View from Grande Mt. before the steep power line trail.
Looking toward Grande Cache from Grande Mt.
Mayor of Grande Cache on left serving pasta.
Leslie, Michelle, and Terry at the Finish
Sarah, me, and Michelle pre-race
These shirts were used for the Kids race. How cool would it be to have a shirt that said Hell on it when you were a kid?
Terry's the guy with the hair. I'm the other guy.
Terry heading down the Cache Mt. power line trail. GOT QUADS?
Moraine Lake near Lake Louise
Lake Louise Lodge and Lake from Big Beehive.
Four major climbs followed by more climbing pretty much sums up this course. As I stated in my previous mini-post the one-word description of the race is “Brutal”.
I am very thankful that I trained hard spending many hours on the 12 Summits course. Runners with less training ended up in the 53% DNF category. There is no such thing as being “mentally prepared” if you are not also “physically prepared” to participate in this festival of agony.
Michelle and I rolled into Grand Cache Alberta on Thursday afternoon before the race. We checked into our Misty Mt. Hotel and were pleasantly surprised to find a new facility with very nice mini-suites.
We met up with Marathon Maniac Terry Sentinella from Anacortes WA. on Friday. Terry had driven up by himself. After talking he decided to run with me and take advantage of Michelle as a crew chief for support. Terry sorted out his gear for the aid stations and set up his Hamel drop bag. We walked over to the expo and picked up our race packets. We agreed to meet Terry who was staying at another hotel at 6:45 AM and went our separate ways.
The cell phone rang and it was Sara Elaine from Calgary! This was our first opportunity to meet a fellow long-time blogger in person. Her brother Aaron was with her. Sara came bearing all kinds of nice little gifts from Canada. A couple of fanny packs with the Canadian flag on them and a couple of little six-pack sized coolers with the same, and three "Beaver Buzz" energy drinks. The best part was that one of the six-pack coolers contained six Molson Canadian Beers. These beers helped provide incentive for me to finish knowing that they were waiting for a nice celebratory toast after the long haul. Sara and Aaron are great and we really enjoyed our time with them.
The pasta dinner held at the hockey rink recreation center was better than most but still nothing to get too excited about. The Mayor of Grande Cache was dishing up the pasta. We met up briefly with Leslie from Banff who had just run the leg five section of the course and grabbed a quick shower before the pasta dinner. She was there to support two racers from her area and got the opportunity to run for a team on the same leg she had just run during daylight hours.
I provided myself with some other incentive to finish by purchasing a “Death Race Letterman's jacket”. Since I have a “Don’t wear it, if you didn’t do it” policy I used the jacket as a motivator. It helped to think back on the drawer full of Western States gear I have that has never been worn due to my DNF in 2007.
Since the race is broken down into five sections for the relay participants my report will be broken into five sections as well. I’ll note that as we started running I was feeling mediocre.
Section 1) 19km 1:52:39 – OK, 11 miles and one of the easy sections of the course. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t have to do some climbing. Terry and I chugged along at a good pace for me but painfully slow for Terry. Terry and I saw Leslie who provided many cheers and encouragement as we started our first climb. She showed up again near the first Aid Station chanting “Go Eric, Go Eric, Go Eric, Go Eric” The cheer coupled with her little dance gives her my Ultra Runner Cheerleader of the Year award. The weather during this section was cool with the occasional misty rain. If I have one complaint about the race it would be the Aid Stations. They were set up to work well for relay runners who had just finished their run and needed some food. Everything was in a wrapper, energy bars, sport beans, trail mix, small bags of potato chips. I suppose I’m spoiled but I’m used to having my water bottles filled by volunteers and having open food like pb&j sandwiches, boiled potatoes, and other calorie filled treats that are easy to access. I couldn't open the packages but a volunteer was able to open some for me as I filled my hand- helds with water. OK, nuff of a rant, I’ll email the race director and suggest they change that.
