Anyone who is looking for a winter challenge should try the Canadian ski marathon. You can ski any distance from 10 km to 160 km. There are 10 sections from Lachute to Buckingham. This year was the year and my original plan was to do the one day challenge. However, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do the whole thing. I wanted to see how this challenge compares to an Ironman, Rideau Lakes, etc. You know the old saying, either "go big or go home" (lol), so I switched to Coureur de bois bronze category. I recommend doing a lot of long slow distance ski outings to prepare for the event. I also recommend doing it with a buddy.
Day 1 (Saturday)
The day started by getting up at 2:30 in the morning, getting stuff packed and driving to Montebello in order to take the 4:30 shuttle to Lachute. Once in Lachute, there was some last minute waxing before the 6 am start in the cold, although not quite as cold as previous years. It is quite amazing to start skiing in the dark with a headlamp, knowing that by the end of the whole thing you will have almost skied all the way back to Ottawa. The first section was about 14 km, and there were a lot of people on the trails and the hills started immediately.
Eventually, it started to get much lighter and by the first checkpoint there was full sunshine although it was starting to be obscured by cloud cover. At each checkpoint, it is crowded but it is important to take in as much nutrition as possible, soup, warm gatorade, bananas, cookies, fig bars, chocolates, nuts, etc. Your bib is scanned and recorded and there are people cheering. But you cannot stop for too long or you will start to chill.
The next section included slightly more difficult climbs and descents and I was feeling good so I picked up the pace slightly to compensate for the slower first section. The second section including a section of skiing on a golf course, was similar to the first section. The third section was classified as more difficult and longer (18 km). The trail traverses many logging roads and there were some amazing views with long climbs (one climb that was at least a km or two) and "epic" rolling downhills.
I remember having a fall on one of the downhills, mostly because of a very sharp turn near the bottom. Funny, that a friend of mine who was a volunteer "sweeper" for the event came upon me and asked if I was okay (answer was yes). I picked up my bottle of sport drink and continued on my way. The trails were groomed quite well with all of the snow but the snow was somewhat abrasive because of the skier traffic.
Although the sun came out only for a brief instant the day was warming up. It was early afternoon by the time I started the fourth section of the day, and this section is almost 20 km long. There was some light freezing rain and the tracks were starting to ice up, and the red wax applied at the previous checkpoint was barely working.
At one point we had to cross a bridge that was quite narrow. The last section was another intermediate section and fatigue was starting to set in. There are signs every 2 km indicating the distance skied since Lachute, and signs indicating when you're 5 km or 2 km to the nearest checkpoint. The last section of the day ended with a long downhill followed by a roundabout route to the Chateau Montebello. Although the sign indicated 2 km to go it felt like much more. Finally, the finish line for day 1 was in sight and I crossed it sometime after 4 pm. After post-event nutrition it was time to drive back to Ottawa and get ready to do it again for day 2.
Day 2 (Sunday)
The day started by getting up at 3:30 in the morning to get to the start in Montebello. The warm temperatures and rain overnight made things interesting. Even weirder than skiing at 6 am with crowds of people is doing it when the temperature is above zero and the snow is wet.
The first section was not as congested as yesterday but I had no grip so I had to resort to either double poling or running on my skis. Someone commented, "no grip?" to which I replied "yep", then he said "but I like your style".
There was also a section of the trail where the coureur de bois gold people were merging with us (they had camped out overnight and carry everything in a big pack - wow!). The temperature was starting to fall and the wind was picking up as daylight arrived. This section was only 12.5 km had some wooded sections early but then more rolling hills later on. By the first checkpoint the wind was very strong and the temperature was noticeably colder. Klister had to be applied to my skis in order to have some grip. I quickly left this checkpoint as I was starting to feel cold.
The next section was the longest one of the whole marathon, almost 21 km traversing rolling hills and farmers fields. The sun finally came out early on it this section, while skiing through the single tracked trail through a forest. Most of the route is actually double trackset to make passing other skiers easier. There was the 100 km sign which is quite a milestone, however you realize that you still have a long day. Near the end of the section I felt like I was starting to fade but the checkpoint was near and it was more sheltered from the wind.
After two sections classified as "easy", the third section would feature more rolling terrain, but a scenic stretch through a valley next to a lake. On one of the technical downhills I managed to fall and the pole handle hit my chest, but I was okay other than a likely bruise there.
By 11:30 am I was starting the 4th section and this was a easy section however the cumulative distance was now over 130 km and my technique was falling apart from fatigue and soreness. There were some fun stretches along private driveways and right of ways and less fun sections at the sides of roads where the snow has some grit in it. There are also places were there are road crossings and volunteers are shoveling snow so the skiers don't have to take off their skis. I also liked the mini-checkpoints with hot water served by military personnel. This fourth section was mentally tough and my body did not want to continue yet there was only one more section left.
Finally, I reached that last checkpoint, with a total of 147 km of skiing. I met someone else I knew and worked with several years ago. The last section I decided to just focus and keep a consistent pace, although the terrain was more challenging. Finally, the last winding section into the golf course at Buckingham with 2 km to go and then the finish line in sight. At around 2:30 pm it was done, 160.4 km of xc skiing over 2 days and and a
coureur de bois bronze pin.
So my question was answered, this was tougher than an Ironman. And next year I can register for CDB silver and ski the distance with a 5 kg pack!