Howdy once more race fans! I have one final race report from the 2014 winter racing season to share with you. Actually, I *think* it’ll be the final winter race report. Given the winter we’ve had, I can’t really say with any conviction that I won’t be racing in snow next month! At any rate, I’m here to tell you all about the Mount Orford Snow Trail Race, which is an interesting race featuring 3 different summits, which you attain by either running, snowshoeing, or skiing. You have to complete the entire race in one of those disciplines, and are ranked against those that chose the same mode of locomotion. For those not familiar, Mont Orford is about 3.5 hours away, south of Montreal, near Sherbrooke. I made the trip with two of my AR teammates, Nat and James, with the intention of just having a fun race and enjoying the final winter race of the season. I got that and more, so read on to hear the whole story!
As I was under no obligation to provide any media coverage, I haven’t put together any videos this time around. However, I lugged a camera along and at least snapped a few pictures before and after the event, which you can see below.
I hadn’t originally intended to do this particular race, but when I heard James and Nat were planning to head out and race, I decided to play third wheel and tag along. The first choice to make was how to run the race. Skiing really wasn’t an option for me, as I don’t own the right kind of skis (back-country randonneur skis with metal edges). That left snowshoeing or running. While I’m a pretty strong snowshoer at this point in the season, I made the decision to run, with the intention of using it as good hill training for the upcoming 50k race in Bear Mountains, NY. All 3 of us chose the same, which meant I’d at least share my misery with them. I also found out that Alex Provost (another AR buddy) would also be doing the race on foot.
I just realized I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself, as I haven’t described the actual race! Besides choosing one of 3 disciplines, competitors had their choice of completing 1 peak (at a distance of 5k) or 3 peaks, with a total of 12km to cover. Of course, the distance really wasn’t the main concern here, it was the elevation gain. Over those 3 peaks, I’d be climbing 1200m over a distance of about 6km. By any comparison, that is a LOT of climbing. I’ve put two pictures into this post below to illustrate the challenge. The first is my GPS log of elevation compared to heart rate, and the second shows a comparison someone put together for elevation gain / 10km of this race vs. other well-known trail races with lots of climbing. Yeah. That’s right. This one was number 1 far and away. I suppose that wasn’t too surprising considering we were basically running straight up (and down) three different ski hills!
The other unique aspect of this race? Well, it was actually run at night, by headlamps. You can imagine the scene a little bit I’m sure, but allow me to cast a little more light on it by way of narrative. We left Ottawa around 2:30 in the afternoon, and made it to our hotel just after 6pm, with plenty of time to make it to registration and get set for the 7:30pm race start. There were already a good number of racers milling about getting themselves and their gear ready. The weather had been good for most of the day, with slightly overcast skies, but not too cold. However, that would soon be changing.
As daylight moved into darkness, so did the calm(ish) weather. First thing we noticed was the temperature drop several degrees, although still not too cold. More disconcerting was the marked increase in wind speed, coupled with the beginnings of snow coming down. If we were hanging out in a pub downtown, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but knowing we were going to tackle 3 different peaks, I had a sneaking suspicion that the conditions as we hit the summits may be a little less than ideal. How true I’d be…
At the start of the race, I was trying to gauge how many people were tackling the race on foot vs. snowshoes vs. skis. It seemed that runners were the most represented. The year before, the first place overall racer was on snowshoes, but different conditions favour different disciplines. Our money was on snowshoes again this year, if for no other reason than it seemed that going uphill would be faster running instead of skinning up on skis. Of course, downhill, the skis would always have it! In the end, looking at the results the numbers were: 45 Runners, 11 Snowshoers, and 24 Skiers. My money should have been on skiers, though, as ultimately, the first 5 people to cross the finish line did so in fine form on skis.
James and I did a quick warmup running part way up the hill before the start, and even that little bit of running was enough to convince me this was going to hurt. Since this was my last winter race, I decided to just put my head down and suffer the whole way and push myself hard. When the race started, I took off, and rarely looked back at all. I wasn’t at the very front, but definitely in the mix. On the first of 3 peaks, I managed to start passing a few people, and just hoped I could hold onto the pace for the entire race. I was blown away by how fast the ski-laden folks were skinning up the hill. For those not familiar, they use special skis with climbing skins to basically ski / hike up the mountain. They loosen the boots, and have a special heel plate for climbing. The top skiers were as fast (and in some cases faster) than me on foot!
To make the climbs as easy on my legs as I could, I had opted to use my trekking poles. Not everyone had them, but my guess was that by the 2nd and 3rd peaks, I’d be very happy to have them. By the top, steep section of the first peak, I was already relying on them a lot for weight distribution and keeping my running momentum uphill. Luckily, the snowpack was strong enough that they didn’t punch through. Glancing back, I could see a long trail of headlamps all the way down the way I had run up. It was a very cool sight. Sadly, shortly after that, there weren’t many lights to see. For starters, I had hit the top and had to run like a madman back down. Secondly, it was whiteout conditions up there! The wind was howling, and I was really glad that there were a few volunteers calling out from the top and with bright lights to guide us.
I crested the run, and was told to vaguely follow the mountain down to the left. Hmmm, easier said then done. If I tried to look forward, my eyes were stung with ice crystals, and the light just reflected off the snow. I was forced to look sidelong, and count on peripheral vision to see the contour of the run. Light on, light off, didn’t make a difference. At one point, I chose poorly and faced a cordoned off steep run. Had to double back a bit and find the right trail. With the wind, there weren’t many tracks to follow. Luckily when a skier whizzed by, I had something to at least follow on the snow, and I did so with reckless abandon.
I arrived at the bottom, grabbed a glass of gatorade, and veered off to start the 2nd and longest uphill grind. I was now mostly by myself. I could see a few people ahead in the distance, but we were basically all in our own worlds. I had been passed on the downhill by a couple runners, but managed to pass them on the long climb, only to once again get passed on the downhill. There was one particularly nasty section 3/4 of the way up where we had to cut across the hill in really deep snow, where we punched through. It was tough, but that was another plus for me, as I was able to make up 2 more spots here!
