Our local running club puts on a cross-country series through the winter and we always get some doozy races. Today was 8 km in a city park with rolling hills but a bunch of side slope and a lot of ice. We even had a 5m long section where it was glare ice on a slope. At least today we had no wind and the temperatures were bearable. Not every race is this comfortable.
They are very casual races with maybe 70-90 runners of all abilities and ages.
One of the best parts is the soup lunch after and the dessert potluck. There is always lots of variety of soup and large tables of desserts. This is probably the main reason people keep coming back to these races. No prizes, no medals. Just bragging rights and dessert.
It is a great community of runners who love to put themselves out there in the snow, ice, blizzards, and whatever else comes our way between October and March in wintry Canada.
Racing in the winter requires a special kind of crazy.
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.
Lots of beautiful snow, frost, and sunny skies during the cross country race today.
I had to go back on the trail after the race for the photos so I didn’t get any runners unfortunately.
7.5 km of single track makes for a great race.
On this trail there was not very many passing zones so if you get stuck at the back during the race start it’s a tough slog to work your way to the front. I didn’t succeed in getting back to the front. I should have pushed harder in the first few hundred meters. I could have gained probably 20 finish places at least.
Footprints from 100 runners.
You know you haven’t tried hard enough if you don’t at least nearly wipeout. I landed on my butt 3x during this 40 minute race.
When we say cross-country, we mean serious cross-country. None of this groomed, cut grass on level ground. No, we mean mud, ice, and even blood sometimes.
8 km through thick and thin with 100 other runners with the only prize being a high five from my family if I’m lucky. These races are my hill / speed work through the winter.
No pressure, no schedule, no training regime. Just give’r!
I wiped out twice in this race, and had blood streaming down my legs. Once right in front of the camera. I looked up at the wrong time trying to smile for the camera and twisted my knees, slamming into the mud at the bottom of the hill. But it couldn’t have been that bad since I still finished with a smile.
This race was a month ago, so the mud is long gone. It has been replaced with ice and snow. I’m sure our footprints are set in the icy mud now for the winter.
Calgary Road Runners – Winter Cross Country Race Series. It’s a blast.
How to turn cute, unassuming, experienced shoes (my daughter’s) into hard core winter cross country spikes with unsurpassed traction.
Maybe you’ve fallen on the ice once too many times this winter already. Or you just want that extra confidence for passing people on the trails. Why not beef up those shoes with cheap cleats you can install yourself?
1) buy sheet metal or wood screws – #8 by 1/2″ X 10 per shoe – a box of 100 is less than $5. Oh yeah, don’t get the ones with the round heads, that might make it worse. You want the flat head screws.
2) experiment with a pattern or use mine: 4 in the heel and 6 up front
3) screw them most of the way in. (From the outside bottom, not from the inside!)
4) you’re done!
Run on them on a hard surface (not the hard wood floor) before the race to make sure the screws aren’t poking through (those can be tough lessons)
Really test ’em out: find a nice icy trail with some sharp corners and downhill. Go hard and hope for the best.
Now you’re ready to race winter cross country.
These may not be a complete replacement for spikes or Yak Trax or Katoola’s but they are a whole lot cheaper.
Have fun out there passing everyone else splayed out on the ice.
We had a blast a few days ago flying down a mountain. It was a long slog to the top, maybe three quarters of an hour, but the return trip down the single track was fantastic.
Most of trail was snow covered and icy in some spots. There were shoe sized rocks to dodge. The very solid looking trees right off the trail made sure we didn’t stray off the trail. This was especially crucial at the sharp corners. And to top it off we hadn’t brought any spikes with us so it was even more treacherous than it should have been.
I can’t quite remember the quote from my 14 year old as we were hurtling down the mountain, but between all the heavy breathing it was something to do with the snow, ice, and rocks making this so much fun, especially at high speed. And she made sure she wasn’t always following. She wanted some of the best of the fun too by being up front.
Despite all the sliding and racing at break neck speed, we didn’t wipe out and maybe that is why we are remembering the run so fondly. To top it off the sun was shining on a weekday afternoon where neither of us had to be at work or school. Couldn’t ask for more.
That’s one run we will have to do again.
9.5km, 1hr 10 m
Snagmore trail starting near Allan Bill just west of Bragg Creek in Kananaskis.
Today we introduced 4 youngish (middle school) runners to the world of cross country. Sure they had run cross country in middle school, but this race put much more “country” into the racing. There were live creek crossings where you seriously got wet. And there were some serious hills you had to slog up. It was a relay so we were all in it as a team instead of the pressure of individual efforts. They all came out of it with with huge smiles and promises to do it again in a couple weeks. That’s what we were hoping for.
Building running confidence into these kids can hopefully fuel a life long desire to keep challenging themselves to see what they are made of.