So this year marks my 5th year doing the Canadian Ski Marathon – and marked my second year in a row in which I have been able to successfully complete all the sections, therefore earning me the designation of Coureur des bois – Bronze last year and Coureur des bois Silver this year.
The last 3 attempts before ended up in not being able to complete all the sections due to everything from bindings breaking to skis breaking.
This year started in Lachute, QC. As it is a one direction trail, one needs to take a shuttle from either Papineauville, QC, Montebello, QC or Buckingham, QC – normally about 1.5 hours before the start (425am) to be exact. To start in plain Pedro fashion, I seemed to have not remembered that my bib was not going to be mailed out and instead I needed to pick it up. I opted to pick it up at the same time I would take the shuttle from Papineauvillle. To make it short, I arrived with 5min to spare for the shuttle and rushed to find my bib – which I safely procured. Then on to the long ride to Lachute. 3am wake up on a -18c morning is not a nice wake up 🙂
Met some nice kids on the bus – they were part of a diabetes challenge in which they would try to make as many sections of the CSM while having to watch their sugar levels -something that is even hard for regular athletes. Found out they were not really well prepared – no headlamps – gave them one of my spares and we were off to Lachute. I seem to have been having quite a morning as I reached the start line (saw Kory briefly as she was just about to leave – will let her post her own experience) but at the same time, I heard over the announcer speakers that they had found an iphone 6 with 4 cute kids with pumpkins as the background photo – not sure how many dads have that as their background but I knew it was mine. so with that all solved, I was ready to start.
This year, the Ski Marathon was divided into the following sections for Day 1
Section 1 (15km) sees every one start in different Categories – Gold (Kory’s group) leave at 540am, followed by Silver (my group) at 550am and finally Bronze at 6am. This section was classified as EASY – but it is mainly uphill so not that easy. It is a sight to see – hundreds of headlamps illuminating the forest and one crosses the frozen Lachute River 500m into the start of the event.
Section 2 (14km) is where the fun begins as it introduces more technical skiing with short ascends and descends with sharp turns. This was a pretty uneventful section so not much to report here.
Section 3 (20km) is what tales and stories are made from in the CSM – it is an epic section which has its own descend named ‘Bobsled’ Run due to the heights you climb and ski down (hopefully in one piece and without a lot of snow on your face from all the falling that may occur going down the steep parts). This is a grueling section as one herringbone skis for over a third of the section. and a good third, one has to be watching and focusing on the descends. I finished this section around 12:30pm – to say that one is tired after this section is to put it mildly – some people were done after this section as it can drain you mentally and physically, leaving you bonking, and without a clear mind to continue. This section done, it was time to tackle section 4 which was extended/rerouted due to snow conditions and therefore the organizers had graciously extended the cutoff by 15min (we all laughed as we were prepared to have done an extra 5km of skiing knowing the CSM organizers)
Section 4 (20km) This section is the ‘cutoff section’ for the first day. One has to make the end of the section by 315pm normally – this year, 330pm. it is very technical and LONG – I started at 1250pm which means I needed to ski 20km in 2:40min. Along the first 5km of the section, going down a hill with a left turn which was ALL ICE and no snow, my skis gave out from underneath me, slamming me into the hard ice and right into the corner of the turn – when I noticed that my binding was attached to my boots but not to my skis – my hear sank for a few seconds – This is where I fill you in about my past experiences and that I normally carry a spare binding but this year due to rushing, I forgot to put in my bag. I looked at the situation and saw that only a quarter of the binding was broken – This gave me great joy – and that my ski was only slightly broken at the seam with the binding plate – managed to secure the binding so that it had enough contact with the plate and babied both for the duration of the day. I made the checkpoint in 2:39min which one would think would earn you the right to continue but one has to check OUT and that is when they take the time for the section. I made the check IN at 3:29:45 pm and rushed to the check OUT point and made it there by 3:30:30 – technically, not before the cutoff.. I pleaded that technically it was still 3:30 as the clock had not displayed 3:31 – seems the argument worked as I was finally let through and I lived to fight the next day.
Section 5 (16km) – the last section of the day – tired, almost bonking, my friend Will waxed my skis after the check point and accompanied with the fortunate survivors of Day 1, we made our way to the finish line – Kory to the Gold Camp just outside the town of Montebello. Will and I rolled into Montebello in the dark. Both of us were too tired to take our lamps out and made the descends on the last section in the dark – not something I would recommend, but we made it in one piece. Got some hot chocolate after going through the finish line (and having my name announced – felt awesome) and boarded a bus to Papineauville to retrieve the van and head home.
The few hours in between Day 1 and Day 2
The night came fast and left even faster – filled with waxing skis, prepping new ones – decided to use my racing skis – something I would normally not ever attempt as they are much softer than my Superlites and not cambered to carry an extra 15pd of weight on my back.
