Last weekend marked the season finale, series championship Mad Trapper Snowshoe race. I took part. I captured 3rd overall. I could stop there, but as you know me well, I won’t! You see, the season has been a bit up and down for me. There is no doubt I had a good season, and have raced hard and stayed at the front of the pack for most of the races, but the podium always seemed to be just out of reach for me, with the caliber of racers that were lining up with me at the start line. Read on to find out what went so right with this race.
As anyone who does a lot of racing, you will be painfully aware that a) anything can happen, b) never give up, and c) there will be good days and bad days. Luckily for me in this race, there was relatively good mojo on all fronts. There’s a specific line that I’ve used for this race: “The right people didn’t show up.”. While all season the best of the best showed up, in this race, there was only 1 person at the front with me that I had no chance of winning (the series’ champ for the year). Apart from him, it was essentially a mix of other great runners, but people I knew I had a good chance of beating if things went well for me. I was motivated, and decided to give it my all.
The weather was ideal for the race. It was sunny with a light wind, and about -10 degrees celsius. At the start line, I had a pile of nervous energy. A podium finish was what I was looking for, and all I would settle for. When Mike did the countdown, I was at the front and ready to rumble. I placed myself directly behind Gareth, knowing he would be in 1st. I did my best to stick close to his heels, but he was pulling away slowly within the first 800m or so. Luckily, glancing back, I could see that we had actually both pulled away from the next pack of runners. For some reason my HR was not registering correctly over the first 1.3k, so I was running a bit blind, and just hoping I wasn’t blowing up by running to hard in the opening.
This concern was amplified by the fact that this was, in my opinion, the hardest conditions we’ve ever had at the Ark for a race. Why? Well, there was essentially no track whatsoever to work with. The top was a relatively hard crust, but you punched through frequently, plunging into soft snow and needing to lift your feet up very high to move on. It was absolutely soul-crushing. I was sure that people would catch up and start passing, but I realized after a while that EVERYONE would be suffering on the first lap, particularly anyone heavier than me (which lets face it, is pretty much everyone!). Despite the mental obstacle this slog threw at me, I kept the pace up, and tried to keep pushing and catch up to Gareth. It was long shot, but forced me to stay ahead of the rest of the chase pack.
Every now and again, I’d look back to see if anyone was getting within striking distance of me, but the gap seemed to persist and was likely 30s or so. Buoyed by this, I kept at it, sitting firmly in 2nd place, but getting really warm with all the effort. When I finally got close to the sugar shack, I peeled off my ear warmers, neck tube and gloves. I also unzipped by top as far as it could go, trying to prevent from overheating and sweating too much.
After another kilometer or so, I was heading down the steep hill to the lap marker, getting ready to start my second lap. The first lap had taken just over 40 minutes, and I’d ultimately end up with a negative split by running lap 2 in 36 minutes. At this point, you’ll probably note that I said I was in 2nd, yet came in 3rd overall. The pass happened in lap 2.
In fact, the pass happened pretty much right at the start of lap 2. This fellow came seemingly from out of nowhere. I was initially confused. I had slowed to grab a thermos I stashed at the start to grab a quick drink before the 2nd half of the race, and as I was jogging and drinking, realized I had a shadow. I hastily ditched the bottle and got back up to race speed. But it was too late. I was passed, and was now on the chase! I don’t know who this guy was, but he must have packed an extra lung for lap 2, as he was soon pulling away, in spite of the fact that I was pushing max trying to catch and pass him. He had clearly held back on lap 1!
Things were ironically made worse for me by the fact that the tough track had turned tame trough (like that?). We now had a narrow, relatively packed trail to follow thanks to all the racers that had come behind us on lap 1. My quarrel therefore had smooth trails to hammer it, and he did. I was in slight awe, but kept up the pace, as now I was genuinely worried that I had somehow dropped pace and was on the verge of getting passed by others. My heartrate rarely dropped below 180bpm the whole way.
Getting near the finish, I just had the steep final climb followed by the big descent into the finish chute left. I knew Nathan was not terribly far behind, and based on the 2nd race, where James managed to pip me at the line, I was NOT going to slack off at the end. I turned the amp up to 11 and pushed to the very last second, narrowly avoiding a collapse at the finish from exhaustion. Luckily, that left me with the podium slot I’d hope for. Sadly, the colour was wrong, but it was podium nonetheless.
As to my phantom chaser who got 2nd? Well, turns out it was a guy from France visiting a friend in Ottawa for a week, who decided to come out and try this. I’m pretty certain he’s an ultra trail guy who spends his time training in the Chamonix in France. Uncertain of this race, he had taken the first lap relatively easy, staying with his friend, then eventually decided to break off and push on ahead. Curse my luck, right? My toque was off to him though, as it was a great performance! Gareth had beaten me by 8.5 minutes for 1st! 2nd place had crossed the line 2 minutes ahead of me, and 4th was about 45s behind. All in all, a great race, and I was really happy with my performance. Yes, the best of the best were not there, but it was still a hard fought race!
The post-race meal and awards social capped off another fun season of [mostly] snowshoe racing at the Ark. Of course, given the way Mike runs things, there was not even a mention of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place finishers, just awards to the series champs 🙂 So this really is a race for personal glory only, no public fame. We had our fill of pasta, cookies, brownies, chips, and tasty Broadhead Beer. After this, my next challenge will be racing the ITU Winter Triathlon in Quebec in the Elite Division. I fully expect to finish DFL in that one, as I’m racing against the best in the world and Olympians. You’ll get the whole story on that once I’ve completed it.