Canadian Death Race – Near Death Marathon, Grande Cache Alberta, August 5 2017

Canadian Death Race – Near Death Marathon August 5 2017

About this time last year, my friend Ronnie told me he was going to do the Canadian Death Race as a soloist (125k). I was like “good for you”, but then he suggested I run the marathon version. And for some odd reason, I agreed.

The Plan
Knowing that my “A” race was almost12 months away I started to get a sense of the races that I could enter between then and now. I also hired a coach to put together a training plan that would go from January, right up to this marathon. This plan would involve scheduling for a 30k, 50k, a marathon, and a half all before the big race and I wanted to ensure that I didn’t burn out (mentally or physically) before the big day.

The training went exactly as planned and despite a pretty intense schedule, I suffered no injuries at all. There were some definite sore days and a few unplanned “maintenance days” but I pretty much stuck to the plan.

Getting There
On the Thursday, I flew to Edmonton, then made my way to Grande Cache about 400km to the west.

Race Eve

Countdown sign on Highway 40

I picked up my race kit and then met up with Ronnie and Michelle for a bit so I could give her my “mid way” bag . She’d be meeting Ronnie at each of his stage transitions, so she helped me out a tonne by having my bag ready at the end of stage 1.


I did the usual that evening: a light meal (lunch is now my biggest meal of the pre race day) and got all my gear in order.

Camelbak, water, Cliff Bars, Kashi bars, bib, bug spray, sunscreen, salt tabs, and stomach remedies.

The plan was to drink 250ml every 30 minutes, and to consume 100 calories.

Leg 1: A mixture of maltodextrin (the main Calorie source found in Gu gels ) and Nuun tablets.

Leg 2 was Nuun but supplemented with Nuun+ sugar tabs.

Food: Kashi and Cliff Bars.

Getting to sleep that evening wasn’t a problem . The hotel was quiet (presumably every occupant was also a runner) and I was still on Eastern time, so I was pretty sleepy by 8pm.

Race Day

No wind, and low lying fog over the valley at 6am, as seen from my hotel window.

My alarm went off at 5:55 and Ronnie also texted me at that time (thanks!) and so began the morning routine.

Eat by 6:15 , “process”, get dressed, leave by 7:20.

It was a 10 minute walk to the start and I talked to a few racers as we made our way to the start line.  It didn’t take me long to bump into Ronnie and Michelle.

Victim #822 reporting for duty.

After one final visit to the loo, I made my way back into the starting corral where 344 soloists, 63 marathoners, and 56 Leg 1 relay racers waited anxiously for the clock to hit 8am.


And they’re off! (Leg 1 17km)
It was an odd start. We all walked up Hoppe Avenue about maybe 200 meters before we heard the gun fire, and then the running started. We snaked back down Hoppe, and back to the park where we had  started, and eventually across the start line, where we were greeted with an enthusiastic crowd.

From there, we circled the town, headed north on highway 40 about 1km, and then onto the trails.

Grande Cache Beach: oh so flat.
The course was very well marked.  Big signs at intersections, and orange ribbons on the trees at regular intervals.
It was a mix of single technical track and downhills (my two weak points) as well as some dirt roads (my specialty).

There was one section of uphill dirt road where I was in a groove and a runner came along side me and said “Wow you have great running technique: so smooth, perfect cadence to spit out the kilometres” I thanked him, and then quietly thought to myself “If this was a 42k gravel road race I’d kick butt”.

One of the many spectacular views.

Soon it was back to technical trails, but before I knew it, I arrived at the end. I was slower than planned, but was feeling great. I filled my camelbak full (so 3 litres of my hydration mixture) and met up with Michelle who had some dry running shoes and more food for me.

Interim Stats – Time: 2:23, Distance: 17km, Climb: 223m (731′) , Descent: 338m (1100′)

Leg 2 (25 km) aka Flood and Grande Mountain Slugfest
What to say about this section that would take me over 6 hours to complete? The website uses words like slugfest, dangerous, roughest, technical, etc, so who am I to argue?

I didn’t have any specific time goals for this race. I had estimated 2 hours for the first leg, and 6 for the second primarily as a means to calculate hydration and nutrition requirements for the day . There was only one aid station on leg 2 (and they told us not to rely on it) so I had to be prepared.

It started flat for maybe a km before the long slow climb up Mount Flood.  They call it Flood Mountain, but I liked Mount Flood because it reminded me of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings – that movie with all the walking up mountains 🙂

I ran for part of it as it was just moderately steep non technical dirt road.


Once it got too steep, I decided to walk, answer some texts, and do up a Facebook status update. I think I had cell phone coverage the whole day and it was great to get encouragement.

And then it got hard.
The road ended, and the course kept going up.

There was a section with tonnes of wildflowers and wasps. They were buzzing around me for awhile and thankfully didn’t get stung.


Flood Summit
4 hours after starting this race, I had reached the top.