By the 3rd climb, I was starting to feel that familiar twinge in my calves and hamstrings telling me that I was starting to risk cramping. Thankfully, due to having the poles with me, I was able to keep fighting my way up the hill at a pretty good pace. I wasn’t sure where I stood in the standings, but I could only make out a few pairs of clear shoeprints in the snow (as opposed to ski or snowshoe tracks). With a final push, I summited and proceeded to run down the mountain as fast as I could to the finish. When the snow (and several timing issues) cleared , I learned that I was 4th overall for the runners, ahead of a few people I expected to beat me. Given that it was a race in the heart of Quebec, I was pretty impressed. For some reasons, races in that neck of the wood seem to be very hard fought. I had been listed as 3rd for quite a while, but in the end, I had to vouch for the true 3rd place winner, as he had definitely beat me (less than a minute ahead).
After the race, we all retreated to the onsite pub for a tasty meal (at 10pm!) and some well earned beer. James had come in on only a few spots behind me, and Nat, despite really being worn out from the race a week ago, pulled in a good time too on the women’s side. All in all, a race that was much more fun than I had expected, given the tough challenge. Unfortunately, 1 week later, I *still* feel it in my calves! Oh well, luckily I have a few weeks to recover and train before the first ‘spring’ race, an 8km prediction run. Keep your eyes open for that report! Till then, stay warm, since it appears winter is never leaving.
So there I was, setting up my transition zone. The reporters scurry over in the hopes of interviewing me before the race. Cameramen in tow, sound guys with microphones and a pretty host. “Hello” she starts, “Welcome to Quebec, where are you from?”. “Ottawa,” I reply. They are no longer are interested in speaking to me, mumbling something about it must be the person next to me. Yup, it turns out that my time as a ‘Pro’ or ‘Elite’ racer came and went just as fast! As it turns out, I was sitting next to an American racer, and 2 seats away from a 2 time Olympian and eventual winner from Slovakia. Yes folks, I’m writing about my experience racing in the Elite category at the world premiere of the ITU Winter Triathlon format in Quebec City.
Dusan Simocko was not the only storied athlete standing shoulder to shoulder with me. There were a total of 25 men in the race and 9 women. Among them were Olympians, World Cup Biathletes, Professional Speed Skaters, and all-around amazing athletes. Oh yeah, and me! Countries represented were Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Russia, France, USA, and Canada. I was there to cover the race for Get Out There and also race. A month earlier I had tried to convince the race director that I should just race in the age group race, to focus on filming the elites, but he’d have none of that. He knew me, and said I’d be fine and signed me up with the elites. Oh well, if nothing else, I got my brush with greatness, and saw a whole other class of racing. To save you all the suspense, I can at least report that I was NOT DFL (dead F*cking last). That honour went to another well-known adventure racing fellow I know by the name of Simon Donato. If you haven’t done so yet, you really should check out his TV show: Boundless.
Okay, so back to me and the race. I was petrified. The race was a 5km snowshoe, followed by 12km of speed skating, and wrapping up with an 8km ski. And there was a 90 minute cutoff! I knew I’d be fine with the snowshoe, and could push through the ski, but it would be tight. 3 weeks ago, my total skating consisted of 1 practice for 45 minutes and then skating 12k in another race! I managed to squeeze in 3 more practices, and had the time down to about 30 minutes, which should do. For the ski, I decided to pull the trigger on buying new skis, boots, and bindings, as I still had my ‘beginner’ skate skis, and found a good end-of-season sale on a higher-end pair. If conditions were ok. I would be fine.
My race was set to start at 2pm, with the age group race taking place at 10:15am. I hung out most of the time filming footage for my video, as I decided there was NO WAY I’d wear a camera while fighting for my life in the elite race :-). Turns out it was lots of fun filming that race, as Mike Caldwell was in that race, and Deanna and I could cheer him on. He was even worse than me, in that he hadn’t skied OR skated at all this year until this race! And he still pulled off a 1hr 40min finish, giving me hope. Have a look at the pictures below to see some great pics of the entire day.
Conditions for the morning race were perfect. The sun was up, and temperatures were around -6 or so. Both the snow and ice were really nice, and it looked like they had great conditions. Unfortunately, the day got progressively warmer, and was above zero by the time our race was gearing up. They had re-groomed the snow and zambonied the ice, but it might be a bit rough.
On the plus side, the elites were treated like champions. There was a ton of spectators, and lots of media onsite. In fact, there will be a full 30 minute special airing on TV about it. Watch my tweets for that one. Before the race, there was a full-on athletes procession where each of us was called by name to the starting line. Again, it was funny, as they’d call the name and list accolades for racers, but for me it was just “Stephan Meyer, from Ottawa!” Yup, I was a nobody in a bright red racing suit. Regardless, I was there to race hard, and finish where I’d finish.
The Race Gets Underway
The starting gun went off, and with it, a flurry of high-speed snow and testosterone. Snowshoeing would be my strongest suit, but the voices echoed in my head “don’t blow up in the opening leg…”. Keeping that in mind, I tried to keep my speed in check. It was amazing to see the racers start spreading out right away. I was holding my own, and over the 3 loops, managed to finish only 2.5 minutes behind the eventual winner. I’d go so far as to say I was ‘in the mix’ in the first leg… sort of. The course, although on a wide-open area, was a narrow, single track. Passing opportunities were VERY limited, and I only managed a few passes on the downhills, where for some reason, other racers were much more timid than me. Mad Trapper Racing pays off! I’d hoped to finish further ahead of some people, but had no time to think about it. I cruised into transition to shed the snowshoes, don the ski boots, grab my nordic blades and head for the oval.
Whereas the snow conditions really didn’t matter for snowshoeing, the ice conditions were critical for the speed skating. I got my blades on and hesitantly began my 28 loops. My focus was simple. 1) Stay low 2) Bend my knees 3) Push to the side… just like the YouTube video I had googled a week earlier showed me. Pretty sure I didn’t look like the guy in the video, but I was doing my best. For whatever reason, my cornering SUCKED. I watched as others seemed to glide around and push at just the right time and keep momentum. Me? It was a mix of gliding straight, clumsily trying to cross legs, straighten out, lose momentum, and eventually get around. Luckily there were really only 112 turns to make. Ha!
To complicate matters, the ice was not good for us. The middle was rutted and chipped out, so you had to really stick to a narrow line. A few times, cutting too tight on the corners, my blade actually punched through the ice into a void underneath! Not cool. Luckily, THAT didn’t cause me to fall. However, I did fall. And YES, the media was there to capture it in high-definition glory. Don’t believe me? Just check out the video below. Skip to the 2 minute mark to see my moment of fame. Oh, and the guy that fell first, causing me to fly out? Yup, that was Dusan, the eventual winner! I maintain that he was just worried I’d beat him (although I’m pretty sure he was 5 or 6 laps ahead of me by then!
