. Others actually stayed on as volunteers for the rest of the week, which was cool.

Oh, and one other thing that day. Impromptu BEER MILE!! I was smart enough not to partake, but it was a hilarious site watching people tackle this AFTER 40km of hard racing in the mountains. Perhaps insanity is what drove one gent to finish it off buck naked, save for the cowboy hat he was holding over his junk! Yup. Summer camp indeed!

Video Review of Days 1-3

Although I now felt like total shit, the taco night made up for it somewhat. I loaded up on delicious tacos and looked forward to Day 4, another of the hard mountain stages featuring a straight up straight down profile again. For this one, we weren’t reaching up quite as high, but holy crap! The incline on this one was INSANE. We were literally hunched over into the mountain making our way up. Very much character building. Once agan, I’d opted for my poles. I knew I’d be suffering, and needed everything I could get to help me. Another funny thing happened though. Once we got to the top, crested, and started descending, my magic flying legs were back on my body.

Even though I couldn’t breathe much, it turns out you don’t NEED to breathe to fly recklessly down a mountain on a treacherous technical trail. You just need BALLS! And I had big brass ones that day. Once again, I FLEW past a ton of people, including some of the ‘pros’ this time around. Each step felt lighter than the last. As I passed other fast runners, I was actually getting compliments, and people saying they wished they could descend like me. I’ll admit it, it was flattering. And amazingly, not once in the week did I roll my ankle!

At the bottom of this big mountain, we then turned onto a creek that ran for about 2km. Once again, I was strong here, leaping from rock to rock very fast and passing more people. By the time we exited the creek, I was so hopped up on adrenalin that the cold was far back in my mind. We hit [another] gravel road to take us to the finish. About 4k of mostly downhill running. I pushed hard again here, hoping to stave off competitors. Only 1 person passed me here. At the finish, I felt awesome, for one brief moment, before the sickness hit me hard again. However, at the line, I was told I was 8th on the day! I secretly celebrated as my legs turned to cement beneath me and my lungs filled with my illness. I had a feeling it would be my last ‘good’ day.

Racers Stretched Out

Day 5. Only 2 days left. Both of them were longish stages (nearing 40km) and featured the most elevation gain / loss of any stage, with over 5,000′ each day. When I awoke on the 5th day, I can not even describe to you how terrible I felt. I put on as brave a face as I could , forcing myself to eat and drink properly before the start. I hated thinking I might bring anyone down, but I was miserable in the mess tent. I kept hacking up my lungs, and needing to blow my nose over and over again.

Lack of oxygen would NOT be my friend today, as I could barely get a lungful of air when sitting still. Regardless, there IS no quitting, so I toed the line once again, feeling a bit down, and decided to just let it ride. I started out at slowish pace, and tried picking it up over the day. Unfortuantely, this day in my mind is the absolute killer. We climbed up over 10,500′, and basically stayed there for a long stretch, running along ridges. At that altitude, I was literally wheezing trying to breathe and run. I was seeing a lot of new people that I hadn’t encountered, since I had dropped back quite a bit.

Ironically, some faces were familiar, as others were feeling the effects of 4 hard days racing. At about the halfway point, I hit rock bottom. I wanted to curse and quit and yell about how unfair this was. Then I remembered I loved this. I wanted this. And no matter how miserable I was, I was going to get it done. There is no winning or losing. Only doing the best you can with what you have. The heat of the day and the altitude were definitely conspiring against me, but they wouldn’t win. I walked a LOT more than I’d care to admit, but eventually, like most days, we crested the final mountain and starting heading downhill.

Once again, I mustered my energy for a good run. Unfortunately, this downhill was on the slopes of Vail, a ski resort. And it was on an access road. So 8km of gravel exposed road in the sun. Ugh. Did my best to NOT hate this road, but failed. I also ran out of water. At first, I lucked out by getting a swig of water from a little girl mountain biking with her family. Honestly, she looked like she was super excited to be giving up her water to a racer. It was a neat moment. However, later, I made the choice to fill my water at a creek.

