Course Preview for Ultimate XC in Tremblant

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Howdy friends! Have you been missing my posts? Well, I guess I’ve been too focused on living life, training, racing, settling into my digs, and getting a year older lately rather than sitting down at the keyboard and spending hours trying to chronicle all the afore-mentioned things. However, I’ve decided that it’s well overdo that I fill you in on some of my latest exploits, so what I’m going to attempt to do is polish off four blog posts in fairly short order, with various degrees of detail. The point of this post will be to fill you in on a crazy little training weekend that I spend a few weeks back up at Mont Tremblant in preparation for Ultimate XC. After spending the weekend previewing both the paddle and the bike, I can definitively say this will, by far, be the hardest solo endurance race I have ever undertaken. 60+km of kayaking including whitewater, 60+km of trail running with EXTREME altitude gain/loss, and 100km of intense mountain biking with more of the same altitude gain an loss. Honestly, I’m pretty daunted by the task, but also very much anxious to try it out. I’ve posted pictures from the weekend, as well as tried to throw together some custom maps of the bike and paddle (GPS died during day 2). Read on for a little more insight into the weekend.

When deciding to submit my credentials for this race (you had to be ‘invited’ to race), I quickly realized this would be no easy task. However, in my quest to do more off-road races this year, this seemed like the ideal fit, plus I knew a lot of other people challenging the course, and decided I might as well throw my hat in the ring. In all honesty, my only goal truly is to finish the race in this case! No time goals, no podium hopes, just hoping to keep my body in one piece and cross the finish line with a big smile on my face. That’s how tough this race will be on my body. I know several people that are hoping to podium, and I tip my cap to them, but I’m a realist on this front. I’ve never done an ultra yet, so even the 60 or so km trail run on day 2 is daunting by itself, ignoring the fact that it is sandwiched between 2 other mega days of racing hard!

Others had been keen to try out some of the course, and the race director himself decided to offer up a ‘mountain bike preview’ day, where all participants would be invited to ride about half of the mountain bike course in advance of the actual race. I had nothing else really planned for that weekend, so signed up for it. I knew a few others doing the bike, but I had hoped to do a bit more training while up there. Well, as luck would have it, Sophia also wanted to try more training, and we hatched a plan to paddle the Rouge River, the crux of the paddle stage. This is the 32km stretch of river, including whitewater, that we would be racing in UXC. Basically, we have two big lake stretches, joined by this section of river paddling and portaging. I was keen to see this section, to get a feel for the water and the boat selection. Our plan was to drive up Friday night, camp out, then bike all day Saturday, re-locate to a little Inn closer to the paddle, then spend all day Sunday paddling, before loading back up and heading to Ottawa.

What can I say about the bike? Well, in a word, GREAT! I wasn’t sure whether we’d have trails, bike-whacking, logging roads, or what. In the end, we had probably 70% singletrack, and then a mix of connector roads and secondary dirt roads to get between sections. The singletrack ranged from flowy downhill to intense climbs deep in the woods. Apparently, the hardest climbs were even tackled by us, instead being kept as a secret for race day. Yikes! All in all, I am satisfied that the biking leg won’t be that bad. Just a long slog of a day, which is going to be wholly dependent on how the legs feel after the first two days of racing. I think I’ll just be focused on technique, and riding easy that day. Risk will be tempered with caution. Our ride lasted most of the day, with intermittent periods of rain on and off. Enough to make things interesting, but not make them too annoying. We were all thoroughly soaked at the end, but happy, and left wanting just a bit more (which we’ll get on race day!).

Having finished the bike, Sophia and I next geared up again and drove over to the Railway Station Inn at Labelle, QC. Charming little converted railway station with basic rooms for the weary traveller, which is basically what we were. We wasted little time in taking nice hot showers, eating a bit, then crashing. Next morning, we’d made arrangements for a local fellow to shuttle us and our boats to the put-in, from where we’d paddle our way back to Labelle and our waiting cars. He thought we were being a bit ambitious, and graciously offered to be on standby should we need to bail out early, or run into problems. Very nice of him, but hopefully wouldn’t be needed.

The paddle? In a different word, challenging! That is, challenging for those of us not blessed with much river-running experience, nor boats that are made for said river-running. I’d chosen to use my relatively lightweight Airalite 14ft Perception Cadence boat. It’s a bit more fragile than a regular plastic boat, but more durable than fiberglass or kevlar. In the end, it was a pretty good choice, provided I take some caution on the Class 1 and 2 rapids that I’ll be running in it. I managed to get a fair number of nice scratches and gashes, but no punctures, which would definitely not have been good. Couple of good things I learned from this run: First, a nice rope tied to the stern of the kayak to ‘guide’ it down some section while I walked around was a great idea. Second, when in doubt, walk it out. shallow, fast water can quickly turn a happy paddle to a pinned boat and/or racer. Sophia unfortunately got a little jammed up in one section, and I had to perform a bit of a boat and paddler rescue (first the boat, then the paddler). It’s amazing how hard it is to dis-lodge a boat that is pinned in whitewater where the water has rushed into the cockpit! Took a mighty effort to get it our and drained, but I pulled it off!

For my own part, I gained some great experience and confidence out on the water, running a fair bit of the rapids. At one point, there was a pretty substantial funnel and drop, that I was trying to paddle to the shore before hitting. Unfortunately, due to timing and current, all I pulled off was getting pulled into it BACKWARDS! I panicked only slightly, then reminded my self to just use my body and paddle to keep control and POP! I made it out the back side and eddy’d out below. Whew. Big relief, as I was basically all alone, as Sophia was off in the woods somewhere portaging around them. Rule 1, always respect the river, right?

When not in whitewater, the paddle was actually quite nice. The water was flowing pretty quick, and the speed was often around 10-11km/hr. Let’s hope it stays like that for race day. Unfortunately, I think the water is continuing to drop, which will mean a lot more rocks along the way. Boo! Fingers crossed that I finish with my boat intact. By the time we finally got back to Labelle, the time had totally gotten away from us. It was almost 6pm I think. We’d been out there for about 8 hours! Mind you, we weren’t ‘racing’, and spent a fair bit of time making decisions, but man, what a day of paddling!

We more or less scrambled to load back up, and off we went, driving back to the Ottawa area to finish off our weekend. All in all, a great training opportunity spent with good friends, and a great confidence booster for what is sure to be a great physical challenge coming up in just a few weeks. Of course, there were still 2 other races up before that. The 5-8 hour Raid Pulse race, and the 24-hour Wilderness Traverse! Both adventure races, so both more great opportunities to get in some quality training before UXC. Up next, the story of Raid Pulse. Till then, have fun out there!

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