*photo by Alan Lam photography
In the weeks leading up to the 20th edition of the Canadian death race All reports of trail conditions were muddy, wet and more puddles than you can handle. The rain just kept coming down for weeks. I was checking the weather forecast religiously in those final days hoping for a drier more favorable weather forecast for the race weekend. 60% chance of rain Friday and Saturday, I now had no hopes of having a nice, dry course.
We arrived in Grande Cache Friday afternoon set up camp in tent city and then headed down to the expo to see friends, pick up my race kit and drop off my Amber loop bag (which was never to be seen again, RIP blue Reebok long sleeve)
After the blister fiasco at Sinister I was more determined than ever keep my feet dry, finish the death race and earn myself an ultra belt buckle this year.
I was not nearly as nervous about this race as I was about sinister seven. Maybe it’s because I had completed the race last year and I knew I could do the distance or maybe it was because I was more determined than ever after my 100 mile failure, either way I felt ready and excited for this course.
Saturday Morning we get up at 6:15am
I have my traditional tea and oatmeal breakfast. I get dressed and Mike begins his job as crew chief. He lubes up my feet with Penaten cream before I put my socks on for the day. Tighten the shoes, attach the bib, check for the coin and timing chip. I Grab my pack and my poles and we head to the start line. Arriving about 15 minutes before the race. I see friends at the start line and then of course the ceremonial start line bathroom break before go time. The atmosphere is electric. everywhere I look I see runners in hydro pack, trail shoes, brightly coloured clothing and goodr sunglasses. Many of these are my friends. I am Excited to run with so many I know and look up to.
Leg 1 19km
The race starts out with a quick run up the road then at the top of the hill you turn around and run back through the start line before heading out to the highway and then out of town onto the trails where the mud and endless puddles began. Within 2km you are onto trails and I remembered last year when Tony ran through a large puddle that the depth of the puddle can be deceiving. Trying to follow behind others but then the bottlenecking begins and you just want to rush past the crowd of people trying to detour around the puddles. Lisa just ahead of me takes a new route. myself and another runner followed behind her only to regret it as I sunk into the muddy water above my knees up to my thighs. So much for staying dry. Now wide awake from the cold water I struggle to catch up to Lisa and she’s soon out of sight. Not to worry as the course is full of people and I’m fortunate to get to run with Tim and Dave doing the marathon and Lynn & Holly also running the ultra. I caught up to Lisa just before Grande Cache lake and we ran the rest of the leg together. She told me her goal was to be 1hr faster this year and I knew she could do it. We came into the transition and I found Mike waiting for me. I grabbed some watermelon and walked over to our spot. He changed my shoes, socks & lubed my feet as he would at every transition this race. Then Out I went already ahead of last year’s pace by several minutes. Unsure of where Lisa was I was out on my own again.
Leg 2 27km
Starts by running out the train tracks and towards the bridge. Then you cut up a hill and through the ditch to the logging road and you start to climb. We climb up starting slowly but goes on for what feels like forever and then you get to a junction with volunteers. Marathon’s go down everyone else goes up. Just before I headed up I saw Tess on her way down. We stopped for a quick hug and we headed off in opposite direction. Not a fun gradual hill but I never ending slog straight up for what feels like forever. You just gotta put your head down and one foot in front of the other until you can see the top. While your head is down make sure to notice the beautiful Alpine flowers and breathe deeply in the intoxicating fresh mountain air.
Once at the top of Flood mountain, you check in and most stop to get a snack and quick selfie with the mailbox. I saw Lisa just heading off and Darren sitting enjoying his summit snack. I quickly took a picture, grabbed a snack, looked around at the gorgeous view. Now slowly descending the mountain and still eating my snack I start off only to be quickly passed by Darren Laird and a friendly ass slap, which seem to be a trend throughout the race with my friends. As he ran away I told him that if I caught him I would give it back and the runner behind us did not know we were friends had the weirdest look on his face and said “well that was presumptuous” after witnessing what appeared to him to be a random ass slapping. I assured him that it was all in good fun and that I was friends with his wife so it was OK. He was happy to hear that it was mainly consensual but agreed that he would not participate in this ritual.
After coming off Flood summit we loop back to where the marathoners had headed down and now it was our turn to join them in slugfest.
