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Remember last year?  I was recruited to run the snowshoe leg for a women’s team from Victoria. Although they called themselves a fun, recreational team, they turned out to be super intense and competitive. In fact, at the post-race beer garden, the team captain started rattling off the stats for each leg, telling us who had let more teams pass during each leg. It was a bit of a nasty shock for me – especially since these stats were not available anywhere!

So this year, I reclaimed my free-agent status and waited to see if a better option came about. And the better option soon appeared.

Just before Christmas, my friend Rae texted me, asking if I’d like to be on her long-standing (15 years!) Snow to Surf team. It soon became apparent that she was hanging out with those teammates as she texted. The whole team was on Denman at a Christmas Craft Fair, in the throes of purchasing costumes for this year’s race. Costumes?! Now this sounded like the kind of team that I desired! I said yes immediately.

Tie-Dyed, Thigh High Socks - locally sourced here in the Valley!

Tie-Dyed, Thigh High Socks – locally sourced here in the Valley!

As race day approached, the emails were flying between all the members of the team. The inside jokes and comradery were fun to read and I simply sat back and enjoyed being an outsider peaking in on a tight-knit group of girlfriends.

The night before the event, we all got together for homemade chili and the annual ‘forging signatures’ party. We donned our costumes – consisting of sateen capes, colourful wigs and thigh-high socks – and headed to the race check-in and costume judging, complete with a group cheer and bundles of spirit.

One of our 10 team members, decked out in super-hero style.

One of our 10 team members, decked out in super-hero style.

In the morning, we met up and carpooled to the starting lines. Krista, our downhill skier started the race off. As I waited in the snowshoe corral, I was struck by the grace and beauty of the downhill skiers as they sailed effortlessly down the mountain.

Graceful, Smooth and Speedy! The downhill skiers made it look easy (even though they had to start their leg with a grueling uphill run in ski boots).

But, turning my head, I was confronted with the agony ahead of me as I saw those first snowshoers reduced to a walk as they regained lost elevation in a one kilometer hike. Even those frontrunners were walking within minutes of the hand-off.

The Snowshoe Death March – Up, Up and Away!

When Krista appeared on the downhill slope, I readied myself to grab the wrist band and pass her the car key. Once the hand-off was complete, I turned and ran out of the chute and up the mountain. In no time at all, I was reduced to a walk. Although it was a short leg, the route went up a ski run for one kilometer before flattening out and eventually easing downhill for the remaining 1.5 kilometers. By the time I began, the spring snow was well-trodden and slushy, providing no traction at all. For every step I took, my foot plant would skid back to its starting place. I mentally focussed on all the hill training I have been doing recently with my Cumberland Grinders and told myself that this was no tougher than hiking/running Pity The Fool, Stub and Grub up to 620 meters. The snowshoers around me were all struggling too. Many had stopped trailside with their hands on their knees, gasping for air. Could the 1590m (5200 ft) elevation be more of a factor than fitness for all of us seaside dwellers? It was easy to pass people simply by continuing with a determined walking pace, although my lungs were screaming and I could taste that tinny, metallic taste of blood! A speedy woman passed me and I mentally attached a bungy cord to her, allowing her to pull me along. Soon enough, the incline eased and we were treated to a flat section where I tried to get my breathing under control. I tried to stick to the untracked, groomed parts of the trail that provided a firm footing. As the route snaked more steeply downhill, I would move onto the slushy, tracked snow which allowed me to glissade farther with each running step.

Suddenly, I could hear the cheers from the next transition area. I couldn’t believe that the snowshoe leg was already coming to an end. I managed to push around the last corner and figure out the transition chute. Barb, our nordic skier, was exactly where I expected her to be and, with a quick wristband exchange, she was off and I was free to stumble around, gasping for air and trying to get my eyeballs looking the same direction. I didn’t time myself but I guess that it took less than 20 minutes to complete.

I found my way to the parking area and saw Krista waiting for me. Together we drove down to watch the nordic to road runner to trail runner to mountain biker exchanges before heading off for lunch and a costume adjustment. We rejoined the festivities at the road biker to canoe transition and then moved on to the finish line.

Our team finished in 5:45.31. In the official results we were 100/142 overall and 7/7 for women’s masters.

The results board has us in 104th position (Sno2Slurzz) but we ended up in 100th place in the official results!

The results board has us in 104th position (Sno2Slurzz) but we ended up in 100th place in the official results!

The costume contest, which was our real goal, unfortunately ended up being awarded to a less-deserving team. All the same, we made a good showing at the beer garden, having the largest pile of bags in the whole area and having our photo taken many times over by adoring fans. One of those photos even made the local newspaper the next day, in spite of our obvious beer consumption.

One of our many team photos. Perhaps being featured in the local paper is a better reward than a silly costume contest!

One of our many team photos. Perhaps being featured in the local paper is a better reward than a silly costume contest!

Not only did I luck out in being with a high-spirited, truly recreational team, I think I have found a new group of friends to hang with. Go Slurzzz!

Until very recently, it had been an unseasonably dry winter. Through December and January, the local ski mountain was bare and it truly looked like 2013/14 would pass without any local snow-sports.  But then the storms blew in and we were treated to lots of snow close to town and meters of the white stuff up in the alpine.

With our favourite local running trails covered with snow, slush and ice, B and I decided to head up Mt. Washington for a snowshoe workout.

The ski mountain is close enough to get to for an after-work snowshoe before the sun sets.

