Welcome to my blog! This is a site where you can keep up to date on my life as a full-time athlete in the sport of cross country skiing. You can expect regular updates throughout the year as I report on training, racing, life in general and maybe even some school. Sponsors, family, friends and fans: Enjoy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I like being home where it's warm and comfortable.

John Butler Trio’s “Ocean” is reverberating through my head along with the howling head-wind. I am dressed very thinly and am in the middle of a 17 km long lake, exposed as hell, averaging barely 7 km/h. I’ve been out here for many hours already, plodding fresh tracks through the fresh snow and am on the final, most difficult stretch of stage 1 of the 3-stage K-Rock Ultra 135km ski race in the Rock and Ice Ultra. The visibility is reduced to 100m with the raging storm but realistically I can barely even see my ski tips as I am bundled up like a mummy with iced up goggles smothering my face. I feel like Luke Skywalker when he does his first light saber drills using the blast shield aboard the Millenium Falcon, not being able to see any of the miniature laser beams that are shot his way. Somehow I am finding my way from invisible yellow flag to invisible yellow flag and I guess it helps that the route is perfectly straight. Most people in their right mind would find this situation somewhat frightening, maybe even cause for panic. Truth is, I find the fanatical intensity of the exposure exhilarating. As the song reaches one of its many crescendos, additional adrenalin is injected into my system. Not exactly a necessary hormone for a 5+ hour day especially with it being the first of three, but perhaps playing a part in my peculiar euphoria. I fist pump a couple times. This is no longer a ski race, but more like a running/ski-bounding race. Gliding is not an option, and the high tempo shuffle-bound-jog technique I have perfected has put the hurt on the rest of the field. I didn’t even attack intentionally. At the start of Prelude Lake I was chilled and started to freeze up. The only way for me to survive, or more like survive successively, was to pick up the pace to warm up. The guys I was with, Corey and Rob, had both hammered off the start of the race and it seemed like they were starting to feel their early efforts judging by their slowing trundle. In my attempt to warm up I soon found myself alone in the white-out, plugging away, trusting my obsessive compulsive nature to maintain the elevated tempo and get me to the end.

Eventually I drag my carcass into Stage Camp 1 at Powder Point, the farthest point on Prelude Lake. A crowd awaits me as I am the first to emerge from the swirling vanilla milkshake. The tunes are still pumping from my awesome hat with the built in headphones, so I am unresponsive as the cameras and crowd surround me. I vaguely hear, “I told you so! I told you Adrian’s son would be the first in!”, and, “I told you he was good!”. Only one word and its associated thought come to mind: Awesome – I survived. Unlike the oh so many who fell casualty to the elements on Day 1…

Stage camp #1 - Powder Point.

Me wallowing in my own filth after stage 1. As far as I'm concerned, nice, greasy pizza is the best thing you can eat after skiing all day long. Wrap it up in tin foil and warm it up on the heater stove and voila.

The home stretch on the ice road.

Almost there...

I think I can read his thoughts: "Gawd, and how many more of these do I have to eat!?"