For the skate, we were responsible for counting our own laps, which can get very difficult with 28 laps to count off. Happily, there was a giant video screen that would flash a list of names and how many laps they’d done. With only 34 of us on the ice, it actually worked ok for tracking, and I luckily did not do any extra laps. Overall, I’d say my skate was average. I think I could have been much smoother if I wasn’t so worried about the ice. It was cool watching some of the pros and their absolute skill on the ice. Probably the coolest to watch was Jay Morrison, national team member for 9 years (and yes, brother of 4xOlympic medalist in Sochi Denny Morrison).
But enough of the ice time, it was time to head to the chairs and get ready for the ski. I hadn’t looked at my watch at all, instead focusing on my race. I grabbed skis and poles, gulped some Nuun, and ran to the line to put on the skis. The snow was definitely getting a little soft in the warm sun, but overall, I can’t blame the snow, as my skis actually felt great. I had great control and glide it seemed. In fact, on my first lap (of 3), I felt strong, and technically good. That’s saying a lot, as it’s taken me the whole season to finally feel like I’m getting the hang of skate skiing.
Towards the end of each lap, we were faced with a long, steady climb into the stadium area. Here, there were thick crowds cheering everyone on with reckless abandon. It was exhilarating… and horrible. You see, the more they cheered, the harder you pushed, which was my undoing, as on the second lap, I felt the definite twinges of impending leg cramps. Calves specifically. Each steep little incline, when I’d dig in and push off with my legs, the calves would respond with fiery pain and literally spasm. It was mentally killing me, as I wanted to push, but each time I did, falling was a distinct possibility. It got so bad that I even resorted to double poling on some sections (which explains my sore abs and ribcage 2 days later!).
If there is one redeeming thought on the final laps of the skiing, it was not being passed. Of course, that was because I was already in the back, fighting shadows more than anything else. I struggled through the final climbs and pain, cruising in the sunlight to cheering fans as I did the final run to the finish line, and to my awaiting wife. I finally looked at the race clock. 1:22:25! While that time should have made me really happy, I was more relieved at being done, and not finishing last. Thinking back on it though, I will say that in spite of finishing 24th of 25 males, I’m very proud of my race. Comparing my result to the age groupers, I would have actually finished 9th overall and 4th in my category (perhaps higher, as they had better conditions). So yeah, I done good!
Luckily, the fun didn’t end with crossing the finish line, as I first had a chance to pop into the Media / VIP area and snag a beer (AFTER enjoying a delicious post-race General Tao’s Chicken), and Deanna a glass of wine. While there, we mingled with some international racers, and volunteers. From there, we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed another beer and 30 minutes in an outdoor hot tub. From there, it was on to a post-race social in the race organizers suite, where many of the International athletes were hanging out. That’s where I got to know Dusan and some of the others much better.
But wait! That still wasn’t it for the night. Deanna and I headed out to meet some of the American Crew at a pub for a beer, then when they went back to the hotel, we popped into a micro-brewery for a beer, and THOUGHT we’d call it a night, but upon returning to the hotel, ran into Mike and some others heading to a club, which is how I found myself dancing the night away with a Slovakian, a Czech, a Finn, Mike, Deanna, and Simon Donato. It was an absolute blast!
Next morning, Deanna and I strolled aimlessly in old Quebec before finally making the drive back to home, reality, and the ‘non-elite’ life that I’m accustomed to. To close off, if you are thinking of trying out a winter triathlon next year, you should seriously consider this one. Well worth the price, and makes a great weekend getaway!
To close off, here is the video that I put together of the weekend:
Last weekend marked the season finale, series championship Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. I took part. I captured 3rd overall. I could stop there, but as you know me well, I won’t! You see, the season has been a bit up and down for me. There is no doubt I had a good season, and have raced hard and stayed at the front of the pack for most of the races, but the podium always seemed to be just out of reach for me, with the caliber of racers that were lining up with me at the start line. Read on to find out what went so right with this race.
As anyone who does a lot of racing, you will be painfully aware that a) anything can happen, b) never give up, and c) there will be good days and bad days. Luckily for me in this race, there was relatively good mojo on all fronts. There’s a specific line that I’ve used for this race: “The right people didn’t show up.”. While all season the best of the best showed up, in this race, there was only 1 person at the front with me that I had no chance of winning (the series’ champ for the year). Apart from him, it was essentially a mix of other great runners, but people I knew I had a good chance of beating if things went well for me. I was motivated, and decided to give it my all.
The weather was ideal for the race. It was sunny with a light wind, and about -10 degrees celsius. At the start line, I had a pile of nervous energy. A podium finish was what I was looking for, and all I would settle for. When Mike did the countdown, I was at the front and ready to rumble. I placed myself directly behind Gareth, knowing he would be in 1st. I did my best to stick close to his heels, but he was pulling away slowly within the first 800m or so. Luckily, glancing back, I could see that we had actually both pulled away from the next pack of runners. For some reason my HR was not registering correctly over the first 1.3k, so I was running a bit blind, and just hoping I wasn’t blowing up by running to hard in the opening.
This concern was amplified by the fact that this was, in my opinion, the hardest conditions we’ve ever had at the Ark for a race. Why? Well, there was essentially no track whatsoever to work with. The top was a relatively hard crust, but you punched through frequently, plunging into soft snow and needing to lift your feet up very high to move on. It was absolutely soul-crushing. I was sure that people would catch up and start passing, but I realized after a while that EVERYONE would be suffering on the first lap, particularly anyone heavier than me (which lets face it, is pretty much everyone!). Despite the mental obstacle this slog threw at me, I kept the pace up, and tried to keep pushing and catch up to Gareth. It was long shot, but forced me to stay ahead of the rest of the chase pack.
Every now and again, I’d look back to see if anyone was getting within striking distance of me, but the gap seemed to persist and was likely 30s or so. Buoyed by this, I kept at it, sitting firmly in 2nd place, but getting really warm with all the effort. When I finally got close to the sugar shack, I peeled off my ear warmers, neck tube and gloves. I also unzipped by top as far as it could go, trying to prevent from overheating and sweating too much.
