Cheating Death: Canadian Death Race 2014

The Build Up

I ran this race last year.  Once I got to the finish line I felt great about my accomplishment.  Many of locals I befriended in Grande Cache asked me if I’d be back the following year.  While I really enjoyed my time in Grande Cache, I felt that I did what I needed to do and sadly I wouldn’t be back.  The days passed and my buddy Donna was determined to go back and prove that she could complete the Canadian Death Race.  And as it happened to her, the race got under my skin.  I knew I could do better, so I set my sights on besting my time and dropping the completion time to 18 hours.

January came along and I registered for the race.  From the registration day on, if I wasn’t already, I was fully committed at that point.  It was just a matter of months and then the race would present its monumental challenge.  The question this time wasn’t “Could I finish?”  It was “Can I really achieve my time goal?”  My goal was aggressive, I was aiming to cut 4 hours 42 minutes of my finishing time.

Many months passed and my training was on target.  As a result, my resting HR dropped a little more (45 BPM), my recovery from long runs was quick, and each race I set a PB.  Things were great, except that I was waiting at the airport in Kitchener for my flight to Edmonton and I was feeling pretty ambivalent about the race; I was burned out from running.

My coach called me about an hour ahead of boarding and reassured me by saying “It’s good that you feel this way, it means that you ready”.  With a week to go before the race and my coach’s reassurance, I started to believe that I would be strong physically and mentally race day.  Then just like that, I was excited, I was pumped.

I spent a couple of days in Grande Cache preparing for the race.  It was a good mental exercise to prepare for the race.  But I was incomplete, I was without crew.  So like planned I made my way back to Edmonton to pick up my wife.  No longer lonely and bored, we putted around town and met the Canadian Death Race legend in the Vegas Liquor Store.  A really interesting man, he left me with a word of wisdom: “you never know what to expect at this race, you never know if you will finish.”

The mandatory meeting before the race provides you all sorts of good information about what to expect out on the course, and in a very entertaining fashion.  Dr. Death came out on the stage performing and was mid-way through reminding us of the “die arena”, when almost as if it was planned, some nasty clouds rolled in and it started to rain a little.  As would happen in the race, a couple of folks bailed.  Then the rain became a little harder, and more folks left.   Once the hail mixed in with the rain and my clothes were saturated, we bailed as well.  I started to worry.

The Race

All week all I had been dreaming about was this race.  I don’t know what exactly was going on in these dreams of mine, but I know that the themes focused around the race.  I guess I was anxious. I do dumb things when I am anxious.  The morning of the race, I woke up good and early and had a normal non-race day breakfast, 2 eggs and toast.  Bad move bud, my normal pre-race meal is nothing more than half a bagel.

The race started in the normal fashion, check-in, ceremony with prayer, walk up the road paced by a quad, RCMP with shot gun, run.  I was up front as per usual this year and I started the race off pretty quickly as to make sure that I wouldn’t be moderated by the crowds in the bogs.

That is, if there were bogs.  I was confused, it had been so cool in Southwestern Ontario, how was it that in Northern Alberta it had been so warm that the bogs were essentially dry?  What did that mean for the rest of the day?  OK, truthfully the second question never really crossed my mind, and to be perfectly honest neither did the first one.  I was running and I was pleasantly surprised that I could run straight through without any balancing act.  Had I been a thinking man, I probably would have realised something, perhaps, that the rest of the day would be a killer!

It should have occurred to me that it was hot out there.  It was an automatic reaction, I was power hiking up Flood Mountain rubbing up against the shrubs trying to get the remaining moisture from the night dew onto my skin.  I was hoping that the technique would cool me down a little. It sorta worked, the relief was so temporary that I don’t even think it is worth mentioning.  I moved closer and closer to the mountain top, one laborious step after another.

As if climbing up a mountain in the heat wasn’t hard enough, my mind’s attention turn to my laboured breath.  I didn’t understand, was this a result of altitude that I wasn’t acclimatized to?  I worried that this may do me in.  I tried focusing on my pack.  I loosened it, unclipped it.  Re-clipped it.  Thought about taking off my heart rate monitor, but didn’t.  The closer to the summit of Flood, the steeper the trail, the harder it was for me to breath.

