Tag Archives: winter

Triple Crown at the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Races

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

Doubling Down at the Gatineau Loppet

Hot off the heels of securing my permanent bib at the Canadian Ski Marathon, I found myself once again boarding a bus, skis in hand, ready to tackle another great adventure. Less than 6 days after finishing the 167km journey of CSM, I was set to race two days back-to-back at the 40th Annual Gatineau Loppet! Day 1 would be the 51km linear Classic race, followed by repeating the exact same 51km course the next day, but this time on skate skis. Beyond the challenge of just mentally preparing for such a feat less than a week after CSM, this time, I had to put myself in ‘race’ mode. As CSM was not a race, but an event, the mental game at the Gatineau Loppet was different. The reward however, is that by completing both weekends, I would once again be successful in getting my name on the wall of the ‘Triple Ski Challenge‘, a relatively small group of folks who tackle the full marathon, plus the two back-to-back long loppet challenges. Continue reading Doubling Down at the Gatineau Loppet

The Seven Year Itch – Getting a Permanent CSM Bib!

Hello friends! Seems like my blog posts are becoming fewer and farther between, but I assure you it is not for a lack of my being active. On the contrary, I’m still up to my tricks, training and racing whenever the urge strikes. However, I find these days with other platforms around, I often just scratch out a short FB post instead to summarize some of my exploits. However, sometimes, it’s still worth me archiving results in a more permanent way with a full story. This post it such a time, as it will talk about my recent [successful] completion of my 7th Canadian Ski Marathon completion in a row as a Coureur des Bois. Having 5 gold camp finishes under my belt scored me a permanent bib this year! Read on for the whole story. Continue reading The Seven Year Itch – Getting a Permanent CSM Bib!

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!

Mad Trapper Triple Play

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.

Start of Final Race

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.

Sprint to the Finish

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 🙂

Post Race Collapse

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.

Finish of Final Race

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!

Gold Bricking it at CSM

Every year, while I’m in the middle of it, I swear I will never do it again. I’m of course speaking about the venerable Canadian Ski Marathon, now in its 49th year. The event is pretty much unique in its nature. At the core, it is 160km of cross-country skiing, split over two days. Each day is split into 5 sections, with varying degrees of challenge, from easy to hard, depending on whether there are big climbs, tricky descents, or wide open fields. Participants have the option to tackle the whole event as a coureur de bois, or just be a tourer and take on the number of sections you’d like. This year was my fourth time in a row tackling the event as a CdB participant, and 2nd time that I’d take it on as a ‘gold’ participant. What does that mean? Well, not only do I ski the whole thing, but I carry a backpack with my overnight gear and food, and sleep outside on a hay bale with my fellow CdB gold friends.

Every year, finishing the event it not guaranteed. There are so many things that can go wrong, and so much unpredictability with the weather and snow conditions. Oh, and did I mention that there are time cutoffs during the day as well? For example, if you don’t get onto the 5th section before 3:15pm, you are pulled off the event and bused back to the middle point. Lucky for me, I’ve been able to successfully complete all 3 of my previous attempts. So, would luck hold out, or would this year break me?

To begin, let’s set the stage by taking a look at the training I had under my belt. Last year, we had a nice early dump of snow, and were skiing full time in early December. We also stayed home over the holidays, and put in lots of mileage to prepare for CSM. This year? Well, for starters, we moved in late November, which meant leading up to the holidays we were focused on moving in and unpacking. Plus, there was no snow? The holidays? Well, we were overseas for two weeks in Belgium visiting family, so obviously no skiing there. We got back on January 7th, and skis didn’t really hit snow until January 10th. If you do the math, you’ll note that gave us less than a month to whip into CSM shape! Lucky for me, I have a decent endurance base and a really stubborn persistence on these things, so my plan was to simply tough it out regardless. I figured it might hurt, but I should be able to squeak by.

Leading up to the weekend, mother nature gave us a few more decent snowfalls, so it was obvious we’d have decent snow conditions. Now it was just a question of temperatures. This year was yet again a very cold winter to date (and continues to be), so I was nervous about the overnight. There is nothing worse than getting up at 4am from a frozen sleeping bag, exhausted, hungry, and facing an 80km ski slog! I did everything I could to shave weight this year, and make sure I didn’t carry more than I needed to. I think in the end, I got my pack down to about 22-23 lbs (including a bottle of Bailey’s I was bring to someone there as a favour, but that’s another story…). I decided to forego a full bivy bag, instead opting for the simple discomfort of a silver foil version, in which I stuffed my down sleeping bag and a thermal liner. I’d tested it at home at around -16, and while I didn’t overnight in it, I was hopeful it would work okay for 1 night at CSM!

