In 2012 I was "lucky" enough to be selected through lottery to sign up for the Canadian Death Race. This event is what many would consider a destination race. From all of the hype surrounding it to the stunningly beautiful location, I would definitely call it so.
This event is 125k of some of the toughest terrain any ultra marathon can offer. According to the website, the CDR begins and ends (and goes back to and leaves) the town of Grande Cache AB at 4200 feet elevation. During the course of the 24 hour cut off, runners will pass over three mountain summits that all approach between 6000 and 7000 feet above see level. The total elevation change for the course is approximately 17,000 feet. I believe there are generally about 400 or 500 solo runners as well as the same or more amount of relay members.
If you are doing this event, plan your lodging early. There is a "camp city" made specifically for athletes and their families, however there was only portable toilettes and no running water (i believe) and I know many athletes decided to stay elsewhere. Desi and I camped in Hinton at the KOA, about 1.5 hours away from Grande Cache.
There is a "mandatory" racer meeting the Friday before the race. While it was certainly entertaining, nothing new was really learned and it was kind of a waste of time. However I did get one important message. There are two main reasons why athletes fail to finish the CDR. 1) Going out too fast 2) Getting injured during the steep and technical descents.
It was then I decided that neither of those two reasons would be happening to me!
There were no real setbacks the morning of the race. We had everything planned fairly well and we arrived at the start with plenty of time to spare. I was a bit cold standing around so started with arm warmers and gloves on. I also carried two Ultimate Direction handhelds with me. In the pockets I carried a few hundred calories worth of raisins.
Stage 1, 19km: The Downtown Jaunt
This stage took us out of town and into the mud. For a while everyone tried to run around the puddles. We were literally holding onto barbed wire fence and tip toeing on the side of the trail to avoid the mud and puddles. Eventually the inevitable happened, and I came across a puddle wide enough that I did not want to bother going around. I proceeded to run right through! These puddles were generally shin deep, often closer to knee deep, and most with a few inches of mud. After that I said "screw it!" and ran through every puddle I could find! It was absolutely the most fun I had during the race! For any athletes reading this race report in preparation for their own CDR, run through the puddles. You are going to get wet and muddy, embrace it!
My new rule for dressing for the beginning of a race is this; Dress like I think I should, and then remove a layer. Within a mile I knew the gloves and arm warmers were too much. I ended up putting the gloves between my Ultimate Direction bottles and their hand strap. The arm warmers were tied together and than stuck right in the waist of my shorts.
This was also when I started to encounter the first of the relay runners. There were a couple steep sections where many of the athletes were seriously struggling. No disrespect to them, but this 19k jaunt was a marathon for them! Major kudos!
This first stage was covered in 2:19 and I was the 272nd solo runner to finish the stage.
Stage 2, 27km: Flood and Grande Mountain Slugfest
During this stage we run up and down the mountains Flood and Grande, with about 6000 feet of total elevation change. This stage is characterized by long sustained climbs and steep technical descents.
My goal for this section was to slowly run the flats (turned out there were none), power hike the ascents, and walk the descents. My reason for walking the descents was to save my descending legs for later on in the race. I knew if I were to run down the hills like most of the runners, I would either injure myself or destroy my muscles for later on in the race.
The hills or terrain were not an issue. It's how I reacted to the situation that could potentially be an problem. However, I embraced the fact that I was running straight up a mountain so steep I could touch the ground without bending forward.
|This was an incredible hike straight up to the summit of Flood at 6100ft.|
We were grabbing onto branches and trees to pull us up.
I could see about 15 ppl in front of me and 15 behind me during this climb
|On the top of Flood|
|I sat on my heels and slid down, pushing with my hands like a skier|
|One of the couple creeks that we drank from|
|The view of Mount Hamel from Grande!|
|From Grande Mountain, that's Grande Cache in the background!|
|Top of Flood|
|Garbage I picked up during stage 2. (not the shoes)|
Stage 3, 21km: Old Mine Road and City Slicker Valley
I began this stage at approximately 4PM, giving me three hours to run 13 mile section. This is the easiest section of the race. I had to run a 13.7 minute pace to finish the leg immediately prior to the cutoff.
People kept telling me that there was a valley during this stage that becomes incredibly warm. I actually forgot completely about it, and still do not know where that warm valley was. It is most likely a testament to the heat training I did, but I was never any warmer during that stage than the other two.
Due to the drastic elevation changes I did not use a distance tracking device. The greater the change in vertical, the more inaccurate these tools become. All I used was my watch to know the time. I knew I had to do more running than I had done in the previous stages. At 6PM when I was hoping to be close to the next aid station I had no idea what distance I was at. I met a runner and asked him if he had any ideas how far we had left of this stage. He said approximately 10k, or 6.2 miles left. SHIT. That would have meant two things. 1) I had only ran about 6 miles in the last two hours 2) I had to run about 6 more miles in the next hour to make the aid station. I simply did not believe him. There was no way I had only ran 6 miles in the last two hours!
But, there is always that possibility. So, I ran. I had taken it fairly easy up to that point and figured the suffering had to start at some point, and start it did. Normally a 10 minute mile for an hour would be a slow recovery/rest run. However after such a long time on my feet it was beginning to hurt!
