Sunday, September 6, 2009

Canadian Death Race - August 1 to 3 2009

It's Sunday night of the Labour Day long weekend and still 22c outside. I'm on my deck, sharing some Spanish wine with Cheryl, and trying to recall the craziness that occurred about one month ago at the Canadian Death Race. So much to tell....

To quote the Death Race website, "It's a killer". I liked to mock that but changed my mind after I actually did it! "For nearly a decade, elite racers have come here to cheat death in one of the world's toughest adventure races." Who actually thought this was true!

I was privileged to be part of Team Quikcard/Norden Auto Haus/Aman Building Corp/Fasttrax/Go Backpackers Hostel. - defending champions. The team consisted of:

Leg 1 - Petra Graen - Internationally ranked ultra marathoner
Leg 2 - Gary Poliquin - Former Canadian Death Race Solo Winner
Leg 3 - Steve Baker - Team organizer, leader
Leg 4 - Jonathan Withey - Elite runner, Death Race leg record holder, (Correct me if I`m wrong but I think he`s not from around here)
Leg 5 - Little ole`me

Naturally, I was feeling pressure to perform.

July 31, 2009 - Steve and Jon pick me up in a beautiful silver Porshe Cayenne, courtesy of Norden Auto Haus; I am not accustom to this level of sponsorship.

For five hours, Jon and I listen to Steve talk....I laugh solid the whole time! We arrive for the pasta dinner (which is actually pretty good), hook up with Petra and Gary, then head over to our accommodation for a pre-race briefing (which involves eating Lays baked potato chips).

August 1, 2009 - Saturday greets us with an unusually warm morning; a sign of bad things to come. Petra`s up first and full of positive energy; I`m envious. She goes for a run before her run. The rest of us stumble to the start to see her off and see running celebrity, Dale Karnazes. He`s smaller than me! Who knew...

The gun goes off and Dale Tuck blows out of the gate as per usual. I suspect it has to do with his compression tights. Petra is in close pursuit. The course has them loop back past the start within a few minutes. Some young guy wearing a University of Saskatchewan shirt whips by first, followed closely by Dale and Petra. Bets are on - how long before Sask boy crashes and burns. Surprisingly, he wins the leg. As usual, Petra runs a great leg and sets us up in a good position.

Leg 2 - Out goes Gary. It`s hot, very hot, and getting hotter each minute. The heat is intense and all leg 2 runners do their best. Most runners come into transition in distress and require urgent medical attention; Gary is no exception. It`s amazing he finished the leg. Some teams drop out; Jon and I assist in the transfer of the chip and coin to Steve. Gary cannot stand and cannot breathe; we are scared.

Leg 3 - Although worried about Gary`s condition, Steve takes off. Gary fought hard to stay in this race and Steve`s not going to let him down. (After significant attention from the medics, Gary recovers and is ok.) Its 27c. I wonder what Steve thinks about during his 19km run....the toe nail clippings in the ashtray back at the house; is the Porshe clean enough; maybe Ella, his sweet little girl....

Leg 4 - Jonathan is up to bat. Before he takes off, Jon says to me, ``I`ll gain back a half hour. You gain 15 minutes and we`re back in this thing.`` I say OK. Jon proceeds to destroy the course and all the competition. He puts us back into second place; only three minutes behind the first place team. A run beyond imagination....

Leg 5 - I`m full of confidence, ready to eat up the competition and the course. This is unusual for me! My plan is to catch the first place guy in the first 5 km, then run in easy.

Mistake 1 - I take off like I`m racing on a road course. After a brief, steep climb, I find myself on an off-camber, slightly downhill, twisty, rooty, over-grown, trail about a foot wide. I am running way too fast for this terrain (hindsight is a wonderful thing). Within 10 minutes, I mildly roll my left ankle. Five minutes later, I mildly roll my right ankle. My brain says ``this is bad``; my body says ``it`s not too bad, yet``.

Mistake 2 - A couple minutes later I roll my left ankle again. This time, even my body says ``it`s freakin` bad``. I roll it so badly, I collapse into the bush screaming. After I manage to stand, I have to hop on one foot until I can put weight on the other. I hobble down the trail, progressing from a walk to a slow jog, then to a run. I have to completely modify my form to run on one leg. Every step, I try to place my left foot on a level surface to avoid rolling it again; if that happens, I`m done and will let the team down.

I have 17km left to go. Wonderful. I wanted this to be a moment of triumph and it`s going to be a disaster. I can`t believe I let this happen....

I make it to the river crossing and am greeted by Jon and Steve. Jon yells, ``believe, believe``. It reallys helps me a lot.

The boat has to come from the other side of the river to pick me up. The Grim Reaper sips his Budweiser as we wait. He tells me first place is only minutes in front. After I get across, I climb a big GD hill while nursing my ankle. Finally the course levels out and I manage to run at a reasonable pace. I emerge from the woods with four km to go and a big climb into town. I see Gary and Jon; they tell me I closed the gap to less than two minutes. I`m in pain.

When I get onto the gravel road, I see the first place runner and he sees me. He picks up his pace enough to hold me off. Bastard. I run the leg better than I thought, but not as well as I`d hoped.

Although team North Face finishes first, the overall winner is in doubt. The river crossing time is the factor. After both leg 5 runners are interviewed by course officials, my ankle has a date with a garbage can lid full of ice.

Mistake 3 - I pull off my shoe and my ankle swells to the size of a tree trunk. The medics want to take me to the hospital; no way, I`m not missing leg 6!

August 2, 2009 - Leg 6 - I witness many things but what happens in Grande Cache stays in Grande Cache... Right Jack, Steve, Jon....

We also find out the official results - we place second.

August 3, 2009 - On Monday, Jon and Steve drop me off at U of A emergency. I get an x-ray and call Cheryl. This is not the first time Cheryl picks up the pieces. Turns out my efforts result in a grade two strain and cost me my full marathon in Regina and half marathon in Edmonton.

I regret nothing.

Addendum: - After running leg 1, Petra, in her usual kindness, volunteers to lead a blind runner on a 3 hour leg so she can experience the Death Race. What a amazing lady! - My lips aren`t completely sealed about the ``what happens in Grande Cache`` thing. Buy me a martini and I`ll sing like a bird....
Many thanks to my good friend Jonathan for helping me have my best year ever!


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