After another kilometer or so, I was heading down the steep hill to the lap marker, getting ready to start my second lap. The first lap had taken just over 40 minutes, and I’d ultimately end up with a negative split by running lap 2 in 36 minutes. At this point, you’ll probably note that I said I was in 2nd, yet came in 3rd overall. The pass happened in lap 2.
In fact, the pass happened pretty much right at the start of lap 2. This fellow came seemingly from out of nowhere. I was initially confused. I had slowed to grab a thermos I stashed at the start to grab a quick drink before the 2nd half of the race, and as I was jogging and drinking, realized I had a shadow. I hastily ditched the bottle and got back up to race speed. But it was too late. I was passed, and was now on the chase! I don’t know who this guy was, but he must have packed an extra lung for lap 2, as he was soon pulling away, in spite of the fact that I was pushing max trying to catch and pass him. He had clearly held back on lap 1!
Things were ironically made worse for me by the fact that the tough track had turned tame trough (like that?). We now had a narrow, relatively packed trail to follow thanks to all the racers that had come behind us on lap 1. My quarrel therefore had smooth trails to hammer it, and he did. I was in slight awe, but kept up the pace, as now I was genuinely worried that I had somehow dropped pace and was on the verge of getting passed by others. My heartrate rarely dropped below 180bpm the whole way.
Getting near the finish, I just had the steep final climb followed by the big descent into the finish chute left. I knew Nathan was not terribly far behind, and based on the 2nd race, where James managed to pip me at the line, I was NOT going to slack off at the end. I turned the amp up to 11 and pushed to the very last second, narrowly avoiding a collapse at the finish from exhaustion. Luckily, that left me with the podium slot I’d hope for. Sadly, the colour was wrong, but it was podium nonetheless.
As to my phantom chaser who got 2nd? Well, turns out it was a guy from France visiting a friend in Ottawa for a week, who decided to come out and try this. I’m pretty certain he’s an ultra trail guy who spends his time training in the Chamonix in France. Uncertain of this race, he had taken the first lap relatively easy, staying with his friend, then eventually decided to break off and push on ahead. Curse my luck, right? My toque was off to him though, as it was a great performance! Gareth had beaten me by 8.5 minutes for 1st! 2nd place had crossed the line 2 minutes ahead of me, and 4th was about 45s behind. All in all, a great race, and I was really happy with my performance. Yes, the best of the best were not there, but it was still a hard fought race!
The post-race meal and awards social capped off another fun season of [mostly] snowshoe racing at the Ark. Of course, given the way Mike runs things, there was not even a mention of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place finishers, just awards to the series champs 🙂 So this really is a race for personal glory only, no public fame. We had our fill of pasta, cookies, brownies, chips, and tasty Broadhead Beer. After this, my next challenge will be racing the ITU Winter Triathlon in Quebec in the Elite Division. I fully expect to finish DFL in that one, as I’m racing against the best in the world and Olympians. You’ll get the whole story on that once I’ve completed it.
A week has gone by. The soreness has passed. The tally of toenails I’m likely to lose is up to three. I’m ready to tell my tale, and I almost think I’m ready to contemplate doing it all over again next year! Yes, I’m speaking about the Canadian Ski Marathon. The yearly pilgrimage between Lachute and Buckingham. 160km over two days of pure classic cross-country skiing bliss. This year I was tackling my Coureur des Bois Gold pin. This entails doing the entire thing with a pack carrying all your food and camping gear, and sleeping out under the stars on a hay bale with other CdB Gold skiers. Read on for the whole story.
Several of you will remember that in the past 2 years, I covered the event for Get Out There by putting together videos of the event (Check out my 2012 videos for Day 1 and Day 2, and 2013 videos for Day 1 and Day 2). This year, I wanted to focus on skiing, to ensure success, and hadn’t planned on covering it. However, at the last minute, I was asked to be part of a media team covering the event ‘semi-live’ from the trail. Of course I said yes. The downside was that it consumed more time than I hope fussing with cold electronics, but the upside is that I have a few pictures and videos to share. Check out my little slideshow below!
The night before the event started in earnest, I got to finally check into the ‘Gold Dorm’ in Buckingham, Que. This is the place nearest the start of the event, and is reserved for only the CdB Gold Participants. It’s not actually anything special, just a school gymnasium, but the company is exclusive and was a good chance to meet up with some people I knew and get the skinny on CdB gold strategies. We had to get up at around 4am the next morning, so I was in bed around 9pm, excited and nervous for the weekend. I’d been successful on my previous 2 attempts, but every year is a challenge, and the route reverses direction. This year was the ‘hard’ route. Easier (shorter, flatter) 1st day, followed by the harder (longer, hillier) 2nd day. All I could do was sleep well and be positive.
Day 1 Map and Profile
The next morning, I was up and ready with everyone else, and heading to the cafeteria to grab breakfast. I met up with the event director, and chatted with him a little bit before fueling up. We would see each other a little later in the day, under much different circumstances. I packed up all my gear, and got dressed to head out for the bus. That was when I hit my first snag. I was at the back of the crowd waiting for buses. As a result, they were all full, and a group of us got stranded and had to wait for a bus to make a return trip from the start line. Unfortunately, that meant we would actually miss the official start of the CdB Gold group, set for 5:40am!
Rather than worrying too much about, we rolled with it. After all, we only set out about 5 minutes after them, but it meant that we were not in the ‘pack’, and the CdB silver hotshots would be bearing down on us quickly. At that time of the morning, it is still pitch black, and we ski by headlamps only, travelling carefully on the hills we encounter.
The first day was split into 5 sections, and out opening leg was relatively easy and only 12km long. Pulling into the first checkpoint, the ski and terrain around us was just starting to lighten up. I had something to eat and drink, but didn’t bother re-waxing my skis yet, as they were in pretty good shape still due to amazing snow conditions. The second section was another ‘easy’ one and 13.6km in length. I got through that one with no problems, and could see this was going to be a beautiful weekend. The sun was finally rising, and the skies were blue overhead. It was great seeing all the skiers, and I was making good progress and the pace was great. I pulled into the second CP in very high spirits and made a little video, taking time to eat, drink, socialize a bit, and re-wax my skis. I left with a big grin, not realizing I would be back there in a bit…
The third leg was where things took an interesting turn for me. This section was an ‘intermediate’ level, and was 16.2km long. For me, however, it turned into a 24km ordeal. The first 2k were fine. Then, I passed a little hand-painted sign stating “narrow trail 2km”. Not a big deal, it just meant we’d be going single file. Up and up and up we went, making slow progress, but in nice conditions. At the top of this hill (in 1.8k or so), we inevitably had to descend. I should also mention that by this point, we’d actually passed 2 or 3 other skiers returning on foot with broken equipment. I made a mental note to be very careful to not end up with them.
