Turning on the Jets

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Howdy to all and happy holidays! For the first time in a while I finally have a story that I’m happy to share with everyone. Yes, as you can see by the picture, and maybe guess from the title of the post, I’ve finally gotten back onto the racing scene by propelling myself with only my legs 🙂 Yup, for the first time since September of 2007, I’ve RAN in a race. Not only did I run though, I ran hard. I ran to the point that I could barely breathe anymore. That’s how hard I ran. And it felt great! Mind you, I wouldn’t say that I’m at 100% yet, but it was nice to really open up the tap and see what I could do. Of course, this wasn’t just any running race. No siree, this was the first Mad Trapper snowshoe race of the 2008-2009 season, of which there are 4 races, all of which I’m pre-registered for. Feel free to head over to flickr and check out the pictures that I took from the event. None from the race course sadly, but I was a little pre-occupied. In case you have ADD and don’t feel like reading my entire post, I came in a very respectable 5th place overall with a time of 1hr12mins. for the 10km course. As a comparison, the last time I ran this same course (in the snow), I had a time of 1hr32mins, and was in 14th! Yup, shaved off 20 minutes!! For the full story, please read on.

To start things off, we had an excellent week preceding the race. What makes and excellent week? Well, how about several massive dumps of snow to blanket the race course. I hadn’t been on my snowshoes in quite some time, so I decided I should get out for a little test run a couple nights before. To do that, I just trudged over to a nearby park and did laps in the 35cm of fresh powder. Holy moly, the first lap was extremely slow. By the 4th lap, I at least had a pretty good trail broken, but it was still slow going. This was a good chance for me to figure out my pacing in the snow, and to try out the layers I’d be wearing come race morning. However, one thing was bothering me, and that was the snowshoes I was using for my run. They are Atlas 1025s, which are called ‘back-country’ snowshoes. The problem is that on race day, I’d be on a packed-snow course with most other competitors wearing newer, lighter snowshoes…

So what does ActiveSteve do? Well, it’s a fairly understood fact that I have G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome), and therefore, I scoured the stores and online to figure out what was a fair price for a great pair of racing snowshoes, then proceeded to get them. This involved a few stops, but ultimately resulted in me picking up a really sweet pair of Atlas ‘Race’ snowshoes. These are the lightest shoes that Atlas makes, and would pretty much guarantee that I could run my best without worrying about the racquets on my feet! In order to finance these new babies, I ended up selling another pair of snowshoes that I had that were WAAY too big for me, so in the end, it didn’t cost me a huge bundle or anything, and would give me that boost that I needed.

Okay, so, now that I had the ultimate in snow footwear, it was time to rest up and get set for the race. Well, rest up was a different story. I’ve been pretty good about training lately, and made sure that I kept up with it most of the week, with spinning, the gym, and running. I did take Friday off though. The only other bummer of the week was the fact that on Friday, I had not one, but two holiday functions. First was my groups’ Christmas potluck party, followed by a wine and cheese party at a friends house. Since I was racing early the next day, I had to be a pooper and not imbibe too much, instead opting to be a driver. I guess that’s for the best, as it would keep me in better condition in the long run, right? Well, maybe so, but it still sucks when you can only have a drink or two when everyone else can get jolly 🙂

So, flash-freeze forward to Saturday morning. I get up, and check the weather. Ho hum, -28 degrees Celsius. Wait? What?! Yup, -28 plus a bit of a windchill. Ouch, that might make for an interesting race day. Luckily, I’ve pretty much become a master of layering and dealing with the elements over the years, so it just meant carrying a couple extra things in my gear bag. Before I knew it, I was off to Low, Quebec, to the Ark, where it would all unfold. I took my time getting there and stopped a few times to appreciate the beauty that we have all around us, as you can see by a couple of my pictures. It was a very beautiful clear morning, and I was really looking forward to spending time in the great outdoors. There’s nothing better for fixing me up mentally 🙂

I arrived almost an hour early, and there were already plenty of other racers on site. They were all over the place, some people warming up, some freezing up, some just hanging out and chatting, but the bulk of them were in the Ark keeping warm, which is what I opted to do. I got my race number (12), then headed to the little racer’s room to change into my race kit. Before I knew it, it was time to strap on the shoes, and toe the line. I just had time to try a quick run uphill to warm up, then back down. I had never actually tried on the snowshoes, so I wanted to at least make sure they’d stay on. I was amazed at just how light they felt between them, and my new Keen trail runners (won at a race), there was almost no weight on my feet. Awesome. I found myself gravitating to the front of the pack at the line, but wasn’t quite sure if that was a good idea. I’d soon see.