I pressed on.  I made my way through Slugfest and realized that a theme was starting to take place.  I just didn’t remember this race being this hard.  Maybe it was because I was pushing that much harder than last year that every difficult section seemed that much more difficult. Or as I remember thinking while I was heading to the summit of Grand Mountain, “this road is a lot longer than I remember it being.”  I was relieved to start the Grand decent.  A seemingly never ending hour of trail that headed straight down the mountain side.  A quad thrasher.  This is part of the course that I was most familiar with and still – I didn’t remember how difficult it was.

On my way in to town where the leg 2/3 transition is, I caught up to a fellow K-dubber (a person that lives in Kitchener-Waterloo) that was running the relay.  We had been leap frogging since the beginning of the leg.  He was walking it in when I finally caught up to him near Mountain View high school.  I put my hand on his shoulder and encouraged him:

“Come on man, your almost there, you can do this.”  I don’t really remember how the rest of the short conversation, but he ran the rest of the leg.

“Byron, your crew is over there”, someone called out to me.  A little dazed I fumbled my way over to where my wife and Donna’s husband were setup.  This was the first time Lindsay had to repack my vest – a little stressed she got everything together just as I asked.  I was parched:

“Is there any water?” I questioned.

“Yeah there is” Donna’s husband replied.  He started to pour it on my neck and head, then finally he pour it into my mouth as if I was 20 taking down some tequila!  Funny how running up and down a mountain in the heat makes you feel just about the same way as taking down half a bottle of tequila.

I had practice drinking like this in my youth. Replace water with tequila!
I had practice drinking like this in my youth. Replace water with tequila!

Having finished the first two legs I was looking forward to the third because from what I remembered, there would some shade on the trail.  It took a little while, but sure enough there was some shade a couple of kilometres in.  Though it didn’t seem to matter.  The heat was beating down on us.  A little less than ¾ of an hour passed and I finished one of my two 20 oz bottles of fluid.  I knew that there should be a couple of creeks.  I hoped that they hadn’t dried up like the bogs on Leg 1.  Last year I used these creeks to numb the pain in my leg and foot.  Each time I came across a creek, my relief could not be described.  I decided that since it was so hot out that I would sit right in creek.  I found this even better than just slashing water on my neck, face, and head.  Cooling off your junk and butt just seems to relieve the heat stress that much more.

At the last stream of the leg, I realized that I had maybe 3 oz’s of GU Brew left and I had 7 km left to run.  I was really stressing out –I didn’t have enough fluid.  I filled an empty bottle with the water from the stream, not to drink, but to pour over my body in an effort to cool me down.  I got to the coal mine bridge that took me across the smokey river to a chip in – with 3 km to go and no more fluid, I was happy that I didn’t have to far to go.   But I was in trouble, I knew I was dehydrating quickly and I was only some 60 km into the race.

I got to the critical transistion 3/4 (the one that takes out most death racers), my amazing wife asked me how I was doing:

“I’m dehydrated, did you bring extra water?”

She did, and I drank nearly 20 oz right there. Grabbed a salt tab and watched her pack my bag.

“How many gels are there?” I asked.

“One bottle, 2 by 2 like you asked.”

“No! I need two bottles.  I need at least four gels, this leg is going to take me at least 5 hours!” I was freaked out, though too dizzy to be angry. Still, how could she mess this up?

“Did you bring the bottles?” I was referring to the 26 oz bottle of Hammer gel.

“No” she replied as she pulled out the instruction sheet to show me that I actually gave her the wrong instructions.

“Shit!” I blurted out stumbling backwards while I was reeling from the feeling of dehydration and disorientation.  With no other option, I put my pack on, thanked my wife (I think), grabbed my poles, took a deep breath, and I started leg 4.

As I made my way up Mount Hamel, I felt beat down.  My memory was playing tricks with me.  I had no memory of this climb being so hard.  I got to what seemed to be somewhat of a plateau and was feeling better; it was a nice reprieve from the soul sucking climb.  I turned a corner and then my jaw dropped.  The majesty of Mount Hamel revealed herself with the final 1300 ft or so, beauty and terror all at once.  It was a familiar feeling that day, I think mumbled to myself “how am I going to keep this up?”

