Iceman athletes brave cold and cramping legs during 32nd annual race

The agony of racing the Prince George Iceman was never more apparent than the baseball-sized clump of muscle fibres that wreaked spasmodic havoc on the left leg of Ryan de Molitor just above his knee.
Cramps are a common side effect of the pounding dished out by the Iceman. The 32nd annual event – a combination of cross-county skiing, running, skating, more running and swimming – happened on Sunday but de Molitor got more self-inflicted torture than he bargained for in the final stage of the race, an 800-metre swim at the Aquatic Centre.
“I’ve never seen that before,” said Prince George Barracudas Swim Club coach Jerzy Partyka, who tried to help de Molitor stretch his leg back into shape on the pool deck at the Aquatic Centre.
“It’s just the risk of competition, I guess,” said a wincing de Molitor.
De Molitor was one of 38 soloists in the cold-shortened race, and the frontrunners had long finished by the time he arrived at the pool but he gritted his teeth and climbed back into the pool to complete his first-ever solo Iceman race in three hours eight minutes and eight seconds. He vowed it won’t be the last time.
“I’ve done the 10K (run) before but this is the first time solo,” he said. “I’ll do it again. I have to train a little bit more.”
It was dicey for organizers whether to go ahead with the race with the mercury hovering around -25 C while skiers gathered at Otway Nordic Centre for the first leg of Iceman. The start time was delayed one hour and it warmed up just enough in the bright sunshine to come close to the -20 C cutoff for cancellation. Close to 100 team skiers and the soloists left the gate in a mass start on a course that was shortened because of the cold from the usual eight kilometres to five. 
“It was definitely touch-and-go. It was pretty disheartening to see the temperature drop between 7:30 and 8:30 – it went from minus 25 to almost minus 27 out at Otway,” said Iceman registrar Jim Van Bakel. “It was almost exactly at minus 20 and it rebounded quickly and by the end it was minus 14.”
There was a bit of confusion in the race to determine the men’s overall solo champion. Rob McDougall arrived at the pool thinking he was in first place but Jordan Bax was already in the water on his way to completing the last leg of the relay. As it turned out, Bax made a wrong turn during the five-kilometre run and missed a 500-metre loop and was told of his mistake by a volunteer on the course. He informed Van Bakel of what happened and after a discussion it was determined Bax would be assessed a two-minute penalty, which dropped him to second place.
For McDougall, 25, it was his first win in three attempts running the race solo.
“It was a bit of a surprise at the start with the ski being cut down to five kilometres because of the cold and, honestly, I gassed myself in the ski,” said McDougall. “The ski was probably the toughest event and that’s one of my better ones – it was the cold air, I had a hard time breathing.”
McDougall, like Bax, excelled in running as a student at D.P. Todd Secondary School and used his ultramarathon off-road running engine to put some distance between himself and the rest of the field during the two running segments.
“I caught Jordan about a kilometre down the (10 km) run and then after that, as far as I know, no one passed me as far as the soloists, so I was under the impression that I won and it was a bit of a surprise to see him already at the pool,” said McDougall.
“The skate was also hard, I was hurting a bit for sure on that. I had calf cramping in the pool and I really noticed it the last 100 metres. That’s my worst thing. I joined the (Barracudas) masters swim group and it helped a lot.”
McDougall clocked 1:52:21 and with penalty added Bax was 68 seconds slower in 1:53:29, just ahead of 2017 Iceman champ Cam McNamara (1:53:42).
Bax, 17, is on his way up the Iceman ladder and it seems only a matter of time before he reels in the title. He knew he and another runner went astray as soon as they were told by one of the course marshals and informed Van Bakel before the awards banquet began at the Civic Centre.
“Rob was ahead of me and I never passed him but I beat him in the swim so I’m thinking me and the other guy took a wrong turn,” said Bax. “This is my second time doing it solo and I got third last year so I was a little more nervous because I felt like I had expectations.”
In the women’s solo race, Jocelyn Poirier-Hardy held off second-year medical student Emily Ertel to win the Icewoman title.
“It’s cold, and I need to practice the transitions,” said Poirier-Hardy, a former high school track star whose strength is her running. “Just the combination of four different sports and then the cold, it’s completely different from triathlon. But it’s fun, crazy and exciting. I had leg cramps in the pool on and off, but I kind of expected to be cramping.”
Having grown up in the Lower Mainland, skating is her weakest event, but Poirier-Hardy took it in stride and completed her 12 1/2 laps on the smooth-as-glass Exhibition Park ice oval without incident.
“I just tried to settle and get my breathing down,” she said. “I knew people were going by but you just try to settle and glide and just try to get through.”
Poirier-Hardy, a 26-year-old forester, moved to Prince George from West Vancouver in May.
“The move has been good, a lot of friendly people and a lot of good sport clubs here,” she said. “I like the trails and like getting outside and it’s nice that everything’s close and Otway’s so nice.”
Family doctor Kajsa Heyes, Ertel’s roommate, was the women’s champion last year, and medical student Cara McCulloch won it in 2017. Ertel was hoping to keep the title in the hands of the medical profession for a third straight year.
“I wanted to keep up the tradition but didn’t quite have it today,” said Ertel.
Poirier-Hardy finished in 1:58:53. Ertel’s time was 2:09:56 and Jaclyn Rollins was the third-quickest woman (2:21:31).
Other solo category winners were: Masters women – Beth Hillhouse (2:26:50); Grand masters men – Michael Buchanan (1:56:07); Masters men – Matt Janzen (2:53:07); Veteran men – Richard Harrison (2:11:02).
In the team events, Chilly Nuts (Quinn Friesen, Euan Murrray, Lucas Nolli, Josiah Wilkinson and Tomar Branco) turned in the fastest time of the day, winning the junior boys team title in 1:35:26, while KRSS Roadrunners (Mya Blackburn, Kassidy Patrick, Breanna Day and Jenny Graham-Smith) topped the junior girls team category (1:44:27). Cedars Plus 2 (Brenn Smith, Max Whitehouse, Dawson Friesen, Callum Whitehouse, Samantha Smith) won the junior mixed team title (1:55:24), while Van Bien Ice Blazers No. 1 (Chloe Witso, Shea Baker, Victoria Sandhu, Kyah White, Kyla Van Loo) won the community school relay (2:21:52).
The adult team winners were: Open mixed – The Smogscreamers (Nick Bartell, Kajsa Heyes, Claire Shrimpton, Morgan Bennison, 1:44:20); Open women – CSFS Spirit (Amy Merritt, Lynda Foreman Leanne Garrison (1:59:04); Open men – Thighs of Thunder (Josh Van der Meer, Johnny Enemark, John Bowes, Zach Matyas, 1:38:42); Masters mixed  – Oldsters (Laurie Hill, Joanne Morgan, Chris Budac, Lee Hill, 2:21:29); Grand master mixed – Oval Refrigeration Dream Team (Lye Dickieson, Tim Rowe, Ken Robinson, Buddy Bruintjes, Kathy Lewis, 2:08:41).

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