Bedding Down at Gold Dorm

So with only a couple hundred (if that) kilometers of skiing in my legs, I was driven to the Gold Dorm in Lachute on Friday night. Deanna was tackling bronze this year, so had to drive back to Papineauville from Lachute for her sleeping accommodations. Despite our best efforts, I wasn’t finally settled onto the hallway floor in my sleeping bag until probably 10:30pm. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the fact is, we would be getting up around 4:00am to start getting ready for the event. At that time, we had to pack our bags, prep our skis, eat some food, and make our way to the start line in the dark. The alarm on my watch didn’t even have a chance to go off though. As usual, this event causes the nerves to go into overdrive, which means waking up every hour or so. The fact that you are surrounded by lots of other like-minded skiers makes it a generally noisy place. I was up and at ’em before I knew it.

During breakfast, I bumped into a few familiar faces that were also tackling the gold this year, but not as many as last year. I wasn’t sure who exactly I’d be sharing a campfire with later that night (provided I made it). I mad emy way to the start leisurely, and had time to spare, getting my clothes and pack well adjusted. We got underway right on time, a long snaking line of headlamps disappearing off into the groomed tracks and into the woods. We seemed to bottleneck almost immediately this year, as from the start, we were herded almost directly onto 2 of pars tracks, then a little further down the path, onto a single set of tracks. Luckily, we get to leave 20 minutes before the bigger crowds, and I just settled into an easy pace, knowing that the clogging was out of my control and that it would sort itself out over the next few kilometers.

Day 1 of this year’s CSM was the tougher day, featuring all of the major climbs and tricky descents. There were two different sections listed as ‘hard’, and there was also one leg which was over 20km in length. Again, not a big deal if it was isolated, but when you combine these things all together on the same day, and factor in wearing a heavy laden backpack, you can start to understand why this is one tough event. For the most part, the weather on this day was pretty much par for the course. It was cold, but not unbearably so. I was wearing lots of layers, and well covered up. In fact, I was wearing more than I would in a race, due to the slower pace, and the occasional stopping.

There is really only one ‘secret’ to completing this event successfully, and it isn’t all that secret. Consistency. You need to keep moving. Steady as she goes. All day. There’s no sense racing up ahead to pass people, but there is no room to just stop and enjoy a picnic either. While the aid stations are a great reprieve, and you may be tempted to just stop and relax for a bit, those who do so too often will be disappointed. The one advantage of a cold day is the fact that you really aren’t tempted to stop and wait at the aid stations too long. If you do, you’ll simply start getting cold, which is what happens to me at every single stop. My hands, although they felt warm while skiing in, inevitably turn to blocks of solid ice any time I stop for more than 5 minutes. It then takes me probably 15 minutes or more of hard skiing coming out of the checkpoints to warm them back up!

All in all, day 1 went as I expected. It was tough, but I stayed ahead of my targets slightly, and emerged from all the tricky sections relatively unscathed. The biggest accomplishment was the fact that unlike last year, I finished the day on the same skis as I started with. What a relief! My falls were kept to a bare minimum. In fact, I think I only fell once while trying to avoid a skier that went down in front of me on a hill. Thankfully, there was lots of fluffy snow to break the fall. As a side note, anyone that tells you they didn’t fall at ALL at CSM is most likely lying 🙂

Upon arriving at Gold Camp, I was greeted by my buddy James, who had a terrific day out there and had already been in for almost 2 hours!! Amazing. I don’t know how he does it. Personally, I’d rather take a little longer on the trails, as once you are at Gold Camp, there really isn’t much to do but eat, get cold, and go to sleep. Last year, when I got in, the campfire we chose was already encircled with a big group of my friends, but for now at least, it was only James, Dan and myself. So, I had managed to get there quicker than a fair number of people. Principal reason being that the cold weather made the snow very slow, and a lot of skiers, myself included, simply hadn’t put in the volume of training they would have liked.