I was so happy to make it to the summit of Mount Hamel in the daylight.
I was so happy to make it to the summit of Mount Hamel in the daylight.

It’s funny though, the clarity you have in remembering certain features of a trail.  Even though the Mount Hamel descent I made last year was in pitch black, I remember a particular hairpin turn in the trail.  Maybe it was because of the situation where this dude was looking for some TP.  Other things I didn’t remember at all like boulder alley.  While I made my way to Ambler loop there are points where there are big pools of water that seemed impassible in the darkness and which I carefully waded through… difference being this year I was in the daylight and I could see ‘dry’ pathways around the obstacles.  The reward of many, many months of training.

From the top of Hamel to Ambler loop my pace slowed down substantially.  I think I was recovering from the heat of the day.  At the aid station at Ambler loop I dropped my pack and ran light for a bit. I felt better because I was running at a good pace and I was passing relay runners.  As I caught up to one girl, she turned back to me and asked:

“Were we supposed to chip in back there?”


“Really” she said with complete disbelief.  She continued “It wasn’t obvious, what happens if I don’t chip in?”

“You get DQ’d.”

“Seriously?!” she exclaimed hoping that I was taking her for a ride.  I wasn’t.  They will disqualify you if you miss one check in.

“Yeah – sorry, looks like you have to go back.”  I advised her and kept on.

The day before the race when I was reviewing the race plan with my wife one last time.  I mentioned to her that I thought the way my coach had broken down Leg 5 was off.  I thought that the first 7 km up to the boat would be at a faster pace, and the second section of the leg would be a slower.   When I got to the leg, it was just getting dark and I was pooped, although I hadn’t pooped (ha ha).  I started up the first climb of leg 5 and I had finally come to terms that everything seemed so hard and that each effort was as if I was doing some full tilt training on my treadmill; mind you the views were ‘slightly’ more amazing than looking at a wall in the gym.  Two kilometres into the leg, I was praising the wisdom of my coach.

Relay runners were whipping by me.  I was stepping aside for each of them and then a soloist caught up and insisted I lead.  I guess he wanted some company for a little while.  We chatted and I imparted my wisdom of what lied ahead.  A final crushing climb followed by the Sulphur Rim trail then there is about a 3km stretch that is dirt road and just doesn’t seem to end.  I was preparing myself for the worst and I probably would have been better off not knowing what I was in for.  Truthfully, this wasn’t the hardest part of the race, but because it is the last 15 or so km, it feels a lot harder than it is.  Team that up with a little mental fatigue and you can just about spell disaster.

I did avoid complete disaster, which would have been a DNF.  Instead I finished the race in a power walk switching into a run when I felt I could keep up the shuffle, disappointingly I was mostly in a power walk mode though.  On the upside, I was still moving forward and the end was near.

The last 500 metres of the race I ran, not quickly, but it was a running gait.  I turned the final corner and as I made my way through the corral I could hear the announcer say:

“Here comes another soloist Byron Guptill.  His goal was to finish the race in 18 hours, besting his time from last year which was 22:42 minutes.  Well Byron, you did it!”

Yes I did, finishing the race in 17 hours 35 minutes and 29 seconds.  I ended up ranking 15th of 366 registered runners.  I was happy.  Looking back on the race I am starting to appreciate why at each stage of the race I felt like it was harder and more painful than last year’s experience.  Last year my average pace over the entire race was 10:54 minutes per kilometre and this year I cut that down to 8:27 minutes per kilometre. In training harder, many folks think that running gets easier, I certainly have been fooled by this. I should have thought it was going to be harder. My goals were different, my pace was different, my approach was different, so why would the effort be perceived to be the same?

Donna satisfied with her CDR finish. She placed first in her age class!
Donna satisfied with her CDR finish. She placed first in her age class!

Fail fail fail fail….

