Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Canadian Death Race Report

Wow what a wild ride!

After learning that my goal 80k race, Fat Dog 100, was cancelled last weekend, I was lucky (?) enough to have my registration transferred into the epic Canadian Death Race this past Saturday. I had less than 1 week to sort out a pile of logistics and get myself from the Island to Grande Cache Alberta along with my race kit for a (gasp) 125km foot race. It is so true that getting to the start line is half the battle but I pulled it off with the help of a (crazy) friend, Jen, who drove us to Grande Cache in her sweet VW van after I flew to Kamloops.

My first 'ultra-marathon' - there I can say it. For ages I was calling the Fat Dog I was preparing for my 'big run' cause ultramarathon just sounds way too extreme. Here is my race report from the CDR- for the short & sweet version look here or go online to view the 1 page race results. If you want the gorey details or if you are procrastinating from work or chores, read on.

125km with a 24hour time limit
15 000 feet elevation change
3 major peaks between 6-7000 feet
1500 racers with 300-400 solo racers and the rest Relay Teams with 5 Legs

Race morning we were up just before 6am to pack up the van, put on the coffee and make some oats for breaky. So sweet to be sleeping off the ground in the cozy Westfalia! We made our way to the Grande Cache Rec Centre- race central, filled our camel backs, charged my garmins (I used 2 GPS's alternating each leg while Jen charged the other) and get ready to rock. At the start line we checked in with our timing chips (above) to make sure they were working and get our names on the start roster...

My buddy Jen jumped onto a Relay Team as a volunteer runner for Leg 1. This is a great way to experience the Death Race and doesn't cost a penny! Most of the runners on the course are Relay racers and many teams are short runners come race day so volunteers are always wanted. Jen ran leg 1 and her 'team' took my transition gear for Leg 2 ahead for me so I was all set and Jen got to play too:)

Go Death Racers! Jen and I at the start line fresh as daisy's:)

Jen, myself and Mary, also from the Comox Valley, all ran together from the start line - so awesome to see the pack of racers on the road turn around!

Death Racers on a beautiful blue sky day in Grande Cache Alberta...at least it started out nice...

My plan was to go super easy- stay well below my Anaerobic Threshold, and play entirely in Aerobic land so that I could last the day and feel good doing it. Hike the uphills, run the downhills and jog the flats. I hoped that this would allow me to meet all the cut offs and finish the race under 24 hours...I stuck to this 100% during the race and the first 100k was actually easy and super fun. I also planned to stick to a very strict fuel/hydration schedule where I would eat every 60 minutes, drink every 15-30 minutes and I also took in 1 S-Cap electrolyte tab and 1 Traumeel natural anti-inflammatory every 60 minutes...I stuck to this for the first 100k and felt amazing. More on what happened after that later...

Check out this map showing the distances and elevation profile to draw you a better picture of each leg...

Leg 1: 19kms. This was the second easiest leg, with some short ups and downs but a tonne of ooey gooey shoe sucking mud. Yick. Most people were dancing around the huge pig-pen mud holes to save their feet (including moi) but some relay runners ran straight up the guts and painted themselves in black mud in the process- awesome! In the end we all got soakers of course:)

About 5k into this leg I got my only real injury of the entire race- on the first stretch of downhill I attempted to pass some non-downhill loving folks by skirting to the left and into the edge of the bush on a quad track trail. What I didn't see was a spear like branch about 2 inches in diametre pointed directly towards me. It bashed into my bicep and I thought I had ripped my arm open right at the brachial artery! It was um, pretty brutal. Thankfully I still had 2 layers on my arms and this saved me. I didn't even want to look so I just applied pressure for the next km with my other hand and kept on running.

I took it beyond super easy and felt like I was just warming up once I reached the end of Leg 1. Jen and her 'team' were there with my transition kit and I grabbed what I needed for the next leg: trekking poles, 5 snacks and a full bladder/eload before heading off to the first big climb.

Leg 2: 27kms with 2 peaks going up to 6000...back down to 4700 then back up to 6500 before a brutal extreme downhill descent back into town.

The trek was long and beautiful. Up Up Up...along a gravel road, then onto a quad trail, then finally on single track in the alpine.

I can't even tell you how amazing the wild flowers were up there! Red 'Paintbrush', purple Monkshood, white Geraniums and a bunch of other colourful flowers distracted me as I marched up up up to the top of the first peak.

