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All posts for the month August, 2011

My running plans for this season originally did not include the Death Race. The Scorched Sole and vacation planning gave me an excuse to to change things around and include it in the schedule.

I did have a good year of training between the last Death Race. I ran some other ultra’s, got lucky  and I learned much. As much as a know-it-all can learn in a year anyway.

The weather in Grande Cache was very wet leading up to the race. I knew that the trail conditions would be very poor. Lots of mud, grime and slick sections to play on. The night before the race, the weather called for a 2 degree temperature at the start with a bit of rain and a high of 18. It’s good to have some nominal thing like weather to think about at the last minute because it keeps your mind off the real issue – running 125 km of trail over three mountains with 17,000′ of elevation gain. Keep that information as far away from your frontal lobes as possible.

There are many logistical issues to deal with on long races, especially remote, trail or mountain races. You need to know where the creeks are for water. How long in distance and time between them. Where the river crossings are for shoe changes. What clothes will you need where. How to deal with rain and snow. You develop a plan for sodium, potassium, calories, water and everything else you need to keep you alive.  So the choice between shorts and pants for race morning was enormous.The start of an ultra is always interesting. Generally you have to check in early and do ‘hurry up and wait’. Everyone was checking out the other 499 soloists, trying to guess which 7 in 10 would drop. Can you tell by their gear? Their physique? Perhaps its the gleam in their eye. You also have a thousand relayers to deal with so jockeying for the front of the line is an ordeal. We listened to the mayor babble, Oh Canada was sung and then we were out running.My plan differed from previous years. There is about 3 km of pavement and open trail at the start to get the huge crowd of racers spread out before you hit the single track on the first leg. The single track is very windy, root ridden and there are lots of mud pits to move around. It makes it really hard to move at any other pace than that of the pack. Instead of getting jambed up with the pack, I decided to break the most important rule of the ultra, most especially when co-mingled with relayers, and front run fast to hit the narrow trail near first.This rule is a good rule. Fast front running starts you burning energy at a rate that is unsustainable and puts you in a fast rather than far mindset. One cannot underestimate the importance of this. I have in the past and spent hours literally crawling the muddy trail while experiencing strange hallucinations. If I had enemies, I would not wish that hell on them.

Technical trail training helped a lot once I hit the single track. I was able to pick lines through the trees, around muddy sections and through bogs efficiently and while maintaining dry feet. Important, as I did not want wet feet this early nor the lost time of a shoe change at the first aid station. Big deal – place in the race doesn’t matter for the first 80 km anyway.

I hit the first aid station running, spent less than a minute trying to find my crew, swapped water bottles, threw on my pack and started up the trail to Flood mountain. The trail up Flood is muddy and steep but you side-hill along. At one point a couple four-wheelers  carrying a film crew wanted to pass me. As I moved into the brush for the second four-wheeler, the driver miscalculated the grade and it started to rollover kind of side-ways but almost over backward. I grabbed the front right tire and held on for dear life to keep them from going over but there was too much leverage and all I was able to do was slow their rollover. They rolled off the trail into thick and steep terrain. I immediately thought the guy in the back was dead and the driver at least injured. I tried to go around to get them out but I had to hang onto the machine to keep it from crushing them.

I was thinking about how I was going to call a helicopter or something when another runner came and helped.  We got them clear, checked them out and they both seemed ok. Thank god. I resumed on trail as I knew there was a checkpoint a couple kilometers up where I could inform race support.

I made my way over Flood Mountain them back down into the swamps between and then up over Grande mountain. Going up Grande, there was a hidden medic check in. I used my usual line ‘drinking lots, peeing lots, feel great and no ibuprofen’ as I ran in and they just waived me through.

Up on Grande Mt with Hamel in the background

Over Grande and back down the pole line to town. Along some city streets and into the second aid station. I have a rigorous fueling and hydration plan that I stick to on 15 minute intervals but for some reason a can of Red Bull called to me. Subliminal messages from ads? What kind of an aid station has Red Bull anyway? The Death Race. I downed two in about 60 seconds.

Rhonda looked at me and said “Well?”
“Well what?”
“Get running.”As predictably as children leave the lights on in the basement, I hit a low. It generally comes hard for the first time at about 50-60 km’s. This was accompanied by some dizziness. Possibly from the uncalled for heat. Lows make you go slow and the key to an ultra is managing them. I powered through it until the wicked fast Tracy Garneau caught me. We played leap frog for a bit, chatted and she left me lying in a creek trying to cool off.I didn’t stop long, ran about 6 km’s keeping her in sight and then stood in a waterfall on the side of the highway about one km out from the aid station. Brain freeze. Now run!I entered the aid station at three soaked. My crew informed me that a friend had dropped. I changed shoes and headed up the biggest mountain in the race – Hamel. There is an emergency aid station that supplies water at the summit but for some reason, on the way up something told me not to count on it. I kept my water bottle with Hunter blend full and filled a zip lock bag full from a creek just before I went over the first ridge. I filled my stomach as well. I drank out of the ziplock for a while until I hit  the creeks source – a tailings/holding pond from the coal mine. I reasoned that heavy metal poisoning wouldn’t kill me at least until the race was done so I continued to sip from the ziplock bag every 15 minutes until I hit the top and checked in at the aid station.

“Where’s your water?”
“We don’t have any.”

Ok then. Down the mountain, along the side of Ambler mountain, through some clear cuts around a swamp and into Ambler emergency aid station. I dropped my pack, ran the 5 km loop, back to the aid station and then the 8 km to the 4th aid station. Running along the highway for the last click I followed the trail markers to the edge of a river where the bridge was out. Assuming the marker on the other side meant to cross it, I did. Damn – another shoe change. That’s like 3 minutes.

Aid station 4 was a blast. At least I think it was but I actually don’t remember it. I think I drank another Red Bull.

I entered leg 5 in the light. It was pouring rain and I loved it. The first 10 km is very narrow single track and overgrown. This was perfect as I kept cool with the water soaking me from the foliage. I love single track, especially root ridden. It makes such beautiful running. Stepping, leaping, dodging. Primal, I suppose. Not quite as primal as handing your DeathRace coin to the Grim Reaper and jumping into the jet boat for the ride across but I made up for it by dunking my upper half in the Sulpher River and sucking back half a liter of dirty river water.

I’m convinced that a lifetime of drinking creek water has built near immunity to the beasties that live in it. However Nietzsche once said that “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

The 1000′ ascent out of the river valley was wonderful. Wet, muddy and slippery. As I crested the top, it got full dark. Knowing I was only an hour or so from the finish let me pick up the pace (yes – it’s a mental game).  I ran as fast as I could given some very sore quads, hamstrings and calves until the trail took a hard left. I ran for another km then the trail took another hard left. Then another 2 km and another hard left. Another km and another hard left. I’m good at route finding and knowing the trail and I had not run the same section of trail twice.

I was positive space-time had curved in on itself and I had found either a worm-hole or some other undiscovered phenomenon of our universe.  But this was an ultra, not a physics lab so I kept running.

The finish was strange. I popped out of the bush in the pitch dark, fog and steady rain and ran through the crowd and the Death Fest stage. I felt like an animal coming in from the wilderness. Something about those frontal lobes again or at least the lack of their proper function.

Anyway – 15:01:04 –  6th place

15:03:59 with a few minutes removed for the Jet Boat ride

Garnet Fraser from PG put down a spectacular first go with a 17:28 finish. Amazing.
Adrian Smith from PG also had a very successful first attempt with a 22:50 finish. I am so proud of these guys!
A huge thanks to my aid team. Completing this race was not possible without their help.