I’m not really in the business of doing product evaluations.  I just don’t have the patience that reviewers like DC Rainmaker appears to posses.  These guys are so thorough it almost makes me sick.

It turns out that I should have waited for their review of the Fenix 2 to make it to the web.  At the time (pre March 20), I was considering the Suunto Ambit 2 and the Garmin Fenix 2.  The Fenix 2 won because like the Suunto, the claim was it would operate for 50 hrs of battery life and the watches have a comparable feature set.  I don’t often run for 50 hrs, but most watches will barely get you 8 hours, and from time to time, I will be out running for 8 hours or more.  The second reason I picked the Fenix over the Suunto was because I already owned a Garmin HRM that is compatible with my very nice Polar strap (no chaffing).

When I first started running, I only focused on running pace.  That after all, is a measure of how fast you are going, and the faster the better right?  Well not in all cases.  Heart rate tells you much more.  The more you can relate to how hard you are working your heart, and how quickly your RHR recovers,  the better off you are.  You don’t want to be running 125 km at 90% HR.  Well if you physically could sustain that, I guess there is nothing wrong with that.  But many folks fatigue long before 125 km is reached if that is how hard they are pushing; just sayin’.

Anyway, I am here in Grande Cache getting ready for the big day.  I am have been reviewing my time goals, my fueling plan, and last but not least, my equipment readiness.  Since owning the Fenix 2, I have had some serious trouble with it.  At Seaton it froze and failed to record the whole race.  Similarily at Limberlost, I have a full summary, but an apparent lack of data points. Suffice it to say I wasn’t coming to Grande Cache with just one device.  Good foresight (or just paying attention to the signs).

As I ranted earlier, I bought the Fenix 2 on the assumption that I could use the HRM and GPS for 50 hours of battery life.  You’d think you could safely make the assumption seeing as how you’d be hard pressed to find anything that mentions otherwise in the literature that Garmin offers.  In fact, in the little ditty that they have on Ultratrac mode, the method by which you supposedly attain the 50 hours of operation, there is no mention that the ANT+ sensor is disabled.

So what is the significance here?  ANT+ is the protocol that the Fenix 2 uses to have nice polite conversations with your HRM.

Fenix 2: “That is 90 bpm, thank you.”

HRM: “You’re welcome. Oh by the by, I have another update for you, add 10 more bpm.  It appears that he may be running!”

Fenix 2: “Copy”

You can imagine my surprise.  The manual only tells you have the truth.  Please prove me wrong and find the note that informs you that Ultratrac disables ANT+.  Manual is found here.

So this is the straw that broke the camels back.  I will hang up the Garmin and I will be going back to the Polar which was able to record my GPS points for 21 hours of the nearly 23 hours I was out there.  To add, it was also capable of recording my heart rate for the entire race.

Polar longevity

Failures in track recording



Full Tilt Training

It has been less than a week since I ran the Ottawa marathon and I have two months ahead of my second Canadian Death Race (CDR).  My goal for the CDR is to run the race in less than 18 hours.  I’m thinking I can do it.  A result of the intense training that I have been subjecting myself to.  I say that I am subjecting myself to it, as if it were a negative thing, but I actually like it.

So what is the intense training?  Once a week I head to the gym and do intervals on the treadmill.  It really isn’t the ideal way of training considering that this is supposed to be hill training.  Given the terrain in south-western Ontario (where I live), it is my only option.  I progressively made it up to 8 minute intervals.  8 minutes of running with the incline at 15% (the highest setting) with the objective of keeping my heart rate at or above 95% max. This is followed by an 8 minutes recovery where I let my heart rate drop to 60% max. Repeat.

With all of the racing I have been involved with over the last two months, I have been in a race/recovery cycle.  As such I have been on a hill training hiatus, until today.  I was looking forward to it.  I had swapped my NB MR00 for my Nike Free 5.0’s for the last two runs and decided to continue the week with them.  On the advice of my coach since my calf muscles had been tightening up.  I got on the treadmill and the mental struggle began.