The ski mountain is close enough to get to for an after-work snowshoe before the sun sets.

About half-way up the Parkway, there is a pull-out where snowmobiles park and head into the back-country. Usually we like to run on the packed trails that they leave behind. But today, with the novelty of new snow, we decided to follow another snowshoer’s tracks straight up the hill.

Following in someone else's tracks

Following in someone else’s tracks

There he goes!

There he goes!

Good luck catching up with him now!

Good luck catching up with him now!

After a while, B decided to deviate from this trail and head up into the untracked powder. With each step he would sink almost to his knees. I followed, trying to widen the track he was making.

Deep, deep snow. Fluffy and delicious!

Deep, deep snow. Fluffy and delicious!

It was hard going and we both had to stop and catch our breath fairly often. It is such a different work out than running with all that high-knee lifting.

Slogging away

Slogging away

We climbed up to the height of land and then took the shortest, sweetest descent we could find – straight down a steep embankment and back onto the snowmobile track. We finished off the day with a few kilometers of running on packed trail. We returned to the car just as the light was fading. A beautiful end to the day.

The last weekend of April is marked by a huge party in the Comox Valley. The Snow To Surf Adventure Relay Race takes in the three local municipalities and all the lakes, roadways and trails between them. This year, over 180 teams participated in the relay, each team consisting of 9 team members. The 8 race legs are downhill skiing, nordic skiing, snowshoe running, trail running, mountain biking, kayaking, road biking and canoeing.

Of course, B and I were keen to be part of the action. Last year, we were unpacking boxes on race day so we didn’t even notice the big event. As well, neither of us had any idea where our runners or snow equipment was. So this year, we both made feeble attempts to find a local team who needed us, but  none of our work colleagues were putting together a team and we don’t know very many other people.

The week before the race, I heard about the website bulletin board that links racers to teams in need. Both of us posted a short profile and both of us were contacted by separate teams the following day. We were both asked to do the 6.5 km snowshoe leg. The night before the race, we headed off to meet our respective teams so that waivers could be signed and logistics could be worked out.

When my all-women team finally arrived from Victoria and Nanaimo, we had an extremely late dinner and then got to work trying  to figure out how to transport people and equipment around. With almost no useful information available on the website, it was a complete gong-show. When I left their rented house at 11:00 pm, they were still arguing. After I left, I believe they proceeded to move roof racks, bike racks, the two boats and the two bikes around to different cars. I was thankful that my equipment was simple. The unfortunate part was that I would be picked up at 7:45 am for my 10:15 am snowshoe leg. Although B was running the same leg as me on a much faster team, he arrived at our starting area an hour and half after me!

The snowshoers were corralled into a small area beside the nordic skier finish chute. We crowded together for warmth, since it was about 4 C, and waited for our race numbers to be called. When my teammate arrived, I hustled up to meet her, dropped my puffy jacket at her feet, grabbed the terrycloth wristband and ran up to the parkway.

Because of low snow levels, the snowshoe leg started off on the parkway for about 2 km. Thankfully, we were allowed to carry our snowshoes! The route started with quite a steep incline which, fuelled with race adrenaline, I sprinted up. Once it levelled off and sloped downwards, I was able to open up, catch my breath and think about the pacing skills I have been working on at our track speed workouts. Soon enough, I was passing people. It was fun to focus on someone’s back and mentally reel them in. The race organizers sent us back and forth across the parkway and I found my rhythm was lost each time as I dodged between cars. It was probably the most unsafe road running I have ever witnessed in a race. Each time someone instructed us to cross the parkway, no one was there to stop the cars.  Thankfully, the drivers were almost all associated with the relay and patiently yielded to our zig-zag route.

We were directed onto a snowy forest service road and stopped to put on our snowshoes. I imagined the focus required by biathletes as I fumbled with my snowshoe straps, gasping for breath. Soon enough I began running again and was instantly treated to another steep incline, but this time it was covered in well-tracked, slushy spring snow. Each step seemed to move me forward only a few inches while sucking all the power from my legs. For a race that has a downhill profile, there sure was a lot of uphill in the snowshoe leg!  The course was undulating, with short, steep inclines and long, steep descents. It was a hoot to scream past racers who were pussy-footing their way downhill. From my chit-chat at the start area, I found that many racers had never worn snowshoes before. That was obvious many times over as some racers walked both up and down the hills and some even removed their snowshoes.

In no time at all, the 3.5 km of snow running ended and we were directed to remove our snowshoes and continue down on the trail. The trail was soggy, with a stream flowing down the centre. This section was supposed to be 1.5 km, but it was probably less than 1 km. I pushed really hard on this familiar terrain, focussing on following the fall-line of the trail. The course soon put us back onto the parkway and towards the runner transition. My trail runner teammate was waiting for me and our transition was smooth.

After a few moments of catching my breath, the downhill skier from our team found me and we headed to the car. From there we drove along to almost every transition area, picking up our teammates as they finished their events.

In the end, we finished in 5:09.23, about mid-pack in our category, which I think is remarkable considering our throw-together team and the chaos of the night before. The information available on the event website was pathetic, with not a map or a route description available. It would have been helpful to have some sort of suggestion about how to shuttle the team and equipment around or even a blank map of the region. I think my team learned that the rules are merely guidelines and the whole point of the day is to have fun.

I’m keen on doing it all again next April.  Do you need a teammate??

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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