The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race

Getting to the start line of The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race was a victory in itself, given my Superman dive while skating just a month before. I did a short test run three days before the race and didn’t feel the injured muscles near my ribs, and while my legs were tight the next couple of days for lack of run practice, I declared myself ready to race! This would be my first time on snowshoes this winter, my first snowshoe race in two years, and just my second run in a month – what could go wrong?! Oh, and it was predicted to feel like -19 degrees Celsius with the wind. My goals were to make it to the finish line and to have fun in the process.

I arrived at the race site at Marydale Park in Mount Hope (Hamilton) to discover that one of the Happy Trails volunteers lives on my street – small world! I picked up my race kit (a big, awesome mug, a buff, and my race bib) and went back to my car to get organized. I immediately realized that I was under-dressed (unusual for me!), but thankfully I had a Happy Trails hoodie with me for after the race that I decided to wear while racing. I got my snowshoes on and wondered where everyone was, since there were only a few people outside. Turns out they were inside for the pre-race briefing, which I almost missed.

The race

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

We were incredibly fortunate that a recent snowfall had blanketed the race course with the perfect amount of snow – not too little, and not too much! We would be running 2 laps of a 4k course, which included a loop and an out and back section.

I tried to position myself well back of the start line, but people kept lining up behind me. Oh well, they would soon find out that they would have to pass me! With a very laid-back 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown, we were off!

Almost immediately I was doubting my ability to run 8k on snowshoes! After running a loop around a field, we hit the full force of the wind and blowing snow head-on! Wow! While I felt like I should be running faster through the windy sections to get out of them sooner, I ended up slowing down and sometimes walking. In fact the entire race was a run/walk combo for me.

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

Before the race began, I wondered how visible the course flags would be given the blowing snow. I need not have worried. I could easily spot the flags, and in fact the easiest thing to do was to follow the people who had gone before me and the tracks they left behind! I entered the forest – so pretty – and felt that I was slowing people down. I told the runners behind me to let me know if they wanted to pass. It didn’t take long before I had to pull over anyway – snow was clumping under my snowshoes. Unfortunately, over the course of the race I had to stop and kick my snowshoes against trees between 10 and 20 times! Please send your tips my way. I used ski wax on my snowshoes before the race, but it seemed to have no effect. I didn’t notice anyone stopping as often as I did.

It was really nice to see some familiar faces at the race (Lisa, Mauro, Steve), and to be able to cheer for one another too. Trail runners are a friendly bunch!

[Photo credit: Sue Sitki]

During the out and back section of the course I stepped into the deeper snow to the side of the tramped down path to allow faster people running towards me to pass. In fact the race winner finished before I finished my first loop!

By the second loop runners were much more spread out, though I did run parts with two women named Mary and Andrée (nice to meet you!). Having run the first lap I knew I could run it again. I counted down the kilometres and looked for owls as I ran. Of course.

There were a few non-racers walking on the trail, but none of them wanted to take my place! At the out and back turnaround I spotted a car in the ditch with a police car nearby. The winds were quite ferocious and snow drifts fast accumulating with blowing snow. Thankfully there was protection from the wind in the forest.

The 4k race was set to start 1 hour after the 8k race, and I wondered if I would be passed by a 4k runner before I finished – I was.

At the finish line (I made it!) I was presented with a giant-sized medal! Then I went inside for some hot soup and hot chocolate. Happy Trails is very eco-conscious, encouraging runners to use re-usable cups and bowls, and providing compostable options as well. I used my awesome new mug for soup, then rinsed it out so I could have hot chocolate before heading home.

It was a challenging race, but I’m glad I healed in time to be able to do it!

Actual size of the race medal!

Race stats

  • Time: 1:17:09 (9:39 min/km)
  • Placing women 45-49: 2/4
  • Placing all women: 14/24
  • Placing all runners: 35/46

Thank you Happy Trails for another great race, and Sue Sitki for your amazing photos!

