It’s hard to know where to start, I have so much I want to talk about. The beginning is usually the easiest/best place to start though.
When we decided to do the Canadian Death Race (CDR)admittedly we were naive and maybe even a touch arrogant, oh and drunk. When I started to do some research I got a little nervous but somehow convinced my that the 65% failure rate was because people didn’t train properly or they got injured. Dan never once thought this was something we couldn’t do and his self belief helped goad mine along.
Dan hardly looked at anything CDR, didn’t want to stress himself about things he couldn’t change or control, I on the hand looked at everything and anything. Either way neither of us were prepared for what was about to happen.
We flew direct from Toronto to Edmonton early Thursday morning jumped in our rental car and headed straight for Grande Cache. It’s not the prettiest drive but we were impressed with the scenery none the less. I developed a stomach ache looking at all the mountains, I really wasn’t sure what we were thinking when we thought we could do this.
Grande Cache is tiny. A very “walkable” town and if you don’t see something you’re looking for its because it’s not there. The people of G.C. were lovely and accommodating and seem to enjoy hosting the CDR. There was a sign as we entered town stating “2 more sleeps til the CDR”. People had CDR flags in their windows and flying from their trucks, it was an awesome sight. After our tour of “town” picking up supplies we set ourselves the task of organising our gear for Saturday.
I’m happy we did this Thursday as we made some discoveries such as I didn’t have the correct batteries for my Garmin’s battery pack and we had forgotten the bag for the Amber Loop drop (even though it was on the list.) That night we celebrated Dan’s birthday with a pint of beer, since his actual birthday was the next day and he didn’t want to drink anything but water.
Friday morning we rounded up all the bits and pieces we seemed to be missing, and then it was time to pick up our race kits. Race kit pick up is held in the arena at the Rec-center. It was very efficient, you line up in your designated line (Soloist K-Z), showed your ID was given a bag and off you go. The bag contained the usual stuff such as a race t-shirt, socks, a water bottle and some sample goodies, but most importantly it had an envelope with your name on it. In the envelope was you bib #, racer ID band, timing chip and CDR coin. I’ve never had so much stuff to be responsible for in a race! There was also a parking pass for Lucas to get into all the transition areas (TA).
Speaking of Lucas he had made it to town, so we met up with him and drove to all the TA’s so he’d know where to go. This freaked me out, it was weird because this race heads north out of town and yet TA 1 was south of town. TA 2 is in town, ok. TA 3 way north of town and TA 4 a little closer but still north, but to finish the race you run into town from the south.
Anyway back in town we helped Lucas set up in tent city. I was so happy we were not having to camp, it was cold at night (3-6 degrees Celsius) and it was freaking windy, all the time. It would’ve been tough to put the tent up in that wind without any help.
Next was a “team” meeting where we showed Lucas our gear and let him know what we expected of him. Thankfully Lucas is a very athletic guy himself so he was very understanding of our idiosyncracies.
Our race kit included the CDR pasta dinner, so for the first and most likely the last time we hit up the pasta dinner…at what seemed like the same time as everyone else. Poor Dan had to have plain pasta as the sauces contained peppers, which he can’t eat (especially prior to a run). We had to shovel our food down to make sure we made it to the “mandatory meeting”. It was an hour and 10 mins of sitting on the grass in the cold to be given no information that we didn’t already know. The race founder seemed to enjoy giving his presentation though, I think he was trying to “pump us up” but I was too cold to focus. Finally it was bed time, I felt strangely calm and drifted off without any trouble. I’m not known for sleeping well the night before races, so I wasn’t really surprised when I was wide awake 3:30am (still managed a solid 5 and half hours!) I tried to stay quiet since our alarm wasn’t set to go off until 6, but by 5:30 I could tell Dan wasn’t sleeping either, so we ended up chatting until the alarm.
We carried out our usual pre-race rituals and headed to the start at around 7am, we still had to check in there and activate our chips. It was sunny and cool, perfect running conditions. At 7:50am O Canada was sung and we were paraded through the finish to the official start line. The military had some runners in the even this year and they brought a Howitzer to start the race off with. I didn’t know what that was, it’s a cannon for anyone else wondering and it’s also a very effective way to start a race!
