Check out the trail conditions.


Mark Sutcliffe, Editor iRun Magazine and Radio Show

"Dave McMahon suddenly appears on top of a huge outcropping at Camp Fortune, a giant rock that ends abruptly with a drop of four or five feet before the trail resumes below.

Only a few minutes earlier, about 30 of us had tried in succession to run up and down this rock without much success. Many of us came to almost a complete stop and then took six or seven tiny steps to lower ourselves down the steep incline.

But Dave doesn't even break stride. He bounces one step off the leeside of the rock and sprints forward on the trail, taking a sharp turn while gathering speed. By the time he stops, the rest of us are applauding.

Watching and learning from Dave, I am quickly becoming hooked on the sport of trail running. But like that rocky stretch at the top of the path, it's a leap I don't make easily.

This sport should be a natural fit for me. I like trails, I like hiking, I like running and I even like running on hills. But I haven't done a serious trail run in almost four years.

Unfortunately, I have developed an entirely unreasonable fear of injuring myself by landing awkwardly and stumbling. On my last trail run, I turned my ankle, then started worrying about doing it again. The fear made me run cautiously and rigidly, which in turn made it more likely to happen. I turned my ankle half a dozen more times before the end of the run and gave it up, thinking I had weak ankles that couldn't stand any instability. Since then, I've stayed out of the woods.

But the opportunity to learn from a trail-running guru was too hard to resist. Dave and his wife, Lise Meloche, have been leading runners through Gatineau Park for years. They even have a video company for which Dave records spectacular trails across the country, running at high speed with a camera. In other words, while most of us struggle to negotiate a tough trail, Dave runs it while looking through the lens of a camera.

Some of Dave's recorded runs have been watched by astronauts running on the treadmill aboard the International Space Station.

Last Sunday, Dave and Lise gave an introduction to trail running that set me back on the right path. As I suspected, the problem was never in my ankles, it was in my head.

Dave taught some very useful technique for climbing, descending and turning. Trail running requires a lot more knowledge and tactics than routine jogging, and some of it is counterintuitive. You have to think on the fly and adjust your body so you're landing softly and maintaining your balance throughout your run.

But the most valuable lesson for me was how to overcome my fear of stumbling. Dave's advice was to run like you're on a track, with a normal stride, a lot of bounce in your step and a fearless attitude. As he pointed out, if you're worried about roots, rocks and branches, you'll pass over most of them in the air if you maintain a normal gait.

I imagine it's a lot like running across a series of logs floating on a river, or the rare contestant who actually manages to clear some of the crazy obstacles on the TV show Wipeout. If you quickly spring off every surface your foot strikes, you're a lot less likely to stumble. The more time your foot spends on the ground, the more likely it is to get you in trouble.

All of which is easier said than done. But by the time the clinic was over, I felt like I had overcome my mental block. In the space of two hours, I went from nervous to comfortable. By the time we had run up and down Camp Fortune I was ready to do it all over again. There's still a lot to learn, but I feel like I've crossed a mental divide much greater than the rock that Dave bounded across. I have a whole new world of running I can blend in with my existing training.

The trails offer a break from the monotony of road running and a different challenge that can help you improve overall technique. And they often provide shelter from the blazing sun and a completely different climate from a summer run on exposed city streets. Not to mention the scenery. Ottawa is surrounded by spectacular and well-maintained routes with a wide range of difficulty level. You could do a different run every week and not run the same route more than once a year. You really shouldn't be a runner in this city without taking advantage of the trails. Which is why, thanks to a little more technique and a lot more confidence, I think I'll be doing this again soon." - Mark Sutcliffe, Editor, iRun


Lynne Bermel, Ottawa Sun Newspaper

"Last weekend, Dave McMahon was on one of his favourite trails in the Gatineau Park when he ran into a cross country skier who had crashed on a downhill. The skier had failed to negotiate a corner that had been snowploughed down to the gravel. The skier ended up with a few broken parts to show for it.

That caused McMahon to wonder how many others were risking injury, broken equipment and a few bruised egos because they didn’t know how to take the down hills properly.