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Race report: Stars W.A.R. (Winter Adventure Race) – snowshoe orienteering race

Picture this: You’re standing in the forest with a steep downhill in front of you, the ground is snow-covered, there are trees all over the place, you are wearing snowshoes, and you need to get to the bottom of the hill – the faster, the better. Do you carefully pick your way down the slope, bracing yourself against trees as you go, or do you throw caution to the wind and slide down the hill on your butt? This is just one of the scenarios I faced in this year’s Stars W.A.R. (Winter Adventure Race), held at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. Last year’s race was super fun, so I was looking forward to the 2018 edition. With snow in the forecast, Anne and I left early, but the drive wasn’t bad and we arrived a few minutes before registration was to begin. A pre-race email from the Stars Orienteering Club told us that the course would be challenging and we would need time to plan our route. At registration we received a map, an instruction sheet, and a pair of socks! Anne and I sat down to plan our strategy. Because the map covered a large area, and there were 30 controls, we had to decide which part of the map to focus on. We decided that we would definitely try to get the controls that would get us bonus points (“dog bones” – get specific ones one after the other with no other controls in between and receive a bonus of 40 points). There were 3 sets of these, so that would mean 120 bonus points. Controls ranged in value: 20, 30, 40, or 50 points depending on their difficulty. There were many trails on the map, but we had no idea if they would be visible, given the amount of snow in the area. It made pre-race planning a little tough. We knew that the snowmobile trails would be easy to find, but we weren’t allow to run on them – we could only cross them. However, they would help us to figure out where we were. We highlighted our tentative route on the map, including controls that we might have time for but wouldn’t know for sure until we were racing. We knew that we may turn back before hitting a couple of the controls, but we might be able to pick up a few more on our way back to the finish. It would all depend on how well we were doing, and how much time it was taking us.
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Ready to go!
This would be Anne’s first time running on snowshoes, so we went outside a few minutes early to get her set up.
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Tools of the trade.
I wondered if I was overdressed for the -2 or -3C weather, but only time would tell.
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At the start line (and the finish control).
At 10:30 AM, the race began, with Anne and I chasing the leaders to the approved road crossing spot. Our plan was to go for controls 45, 44, 37, 132/131 (bonus), 41/42 (bonus), 31/32 (bonus), 140, potentially 33, and then 34, potential 147 and 148, then head back toward the finishing, getting 134 and others in that section of the map if we had time (this never happens). You would think that it would be hard to get lost going to the very first control, which was just over 100m from the road, but that’s exactly what happened. We were following people, but also following our compass bearing. We reached the steep hill that I previously mentioned, but when we didn’t find the control as soon as we expected to, we stopped (along with other teams!), re-evaluated, tried to figure out if we had gone too far left or too far right, and then eventually decided to backtrack a bit and head further west. We found it! After the first control, things got a lot better. Because many trails were not visible under the snow cover, we found ourselves using contour lines a lot to figure out where we were. It was excellent practice! Anne and I made a great team. With her super eyesight she spotted some of the controls way away – I would never have seen them that far away without her pointing them out. Oh to be 15!
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[Photo credit: Stars Orienteering Club]
We found every control we looked for, and did end up adding 33, but after 34, we realized that we would not have time to get 147 and 148, so we headed back for the permitted road crossing spot, running in the woods parallel to the road (we weren’t supposed to run along the road) until we were able to cross over. Anne was getting tired, and needed to take more and more walking breaks. My legs were tired from the 6.7k snowshoe race I had done the day before. Running on snowshoes is exhausting! We did pick up 2 more controls on our way back, both relatively easy to find. By this point in the race, other racers has beaten down tracks to the control, so once we were pointed in the right direction, it was pretty easy to just follow the tracks and find the control! We hit the finish line after 2:32:44, receiving a penalty of -30 points for being late. We were treated to a yummy box of pizza per team, plus cold drinks, cookies, and hot chocolate. Anne and I were both surprised to hear that we had placed 2nd out of 7 female teams! I had a great time racing and will definitely be back! Thanks Stars! Race results
  • Time: 2:32:44
  • Points: 550 (after losing 30 for being almost 3 minutes late)
  • Women’s teams: 2/7
  • Overall teams: 12/27
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Race Report: Dion Winter Goose Chase Snowshoe Race

