It’s been just over a week since I finished my huge goal of 2018, the one that pushed me out of bed at 4:15am so I could be on the trails 2 hours before work. The one that scared me into chasing my friends in the Sunrise Striders training group up steep hill repeats, gasping for breath but refusing to let everyone get away. The one that made me give up my nightly wine and bowls of ice cream, and totally change my diet to one of whole grains and.. and…. Hah no I can’t even type that with a straight face. But everything else, totally true and so completely worth it. So the huge goal? Oh just a little something I’d heard about years ago while working in Canada, called The Canadian Death Race (CDR), advertised as 125km and over 17,000feet of gain. So grab your bowl of ice cream if you’d like to read the really long race report detailing my longest race ever!
So how do you even approach a race like CDR- one where you have no idea how long you will really be out there for? The race is officially split (very unevenly!) in to 5 very different legs. There’s a relay race and a marathon (running the first 2 legs) being run concurrently to the soloists. I’d read all of the course descriptions, watched youtube videos and studied my friend’s race splits on Strava, but for 125km over 16+ hrs, what do you even try to remember?! I only tried to commit to memory the overall hours for each leg to get to an 18-19 hour finish (only guessed that time based on my friend's similar finishing time!). But everything else was a fog of – legs 1 and 3 are ‘easy’, legs 2 and 4 have the mountains to climb, and leg 5 is in the dark- just survive and finish!
Leg 1 – Starting with some pavement miles (and literally running into yet another Canadian friend I’d met at a race just last year! What a small ultra-running world it is!) to get to the edge of the tiny town of Grande Cache, we found our way to the first bit of rocky climbing. There were a number of people still running hard up the hill when I switched to power hiking, but I certainly wouldn’t be lulled into following during the first hour of this long day and night! We soon turned on to the nice wide runnable dirt roads through the trees- this was lovely, except for the mud puddles covering almost the entire width of the road. I’d already read the warnings about the dangerous shoe-sucking qualities of said puddles....But eventually we got to a puddle with some rocks that others were trying to step on to get across. I thought that with my luck, I’d slip on the rock and end up on my ass. So instead, I’ll just suck it up and run right through it, since I was already covered in mud! Of course I picked the stickiest puddle to do that in- my foot (well more like my shoe!) wasn’t moving and instantly my left hand punched in to the deep mud. Mmmm that’s going to make for some tasty fueling. Thankfully I was able to maneuver my foot+shoe out of the mud to a dryer spot to spend a few minutes trying to get my foot back in! Then back to enjoying these easy runnable miles until I get to the transition to leg 2. My husband was awesomely waiting for me with my hiking poles and my bigger pack to carry enough food and water for the next 4hrs!
Leg 2 started with my only almost getting slightly-lost, running in to an intersection that had a mix of tagging from the race and road construction. Thankfully a few guys came upon the point quickly and pointed me up the big hill! As we started slowly hike-running up the hill, a girl flew past me- wow I don’t know if I’d have the energy for that even at the start! Thankfully by this time I’d figured out that the tiny white strip on the black bib meant she was a relay runner, not a soloist. Ahah. I would certainly feel no sadness for my slow hiking now! When I thought we’d reached the top of the first mountain, thinking that wasn’t so bad!..., in fact it was just the turnoff for the marathon runners to skip the true peak of the mountain. The rest of us turned sharply on to a tiny tight singletrack through the trees. High five at the top of the mountain to the 2 timing volunteers and then a lovely rolling descent… for all of 5 minutes. Then we rejoined the marathoners on the ‘Bum Slide’ (thumbs up for the fun signage!) and suddenly the course was crowded again on the steep descent. I had some fun jumping from tree to tree, just slowing down when I caught up to 2 girls and had to wait a few strides to find a safe place to slide around them. The descent only ended so we could start the second ~90min climb. Circling to the top of the second big mountain climb, I started to get excited for the descent back to town (the next transition was going to be at the start/finish area). This steep ‘Powerline’ descent was nice and wide, giving you ample choices for good footing. So of course after the descent, and then another climb up a hill of powerlines, there was another similarly steep descent that I’m no longer being cautious on. And WHAM I slide on to my backside the instant my foot starts to give way. Even though I wasn’t injured in any way, this stupid little fall definitely messed with my descending confidence. Those last few miles descending in to town included more than a dozen people sprinting down around me and my impatience with how ridiculously long it was taking me to finish.
