this is a tale of false starts.
after i’d completed the Raid The Hammer adventure race with my friends sean and norm, sean asked me if i would consider joining him for a snowshoe adventure race in january 2015. looking to engage some new experiences (as i’d never been on snowshoes before) I agreed, believing that i would have ample opportunity to get some practice in in advance of the event.
the Snowshoe Raid is an annual competition organized by Don’tGet Lost Adventure Racing and this year it was hosted in the town of the blue mountains (near collingwood, ontario). of course this meant that the terrain would be hilly and powdery … but to just what degree i was still to discover.
sean and i had decided to meet up at the race briefing area, so the day started with me attempting to make the hour-or-so drive from my house to the main village at Blue Mountain. the ‘attempt’ part had everything to do with finding out at 7am that my car battery was dead. knowing that my wife would need our other vehicle for errands during the day, i wired up the two batteries and was able to jump start my car. I was back in action until I decided to quickly pull the keys so that I could lock up the house again … after which the battery was – you guessed it – dead again. a second rearranging of vehicles in order to re-do the jump start process was in order and this time my brain was able to kick into gear enough to not remove the key from the ignition but instead just remove the housekey from the key ring to lock up the house. false start #1 in the books.
parking at the blue mountain resort was at one of multiple lots full of skiers and snowboarders – and about a kilometer away from the registration/kit pick-up room. this provided a bit of a warm-up run, with warm-up being the operative word: it was still about -20C with the windchill.
the pick-up for adventure races is more than just a grab-and-run affair. aside from being given your bib, SPORTident chip, orienteering map and a free pair of Fox River socks, the time allotted before the bus ride to the start line is crucial for plotting out a race strategy. in the Snowshoe Raid the race is structured as a three hour ‘hit all the checkpoints (CPs) that you can’ competition, with varying point values assigned to different checkpoints based on distance from start/finish, elevation and accessibility. thanks to sean’s experience as an adventure racer we settled on a route that would follow a loop where the front half would include some of the most difficult but highest point value CPs – the idea being that taking these on while still reasonably energized and fatigue-free would net us the best possible result.
a 15-minute bus shuttle took us to the start line – basically at a snowmobile trail on/off-loading site. initially sean and I had discussed the possibility of foregoing snowshoes and trying to tackle the course shod only in running footwear, but gave ourselves the opportunity to survey conditions at the trail entry point before making a final decision. it did take more than a minute after disembarking from the bus to know that snowshoes would be mandatory – and in fact the race director reported in the nine years of the race’s existence this day provided the deepest fresh snow/powder ever.
the airhorn blew at about 9 minutes after the intended start time, but regardless we had 180 minutes to score as many points as possible on the mapped grid – with a 10 point deduction for every minute our time was late to the finish line. it was interesting that one of the higher point-valued CPs was only about 300m from the start area, so naturally the mass made a beeline for that easy grab. we did as well as it was part of our planned route … but there was such a log jam at the actual electronic CP receiver that sean and i actually got separated. i wound up trying to figure out whether or not the best ploy was to stay put and wait for sean to retrace his steps back to me, or take a chance and try to find him (of course he was our designated navigator and map-carrier) by following the majority of other racers headed off in a particular direction. after about five wasted minutes of indecision i trotted off down the path ‘more travelled’ and did find sean about 200m away. a quick regroup and we were off again. false start #2.
our path took us up and down the blue mountain region, traversing parts of the Bruce Trail (at one CP reaching the sign for the highest point on all of the Bruce Trail), bushwhacking through unspoilt snowy forests and fields, and dodging snowmobile riders along OFSC (Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs) marked trails.
i’d agreed to partnering up with sean figuring that as an endurance runner (and not knowledgeable in the ways of orienteering or snowshoeing) i’d at least be able to help set a good pace along the way. what i discovered was that sean has a significantly long walking/snowshoeing stride. even when i would be snow-jogging up hills i would barely be keeping up with sean’s walking pace – and when I would see sean reduce his cadence to a walk and choose to follow suit, he would outstride me by about 2:3, or even 1:3. i would put my head down to power hike right on his heels, only to look up a few strides later and find that sean was a good 15-20 feet ahead of me. my only saving grace (and the reason that i didn’t become a liability on our team) was that when we hit the flats or downhills i easily switched gears into my auto-pilot long-distance mode and find that i would overtake sean simply through continuous running. as he would say, the long and straight stretches would just ‘drive him crazy in the head’ and he would have to take intermittent breaks. sean’s wife Kathleen chooses to describe him as a ‘burst runner’, covering shorter distances in faster times but struggling to maintain a long and even effort.
we’d determined to review our progress after reaching what would be the most taxing CP destination as that would offer us a sense of our economy of time and effort – and sure enough we felt like we were well on track to tackle the remainder of our planned route. criss-crossing paths with other teams headed to and originating from every direction (and helping at least one team whose sense of direction was turned around enough that they were headed somewhere toward Saskatchewan) we nailed CP after CP with almost pinpoint accuracy.
all the way up until our last intended point grab.
with a sense of the impending 2:09pm deadline looming, we felt like we had just enough margin to ascend a small hill and find our final CP at the edge of a pond. maybe it was the self-imposed pressure. it could have been that we were due for a flub in our navigation. perhaps we were just paying for our greediness. whatever it was, we ended up following a length of the Bruce Trail that actually took us farther away from the finish line (and nowhere near CP 64) and we had to abandon the hunt in order to scramble back to the road that would finally culminate at the finishing tent. we booked it along the road (along with many other teams) to the end, and again this was where i had a bit of an edge being able to scramble down the home-stretch non-stop in my snowshoes, whereas sean had opted to detach the snowshoes and carry them but had to take intermittent walk breaks.
we clocked in with 10 seconds left to spare.
while we noticed that various other racers had nabbed some snacks and hot chocolate from the official tent at the finish area, these refreshments quickly ran out. sean managed to grab a couple of timbits and a cookie, but i missed out completely as even the giant hot choco container had run dry. i was thankful for having snagged a cookie at the one aid station on the course, and proceeded to mow down on some of the energy snacks i’d ported along with me.
while on the course sean had mentioned to me what a significant calorie burn snowshoeing provided, especially given that we were trekking up and down inclines through sometimes three-foot powder sections. by the time that we were starting to cool down i was feeling the hunger pangs, so we decided not to dilly-dally and headed straight for one of the buses. in fact, it was the third bus situated in the middle of five school buses headed back to the resort parking lot (take note).
all told, the race itself was a lot of fun and a fabulous workout. kudos have to be given to those who set out all of the checkpoints and markers out in the winter barrens – they were clearly and securely affixed to their designated locations, and it must have been a ton of work to get out there to do all of that. as for the event in a larger context, registration was straight forward but between the distant parking situation, the bus delay and the cafeteria logistics, both sean and i felt that Don’t Get Lost should look seriously at a different venue (or at least configuration) for their subsequent Snowshoe Raid events.
here’s what got me through the day …
- Nike DRI-fit long sleeve base layer
- Nike THERMA-fit long sleeve fleece
- Skechers Performance Division Midnight Run windbreaker
- one size fits-all stretch gloves
- Saucony run mitt
- fleece skull cap toque
- original running Buff
- Lunatik Athletiks compression socks
- plastic newspaper delivery bags (one on each foot)
- Fox River “Velocity” quarter socks
- Skechers GORun Ultra
- Skechers Performance Division Midnight Running Tight
- nylon front-panel shell pant.