Valiant Effort at Champs

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I can now say that I raced in the Canadian National snowshoe championships. In fact, I can also say that in my age category, I was the 3rd fastest racer in the Canadian National snowshoe championships! Yup, that’s right, I got third place. Sadly, the field wasn’t that huge, because truth be told, I had what I would consider a pretty mediocre race. Of course, I do have a valid excuse. It turns out that you really shouldn’t race hard for 7 hours the day before a race like this 😉 On the plus side, I dragged a camera along with me for the entire race to snap pics. If you’d like to see them, head on over to the flickr folder. But before you do that, why not read my little tale of pushing hard?

It started on a nice morning. I would have much preferred sleeping in, but there it was, 7am with my damn alarm clock waking me up. I had gotten home shortly after 10pm the night before from the Raid Pulse race, and sorted my gear for a little while before turning in, after all, I needed some of that stuff semi-dry for the next morning. I wish I could tell you I jumped right out of bed, excited to face the day, but it just wasn’t the case. I knew right away that this race was definitely going to challenge, with or without a tremendous field of racers (which is exactly what I faced!). Regardless, I’m never one to back away from a challenge, especially when I’d already ponied up the cash! It was cool to think that I’d be racing in the first ever national championships for snowshoeing. I was also psyched to yet again finish off my winter snowshoe racing by completing my third of the tree Mad Trapper races.

While digging around my gear bin, and grabbing this and that, it occurred to me that I might as well take my aquapac, and drag the camera with me to take pictures. If I wasn’t going to be able to win the race (or possibly even race fast!), I figured I might as well try to convey a race from my own perspective. I always regret that there is no way to really show you readers what it’s like to race. Some day I’ll figure out how to get a helmet cam onto a race course, but for now, you’ll just have to make do with those pictures. So, off I went to make the drive up to Low, Quebec.

The race was slated to start around 10am, and I showed up sometime around 9:30am. Even at that time, I could tell that this would be a different race than we’re used to out at the Ark. There were actually International competitors toeing the line this time. There were two van loads of guys that drove up from the States, as well as another few people from the good ole US of A. There were also competitors from Montreal, Toronto, and points in between. I’m pretty sure it was the largest starting field of any race to date. The most interesting thing was the fact that a lot of those people were first-timers, coming out just for this race. I put on my race gear, and chatted with the people that I did know there, including Ryan, James, Sophia, Pete, Rick and others. Ryan and James were planning to go for broke, with the overall series victory up for grabs for James, and with Ryan chomping at the bit for a first place finish. Sadly, neither of them would finish where they wanted (although James did snag the overall first place! )

In another change of events, the race actually started pretty much on time. I think the gun went off at about 10:05am. This being the series wrap-up, the course was slated to combine the first two courses. More specifically, the race would consist of two loops. The first lap was the ‘flat course’ lap, and the second lap was the ‘hilly course’. Now if you’ll recall from my previous race report on the Raid Pulse race, we’d just gotten a fair dump of snow. The original plan by Mike was to have multiple parallel tracks for the racers, to minimize the amount of trail congestion. As a result of the snow, there was only a single track. Also, since both laps were on a different course, the second lap would be just as hard as the first, with little to no flattening of the trail.

With that in mind, I attacked lap 1 quite zealously. I like trying to stay in contact with the front runners as long as possible. Unfortunately for me today, this group of jokers was smoking fast! We held a tight line for the first while, but it was clear to me very quickly that it wasn’t to be for me. By around the 3rd significant hill, I had to relent a bit, and let a couple people past me. My new decision was just to try and maintain my standing in the overall race pack. I valiantly raced that first lap, only losing a couple more places. I think I was around 15th or so. I had kind of linked with a few racers, and we were racing at about the same pace, and chatting as we ran (well, as best as is possible when you’re huffing and puffing).

I had worn my race pack, so I had a liter and a half of E-load as well as some gel. I pretty much sucked back that E-load the entire time I was racing. Even early on I felt the beginnings of cramping in my legs. I’m no stranger to that feeling, and I was doing everything in my power to ward off that crappy crampy feeling. I was feeling pretty exhilarated as I crossed the start / finish line after the first lap. Uh-oh, I realized then the true problem. The next lap was to be the hilly course lap. Damn. The all-uphill was about to become all downhill to me 🙂 Now when I say I struggled on the next lap, I really mean that I nearly died. I’ve had some tough sections in other races, and have said that I hurt in past races, but this one was right up there.

About a third of the way along the second lap, I really hit the wall. My legs basically turned to concrete. I’ve never had that kind of feeling in my legs before. Normally, at this point, I get big cramps, and might fall down. However, as a result of my excellent hydration and nutrition plan, I wasn’t dehydrated, so this was something completely different. I can only assume that’s what true muscle fatigue feels like. At this point, I also had to suck it up and tell the guys I had been racing with that they should take the lead. I’d been leading us out for a while, and they said they were happy with my pace, but I knew that wasn’t going to last. As soon as I let them past, it was game over, I could only watch hopelessly as they receded into the distance ahead of me. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I stopped. Au contraire, I was going as hard as I possibly could, and physically was definitely moving faster than a walk, but I really couldn’t wait for it to be over. The worst part is that the biggest hills are right at the end, and I was only moving by sheer willpower.

I should mention that I finished the first lap in about 42 minutes. Not great, but definitely not too bad. I knew that I should expect a positive split, and in my heart of hearts, was hoping for about a 45-47 minute second lap. So, you wanna know what my final time was? Well, just over 1h and 40 minutes. Yikes! It was about an 18 minute split. As you might imagine, that disappointed me, but the moral of the story is don’t expect to race hard two days in a row (well, unless it’s a 2-day race, which is totally different). You can’t mentally put yourself in the frame of mind to hold back in both races so that you can physically perform well at both. You’ve gotta choose which one is more important, and for me, this weekend, it was the adventure race!

So what of the other racers? Well, the American males were very winning at this one. I don’t know the final stats, but they definitely nailed a lot of the top spots. Ryan? Well, he actually went off course at one point in the race, and as a result, was pulled off and didn’t officially finish. A bummer for him for sure. James? Well, he also went off course, but was able to come back from it. However, the extra effort of trying to make up ground caused him to blow up on the hilly course as well, and he bonked. He dropped back, and didn’t finish as high as he would have liked. So for the final standings, I think I was 23rd male, 25 or 26th overall, but 3rd in the M30-35 category. I don’t feel too bad about it though. I did it. Every finished race is an accomplishment, and I always take something away emotionally for it. Oh yeah, I also walked away with a $25 Bushtukah gift certificate. Sweeeet!

The wrap-up party was great as always. There was a ton of chili on offer, along with the obligatory chips, cheese, rolls, cookies, drinks, etc. Plus, as a bonus this time, a big pot of Chicken Noodle soup too! I’ve gotta tell you all, I pigged out majorly, and still couldn’t seem to fill the void. There was a ton of prizes as well, with almost everyone walking away with something. As usual, I’ve gotta say, this event deserves to keep growing every year, and I truly hope that Mike gets a big spike in participation next season. Sadly for me, I won’t be racing in them next year. Not that I don’t want to, but I’ll be biking the alps of the South Island around that time. Poor me, right? Ha ha. Well, that’s all I have time to write about this race, hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for news on my latest training partner…

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