The first 5km of the race loops through town then north on the highway, looping back on yourself on an ATV trail and then with a 120km to go you hit the trails! Leg 1 is 19km and is considered to be “easy”, it’s not. G.C. has had a lot of rain this year which apparently made this leg messier than usual, which of course created havoc for us runners, continuous bottle necks because of everyone trying to get around mud holes/pits. There were always a few brave souls who would try to go through, but they never got to the other side any faster so we played it safe and tried to go around. Dan managed to lose a shoe and of course there is no where to even attempt to sit and clean up you foot so he just stuck his shoe back on and sucked it up. We both also managed to run into barbed wire?!?! The first 10km or so of trails were quite technical and muddy and lot’s of ups but we were rewarded with some great downs. Finally the trail spits you out at the cement plant south of town (finally south!) and you follow the ATV trail along the banks of the beautiful Grande Cache Lake, then onto a gravel road (finally a chance to pass!) Except I managed to fall, not a little trip and fall over, I went down hard. So hard that it knocked the wind out of me and I couldn’t get up. I jarred my left shoulder and it hurt so bad my whole arm was tingling. I thought I had dislocated it or broke my clavicle, but I slowly managed to make may way to my feet and started walking forwards. I was having trouble catching my breath, but assured Dan I was ok. We finally began to run again and I was relieved that I felt ok running, my knees were bloody nothing to worry about…SMACK!! I fell again! Hard on my left side, but this time I jumped straight up and started yelling at myself to pull my self together. I literally yelled “pull yourself together woman”, I don’t know what the people around me thought, Dan thought he was watching me crack up, but that was it, all I needed. We got back into a trail and I settled down. We could start to hear the TA noise and cheering so I kicked up a little, we crossed a small river and then popped out of the trail to be faced with hundreds of cheering people. We couldn’t help but grin. Lucas spotted us while we checked in (thank goodness) and showed us to where he had set up two chairs, our change of shoes in front and our socks and food for leg 2. He cleaned up my knees while I put on a clean t-shirt (not a planned change but the after my falls it needed to be done). We made one crucial error here, Lucas wasn’t able to park anywhere close to where he was able to set up and there was a lot to carry and only 1 litre of water arrived with our stuff. Lucas topped up Dan’s water then offered to go to the car for more, but I didn’t think it was a big deal, I still had water and Dan’s was nearly full. We also had our Powerade and eLoad and I had an ice coffee in my hand, I just wanted to get going.
Leg 2 is the most technical and many will argue the hardest. We would be summiting twice and traversing something called slugfest. The temperature had risen to 23 and it was still very sunny. The track going up Flood Mt started out as a wide ATV trail so it was pretty good terrain but it was up, up, up. Dan was struggling to catch his breath and needed to stop and sometimes sit to get it back. I was worrying a little about our pace and kept pushing to move forward no matter how slow. To actually summit Flood we ascended a goat path (not well maintained let me tell you), crawling probably would’ve been easier. Once we checked in at the top we took a little break and enjoyed the breeze. I told Dan that we were really going to have to pick up the pace if we wanted to get this done. He told me he’d try but the altitude was getting to him, plus he was almost out of water. I told him not worry that I still had lots (a lie) and to get going. The descent from Flood was on an ATV trail and we were actually able to run, but then we hit slugfest. Slugfest is some straight downs followed by some straight ups and then repeat. The terrain is muddy single track covered with roots and rocks, flanked by tress and thorny plants. It was as bad as we had heard, there was no running for us. I can’t tell you how long it is but it felt longer than it actually is. This is where Dan took his first (and only) fall, on one of the straight downs. It was actually a somersault. I don’t know how he didn’t damage himself, but it did make his left calf cramp so bad that I had to go back up to massage it for him. We eventually got him upright, attempted to clean the clumps of dirt off and carried on, with only a few more stops to empty the mud out of his shoes.
