Persistence Leads to Consistency

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Welcome back, sports fans! I’m happy to report that ActiveSteve has had another successful racing weekend out in the snowy hills in Quebec. Yup, this was the second of four snowshoe races that form the Mad Trapper snowshoe series. This time, I was racing the “hilly” course, which was about 10km of pristine trails with lots of ups and downs. The weather once again was pretty much ideal for a race in the snow, albeit a bit cold. For those who don’t care to read the entire post, my results were pretty much exactly as they were last time, with me coming in 5th place overall, although at least this time I didn’t have to run it out with a competitor at the last second. I brought my camera out, but sadly, the batteries weren’t charged up, and I only got one shot of me at the finish. Luckily, my friend Andrew had his too, so I managed to steal a few of his shots to add them to a folder of winter pictures that I put up on flickr. In order to make up for it, I created a map with my GPS. Of course, it’s not quite as dramatic as when I make the map with pictures, but at least you can see where I did the race, and get an idea of the terrain. Once you’re done getting through that stuff, read on for the whole story.

The best part about winter has got to be the crisp morning air and a fresh pile of snow to bash your way through. This winter, I’ve found myself almost exclusively snowshoeing. I’ve done a bit of straight running, and the odd skate, but I haven’t even taken off the ‘storage wax’ from the glide zone on my cross-country skis this year. Crazy, I know, but it’s just that I’ve gotten more invites to go out snowshoeing than skiing thus far. I’m sure I will get out on the sticks at some point, but for now, I’m having plenty of fun in our deep snow with the racquets . This weekend would prove to be another ideal test of that skill, as racers at the Ark got to challenge the ‘hilly course’, which if you know anything about the ‘flat’ course may be cause for concern. As a bonus for this race, Mike actually took the time to create some extra ‘off road’ sections for this course. He has a couple set courses in the land around the ark, but this time, he added some extra trails, which was much appreciated by those of us who have done most of the races out at the ark over the past few years.

Weather-wise, things were gearing up to be a repeat of the early December race. Temperatures were well below freezing, with windchills somewhere around -32 I think. Plus, we’d had another abundance of snow dump on us this week, leaving fresh powder all over the place. The first two races of this season are a far cry from the ‘climate change challenge’ Mike hosted a couple years back, where our January race turned into a trail run. Not this time around. However, in spite of the climate change ‘reversal’, our crew still opted to be as environmentally conscious as we could. Four of us made the trip out in one vehicle, and we all got to use our own bowls, plates, and cutlery, rather than using disposable stuff. Sure, it’s a small thing, but if everyone did it…. well, you know where I’m going with that. No prizes or glory for that feat this time, but even the venue is pretty much zero impact. After all, the Ark is completely off the grid, relying on wind and solar power most of the time (leading to apparently very cold nights in the bedroom!)

I was joined by Carl, and Carlie, who were taking on the 5km course, as well as Andrew, who would be racing the 10k course with me. Last time, Andrew had a bit of a rough go, and ended up in 10th. This was a huge boost for me, since I’ve never beaten him in any other race we’ve been in together (mostly adventure races). However, Andrew had learned some valuable lessons about pacing, and was armed with a nice pair of racing snowshoes this time (replacing his plastic ones that had broken during training). We placed a friendly wager on who would win, with the victor having the pleasure of riding shotgun in Carl’s Xterra . Of course, I knew that if Andrew was ‘on’ today, I’d have no hope 🙁 We had managed to show up about a half hour before race time, so Andrew went out for a warm-up run while I opted for simply the warm-up in the ark.

All too soon, it was race time. I lined up next to Andrew, seeding ourselves at the very front of the pack. I’m always nervous being right at the line, but since there’s only about 40 people in these races, I know I’m amongst the faster racers here. When the gun went off, I quickly settled into the 5th place spot. Andrew had taken the lead right away, and was determined to set a slower pace than the beginning of the last race, and it was working for a while, which meant I actually stayed in contact with the front runners. Carl was up there with us for a while as well. After a few hundred meters, I was passed by one guy, putting me in 6th momentarily. However, a little further on, Carl finally dropped off from the front, putting me in 5th spot again. As much as I’d like to have a whole series of stories about trading spots with other racers, that’s pretty much the way it stayed for me the entire race.