The gun went off, and we all started trudging to the first lung-busting climb, one of only two in the ‘flatter’ course. This doesn’t mean it was a ‘flat’ course, just a ‘flatter’ course. However, it was a great season opening course. I was placed at about 8th or 9th from the front, and three of us fell into a good pace. There were just enough people ahead that the trail was being packed as I went. Mike (race director) had only gotten out twice since the snowfall, to there was still quite a bit of powder, and I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to keep pace with the leaders. Lucky for me, the LEADERS were unable to keep pace with themselves. Several of them went out too hard at the beginning, and I gradually made my way through a few people to find myself in 4th place at the conclusion of the first lap. Mind you, it wasn’t without pretty good effort on my part. My average heart rate was 172!! I’m glad I wore my monitor, as it certainly didn’t feel that hard, but I knew that if I went any harder, I’d definitely blow up. After all, I wasn’t carrying either water or energy gel on the course.

Rocketing down the final hill of the first lap, I allowed myself enough of a slowdown to grab a dixie cup of water and try to get some into me. Of course, the problem by this point was that I was pretty much frozen solid in my face. My fleece facewarmer had frozen to a solid mass, and even my short beard was completely frosted over, so a lot of the water just instantly froze to my face. It was pretty funny actually. In those little moments, I lost a bit of steam, and allowed myself to get passed by a couple people close by. During the second lap, I managed to get by one of them once again, as he started fading, but I felt not too bad. I kept pushing myself harder and harder the entire way, promising that I’d hold on to my 5th place. Would I do it?

With only about a kilometer and a half to go, I started chatting with the guy right behind me, and I mean RIGHT behind me. He was happy with my pace, and seemed content to stay there. Later on, he confided that if we’d stuck together, he wouldn’t have tried to pass at the end, saying he thought it’d be wrong, since I’d paced his lap. Anyway, I asked him if anyone was near, and he said he hadn’t heard anyone. However, not 20 seconds later, he said, crap! There’s someone right behind me! Well, I decided not to risk my position, so I cranked up my effort yet again. In a little bit, I started pulling away from them, but knew I’d have to keep it up. As it turned out, the other guy was just waiting for a chance to pass, as with the deep snow, that’s pretty tricky.

Once he did pass the other fellow, he set his sights on me and hammered hard. I could hear him right behind me. Crunch crunch, squeak squeak. Bindings and snow creaking and moaning, ragged breathing as he tried to overtake me. This would be a hard race to the finish. Unfortunately, I knew that the end of the race consisted of a killer uphill, then a kamikaze downhill. My only hope lay with staying ahead on the uphill. This meant trying to break him, which I didn’t want to do. My options were keep something in the tank, using it only if he used the ‘passing lane’ on the uphill, or stay ahead the whole way. I decided to test my legs and pressed on with the lead. Once it flattened out on the top, I knew exactly what was going to happen. The single lane once again turned to two lanes, and it would be a flat out sprint. I hoped it wouldn’t be, but I could risk it. I fired on all cylinders and propelled myself harder than I had the whole race, and the guy almost overtook me. ALMOST. But he didn’t. And I know he wanted it. I guess, as Kev would call it, I had another ‘Meyer moment’. No one does that to me when I’ve worked so hard at keeping my place. 6th just isn’t as nice sounding as 5th. Of course, the official difference is only 1 point in the standings, but that’s okay.

When it was all said an done, the other fellow (Ian) was very good about it, and we celebrated together at the finish line. Well, actually, I completely collapsed in the snow, and had to lay there for a couple minutes before getting back up. I was super pumped, and had a real rush. The tiny accumulated crowd also seemed to agree that we had the most exciting finish of the race as well. As it turned out, Ian was one of the guys I passed on the first lap who had gone out too hard. He was originally in 4th, and was clawing his way back. He made a great comeback, so there were certainly no hard feelings. It was a great battle.

So what did I get for my heroic effort? Well, not much in the physical sense. I of course had the great post-race meal that Mike and Monique always provide: hot chili, rolls, fruit, chips, cookies and drinks. There was also the fun post-race atmosphere, catching up with friends old and new that are into the race scene; swapping war stories and future plans. But above all else, I got a great Saturday morning. The kind you can’t buy anywhere. Running carefree through the woods on snowshoes with like-minded people, soaking up all that nature has to offer. I couldn’t care less about the cold weather, the economy, my stock portfolio, etc. etc. There was only living in the moment, having what I’ll call a ‘pure’ experience. Believe me, we could all use those kind of mornings. If you’re at all interested in snowshoeing, you might want o check out the next few races. Not everyone has to bust a lung and beat the clock. One couple did the single lap course, and they took an hour and a half for just the 5kms! They had they’re own day, and enjoyed it every bit as much s I did. So with that, I’ll leave you all, and start training for the next race! See ya in the snow, dogs.

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