Day 2 – The before the start fiasco
Will and I decided that we would need the sleep and therefore drive to the start line instead of driving to Buckingham and taking the shuttle (maybe a wiser decision looking back). This saw us getting to Montebello later than I expected – 545am arrival plus having to park the van and walk to start line.. only to find out we had the wrong start line; they had moved it across the highway we found out eventually. Needless to say, after dropping Will off and somebody we picked up along the way – he had no idea where the start was as well – I started the day at 6:55am (1:05hr after my category start – not the best way to start the day)
Section 6 (12km -first section is a nice easy section – in CSM terms) which I had to motor through in order to make up the over an hour deficit I had put myself in due to the late start. I saw the wonderful scouts troop lead by Sue and her husband and daughter plus our good friend Martha – who noticed I had a little white spot on my nose – we all thought it was snot and did not think too much of it. Took off from the check point and headed out – needless to say that checking out at 8:15am from there was a bit of a relief and concern at the same time as I was still 45min behind schedule but had made up some time from the beginning.
Section 7 (21km) – By this point, the weather had turned nasty – high winds with gusts would almost feel like they could push me right off my skis to my side – to make it worse, 80% of the section is open fields. This was a section where you just need to put your head down and ski – I saw a permanent GOLD whose right hand was so frozen he could not even grip his pole and was just dragging it along while poling with the left.. I stopped and told him I had a set of handwarmers I was not using and offered him, which he gladly took and used right away – I then kept going to the checkpoint – update on him – he made it 🙂 – and really thank me for the help – This even brings the best in people and that is another reason why I love doing it year after year..
At the end of the section, I was pulled aside when I checked in – seems the snot patch was not that and instead it was frostbite.. I was sent to the penalty box (the medic van) to warm up and lather my face up with Vaseline – which added another 15min to my already deficit of the day. Now I had at least 1 hour to make up for the cutoff. Once I was allowed to leave the van, I headed out to ski the next section.
Section 8 (16km) possibly the most technical section of the second day – and I had a lot of ground to make up. This section was uneventful and saw me gain some time but was grueling in the physical department as my legs were screaming from the day before due to all the climbing I had already done. Managed to finish the section but was told at check in that I still had a slight white spot (stubborn white spots) and therefore I should go to the penalty box, I mean the medic van to warm up – which I did but took 15min away from the time I had made up already. I headed out of the section at 1:30pm or only 1:45 hour of time to make cutoff. I was unofficially told by an official that due to the weather conditions (tells you how bad it was, as the CSM never does that) they would move it to 330pm – I was not going to take that chance.
Section 9 (14km) Needless to say, I had to find a lot of will – tired, frustrated with the frostbite, a bit beaten mentally – I did look at the shuttle as a very respectable way to end my day – Instead I put my skis on and headed out to do the section. I decided that I would find out on my own terms if I had enough in me to power through and finish or try my best but ending in failure due to cutoff time. My GPS never worked this weekend so I just went by feel of time and speed – keeping track of the 2km markers on the section signalling the skier’s progress – Every 2km I would look and apparently I was smoking the trails as I was averaging 10km/h which would put me at the check point at about 10min before the 3:15 cutoff – part of me wondered if I should slow down and count on the cutoff time being extended but instead I pushed harder as one never knows when there is a climb or technical section ahead which could dissolve any gains in time one has made. I made the 2km marker to checkpoint at 2:37pm – I actually smiled – heck, I almost choked.. I had my silver 🙂 I was so looking forward to seeing Kory at the checkpoint – I knew it was a slim chance as she was sick but I wanted to hug her and let her know I had made it.. two years ago, I was the one waiting for her at that same checkpoint on the second day when she missed the cutoff due to a very cold year – it was -30c the whole day. Anyways, Kory was not there which I knew she would not be; the hug would have to wait – but my smile did grow when I saw Will at the checkpoint. I had made the checkpoint by 250pm. I had shaved 1:45hr deficit into a 25min surplus by the end of the day.
Section 10 – (12km) left the section at 3:15 – and they had announced they were extending the cutoff, and smiled knowing I did not need it this time. The victory Lap section was to come. I never like being in the back of any line while skiing, I like to be ahead of the packs as I find it safer for any climbs or downhills – this time though I decided that I had no problem being the caboose of a train made of GOLD – 15 GOLD skiers in front of me, single file skiing, enjoying the last bit while maintaining a very relaxed pace – I enjoyed being part of that moment – I was part of the ones who had survived two grueling days and I was going to enjoy their company. At about 445pm, we made it to the finish line – Will and I skied side by side past the finish line and went and got our medals – Another CSM in the bag and a very special to come next year.
Even though I have described my experience, I have not described the scenery – it is a unique event where one gets to cross frozen lakes, rivers, bridges with beautiful views, tunnels, open fields that are never open to the public – an event where you will see and experience the best in people. It is not a race, it is a test in will and perseverance of the mind, soul and body. Next year will be a special year – Kory and I will get to do GOLD together and share a couple of bales of hay and open skies. It will also be the 50th anniversary of the ski marathon. I am already excited about doing it next year, even though I can barely move today.
This year also marked two other achievements – Kory and I got our Canadian Endurance Awards at the banquet last night and Kory was the only woman out of 8 recipients who received the award.
#SKICSM2015 is done. Can’t wait til #SKICSM2016 or maybe it will be #SKICSM50TH – maybe I will plant the bug with the organizers..