With my cold (and apparently acute bronchitis), I was super dry in the mouth from breathing only through my mouth. I knew Giardia was a risk, but one I had to take. With only 1 day racing left, the effects likely wouldn’t hit till AFTER the race. Plus, I already felt like crap, what’s a little Giardia on top of that, right? FINALLY crossed the finish and took a long time to regroup from that day. Later on, I learned that on the day, I’d dropped off to 30th 🙁

Ski Nirvana

The good news was that with only 1 day to go, I KNEW I’d finish. It would have to be extremely dire for it to end any other way. It took me a VERY long time to walk to our camp (it was supposedly a 10 minute walk, I think it took me 30 minutes!). I had no energy at all. Again, I forced myself to shower, eat drink, and empty as much mucus as I could throughout the afternoon / evening, but I was losing the battle.

People could see just how crappy I was at the supper that night. One fellow racer was kind enough to fish out some Nyquil and Dayquil for me, which I accepted. Popped the pill and tried getting sleep. Probably the best of the week, with what I think might have been a 3 hour stretch of sleep at one point. Then, we were there. The final day! I fought many demons to crawl out of my sleeping bag at 5am once again. Stuffed all my stuff into the duffle bag one final time, and stumbled to the mess tent.

Try as I might, even eating wasn’t working well this morning. Managed to choke down some oatmeal and drink a few glasses of juice, but that was it. I opted to have trekking poles with me today, and even carried my iPod and kept one earbud in all day blasting heavy tunes to keep me going. In the start chute, you could feel the excitement, the exhaustion, and the camraderie. Lots of cellphone videos being shot. Highway to Hell blasted us off one final time and then we were out there one final time, alone with our thoughts. My thoughts were simple. Left, right, left, right, drink. Eat. I was a single-cell being for a while. Looking around, I realized I was with the DFL crowd. Nothing wrong with that at all, but realized that was how slow I was. I was literally walking. At the start. Of a 38km stage!

This could be a long day. First while was on a paved road. We then passed over a highway, and eventually started climbing up a mountain. Given my location in the mix, it was slow going.  What I eventually realized was that it was actually TOO slow, even in my current state. With my poles and my music, I slowly started trying to pass other hikers on the trail. Mind you, it was still walking / hiking, but I was able to go a bit quicker than others.

Over the next 6k of climbing, I leapfrogged a good number of people. I also passed the time by picking flowers along the path. It was my reminder not to care about where I was in the RACE, but to care about where I was specifically. In my happy place. In the mountains. With flowers adorning my pack, I smiled. Smiling as I jogged through the aspen forest  filtering the sunlight. Smiling as I broke through the forest and followed paths through alpine meadows. Before I knew it, I was cresting the first big climb of the day. It was time to go GAME ON once again. This was another nice technical descent, and I once again through caution into the wind. The body again responded in kind, allowing me to make up precious ground and pass a ton of people again (but obviously not nearly enough to raise me to the top). Ironically, I passed a team of ‘elites’ on that descent, reminding me that anyone can have a crap day.

At the bottom, I knew that all that remained was one final mountain climb and final descent. I held on to my place for the rest of the race, picking up the pace whenever I could. It took everything I could muster, but I did it! I crossed the finish line with my head held high and a giant smile on my face (and flowers on my pack!). It was technically my worst finish of the week (in 32nd), but it felt like one of the greatest victories I’ve ever had. Yes, I still physically felt miserable, but mentally, I was on top of that mountain of the mind.

Climbing Out of Vail

And you know what’s better than finishing? Finishing when there are people there to cheer for you and celebrate with you. Every single day, Annie was there waiting and cheering me (and lots of others) into the finish. She was joined by others that I had gotten to know, and it was awesome having them cheer me through the last steps. Afterwards, as I crumpled into a chair, we raised one more Michelob Ultra to a job well done, and a week like no other!

There is so much more that I could say, but I have already taken up far too much of everyone’s time. Yes, there was a closing banquet. It was ok. But all that really mattered to me were those days in the mountains. Racing against demons and running with friends. If I had the time and money to do this every year, you can bet your ass I’d be there. If some rich philanthropist said they’d pay for me to live the life of suffering and racing, I’d do it. You are only truly alive when you can feel your own frailities, and push your boundaries. So from that perspective, this was another amazing experience at pushing myself outside my comfort zone. And with that, I must say goodnight. After all, it is 10pm, and I have to get up at 4am to head to the start line of Ironman Muskoka! Writing this up has been cathartic, and has me feeling ready to face my demons again tomorrow, and come out victorious! Stay tuned for that story.