Between the peaks was a nasty section known as Slugfest. They said it was steep but man, this was really steep! Glad I had my poles as they made me sure footed and gave me the extra traction I needed going down. I saw way too many people skid out, crash onto their tailbones or worse, summersault down the vertical slopes! There wasn't really anything to hold on to and there were people everywhere goind down hard. In between the steep grades were these swampy sections - never thought a swamp could lie on a hillside...

Back up to the top of the second peak to check in and I had to stop and check out my feet cause one was giving me some major grief. I thought I would find a blister taking hold on the bottom of my foot and I wanted to take care of it before it stopped me later. No blister- but there was a crease the size of a crater folding on itself right on the ball of my foot! My feet had been wet for nearly 6 hours and they were doing weird things as I wasn't in my fave wool socks. I should have changed my socks after that first swampy leg (that was my plan but I changed my mind at transition)! I put dry wool socks on my transition 'to do' list for the next leg and carried on to the downhill.

They said the 'powerline' downhill was crazy steep. But I am a downhiller and I like steep so I thought it would be fun. It wasn't! It was brutal! It was the most brutal part of the entire race actually. I wouldn't have ridden my mountain bike down that grade and it was a knee buckling, toe nail bashing, gravity sucking ride that went on forever. I passed many many freaked out, non-downhill loving peeps on this section but kept myself in check for fear of injury so early in the race. I poked my way down as there really was no other way and knew that my quads and shins were getting trashed the entire way. This was about 5kms of brutal thrashing. Fun!

Back into town I was filled to the brim with positive energy from hoards of cheering fans! You wouldn't believe how many people were lining the course and shouting support! I found my buddy Jen in the crowd, headed to our little transition area and got ready for leg 3: changed into my dry wool socks, ate some salty snacks, got my iPod and tunes going, left my poles, took 3 snacks and 1.5 litres of water for leg 3. When I jumped up to go, I felt a rush of water pour down my back and into my shorts- the lid wasn't closed all the way and I got soaked. I should have stopped to refill the bladder (hindsight) but I didn't realize how much water I had lost.

Leg 3: 21kms flat and easy downhill grade. The easiest leg and most fun for sure. It was a great opportunity to stretch out the legs, do some easy grade, and recover from the brutal downhill of leg 2. My tunes were one highlight of this leg! I was dancing to the beats of Mikey Da Roza and flying high with a great big smile on my face on the flowy downhill sections. The other highlight were the creeks along the way where I could splash my face, soak my visor and grab a cold drink. My bladder of water ran out about 5kms in to the leg!! I was shocked and it could have been very bad- but luckily there were plenty of creeks and I filled up my bladder around 10k in so I was laughing.

We followed the Smokey river (above) for this entire leg- so beautiful! Near the end we crossed over the river, then headed back along the other side running in 'the ditch' on the side of the highway for way too many kms uphill and on a mean side cut angle...to the next transition and the base of the Hamel Assault.

Into transition and the crowds were cheering like crazy again! Jen and her 'team' were there rooting for me and I made a pretty quick transition but spent a couple of minutes enjoying a tasty snack of boiled salted potatoes (yum) before heading out: trekking poles, iPod, 8 snacks, and my night gear- headlamp, battery, back up light/battery, eye protection. My pack felt way heavier heading off to the trailhead!

Leg 4 36kms Hamel Assault up to 7000ft

Up Up Up...I had a mini bonk on the start of that Hamel hill. After that many hours I was burning up more fuel than usual so I had to take in more than normal and I was not doing that. It took me a few minutes to realize what was happening but once I clued in I stopped, took in extra food and water and took it easy while my body absorbed the nutrients. I felt like a million bucks again after about 20 minutes.

Up Up Up... we made our way to the 7000 foot peak with a short 500m downhill section about half way up. I was LOVING my tunes and dancing my way up that mountain with my poles in hand. The bugs were bad and people were freaking out...I planted trees... nuff said.

The view on the way up got better and better and better...

Once we were at the top we got to run along a rocky spine/ridge to grab a 'flag' before turning around and running it back. It was symbolic of a prayer flag- and I held mine tightly!

All smiles after returning with my flag! I was still feeling great and on the top of the world at the summit of mount Hamel! I had done about 80k at this point but you couldn't have convinced me of that at the time. I was biting off small sections at a time - one leg at a time and enjoying the journey:) The sun was beginning to drop and we could see big black clouds coming our way in the distance. Things were about to change...