I had such fun at my very first snowshoe race last year, a 4k snowshoe run followed by a 4k road run, that I was eager to do another one. The Dion Winter Goose Chase Snowshoe Race is part of a series of races put on by Spafford Health and Adventure. The rest of the races are in Eastern Ontario, but this one is held at Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge, Ontario. Participants were warned that the venue would be almost entirely an outdoor venue, with race kit pick-up (and washrooms) in a small building. I arrived with plenty of time to register and chat with other racers, staying warm in the last few minutes before the race inside a friend’s car (not everyone could fit in the building, and it was -8 C or so out, colder with the wind). This race was advertised as 7 km, but during the pre-race briefing at the (frozen) water’s edge it was announced that the course was approximately 6.7 km. The guy beside me swore when he heard that – he thought it was only 5k! IMG_0883 During the briefing, we were introduced to the Goose and Gander, the female and male racers who we would be chasing. The idea is that last year’s winners become this year’s targets. With a countdown of 3-2-1 the race was on! Thankfully, it had snowed in the days leading up to the race just enough to make it a snowshoe race and not a trail run. The week before the race, an email from the race organizers warned us that the trails were all icy and spikes may be required on our shoes. It certainly wasn’t tough slogging in deep snow on race day, but it was a snowshoe race – yay!
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[Photo credit: Jason Mota]
The course was really well marked with little flags, arrows, and volunteers (from the Cambridge Harriers Running Club) at key intersections. At the beginning, things were rather congested, but it didn’t take long for racers to spread out. I never did see the Goose or Gander. For a while I was chasing a little guy named Seth, who was being encouraged by his dad running ahead of him. At one point I told him that he couldn’t slow down, he was my pacer! This was a fairly hilly course (I’d love to see the elevation profile), with the most significant climb being the very last climb of the race! This was the only one that I partially walked. I forced myself to run all the hills before then, because once I start walking hills, I give myself permission to walk all of them and give up on running them!
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I stopped during the race to take one picture.
For a good part of the race, I was running on my own, just barely able to see people in the distance ahead of me. It was very peaceful in the forest. I had no idea how far I had run, because I don’t have a GPS watch, and gauging my speed when running on snowshoes is tough. I estimated that I was running 8 minute kilometres. I started to hear cheering from the finish line, so I knew that I couldn’t be too far away. Eventually I reached the second last turn before the finish and was told that I was almost there.
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Picture by Kristin
With just a hundred metres or so to go, I spotted Kristin and John and heard them cheering for me. I crossed the finish line in 53:47, a pace of 8:02 min/km if the course was 6.7 km, and 7:55 min/km if the course was 6.8 km as the results show. It’s pretty exhausting running on snowshoes! I’m happy with how my race went. IMG_0888 Afterwards, we were treated to a super delicious pancake breakfast! The pancakes were accompanied by fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, a berry sauce, chocolate chips, Nutella, whip cream, maple syrup and maybe more! Yum. There was also coffee. After eating I went out to the bonfire and enjoyed the heat for a few minutes before changing into dry clothes. I stayed for the awards (Seth my early race pace setter won snowshoes as a draw prize – he was pretty excited!) and then headed home. It was a great morning! (I even got to meet Deirdre, who I connected with on Twitter quite a while ago but had yet to meet. Hi Deirdre!) Thanks for the fantastic race! Race results
  • Time: 53:47
  • Women 40-49: 10/23
  • Placing: 40/85 overall
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Race report: Mini snowshoe duathlon – 4k snowshoe + 4k run

After starting snowshoe running this winter, and participating in two snowshoe orienteering races (Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid, and Stars War Adventure Race), I knew I wanted to do a snowshoe running race before the winter was out – i.e. one without orienteering! So I searched online, and found one within a reasonable distance from home: the Personal Best – Caledon Hills Bike Shop Winter Snowshoe & Fat Bike Races. (In fact, it was the only one left this winter that I was able to do without driving for hours and hours!) After checking that there was actually enough snow for the race, I signed up and recruited a friend, who then recruited two more.

The drive to Albion Hills Conservation Area was snowy, but Lisa and I took it slowly and arrived about 45 minutes before the race was to start. We met Mauro there, but unfortunately their friend turned back because of the weather. The temperature was perfect for the race, with the falling snow a nice touch!

