Well – it took 4 years and two other attempts but I managed to complete the Canadian DeathRace this year.It’s a tough race. First, there is the distance of 125 km’s. Second, the elevation. It starts at 4000 feet and the total gain and loss is over 17,000 feet. There are three mountains. Third, there is the trail. The race is almost completely on rough trail. There are lots of sections of large boulders, mud and dirt. Many areas are so steep and rough that when you are running flat out you are only going 2-3 km/hr. Other parts of the trail are single track, root ridden and heavily overgrown. Treacherous, especially at night.
This year was a very different race for me. You get stupid when you run a long way so I had built a timing chart breaking down the legs to make the 24 hour deadline for finish. I managed to hit the first leg (19 km’s) on target. With the mass start, people cheering and all the relay teams out of the gate you want to run faster. I kept my pace down so as not to burn out early.
Leg two has two mountains and a lot of nasty trail. Mentally, it is tough because your only 46 km’s in and your thinking ‘not even half way yet’. There is a downhill section that leads you back to town. It’s steep and full of grapefruit sized boulders. Nasty. You burn your quads and almost trip every two steps. The tendon the front of my left ankle start to burn and hurt bad. I felt like hell at the end of leg two but I still was a bit ahead of schedule.
Leg three is rolling and along the river. I recovered a bit on this leg. I managed to pass some soloist and some relayers. I only threw up three times over the 21 km’s but I was still ahead of schedule.
Leg four is the longest and the highest. It’s 38 km’s and you go over a 7000′ mountain. You start climbing immediately and run a single hill up the mountain for about two and half hours. As I went up, I started feeling better and better. At the top, I ran the ridge and tried to motivate other runners. Many soloists drop out on Mt Hamel. I picked up my pace on the downhill. Downhill is definitely my weakest area as a runner so this helped my mental state.
I came into the forth aid station and I noticed some deathly looking grimaces from soloists and relayers alike – so I tried to dance a little jig. The dancing gene is noticeably absent from the Hunter family – not so good, especially after 103km’s… I was surprised to notice my time on leg four was 5:22 – well under the 8 hours I had allotted myself.
I changed shoes and threw on the headlamp. When I started leg five I found I couldn’t really walk as my knees, hips and ankle had seized up. Luckily, the trail goes up steeply for about two km’s. This let me loosen up again.
Leg five is a hard one but it was a lot of fun. I ran the single track, dirt trail up and along the mountainside into the night. Running with a headlamp on such a narrow and rough trail in the dark keeps you busy. I got to the river and passed the coin I had been carrying for 111 km’s to the ferry man (who, incidentally, is dressed as the grim reaper). I jumped in the jet boat and they got me across the river.
On the far side of the river, I was pleased to find about 10 km’s of uphill. I passed a runner on a steep slope that I had been neck in neck with most of the race. I could see the light from his headlamp behind me in the dark. It kept me going until I took a good fall. I broke my eye guards and cut my knee. I got it back together just as he caught me but since we were on an upslope I managed to pulled ahead again.
I continued to run into the night feeling like I could just keep going forever. As my friend Bob says – the worse it gets the happier you need to be.
Suddenly, I was running on pavement, two blocks from the finish line. The people of Grande Cache were out in their front yards cheering. I ran onto someone’s lawn to high five a kid that was up cheering through the night, turned a corner and then I saw the finish line and clock. I had no idea what time it was nor my pace as the battery in the GPS watch had died.
Thinking I was perhaps at the 22 hour point, I was shocked to see 16:17 on the clock. I was convinced that something was wrong with the clock.
What the hell? Stunned – it took me a second to realize where I was and that the clock was right. So I pumped up the pace and cranked though. My overall finish time was 16:15 (they deduct the jet boat ride across the river).
This year’s race times were unbelievable. Hal Koerner from the US took first and broke the course record by over an hour. This also happened to be his 100th ultra-marathon. Ellie Greenwood from Banff took second and also broke the course record. I ran with Ellie in June at the Scorched Sole Ultra in Kelowna and let me tell you, she is fast.
Fellow Prince George runner Kevin Grigg took 5th.
Out of the 418 soloists, 147 people finished and I placed 10th.
I had spectacular support from my friends and family this year in both training and at the actual race as an aid team. They packed shoes, food and water to the four allowed aid stations. Among other things, they lanced blisters and fed me. I could not have finished thisrace without their support.