Day 2 dawns with a glorious sunrise as the camp rouses. The constant bustle of urgent activity really makes me realize that the race isn’t only the 45-ish km you cover each day, but equally as much what you do in the down-time. How you come down from one stage and prepare for the next. It turns out I have a 16 minute gap on Corey “Rock & Ice” McLachlan, a very comforting cushion that brings to mind various tactical approaches. A mutual, unspoken agreement is reached for the day as we both realize that our shape is similar and that any huge moves would have to wait until the final stage. So we ski together the entire race, trading leads, refueling often, chatting, enjoying the magnificent weather and landscape that is the Hidden lake burn and surrounding area. Meanwhile, Mike “the Rabbit” Argue and Phil “the Tortoise” Villeneuve wage a silent but fierce battle that favours fitness, short drink breaks, proper fuelling, efficient pulk systems, and impressive mental fortitude. And during this battle they make fun of us “old ladies” as we have tea time way too often. Every few kilometers I see animal sign out in the untouched Akaitcho territory, where only a couple snowmobiles had passed in the previous week. I spot lynx sign as it meanders through the maze of snowshoe hare paths that polka-dot the untouched, sparkling powder between the 3-foot high new growth trees. I see some big tracks and dub them as “Sasquatch”. Corey laughs. “Or maybe just moose,” I respond. The great caribou herds keep to themselves far up North and haven’t graced us with their presence around Yellowknife in many years. Some of the final lake sections are treacherous. Wind isn’t a factor, but snow depth and consistency is. We are plowing through sugar over our boots. The shuffle-bound-jog is adopted once again as mode of transportation. We keep this up for a long time, Corey seems to have recovered from yesterday and has me at the limit of my “easy” zone at times. He likes to hammer anyways. Once or twice in the last sections of the stage I stop for candy. Gummy worms are pure gold and are much better than Sharkies as they do not stick to your teeth and go down very easy. Caramilk and Rolo eggs are amazing as well, but are potential choking hazards as they are the exact diameter of one’s trachea. The day takes the same 5:20-ish as yesterday. I now have a 2nd place and 3rd place longest training sessions of all time. The day has turned mild, maybe -12 Celsius with no wind and a big hard sun. We arrive to the white teepees that are as hot as saunas and as small as bathroom stalls with 8 feet of head-room at the very center, tapering on all sides very quickly. Corey and I stand in our tent with shirts off and our torsoes above the “scorching hot” height threshold. Mikey and Phil arrive from their duel, Mikey having to fight especially hard to catch up in the last 5 km after yard-saling his pulk a few times on the final downhill that had a couple corners.

Once changed and settled we enjoy the weather, ice fish, and get our game faces on for Day 3. Race mode is on all the while.

After a night of sweaty, clammy legs, and a frozen upper body due to an opening in the tent next to my balaclava-clad head, it is time for the final and deciding stage of the K-Rock. Last night I determined the 43.5 km stage was over at 35 km, because from there on in it’s mostly ice road where you can average nearly double the speed you would otherwise ski on snow. So basically 35 km. On the day, conditions are quite good. Hard pack the entire way (no sugar!), mostly tail wind, and a snowmobile sled track that shockingly resembles a skiing track. I’m skiing evenly and slightly above my comfort zone for almost the entire race. There is little talk out there as the mood is heavy and sullen (read: competitive) just like the dreary sky surrounding us. I lead about 20 km of the first 25 km. I am the first to stop for a water refill at the 2nd last check point but somehow get filled last and meanwhile everyone takes off without me. Skating, even! Skating has been shown to average about 13-14 km/h today but consequently burns dangerous amounts of energy very quickly. Striding has shown easy averages of 11 km/h and is a more natural and efficient movement for the human body. Slightly annoyed with the pack leaving after the water mix-up, I take off and kill myself for a few minutes to get back to the front. I slow the pace to a stride and assume that they will stop so that I can take a drink of my tardily refilled thermos. Instead, Corey attacks and quickly puts about 5 minutes into me using the infamous technique of skating. I realize that this is the last realistic opportunity for him to reel in the 16 minutes. I have to dig very deep and stride for all I am worth for about 8 km of a lengthy lake stretch. Heart rate is pinned at about 170 for almost an hour until I finally catch him. The race is pretty much over now, just a matter of skiing it in. We round the corner at Dettah and hop on the ice road, escorted by a convoy of eager film crew and photographers (including my dad), leaping in and out of vehicles, doing drive bys and almost getting taken out by our skittery, uncontrollable skis as they take wide-angle laying down shots of us speeding by. We double pole it in, averaging 19 km/h the last little bit, even into a headwind. The race is now over, we reminisce of the battle and enjoy the natural high. A huge sense of accomplishment washes over me as I cross the finish line. Most importantly from having finished this thing relatively unscathed.

