I come flying around the corner of the groomed trail and prepare for the downhill turn. I make my slender, awkward cross-country skis look glorious and begin to soar like a stoic eagle down and around, winning the race and annhialating my opponents.
I'm just kidding; I look like a flailing porpoise on a beach just trying to stay afloat, and there is only one other solo female besides myself in the race ...
I yell out loud and whoop as I hit the hill, whizzing past old-growth Cedars. I make the turn unscathed and continue for the next 7km to the finish line. This is the third annual Winter Wheezer.
While out for a morning run with my dog last February I'm met with an impromptu invite by Abi Moore and find myself registered for the fun winter event. Fernie's Tears and Gears winter equivalent, the Winter Wheezer sees competitors as solo or in a team run 5km of trail at the Provincial Park, followed by a 10km Nordic ski or a 5km fat bike.
There is also a fire pit, snacks and hot drinks at the start and finish, a typical Fernie event meant to bring everyone together, with a little challenge and a lot of fun.
A few days prior to the Winter Wheezer I decide to do a bit of winter trail run and head for the Montane Hut before sunrise. When I arrive the sun hits the Lizard Range and so begins a bright pink glow. I quickly discover that winter trail running is much more than just a cold dash up a snow-covered pathway, and feel ready and motivated.
On the day of the race I choose my brightest tights – flourescent pink, blue and purple. The sky feels dark and I need all the motivation I can get. I pin the number 90 to my jacket and assemble with the rest of the runners, all in black tights.
“I didn't get the black-tight memo,” I joke, and then the race begins.
The run leads up Sherwoody Trail, along Stumpy with a Woody, down Happy Gilmore and back to the Nordic Centre. I wear yaktrax beneath my running shoes to gain some traction, but still punch holes in the snow every so often.
Although the run in only 5km, it feels it goes on forever. The air isn't freezing but I can feel the lung wheeze nonetheless. The trail, though hard-packed, is slick, and when it comes to navigating switchbacks downhill makes for a precarious transition.
But the forest is quiet and blanketed in snow. Peaceful.
I run behind a man who tears along the trail in his hiking boots, his blond, tangled hair flowing freely beneath his hat. He blazes to the finish line ahead of me and while his teammate heads out on his skis, I switch over to mine and begin the 10km cross-country loop.
The Nordic Society has done a fantastic job of grooming the trail and the corduroy is pleasant beneath my feet. I've only recently become a fan of cross-country skiing and look forward to this section of the race. I cross paths with a few competitors, most heading back to the finish line by now, but am never phased by their speed or my lack of. It is just so refreshing to be outside, to get my heart pumping, to feel my muscles working.
When I finish the second loop and head for the finish line I'm smiling all alone in the woods, because life is good.
I cross the finish line and learn I've placed first in the women's solo. First out of two isn't too bad at all. When the second female competitor comes in we high-five.
I never enter these events to be competitive, to win (because usually I don't). I always enter them to try something new, to be able to add another thing to the list of things I've done, to cross another thing off the list of things I haven't.
This year's Winter Wheezer takes place on Sunday, Feb. 12 and is a part of Winter Fest held with the Fernie Nordic Society. For more information or to register visit FernieFix.com or Zone4.ca.