Video Review of Days 4-6

Rocking and Rolling 50k at Bear Mountain

Good day race fans! Well, here we are. We find ourselves at the first race of the summer racing season for ActiveSteve. To start things off with a bang, I decided to sign up for the 50k North Face Endurance Challenge Series event in Bear Mountain, NY. This race is a mere hour from the Big Apple, but you’d never know it from the rugged terrain and superb park that serves as the race setting. In an effort to be a little more ‘punchy’, I’m going to try to make my race reports a little shorter and more readable from now on. (Avoiding the TL;DR syndrome).

Deanna and I decided to make this a long weekend of camping and road-tripping.  I was racing the 50k on Saturday, and she the 10k on Sunday. Faced with an 8 or so hour drive both ways, we also decided to combine brewery visits on both legs of the trip, managing to stop in to 3 different breweries and squeezing in a super weekend-ending meal at Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. For lodging, we also opted to camp in a nearby campground, which, in spite of the rain both nights, was quite nice! Between new sleeping bags and a new thermarest, we were very comfy.

So, why ‘rocking and rolling’? Well, the title is quite apt, given that a large portion of the race is covered by kleenex-box sized rocks strewn all over the place, and posing significant injury risk to runners trying to keep at the front of the pack (i.e. to ME). In fact, the ‘rolling’ also refers to the fact that no less than 3 times during my race, I rolled my ankle severely enough that I had to hobble long stretches and tape up my left ankle for the last 15k of the race. Want to get a sense of the terrain? Here’s an excerpt from another blog post from the 2012 event:

“This section is the stuff nightmares are made of. They probably had prisoners from 50 states break rocks for the last 10 years and then dumped them on the fucking trail. There were rocks on the uphills, rocks on the downhills and rocks on the flats. All loose, about the size of a Kleenex box. When there’s no rocks, wait … there are ALWAYS rocks. Actually, we get to this trail that is nice and soft, EXCEPT IT’S AT A 45 DEGREES ANGLE and you have to run with a leg a foot higher than the other and your feet angled sideways. My ankles want to fucking explode. It’s impossible to run on that. Then I think it starts going up. The surface is back to loose giant ankle bruiser rocks. We go up, and up, and up. All this shit is happening on a 2.5 miles section, for fuck sake. And we’re not done. We go up some more and finally get to the top. We run a short distance and reach the gates of Hell itself. Hell is a downhill that looks to me like it’s a mile long. It’s steep. Very steep. Obviously, it’s covered with rocks, with a stream meandering though the trail, for added fun. Every single one of those rocks has a picture of my big toe on it. I start to go down. I will spare you the details, but I nearly have a nervous breakdown going down.”

So yeah, it had a few ‘tough’ sections. In spite of the early season race, I had managed to get in some pretty good endurance training, so my concern wasn’t the time or distance so much as the speed that I’d need to place well. James Galipeau was down for the race as well, and we decided to start out together. We were slated for ‘wave 3’, but decided to start with wave 2, as there was no way we would be that much slower than those ahead, and would have to weave our way through many people to get to the front. This was a good call, as we were clearly moving much quicker than our peers. In a short period of time, we’d passed a ton of people and found ourselves in what we figured was the front pack of the race.

From here, I was keeping an eye on my heart rate and really didn’t think I could sustain the current pace for the full 50, so I gradually let James put a gap into me, while holding the other racers at bay. I later learned that I was sitting in 11th overall, with a good shot at top 10! Unfortunately, lady luck wasn’t about to let me have that glory on the way to the finish :-).

For the most part, the course was  very enjoyable. Lots of wide singletrack sections, and only a couple little bits of road to get through. There were a number of climbs to tackle, but again, relatively tame to get through. Aid stations were well spaced out and VERY well stocked. I kinda wished I hadn’t played mule and packed so much of my own food with me. The aid stations were also nice as you got a little mental boost from people cheering you on, and on 3 occasions, it gave me a chance to see Deanna. The first 2 times all was going well. However, by the 3rd time, I had encountered a bit of bad luck.

