Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Assault on Hamel – Canadian Death Race Leg 4

So first off I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to run leg four of the Death Race - arguably the hardest leg - 36kms of trail running with more than 10kms of which is up a mountain with an elevation gain of ~3500 feet. A friend, James Dean, had called me about 2 months ago asking if I would run a leg of the Death Race. One of their team members had gotten injured and wasn’t convinced he would be ready to race. I honestly had no clue what I was getting into when I agreed to race.  I was to race for St Albert Physical Therapy. They would provide shirts, jackets, and pay for race registration all we had to pay for was accommodations. James had previously reserved rooms at the Best Western in Grand Cache so that would prove to be easy as well.
The Death Race - Leg 4 - Hamel Station to Sulphur Gates Station
We drove up to Grande Cache on Friday and arrived into the grand town at shortly before 1600hrs. We checked into our room and then awaited the rest of the team. James and Celine arrived shortly thereafter with their kids and Matt and Pete weren’t far behind. Graham was the last to arrive and then we headed over to the Arena for race registration. Following race registration we went to the Grande Cache hotel for the pasta dinner. I had previously discussed Leg 4 with James as he had run it last year and was thankful for the opportunity to go over it with Graham as he had run it before as well. I honestly had no clue what I was in for. I knew the opening twelve kilometers would be tough, but I had absolutely no clue how tough they would really be. 

I went to the mandatory prerace brief just to see if I could pick-up any additional information. I was fortunate to spot AJ Rankle an excellent and experienced runner from Edmonton. He offered some additional advice on leg four and confided that it was a brutal and the downhill section really eats up the quads. I was excited to be racing but a little nervous as this would be my first trail race.
Race morning took forever to come. I tossed and turned for most of the night but awoke somewhat refreshed and mentally ready to race. 

We headed out from the Best Western shortly after 0715hrs to watch Matt Dean start the first leg of the race at 0800hrs. The atmosphere was electric and you could tell everyone was excited to get the show going. Matt had a great first leg of the race setting a good pace and putting us through the first leg as the 5th placed team. Graham Glennie had a very impressive second leg, the most technical on the course, moving the team up to 3rd place overall. It was then Pete Dean’s turn to up the tempo pushing through leg three despite running into some difficulties. 

I was next. We were sitting in third place a couple minutes back of second place and about twenty back of first.  The butterflies were flying in my stomach but as soon as I had the coin and dingle in my hand the butterflies in my stomach were gone. My biggest concern was not going off course. I was told it was very clearly marked…I however was still quite nervous. The first kilometer or so passed by quickly and then it was an abrupt right turn into the bush and the “climb” started. I slugged through the first fifteen or so minutes of the climb just wondering when this ridiculous hill would end.  My heart rate was very high and I was not comfortable at all. I made a decision to back off on the pace and resort to walking the very steep sections. I didn’t want to do this but I was struggling breathing and felt terrible. I felt like quitting and just wondered why I had ever agreed to this. I knew I had team mates counting on me and I was not giving up.

The climb continued to suck, but I just kept working away at it. I so wanted to run but I just couldn’t get the legs moving up the steep hill. I continued to press and was finally relieved to see the top. It was still another fifteen minutes of climbing but it was a relief knowing the end was in sight. I briefly enjoyed the view atop Hamel while I retrieved my flag as proof of my completion of the climb. Then it was time to go downhill. I was looking forward to this part, but was a little reluctant to let the legs go for fear of falling. I held back which in hindsight was a mistake…mistake number one. I dodged a few mud holes and likewise should have just barrelled through them…mistake number two. Shortly after completing the descent I struck a rock and found myself eating the dirt. My right knee hurt but I shook it off and kept running. By this point I was out of water and really needed a drink. I was fortunate to cross a nice stream so quickly stopped and had a few sips. The Aid Station at Ambler Loop was a relief. Volunteers filled up my water pack while I pounded down another Gu Roctane Gel (these things rock) and a few glasses of Gatorade. 

Ambler loop was nothing short of unpleasant. I knew it was only about 2.5kms of climbing so mentally I was able to push through but was forced to walk a couple of the hills. Not impressed with myself but it was all I had. I was happy to crest the last hill and stumble upon the Aid Station again. It was a couple more glasses of Gatorade and then a long trek down the logging road. It was at this point that the run was getting a little long and I was looking forward to the finish. I pushed as much as I could and continued to push once I reached the highway. I wasn’t quite sure what distance I had left to run as the GPS was quite inaccurate during the climb. I finished strong but wishing that I had pushed harder earlier. I was unfamiliar with the terrain which I think cost me dearly and this was mistake number three. I handed the coin and dingle to James Dean and he raced off to complete the final leg. I was content with my time of 3:34:07, but a little disappointed that I hd given up so much time to the teams in first and second place. In retrospect I had the third fastest run which isn’t bad considering I didn’t know the terrain and this was after all my first trail race. I was mostly disappointed that I hadn’t given James a chance of taking home first place.  

James finished strong shortly after 1930hrs. We St Albert Physical Therapy finished as the third overall team in a time of 11:33:08.
Team Picture following the race. (l to r) Pete Dean, Graham Glennie, Matt Dean, James Dean, and myself. (photo compliment of James Dean)
 It was a great experience. I now have a newfound respect for those that choose to make trail racing their passion. I think you have to have a few screws loose to do this solo, but hey, to each their own.

A special thanks to James Dean and St Albert Physical Therapy for providing me with the opportunity to participate in the Death Race and the sweet Sugio Jacket. Thanks to James, Pete, Matt, and Graham for the great experience and allowing me to be part of your team.

Special thanks to
-          my wife and kids for allowing me to participate in yet another crazy adventure.
-          Ian and Brian at Brainsport for my newest trail friends…my Brooks Pure Grit – these rocked.
-          Karen and Jonathan at Compressport Canada. My quad and compression sleeves were once again the game changer.
-          And of course Brian my coach for adapting my training schedule to accommodate this race.

My apologies for the lack of pictures...we forgot the camera at home. Once I get some from my team mates I'll be sure to upload at least a couple!