Cross-country skier shares her Canadian Ski Marathon story
Tim Brody - Associate Editor
Sioux Lookout cross-country skiing enthusiast Melissa Zarecki tested her skill and endurance last month at the Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) in Quebec.
According to the CSM website, “(CSM) is North America’s longest and oldest Nordic ski tour. Unlike most ski events, there are no winners or losers in the Canadian Ski Marathon: it is not a race. The event offers something for everyone, regardless of age, endurance, or ability. Tourers and families who ski less than the full distance make up about half the participants. Each skier can select his / her own level of challenge and try to achieve it. One can ski as little as 12 km or up to the maximum of 160 km over the weekend.”
Zarecki participated in The Coureur des Bois (CdB) which CSM describes as “the ultimate classic Nordic skiing adventure. It’s not a race, but a true winter challenge. The two day event takes place on a point to point course, groomed for classic Nordic skiing between Lachute and Gatineau Quebec, Canada.
“The total distance for the weekend covers 160 kilometers, with each day being approximately 80 km and split into five sections. The Coureur des Bois has three sub-categories: bronze, silver, and gold. Each level brings new requirements that add to the difficulty of the challenge – and ultimately the satisfaction of completing the level.”
Zarecki participated in the silver category, having participated in the bronze category last year.
Zarecki learned about the event from Sioux Lookout Nordic Nomads Cross-Country Ski Club president Ron Laverty, who had taken part in the event in the past.
“It sounded like a great personal, mental, and physical challenge. There are a few people around town who have done it in their earlier days as well,” she said.
Asked what piqued her interest in the event she responded, “I enjoy cross-country skiing very much. We have amazing trails and a great club here in Sioux Lookout. This was also something I could train for and my dog / training partner (Toby) could be involved with since there is a great dog ski trail. I enjoy long-distance events. This event isn’t a race, but an event.”
Zarecki said she spent a lot of time training.
“Mainly to get your body to do the same repetitive motion for 160 km. The ski season started early this year. I followed a 12-week training plan that I adapted to my schedule, which got me out Tues / Wed / Thurs for 60-90 minutes. On the weekends it would be Saturday (2-4 hours) and Sundays (3-6 hours). So I was skiing anywhere from 60-100 km / week.
“My winter was spent skiing, eating, sleeping, and working! It went by pretty fast. Even in the cold temperatures you still had a reason to get out - no excuses!”
Zarecki commented, “This was my second year. The first year I completed the Couer de Bois (bronze) which was the full 160 km. I finished the two day event last year. You can only move to the next level after you have finished the first. This year I decided to step it up a level and do the Couer de Bois (silver) in which I had to carry a 5 kg pack.
“Unfortunately this year was not my year,” she explained. “I ended up throwing in the towel at km 66 on day one. I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent physically and mentally. Due to the weather changes in that part of the country, they get a lot of freezing rain, snow, thaw, etc. The hills that wind through the hardwood forests become quite treacherous with glare ice. Hence, you cannot stop unless you fall or hit a tree!
“People fall in front of you and people are bombing down behind you. If you fall, you could risk a broken bone or a concussion.
“I didn’t enjoy the hills last year and once I did a few I remembered how much I hated them. My practical brain took over and I decided not to continue, knowing that the second day was all hills as I had done that part of the course before.”
“We started just before 6 a.m. with a headlight and it was great to be out there while the sun was coming up,” she added.
Zarecki said she really enjoyed the training she did in preparation for the Coureur des Bois.
“Don’t they say it’s not about the destination, but the journey that matters? As well, it’s a well-run event with accommodations and transportation, plus you meet a lot of really neat people; people who do it every year. The event is such a challenge; both physically and mentally.”
Zarecki, a member of the Nordic Nomads, said cross-country skiing is a sport she loves.
“I believe it’s one of the best sports out there. Not only is it a great work out, but being able to glide along at a good speed under your own power, in the silence of the bush… There’s nothing else like it. It’s a time when you can just let your mind wander. When you have finished a ski, there’s a wonderful feeling of calm and accomplishment. Winter is one of my favorite seasons.”
She concluded, “I tell everyone that we have some of the best trails in Northwestern Ontario and beyond! We have a great club with interest climbing every year. A shout out to our wonderful groomers - John Bailey, Nathan Crosby, and Paul Haines. Without those guys maintaining the trails in the winter there wouldn’t be that much skiing and we wouldn’t have people training for events like the CSM and the Sleeping Giant Loppet.
“As well, there is a lot of hard work done in the fall clearing and preparing the trails for the winter, which John Davies organizes. There are so many people involved in the club I don’t want to leave any out. I did one ski clinic this year. With all the training, it’s hard to find the time and energy to do extra. Next winter I hope to put on more ski clinics and training sessions.”