Does it get any more Canadian than portaging a canoe? It does when the craft in question is carried down the Rideau Canal Skateway during the Carleton Cup.
One week before the start of Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festival, a motley lot sets off down the world’s longest skating rink. With numbered bibs pinned to their toques, parkas and kilts, dozens of competitors navigate the 6.5-kilometre-long skateway, run through the Byward Market to a predetermined pub, then finish the race with the final event: A drink from a "victory quart" of beer.
As part of my pre-wedding fitness regimen I trained especially hard for the 2002 Cup. (Cue Rocky theme.) I showed up at shinny early to work on my skating and endurance. Afterwards, I practiced swapping my blades for boots as quickly as possible. I even jogged to work a few times. (The horror!) So when I reached the end of the Skateway, legs and lungs burning, the exhortations of onlookers convinced me I was in the lead.
No one passed me as I lumbered across the Byward Market, and when I burst into the Chateau Lafayette pub I fully expected a hero's welcome. But the hero was already standing at the bar, enjoying a pint while being showered with praise. Apparently his stature as a champion triathlete, Olympic speed-skater and member of the Justice League also gave him enough time to hack a quick Players Light before the runner-up, yours truly, arrived.
Second place in the "Ultimate Canadian Triathlon" represents one of my proudest moments. But why couldn't Lex Luthor have found something evil to do that day?
With a few global warming-induced exceptions, the charity event has been staged every year since 1989. It gets going at a watering hole on Carleton University campus, where racers register and exchange bravado, loudly predicting finishing times that tend to defy the laws of physics. A bagpiper gets the adrenaline flowing — and ratchets up the patriotism another notch — with a rousing rendition of the Hockey Night in Canada theme.
As racers march down to the canal, it's easy to pick out those who will earn "pioneer status" for completing the Cup in unique fashion. Pioneers to date include someone who portaged a canoe down the canal, a racer who finished the triathlon in a wheelchair, and a woman who took part while seven months pregnant.
As competitors lace their skates, posturing reaches a fever pitch. When the group reaches the ice, the mystique of the event truly hit home, says co-founder and director Jonathan Knowles. "There's a real feeling of camaraderie," he says, "a realization that winter is easier to take if you embrace it instead of hibernating and pushing it away."
Finally the starter's pistol sounds and the skaters disappear in a cloud of ice crystals. It may be unlikely to appear in the Olympics any time soon, but the Carleton Cup requires endurance, skating skill and knowledge of the canal's twists and turns. Once the exhausting skate is completed, competitors must switch footwear and sprint another 800 metres to the bar, where they are greeted with cheers and a sip from a victory beverage of their choice. The male and female winners take a ceremonial swig from the Carleton Cup trophy, and are elevated to celebrity status — at least for the evening.
The record time is 18 minutes, 56 seconds, set by Cup director and co-founder Robert Millar in 1992. The slowest time ever: More than four hours, Knowles says. "Actually, in some cases, we're still waiting."
Read the rest of the (rather outdated) story in the Globe and Mail
WHERE TO STAY
The Courtyard Ottawa Downtown is within easy walking distance of the skateway, and you can complete your own skating triathlon at the on-site Bistro by exchanging Marriott Rewards for a dining (read: beer) gift card.