After my near success in the snowshoe race the previous weekend, combined with the fact that reading week (a week of no school) had just started and all of my friends were training in California, I decided that it was time for me to go to Ottawa to train hard for 4 days, support my friends in their ski race, have fun in the city with friends, and try another snowshoe race. This time to win. Truthfully I had no plans of where to sleep, or how to get around, but I had a ride to Ottawa and a lot of friends in the city so I could make it work, right? It was too cold not to.
Friday night we got in and I stocked up on the necessary supplies for a weekend of training and unpredictable living situations.
|Chocolate, tuna, bananas, rice. Yep, athlete's diet!|
|This whisky was delicious.|
The snowshoe and ski races were on Sunday, and this time I was taking things seriously and putting in a training block (lots of training in a short amount of time), so I got out to the trails twice on Saturday and familiarized myself with what I thought would be the course. I ended up doing a massive extra loop, but I did the course too, and upon reviewing the maps at home I was straightened out. The course started and finished in a windswept field then got into some pretty technical, twisty and hilly trail for about a kilometer or so. The course then went across another wind swept field and up a hill that got steeper as you went up (I remember very clearly). The next part of the course was pretty standard trails until a steep hill of about 60m elevation gain and a wild 1.5 km run out to the finish zone.
I got to the race start and after watching my buddies do a ski race in -36°C it was my turn to run 10km on snowshoes. And this time I wanted to win! It was hard to judge proper layering for this type of event, but I settled for 2 turtle necks, some wind proof tights, and a Gore-Tex shell. I was told that if I wanted to win I had to keep my eye on this older guy who was probably going to win. Didn't seem so bad, but here’s what I've been told about Dave McMahon: he was one an Olympic athlete in Biathlon (skiing and shooting is a pretty badass sport to be very good at), he has also married an olympic athlete, he trains about 3 hours a day, he runs a snowshoe race series and two snowshoe group workouts every week, he owns and runs multisport company, he coaches, and that he's a really nice guy.
It would be less embarrassing for me if you just muted this video..
I saw a big Gatorade water cooler right by the start line and decided to go get a drink, as any nervous athlete would right before a race. I swigged down cup in one gulp and there was something seriously wrong. It wasn't cold. It was salty. It was hot chicken broth.
Surprisingly, it wasn't actually that offputting, but I didn't get more.
I looked around at some pretty intense people at this start line and asked the guy next to me whether he'd been in a snowshoe race before, the response was a little intimidating
"Yeah, I was 12th at the world championships a couple of weeks ago! But my hamstring hurts today"
Oh. So that's how it is.
As one would expect, Dave went hard right from the start, positioning himself in first place through the technical bit, and I stayed right on his heels, thinking that to win, I'd have to stay in second position for the first bit at least, right?
|Thanks Dave for posting this photo|
Once we were out of the technical area the world championship guy blew by us and I was forced to make the same move; trying to stay in second place for as long as I could. As we crossed the windy field area, I noticed that this new pace was getting us ahead of everyone else.
"Push a little harder and we won't have to worry about them again!" I yelled
When the trail flattened out again, I was back with a vengeance, and by the bottom of the gradual downhill section I was leading the race. I had mixed feelings about this, maybe it was a bad move, it was pretty early to assert myself as the leader in a 10km race, especially with these world class competitors, but hey, I was feeling good. I had a few minutes of trying to suppress panic, even though I knew that I wasn't actually choking, the combination of the cold and the double turtle neck gave me the feeling that someone had their hands clenched around my throat, and I grabbed the shirt and held the neck out from my adam's apple to try to calm down. I did not however get passed.
|The last time I raced with a turtleneck I just took it off... (Thanks Brad Jennings for this photo)|
I maintained first place until we got pretty close to the start finish, when this guy just came blowing by me. I was pretty upset about this, the crowds were everywhere and this guy was taking my glory. The audacity. I figured that he probably just wanted to lead going into the second lap, and that he'd surely blow up at that pace, until he went straight for the finish line cheered on by the crowd. That jerk was only doing the 5k race. What a softie.
I led into the technical section and Dave was back on my heels, and we were just far enough down the trail that we could still look back and see 3rd place, (who was another guy, not the world championship guy), but I didn't think that he'd catch us. By the time we got to the big hill near the end of the lap, I was feeling confident, but not about to waste all of my energy on the uphill, which is where I was passed. I ran the rest of the race out and finished second place, beaten by a man who truly new how to race properly.
|Proper podium gear. I do best in flannel!|
I asked for some advice after the podium from Dave, saying that I was thinking of doing more of these races, and he had some very encouraging words for me. Apparently I was quite fast down hills and on flat sections, and he described to me how to run up the hills properly (I had just been walking with long strides). He told me that I would "keep the pace" well. I asked what pace, expecting him to say his weekly snowshoe race series pace, but he told me that I would be competitive in a world cup. That was the first time anyone had ever said something like that to me, and I don't think that I'll ever forget it. All just because I tried a new sport and decided to give it a second chance!