Section 2) 27km 4:29:47 – This section gives the runner the opportunity to climb Flood Mt. and Grande Mt. Toss in some heavy rain and mud that was slicker than snot on a brass doorknob and you have the makings for some real fun! Did I mention that the mud also stuck to your shoes to create “Frankenstein Feet” as you slogged up the mountainsides? Then like a cruel joke you come to what they call the “Slugfest”. Sara’s brother Aaron was a course marshal at the precipice of this abomination of a trail. Aaron took my number, shook my hand, told me I was looking good, and mentioned that it was very steep ahead. I followed Terry down the Slugfest and the first steep section that Aaron pointed to I slipped and fell on my backside. I slid to the bottom like a base runner going into second with my right arm fully extended above my head. I came close to injuring my shoulder but when I stood up and dusted myself off I only felt a bit strained and was ready to go. Aaron later shared that a runner fell in the same place and popped his shoulder out of its socket. By the time Aaron made it to him it had gone back into place. Aaron gave a bit of massage to assist the runner and the guy went on. Slugfest continued to offer up similar steep sections, which challenged your balance and tested your quad strength. I managed to stay off my butt the rest of the race. That said I managed to elude many opportunities to crash as we descended the power line trail. If you can imagine a very steep section of trail that’s on one of your training runs or a course you are familiar with. It’s the kind of steep that you are willing to go down because it’s only for a few yards. When you hit rubble on the trail it’s like ball bearings under your feet. The problem is that this power line trail goes on for a couple of miles. Again, I am so thankful for my training so that my quads could endure this torture without being sore the next day. My Brooks Cascadias really did a great job of providing traction on these steep downhill sections.
Leg 3) 19km 2:15:00 - The end of section 2 takes you back into Grande Cache. Michelle met us here and offered up some real food. Lots of opportunity for running in this section however as you get into the lower valley sections you run through a great number of bogs or muskeg. These wet muddy areas managed to get our feet quite wet and I could feel a hot spot forming on my right foot. When Terry and I made it to Aid Station 3 on the end of this leg Michelle met us with hot cup of soup. Leslie shared some mashed potatoes that she had for her race supplies. They really hit the spot. She had been drenched waiting for us but the weather was breaking and it looked good for the next challenging section. Terry and I both changed our socks and shoes and headed out on leg 4.
Leg 4) 38km 6:43:16 – The first section of the “Hamel Assault” runs along Hwy 40 for about 2-3km before heading straight up for about 4000 feet of elevation gain. Terry decided to head out on his own as we ran along the Hwy. He was ready to start racing. The Mt. assaults you, not the other way around. Mt. Hamel is about 7000 feet in elevation at the summit. With my sea level training and Mt. training only going up to 3500 feet I was feeling the elevation. I kept my climbing pace steady but as I cleared tree line I ended up taking about four rest stops to recover before continuing. It was on the final third of the climb above tree line that a grouse decided to run with me for a while up the trail. I started talking to the grouse and it would reply with a few little clucking sounds. It seemed ironic that the bird with its skinny little legs going a million miles an hour was actually pulling away from me. I picked up my pace after smack talking the bird and managed to come close enough to force it off the trail and head off away from me. This was a dry run with lots of climbing so I not only had my two hand carry water bottled but also my Nathan hydration bladder was full. When I made the summit you run up to a permanent shelter that volunteers manned to serve as course marshals and official timers. You could drop your pack to do the out and back along the Mt.’s ridge to pick up a flag and return it to the shelter.
When I got to the end of the out and back and picked up my flag I looked over the East end of the ridge and saw about 8-10 Mt. Goats or Sheep down below on another ridge. We were probably too high for them to come any closer. I ran back to the shelter and then started my way to Ambler.
With about 8-10km to go I had too much water with me but I guess that’s better than running dry. I ended up pouring half of both hand carries out to lighten my load for the descent to Ambler Aid Station. I made it into Ambler without too many problems. The first section down from the summit is very chunky and strewn with rock but I managed to cruise down without any mishap. At Ambler we timed in and then had to run the Ambler loop, which was a 5km distance. The first 2km were downhill on a fairly nice gravel road. At the trail entrance you timed in with your timing key and headed 3km up a winding trail into the woods. When I came out back at the Ambler Aid Station I grabbed my drop bag and changed into a dry long sleeve shirt and pulled on my gloves, hat, and Brooks LSD (lightweight shelter device). I decided to leave my hand helds and just use my hydration bladder for the Beaver Pond Road section which was about 8 km. About half way down this road I had to turn my headlamp and waist lamps on due to darkness. I had some relay runners near me as I went down the road so at least I wasn’t totally alone and had someone to talk to on occasion.