I fought bravely to stay in contact with the leaders, and for most of the first lap, I had them in my sights, although it became further and further in sight. Towards the end, it was more like I’d see them coming back around a loopy section when I’d be starting it. I tried counting the gap, and it seemed like about 45 seconds at one point. Part of my problem was that there was no one breathing down my neck to urge me on, and I felt like I was pretty much maxed out as it was. I did catch sight of someone behind me a few times, but it was pretty far back, and even that eventually faded away. So, I was left to my own devices, inventing, as I often do, invisible competition. Each time I’d hit a big hill and start to slow, I’d pretend I’d just seen or heard someone close behind me, and tell myself I had to run hard to keep my position.

Although it was bitterly cold, I didn’t even notice it. On the contrary, I pulled down my neoprene face warmer to get more air into my lungs, certain it had warmed up. The pictures of course show a completely different story, with my face totally frozen over. Now I can understand why the Yukon dog racers look so frozen but seem so relaxed and comfortable; they probably don’t even realize how cold they ‘look’. At the end of lap one, I was probably 1.5 to 2 minutes down. It had taken me almost 38 minutes to do the first circuit. I slowed down only for a second to grab a cup of water. Lo and behold, it was lukewarm. Never been a fan of warm water, but it was truly quite nice, and gave me just a little boost of energy to keep going. Renewed, I tried to redouble my efforts in hopes of catching back up to the lead 4, hoping one of them might falter and had underestimated the course.

Alas, that wasn’t to happen, and I merely held on to my 5th place. Although, I’m mighty proud of it. After all, I maintained a heart rate of over 170bpm on average for the whole race, and I can guarantee I suffered for it. It felt great to be alive, and I even slowed a couple times to take in the awesome scenery at the top of some hills (okay, slowing down was pretty much a natural reaction to the steep inclines, but at least there was a reward!). Before I knew it, I was cresting what I knew was the last big hill of the race, and I cruised down the final section to finish somewhat relaxed, unlike last time, where I had to go completely anaerobic and collapse! It was a nice finish, with Carl, Carlie, and Andrew all there, along with other cheering people. Nice of people to stay out and cheer, even though it was so cold!

After the race itself, we were of course treated to another amazing spread of food, with a delicious ham casserole (and a veggie one for those of the vegetable persuasion), cookies, soup (extra salty for racers), bananas, oranges, chips, drinks etc. I’m telling you, the price of admission is more than covered by the excellent post-race atmosphere. We stayed around and chatted for a long time, even after everyone else had left. As per usual, the ‘awards’ ceremony was really more about recognition of everyone’s accomplishments, rather than exalting the top finishers. In fact, there aren’t even guaranteed prizing for the 1st place finishers, although there are plenty of prizes. Mike randomly picked the number 5, and decided to give me a prize, since I was in 5th place. I picked up a sweet $25 coupon to Bushtukah. Yup, that’s right, $25, which incidentally was what the race actually cost me, since I had registered early and for all 4 races. How sweet is that?!

The ride home was just as enjoyable, with 4 tired but very happy racers in the car, all aglow with stories about their own race and how fun it was. Andrew was on cloud nine after coming in second in a dramatic finish where he overtook the guy ahead of him (Alex) in the last couple hundred meters. He felt he more than made up for his last race. Of course, that meant he’d won the bet, and had shotgun as well. We’re all planning to head to the next race again, which happens to be the Canadian National Snowshoe Championships this time! That race will be on February 21st at 10am, and it’s not too late to register. If you’d like to take part, you’ll again have the option of 5km or 10km, and trust me, not everyone is racing hard. Even if you just want to go for a stroll in the woods, it’s still worth the price. Enough plugging for now, but if you want to register, just click this link.

Well, that’s it for now, as once again, I seem to have written more than most people can stomach reading, but hey, I find it therapeutic (and my family like reading about my exploits from time to time, and it’s nice to write about racing, instead of just my partying 🙂 That’s all for now, but stay tuned to ActiveSteve to see what I’m up to next. Hint: it involves a special delivery tomorrow…

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