Once I was back to the next transition area between legs 2 and 3, I was happy to move on to the ‘easy’ (read: runnable) leg and just grabbed a few more snacks and water before heading on my way. I didn’t even bother changing out my muddy shoes because my feet felt surprisingly fine. Even more pronounced in the first ½ mile of leg 3 than leg 2 were the number of runners racing past me. But this time it was even more clear that those energized racers were members of relay teams! As we left town and cheering spectators, some volunteers yelled out to me that the bear cubs that were spotted here earlier today had likely been scared away by other volunteers, but I should make lots of noise. Uhhhhh what?! I can’t make noise when I’m this tired! I turned on the music on my phone and played it loudly, hoping to not disturb other racers as I passed. It was nice to be on runnable terrain again, so I tried to remind myself to eat and drink more than I had been (uh not at all) on the steep descents in the last leg. Hmm that’s not feeling so good. Well more food is almost always the answer when I’m not feeling well so ‘early’ in a race (only 6-7 hours in!). Ok let’s switch to a different snack. Yay grape bloks, haven’t had that flavor before! Oooohnooo I can’t really swallow this. No just swallow it…. Uh ok no more grape today. Back to some usually delicious Skratch drink. Ummm nope definitely feeling worse the more I try to 'fix' this. But I’m really thirsty, how about just a few sips of water. Waaahhhh nononono, it’s only getting worse. I can’t believe it’s only been 7 ½ hours and I feel this gross. My pace slows to a crawl with a bunch of complete stops to take a deep breath and make sure I’m not really going to vomit. The next hour like this, on very runnable roads, is honestly making me a little bit sad, but I keep telling myself that I have to feel better at some point! A friendly racer catches up and chats with me a bit that we’re almost at the point where we turn and head back on a different road to the next transition area. I’m excited to change my shoes and just sit down, hoping that the rest will somehow fix my stomach. Unfortunately the course has changed in the last year or 2 and most of the course reports I’d read were no longer accurate- they’d re-routed the end of leg 3 to add a few miles through some crazy uneven climbing terrain. I was not pleased. But at least I could commiserate over the lies with other racers near me. Finally leg 3 was over. I thought that maybe my 18 hour dream was over as well, but if things turn around, perhaps the low 19hours could be salvaged.
I tried to stuff a dozen watermelon slices in my mouth, not a lot of fueling carbs in there but it’s something. As I started the climb, I realized I felt just fine. No nausea at all, just understandable fatigue at 40miles and almost 9hours in to the race. I don’t know how that happened, but I was filled with relief. I tried to return to my fueling plan and even stopped to fill up my water below the 7000 ft peak because the volunteer warned us that it was 13 km until the next chance for aid. This volunteer also announced to me that I was the 2nd solo female. Oh.my.gawd. How is that even possible?! I was so barely moving on leg 3! He had to be wrong. But what if he was right! I loved this section above treeline but below 7000 feet- huge views of the sprawling mountains, the rocky trail above me and the tiny racers getting to the top. I wondered if I could run this type of trail at such a low altitude but wasn’t curious enough to waste any energy! As I finally reached the summit, the volunteers pointed us to the far end of the ridge to retrieve a flag to prove we’d gone the extra distance. I watched the clouds darkening and was relieved that I had already made it to the peak. Flag retrieved, and I started feeling some drops from the sky. No stopping for framing a perfect picture here- getting off the mountain before the storm hit me was definitely more important! As I started to run back up to the volunteers, the rain is steadily falling and I’m relieved to finally be cooled off for the first time all day.
As the trail turns downhill on the other side of the mountain, I can’t believe my eyes- there’s a huge rainbow from the direction of those flags. The rainfall continues to stop and start as the descending trail switches to different portions of the mountain, and every time I get to the rainbow side, I want to stare longer but I’m so scared of tripping! Hmm what distance was that until the next aid station? I’m looking forward to the one ‘extra’ drop bag here in the middle of a leg because I have my soft squishy trail shoes waiting there for my sore feet. Thankfully the next guy behind me catches up and I no longer have to fear another wild animal is going to jump out of the trees! We debate how much longer it is to the ‘Ambler Loop’- we couldn’t have missed the turn-off right? We catch another guy and urge him to stay with us, that aid station must be just around the corner! Two more miles of ‘where the hell is this aid station’ and suddenly we crest a hill and there’s a tent! Phew! I find my drop bag but decide to just leave my new shoes behind and drop my running pack as well, just running with my soft hand held for this tiny 4-5km loop. Woooh I felt so light! I must be running down this easy dirt road so fast! I look down at my watch, nope Garmin rudely tells me I’m between 10-11 min mile pace. After the easy 15 minutes downhill, of course we have to climb another 15+ minutes back to the aid. And I can’t help but laugh to see the huge mud puddle covering the entire trail again. After a few attempts of literally running up to the puddle in the center and then trying to judge whether to run around to the right or left of it, I finally just laugh and curse and run right through it! I’m changing my socks and shoes in a mile and it will be fantastic!
