Successful Season Opener for 2010

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog posts from Africa in order to bring you the latest race report from ActiveSteve. It’s been a pretty hectic weekend out in the frigid Ottawa region for me. Although the temperatures barely rose above -20degC all weekend, it didn’t keep me from skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and just generally making the most of what we get here in the winter. It was also my 2010 race season opener, taking the form of a 10k snowshoe race. This was the 3rd of 4 races put on by Mike Caldwell as the Mad Trapper snowshoe race series. The course for Saturday was the ‘combined course’, which meant one lap of the infamous ‘hilly’ route, and a 2nd lap consisting of the ‘flatter’ route. There were actually a few tweaks to the course, which made it more like 9k, but it was still plenty challenging. I managed to capture some pictures and a couple videos, which I’ve posted on flickr, but not many. For the full details of how it went down, read on friends.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the races put on out at the Ark. Not only is the atmosphere top notch, but the terrain is fun and challenging, and always attracts a fun group of local racers. Admittedly, a lot of people have also declared in no uncertain terms that they come out as much for the food as they do for the racing, so that tells you something about the kind of event going on less than an hour from Ottawa. If you’re reading this, enjoy snowshoeing (or trail running in the summer), and haven’t yet made the trip out, you should really consider joining us for a race. Heck, just come out and hike the course if you’d like. No one is there to judge you (well, almost no one :-).

Upon returning home from Africa, I unfortunately came down with a nasty cold that kept me down for the better part of a week, and I’m still not at 100%, being left with a little congestion and some coughing. However, I returned to training quite hard this past week, and felt I was in good enough form to challenge the big dogs for snow supremacy. Of course, I always feel that way until the starting gun goes off and the top guys basically bury me. Where do they get the damn speed I keep asking myself? My only real plan was to try and get a couple decent nights of sleep on Thursday and Friday in order to be as fresh as possible for Saturday morning. I was mostly successful on that front, so no excuses from me!

As usual, I fueled up with a nice breakfast of oatmeal (maple and brown sugar if you must know), and a litre of Nuun on the drive to the Ark. The temperatures were pegged at somewhere around -28 or lower with the windchill, so I brought a wide array of clothes to choose from at the start. Upon arrival, I opted out of any sort of ‘warm up’ before the race. All that would do is get me sweaty, and I decided I didn’t want to stand at the start sweating and freezing. Instead, I did what I do best. Socialized 🙂 However, come 9:55am, it was time to toe the line. All told, there seemed to be about 35 racers there, with 16 people racing the 5k course, and 19 racing the 10k course. The race briefing was mercifully short, so that we didn’t have to stand around too long. Before I even knew it, we were at the 5 second countdown. At the word ‘go’, Sophia was nice enough to give James and I a little push off the start.

I know better than to push the pace too hard right off the line, and was happy to settle in about 8 or 9 spots back. I know that I can usually make up a few spots from the people that blow up on the early hills. However, it still seemed like there were more people ahead of me than usual. I decided not to worry too much, and just push the pace I was comfortable with, at a heart rate I could manage, which was already over 180! Sure enough, within the first kilometer I passed 1 person (sorry Chuck, you did it to yourself bro!), then after about 3.5k, I snuck past 2 others that were in front of me. I thought they might fight to stay on my heels, but to my surprise, I pulled away, and they stayed back. Fair enough.

However, I now had my quarry in my sights. Not far ahead of me was Number 10, which turned out to be none other than John Ranson, a good friend, and great racer. Anytime I have a chance to keep up with someone like John, I’ll fight for it. So I did, nipping at his heels whenever possible. I didn’t feel I had enough to overtake him right away, but I could keep up, and he seemed maybe just a little off. Ahead of the two of us also turned out to be James Galipeau , another fellow I’d love for just once to beat, but he stayed just out of our grasp (he’s generally a contender for 1st place). True to it’s name, the hilly loop was a great challenge, and choosing the right pace was critical to make sure we could stay ahead on the 2nd lap.

Soon enough, it was up and over the final hill to cross the line and start the 2nd lap. Heading down the hill, I definitely wasn’t going top speed. I grabbed my water bottle that I’d left at the line, and had a few swigs to re-hydrate. That’s when John stepped aside and told me to go ahead as his stomach wasn’t feeling great. I hastily pitched my bottle and took him up on the offer. Of course, knowing Ranson , that was by no means a reason to count him out, so I kept my pace as high as I could. In a race like this, where you often find yourself on your own, I turn back to my mental game. I keep telling myself the noises I hear are people right on my heels, so that I’ll trick my brain into pushing just a little harder.

The second loop was very enjoyable, but I couldn’t lose the nagging feeling that I *really did* have a shadow. Sure enough, with about 500m to go, I cautioned a glance over my left shoulder. What the? Yup, looked like Mr Ranson had found his stride again, and was gunning to reclaim his position from me. Well, I’m sorry, but I fought just as hard. As we were starting out on the final long hill, I knew I’d have to redline it well before the top to stay ahead. I used my lightness to my advantage and tried flying up the sections that bring many a racer to a walking pace. However, John was still pretty close. I wasn’t sure I could hold him off on the final sprint, but I’d have no real choice now. The finishing chute is a pretty steep down hill that rolls out to about a 30m flat dead sprint.

I came down that final hill like the hounds of hell were after me, just barely on the ‘control’ side of ‘uncontrolled’. Any little mis-step and I would have flew a long way downhill. However, I kept it together, and on the flat, buried the needle for good measure. As I didn’t see John in my peripheral, I knew I had my position. I just didn’t know what the final position was. Once the snow had cleared from the air, and our eyelids started thawing back out, James came back to let us know that the three of us had finished 4th, 5th and 6th. Damn, still one spot off my jersey number. I’m #4 this season, and was hoping that was my position indicator 🙂 Still, to finish a race like this between John and James, and to go 57 minutes to boot was a great result, which I gladly took into the warmth of the Ark.

Once changed into dry clothes, it was time to enjoy some awesome lasagna (I opted to eat the veggie version), warm chicken noodle soup, cookies, chips, and fruit, all the while talking and laughing with all the other racers about the good times we’d had out there. It’s amazing just how frozen we looked crossing the line. Honestly, I knew we were a bit chilled, but looking at totally frosted beards and frozen eyelids really tells you about the weather for the day. With this race in the bag, there remains only one final race in the series this year, and my last chance to grab some points for the overall season standings. At this point, I’m not sure I’ll be able to retain my 4th place overall series rank that I got last year, but I’ll give it my best 🙂

So that’s it for my little race report. I’ll hopefully be back with my final chapter in ‘The Africa Chronicles’ as all that remains is getting off the mountain, and heading home! Till the, here’s hoping you’re all having a great day!

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