First rep down and I wasn’t feeling all that confident about my effort.  I felt like I was kicked in the gonads.  I wanted to quit.  It seems that there is a theme developing here (see all previous race reflections).  I start and I want to quit.  But for some reason the feeling of regret would be more painful than just doing it.  So I try to ignore the negativity and find my way through the negative thoughts.

The second rep is done, but I am not feeling that much better about my effort.  My quads were feeling sore and they seemed to be giving out on me faster than normal.  I needed to hit and hold 181 bpm for 8 minute intervals.  While I seemed to be able to hold it, I didn’t feel like I could do this another 6 times.

180 bpm is where the red block starts
180 bpm is where the red block starts

Rep 3 and 4 were brutal and demoralizing.  The silver lining was that by the end of the 4 rep I was half way done.  The last four reps were a struggle to get to 181 bpm.  I started trying self coaching devices like repeating a mantra.  “Push through it”  I’d repeat.  Push the up button to speed up.  When I couldn’t hold it any more down a couple.  I’d realize that I still hadn’t hit 181 bpm, so speed up a bit more.  Slowly creeping up to 181 bpm.  The strange thing here is that after the demoralizing 3rd and 4th rep, each one seemed to get easier.

I relate this progressive ease to life in general.  As a teen, life beyond high school seemed impossible.  High school was enough of an adjustment for me.  I looked forward to moving on, but it seemed that all the responsibility would be monumental.  Early twenties, life still felt like a bit of a mountain to climb.  What with all the bills and stuff.  Having to pay for everything and figuring out how to budget and follow then actually follow through.  Yup, intimidating but certainly something that you feel good about once you notice that you are adapting to it.  Present day, not easy, but more or less figured out and feeling good.

Today’s workout brought me back to the realization I had about how amazing our bodies are.  With each rep, I found I had to push harder.  Sometimes finding that I really needed to dig deeper.  I had to find the inner beast to help me through it.  As the workout progressed, my body went from hating me, to punishing me, adapting to the situation, then loving me. Strange.

Go Death Racer!

Hi, how are you?

I had a stretch goal of 21 hours 29 minutes.  I wanted to beat the time of a woman who told me I couldn’t finish the Death Race, even if it was only by one minute. I didn’t finish in time to achieve my stretch goal – how is 22 hours 42 minutes 21 seconds? –  But it was my first Trail Ultra XLong and my second Ultra ever, eh?

Since I have quite a bit of race experience, I have learned to work out the kinks that can come along with being unprepared for a running event.  I have a routine at night to make sure all the equipment and supplies a racer needs are laid out and organized: food organized in bags by exchange, poles, gloves, long sleeve, jacket, my Polar, my sets of shoes, my socks, my buff, most important of all was my race plan.  I also have a solid morning routine, which includes a good prayer to John, eating the right food and getting to the start line to chip in before 7:40 am.  Check, check, check.

The forecast called for thundershowers, but they weren’t supposed to start until the afternoon.   Waking up to the pitter-patter of rain made me nervous about what was to come.  After all, over the past two weeks of being in Grande Cache, we had all sorts of weather that a kid from south western Ontario is not used to seeing in July. These treats for the senses included daily thunderstorms, hail on two occasions, lots of rain, waking up to 5 C, and on some days, it would warm up to 27 C.  The only thing that was missing was a full on assault with snow.  I was nervous now – what were we going to see out there?

Leg 1: Here we go

I met up with my training and race partner Donna outside the Big Horn Inn, a not so wonderful motel.  We made our way to start line, registered and waited anxiously.  The race kicked off with a quick out and back parade down one of the main roads in the town.  It was almost as if the locals were seeing us off as we set out to war.  The hopes and dreams of this town rested firmly upon our shoulders.  As we paraded through the town I saw some of my new friends cheering us on so I ran over for some morale-boosting high fives!  Leg 1 was a little crowded but fun.  The muddy bogs were the highlight as you could hear the crowd of runners empathizing with a group “Ohhhhh!” as some poor runner likely took a mud bath. And this was no beauty treatment either!  I remember thinking “I hope they got that on camera!”


