Snowshoe racing with the Mad Trapper

20180127_181523Are you a road runner like me? Looking for something different to mix up your training? Even before I saw the video  (I recommend you watch the video before reading the rest of this post) I was interested in trying the Mad Trapper snowshoe race. I like shiny new things, I like mixing up my workouts and races, a snowshoe race? Well yeah I need to try that!  The result was a fun but demanding race.

Getting there

MadTrapperRaceAn email appeared in my inbox warning me that my GPS would likely lead me astray, fortunately I drove up with my sister, a Mad Trapper veteran.  (that’s us at the Ark posing with Jazz the dog. Mike, the Mad Trapper held Jazz for us, but hid to avoid photo bombing our picture.) We took my car because I have snow tires and 4 wheel drive. This race is up in the Gatineau Hills, past Wakefield, down the road a bit, across the bridge, and then up a steep and windy dirt road.  Apparently it is not unusual to pass other cars in the ditch belonging to racers who underestimate driving conditions. But don’t worry, if you do get stuck, another racer will stop and drive you to the start, and the Mad trapper will help you get your car out of the ditch.

The Ark

20180127_181609The Ark is a welcome escape from the cold and snow nestled in the Gatineau hills (take note of that last word “Hills!”). At it’s peak there were horses, alpacas, dogs and cats. Sadly the Alpacas had to find a new home. But there are still dogs, cats, and, so far as I know horses.  Jazz, the dog in the photo used to run along the course with the racers.
When it’s not filled with snowshoe or trail racers, the Ark is a popular venue for weddings and events (though I think the Alpacas will be missed by the wedding photographers!). The building is off the grid, heated by a wood stove, and a generator for power. A fantastic spot for a night race because about the only lights you see come from the headlamps of the racers.

The Mad Trapper

Mike Caldwell, aka the Mad Trapper, is of course a large part of the reason the Mad trapper races are so popular. Laid back, and affable, he sets the tone for the race. You are here to have a fun race through the woods. If you win, good for you, well done, but it’s all about going out and having a fun race.  When you walk into the Ark, Mike is sitting at a table handing out bibs and getting everyone to sign the waivers (You are running up and down hills in the dark on snowshoes after all … did I mention hills?).  From time to time registration is slowed down because a racer needs a picture with the famous rapper.

Race Conditions

20180127_182853We were incredibly lucky with our weather this year. It was above zero, and despite the ice on the sidewalks, the snow on the course was soft and granular. The snow conditions have a HUGE effect on your snowshoe run. I’ve only had my running snowshoes for a month. I took them out twice. The first time there was fresh powder. I run marathons, but that day, I was had to pause to catch my breath and rest my legs every 500 meters or so. I managed a total of about 3 km and it was exhausting! My next time out was on a nice flat groomed snowmobile trail and I ran a much more relaxed 5 km without stopping.

Sidenote: Yes, there are snowshoes designed for running. They are smaller and lighter than regular snowshoes. Mike has a few extra pairs he loans out to runners who don’t have their own. You will need to visit a fairly well stocked outdoor to find them. I picked up a pair at Bushtukah. In terms of accessories, you also want a pair of gaiters to keep the snow from getting into your running shoes.  A pair of goretex runners is also recommended to keep your feet dry and warm (and let’s be clear if you are a road runner in Ottawa and you run through the winter, those Goretex runners are worth every penny, though I had to buy a half size bigger than my usual shoes because they don’t stretch at all)

The race

20180127_182817We lined up at the start, which is outside the front door of the Ark. You want to make sure to ask Mike which direction you will go so you can line up with a group of racers at your pace.  Almost all of the course is single track, so you want to let the fast folks get up front, but I didn’t want to get behind people planning to walk most of the course.

Mike went over the basics of the course. There are blue flags at the sharp corners, but it’s pretty simple, if you find yourself breaking trail then you have gone the wrong way, turn around, go back to the trail and hope a the other racers haven’t followed you off course!

The first race I was planning to do was advertised as the “Flat” course, though Mike later renamed it to the “less hilly” course because clearly does not understand the concept of flat! I wimped out on that race because the forecast was -30 or so with windchill. So tonight, I had the pleasure (?) of running the hilly course. A 5 km loop. Racers doing the 10km do the loop twice. My Garmin recently had to be shipped out for repair, and this is not the sort of course to have mile markers so I had no clue how far I had gone at any point in the race. You start out on about 20 meters of flat and then you start to climb.