Bad luck is the only way to describe rolling over hard on my ankle. The first time was on a grass-covered descent where there were also rocks lurking in the foliage. That time, I was being [relatively] careful, and didn’t have my full weight on the ankle. I hobbled a bit, then slowly picked back up to race pace. However, the 2nd time things weren’t as good. I caught a glimpse of the aid station down below from where I was on the trail, and momentarily lost focus. Not noticing a slight dip, I rolled my ankle hard, with full weight. This one was VERY painful, and I stopped completely in the trail.

Unsure what to do, I even hung on a tree branch to take weight off the ankle and stretch. That’s when the first of a few people passed me. Boo. Seeing no other option, I cautiously walked forward, knowing I had the aid station coming up to decide what to do. Upon limping in, I had a ton of support. People offering taping, shortcuts to the finish, food, etc. However, as I was still mostly mobile, I did the obvious, and waved off all help, and said I was going to press on. They took down my number just in case, knowing the trickiest section was actually next (reference the blog passage above to understand which section I’m talking about…).

I popped a couple ibuprofen, which, mixed with the endorphin, seemed to be doing the trick. Until I rolled my same ankle a 3rd time. 100m further out. On the grass. It was the stupidest spot, as it looked like a grassy field, but there was a giant hole that I didn’t see! I was pissed, and made it very clear to those around me with my loud cursing. I started to think the fates were against me. However, as usual, I was well prepared, and had a speed brace in my pack that I [finally] wrapped my swollen ankle with. Although awkward to run with, I’m pretty sure it is the only way I got through this mess.

Knowing my pace would drop, I decided to just focus on a clean final 15k. And clean it was. The previously-referred to mega-shitty section was one of the last sections in the course, and with my fragile ankle, I took my time on both the climb AND the descent, avoiding any bone-shattering risks. It paid off, as I didn’t get passed again by many racers for the remainder of the course. Apart from the ankle, I felt really good. Hydration and nutrition seemed solid, and I wasn’t too destroyed at the finish line. When I finally crossed, I was happy with my result (18th overall, 6th in category), and turned my focus to food, beer, and icing the ankle (in that order).

Deanna and I enjoyed the rest of the day in the sun watching and cheering other racers on, then headed back to the campground before having a meal in a nearby town. It rained most of the night, so we had a lovely night communing with nature from our tent. Had a great sleep, and woke up refreshed to cheer on Deanna and her 10k race, which she nailed with a great run. She was smiling from ear to ear and glad she did it. Back in the car, and long drive back to Ottawa to get back to recovery, training, and getting ready for the next race. Next up? Raid Pulse 8 hour adventure race on May 17th. Looking forward to that one! To wrap things up, if you haven’t seen it yet, here is my video review from the NY race:

Chasing Helicopters in Saint Donat

Ahhh, winter racing. As you know, sometimes, I plan to enter races far in advance of their actual occurrence, and sometimes, I just sort of throw my hat in the ring for something to do. This post, a report from the Endurance Aventure Winter Triathlon, falls pretty much into the second category. I knew about the race for quite some time, but since I didn’t know anyone heading up for it, I didn’t sign up right away. However, upon learning that a few friends were heading up for it, and the fact that I had some space in the calendar, I decided to make the 2.5 hour drive up and make a go of it. And just to make it more memorable, I opted to cover the event for Get Out There. Read on to find out how this race played out and how I did.

I’ve been burned in the past by making winter road trips for races, but decided that the 2.5 hour drive shouldn’t be too bad, even it we got snow. Luckily, conditions were actually perfect for the drive. The race was actually set to get underway at 8:30am on Saturday, so Deanna and I opted to make an overnight out of if an booked a little room in a local motel, along with others from the Ottawa crowd. I was actually pretty happy that Deanna joined me, as it meant that she was able to snap some great pictures of the event. She posted them up on flickr and on facebook, but to make it easy, I’ll just let you check ’em out here 🙂

Another good reason to take part in this race was that it would give me a chance to see how I might stack up when I take part in the ITU Winter Triathlon Format race in March, where I’m racing as an ‘Elite’ race. It’s a long story, but I really think I should be an age grouper there, but in the end, I’ll be lining up with Olympians and Pros. Yup, I’ll probably be dead last in that race, but wanted to see if I can actually make the 1.5 hour cutoff time limit! But I’m jumping ahead, aren’t I? What exactly is this race? Well, as a triathlon, it’s 3 events. In this case, the format is Snowshoeing (4.2km), followed by Speed Skating (12km), and capped off with Skate Skiing (6km).