Anyway, back to the descent. It didn’t look super-hard. There were tracks heading straight down, and thought that would be the way to go. I let the skiers ahead of me get a little gap before I started off. Well, my skis were gliding great, and by staying in the tracks, I was bearing down fast on them. I had to try to snowplow of step out of the tracks to slow down. That didn’t work so well. In very slow-motion in my mind, I realize my left ski (and body) were heading for the trees on the trailside (as it was quite narrow). I managed to avoid the trees with my body, but heard a “crrrrrack!” and suddenly found myself airborne. I knew what had happened, but was still processing it.
As I flew through the air, a thought crossed my mind. “Hmmm, cross-country ski bindings don’t automatically release, do they? My left ski doesn’t seem to be attached to my foot.” I hit the ground, no worse for wear thankfully, and fearfully stomped back up the hill to the little group of 2-3 trees where my left ski had gotten wedged. It wasn’t in two pieces, and I was hopeful. Until I fished it out. The binding (and entire top layer of the ski) had been torn off the base, as you can see in this picture.
Upon retrieving my broken ski, I started to evaluate my options. My first thought was to head to the bottom of the hill and fix it somehow to keep going. Once at the bottom, realizing that the binding was actually completely broken too, I realized there was just no way I’d be able to ski out on this. In a snap decision, I realized i’d have to hike out of my predicament. Yeah, 4 km, with a big pack, carrying broken skis, on snow that I kept punching through and sinking into while trying to avoid literally hundreds of skiers coming the opposite way. Luckily, one of them was my lovely wife, so I did manage to get a nice kiss and some words of encouragement. I wasn’t giving up, but distinctly realized this might be it for my dreams of a gold finish for this year.
When I finally got to the last checkpoint, 40 minutes had easily gone by. I went straight to a ski tech on site. He took a quick look and confirmed I was screwed. Then, someone said ‘go see the Swix guys, they can fix anything’. Nope. Another confirmation of my horrible position. It could possibly be duct taped, but that would mean having the tape in the grip zone, making things really bad. Then, my guardian angel appeared. A man with a piece of cardboard hung around his neck with a hand-written event number and the words, “The Prez” on the sign.
I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
Tennessee Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
This was none other than Boomer Throop, the actual presidenc of CSM. After a few moments consideration, he offered, no, insisted, I take his skis. One glance confirmed from me that unfortunately, he used NNN bindings, whereas mine were SNS. Completely incompatible. “Well, what size are you?” he asked. I replied 8.5. “Perfect, mine are 11”. Well, in my world, that isn’t a perfect fit, but could work. Before I could even think about protesting, he was taking off the skis, boots, AND his socks, standing barefoot telling me to “take the f*cking skis, and don’t say another word. Get out there”. Another volunteer ran off and found me another pair of socks, bringing my total to 4 pairs of socks. I layered them on, slid my own orthotics into the ski boots, and stuck my foot in. They were nice and warm, and I was able to get them tight around my feet, albeit with quite a bit of room in front of my toes.
So that is how I spent 134 km of the 160 km event. Skis that were too long, with an unknown kick zone, boots nearly 3 sizes too big, and 4-5 pairs of socks. This would make for quite a finish if I could pull it off. Needless to say, when I started back out, things were a bit awkward, but I WAS SKIING! That’s all that mattered. I hadn’t given up, and I now had the MEANS to finish, I just needed the right SPIRIT. My parting words to the president were that the only way I could think of repaying him for his kindness was to actually compete the event and get my gold, which was precisely what I inteded to do. Unfortunately, by the time I set out again, I was well over an hour back. All the golds, silvers, bronzes, and even tourers were gone by, and meeting the time cutoffs later down the trail were weighing heavy on my mind. As such, I put my head down and just focused on skiing as efficienatly and quickly as i could. I made steady progress, eventually catching and passing lots of fellow skiers on the way, but lots of these tourers, meaning they weren’t trying to meet a time cutoff. As such, they were quite happy to encourage me on and move aside if needed. For their part, the skis were pretty decent. I had a heck of a time controlling them in some situations due to the longer length, but I was getting decent kick and glide. For that, I can probably also thank the very forgiving snow conditions!
Coming out the other end of the 3rd leg, I was happy to make if to the next checkpoint feeling good. I was now up against the longest leg of the day at over 20km, and the looming cutoff. Without even looking at the time, I set about grabbing a quick bite and drink, and re-waxing the skis, taking a complete guess at where exactly to apply the grip wax. Knowing that Boomer was a bit bigger than me (who isn’t?), I assumed I could go pretty far forward, even with my pack on. I guessed correctly, as starting back out again, things still felt decent. I kept pushing hard the entire leg, uncertain of exaxctly how much time I had, as i was afraid to look. It was indeed a long and demoralizing leg when you are on borrowed gear, but I did eventually find myself at CP4. Time to spare to cutoff? Nearly 50 minutes!!! My hard pushing paid off, but now I worried I’d put too much into the effort. I vowed to take the next and final leg easier, as it no longer mattered how long it took. The only thing to do on arrival at gold camp was to eat, drink, set up camp, wax skis, and sleep. I knew I’d have friends there, and likely a reserved spot.
In spite of taking it ‘easier’, I was still feeling competely drained by the time I hit the gold camp turnoff near Montebello. On the plus side, I’d never seen Deanna again, which meant that she had easily completed Day 1 herself, and was likely gliding into the finish for the day. This lifted my spirits a touch, and I set off on the final 2km slog, with a few other skiers. Happily, I can report I was by no means the last camper in either! Sah-weet! Another nice thing on arrival was seeing my buddy James basically waiting for me. He grabbed my skis, and showed me to our camp, where the fire was already roaring. I dropped my pack, and headed off to claim the 2 hay bales that were assigned to me. One to sit on at the fire, the other to spread out as an insulative mattress. Luckily, even though the sun had technically set, there was still some light, and I got mostly settled in before it was dark.