It was a quick check in process – we got a race bib and an Awake chocolate bar. This was a no frills race, meaning that it didn’t cost much, but regardless we got a timed race and fantastic trails (no race shirt or medal). They even did some draw prizes before the race, so that people didn’t have to stay afterwards – if you won something, you were told when you registered. Nothing for us today!

While I had registered for the 4k snowshoe + 4k run, there were other events going on at the same time, all on the same trails and roads. Snowshoe runners were to stick to the left, and fat bikers to the right, to avoid any collisions! Here’s the full list of events:

  • Mini snowshoe 4k
  • Mega snowshoe 8k
  • Mini snowshoe duathlon (4k snowshoe + 4k run)
  • Mega snowshoe duathlon (8k snowshoe +4k run)
  • Fat bike 8k
  • Fat bike 16k
  • Fat bike 8k duathlon (8k fat bike + 4k run)

I’d love to do a snowshoe/fat bike/run race!

Pre-race email instructions clearly set out the race route, and showed pictures of spray paint in the snow marking the way, but today’s fresh snow meant that the organizers had to go out and mark it again!

Just before 9:30 AM, we put our snowshoes on and headed outside to the start line, which was just a few feet from the main chalet. The fat bike racers started at 9:30, and the snowshoe runners at 9:33. All told there were about 50 people participating in all of the races combined.

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Lisa, Mauro and I pre-race.

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Two of many fat bikes ready to go!

And just like that, we were off! It didn’t take too long for the crowd to thin, and for me to discover the hills! It was such a pretty route through the forest. Once the faster runners lost me, I ran completely on my own for a while – there were slower people behind me who I couldn’t see or hear. Despite being a bit under the weather with a cold, I decided to try to run the entire course. Even the uphills. And there were lots of them! It was so peaceful  in the forest, with lightly falling snow and accumulated snow on the tree branches that I had to stop for a second to take a picture! The trails were nicely groomed by park staff, and it was easy to not get lost, since all I had to do was follow the footsteps of the snowshoers and fat bikers who has passed before me. A couple of fat bikers later passed me, but I figured they must have been late to start. I had no idea how far I had run, and wasn’t even able to estimate based on elapsed time, since I haven’t run on snowshoes enough to do that. I saw one biker do a slow speed tumble, but he was fine. I appreciated the fat bikers yelling “on your right” as they approached from behind. Later, when I was getting close to the end of the 4k loop (which apparently was closer to 3.2k), I was passed by several more fat bikers, who were finishing up their 2nd loops. Thankfully I was not lapped by any snowshoers!

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Quick photo during the race.

At the end of the snowshoe segment, we were to run through the finishing arch, around the corner, take our snowshoes off and head out onto the park roads for the run.

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I swear I was running around this corner, but it sure doesn’t look like it! [Race photo]
My legs definitely felt weird starting the run after having snowshoed! The park roads had been nicely plowed, so while there was some snow, the footing was good! The run route was hilly – more so on the way out, I think. Not too far from the run turnaround, Mauro and then Lisa passed me going the other way. I continued to run the whole thing. At one point on the way back, I asked a woman walking 3 dogs if she wanted to trade places. She offered me a dog, and said it would pull me along! At one point I wasn’t sure which way to go, but asked someone and made the right turn. Coming up the finishing chute, I saw Mauro and Lisa, who cheered me to the finish line! I was pretty happy with how my very first snowshoe running race had gone. It was challenging and super fun!

Afterwards, racers were given a bowl of chili and a hot drink (hot chocolate for me). I changed into dry, warm clothes, and headed home.

I was very impressed with the venue and the organization of the race. Well done Barrie and crew!

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Pretty, freshly fallen snow.

Race stats:

Time: 54:42.6 (28:20.7 for the snowshoe segment, and 26:21.9 for the running segment, including the transition and me fumbling to quickly remove my snowshoes!)

Overall place: 6/6

Gender place: 4/4

By comparison, had I entered the 4k snowshoe race (no run afterwards), I would have placed 4/19!

I’m looking forward to doing more snowshoe races next winter!

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Snowshoeing at Arrowhead Provincial Park

When I set out to snowshoe at Arrowhead Provincial Park, I had no idea I’d be blazing the trails for the 2016-2017 season!