The part that really had me intrigued was the venue, and specifically, the speed skating portion. At 12km, and this being my worst discipline (I only skated once this year before the race!), I knew I would be slow, but the course looked cool. We had to do 14 laps of a natural course that wound its way through the forest! No joke! The night before, 3 of us headed over to check this out, and it was pristine. Perfectly smooth ice, wide enough for about 2 racers side by side, and featuring s-turns, inclines, and declines. It would definitely be a challenge, but a cool one. So, let’s look at my performance.

StDonat Results

The first thing you might notice is that I *did* make it in under 1:30. Not by much, but I’m pretty sure I can improve on that with a different course and different conditions. Although the weather had called for relatively warm -9 or so, when we awoke early to head to the venue, it was more like -25! I was freezing, and not at all looking forward to the start. I knew I’d warm up, but I had to change gloves, and ended up keeping a jacket on the whole time. Cold fingers make transitions painfully difficult, and low temps wreak havoc on my filming as batteries tend to die quickly.

For the snowshoe, the course started pancake-flat for about 400m, then went on a wild romp straight up a mountain. I hadn’t counted on that. You can see by the relief in the image that this site was in fact a large hill, featuring 125m of climbing in about 1.8km. One racer directly in front of my at one point decided to toss his breakfast and had to step aside. Others also mentioned that breakfast was quite possibly coming back up on account of the effort. Luckily, mine stayed put in my stomach, but it was still tough. James and I were running neck and neck pretty much the whole course, with him right on my heels, matching all my passes. We had started the race back in the pack a bit, but made up several spots on the snowshoe, which I knew would be my strongest discipline in the race. I pulled into transition just ahead of James with the 10th fastest time, and would only drop back after that.

I had a pretty quick transition, and made it onto the ice just ahead of James, but while I was fussing with camera and gloves on the opening lap, he caught and passed me. Oh well, I could only work at trying to approximate something like a proper skate technique for the next 14 laps. Sadly, somewhere around lap 11 or 12, James actually LAPPED ME! I was crushed. But not overly surprised, given my single, 40 minute skate of the year. Mental note: must do a *little* more training before my big Quebec City race in March! I ended up losing about 4 or 5 spots in the skate, but on the plus side, I got to enjoy the scenery for much longer than my competitors! Ha ha ha. A nice part was that on every lap, Deanna was there to cheer me on and snap pictures. I won’t share most of the images as it is painfully obvious how poor my skate form was!

Back into transition, and it was time to slap on the skinny sticks and head out for a nice little ski. I have been working a lot more on my skate skiing this year, and hap hopes of at least making it look decent. Switching from skating to skiing took a little adjustment in the first few minutes, but something seemed off. Turns out the cold snow, and less than perfect grooming conditions made my progress feel much slower than I’d hoped. Plus, we were back out on the hilly part. Not quite as pronounced, but there was some pushing to be done. Luckily, I learned later that lots of other people found the ski a tough slog as well. In practice, I can tell my skate skiing is improving, I just need one good race with good conditions to prove to myself that I actually know what I’m doing now!

Happily, the final 500m or so were downhill, and there was a nice steep descent to the finish chute where people were cheering all the racers on (and Deanna was waiting). I had a big smile on my face from the days’ effort. I knew I hadn’t cracked top 10 or anything, but it was a really enjoyable race. The race setting was pretty much perfect for this type of event. Small town, friendly people, good organization, amazing course, and good competitors to test myself against. Obviously I wish I had been higher in rankings, but I was happy overall. My final time was 1:26:09, good enough for 16th overall, 15h male, and 8th in category. I’m always impressed at the caliber of the Quebec racers. It’s no wonder the Quebec athletes are winning Olympic medals for Canada in Sochi!

So why did I mention chasing helicopters? Well, in spite of this being a relatively small event (there were under 200 total), they actually had a helicopter on the course filming the action! In all my years racing, this is the first time I have ever had a helicopter hovering overhead while I’m racing. It was pretty cool, and adds another bit of excitement to the event. Sadly, for my own coverage of the event, I had no helicopter support. I was left to my own devices as usual, consisting of the ubiquitous GoPro strapped to my chest, and a better camera on a tripod for before and after the race footage. In spite of my low-tech approach, I’m still happy with my coverage, so please check out the video I shot below if you haven’t already 🙂

As a closing thought, I’d definitely recommend this event to anyone who is interested in trying out a winter triathlon. I absolutely loved the course, and Saint Donat is a great little community not far from Mont Tremblant. We had a nice post-race break at a local cafe before heading to the awards at the host hotel, which also offered a great spread of food as part of the race entry. Top to bottom, it was a well-run event. I’m looking forward to taking part in another race they put on this summer, the Raid Gaspesie International, a 3-day adventure race in September! If this was any indication, that should be an awesome adventure as well!

