Community Clubs Skiing

HIGH ACHIEVERS: ‘Bear warning signs fail to cause proper concern when you’re 6 hours into a ski and out of cell range,’ say local outdoor fitness gurus of latest challenge

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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

Dave McMahon and Lise Meloche love the great outdoors and are in constant motion, whether training their Natural Fitness Lab clients or maintaining their own high fitness levels.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic moved in a year ago, cancelling cross-country skiing, running and cycling races month after month, the Chelsea couple decided to do their part to help their competition-hungry club members stay active and happy.

In the summer, they organized a 21-stage series of road, cross-country, trail and mountain races, where people can test themselves on designated courses and post their Strava times in a virtual competition.

As winter approached, outdoor-related activities continued to be cancelled because of the pandemic. McMahon and Meloche stepped up again and created a series of dozens of events and challenges in multiple sports in the National Capital Region.

Two-time Olympic biathlete Lise Meloche. Photo:

Their Winter Sports Derby is comprised of competitive timed courses over published routes; non-competitive, participatory social events on different routes and over varying distances; and individual challenges and adventures.

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The various stages of the derby include sports like cross-country skiing (classic and skating), backcountry, ski mountaineering, orienteering, snowshoeing, fat biking, ice skating, running, skiathlon, and winter duathlon, triathlon and quadrathlon.

When it comes to the individual challenges, McMahon and Meloche, a two-time Olympian in biathlon, made sure they participated as well. Last Saturday, they pushed their limits with the Century 100-kilometre Ultra Distancing Challenge in Gatineau Park. Shorter distances were available.

Despite a minus 15C temperature and minus 28C on the downhills, they more than met their challenges. McMahon and Meloche started out together at sunrise, but followed their own strategies to get their jobs done before sunset.

McMahon finished his first century time-trial in six hours and 58 minutes, while Meloche achieved her goal a few minutes later. They skied the first 40 km on the Gatineau Parkway, the second 40 km on Ridge Road and the final 20 on the parkway.

They climbed 2,527 metres each and had 25,500 pulls and strides. McMahon’s average speed was 4:10 for each kilometre and averaged a minute faster on the flats. During and after the ultramarathon, they consumed plenty of food and drink.

“Today, I went outside my comfort zone and I brought Lise there with me,” McMahon wrote in a Facebook posting as they did their all-daylight journey on very cold and slow snow with short, necessary breaks.

McMahon’s menu included eight litres of sports drinks, three cups of coffee, two sandwiches, two bananas and three energy bars. “Peeling and eating a frozen banana with mittens, while descending at 60 km/h is an extreme sport and highly entertaining,” he wrote.

Here are more century observations: “Even insulated water bottles freeze, after a couple of hours, drinking a frozen slushy leads to brain freeze,” and “bear warning signs fail to cause proper concern, when you’re 6 hours into a ski and out of cell range.”

“Someone trying to race me at 70 kilometres to test my resolve. Thank you for that extra challenge,” and “having a friend pace you at a safe distance in the final 20 kilometres is awesome.”

They carried their food in the century adventure and used a parking lot as their base camp for quick breaks. “We took it out more conservative as the snow was slow and cold. It worked out real well with clothing and food,” McMahon said.

“I was happy and tired (at the finish),” he added. “There were no big issues. My muscles were tired and my feet took the biggest load. We did it at our own pace and I saw Lise a couple times going back and forth and I’d get reports from people about her.”

Earlier this year, McMahon completed two other self-made challenges. He already has finished the 1,000-kilometre challenge as well the Everest challenge, where he completed 8,840 metres of vertical skiing.

McMahon has many favourite sayings, but this one by poet T.S. Eliot exemplifies his spirit of adventure: “Only those who risk going too far, can possibly find out how far they can go.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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