True to form, McMahon didn’t stop there.

The next day, the former biathlon champion turned cross country ski coach and film producer, was on the Net, inviting anyone he knew to a special “crash course” on proper descending techniques.

He’s running that course at Camp Fortune tomorrow – the latest in his long line of programs and instructional offerings he’s developed over the years to teach people about cross country skiing as well as adventure racing, trail running and mountain biking – sports he affectionately calls “clean oxygen fed activities.”

“I’ve always been into sports that tax the cardio and muscular systems. You can’t find a better all over body workout than cross country skiing,” says McMahon, whose adult Nordic ski program that he runs with wife Lise Meloche, a two time Olympian, has grown to 400 members and is one of the largest in the country.

“Cross country is all terrain skiing. What goes down must go up,” he says. “Not to knock alpine skiing, but let’s just say the return on investment is a lot higher than riding a chair lift.”

They live less than 200m from the edge of the Gatineau Park.  For the last 20 years, when they haven’t been working – he’s a full time engineer at Bell Canada and she is a high school teacher - they’ve rarely been out of it.

“When I came to Ottawa and discovered the Gatineau Park, adventure races were almost non-existent,”  he says. “There weren’t any organized groups or trail running events. I worked out alone most of the time. It got boring. Eventually, I started to organize group training sessions and they slowly took off. Now, we can get as many as 80 people out to our trail runs. It’s crazy.”

“It’s like being a kid and inviting your friend to come out and play. They’re there, rain or shine, night or day.”

McMahon and Meloche have also developed a series of motivational and instructional DVDs on skiing and training. Their cross country skiing DVDs have been described by the ski industry as the Warren Miller equivalent. They produced the official DVD manual for Sports Canada and the Canadian Association of Nordic skiers.

They finished their latest project last summer where they ran, skied and mountain biked wearing a steadicam on trails of major parks across Canada to produce  astronaut training programs for the Canadian Space Agency.

Their DVDs will be used by astronauts in space training on treadmills who will get a point-of-view experience of being there at Gross Morne in Newfoundland, on the trails in Lake Louise, on the cross country ski course for Vancouver 2010 in Whistler or along the West Coast trail.

His next project? A DVD on proper downhill technique of course!"

- Lynne Bermel, Ottawa Sun Newspaper

“Living and coaching natural fitness through clean oxygen fed sport.”


I moved to Ottawa five years ago from Calgary for graduate studies with some hesitation that I would miss the Rockies. As soon as snow fell I discovered the great skiing in Gatineau park, but soon got bored of skiing on my own and not having anyone to push me. Two years ago I found Natural Fitness Labs which was exactly what I wanted, a chance to improve my ski technique, gain fitness and meet people with common interests. Going out for a good ski or run is a great stress relief, especially when your thesis seems to be sliding off a cliff. I will soon be moving from Ottawa and one of things I will miss the most is this group. Thanks Dave and Lise!!!” - Nicholas Utting

“Through their free trail running group, Dave and Lise have created a great community of outdoor athletes who love the Gatineau. They continuously bring people together to challenge and inspire each other. Thanks for all your time and energy, Dave and Lise! - Nicky Cameron

“From an every-man’s point of view: Whether on shoes or skis Dave and Lise will take you places you never thought you could go. You'll run farther and ski faster than you ever expected to go regardless of your age or initial fitness level. And, best of all, you'll meet new friends and have a blast doing it!” - Robert Scruton

“Dave mcmahon and lise meloche continue to push the limits of training with technology by producing the best video based tools out there! Gurus of nordic skiing and trail running, they continue to generously share their knowledge and passion for endurance sports- inspiring everyone to push their own boundaries!” – Ray Zahab, Ultra Marathoner

“My first encounter with the xczone ski camps was as a novice trying to master the intricacies of skate skiing. Over the course of two days, we were slowly transformed from akward, inefficient machines into a group of athletes who could begin to feel the fluidity and force behind true technique. This was accomplished with precise instruction, specific drills and excellent snow conditions. Dave McMahon and Lise Meloche have been wonderful ambassadors for the sport of XC skiing. Their camps will appeal to a range of athletes, from both the novice to the competitive skiier. Their dedication and love of the sport shines through not only in their technical knowledge, which is second to none, but also in warmth and enthusiasm." - Suzanne R., Triathlete, Osteopath, Physiotherapist.

