North Vancouver, Canada, 12.08.2018.
Day 7 after I finished the longest race so far in my life and today I finally find some time to recap a little what has happened. The Canadian Death Race was such an amazing experience with so many different impressions that I still feel a bit overwhelmed by everything. At the same time, I am also super happy that I achieved a long-term goal that I started dreaming about more than two years ago when I first visited the small town of Grande Cache to do a half marathon there in May 2016. So much has happened since then but I never stopped dreaming about finishing the Canadian Death Race and now I actually finally achieved that goal. It feels amazing on the one hand but also a bit scary on the other hand as I now don’t have a long-term running goal anymore! Anyway, let’s start with the recap of this exciting weekend now.
Prior to the race, I had asked my lovely Rachel if she was willing to crew me during the race and luckily, she said yes. So we drove all the way up to Grande Cache together on Thursday, August 02nd. And by “we”, I meant that Rachel drove all the way and I was just dilly-dallying on the passenger seat. 😉 Anyway, we arrived at Grande Cache in the evening and just unloaded the car quickly before going to bed.
Then, on Friday, we prepared everything for the race. I packed my drop-bags while Rachel prepared food for me in the morning. We managed to register for the race fairly early and then I showed Rachel where she would need to drive to find me after leg 3. I decided that I only wanted Rachel to support me after legs 2 and 3 for the following reasons: Leg 1 is pretty short (meaning that I would not need much support after finishing it) and having Rachel support me after leg 4 would have meant for her to stay up all night which I did not want. So I decided to just have drop bags at the end of leg 1 and at the Ambler Loop (which is close to the end of leg 4) and to not plan anything for the transistion area at the end of leg 4. In hindsight, this whole planning was pretty solid and I think that there isn’t much that I would do differently if I chose to do this race again in the future.
On race day (Saturday, August 4th), we arrived at the start line fairly early and the weather was good for running. About 20 degrees, mostly sunny and only a few clouds in the afternoon. Of course, the weather on Mount Hamel was an exception: Strong winds and rain so that it did pay off to carry and wear a jacket while being up there.
I started the race at a fairly slow pace because I knew what would be coming during leg 2. This was probably not the best idea as I was stuck at the back of the field for a long time and I had to wait several times to pass through narrow parts of the trail. Usually, the trail would have been wide enough to pass slower runners but with the huge puddles of mud and water, we had to take detours around these obstacles and that meant single- file “traffic”. Anyway, I made it through leg 1 without any issues and then I started leg 2 with a fresh new T-Shirt, new socks and new runners. Then, on leg 2, I stepped up my pace a little bit and I also managed to do the downhills without major injuries. I did fall twice and I also hit rocks with my right foot twice but overall my feet and legs were still absolutely fine after leg 2. However, I had a bit of a scary situation while running the uphill stretch in between Flood Mountain and Grande Mountain as this was a very very hot and humid stretch that felt like being in the jungle. At one point I felt really dizzy and also started feeling nauseous so I had to stop for two minutes to rest a little before I could go on. That felt really strange but luckily it was only a minor and temporary issue.
Then, at the transition area after leg 2, Rachel waited for me to assist me with putting pain relief creme on my hurting knees, with eating, with changing my clothes etc. After a short stay, I headed out on the course again. Luckily, the black bear that had been spotted at the start of leg 3 earlier had gone again so I was not affected by this anymore. On leg 3, I met Alain, a fellow runner from Wainwright (AB), and we kept running together for about 25 kilometers, which was really nice. We also met a Husky dog on leg 3 who was running on his own and accompanied us for a while and then apparently ran the last part of leg 3 together with a different group of runners. 🙂 Then, in the transition area between legs 3 and 4, someone leashed the dog and checked its collar to return it to its owners. Pretty funny story though. 🙂 Again, Rachel waited for me in that transition area and supported me with everything I needed. At that point in the race, my stomach was a little bit upset which is highly unusual for me. Thus, I decided not to eat any of the prepared pasta or salad anymore but to stick to watermelon, bananas and apples.
At the end of leg 3 I still felt fairly fresh and energetic and the only pain I felt was in both of my knees. As everything else was okay and since I had managed to run faster than planned, I knew that I would be able to finish the race in time unless I severly injured myself on the final two legs of the race.