It is a bit hard to remember exactly, but I believe I ran into the 60k sign and I had about 30 more minutes to run 5 more kilometers. Time was getting close.
The worst part of this last hour was not being unsure if I was going to make the cutoff or not. It was passing person after person who I knew were not going to make it! If I was running as fast as I could just to get to the aid station by 7PM, these people were definitely not going to make the cut off. The thought almost brought me to tears. To come all of this way, run 65 kilometers in the Rocky Mountains, to have it just...end.
A very mentally tough aspect if this last section of leg 3 was that at around 5k left we are literally on the other side of the river from the aid station, yet we have to run away from it to a bridge and circle around back towards it. At the bridge the volunteers told me I had 2 clicks left. My first thought was, "WTF is a click?!?" If I remember correctly this was at about 6:45PM. I assumed a click was a kilometer, and did the math in my head. 2k = 1.25 miles. I knew as long as I kept running, I would just make the cutoff!
I hear people ahead of me at the aid station cheering! I could see crew and volunteers up the road. The time counted down, and I continued moving forward.
Others along this road where not moving quite as fast. I passed one women who was throwing up yellow fluid. Others were hobbling forward. They knew that it was over for them. I had not given up yet!
I was less than 1k from the station when my calves started cramping up. For the last hour I had been doing the 10 minute miles needed to make the cutoff. I had to get there in 5 minutes or it was over for me as well! I kept running forward, adjusting my stride for my useless calves. All of a sudden every muscle in my legs seized up at once! My calves, hamstrings, quads. All throbbing. I fell face forward onto the ground, yelling in pain.
As I laid there on the ground, I knew my race was done as well. I looked at my watch, time had ran out.
Two other athletes helped me onto my feet. They were walking and helped me along for a bit.
I eventually made it into the aid station just a few minutes after 7PM and again fell to the ground. My calves were pulsing, my arches were cramping, as were my hamstrings and quads.
Failure is not a problem. Not trying is. And damn it, I tried!
After Desi and I left the aid station, we stayed in town for a couple hours. We stopped at a cafe and bought some food. I managed to eat half a veggie wrap. Sitting in the car felt good, however if I tried to get out to come into the cafe I would get nauseous. Riding in the car made me nauseous (i get motion sick easily) as well so we went to a park and laid on the grass for a bit. When you run your core temperature is rising, so your body is working to keep you cool. However when you suddenly stop running, for a period of time your body will continue to cool you. This is why athletes become so cold after longer events. I had a sleeping bag wrapped around me to stay warm.
Once I felt I could handle the 1.5 hour car ride back to our campsite we headed out of Grande Cache. We had to stop two or three times because I would feel like throwing up. After a few stops I finally did empty out my stomach, and instantly felt better!
So, what went wrong?
Well, the main and obvious issue is that I did the second stage two slowly. If I would have just ran the stage 10% faster I would have finished 40 minutes sooner, and would not have been forced to push myself so hard during the end of stage 3. If I would have been able to cruise in at a slow jog, I would have gotten there still able to run and walk. Would I have finished the race? We will never know.
Looking at the results, there was over 100 people whose adventure ended at the same location as it did for me, around 70 people that DNFed at an aid station or emergency aid station prior to that, and only 20 people that continued on into stage 4 that did not finish the entire race. 236 of the 369 starters did not complete the course!
I am obviously not completely happy with the results. I did not even try my hardest. I DNFed because I took it too easy going out and lost too much time! It was a silly mistake that never should have happened.
Ironically, the week after the race, I read this quote from my friend Jesse Scott.
The sting of a DNF doesn't come from the failed attempt at greatness, but rather the realization after the fact that we had more to give before quitting. If we can say without a shadow of a doubt that we gave it all before giving up, then there's no failure at all.Unfortunately, I feel the sting of a DNF. I was running the Canadian Death Race and seemed to be in denial about experiencing suffering. I ran the first 10 hours too slow. I know that being a runner is to be a student of pain. Yet for some reason, I tried to avoid it. It was not until I was forced with the choice of suffering or not making a cut off that I embraced it.
Many people have supported me over this summer as I prepared for the CDR. Most importantly were my new wife Desi, and David Sypniewski. I do feel like I let them down by not finishing the race, since they gave me so much, and it was just up to me to go through with it.
Desi puts up with me training 10-20 hours a week, me constantly talking to her about running and her pretending to be interested, and helping out at these silly races I do. I could not have done any of my ultras without her.
SKORA supports me in so many ways. From the constant encouragement and friendship of the people at the brand to hiring me as their Social Media Coordinator.
I would also like to thank Ultimate Direction for supplying me with some killer gear! I used their Fastdraw handhelds and the Highline pack.
Thanks to Edward and Sons for supplying me with vegan gummy bears to eat during the race! During the event I drank to thirst and ate gummy bears and raisins!
Running Food also supplies me with their micro milled chia seeds. I drink these almost every single day, either with water or in my morning smoothies.
More photos for your viewing pleasure :)
|The Beaver Boardwalk in Hinton, AB|
|Hot spring swimming pools|
|The view from our cabin, the only night in two weeks we did not camp|
|Poutine. A very Canadian food, apparently|