At this point I was really concerned with our pace, we needed to go faster but we just couldn’t. Then I ran out of water. The Powerade and ice coffee were already gone. There was nothing we could do but keep moving forward. Thankfully I spotted the 32km marker (there weren’t many km markers) and smiled because I knew the emergency aid station was 4km away. We emerged from slugfest which is when Dan’s water ran out and he finished the last of his eLoad mix. On our way to the aid station we passed some streams and saw some people filling up their packs from them, but neither of us wanted to risk it without water purification tablets and I knew we were so close to the aid station (I should mention now that this aid station has been known to run out of water and people to have to wait for more to be delivered). When we finally arrived at the aid station, there was water, and amazing volunteers, who removed our packs filled the water, filled our empty bottles with Gatorade and were just generally trying to keep all our spirits up. They were also stopping people who had filled up in the streams because apparently it was contaminated this year (phew!). It was still 3km to the summit of Grande Mt, the climb was steep but along a road so we just needed to keep moving forward (always with the moving forward!). And forward I went, I put my head down and started powering up the mountain, eventually I turned to say something to Dan but he wasn’t there, I waited a second and he eventually popped into view and waved at me to keep going. So I did. As I climbed I tried to figure out in my head if I took off without Dan would I make the 3rd cut-off. Thankfully I’d written myself notes and when I summited Grande Mt I took them out to review while I ate something. It was 3:10pm our original plan had us getting back to town at 3:45pm, according to the volunteers at the check in it was 6km to town, and it took the lead runners just over an hour. Even if I managed to make it down in an hour, I still needed to eat something substantial at TA 2 and change at least my shoes, plus shirt…that would leave me about 2 and a half hours to run leg 3 (21km). I decided to wait for Dan, quite frankly the odds of me making the 3rd cut off were not in my favour and the truth was I didn’t want to leave Dan on the side of mountain, especially knowing he wasn’t feeling great, I mean I’m his wife too, not just a running partner. While I waited for Dan one of the volunteers offered me a beer, I politely declined seeing as I was going to be descending something called the power line and I was getting hungary. Dan was visibly annoyed when he saw me waiting for me but once I explained the math he understood. I texted Lucas that we’d be finished after this leg while Dan was using the bathroom (big tree on the flattest section we could find). Lucas texted back (while I was using the big tree) that we would discuss this once we arrived. Descending Grande was very steep I was happy for my poles, but I loved it. Dan commented that he had no idea he’d married a billy-goat! Half way down I decided that I would give leg 3 a go even though I would time-out. I just didn’t feel I was finished, plus I was still having fun. I told Dan my plan and he said he wasn’t interested in running leg 3 and that I should go ahead, but we were too close to town, and I really wanted to finish the leg together. So then I did what he really hates, I pushed him to run when he didn’t want to and lied to him about distances!! I don’t even feel bad about this and I’m sure Dan will even thank me one day for forcing him to finish strong.
TA 2 is at the start/finish so we got “announced” as we checked in and given “props” for coming all the way from Toronto. Dan told Lucas to take care of me and get me back out. And so he did, shoe and shirt change, and our pizza!! It wasn’t the best pizza in the world but it filled me up and that was what I needed, and then I was told to get moving (hey that’s my line!). I left TA 2 at 4:50pm I had exactly 2 hours and 10 minutes to cover 21km (my best half marathon is 2:11), but I set off like a woman on a mission, until I hit the toboggan hill, my quads were still screaming from descending Grande and I tried to go fast but I was sure I wasn’t, especially as the girl in front of me got further and further away. (I eventually realized she must have been a relay runner, she wasn’t even carrying water!) Next I had to cross the highway and run around a gate that said “DO NOT ENTER” (thanks volunteers, never would have found that on my own!) The gate by the way is for the town landfill, that’s right run right past the landfill, well actually I was walking because it a massive hill! All I could think was what better place to meet a bear, or rabid racoon? Whatever as soon as it flattened out I booked it (or what I thought was booking it). I actually got into quite a groove as this section of the course is a lot of flat and some downs (don’t be fooled there are always ups too!) But then I nearly fell, I have know idea how I stayed up right, but the terrain had turned to very loose rock and boulders, I had to pay attention now. I really thought I was going fast but relay runners kept passing me, but then I passed a few soloist. I met up with Christine, another soloist who had successfully completed last year, I asked how much further but she couldn’t really remember, so we just put our heads down and kept going forward. My watch (and Christine’s) eventually beeped that it was 7pm, the cut-off. According to the ATV volunteers we’d just passed we still had 6km to go. Christine was fatigued and couldn’t run anymore so I decided to stay and walked with her to TA 3. We had also passed some very fresh bear skat, so we were both a little nervous. I actually found a bear banger (without the cartridge) on route (worth $30) so I’ll be prepared next time I trail run with bears. About 2km from the TA Christine’s crew came and picked her up, I was a little perturbed as they didn’t offer me a ride (not that I would’ve taken it). As they drove off I started running again and eventually I saw two men walking toward me, one in an orange hoodie and couldn’t help but smile. When we finally met they told me I looked awesome and with the boys beside me I ran into my final check point and surrendered my coin and timing chip. My annoyance with Christine disappeared while Lucas took care of me, taking off my shoes, cleaning my feet and feeding me. Some of the other racers were vocally jealous and I can understand why. Lucas you really were the best crew ever!
So our Death Race was over. We have learnt so much from this experience (which I will fill you in on later). I had such a great time, with no regrets. I’d love to tell you that we went out and cheered racers at the finish line, but we were exhausted. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of torrential rain, I thought of all the runners still out there and snuggled down under the covers, happy to be inside…and in bed. By the way when we left town the sign read “363 more sleeps til the CDR”!