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27th Winterlude Triathon – Fast, Frozen and Fun

Winterlude Triathlon – Feb 6, 2010.  8k skate – 5k ski – 5k run.

For most endurance athletes in Canada, winter is a time of indoor treadmills and bike trainers.  If you’re like me, cabin fever is a by product of these vitamin D deficient days which is why the Winterlude Triathlon has become the annual kick-off to my race year.  This year’s race was the 27th annual version of what has become a unique and truly Canadian outdoor adventure race.  In most places a winter triathlon consists of Nordic skiing, running and mountain biking.  In Ottawa, and a handful of other places in Canada, it combines skating with skiing and running.  While it has all the makings of a triathlon, any outdoor activity in Canada in the middle of winter is an adventure.  The organizers of the Winterlude Triathlon have become masters of course adjustments which are required to suit the ever changing and often frigid conditions.   Anything can happen on the Rideau Canal, and this year was no exception.  While the skating surface was in very good shape, there was very little snow cover which made the ski course a bit more challenging to set which the running route was moved to a road adjacent to the Canal.  This also meant a 7:30am start time to avoid the peak traffic time, which in turn meant that the temperature at the start would be a frigid -16 plus wind chill.

Participating in the Winterlude Triathlon tests your winter survival skills.  The early start time this year meant that wind-proof clothing was essential during the 8k skate, but would not be needed during the ski or the run.  Like many participants I shed layers as I went along and event went so far as to use three different pairs of gloves to ensure my fingers did not freeze.  Toes too were subject to the cold as two transition zones and frozen skates, ski boots and running shoes would have led to some chilly toes were it not for the Hot-Shots that went into my footwear.  In the end, the clothing, while bulky, did the trick and got me through the event.

This year’s Winterlude Triathlon was well attended with over 270 participants lining up at the mass start.  With 540 speed and hockey skate blades digging into the granite hard canal ice, it is a testament to the cooperation of the participants that no one fell during the skating portion of the event.  The ski course consisted of a 2.5k – two lap trip through Ottawa’s Arboretum near Carleton University.  Like on the skating course, being at or near the front of the pack presents distinct advantages as the narrow skate and classic ski course, which only gets set the night before the race, can get chewed up and soft as the race wears on.  This year the ski course was quite fast which was a relief for those of use who are not born skiers.  Passing remained tricky in many places but competitors stayed positive throughout as the odd pile up caused those still standing to offer a hand up as they slid by.  The run turned out to be quite smooth as we got through transition and out onto The Queen Elizabeth Parkway.  After a few meters of running through the snow, the familiar rubbery-leg feeling normally associated with transitioning from biking to running returned making me think that a few winter brick workouts might have been a good idea…maybe next year.

The Winterlude Triathlon is a flat out fun event that everyone can enjoy.  While you need to pay attention to what you are doing from a safety perspective, the event is accessible to a variety of levels of ability and gives me the incentive to get off the couch and get back into the groove for the season ahead. If you are thinking of heading to Ottawa for Winterlude, pack your running shoes and skis as well as your skates and join the fun – you’ll be glad you did.  For more visit

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