Well it would have been fantastic except that when I return to the aid station and grab my bag again, a volunteer lets me know that the 3rd and 4th females are battling it out and already started on this little loop. Yikes somehow in the last hour I’d allowed myself to get excited to be on the podium and hearing that not just 1 but 2 other girls were behind me was very stressful to hear. I still sat down to change my socks and shoes, and then took off down the thankfully pretty smooth dirt road as fast as my legs would move. Uh oh, 8min pace, is this realistic? Is this a really really horrible idea at mile 57? Possibly after 13 hours I wasn’t really making the best pacing decisions! I could only hope that the next two girls were tiring each other out! After 3+miles down the road, once again we end up on some weird grassy not-really-a-trail section to get to the next transition area. No walking! Stop walking! It’s almost 10pm, there’s barely any light in the sky but I don’t want to find my headlamp until transition! Phew there it is! I know that I need some fuel again because I certainly wasn’t eating much in the last bit of time running down the road. I decide to try some broth that the ultrarunners always talk about being so great- I think they were all very right. But sadly I can’t carry a huge thermos with me and hope the tiny cup will suffice.
Headlamp on, and I run off to start the next and final leg- holycrap why are we climbing straight out of transition? What does this leg look like again? I realize that I knew nothing about the terrain or elevation gains of the last leg- only that there were no huge mountains to climb, but it certainly wasn’t the runnable leg 1 or 3. And the best part, the part that I couldn’t stop thinking about for the next hour, was that eventually we’d run down to the river and give our ‘coin’ for entry to a boat that I would get to SIT DOWN ON. FOR SO MANY MINUTES. Ok not enough minutes at all. But I told myself to keep trying to shuffle for that first hour in the dark because then I’d get to sit down. And it would be so very wonderful. I was glad to have the light of the racer in front of me to assure me I was still on the right trail. And any time the light disappeared, I knew I was slacking off on my pace I also couldn’t stop glancing behind me. Every time I saw a light I just knew it was the next girl. But I told myself to just keep pushing, at least hold on to 3rd. If the next girl was strong enough to catch up to me after 14 hours, in the dark, on what I declared to be a totally not ‘raceable’ section of trail, she certainly deserved to pass me! The first few times the footsteps came up behind me, I figured they were moving too quickly to be a solo runner. And the breathing behind me made me think it was a guy… But it wasn’t until each racer made the pass that I could breathe a sigh of relief. At one point the steps didn’t come all that quickly, and I just knew. Knew. It was the 3rd place girl now moving in to 2nd. But no, he was actually the savior of my special waterproof running jacket that had gotten snagged on whatever bushes and trees I had been squeezing through recently, and I never realized it was torn out of the bungees on the back of my pack! Ok enough worrying, I think I see some lights up ahead… We’re at the unexpected extra aid station right before the river crossing, but I just grab some pretzels and head on my way. The volunteer proclaims that we only have 10k remaining- ‘really? Are you sure?’. She’s really sure, but I still don’t believe her because I don’t think the numbers add up…
But yay boat crossing. I immediately sit down in the other little seat next to the boat captain and wish for the boat ride to last a loooong time. Less than 3 minutes later we’re on the other side of the river crossing- where there’s a big sign saying 110km! Well crap do we have 10km left from a km ago or do we have 15km to go?! The 2 guys on the boat with me are shuffling much faster than me up this climb but I try to not let them get too far ahead. I can’t see the top of anything besides the trees around me so I have no idea how much climbing is left. nor how much further distance we even have remaining in the race. Finally I re-catch one of the 2 racers from the boat, and we take turns leading the way. Suddenly I don’t hear his footsteps behind me anymore. Dangit, now I get to be worried about bears again, as well as not making a wrong turn. I look out to one side of the trees and see a bunch of little bright lights on the hillside. Is that where we’re going? Now we’re running away from them, dammit. I feel like we’re running in circles but I truly have no idea where I am. Suddenly the trail dumps us on to a dirt road climb. I don’t know if I see any flagging but 2 guys (volunteers? spectators?) announce that it’s 2km up this hill to the finish line. Again I yell out, really!? How far? 2km? Really? Quick math, ok that’s definitely less than 2 miles. You can run up this hill for 2 miles. Ok maybe not. Speed hike speed hike. Look behind me. Well crap there’s a light! Fine I’ll run. Well shuffle… There’s 2 lights up ahead of me, ok at least I’m still going the right way, even though this really doesn’t seem ‘right’ at all. But what seems right after 16 hours and 70+ miles?! A few more turns to who knows where and finally there’s houses! We’re in a neighborhood! We must be near the finish line! Ok this is it! Moving so fast (hm turns out to be a 12min mile hah!) down the sidewalk to the finish line- I can’t believe it’s closer to 17 hours than 18 hours! How is that even possible?! How am I second female?! I still don’t know. I don’t know anything. Except that I’m so proud. And so tired.
Thanks to RavenEyePhotography for all the amazing race photos of myself. (The scenic photos I snapped on my phone while running)