"Thank you for the incredible day on the XCZone camp. I can honestly that it was one of the finest days of instruction I have ever received, and will be sure to pass on to everyone I run into. Your patience, understanding of the technique, enthusiasm, and attention to detail was superb, and it showed in the results by the end of the day with the majority of skiers. Compared to downhill skiing I used to teach, you have a far tougher task at hand with X-Country. I only congratulate those who surpass my expectations, like you both did ! Dave staying me until dark is just a small example of that. Thanks again" – Grant -  a rookie but loving the Clean Oxygen Fed Sport!!

 “Anyway, I took your camp I think three years ago - maybe four. Just so you have some background - I taught myself to xc ski in 1972 when I moved here from Montana and realized the relatively pathetic state of downhill skiing (I learned to ski on "the hill" which was Bridger Bowl - 2000' vertical with constant powder. I never saw anyone sharpen their edges until I moved here). I taught the first Jackrabbit league in the city in Kanata, and was the city coordinator for the Kanata Jackrabbit league the following year. That year I got my CANSI Level 1 instructor's ticket. During that time, I met Jackrabbit Johannson twice, and was completely inspired by him. I skied the final Gatineau 55 (on 220cm wood skis with 3-pin bindings) in 7hrs and 20 minutes after having skied through the pine tar - the sun was going down as I crossed the finish line -I had no idea how far 55km was. Two years later I did the Keski 50km classic in 6hr and 6 minutes, then laid out for several years, then did the 25 a few years later in an embarassing 3 hours (shame! shame!). I had taken several one-on-one personal lessons over that time, and a couple of club sessions with the Nortel ski club, trying to learn to skate and to improve my classic. As you can tell, I am not a serious racer. I ski because I love everything about xc skiing. The year I took your camp, I was in my late 50's, still couldn't skate for more than 15 or 20 strides at a time without going over my AT, and was getting discouraged about ever skating the Keski 50 in under 4 hours, which is my partial goal in my long-term plan to ski at least 10km in my 100th year. I didn't quite know what to expect from your camp. I knew about the two of you, and that you were both world class skiers, but I didn't know how well you would be able to transfer that knowledge, and I didn't know about the quality of the people you'd have assisting you. I crave, and consequently seek out, high quality and excellence. Your camp provided both. It was the best thing that I have done, ever, to improve my skiing ability. You guys were excellent instructors - patient, only gave us one thing at a time to work on, gave us mantras and visualizations which I still use ("Open the hips!" "Present the heel!" and my fave from Dan Mallett, who told us that the little tassel on our caps was for the ski gods to grab onto and pull on, in order to help us extend our glide when we were on one ski!). Your approach was hard to describe, but far more gestalt than sequential and hierarchical. I came away from the camp knowing how to ski with my body, not my brain. I experienced the zone (and have several times since). You were well organized, had more world class instructors than I knew lived around here (who also knew how to teach), but most of all, I had a great time. The camp was pivotal in my skiing career - it helped me to ski better and enjoy it more than any other (compact) experience I've had. The first Keski I did after your camp, I trained like crazy, and took two hours off my personal best (!) when I skied 42km classic in 3hrs 40min. I can't say that all of it was due to your camp, but I don't think I would have been able to do the training without having done your camp. So, you two have made a significant contribution to my life! No wonder I'm a big fan. I still can't skate up the hill from P8 to the bottom of Penguin without stopping, nor up the Pink's Lake hill, but I'm working on it. I'm looking forward to your camp this season. In 2005, I will skate the Keski in under 4 hours. Thanks very much for all you have done, with the camps, the videos, the DVDs, and with your accessibility. You improve the quality of life here. Best regards.” - Tim




Read the Healthwise Magazine Article about Dave and Lise is a not for profit company promoting health and fitness.