The Canadian Death Race website describes the course as 125 K (77 miles) with 17,000 feet of elevation gain and it isn't much longer or hillier than that. The views of from the Canadian Rockies outside Grande Cache, Alberta are fantastic although we didn't see any grizzlies or mountain lions. My running partner Gabe and I stayed together for the whole race, finishing in 21 hours and change, still able to walk and talk. We were pretty happy and then the race people told us only ten percent of first time solo runners finish at all and we were even happier and then we very, very hungry.
The night before the race we stayed in tent-city, which is a public park set aside for racers and crew to camp in since the town of Grande Cache doesn't have anywhere near enough housing to accommodate the influx of thousands of people over the August long weekend. Why is it 'August long weekend'? I had no idea either but apparently in Canada there's a long weekend every month. Seriously.
When we stopped to pick up snacks at the grocery store the cashier asked whether we were in town for the race. The same thing happened at the drug store. At five in the morning, as we ran back into town toward the finish people cheered from under blankets on a few porches. The entire town of Grande Cache knows about and supports this race and the residents are interested in whether you're running solo or on a relay team. Most racers run on relay teams and solo runners are considered brave, tough, and maybe a little crazy.
We planned for the worst, in terms of race support, because we traveled too far to wind up quitting over gear or aid station problems. It turned out to be a good decision since the aid stations consisted of four water stops with water and interestingly mixed Gatorade, some granola bars, and some lunch box size fruit cups. The person staffing each of these was invariable friendly and usually able to tell us which of the two jugs on the table contained plain water. Everyone was friendly. Other relay teams we'd met on earlier sections began cheering for us as we came into aid station areas calling out “go Ohio couple”! We're not a couple but we didn't care, strangers cheering you on feels good.
As we were beginning section 2, where the course ascends rapidly for several miles, we met one of the guys on the barefoot team. Not Vibrams, barefoot. He did have on a couple layers and a nice race pack and a set of trekking poles. We jokingly offered to trade him shoes for trekking poles since they seemed to be all the rage. He laughed and then told us politely that we were absolutely crazy trying to run the whole course solo without trekking poles. He was in the rockies barefoot but we were crazy. Then he took off up the mountain. On a side note, though, trekking poles do require practice, there were pieces of broken trekking poles along all the steeper descents and abandoned bent poles at aid stations.
So what else did we learn that could be useful to other people? Creeks that run through peat bogs on mountain saddles in 23 mile aids station gaps are safe to drink out of, its been over two weeks now so I'm sure. Vega brand orange gel does not appeal to me flavor wise but when I ate the one I found on the trail it sat well in my tummy. Bring a lot of food and spare electrolytes and Gin-gins if you run this or anything with a whole lot of hill. All that up and down beats up a number of systems. Without the Gin-gins I'm not so sure I could have kept nutrition in. I decline to address rumors that I raced after spending a week on antibiotics for strep throat but I will say that should you ever make such a decision, and should it effect your ability to swallow and should gels get real unappealing, you can squirt a couple into your water bottle and shake it up and it works out pretty well IF they're fruit flavored.
If you do run this race, look at the time cut offs closely! If you're not way the heck ahead on the first one or two then you're not going to finish the race. The time cut offs don't make sense (to me anyhow) but the race tracks runners and splits very well so you can look up the splits for solo runners who finished in previous years to get a better idea of where you need to be when. Gabe and I made one of the cut offs by less than 45 minutes and we thought we were moving pretty well! Spend a whole lot of time on deadlifts and hill repeats if you want to get through these kinds of 3-6 mile ascents and descents. Don't lose the damn coin for the boat near the end (people do, we didn't). You will get disqualified and removed from the course AFTER running most of it and getting over all three mountains. They are serious about that, very serious eh.
Here's some more really helpful, learn from others' mistakes if you can type info; when its late at night and you're tired and low on calories and its getting real cold, put on your rain jacket and zip it up. During the day, when you're not doing much or when you're rested and fed, you can tell when you're getting hypothermic. At three in the morning I couldn't really tell, I just thought I was really tired, I just thought if I lay down next to the trail for a few minutes I'd feel much better. Suddenly I remembered that at pre-race they told us a guy did that and hikers found him on the side of the trail the next day, severely hypothermic, dehydrated and delusional.
Nothing waterproof breathes well no matter what the label says, so if you can manage to keep moving, you'll get much warmer in your rain jacket even if its really thin. I was still tired once I got warm but not sleepy and I suddenly had more interest in running and drinking my water/gel mix. Set this information in your mind well so you'll remember it because if you're still reading this right now then there's a reasonable chance cold night time running is in your future.
The last part of the race that sticks with me, other than the finish, was seeing what I was dreaming as I shuffled along. I figured out that the huge, black horse wasn't there because nobody would let a ten year old girl go riding at three in the morning and anyhow my headlamp didn't reach that far. I figured it out all on my own and it entertained the heck out of Gabe when I explained how that proved I was mentally okay but next time I run a race like this I think I'll find a way to get more sleep the night before!