At the exchange for leg 1 and 2, my dad and step-mother were frantically trying to get a handle on how to crew for a runner; double-checking to make sure they were filling my hydration pack properly, then my water bottles.  “Did you eat? Have your salt?” they pestered me, just like I instructed them to ask.  I looked up to the top of Grande Mountain.  “Dad, pack my long-sleeve and my gloves.  Looks like it’s gonna be cold up there.”

 Leg 2: Near death

The climb to the top of Flood was steady and seemingly gentle.  I started to belt out “GO DEATH RACER!”  I waited for a response…and got nothing.  I scolded the others by belting out “Really guys?  Nothing?”  I tried again. “GO DEATH RACER!”  This time I could hear the echo up and down the mountain of people belting “GO DEATH RACER!”  “HA HA!”.

After cresting Flood Mountain, the way down to Slugfest was a nice surprise, made up of some somewhat short, very vertical descents.  This was probably my second favourite part of the course.  It was a gorgeous, forest covered single-track that brought you across streams, through bogs and down aggressive “bum slides”.  It was also surprising to see so many Death Racers with poles and no clue how to use them. Please, I implore you, that if you are going to take on this race as a solo or relay participant and you are taking poles along for the ride, use YouTube or something, but learn how to use them! They can be very helpful, but they are worthless if you don’t know how to use them. Moving on.

As I was getting to the end of Slugfest, I could hear the frequency of the thunder increase. “Not good”, I thought. But, there was no time to dwell on our collective misfortune. If a storm was coming, then a storm was coming. We had to keep pressing on. I got to the aid station and filled up on pretzels and gummies and took off.  No sooner had I set out, the rain began to fall.  Not so great considering what rain can do to the trails.  But not the worst kind of weather either.  At least it wasn’t hail.  Right…?

Cue Mother Nature. She abruptly decided she was going too easy on us and changed tactics to “tough love”.  Rain, wind, thunder and lightning and now… hail.  Ok, this is great:  Trekking up a mountain road and hail is smacking us all over.  I pulled under a tree to get out of the trajectory of the hail, but I soon became impatient ‘cause the hail wasn’t letting up.  “Can’t let a little hail get in the way.” And we were off.  Then the hail got bigger, the rain and wind colder.   My objective shifted – get under tree cover!  I had a long sleeve thermal from MEC and a pair of mitts, so I took a moment to swap my shirts and put the mitts on. I paused and looked out from my hiding place.  The hail still wasn’t letting up.  “Gotta press on.”

At the summit of the mountain, the hail had subsided but the wind was as strong as ever.  I timed in and booted it to the decent.  What a relief to be in the cover of the trees!  Next up was surprise number 2: The thick, slick mud made it a constant challenge to stay on your feet.  It didn’t matter if you had poles or not.  There was no effective way to get any footing or balance.  The best way down was to resign yourself to the fact that the lower your centre of gravity, the better off you were.  In this case, having your butt on the ground and sliding through the mud was the least painful way down.  I kept trying to do it on foot.  Even pretended I was skiing or something.  Every time I tried to do it on foot, I’d just fall and get covered in mud.  First, it was just mud covering my legs.  Then once I was about half way down, I was fully covered.  My hands, poles, legs, butt… everything but my face.

Leg 3: Hello Joe, whaddya know?

Once I was at the bottom of Grande, I noticed my right foot was hurting.  I took it for a small bruise and carried on.  I passed through the exchange and was on to Leg 3.  I kept moving along with a new found limp.

As I was catching up to a fellow runner, he turned around and asked “Where‘s Donna?”

“I think she’s 10 minutes behind me, she told me to move ahead without her” I replied. It took a moment, but I realized I was talking with Joe whom Donna had met on the charter from Edmonton.  Joe attempted the race last year and missed the cut off time at the end of leg 3.  A heartbreaking result.  According to my plan, we were in good shape to make it to the cut off, so we continued running and chatting.  Fate has a curious way of working – The same woman that told me I would not be able to finish the race ran with Joe last year!  Joe was such a great spirit; every time we’d come up on a creek, he would wait for me while I cooled down my foot and leg, obviously trusting that we’d make it to the cut off on time.  At this point, my projection was that we would get there by 6:30, 15 minutes later than my original plan.  As we were running down the old mining road to the bridge over the Smokey River, we knew we had plenty of time to finish the 3 or 4 km there was left to get to the cut off (the 3/4 exchange).  Fist bumps and big smiles!  We crossed the bridge over the Smokey River, and were coming up to the highway.  There were so many people there cheering us on and among them were a couple of cute girls!  One of them said to her friend, “Take a picture of me with them!”  A little embarrassed (imagine how I smelled) and flattered, Joe and I set up and this cute stranger posed in between us; a picture was snapped.  “Excited!”

