The 2021 Canadian Cross-Country Championships were held here in Ottawa on a cold and blistery winter’s day. November 27th is not officially winter, but it sure felt like it.
The Canadian XC Championships move around the country. In 2016, 2017 and 2018 they were held in Kingston and a group of us went down to run. It was cold, wet and muddy but it was fun, in a painful sort of way. You can read about it here.
When we learned that the race would be held in Ottawa for 2021 and 2022 we dug our spikes out of the back of the closet and signed up.
This year’s race was held at Wesley Clover Park. The area is used for horse competitions and other events through out the year. The cross-country course was set-up primarily in open fields with one longer loop through the woods. There were three loops on the course: a 1K loop, a 1.5 K loop and a 3 K loop. All three loops included the 1K loop making the course spectator friendly. There were 8 different races on the course starting with a community 6K the “Hoof-it XC” put on by Run Ottawa and ending with the senior men’s and women’s 10K races featuring former and future Olympians.
We have had a relatively mild fall. The day or two leading up to the race where wet so we were expecting wet, muddy conditions. What we were not expecting was the dramatic drop in temperature overnight between bib pick-up and the actual race.
Bib pick-up was available on Friday at Wesley Clover and on Friday evening at the race hotel. We also had to prove we were fully vaccinated for COVID-19. This is an Athletics Canada event so it’s more about running and less about swag. If you wanted a shirt, hoodie or hat you had to buy it. Apparently, a lot of people wanted them because by the time I went to bib pick-up at 5pm almost everything was gone!
Race morning the windchill dropped down to -19C. and all that mud and water froze solid. At least most of it did! On the plus side as we all live in Ottawa, we all had the option of adding a few layers to our race day plans. Others were not so lucky.
It was obviously going to be cold so I tracked down my warmest, full length down jacket, my winter boots, hat and gloves and headed to Wesley Clover. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted by a cold looking Ian Govan, out directing traffic in the freezing cold. The heroes of any event are the volunteers and that is particularly true when it’s -20!
We arrived in time to watch the Hoof if 6K race before the second race of the day, the men’s and women’s masters championship race, which most of us were running. I watched the start bundled up in all my layers and then returned to the car to change. It was so cold I put my spikes on in the car and stayed there until I had no choice but to go and warm-up. Harold was there so Yvonne and I were able to keep our winter coats and leave them with him to reclaim at the finish. I did the first part of the warm-up still in my winter coat.
The masters 8K course was comprised of two 1.5K loops, one 3K loop and two 1K loops. Most of the course was frozen mud but there were a few sections where the ice had melted leaving mud and water. There was a large almost knee-deep puddle 500m from the start line which went right across the course. We went to inspect it during the warm-up. An official who was standing there told us that many of the people in the community race had gone off course to go around it but we would all be disqualified it we did that. We examined the puddle closely and concluded jumping over it was not an option and the right side looked slightly smaller than the left, but we were going to get wet feet. As an added bonus, the course layout was such that we were going to have to run through it 5 times.
I lined up at the start with tights, lifa, gloves, a hat and a jacket as did most people. There were a couple of guys with garbage bags on. I am told they ran the whole race with them on. There were a few people in shorts and singlets! I am pretty sure they were all men! It was -19C with the windchill!
The gun went off and sure enough we had to run straight into the howling wind and through the puddle which was also surrounded by some pretty deep mud. My feet were only slightly frozen the first time through. By the 5th pass through, I hardly noticed it. Just to make sure we knew it was cross-country there was another long wet muddy section around the corner we had not seen on the warm-up because we did not want to start with wet feet. A few people lost shoes in the mud and water. Luckily mine were frozen on after the first loop so I did not have that problem. They were actually so frozen I had to thaw them out to get them off my feet.
The remaining parts of the 1K and 1.5K loop were primarily in the fields but we did get a break from the wind in a few wooded sections. The mud in those sections was frozen solid when we ran over it making for rough footing. There were a few larger rocks and tree roots on the back part of the 3K loop but they were all well marked with orange spray paint.
The race was everything l expected it to be. Hard work and a little more challenging because I am still very focused on not falling after having had a significant fall trail racing this summer. I did not fall and although my feet were frozen spikes were the best choice for footwear.
It was great to see friends out cheering along the course even if there were so bundled up it was hard to tell who they were! It was also great to see many friends from running and triathlon who I have not seen because of COVID-19. Congratulations to Yvonne on her first XC Championships and to my crazy fast friends Stephanie, Kim, Dan, Mike and Randy.
I had planned to go back and watch some of the other races but once I got warm I could not convince myself to leave the house!
Overall, I achieved my goal I did not fall and I finished in one piece. I will be back next year. Hopefully my spikes will have dried out by then.