Day 2 Summary
After getting myself organized, I joined everyone else around the fire, trying to dry my ski clothes, eating and drinking as much as I could, while swapping war stories with my fellow skiers. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with a bad day. One of our friends had had an accident, and dislocated his shoulder, needing a medical evac. So things could have gone much worse for me. However, I was completely and utterly exhausted, and quite concerned about the next day, which was the harder of the two days of skiing! It didn’t help when I was assured I would absolutely hate getting up the next morning in the cold trying to make food, break camp, and head out by 5:30am. Yikes. I decided to live for the moment, and tried to just have a good time around the fire, which was quite easy with the fine company I was sharing the time with. We were amongst the latest people to still be up, finally turning in around 9pm, after filing a quick video, and dropping Deanna a line to see how she was.
I’d love to report that I had an amazing sleep, but I really didn’t. I tossed and turned, trying to keep my ski clothes warm and dry with me in the sleeping bag, and also recharging both my GPS watch and cellphone. I wasn’t overly cold, as temperatures hovered around -12c, which all things considered, was pretty good for gold camp it turns out.I perhaps got 1.5 hours of fitful rest before hearing my alarm go off at 4am, and trying to figure out just how i would get ready for the day. In the end, I decided to just get out of my bivy, and stand outside in the head area while I got dressed. That actually worked out quite well, and I was soon bundled up again, and bustling around getting breakfast ready and packing up my campsite. I’d also decided to throw on a 5th pair of socks for this day, as the pain on the tops of my toes was getting bad, and wanted to try padding them a bit more. I had waxed the skis the night before heading to bed, and was ready to take off. All the campers were making their way to the exit area to be scanned out and start their 82 km day of skiing. I felt pretty stiff and sore, but optimistic.
One of the funny things about CSM is that although you are skiing with hundreds of others, you are, for all intents and purposes, on your own. Everyone has their own pace, and most people just opt to ski at the pace they want to, which means you may find yourself with people for a little while, but then one person will speed up or slow down, or stop for a break, and you’ll be on your own. As such, all my camp mates basically left at different times, and I only bumped into them again along the route at checkpoints. I don’t mind too much though, as I like the solitude at times anyway. Pacing was going to be the word of the day anyway. The ratings on the legs for the 2nd day were intermediate, intermediate, hard, intermediate, and finally, easy. In other words, the first 4 legs would be hard fought. Lots of long climbs, steep descents, and road sections. My plan was to just ski at a pretty steady pace all day and see where that left me for the cutoff at the end of the 4th leg, which for today was 3:30pm. It certainly didn’t seem an impossible task, given that we still had great conditions.
I could explain in detail all the legs, but there is no need. I skied well. The snow was great. The climbs were at times longs and brutal, but I’m actually a bit of a masochist, and felt a purity in all the climbs on the day. The didn’t bother me at all. I’m good at just powering up hills and getting through them. I’ve developed a pretty good mental toughness over years of racing, and I guess it pays off now and again. I was making reasonable time all day, and pausing at each checkpoint, letting the wax techs take care of my borrowed skis while I ate and drank. I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up bonking later in the day. At various points early in the day I got to ski with Dave, Lise, Nathan, and Annie, all four of which are amazing skiers, and were doing the whole course with the CdB group, but skiing at a pretty good pace. The legend of my story had also propagated through the event, as a number of times, when I’d be chatting with people about my day, they’d inevitably ask ‘oh, are you that guy that had the broken ski and had to borrow skis and too-big boots?’. It was pretty funny. Some of these people even remembered seeing me the day before as I was hiking out, and were impressed to see me still in it, let alone being able to bounce back and get my Gold CdB in the process. Truth be told, that’s probably the main reason I pushed so hard. I hate failing at anything, and this one was basically 3 years in the making!
You might be now wondering how close I was with the time cutoff the second day. Well, amazingly, I still had about 1 hour and 20 minutes to spare at the cutoff. In other words, it was no problem at all. In fact, this year, even with the problems, was the most comfortable times I finished with. Granted, the gold skiers did get a 2 km head start, and a 30 minute lead as compared to the bronze CdB people, but I was still mighty elated when I saw the time we had left. Rest assured, that does NOT mean this was an easy day by any stretch of the imagination. Heading out on the final leg, it was a great feeling. There was only about 12 km to go, and I’d wrap things up at a decent time. I decided to push hard anyway, in hopes of being there with lots of time to shower and be ready to greet Deanna. I will say though, the final 3 km felt like they took forever. After speaking to several other skiers, we are convinced they lied about the distance of the last leg. We are pretty sure it was about 3 km longer than advertised. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve mentally prepared yourself to be done in 2 km, then see a sign saying 5 km to go, it makes a difference!
Regardless, I finally found myself on the final steep downhill run before the finish line, with the smell of sausages (and victory) in the air. They called my name as I crossed and I realized I’d done it. I was now a Coureur des Bois Gold finisher at CSM. That felt great, and exhausting. An organizer found me shortly afterwards to reunite me with my busted ski, and collect my borrowed gear. What a tale eh? I had a sausage at the finish, then made my way to the shuttle bus to head to the gym where the luggage and awards were being dealt with. Unfortunately, that is when I also learned that Deanna had sadly missed a cutoff on day 2, and was on her way to pick up the car. I felt crushed for her, but also extremely proud of what she managed to accomplish this year, and the improvements she has made. Tackling the full CSM is a monumental challenge, and there are loads of stories of people not making it. But she killed the first day, and was having a great 2nd day too. She has already vowed to return to get her “G-D Bronze!”. And I believe her.
That pretty much does it for this story. As I type this, I’m still nursing some pulled muscles in my groin, resulting from dealing with the skis that were too long and having to herringbone up the hills. I’m also nursing my toes back to health, and see about 3 toenails that are dead and will eventually fall off. But I have GOLD! That won’t fall off! Will I return? Quite possibly. After all, if I do just 4 more gold CdBs, I get a PERMANENT BIB! They always have something to keep us coming back! Hope you enjoyed my tale. I’m off for one weekend, then back in action for the Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race Season Finale. Till then, take care of you and yours, and see you out in the snow!