I have many friends who switched from road running to trail running. I knew the first mistake most of them made was trying to run up the hills. Most trail runners walk up a lot of the hills. Apparently most snowshoe runners do as well. I realized quickly that when I walked up the hills I could basically keep pace with the few eager racers who diligently ran up the hills, and walking was less work. The runner in front me took her time down the hills and a couple of faster racers behind us pounded past us. After a little while I decided it was time for me to attempt my first pass of the race. I picked a slight downhill with a wide patch of fresh snow and passed. Two other runners followed suit and I found myself leading two other runners through the darkness.

Being in the front of a pack in a night race is both awesome because all you see in front of you is the snow and trees lit by your headlamp and perhaps the occasional runner in the distance, but also demanding.  You constantly wonder if you are slowing down the runners behind you. I asked if they wanted to pass and they informed me that no my approach of walking up hill and running downhill suited them just fine! “It will keep me from blowing up” were the exact words.  So the three of us chugged along for the next 2 km or so.  Or so I thought!

Did I mention I didn’t have my Garmin? Did I mention this was the “Hilly” course? Up the hill, turn the corner, climb a little more, down the hill, round the corner, up another hill repeat. I figured I must have about a mile left to go at most when I overheard another runner say “Hey dad, I recognize this spot, we are about 2 km into the race right?”  What!!! Only 2 km in?  Surely we had gone further than that! My legs were tired, I was breathing hard, I had already unzipped my jacket.

The downhills were kind of fun to run, but sometimes they did end on a turn and you had to be careful not to run into a tree 🙂 The more I ran, the warmer I got. I took off my gloves thinking to myself, watch, now that I have taken off my gloves I’ll wipe out.  Sure enough, on the next downhill my foot slid out to the side and I found myself sliding down a hill. I dug in with my snowshoes and grabbed a tree to halt the slide.  The pack of runners right behind me stopped to make sure I was okay, and even paused in case I wanted to get back in front of them. Clearly, it would not be in the spirit of the race to pass me just because I wiped out. I told them I was fine and sent them ahead so I could pull myself back up and settle back in at my own pace.

I caught back up and overheard “2 km right dad?” Seriously? Up I went, down I went, occasionally bashing my ankle with the snowshoe since I am slightly pronate and it gets worse when I am tired. One of my snowshoes started coming loose, so I pulled to the side and tightened it again. Then I went back out on the trail and just settled in to walking up the hills, running down the hills, jumping or stepping over the occasional log, and jogging along the rare short flat stretches. I had to accept the finish would appear when it was good and ready.  Then I saw a snowshoer walking towards me! “All downhill from hear to the lodge!” I was elated! Down the hill I pounded, almost crashing into a fence at one of the turns. I was a little confused when I was told to go through the barn, but yup, stepped through the barn door, ran across the hay and out the other side.

Then I saw the finish line. My sister who had already finished saw me and cheered me on. I called up my number to the Mad Trapper (it was night so he told us if we wanted to record a time we had to call out our numbers since he couldn’t read them in the dark). 542!

20180127_194015The post race

I commented to another racer that I didn’t understand how a loop course could possibly have been a net uphill (I swear we had more up than down :)) and made my way back into the Ark. (FYI the Mad Trapper snowshoe race feels like a snowshoe race for trail runners, if you really don’t like the challenge of the hills check out the Dion snowshoe series, which provides some flatter alternatives :))  Most of the racers were still outside so I took advantage of the quiet to pop into one of the two bathrooms and get changed into dry clothes. I had worked up quite the sweat! My sister came in and we headed over to the post-race food (Thank you Monique). Chili of course (beef & vegetarian options), hot chocolate, chips and YES! Brownies! My sister says despite the fact she represents  a race sponsor even she has not been able to secure the recipe. If you wanted a drink post-race there were also two coolers. In Mike’s words “one with beer and one with Coors Light”

20180127_204200Not long afterwards, Mike came in to congratulate everyone on a good race. “Apparently last race I forgot to say who won, he says but this is not about winning it’s about enjoying yourself out there!”  He did nonetheless announce top 3 male and female runners. (Mad respect to the people who did that course in under 35 minutes, and to everyone who did the loop twice for the 10 km!!!).  There were no prizes for the top runners, instead the prizes are done as a draw prize. Mike counts to three and then shows one or two fingers. If you match you continue, if not you are out. Last one still standing gets to pick a draw prize.

I didn’t win a prize, but I had some great chats with some of the other runners and no question, despite the demanding course, I will return! Apologies Mike I kept the bib as a souvenir instead of returning it to be re-used at the next race, but I’ll bring it with me when I come back for another race! Come join!

20180127_193126

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

 

3 responses to this post.

  1. And it is fun?

    Reply

  2. Epic. Thanks Susan.

    Reply

  3. It was fun!

    Reply

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