After a quick stop at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, Ontario, where I purchased my Atlas Run snowshoes and was taught how to put them on and securely fasten them, I headed for the closest provincial park, which was just 10 minutes away. I wanted to try them out as soon as possible, and since we didn’t yet have any snow at home, this was my best option.

The park had just opened for the winter season the day before, and when I arrived early on a Saturday morning, there weren’t too many people around. I stopped at the park office, paid $17 for a vehicle permit for the day, and picked up the free “Arrowhead Winter 2016-2017” guide. The Ontario Parks employee showed me the snowshoe trails, and I made the decision to head for the Hemlock Ridge and Stubb’s Falls Loop.

I parked at the Mayflower Warm-Up parking lot, and took a few minutes getting all organized – it was -12 degrees Celsius, so I needed to make sure I was wearing enough layers, but not too many that I would sweat and then get cold. I wore my trail running shoes with my running snowshoes (narrower and lighter than more traditional snowshoes, such as my Tubb’s Women’s Elevate snowshoes, which are perfect for backcountry camping in the winter and pulling a sled loaded with gear). And I put on my new gaiters, which I had never worn before and couldn’t figure out how to tighten at the top around my calf.

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I had a little trouble finding the start of the trail, but there was an Ontario Parks employee accessing a room in the building that housed heated washrooms, so I asked him and he pointed to the start being behind the wood shed, which was fenced off. Apparently not a lot of thought was given to the fencing in, as the trailhead was completely obstructed.

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Follow the fence along the right side of the wood shed, and you’ll eventually see a snowshoe attached to a tree – that’s the start of the Hemlock Ridge trail!

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I had to climb up and over a pile of snow dumped by snow plows, but then I was on my way! The park employee had warned me that no one had been on the trail yet (read: good luck! it will be tough going!). It was most definitely tough slogging at times, as I attempted to run through the forest! At times I had to walk because it was too steep or I wasn’t sure what was underfoot (e.g. a big rock). And then after just .77 km, I was exhausted! This snowshoe running business is hard work – in particular when you’re blazing the trail through a foot of untouched snow! I had to follow the red blazes on the trees to figure out which way the trail went. At one point, I couldn’t see any markers, but did see animal tracks, so I followed them, and sure enough, the animal was right!

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When the trail got close to the main park road, I spotted a couple walking along the road and waited for them to approach so that I could ask them to take my picture. They were from Stratford, and unfortunately I can only remember Ken’s name!

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Photo by a nice hiker from Stratford!

From there I joined the Stubb’s Falls Loop, which had been walked on by people in boots, thus making it a bit easier to travel on. I continued running and other than the odd person I saw, I was alone and it was very peaceful. I spotted lots of bunny prints in the snow. By the time I reached Stubb’s Falls, a very pretty spot, my phone had become so cold that it shut off and wouldn’t turn on. Sadly, I couldn’t get a picture of the falls! There was also evidence of an otter there – a slide on one bank of the creek. I crossed the creek and climbed up a set of stairs (not easy to do in snowshoes), and had trouble finding the trail – I found the cross country ski trail, but there were signs saying no walking, no snowshoeing. Did other people listen? No. But I searched for the snowshoe trail, and eventually found it – along a campground road. By this point I was doing more of a run/walk combo – I was getting tired.

When I reached the Hemlock Ridge trail again, I think I walked more than I ran for the last 700 m – it was mostly uphill!

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Within 10m of the car, I fell for the first time! My tired legs tripped on a stick. In the end, I travelled around 5 km, which is pretty good for a first time on running snowshoes!

There was a huge amount of snow in my gaiters, but I’ve since learned how to cinch them tight! And my feet got wet in my trail running shoes. Next time, I’ll try wearing cycling foot covers and merino wool socks. My feet were not cold while I was running/walking, but had I stopped for any significant amount of time, they would have become unpleasant.

If you’ve never been to Arrowhead, you might not know that they also have a 1.3 km skating loop through the forest, a tubing hill, and lots of cross country ski trails. You can rent skis, snowshoes and ice skates at Arrowhead!

I had a great day and can’t wait to try my snowshoes out again!

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