Greetings sports fans. It has taken me almost a week to write up this blog post, as I’m still recovering from a humiliating defeat right at the finish line of my latest race. That’s right, a mere 4 days into 2014, and I was testing my fitness at a Mad Trapper Snowshoe Race. Not just any race though, the dreaded ‘hilly’ course. This was over 10 km of grueling ups and downs around the property surrounding the Ark in 2 loops! I had rested for 2 days, and wanted to attack the course and see if I could improve on my 5th place finish from the previous race. Of course, I wasn’t alone in this mission, with a good group of hearty souls lining up with me at the start, including some real speedsters. So how did I do? Well, you’ll just have to read on to find out. I had a camera with me, but in the madness, only fired off a few frames after the race, which you can view on flickr as usual. Now read on!
Random Pics from Event
As you read on, and as you hear more about this race, you’ll see exactly why I’m having a hard time living it down. You really don’t need to do much more than glance at the race results page for proof of my shaming. Go on, click on over there, it’s in black and white right at the top “The race where James passed Steve right at the line! “ And so continues my embarrassment all week. Need more proof, well, please, dear readers, allow me to invite you to witness the exchange on Facebook as well. I am literally being put to task and humiliated publicly by friends and people I admire :-(. Good thing I have thick skin, right? You bet. It’s also good that I believe there is no such thing as bad publicity, and at least I will be remembered for this event, right? Of course, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s just step back and give a quick re-cap of my undoing, shall we?
The day started innocently enough for me. James Galipeau and I were carpooling together to the race, both intent on putting in a good showing. It looks as though we’ll get to do some great adventure racing together later in the season, so it’s good to push each other in training too. Plus, we often match up quite similarly in these sorts of events. Of course, according to him he was ‘totally out of race shape’, but I knew I’d have to watch out. I’d managed 5th place in the first race, and ideally, hoped for the same this time. ESPECIALLY once we arrived to see some of the tough competition. Once again, a couple of the local track, road, and cycling stars came out for this one. Never easy racing against a pro cyclist, the winner of the National Capital ½ Marathon, AND ex World Cup skiers, is it? Rare company indeed, but just another day in the life of a Mad Trapper event! We knew we’d be lucky to stay in the front heap in this one. Lucky for me, I got bib number 666, and decided that might be a good omen for some reason!
My Race Stats
Like it or not, we’d be in for a doozy. Temperatures were just right for a good race too. At about -10 degrees Celsius, it was warm enough to go with only race layers, and not overheat, while not so cold that we’d suffer. Well at least not suffer any more than expected. The race started about 5 minutes late on account of the large number of last-minute racers showing up, and as usual, I seeded myself in the front pack. Behind the biggest guns, but ahead of the hopefuls.
The pace started out quite reasonable in my mind. I didn’t feel like I was pushing overly hard, and hoped that I’d be able to stay with the front group. There was probably around 10-12 of us at the front working at this level. Truth be told, looking at the graph, it was only about the first 200m that were the warm-up. After that point, my heart rate broke 170 bpm, and basically stayed up there for the rest of the race (averaging 177 bpm over the race!). The heavy hitters slowly started detaching themselves from our front ‘pod’, We dropped a few on the way, until it was (apparently) a group of 4 off ahead, then a group of 5 of us in the 2nd pod. Natasha, Vero, Dave, Myself, and James, in that order. The two ladies are tough as nails, and I doubted I’d be able to stick with Vero through the whole thing. Her and Dave had both beaten me at the Anvil in December. Natasha on the other hand, I have beaten in the past, and James and I often jostle for spots here. So, with that in mind, we ran as a unit.
After a bit, Dave pulled off and let James and I go past. This was unexpected, and meant he was basically out. He just wasn’t feeling it I guess (then has the nerve to make fun of me! Lol). So we were down to 4 of us. After a bit, Natasha and Vero pulled off and had about a 15-20m gap on us, which stayed constant until basically the end of Lap 1. James and I held our spots, with him matching me step for step. I generally pulled ahead on downhills, only to have him chase me down on the uphills, but neither of us really gaining or losing. We passed the start/finish and embarked on lap 2.
I grabbed a cup of water, and James grabbed a bottle, both of us trying (and failing) to get much drink into us before the first hill on the other end of the driveway. However, with over half the race in the bag, I tried to step up my pace just a little and bridge the gap to the girls. Which we did successfully. After a few hundred meters, I felt like I could make a move and pass, which is where I pulled of a huge tactical move. There was steep downhill with an S shape to it. Picture the girls passing on the outer apex of that S, and me taking the straight line instead to jump in front. So after the first part of the S, I was ahead of Vero, then in the 2nd half, managed to just squeeze ahead of Natasha.
You have to understand that in a wilderness snowshoe race, passing chances are very slim. If you are on the trail, you’re in a nice little ‘snow canyon’ formed by racers packing the trail. To pass, you have to throw yourself in very deep snow which slows you down a lot, and then try to pass. I got lucky. James did not. Apparently after my heroic pass, which he admired, he decided to try one himself a bit later. Sadly for him, it backfired, and all the momentum he used to get in the deep snow merely propelled him, Superman style, headlong into the snow. He said it took a while to recover.
So now picture it, I’m ahead, and pushing myself to the breaking point, but realizing we have 3.5k to go. A bit early for a finishing kick… Regardless, I wanted to mentally put in a gap, and eventually got to probably 100m ahead, leaving at least a couple of them thinking I was out of the picture. However, as I feared, Vero had lots of reserves left. She was just shadowing Natasha, knowing that 1st place was hers if she passed Natasha. Sensing this, Natasha picked up her speed to stay ahead. The downside is that eventually Vero decided to turn on her own jets, and shot in front, but not before they had significantly closed the gap to me. With about 1k to go, Vero bore down on me, and passed me like I was standing still. I had tried to shake her, but there was no hope. Oh yeah, probably worth mentioning she was ONE of the pro cyclists there (the other being Derrick St. John, winner of the race).
I was okay with her passing, as I expected it, and just wanted to stay ahead of the other two. Glancing back, it was Natasha, followed by James another few meters back, and I seemed to be in good shape to stay ahead. Undaunted, I pressed on hard until the final 2 major climbs. At the top of the final climb, I was still ahead with 30-40m of a gap, and thought James was behind Nat. Turns out, he wasn’t He had passed her, and wanted to close in on me.