The Beaver Pond Road takes you out to the Hwy and you run in the ditch for a few km before making it to the Aid Station. I guess people had walked out from the Aid Station along the hwy but every now and then you would hear an unseen voice call out “Go Death Racer” from near by. It was a little freaky.
I finally rolled into the aid station to learn that Terry was about an hour ahead of me. Michelle fixed up some cup of soup for me and I ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I was anxious to get the last section out of the way.
Section 5) 22km 4:11:04. I was looking forward to this section for two reasons. Number one was that the finish line was at the end of this section. Number two was that we got to take a jet boat ride across the river at Hell’s Gate. I didn’t expect the climbing that this section provided. We started climbing on single-track trail right from the aid station. When the climbing finally ended the trial was fairly runable but with brush hanging over the trail it was sometimes difficult to see where your foot was going to land. I ended up running with a few relay runners in the first section to Hell’s Gate Road. They all had bear bells on so it sounded like Christmas in August as we jingled down the trial. I made it into the Hell’s Gate Road Aid Station in good time and surprised Michelle who had driven down to meet me. She fixed me a nice warm cup of tea and I took in a few calories and headed down to the river for my boat ride. I handed the course marshal my coin that we had to carry to gain admission for a boat ride. We also timed in when we arrived. I was surprised that they just had us jump in the boat and sit down. I think in the US they would have strapped on USCG approved floatation devices and helmets before allowing us to board. It was a quick ride up river to the other side where we timed back in. The time it takes to cross the river is subtracted from your overall time. We then started the final 1000 foot climb up to Grande Cache. The first section was a quad trail road that seemed very steep. It was a long grunt up to some trail that you could run on. The trails on this section were marked with very bright reflective dots. With about 6km to go I missed a very well marked turn that goes toward the Dead Dog Viewpoint. Instead I continued down the trial I had been running which started to go down hill. I ended up going along the Grande Cache Prison fence line and eventually coming to a sign that indicated a trail called Sulfur Creek Trail that headed to the right. I was perplexed that the reflective markers were not to be seen but I continued down the trail until I came to a very muddy section. The only tracks in the mud were those of wildlife. Not a single running shoe print to be found. Oh Shit! I was off course! I was pissed, tired, and looking for a bear to tear limb from limb. I shouted a few choice words into the night as I started to back-track to find where I had missed my turn. Nothing like being lost at 1:00 AM in the dark of night to add some turnover to your legs. I was churning up the hill at about a 7:30 pace giving out a yell occasionally to warn the wildlife not to mess with me and hopefully hear a reply from another runner. I ended up coming up to a very well marked trail that I had apparently blown by earlier. I believe my little adventure added about 4-5km to my run and probably cost me 3rd place in my age group. Oh bother… I probably couldn’t have handled the fame and fortune anyway.
So after getting lost and finding the correct trial I continued to climb out to a wide gravel road that leads up to the finish. I think it was only 3km to the finish but the climb seemed to go on forever. I managed to run 50 paces and walk 50 paces for a great deal of the way but it sure felt great to come up to the paved roads of Grande Cache and head toward the finish. As a last bit of torture they have you run by the finish line and do a small out and back to the finish.
Michelle, Sarah, Aaron, Leslie, and Terry were all at the finish to greet me. We had hugs and congratulations and then Michelle and I headed over to the hotel so I could shower up. I was really feeling it and really felt knackered. I started to shiver and feel bad once I sat down in the hotel but Michelle offered up a V8 tomato drink and it almost instantly got me out of my crash. I must have been low on calories, which isn’t much of a surprise because I didn’t eat well during the last 10km of the run.
Are you tough enough? It’s a killer! Come on… you know you want to!
Thanks for reading, special thanks again to Michelle, Sarah, Aaron, Leslie, and Terry. And thanks to the people of Grande Cache for letting a couple thousand runners invade their town for the long Canadian weekend!
BTW - That Molson Canadian Beer tasted pretty damn good after the finish!