I was pretty happy with how the race started out. I knew from past winter trail races that if you started in the middle of the pack you tended to stay there because of the lack of opportunities to pass. On Saturdays 8 km race I started out hard, even passing a bunch of people in the first hundred meters by running off the trail in the ankle deep snow. I was totally out of breath by 200m but it paid off. I was in a good position just behind the fastest runners but not stuck in the pack.
Other fast runners stuck further back had less opportunity to pass and so I didn’t have to contend with them. But I knew they would slowly try to catch up so I kept up the speed as best I could.
After regaining by breath a little I eventually passed a few others on the downhill who had started out too hard. Then the line of runners started to string out.
At the 2 km mark I had a chance to look behind me and felt relieved to see the line behind me quite strung out already with no one on too close on my tail.
At 4 km I was pushing to stay with the bright yellow toque in front of me. At 5 km the yellow toque passed a dull grey jacket. But I couldn’t keep up with the yellow toque. He slowly sped ahead but not quite out of sight.
At 6 km to my horror behind me I saw the one guy that I always think I can beat but almost never do – a 16 year old lanky boy who doesn’t seem to ever be out of breath. He quickly passed the line of people behind me and sat on my tail for a long time. Then I got a surge and passed the dull grey jacket and glimpsed the yellow toque again, getting my hopes up. But the young snirp (nearly one third my age) behind me was breathing down my neck and then passed me and sped ahead. I couldn’t keep up to him. For the last 500m both the yellow toque and the young guy were within striking distance but just not quite. My tank (morale, ego, and lungs) was empty by then. So unfortunately I finished behind them. But almost no one else passed me for the entire race.
That big sprint at the beginning was worth it. I got 17th out of perhaps 60 people in the 8 km race. There was probably another 15 people in the 2 minutes behind me meaning I was lucky I didn’t get stuck behind someone at the beginning. It was a much better result than recent previous results.
I will admit that those small races have a lot more drama and excitement than big ones. This is especially true if the races are a series and most of the same competition show up every time.
Racing in the depths of winter is not for the faint of heart. You need stuff, you need other crazy people to race, and you need guts.
You Need Stuff:
Gloves – you head out the door with thin gloves but pack thick ones just in case. At the start line you wish you had not left the thick ones in the car. At the 1 km mark you can’t feel your fingers. Good thing you don’t need fingers to run. After bunching your fingers up inside your gloves at the 5 km mark the feeling starts coming back. At the 7 km mark you have removed the gloves and are carrying them. The crowd (ok, there’s no crowd except for maybe five frozen spouses) thinks you’re crazy for running with exposed skin. Good thing these races tend to be short – our local winter running series are about 8 km.
Toque – you know “toque” – that knitted cap your grandmother gave you last Christmas. Usually the toque is too warm but with no toque you are sure to get frozen ears. Toque on – Toque off – Toque on – Toque off. Craziness ensues.
Thermo layer – Need a thermo layer for both your top half and your bottom half. Bonus if the thermo layer has odour reducing qualities (definite necessity if you don’t want to be washing every single run).
Parka (just for the start line). A wind resistant winter running jacket underneath.
Socks – 2 pairs. Depending on how high the snow is and how long your tights are you are probably going to need longer socks than you thought.
Shoes – not just your cool summer shoes. If these aren’t semi-air tight and hopefully water / melted snow tight you’ll have wet feet. And wet feet are cold. Cold feet are not fun.
Face mask – to keep that nose and chin from getting numb. Face masks end up being about the grossest things hanging around a winter runners racing stuff. Just think frozen saliva, sweat and snot. Yup, never borrow another runner’s face mask.
Tech – NOPE – Don’t even bother with a phone / camera / GPS watch – The battery will freeze up on you and you will just be frustrated. Plus your gloves are likely not touch-friendly.
You Need Other Crazy People to Race
Sometimes other crazy runner people are the hardest people to find in the depths of winter. Most runners are either curled up on the couch for a few months, or are on a treadmill. But crazy people are drawn to each other, I’m sure. The few that there are seem to all show up at these crazy events. Great place to find winter running partners after the race.
You Need Guts
Runners have guts.
Oh and don’t forget hot chocolate. You always need something to help warm up after.