Mike's 2012 Canadian Ski Marathon Report
By: Mike Giles (2012/02/14)
It had been a few years since I had done much skiing, and I hadn’t participated in the CSM since 2007, so I hesitated before putting in a bid for the CSM entry at the TriRudy auction. My judgement may have been a little clouded as well, because I had just participated in a beer mile. Nevertheless, I scrawled a bid on the form, and wasn’t I the lucky one - nobody outbid me. So there I was, the proud owner of a free entry to the Canadian Ski Marathon – a 2-day 160 km ski adventure from Buckingham to Lachute. So I had to celebrate my good fortune with a few more beers, followed by a visit to the triathletes gone wild party, where I ran into two good friends, and perennial (well, almost) participants at the CSM – Chris Macknie and Zoe Panchen. “I’m gonna do it this year too”, I slurred after a bottle or so of red… “and I’ll do the sleep outside thing with you guys too”!
Fast forward a month or so – no skiing yet, and the prospect of skiing 160K carrying all my earthly belongings on my back was quite sobering. Luckily, Jane Yardley knew of my plan, and was kind enough to accompany me on a few skis – no epic training days, but a few nice outings in the 1-3 hour range. I also was lucky to have the opportunity to ski with Tobin Decou – a veteran of gold camp, and permanent bib guy George Reid and his lovely partner Monika also joined me for a ski. Everyone was quite encouraging, but my memories of the CSM were coming back more quickly than my skiing ability, and I knew that I could be in for a very challenging weekend. However, my training was coming along, and I remained optimistic that I might be able to pull this off. Then the unthinkable happened – I got sick! And not just any illness – I had the “man cold”. I was so sick that I’m surprised Team Sanderson didn’t have me hospitalized (not sure where she would have brought me). As I lay on the couch suffering and unable to perform the slightest bit of physical activity, I watched the number of potential training days remaining before the CSM slip away. As you can probably guess, I did eventually recover, and I had one last weekend to prepare myself. If I could get in two solid days, I’d be fine. Well, midway through a lovely ski with George and Monika I felt a twinge in my adductor, and I had to limp shuffle through the rest of the day. It’s a good thing my ski buddies were patient people, because I wasn’t moving very fast! So the next day, it was back on the couch, this time hoping that my body would heal in time to at least give it a shot. At least I am smart enough (no comments please) to realize when the cards are stacked against me. I knew I had almost no chance to complete the CSM carrying a big pack and sleeping outside, so I decided to downgrade to the Bronze instead of the Gold level. I am also a bit of a wimp when it comes to sleeping outside in the middle of winter.
Friday night I was all set – bags packed, skis waxed, and excited about the journey ahead. Then I realized I didn’t know where I was going in the morning, so I quickly e-mailed my source of all CSM information – Chris and Zoe. They set me straight, and I was ready to leave at 4:30 a.m. to get to the start on time. I think I was up and ready at 3:30 or so, and just though I’d relax and drink coffee for a bit. Strangely, my stomach felt a little off. A couple of trips to the washroom later, I was beginning to wonder whether sushi had been the right thing to eat the night before the CSM. I made another stop on the way to Buckingham, and then headed straight to the porta-potti when I arrived at the start. I was beginning to think that just getting from the porta-potti to the start line might be the biggest challenge of the day, but with the clock ticking away, I had to get ready to go. As I stood waiting for the start, I wondered whether I’d make it to the first Checkpoint, or whether I’d just do 10 minutes out and back, and then go back home.
Finally, the countdown to the start was on, followed by hundreds of bobbing headlamps as the skiers double-poled away from the start. The adventure was underway! My stomach seemed to settle once I got going – perhaps it had just been nerves and not the sushi. I started towards the back of the pack, so the pace was just right. On day 1, the kilometers ticked away nicely, and I felt better and better as I went. The CSM did a wonderful job of grooming, especially considering there wasn’t a lot of snow to work with. Conditions were much better than what I remembered from 5 years before. There was great camaraderie between the skiers. That’s the great thing about a touring event as compared to a race – there is an all for one spirit amongst the skiers, who are always quick to offer encouragement to each other. (Well, except for the big guy in the blue jacket up ahead… gotta get past him before the next uphill!) The trail map for day 1 had the 5 sections labelled: easy, easy, intermediate, easy and easy. Now that’s my kind of day! Of course it’s still 80k, and anyone that’s ever done the CSM knows that "easy" is a relative term. I stayed upright for the most part, but did have a couple of little incidents on Day 1. I crashed twice trying to avoid others that had gone down in front of me. It’s always quite comical really, because your immediate concern is not for your own safety, but rather to try to get everything untangled and get the hell out of the way of the next guy, so he doesn’t crash too! I escaped pretty much unscathed and skied happily into Montebello at about 3:30 in the afternoon – 9 ½ hours of skiing. I felt so proud of myself that I decided to go into the Chateau and have a $10 beer to celebrate my achievement. Then reality set in and I boarded the yellow school bus that would take me to the Papineauville High School where I would spend the night on my little patch of the gym floor. The dorm was fine though, and I must say that as I wandered down the hallway to the washroom in the middle of the night, I was thankful to be inside and not at Gold camp!