We got to the exchange, and I was limping around.  Kevin, a resident of Grande Cache saw me come in and after a quick chat, offered me his foam roller to loosen up my leg.  I waited around for 7:00 pm but still no Donna.  I decided I had to press on.

Leg 4: Serenity now

Joe joined me and we started up Mount Hammel.  “I’m walking” I stated.  “Me too” Joe confirmed as we began the longest leg of the race.  Hiking up Hammel I noticed that my foot, although very sore, wasn’t aggravated by the climb.  This was good and it allowed me to keep up a quick walking pace.  After a couple of km’s I noticed Joe was falling behind, I wanted to help encourage him up the mountain, but he told me to keep on without him.  I did exactly that.

A race volunteer greeted me, “Welcome to the cutoff!”

I was elated, “Sweet! What time is it?”

“9:15 pm.” she replied.

I was very happy since I had made it to the cutoff with an hour to spare.  As I continued up Hammel, I felt small.  From the cutoff to the top of the mountain, we passed the tree line and it was one switchback after another.  It was quiet.  It was peaceful.  It was painful.  So close to the top, yet so far away.  If only we could have gone straight up!  Once I was on my way down, I started running with a guy named Ron.  He had blackened his toes and had restrained his pace as a result.  So we kept each other company as the sky turned black and we realized we would need to use our headlamps.

Ron and I walked down Hammel rather carefully.  Neither one of us really wanted to aggravate our feet; my bum right foot and his toe nails.  As you can imagine, we were being passed by fellow Death Racers.  Until one of them, a cute lady Death Racer pulled alongside down a  technical pass.  Once we made it through and the lady Death Racer sped along, Ron had suddenly found some motivation.

A little further down the mountain, I caught up to Ron again and we kept each other company.  I remember thinking at this point that my feet were dry for such a long stretch.  I wondered if it was going to be possible to keep them that way.  Then, of course it happened; we came across a pond, nay a lake, in the route and it looked deep and threatening.  We stopped to look for some way around it.  “There’s gotta be a way!”  I said desperately.  After a couple of minutes, it was decided: There was no dry way across.  My longest stretch of having dry feet came to an end.  I was sad and knee deep in water.

There are so many obstacles that XL trail ultra runners run up against.  Obviously distance is one, and certainly there are a number of mountain range runs where elevation is an added challenge.  Imagine this, you are in the middle of a 37 km stretch and you have to go.  What do you do?  I suppose the first thought is do I have to go number 1 or number 2.  Number 1 is pretty easy to take care of.  But being a “civilized” person, number 2 poses a little bit of a challenge, especially when you are in the middle of a 37 km stretch of trail on a 7000 foot tall mountain.  As Ron and I we heading down this stretch of trail, a fellow Death Racer asks “You guys got any tickets?”  I sure did.  I wasn’t getting stuck anywhere with a dirty bum!  I offered up some of my TP to my fellow Death Racer and “pressed” on.

Leg 5: Inspiration

Around 3:00 am in the morning, I pulled into the last exchange.  Sore and beat up, I came around a corner and found my training partner Donna was there.  I was sad to see her since it meant that she timed out at the critical exchange 3-4.  Selfishly I was thankful that she was there.

“Hot soup!” Donna said as she handed it to me. “Well lukewarm now, anyhow.”

As I munched on the chicken soup, Donna helped my legs recover a bit with a short  and welcomed massage.  My dad and my step-mother prepared my pack for the final leg.  I put on my North Face Ultra Guides hoping they would be soothing considering how much my foot ached, and then I was off in search of Hell’s Gate with my sacred Death Race coin!

