A Little Winter Adventuring

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Hey gang, sorry for the delay in posting any new stories to you all. I’ve been pretty wrapped up with the kitchen renovations and work, but fear not, the job is [finally] done, so I can get back to the business of entertaining you all with my fun stories. This will be another tale of a winter race that I took part in a few weeks back. In fact, it was my only Winter Adventure Race of the season, so I was pretty psyched about it. Admittedly, finding motivation to stay on top of my training has become rather tricky, so at a bare minimum, I figured that signing up for the whole snowshoe race series, as well as a winter adventure race would at least keep me in some sort of winter shape, rather than hibernating. To peruse the pictures that were snapped at this race, head over to the appropriate flickr folder, then come on back and read the story. I didn’t have my camera with me, as it was in the shop, but at least there were a couple cameras on course to capture some of the fun. I had my GPS on (with permission), but it somehow got stopped part way through the first section, so the map isn’t very interesting. However, read on for a brief synopsis of my fun race.

As most of you are no doubt aware, adventure racing is pretty much my favourite sporting activity. Spring, summer, fall and winter, they’re all excellent times of the year to get out there and commune with nature while having a great time with friends in the woods. This particular race was part of the Raid Pulse series, their first race of the 2009 season. Regardless of the season, adventure races all pretty much have the same kind of format, that is, no fixed format 🙂 A combination of disciplines carried out in random order, over mixed terrain with a map and compass. For this race, the main disciplines were snowshoeing, skiing, and biking. The toughest leg for me this year for sure was going to be skiing. You see, I hadn’t been skiing pretty much at all for 2 years. In fact, in preparing for this race, Carl and I only managed to squeeze in one training session on the sticks.

Carl also decided to buy brand new skis just a couple days before the race. You know what they say: never start a race with equipment that you’ve never used before. I stick pretty close to that axiom just for safety’s sake, but it didn’t faze Carl at all. Admittedly, it worked out fine in the end, as neither of us were strong skiers, so we could only do our best.

The week leading up to the race turned out to be quite a challenge as well weather-wise. You see, we went through some rather warm days, causing a large part of the top layers of snow to be melted away. At one point, we were getting pretty worried that the race wouldn’t be able to go as planned. However, mother nature stepped in later in the week and slowed the melting process by throwing a deep freeze our way. To help a little bit more, she even threw a dusting of snow over the Buckingham region the night before the race. Not a lot, but just enough to give a little bit of kick to the cross country ski tracks. Whew!

Carl and I managed to pull together a quick car-pool as well, and there were three racers and one volunteer piled into Carls Exterra along with our gear for the ride out. We ended up taking the Masson-Angers bridge across the mighty Ottawa river, and showed up with plenty of time to get set up. It was clear right off the bat that cold would be our biggest challenge. The mercury was pretty far south of zero. Normal kick wax on the skis was possibly not going to work for us, and several people recommended klister . Sadly, neither Carl or I owned or knew how to properly apply it, so we just stuck with hard wax. Oh well, live and learn, right.

Looking through the maps, the race looked like it would provide some nice route choices and challenges, while still being completely do-able. The least fun part of a winter race is the fact that you can often follow other teams just by following their tracks. To counteract this, Thierry the race director set up the first half of the race as a mixed snowshoeing and skiing stage, where racers were free to choose any of a number of routes, interspersed with bush-whacking to get to some of the more remote checkpoints. It was obvious we’d be crossing paths with a number of teams at different points in the stage, but we’d never be sure who was ahead of who. Brilliant.

When it came time to get to the starting line, it was going to be a free-for-all. Some of us were on foot, some on snowshoes, and some with skis. Based on where the first few checkpoints were located, racers would be heading off in all directions. We had decided to try running to the first couple CPs, since the snowmelt would have hardened and thinned out the snow. That was our first bad call of the race. 20 steps into the course, we sunk into really deep snow, so we had to stop and strap on our skis. We lost a precious few minutes right off the bat as a result. That never bodes well in a short race. The only saving grace was that we weren’t the only ones to make that error.

The rest of the first section was all about making the right route selections. As luck would not have it, we also made a few errors on that front. Our ordering was a little off, causing us to put in an extra few kilometers over rough terrain in the snowshoes. You can only imagine how much time we lost on that front. The plus side of that though was the fact that we were racing through some pretty impressive terrain. We had to take a short break at one clifftop to just soak in the scenery. It was one of those moments that once again reminded me of just why it is I do these things. The sun was high in the sky, the air was [extremely] crisp, we had worked our asses off to scale a cliff in snowshoes with skis strapped to our backs, then turned around to see beautiful hills and snowy trees surrounding out position. It was phenomenal.

Of course, we couldn’t dawdle too long up there, and decided to cut across the woods directly in our snowshoes to the next checkpoint. It was a long slog, but we decided that it was a great way to get some extra training in as well. Once we’d finally finished off the first leg of the race, all that actually remained was to hop on our mountain bikes for the 30km or so bike leg on secondary roads. There was actually an advanced section of the race on the bike section, but you had to make it by a certain cut-off time, and we hadn’t even gotten to the transition by that time. Don’t worry though, it’s not like we were super-slow or anything; in the end, only one team (a solo guy) got to do the section.

By the time we were finishing off the race, we were both pretty exhausted. Normally, I make a point to drink a lot of fluids during the course of a race. Given the extreme cold, fluids had become a bit of an issue. Before we even got to the first checkpoint, the hose to my hydration pack had frozen solid. Luckily, Carl had used water bottles, so we were able to share his sports drink for most of the race. When that finally ran out, we decided to pull out the bladder from my pack, and just dump it directly into the bottles. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. In the final km of the race, I totally hit the wall. I could hardly get one pedal around the cranks anymore. I made us stop so that I could make one more desperate bid at cramming drinks and food into me. We re-grouped in a couple minutes, and made the final push.

We were relieved to cross the finish line, knowing that we’d finally be able to get out of the bitter cold. A warm shower was in order. I had a feeling that my toes would take some time to thaw out, and the sooner I got to it, the better. In the end, we finished off the race in 5th place in our category, and 11th overall. Not the best results we’ve every had, but we were perfectly happy with it. As usual, the end of the race was marked with a closing meal and awards ceremony, while we checked out the pictures from the day. It was quite funny, most of the people who finished at the head of the race had little side stories to share, like about upcoming international races they were taking part in or about a race they were setting up, etc. etc. It was clear we were surrounded by some pretty high calibre athletes, even though it was just a short race. For my part, I felt pretty average sitting in that room, but I had just as big a smile on my face as everyone else, and knew I was among friends. I even walked away with a $25 gift certificate for a bike shop for a story I shared about the day.

All in all, another great race experience, and top-notch organizing by the Raid Pulse crew. Congrats go out to all the winners, and I guess I’ll see most of you again in the May race. I’m sure by then the weather will have warmed up a bit 🙂 One more race left for the winter season, then its time to gear up for the summer season. Till then, stay warm folks!

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