Somewhere on my way down bum slide I ran into Robyn and we started running together. We remembered our times running together at BSU last year and reminisced about friends we had in common like the infamous Carl Harvey. Who sure enough his ears must’ve been burning as we know sooner had mentioned his name then he appeared on the trail followed by Britney. We all ran together in a little trail train for several kilometers chatting back-and-forth and having a great time on the trails. Once arriving at the Grande aid station we had all split off by then, some stopping for water and treats others pushing on without rest. Trevor who was volunteering on Leg 2 helped fill my bladder while I grabbed a couple chips and a cup of tailwind for the road. I left the aid station in search of a familiar face and in this instance it was Robyn. I caught her and we ran together until the end of leg 2. We also met Phil Troyer who was being featured in a documentary about death race’s 20th anniversary. I ran into Dean and Hiro On my way to the top of Grande. Another quick summit selfie and we were headed down to power line. Robyn and I matching pace again went down power line and up the other side just as the rain came down. we both decided we didn’t want to get out our rain coats just yet so we made a run for it. We Started off at a good downhill pace but was quickly slowed to a crawl with slick mud and a steep downhill it was a treacherous combination. We were going off the trail in the tall grass as the trail was just one big mud slide with zero traction for your feet, even my grippiest shoes didn’t help. After a few steep, slippery downhills we finally reach the bottom and run our way adjacent to the highway on a small trail finally finding those running legs again . After crossing the highway Brittney, Dean and I fartlekked our way through town to the start/ finish to complete leg 2.
Leg 3 19km
Leg three not being is technical I had opted for a more cushioned pair of Solomons. We run out on three through town again down the highway and onto the dump road. This road heads above the dump and the area is often known for bear sightings.
Sure enough As soon as we cross the highway the volunteers tell us grizzly bear, mother black Bear and cubs have been spotted on this leg. Oh great!! And I’m holding a grilled cheese and wondering if I am now going to be bear bait. I eat my grilled cheese, get myself sorted out and I actually ran most of leg three. I remember feeling amazing (must have been that grilled cheese) and I felt like I was flying on the downhills. I was halfway through leg three when I found Deon and it was the first time since last year‘s race that I’ve seen them. I was so happy to see him and We ran together for many kms chatting about training plans and our lack of OCR lately.
There were a couple course changes this year due to erosion. the new section at the end of 3 was taken out so instead of a 3km technical uphill section with a drastic drop into the transition you have a highway ditch run (The was the course until 2016) I was happy to have the reprieve having done the other version last year and I knew it would help my time. Near the end Deon and I agreed to do the night running together to boost our morale and for safety. We agreed to a 10 minute pit stop and to head back out.
*This is where I need to point out that I am coming into the transition almost an hour earlier than last year and ahead of my timeline that I’d left for Mike.*
I arrive in transition 3/4 and I can’t find anyone for me. I wander around asking people I know if they’d seen mike. It’s so busy there and in my runners haze I’m having trouble finding my tent. Keith feeds me soup and others are searching for Mike (he’d setup a ways down getting stuff my ready and I didn’t see the tent) Finally someone finds him and they bring me over. I am now back on track. I eat my soup, down a bit of coke, change my shirt and get my headlamp on. Out on to 4 ahead of schedule
Leg 4 38km
Dion and I head out onto leg for knowing we have a big beast ahead of us. This leg is the longest and hardest leg of the race. It starts with a 12 km climb via quad roads that eventually lead into switchbacks above the tree line up to the summit. Once at the top of Hamel you are instructed to run down the spine and collect A flag and bring it back to the volunteers. You then run past the ranger station and all the prayer flags blowing in the wind. As Deon and I climbed and climbed and climbed some more we ran into his friend Andrea, Michael Cameron and finally Sean. I am so glad that we stopped at the Hamel bail out to put our coats on because as soon as we were out of the tree line the wind was so strong and at the top it must’ve been at least 70 km an hour winds. You would be trying to walk with your poles and before you could put the pole down it would have shot across your body and almost trip you up. my hood pulled tightly over my head the zipper all the way up. the wind trying to rip through my coat the sound of the wind whipping back-and-forth in my hood was deafening. I thought many times I might be blown off the top of the mountain with the wind gusting even higher still. I made it back off of the spine and could not stop. running as fast as I could to get off the top to make it back into the tree line. I regret forgetting to have gloves for this night leg. I was lucky to had a buff and I used part of my arm sleeve wrapped around my hands for makeshift gloves to keep my hands from freezing in the cold wind. Racing as fast as I could into the tree line I spotted a runner huddled against the side of the rock, fishing for something in his pack. I peered over and noticed a big fuzzy red beard sticking out from underneath a buff covering the racers face. Jeremy? I yelled out “Jen?” He called back “are you all right?” I asked. Jeremy also feeling the effects of cold hands was fishing for some handwarmers from his pack. after retrieving the handwarmers he jumped in line with the rest of our crew as we ran down off the backside of Hamel.