The first 7 km of Leg 5 is some of my favorite trail anywhere.  It starts off with a wicked steep climb, and then evens out to a fun roller coaster single track that is fairly technical. The trail itself is soft and there are a number of creek crossings.  At this point I knew I could make it to the end even if I walked the whole leg, but I didn’t want to do that.  I felt pretty good again and I really liked the trail so I kicked it into high gear (well, as high as possible after about 19 hours of running), and boogied.  As I pushed through the Crack of Doom and down to the final aid station, I pushed as hard as possible to get to the river crossing.

To cross the Smokey River on leg 5, you need your Death Race coin. You have to give the coin to the Grim Reaper and then you get to hop on the jet boat.  I busted down from the Crack of Doom to the river bank and said “Mr Grim Reaper, here is your money.”  I boarded the jet boat, and we were off to the other side of the river.  Once there, I “jumped” off the boat and began an eternal climb.  Up, and up and up and up.  “When is it going to end?” I kept thinking.  Finally, it did.  And I started running again.  I was passing a number of folks that knew they could make it to the end safely by walking, but I was impatient; I just wanted to cross the finish line and be finished.  I got to the Soul Tree (see picture) and with 5 km left, I decided it was time to walk.  I did just that until I was back in town and the end was in sight.  I picked up my pace and started a slow jog to finish the race.

“Go Death Racer!” I yelled with the sentiment waning between sarcasm and seriousness. As I ran across the finish line, my new friends and residents of Grande Cache were there to greet me as I crossed the line.  Hugs, congratulations and smiles were there for me.  I was done and completed my mission!

My dad, step-mom and Donna all were at the finish line to help me out.  Almost as soon as I sat down my core body temperature started to plummet.  Donna pulled out the thermal blanket, put my pants on for me, and took off my wet socks.  After a couple of minutes of shivering they decided to move me along.  I was taken to the car and driven up to my glorious motel room.  I was given water, coffee to warm me up and ice for my foot and leg that had swollen to twice the size of my foot.  Donna passed me her BlackBerry Z10 and insisted I call my wife.

She was out on a training run so the voicemail goes like this: “Hey baby…” deep breathing as i guess I was out of breath.  “I finished…” I continued and still out of breath.  “22 hours 40 minutes… Yay….”. Obviously delirious, my time was 22 hours, 42 minutes, 21 seconds.  I continued “I am just sortof in bed… I’m injured…I got ice on my leg… I’m in (deep breath) .. getting warm, drinking water, rehydrating uh yay, so I’ll talk to you later, love you, bye bye”.

I lay there trying to fall asleep.  One hour passed, and another.  I finally gave up, BBM’d Donna and we met for lunch.  The food was welcomed, but most of all, I took on a couple beer.

“Hey Donna, I think I’m ready to go sleep.”  Yep, the beer helped.

The next day

On the Monday that follows the Canadian Death Race, there is an awards ceremony.  Naturally I attended because it is at this ceremony that you get your coin.  The coin that gives you the right to brag.  First they call up the racers who have finished the race previously.  Then, one by one they call up the the each of the first time solo finishers.  Each finisher then walks down the line and shakes and congratulates each other for finishing.  Following that you take your spot at the end of the line and you are now inducted into the club.  I was summoned, performed the ritual and took my place.  Moments later, Joe was summoned as well and was soon in front of me.  Joyfully I gave him a big hug.

“I’m so happy to see you here Joe!” I said to Joe sincerely.

I didn’t achieve my goal of finishing ahead of the cursed woman.  I did finish even though she said I wouldn’t.  Maybe it is a testament to how stubborn I am, maybe it is a direct result of the training, or perhaps it was a bit of luck.  Whatever it was, I know I am left with a feeling of longing.  I am longing for the feeling of doing something extreme, something grand, something where I feel free and alive.

Other interesting stuff

I use a Polar RCX5.  The GPS is a seperate unit from the watch and lasted for 107 km.  It kept recording my heart rate and I actually forgot to stop it once I crossed the finish line.
Watch recording: link

Race results.