 

Mud-Filled Victory at Mud Hero Ottawa

Final Mud Pit

As many of you will know, I have a bit of a love / not-love relationship with mud / obstacle races like the Spartan Race / Tough Mudder / Mud Hero, etc. events. Firstly, I absolutely love the actual races. Running in the woods? Hopping over and under stuff. Risking life and limb while getting really dirty and possibly destroying whatever you wear? Sign me up! However, what I’m not a huge fan of is the chance of huge crowds trying to do the same thing at the same time! The line-ups are long, the race crowds are think, and traffic jams are inevitable. However, there are a few tricks if you plan to actually COMPETE there. First, sign up for the 1st wave (‘elite’ if they have it). Second, Toe the very front of the start line. Third, and obviously, arrive EARLY. With that, allow me to fill you all in on my experience at Mud Hero’s inaugural Ottawa event to kick off their 2013 season. I grabbed a few pictures, and also covered things for Get Out There Magazine, so yes, there is a video that will be embedded at the end. So with that, read on friends!

Pictures from the Event

So, you haven’t heard of Mud Hero? Well, allow me to introduce you to them. Put on by Crazy Canuck Adventures, Mud Hero is a born-in-Canada version of mud and obstacle racing. Started up by the same crew that for years has put on wildly successful mountain biking events in Ontario, they know how to organize and put on an event. Let me also answer the most asked question I’ve heard. “Is it like a Spartan race?”. Yes and no. Yes in that it is heaps of fun, and lots of like-minded people show up to race. No in that the crowd demographics are a bit different, and the race a bit more.. umm… accessible? You won’t find barbed wire, feats of strength, or baton-wielding madmen near the finish. No fire or ice either. Just lots of fun over, under, through obstacles, some water, slides, and yes, heaps of mud (especially for the later waves). From a demographics perspective, over 2/3rds of the participants were female, usually in teams and there for a fun time, grinning rather than grimacing at the obstacles. Does that paint a bit of the picture for you?

Given the pedigree of the organizers, I was pretty excited to tackle their race. Also, due to my performance in the other obstacle runs I’ve done, I requested a seeding in the first wave, to give me a fighting chance. Sporting only a light pair of running shorts, short socks, and a pair of trail runners, I was ready for the race. For the Ottawa event, there were over 1200 participants registered. Apparently, this is the smallest of their events! In Alberta, they have something like 12-14,000 racers! For these numbers, we were each placed in different waves, departing every 30 minutes, with each one comprising of about 250 racers. This spacing and number was pretty good, but as you’ll see by the video, it can’t do away with some clogging.

The silver lining was the course design. We were located at Commando Paintball, a nice big wooded area east of Ottawa near Navan. The overall distance was somewhere between 5 and 6 kilometers, and had about 20 obstacles in total. However, before hitting any of the bottleneck obstacles, there was a good kilometer or more of running. This allowed the naturally faster competitors to sort themselves out in a LeMans style and jockey for position. I showed up an hour before the first wave, and got prime parking and sorted my registration very quickly. Things were very well organized and I had lots of time to start taking establishing footage before I raced. There were already a pretty large number of people out, obviously excited at the prospect of getting covered in head to toe mud. Due to the layout and timing, I decided against wearing a camera on the race, and just return afterwards and film later waves. This was a good move.

Race Summary / Stats

The time came very soon for me to get crack-a-lackin’ on the race. I made my way to the very front, doing a quick assessment of my fellow competitors. Outwardly, there was no way to tell how things would go, but I felt quietly optimistic, and focused. A few final words, and the starting horn sounded. I left at a good clip, and bided my time a little at the front to see if I’d have to go completely red-line the whole way or not. On that opening run, I was at the front, but could hear footsteps behind me, and guessed there were at least 2 or 3 other racers hoping to challenge in this wave. Okay, jets on, looked like I’d have to use my agility in the obstacles.