As expected, the start of leg 4 was a strenuous and long powerhike up Mt Hamel but I still felt good doing it and except for my slightly nervous stomach and my aching knees, I was still in really good shape so I even enjoyed this rather demanding stretch. When I came close to the summit, it started raining and strong winds made me put on my rain jacket (see picture above). Of course, Mt Hamel had its very own weather during race day to challenge the runners a little more. 🙂 Then, on the way down from Hamel, I ran for a long, long time while it was still light and thus covered a lot of kilometers in short time. When I reached the Ambler Loop aid station, the sun was already gone but there was still a little bit of light left so I decided to immediately do the short loop before accessing my drop bag. This turned out to be the right decision as I definitely got my feet wet while running the loop due to the large water- and mud puddles on the course. So after I finally completed the loop, I put on a fresh pair of socks and runners and continued running towards the end of leg 4. Although the pain in my knees had continuously increased during the last hours, I still managed to run down Beaver Dam road and to cover more kilometers quickly. This stretch, however, was the last part of the race that I actually ran.
Roughly half an hour after midnight, I arrived at the transition area between legs 4 and 5 and I was amazed how well it was organized in terms of food, drinks and assistance for runners. I had warm meatballs (!!!), a coke, a slice of watermelon and some chips before I headed out into the darkness again to finish the race. What a feast!
Leg 5 was rather uneventful for me. I managed to not lose my coin (read more about the coin here) during the race so when I arrived at the river crossing, I was safely ferried over without any issues at all. Since my knees felt quite bad going into leg 5, I decided not to run anymore but to just steadily hike the rest of the race. I am sure I would have been able to run at least a few stretches of leg 5 but I decided to not put this additional strain on my knees and to just take it easy. I knew that I would be able to easily finish the race in time even if I only hiked so I decided it was time to give my body a little break. Interestingly, I did not even feel the urge to walk faster or to start running when other runners passed me. Prior to this race, I had made the pledge to myself to run my race at my pace and to ignore what would be happening around me. It turned out that I was very disciplined about this and that I managed to live up to my own expectation which clearly helped me to finish this race without any major struggles. Thus, I arrived at the finish line at 04:36:51 AM in the morning after 20 hours, 36 minutes and 51 seconds on the course, placing 77th out of 271 solo runners who started and 174 solo runners who finished. At the finish line, Rachel was already waiting for me and it felt so good to see her and to hug her after the race was done. Not sure how it felt for her to hug her extremely sweaty and smelly boyfriend but up to now I heard no complaints so I guess it was not too too bad. 🙂
Then, Keri, the race director and one of our trainers during the training camp in June, gave me my finisher medal and my personalized beer can from Folding Mountain Brewing (see titel picture above). She had predicted that she would do that on race day and I am really glad that she was right about it. Then, Rachel and I drove to our Air BnB place so that I could massage my legs with ice cubes, get a shower afterwards and then get some rest. Even though we were both exhausted, we did not manage to sleep very long so we got up fairly early again and started packing up on Sunday morning.
In the afternoon, Rachel and I stayed for the awards ceremony and the post-race dinner and then started driving in the direction of Vancouver after we felt that we had seen enough.
So what are my major personal take-aways from this race?
- I need to start training with poles, especially for downhill running. Not using poles caused an additional strain on my knees which could have been avoided.
- Having Rachel with me, who supported me a lot, was a great help and it made my race so much easier! Thanks, Sweetie! 🙂 Thus, for such a long race, I would definitely recommend a support crew.
- I need to eat more “real food” and less Cliff Bars / Block Chews during a longer race. Halfway into the race, I was already quite fed up with my “energy food”. Next race, I will try coconut water, avocados, dates or other more natural food. Suggestions are very welcome, please leave comments!
- It was absolutely right to change my socks, runners and T-Shirts several times during the race. Feeling comfortable, dry and warm is such a motivational boost and mostly having completely dry feet during the race definitely prevented me from getting blisters.
- Not listening to music while running helped me focusing on the course and the terrain, thus avoiding major feet injuries. I only lost 1 nail after the race. That’s prettys good!
- It was good to run my race at my pace and to do what felt good to me. I feel it was really beneficial for me to not look at times and to not try to follow/ catch other runners.
- My feet and legs felt absolutely okay after the race and during the following days. However, my knees did hurt quite a bit so I should find ways to protect them in future races.
- Even after 125 Km, I felt that I had not reached my limit yet. Although I would not have been able to run anymore, I think that hiking a few more kilometers would have been possible for me. So maybe it is time for another challenge, another race in the near- and/or more distant future? Well, who knows? I haven’t made any decisions yet but there are a few options I am currently looking at… 🙂
Wow, a truly long blog entry this time. Let’s conclude this with the ususal music piece. This time, a German Rap song that I listened to while walking leg 5 during the night. A pretty good on-theme song to listen to in that situation!