Feeling as though it was ‘in the bag’ for me, I started down the final steep downhill leading to the finishing chute, probably only going at about 80%. People were ‘cheering’ for me, and I enjoyed the moment. Crossing the line, I hear “He took it from you”, and noticed a shadow on my left. Turns out, they were NOT cheering for me, but yelling “He’s right on your tail”. WHAT??!?! Ahead of me, laying flat on his back and barely alive was James, who had undertaken a heroic sprint to push for me at the line. I had NO idea he was there, and had let him pip me at the line. RIGHT AT THE LINE!! I have NEVER lost at the line like that, and was really annoyed by it.
However, that’s racing, right? We live and learn. James realized that I had no idea, and acknowledged he honestly didn’t think he could possibly catch me, but went for it anyway, so ‘chapeau’ to him for the effort. I just wish I had noticed and made it a real sprint. Suffice to say, I would NOT have lost if I’d just noticed he was that close. Grrrr…. even reliving it as I type makes me mad. Not for him, but for me. Stupid stupid stupid. And even worse? It was for that 5th place I had hoped for!
You know what? That’s really all I have to say about that race. Extremely hard fought, fun as hell, and a great post-race social atmosphere with food and beer as usual. Already looking forward to the next Mad Trapper, which will be the famous night race. Of course, first, it’s time for a change of scenery. I’m off to Cornwall to race in a Dion Series snowshoe race with a few others. Should be a great time, and stay tuned for that story. I can promise you I will NOT be pipped at the line again. I probably won’t win either, but I will get what I deserve 🙂 Till then, pray for more snow… it’s too early for 8 degrees and rainy weather!
Howdy race fans! Back again for another dramatic race re-cap from the wilds surrounding my humble abode. This time, the start was at the venerable Ark, and the event was [supposed to be] the season opening Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. Each year, Mike puts on a total of 4 snowshoe races on his property, including a super-fun night race. Although we’d gotten a good dump of snow over the course of the previous 2 weeks, we also unfortunately had a day and a half of warmer temps that brought rain. So, while there WAS snow, the coverage was poor and there were lots of rocks and exposed open fields. As a result, a Mad Trapper Trail Race was held instead. Not the first time this has happened in December! Check out some pics I snapped an put on Flickr, then read the rest of my recap.
Pictures from the Race
If you’ve spent any time whatsoever on this blog, you’ll likely have read quite a few posts about Mad Trapper races out at the Ark. Mike is celebrating 10 years of hosting races up there, and I’ve been a part of almost all of them. There are only a handful of us that can lay claim to that distinction, and it’s still fun to see them out there and share the trails in friendly competition. Snowshoe races are the classic out there, but as you may know, Mike has branched out over the years, hosting trail running races, orienteering races, obstacle races, and even a beer mile! Can’t wait for whatever is next, but first, let’s talk turkey about this race.
The traditional December race is the ‘flatter’ course, and for this one, Mike would the clock back to one of his classic course designs from years gone by where we traipse over his neighbour’s property, in the open fields. This truly is one of his flatter runs, which should lead to some pretty speedy results by the front runners, which I hoped to count myself among. Thanks to the Anvil race a couple weeks before, I had what I considered would be the best footwear for me, my new Mudclaws. Yaktrax or similar shoe attachments might have been ok as well, but they tend to get in the way, and I don’t own any spiked shoes. With the conditions being what they were, the race consisted of about 40 hearty souls in total. Just the right number to make it a fun challenge.
I showed up a touch earlier than usual, and did a nice little warmup on the trails and with a bit of bushwhacking for fun. This was mainly to determine the state of the course. Luckily, it was a little warmer than the Anvil had been, so the footing was a little safer, as the ground wasn’t completely frozen solid (better purchase in grass and leaves). I got back to the start with a few minutes to spare, lined up with my like-minded friends, traded friendly taunts, and got ready to go. Mike warned us to take it easy on the first lap, as by his estimation, this would be the most dangerous Mad Trapper he’s hosted! That seemed to translate to a classic ‘gentleman’s’ start, with no one seeming willing to push hard off the start.
My Race Log
Instead, at the front of the pack, we just all sort of gradually picked up tempo as we got comfortable with the trail. It was the usual suspects out front. I was sitting 7th or so, but gradually picked my way up the field until I was sitting in 3rd overall, behind Nathan Underwood and Dave McMahon (both ski phenoms). This didn’t seem quite right, as I knew there were faster people behind me. Well, once we hit the flat, open fields, that’s where I lost a couple spots, to find myself sitting in 5th. I was determined to hold onto that spot, and pushed hard to stay in contact with the front 4. The plan was working well, and for a bit, I thought I might actually regain 4th place. However, such would not ultimately be the case. I crossed the end of the first lap in a time of about 28 minutes. Pretty good for the opening 5k. Knowing that someone was on my tail, I opened it up a little more to press on hard for the 2nd lap.
My second lap consisted of my wondering whether or not I could maintain my pace, with my average heart rate sitting at over 175bpm, and my will being tested. However, I knew that physically I could hold on, so it was just a mental game. I used my standard practice of pretending that someone was right on my heels at all times and that if I let up, I’d get passed and lose my top 5 slot. It worked quite well, and although I never quite caught 4th place again, I sailed through the course for a dead-even 2nd lap sitting at about 28 minutes again. My total time was 56m30s, good enough for 5th overall, and a full 6 minutes ahead of my next closest competitor. My litmus test had me at 2.5 minutes behind Dave McMahon (3rd place) and about 6.5 minutes behind the winner. In other words, I was clearly in the lead pack, with a good gap to the rest of the field. Sweet! Only the 5 of us beat the course in under 1 hour. Here’s hoping that I can keep this sort of fitness for the actual snowshoe races as well.
As usual, the post race socializing was as much fun as the race. There were heaping helpings of both meat and veggie lasagna, homemade brownies, chips, cookies, fruit, and of course fresh Broadhead Beer on tap (kegerator this time!). Everyone milled around until Mike decided to do his version of an awards ceremony. This of course is random prize-giving, random good-natured insulting, and general rambling to the amusement of all present. All in all, a good season opener in spite of not getting to try out my new Dion Snowshoes in a race setting. However, judging by the weather we’ve had so far in December, I think I’ll be in good shape for snow activities for the rest of the winter. Now with that, I have to go shovel, slap some green grip wax on my classic skis, and head to the Parc for some training. See you all out there!
Stories from an athlete, adventurer, and lover of life