Now Deon, Andrea, Sean, Jeremy and I all ran the never ending 8 km section to the beginning of ambler loop.
Once at the ambler aid station we decided to do the 5 km loop before stopping to enjoy the aid station goodies. Although once we started the loop we realized Jeremy had his own plan and he stopped to pit already. Sean and I let the pack with Andrea and Deon right behind, the 5K loop of ambler consists of about 2 km of flat gravel road followed by 3 km of mud puddle skirting, uphill trails to come back full circle to the aid station where we started. It is here we enjoyed delicious hot chocolate and noodle soup. Thanks to all the volunteers, especially the ones through the night.
After Ambler loop it’s a quick 7km down beaver dam road and then a 3km ditch run to the transition. It took us longer than expected to climb Hamel but the run down Beaver dam was quick. Andrea, Sean and I set a good pace on the run and took a few walk breaks as bladders and stomachs were being easily upset nearing the end of this race. Steve joined the pack and we Fartleked to the bottom of the hill. We ran in single file to the transition area we agreed 15 minutes max before heading out to finish the final leg. We were doing great for time but While in transition we hear about multiple cougar sightings before the boat. We are told you must buddy up to continue, luckily we planned to go out together already. I finish getting ready; more soup, change the socks, fresh shoes feeling great. Thanks mike for drying my shoes so I always had fresh shoes to start each leg.
Leg 5 22km
Deon and I were ready, Sean right behind and this girl, Erin who needed a buddy. We headed out the four of us to complete the final leg. After a couple km we catch another soloist moving slower than our pace. Sean falls back to say with her so she’s not alone. We keep pushing on for what feels like forever until we finally reach Split rock. A large rock that you are able to pass through, like a right of passage. Just after passing through the rock you pop out to see the checkpoint and then just down the hill the boat!!!
We have made it to the boat and we are still ahead of schedule, heck yeah!!
When you reach the boat you must give up your coin to the cherron (grim reaper) if you miss the cut off or you don’t have your coin you can not cross and therefore you can not finish the race.
Last year Deon worked so hard but missed the last boat. This year it was my privilege to let him get on the boat first. We were joined by Matt Kidd (an OCR buddy) and 2 other solos. The boat ride across takes mere seconds and was over in the blink of an eye.
On the other side Deon asks me “is this where the climb starts on the other side?” I repeat I’m not sure I kind of forget. I think I mentally blocked this hill because we climbed and climbed and climbed for what felt like forever we looked up and saw a couple of headlamps ahead of us and they were still climbing as well. The climb went on and on and on. Finally flattening out a little bit only to turn and climb some more. I would think we MUST BE ALMOST AT THE TOP and repeat THAT thought over in my head about 100 times. We finally reach some flat ground but we are not really running much anymore. Skirting around numerous puddles too many to count. Taking up all the energy I had. Then you would start to see things in the darkness Is that a white tent?? Did you see that?? *** gets closer *** Oh it’s just a reflection in a puddle, never mind.
I still had a sub 23 hour goal in mind so I trudged along ahead of the boys and by day break I finally could see the tree of soles. I knew it was just a few kilometres to the finish.
Finally hitting the bottom of the dirt road and seeing Keri waiting there I knew I was getting close now. I started doing Fartleks again until I reached the bottom of the hill. Just one more up hill climb I told myself, but that road seems to go on F.OR.E.V.E.R. finally I got to the top of the hill and could see town. I quickly reached the volunteers by the road crossing and after some slight disorientation I realized I only had a few blocks to the finish line. once I had cross the road I could see it was pretty much all downhill to the finish. I checked my watch with 12 minutes to go until my goal time I started running, the steps coming quicker and quicker. I couldn’t believe I was still running after 125 km and almost 23 hours on my feet but I was running, running towards the finish line. Running towards my goal and running towards my husband, my family those who had been out there from the very beginning. I sprinted into the finish with a big FUCK YEAH
22:50:28 – 35 minutes faster than last year in the muddiest conditions they’ve had in 20 years.
I’m very happy with my time and proud to earn this special 20th edition belt buckle. I really couldn’t do it without the love and support of my family. My amazing crew chief and race husband Mike who caters to all my needs and helps my race to run seamlessly behind the scenes. Well on to the next adventure, see you kids at Blackspur Ultra as we finish off the 2019 Sinister triple series. Until then go forth and do great things
* all photos taken by myself, family, friends, Alan Lam photography and Raven eye photography