I hit the first water crossing at top speed and used my lightness and fleet feet to get through fast. I could tell that was already working on my challengers, as they were a touch slower. I should note that one of my biggest concerns was the fact that this was a near pancake-flat course. I like big hills to help me distance myself, but that wouldn’t happen here. However, there were a couple well-placed steep little pitches of maybe 6-10m of elevation gain that helped. I hit the first one and scrambled hand and foot to the top on the dry dirt. So far so good. I was already opening my lead and feeling good. Time to put it on cruise control at 85-90% effort just in case I needed a burst.

After another couple little obstacles like running over crushed cars, it was into the ‘deep woods’. This was a ankle-risking trail running section that had no trails. Moss-covered roots, randoms water holes, etc. I liked it! I was quite careful to not roll my ankle but keep steady pressure on my pace. The course was extremely well taped. I’m guessing they went through several kilometers of plastic tape for this (no joke), as most of the course here was a ‘corridor’ of tape to corral you the right way. I was being cheered on intermittently by Sean Ruppel, one of the race directors, who was cutting the course to see how I was doing. Apparently I was holding a nice lead.

I continued to use the momentum and good conditions to hold the lead. Luckily, as first through, things were pretty dry and in good shape for all the obstacles. In the woods, I was able to find my footing in swamps, etc. by looking at the vegetation. I guess I picked up this skill from years of adventure racing and trying to find the ‘driest’ path in swamps. Either way, it kept me moving fast. It also helps when you don’t sink down as much in mud and bog as others. Once out of the woods, it was on to some more fun obstacles, including honest-to-goodness mud pits where you had to go under logs, tunnels leading to muck pools and followed by steep ascents, etc. It was amazing to go back later and see just how slick one part of the course became after 1,000 people got through it!

A few more woods, a few more obstacles, and I was on the home stretch, being cheered on my spectators. By then, my lead had grown to over a minute. I climbed up a the final ‘super hero’ cargo net, flopped down the other side, and made my way to the final mud pit at the finish line. I dove in, clawed my way through, emerged, rounded the bend, and crossed the finish in 1st for this wave, a full minute and a half ahead of the next fellow, in a time of 32:21. Of course, there remained the question of whether that time would last the day. After all, someone else could stomp out a faster time in a later wave and snatch my victory away! Luckily, the closest anyone else got was in the 5th wave, where one fellow finished a minute behind my time to secure 2nd overall.

So there I was, elevated to the highest rung of Mud-Hero-ness. My prize for winning overall? Nada. Zip. Zilch. What?? Yup, kinda sucked, as I win so rarely, it woulda been nice to get something for my victory. Ha ha. Truth be told, just the fact that I’d celebrated my 38th birthday the day before and managed to beat all these young whipper-snappers was probably prize enough for me. As I tweeted “38 and still kickin’ ass”. Also, with the many waves, an awards ceremony is kind of impractical, as I would have had to stay to the bitter end to collect any prizing. So reluctantly, I accept the glory as it’s own reward.

I spent the rest of my day out there shooting video, talking to fellow Mud Heros, and nervously keeping an eye on the finishing times of others coming in. At one point, I was asked what I thought the fastest time of the day would be by Sean. “Mine” I replied confidently. In addition to the ability to watch other racers at the finish line, there was also a big beer gardens set up near the final few obstacles. Each racer got one free Steamwhistle Beer, and the option to buy BBQ grub. A DJ was spinning tunes, and the mood was fun. There was also a ‘shower’ station set up near a lake. In essence, it was just a place where they pumped water from the lake out through a series of nozzles mounted on a frame. Rudimentary, yes, but effective at getting the mud off your body at the finish :-). We were also lucky to have the weather stay pretty clear during the race.

I left before the final waves finished, as I had previous commitments to get back to town (notably, a co-birthday party I had to attend, the perfect place to celebrate victory!). There was a bbq for the party, which was put in jeopardy when the skies decided to open up an unleash a watery fury upon us. It poured buckets, but the show went on anyway. With this race out of the way, next up was 350kms of cycling with Deanna in the Rideau Lakes Cycle tour. Stay tuned for more on that one! Till then, stay muddy (and thirsty) friends!

Video Race Review