The boys at Trout Rock Lodge, preparing for the final and deciding day of the Diamond Ultra 225 km 6-day ski race. I'm serious, that's how they prepared. Ok, maybe only one or two of those are theirs, maybe. My bad for cutting out Mikey's face.

Over the proceeding days of the Rock and Ice I got to witness the epic battle between Mike and Phil. In a race that is decided over 6 days, 225 km of tricky ski conditions, and over 24 hours of total race time, you know it was a great race when the time separating first and second is mere minutes.

The future of the Rock and Ice is still somewhat unknown in terms of growth over the next few years. It has remained small, with the 3rd year garnering nearly 100 athletes. It helped this year that it wasn’t during Nationals, that is why this is the first year I could actually enter without a conflict. The event could potentially be great next year with proper planning. With Nationals taking place in Whitehorse next year, it could be as easy as getting word out to Canada’s skiers, setting up First Air to be shuttling athletes over from Whitehorse for the race once Nationals are done, and then back down south after the R & I as part of their sponsorship commitment. That could attract flocks of competitive racers. But still, with a price tag of $1500 for the 3-day, and $3000 for the 6-day, cost would become an issue for many of North America’s racers (over 50% discount for residents of the Yukon, NT, and Nunavut, though!). Perhaps a discount for CCC license holders might be an attractive development as well as prizes that would go deeper than top-1. With Nationals likely to be at the end of the month of March next year, having the Rock and Ice take place into April could be a good thing. Perhaps keeping athletes in the North for an extended period of a few weeks to experience the best in the World skiing that is possible on Great Slave Lake once the snow has melted off towards the end of the month.

Corey congratulating Starr on her 2nd place finish in the 3-day ski.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rock and Ice, ya dig?

Oddly enough, this is the best picture I got from Nationals 2009. The BC boys practicing their synchronized swimming between racing. In our ghetto fabulous cabin that had a ginormous pool.

I won’t bore you too much with Nationals deets. Things went well there, every race was average or a bit above average.

Mikey and I weren’t able to defend our silver medal in the Nationals skate team sprint and had to settle for 9th. We clawed our way into the final and from there plodded through the mashed potatoes, fighting to maintain contact with the lead pack, which ultimately led to us getting burned and caught by 2 chasing teams at the end.

The 15km classic race saw us racing in a hurricane on a skating rink. Not ideal conditions for classic. I had a good race, grip holding up 2/3 laps and I was able to maintain a high, somewhat sustainable pace for at least half of the race.

The classic sprint was definitely my best day. I placed 14th, 11th Canadian I believe as my first year as a Senior. I had a great heat, led off the start too easily, used my traditional knowledge and northern instincts to track and hunt 2nd place up to the last hill. Once there I unleashed the Emil Joensson run to be oh so close to moving on until with about 50m to go was passed by American, Mike Sinnott (some call him “Snot-face”). I fought well, but at the end of the day a 15th place qualifier wasn’t high enough for a lucky loser spot especially with the shake-ups that led to 8th and 9th being the lucky losers… A note on skis for that day: I used a pair of my hard-wax skis that require padding to fill out the residual camber. I left my binding one click forward, allowing me to get over the grip zone better, and significantly shortened the grip zone. I had a thick padding of klister that would be perfect for chicken running whenever I slammed the ball of my foot down. The short grip zone ensured good gliding, which actually saved me as I sucked up to Sinnott on the long gradual downhill segment.

I’ve been meaning to announce this for the past 3 weeks – that I am doing the Rock and Ice Ultra 3-day ski event. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s an ultra marathon race that takes place in Yellowknife in the spring time and is in its 3rd year running. Racers pay exorbitant amounts of money both to get to Yellowknife and then to enter the race. The course takes place over a 135 km loop that is broken into 3-days, approximately 45 km each day. There is also a 6-day event where the athletes are required to pull a pulk containing all of their food and camp supplies. For the 3-day however, a duffle bag is flown around and awaits the racers at each camp that is set up by the organizers.