Interim Stats – Time: 1:50, Distance: 9km, Climb: 499m (1600′), Descent: 8m (26′)

As a comparison, here’s my stats for running up Mount Mansfield in Vermont (on a gravel road). Time: 1:05, Distance: 7km, Climb: 794m (2600′)

The marathoners got to bypass a loop, where we instead plunged down towards Washy Creek.


Bum slides and Slugfest

You can get an idea on the steepness by looking at the people in front of me.

I definitely struggled and I’d let people go past me on these parts.

I wasn’t paying attention to my watch, other than for my 30 minute time check for hydration and food.

I chatted with a lot of people throughout the day. There was a couple running together and the woman was struggling with a wonky knee, and unfortunately the terrain was only going to get worse. As for me, I was more or less fine, excluding some burning quads.

The first glimpse of Grande
I had stopped on a ridge for food along with a few others. I think Rick was there too (more about him later) and he may have pointed out to a British lady that we would have to summit that mountain and she simply said “bollocks” and carried on.


Up up up
Again with the up hill. Another endless steep dirt road and at one point I just yelled “son of a bitch!”


Aid Station
I decided to top up with maybe a litre of water. I also sat down in a lawn chair and ate most of a Cliff Bar before deciding that I should keep moving.

I was making decent time on the uphill road, even as the trees and air started to thin out.

Not sure how I got mud on my face, but I’m totally going to use this as my Tinder profile picture.


As the road made a left turn, there was an amazing view of Mount Hamel.

I also saw Rick again, trying to take a selfie so I decided to stop and offer a helping hand.

Although I wouldn’t know his name until after the race, he was one of the people that I’d been running with for a good deal of this leg.

It was also at this point where I texted Ronnie to cheer him on (wherever he was). He replied a few minutes later saying all was great on his end.

On the final ascent of Grande, above the tree line, I could definitely feel the effects of being 2000m (6500′) high. My heart was beating very hard (not unlike most of the day) but I wasn’t out of breath. I decided to come to a complete stop and see what happens. A bit of rest did the trick, and resumed my run/walk towards the summit.


This was the top of the Grande (with the city well below)

Interim Stats – Time: 1:50, Distance: 9km, Climb: 529m (1700′), Descent: 162m (530′)

Powerlines and Plunging
The guy at the timing station told me that it was pretty much all down hill from here, and he wasn’t kidding.

Down sounds good, but pretty soon it was the infamous Powerlines section. If you’ve ever looked at a mountain (from the road) and noticed powerlines descending down a mountain at an impossible angle, then you know what I’m talking about.

I’d seen this picture before but it’s hard to visualize what it’s really like.

There would be a maybe 100m stretch at a time where stopping wasn’t an option as you’d be unable to balance.

I did absolutely no training for this, unlike I feel every other single person in this race. I’d also add that the vast majority of people had walking poles.

Me, I had sturdy gloves which I promptly put on. That allowed me to occasionally bend down and slide on one foot while using my hands as balance.

This super slow walking, cursing, stopping, pattern repeated itself many times until I finally got through it all.   That is, until the next set of descents.

Interim Stats – Time: 1:25, Distance: 5km, Climb: 0 meters, Descent: 775m (2500′) average grade of 15%

Eventually the town started to come into clearer view, and the sounds of civilization were bubbling up.


Like a horse to the barn (my go to catchphrase)
Back on the paved sidewalks, it was pretty much all downhill for the last 2k.

Despite having been running for over 8 hours, I had a burst of energy for this part. Rick was way ahead of me, but I reeled him in and could have blown right by him. But instead, I slowed down and said “We’ve been running together all day, do you want to cross the line together?” He declined, told me to keep at top speed, which I did . (He’d end up with a time a few seconds slower than me, and he also was an age category third place winner).

And across the line, in an official time of 8:33:29!
I’ll give myself an un-official award of top finisher for a runner outside of Alberta or British Columbia.


Post Race
After the usual cool down and food, I finally got to meet my running partner for that day: Rick was from Alberta. Him and his wife gave me a ride back to my hotel, which was so appreciated.

After a shower, I walked over to the A&W (walking seemed like a good idea until half way there) where I bumped into Michelle (it’s a really small town) and we had burgers and discussed my race as well as Ronnie’s progress.

She then drove me back to my hotel (bless her) and I then called it quits for the night.

Final notes
It wasn’t all fun and games. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute, but on the flip side, I didn’t feel any time pressure. I remember telling someone that I was done running for today, about two hours before the finish line.

Race Organization and town impressions
This was the 18th year and I get the impression that rules, schedules etc are pretty consistent from year to year.

It’s a pretty big deal: it features prominently in tourist brochures.

It’s the people that make this race what it is: organizers and volunteers were awesome, and the runners were great too. I talked to so many that had done the course before (various legs) and they all had opinions or advice .

See you next year ?
I got asked that a few times, and the answer is maybe, someday, just not Leg 2.

What’s Next?
Rest, recharging, and currently looking at all options.  The sky’s the limit!


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