I ate an entire Eatmore bar at the top to celebrate! I haven't had one of those in many many years...it was perfect fuel for the next leg. I put on my warmth, my rainjacket and my gloves, put my poles in my hand ... then the downhill and the fun began! And the rain began too...

Of course it was painful to run downhill at this point. I felt the thrashing in my quads in those first few steps. But I tucked that away, ignored it and just enjoyed the downhill run. Many people were suffering at this point on the trail. Downhill is not for everyone and I passed many many racers-relayers and soloists- on my way down.

After the long downhill there was a long undulating section where I hiked lots and ran what I could on the downs and flats. Unfortunately my left calf reared its head at that time and I was concerned that my old injury might stop me. I eased up, walked and stretched and it quieted down enough to allow me to continue thankfully.

At the Ambler loop aid station we got to fuel up and refill our bladders. It was starting to get dark once I finished the loop so it was time to pull out my headlamp and toque before heading downhill to finish up this epic leg.

I glanced at my watch as I was leaving and noticed something odd...I had been fueling up at the bottom of each hour on this leg and my watch said 4:35...I swear I ate some blocks about a half and hour ago at 4:35...oh shit...my watch had stopped frozen who knows how long ago and I was stuck in a weird groundhog day repeat loop...when you have been moving for 14hours you are already a bit foggy and this was not helpful. Did I just eat or didn't I? Hmmm...

Turns out I was watchless for about 2 hours on that leg and so I had to guess how often to eat and drink for a while. But that wasn't what nearly killed me...nope...it wasn't technical difficulties...it wasn't the weather- it had been raining for 4 hours at this point...it wasn't the pain in my legs...the little blisters under my toes or even the chaffing on my back...

It was... heart burn.

Yup. First time for everything and this was not a good time to get heartburn for the first time. Heartburn, I used to think, must be painful...but how painful can it be? Imagine a knife piercing into your sternum, with an elephant standing on your chest and a heat rising into your throat like you might just...well...you know what. Now imagine that same feeling beginning at the top of a 10km downhill road run then continuing for over 6 hours...and now try to imagine how you would force yourself to eat and drink on schedule during that 6 hours. Oh yeah, then there were the intense hiccups that came 3 times during that 6 hours- adding to, well, everything.

Let's just say it was pretty dam hard to keep on keepin on at much of a pace. It was also hard to stay fueled and I suffered on the final leg as a result of inadequate calories.

Into the final aid station and my crew Jen had the routine down like a pro by then. She called for me, led me to our little spot, filled up my water and repeated the instructions I had left for her earlier, back to me. (Jen and I are firefighting buddies so we call each other by last name fyi)

J-You need a full bladder and 3-4 snacks.

S-I need to change my socks and shoes- I just did a big river crossing (sitting down).

J- Seads, are you sure you should sit down? You told me not to let you sit down...

S- It's OK- I have to change my socks and shoes.

J- ok...

S- What time is it?


S-Ok. I have heartburn and it hurts so bad.

J- Do you have any tums in your kit?


J-Drink water.


J- You have been here for 5 minutes already Seads.

S- Ok.

J-Seads! You have been going for 100K!! That is f*&%ing amazing!

S- Oh god don't tell me that Walker! I can't even think about that. I can only think about 26k. I have 26k.

J- It's been 7 minutes Seads...


J- Here is the chicken noodle soup you wanted...

S- Slurp... Oh sweet lord that is necter of the gods! Gulp... can I have some more?

J-You have been here for 10 minutes Seads. You have to go...

S- Ok...Jen...I am going to do it.

J- Seads! Of course you are- you have already done it!

Get up...Hugs...

S- Thank you Jen! But...I forgot my bear bangers...

J- It's ok- there aren't any bears out there...

And off I went up the hill, into a tiny single track trail into the darkness...

That leg was the hardest mentally as I had to suffer through that un-ignorable chest pain. I stumbled with low blood sugar for a while before realizing my mistake. I forced small bites down. I forced myself to run the downhills. It was hard for sure.

Something funny happened on that first section of Leg 5, however. Wobbling along on glucose deprived legs and with heart burn and hiccups my belly decided to join in and started to scream at me and I knew I would need to make a pit stop really soon.