I enjoyed a few boil in a bag meals and some questionable make-in-a-bag s’mores before finally deciding that it was time to bunk down (as best as possible in -15 weather. The ritual of wriggling into your sleeping bag at Gold Camp is a thing of magic. First, you want to get all your clothes in there ahead of you, to keep warm and dry, then you have to make yourself in as carefully as possible and TRY to get comfortable. As an added twist, we checked the forecast, and sure enough, it was set to start snowing overnight, so we had to make sure all our gear was well covered and protected from the wet. Worst thing in the morning would be the need to step into snow-filled and frozen ski boots, a sure recipe for frostbite.

Once again, we roused ourselves at the ungodly hour of 4am to prepare to reverse the previous nights’ spectacle of sleeping bag insertion. Only now, we had to deal with wet and frozen bivy bags and gear, fumbling around in the dark, cold, and snowy camp. Luckily, the camp scouts had kept our fires burning all night, so at least we had the fire to help warm us up while we wolfed down our boil in a bag breakfasts. You really don’t have to push anyone to get out in the morning, because once you’re awake, pretty much the only thing you want to do is get underway. The quicker you start, the sooner you’ll be done the day. It’s amazing how much the actual event seems to be miserable and undesirable, yet you push on and persevere, propelled mainly by the knowledge that “we’re all in this together” with your fellow skiers.

Day 2, in spite of it being shorter than Day 1 this year in distance, and with less ‘hard’ sections, does not feel like it. When you compound two days of poor sleeping, the hard effort from the first day, and the desire to just get things done, there are moments out there that you truly question why you are doing it. Some people actually break down and give up by the first aid station of the day, their spirits broken, and desire for a warm beverage and relaxing in a chair too strong. Then there are people like me, who choose to ignore the voices, and press on. We’re eager to test ourselves. Eager to see how far we can push ourselves in SPITE of ourselves. There is no amazing prize awaiting us, just the quiet satisfaction of having pushed ourselves to persevere and succeed.

Weather wise, in case you haven’t guessed yet, was quite a bit more challenging for us on day 2. The snow was falling, in fact driving in our faces. The winds were being whipped up in every open field, and the temperatures cold. Normally, when it is this cold, there is no snow. However, mother nature decided to make it interesting for us. Each time we’d ski into an aid station, I’d get flooded with relief at the fact that I could eat and drink. However, within minutes, I immediately regret even momentarily stopping, as I’d get really cold. To make matters worse, some aid stations were completely out of warm drinks and most food, forcing me to drink ice water (literally with ice floating in it) and gnawing on frozen bagel pieces. Yup, it was that tough!

As always, the final 10km of the day or so seem to be simultaneously the longest and shortest stretch of the day. You know that your almost done, so you are having small internal celebrations at that fact, but I seems to keep going forever and ever. This year was no different I was exhausted from the effort, and just wanted to slide under that banner, onto a warm bus, then back to my dry clothes. Upon finally crossing the line, I raised my arms up halfheartedly, and made my way to the awards tent. Given that this was my second year at gold camp, I was entitled to what is called a ‘gold bar’. Normally, it’s just a little pin. However, for this year, the organizers had re-conceived all levels of the event recognition. This meant there were not specific medals for gold, silver and bronze CdB finishers, as well as a very hefty gold brick for anyone who had completed more than one year at the gold level. I will admit, it was pretty awesome getting that chunk of hardware!

Gold Bar After Event

I was so knackered, that I have basically no photographs of me at the event at all. I usually make a point of snapping a few, but this year, I was simply too focused on getting it done in one piece! Nonetheless, the feeling of accomplishment is the same. Once back at the school gym, I sought out and found Deanna. Sadly, she had missed the day 1 cutoff at CP4 by only about 7 minutes, so her dream of getting bronze had been dashed. On the plus side, it meant the car was there and waiting. So, without too much fanfare, I collected my things, chatted with a few people for a little bit, then we headed home, making sure to stop at McDonald’s for some junk food before eating supper #2, a big St. Hubert tourtiere. Once again, at the finish, I swore I wouldn’t do this event again. I’ve said or thought it at the finish of all 4 of my CSM finishes. However, inevitably, within 24 hours or so, I’m already imagining tackling the event just ‘one more time’. This year was no different. Even more importantly, next year will mark the 50th anniversary of CSM, so you KNOW I’ll want to be a part of the experience, or, as the tagline actually says “Become Part of the Legend”. Till then, keep reading the blog for more exciting race stories!