It is quite well known that the best prepared athlete will win, not necessarily the quickest. Some who know me might be shocked and appalled that I would consider such an event especially when my strength lies over a 2.5 minute course as opposed to three consecutive 5-hour days of plowing (potentially) through deep (potentially) snow. But these people who know me might also know that Yellowknife is my home town and that I have spent thousands of hours on the land perfecting these skills that will be required for Rock and Ice domination. I was somewhat offended today when Pate’s adventure racing crew (Barb and Richard from S. Ontario, team Tree Huggers (is that right Pate?)) were talking me up to one of the check point managers, saying I was on some National team or something and was some hot shot skier who was going to break trail for everyone out there. Buddy CP manager said that meant crap, that being a fast skier often means you know nothing about being mindful and aware that extreme weather conditions can adversely affect your race’s outcome, ie. bailing and freezing to death out on the ice, haha. I’m hoping that I’m some anomaly to this fast skier breed, or at least hope that I’m not even one of these fast skier types. Maybe I'm one of those tortoise types, like in the battle between Phil "the tortoise" Villeneuve and Mike "the rabbit" Argue over the 6 day event.

I’ve been back home in Yellowknife since Wednesday, with the race starting tomorrow, Saturday. My training leading up to this event has included celebratory beer drinking in southern Ontario once the racing season was finished, some dancing in downtown TO, sleeping 1 hour one night, flying across the country, more beer drinking in Whistler, some downhill shredding, some more flying across the country, and finally some cold weather skiing in Yellowknife. Since I've arrived I’ve had the chance to fine tune my race get-up, and believe I have a streamlined system that will minimize stoppage time. I’ve got a high tech set-up fo sho.

Top-5 clutch items on my gear list (other than the normal windbriefs and wind break underwear and neckwarmers):

1. This awesome 1L Thermos (mandatory item) that I purchased at Overlander Sports. It is sleek and sexy and easy to use.

2. Lenny Valjas' side-ways water bottle holder that I stole from our house in Tbay last year (I was the last one out of the house when we moved out and he left it there so I took the liberty of making it my own. …my precious.) This item makes drinking from my awesome 1L Thermos that much easier. It sits below my Camelbak and juts to the side for easy drinking accessibility.

3. This random toque I have that has these giant earflaps with built in headphones. My 15 hour Rock and Ice playlist is primed and ready to go. My iPod shuffle clips on to one of the ear flaps. My playlist includes a broad range for my bi-polar listening enjoyment. I've been loving the "Into the Wild" soundtrack in training. It makes me want to ski off into the horizon and live off the land. A crap-ton of Lil' Wayne, aka Weezy, will keep me pumped with his greasy rhymes and beats. That's right, Sam Lindsey... and Jesse Winter... and Pate Neumann... And much to my surprise, and very much against my nature, a bunch of Country will be head-bobbed to. Taylor Swift = so hot right now.

4. Goggles that I borrowed from Bob Stephen, aka Beep-Bop. Under the condition that I beat Corey. Tomorrow there is a 30km East wind meaning -38 Celsius windchill. We are skiing east. The spot between my sunglasses and toque was getting cold the other day skiing in barely a -20 windchill. Man I’ve grown soft… Would have been nice to have my cool-ass Von Zipper goggles I got for my Bday, too bad I was an idiot and thought it would be warm-ish for the R & I. Am I one of those ignorant fast skiers?

5. Carbo Pro sport drink. No taste, lots of calories, easy on the gut. Period. Mixed with some eLoad, some glutamine and some branch chain amino acids and you’ve got liquid pwnage.