'SHIT I didn't bring any tp on this leg! This is not good. This is not good. This is not good.'

That is when I saw something on the side of the trail that just couldn't be for real. I was hallucinating. Low blood sugar does that to your brain. I have seen cats on the side of the road in Adventure Races. But this? Could it really be?

I backtracked a few metres to take a second look. And sure as shit there was an entire roll of TP sitting on the side of the trail. From the gods above or somewhere below... I picked it up and laughed a crazy laugh of joy and disbelief and insanity all at the same time. :)

The best part of this leg was my new race buddy, 50-something 'Denis' (en francais) from Ontario that I had met earlier on the Ambler loop of leg 4. He had done the race 3 times and had just completed the Hardrock 100miler 5 weeks before. On this suffer fest that was Leg 5, he caught me, and he was going my way, going my pace, and I hitched a ride with him so to speak. He distracted me from the heartburn with stories, chatted away and pulled me along for many a kms in the dark, on the wet trail, in the pouring rain. He shared an apple pie Larabar with me. He laughed when I told him my story of how I came to do the Death Race for my first ultra-marathon. We slipped and slided along the mucky, rooty trail in the dark and pouring rain and his company helped me more than he could have known.

Along the way we met Death herself. She was shorter than I imagined, actually.

We were required to pay Death with a silver coin in order to cross the river by boat. I dug deep down into my pack where my coin had been hiding for the past 18 hours and held my breathe. No coin, no crossing, no finish. I felt a wave of relief when I found the coin and passed it to Death. I slid in the mud down to the boat at the waters edge. Death called me back before I got into the boat however. Oh no I thought...

Death said: "You forgot your poles!".

LOL, nice enough gal.

I had to snap a shot in the boat- it was ridiculous. I don't know that the 3 relay runners who were in the boat with me realized how ridiculous it was, however. After 18 hours everything is kind of funny I suppose. They were keen to race hard for their teams and itching to get out of the boat and back on the trail. I was giggling the whole way across and wished it lasted longer.

Back onto the mucky trail and 15kms more to go...it was more of the same...slip, slide, force down water, force down nibbles of food, force your legs to run, laugh and moan with the other runners dragging their arses on to the finish. We all planned to run when we finally got out of the slippery trail and onto the last stretch of road. What none of us realized was the last few kms of road were straight uphill. LOL...that is why they call it the Death Race, silly.

Finally I was on the streets of Grande Cache and I could hear the cheers of the finish line. The streets were flowing with rivers and it was pouring cats and dogs. And still, even at 4am, there were fans standing along the road, umbrellas in hand, cheering GO DEATH RACER! Wow.

19 hours and 54 minutes

34th human across the line

7th woman across the line
3rd in my age category

That was one long run:)

BIG THANK YOU to the amazing group of volunteers and organizers who made this event happen. I cannot imagine the work and logistical planning that must go into a race on a scale this large. HUGE THANK YOU to the countless fans cheering for us along the way:) MANY THANKS to my superstar friend, Walker, for taking care of me and making the trip to Grande Cache an awesome one:)

What I learned:

S-Caps are awesome for preventing cramps as I had none

Music makes it seem easy

Pack TP

Carry a back up watch

Carry salty foods all the time

Go with support for a fun time

Poles will make you faster on super steep terrain

Change your socks whenever you can and wear wool

Don't forget the tums:)

Cheers and Happy Trails!



Dax said...

Great report. We had really similar paces and I was always happy to see you during the race and I appreciated your positive energy. Congratulations on 3rd place in your age group. That's awesome.

The Selman's said...

Love the report, Sarah! I miss hearing these stories in person. I'm proud of you! :)

Charlie Alpha said...

S. Entertaining summary. You make it sound fun and hard and possible. Almost (almost) enticing enough to make me want to try something similar. The "What I learned" section is worth actual money. But poles? Seriously? You rock Seads.

Sarah said...

Dax- You ROCK.
Selman- :) Can't wait to hear your GIJane stories...
CA- you could totally do this...very inspiring terrain...good physical and mental challenge...50% exercise science & 50% mental...not so different from 20 hours on a fire!

John Ashby said...

I'm planning on finishing the Death Race in 2012, and your report is brilliant motivation for an old guy like me!! You mentioned 2 Garmins - are they the same model? Or did you have to change HRM's? Well done on a great time, and great placings!!
Best regards Death Racer!!

John Ashby