At 4 a.m. the gym came to life as people started to get organized and packed for the day. I had breakfast with a couple of nice fellows, one of whom had a trail map. I was reminded that the 5 sections for Day 2 were labelled: Intermediate, intermediate, difficult, intermediate, and intermediate. I remembered some of the terrain from my previous experiences, and realized that the task at hand was going to be quite daunting. Endless uphills followed by screaming (sometimes quite literally) downhills. I was feeling relatively fresh, but knew that I would be challenged to complete the day. Shortly after skiing out of Montebello we passed the Gold camp. Fires were still burning brightly, but the skiers were long gone – it almost looked like an inviting place to spend a winter evening… maybe next year. The first two sections went quite smoothly, and I felt strong as I left Checkpoint 2 for the long and demanding 3rd section. I may have been in too much of a hurry, because I didn’t stand in line for the honeywater that had seen me through the previous day, and it seemed that people were taking forever getting food and fluids. I thought I’d just forge on – which was a perfect example of how fatigue affects your ability to make sound decisions – doh! I felt excellent as we did the forever climb early in the section. I was constantly working around and past groups of skiers. I was indeed having a great day! After the climbing, the descents followed, and I negotiated most, walked a couple, and face-planted on a couple of others. I wasn’t deterred though – if anything, I had expected much worse. There was a bare-bones aid station about ½ way through the section, so I had a couple of glasses of water. Shortly thereafter I realized that I was fading fast. My pace was slowing minute by minute, and my skis were losing grip with each push. A quick check of my skis showed my wax was okay, which unfortunately meant the problem was the skier. I had hit the wall. Through the rest of the section I went from passing to being passed – I was reduced to the Ironman shuffle of skiing, and it wasn’t pretty. I had gone from having lots of time to make the cut-off, to wondering if I would even be able to continue beyond the next checkpoint. I limped into Carling Lakes, and a check of my watch showed that I had about an hour and 40 minutes to get to Checkpoint 4, and I was pouring honeywater in to try to recover. Unfortunately, they were out of food (at least what I was looking for), so I routed through my bag and found some frozen gu jubes – they would have to be my saviour. I headed out with 15K to cover in 1:35 to make the cut-off. That seems pretty reasonable, but 130K into the weekend, and running on empty, it was going to be a challenge. If I was going down though, I wasn’t going without a fight! I pushed every step of the way and the kilometer markers just couldn’t come quickly enough. I skied icy downhills with reckless abandon, knowing that doing otherwise would mean certain failure. With 5K to go, I was finally able to ease up just a little because I’d made up time. The good news was that I pulled into Checkpoint 4 with about 5 minutes to spare. The bad news was that meant I had to ski another 15K. I took ample time to re-fuel again before departing. The pace was much more relaxed leaving the Checkpoint than it had been arriving! There was absolutely no rush to get to the finish. I had a very nice leisurely ski for the last 15K, and thankfully, much of it was downhill. Seeing the 158K marker I was ecstatic to be almost done! I thought it was a cruel joke that just after that I saw the "5K to go" sign. What the heck? I signed up for 160K, not 163! And what about that steep glare ice downhill just entering Lachute with the 90 degree right-hander at the bottom. I watched a couple of brave souls end up in a twisted heap at the bottom, so I decided that taking my skis off and walking was a far safer way to get down. If I was going to perish on a downhill, it wasn’t going to be with 1K left! Shortly after, at about 5 p.m., after 11 hours of skiing, I crossed the finish line to the wild cheers of thousands of spectators! Oh okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but there were about 20 brave souls standing in the cold applauding and cheering politely as I inched towards the finish.
The CSM was, as always, an amazing experience, and I had a tremendous sense of accomplishment after once again becoming a "coureur des bois"! As mentioned earlier, the trail grooming is far superior to what I remembered from 5 years ago, and the organizers are maintaining and renovating the trail system to make it a safer and more reasonable challenge for all – even so-so skiers like me! If you can classic ski, and you haven’t participated in the CSM, you’re missing out on a tremendous experience. You don’t have to ski 160K, and you don’t have to sleep out in the cold. You can participate in the "half marathon" (1 day), or the touring category, and ski as many sections as you want over 2 days, all while spending a fantastic weekend at the Chateau Montebello. Sign up for next year – you’ll be glad you did! I might just see you there!