Also, my skis are pretty badass. Zach pimped out a pair of my rock skis by putting them through a flattening grind about 30 times and then through a special Rock and Ice grind for final structure. Add some Magic Potion on top and you’ve got some rockets. Magic Potion is good in the cold and never wears out apparently. Just keep brushing and you will have good speed. Hopefully my boards can handle the aggressive “gravelly ice road” structure that Corey’s got going on on his weathered veteran skis that have traveled the world and skied the likes of the Vasaloppet back in the day when he was 18 years old.

Back to Weasel Town for one day and some shredding with Lenny's fam and Dougie, Twoonie racer slash Whistler ski bum extraordinaire slash future Dopplemayer engineer slash Whitehorse native. Lenny and I giving the peace sign (ng with lobster claws) while riding the Peak to Peak (awesome). Man I spent a lot of time with Lenny towards the end of Nationals... Check out this one flick of our day at Horseshoe downhill area (near the Valjas' cottage), the day after the classic sprint. Good song selection if I may say so myself...

-15 Celsius and sunny with 15 km/h east wind clothing. too bad it won't be like this for the Rock and Ice...

I was mixing sport drink concoctions all day today. All day, baby.

I find this picture quite humourous... This will be me tomorrow, prancing about joyfully on the desolate, wind-swept lakes.

Monday, March 2, 2009


You have to get up to double pole.

The classic sprint at Western Canadian Championships was the first time this year that the "sprint" was a sprint. A 1km course with light undulations. Again, I went for the double pole tactic. In my goal book for this year I wrote, "improve upper body fitness to be able to double pole a sprint course" with 3 question marks in parantheses and a little arrow pointing to the question, "too early in my development?". I've learned that going with the double pole tactic is somewhat of a mental hurdle. There are many things to consider when you use skate skis. ie. You can't start as fast, you can't stride up hills, and herring bone technique is more difficult (but not impossible). But on the flipside, there is a significant difference in economy at low end double pole speed because of the lack of the dragging kick wax, also noticed - although less of a difference - when tucking on the downhills. Cornering is also improved with the nimble skis that are better designed to pushing off an edge.

The course had one short, steep pitch that was really tough to double pole up, and one longer, less severe climb where you could really unleash the guns before tucking low (Korean torture style) into the finishing stretch. The finish stretch was all about slingshotting and keeping things together.

Quarter-final action. I was planning on striding it to save the double pole for later heats, but I couldn't get the classic boards to work. Luckily a trusty old pair of Fischer skate skis were stupid fast and did all the work for me.

Elbows up! Helps to activate more muscle groups. Lats and pec. minor? Man, are my pec. minors tight these days...

Following Cam in the Semi. He was striding and had a lightning fast start. I proceeded to ski all over his skis up the first climb, somewhat accidentally.

This one made the Yellowknifer Weekender. All photos courtesy of my fasha. Mike Argue and I were in every heat together that day. I followed him to the line every time, including the final.

Now that's something you don't see every day. N-Dub boys on the top two steps. Skeets rounding out the top-3.

Finally a successful day of racing. Qualified 2nd, finished 2nd (!!!). The body was there, allowing me to ski the entire course aggressively. The head to head heats saw an epic battle between striders and double polers, with the double polers finally prevailing on the day in this heated contest. I held up well, conserving energy where I could during early heats, and was able to fight at the end.

Of course I'm satisfied, and of course I would have liked to finally beat Mike in a sprint heat, but having it that way with him standing on the top podium spot made it sort of a double victory, with Yellowknife exerting its domination and showing a sneak peak of potential prowess in the Nationals team sprint.

The shape is good, but I'm not settling. I've learned to crunch my abs while double poling and to breathe at the same time. Something that will take a while to perfect and to strengthen. Perhaps many years. But double pole is a relatively straight forward technique that I can now finally see myself developing into a sharply honed weapon.

Nationals is coming up soon. I will be focusing on the team sprint, the classic distance race, and the classic sprint from March 8th-15th. I will not do the distance skate races since I seem to be developing the all too popular compartment syndrome (maybe...maybe not. I had to pull out of my last skate race cause I couldn't move my legs).

Take it easy, folks.