Hey Gang! AMAZING!! Team Merrell/Akali’s Denise McHale place 3rd OVERALL at the 100km Canadian Death Race August 17. Believe it or not, women were 2nd and 3rd in this trail ultramarathon in Canada, which boasts a worldwide reputation as one of the toughest trail races on earth. Here’s her recap of the race and a few photos. Yeah, Denise!! Xo Robyn
Survival of the Death Race!
I’m just home and pleased to say I not only survived the Great Canadian Death Race on the weekend, but managed a 3rd place overall and a pretty respectable finishing time. My hat goes off to Rockstars, Hal Hoerner and Ellie Greenwood for both breaking the previous male and female records and finishing 1st/2nd respectably. Impressive running – holy cow! Hal, I can say I never actually saw (how depressing is that), but I did have the pleasure of running with Ellie and chatting for a wee bit the first 50km or so. We started at a pretty comfy, respectable pace for the first 2 legs – the time flew by and I really enjoyed that part of the course. Leg 2 had a lot of climbing and some very step technical downhills, which is my favorite kind of running. I kept Ellie just in sight and came into the end of Leg 2 a minute or 2 behind her. I left the TA first and she quickly caught up to me and passed me. I realized then, that I needed to let her go or I was going to pay for it later. I think this was a wise decision as this course is tough and early on in leg 3, I started to feel the heat getting to me, and was having a difficult time eating, and energy stores were waning considerably. I continued to putt along on leg 3, which seemed to go on forever! I struggled a wee bit through the end of leg 3, refueled at the aid station and was happy my excellent support crew had located some trekking poles for me for the climb up Mt. Hamel. (Thanks Greg and Phil!).
The climb up Hamel took approx 1.5 hours or so. Part way up, I met up with a solo racer from the US, who shared some water with me and we chatted back and forth for awhile. At one of the CP’s on the way up, one of the volunteers told me that Ellie was approx 15 minutes or so ahead of me. It was a good check to know that I was still in the race, and I reminded myself to stay focused as I’ve learned through experience, that anything can happen during these races.
When I reach the top of Mt. Hamel, I took a few seconds to look around and noticed what a spectacular view it was. The sky was clean and sunny and there was an amazing 360 degree view. People often ask me, why I do these types of events. One would think that with the amount of time, I’ve spent racing over the years and the hours upon hours of introspective time out there, I’d have a brilliant answer…, but I’m not sure there is one…the summit of a mountain is part of it, the reward of looking back down and seeing how far you’ve traveled…, but I also think for me, there is something primal that I am drawn to about getting back to the basics of life and working through completing a physically demanding task. It may hurt to varying degree’s while you are doing it, but I know the reward and sense of accomplishment in the end, will far outweigh the temporary sweat and tears which are just part of the process.
After a quick reward of admiring the view, I brought myself back to the reality of the task at hand and the fact that the end was still 50km away, but was happy with the fact that the longest climb was complete. I ran the out and back to retrieve my prayer flag and on the way back, I saw Simon Donato on his way out to the prayer flag station. We exchanged a couple brief words of encouragement to each other and I noticed he looked very strong. I had actually thought he was ahead of me at that point, so was a little motivator to pick up the pace as I knew he’d be chasing me down!
My new friend stopped to refill his camel back as I made my way down Mt. Hamel and he eventually caught up and passed me. We continued to run back and forth chatting periodically for another couple of hours. Eventually after a very long down hill, we made it to the ambler loop aid station where our drop bags were. As I was coming in I saw Ellie heading out, and she looked like she was on a mission. I asked the volunteer how long the loop was and he indicated it was about 5km. I knew at that point she was likely close to 30 minutes ahead of me, and would be tough to catch her now as time was running out, but again reminded myself to stay positive. I had been having a difficult time eating for several hours at that point and was happy to retrieve my drop bag and to be able to chug some liquid calories. Nothing else in the bag was appealing, but I choked down part of a banana and some coke. I took off got the loop and at this point had caught a relay runner for Leg 4. He was just ahead of me, as I looked up, I saw a black bear run across the road. He didn’t seem to be interested in us, and I am very used to running in bear country, but always nice to have someone else around when there is a bear sighing. We traded some electrolyte tabs for some water, as he said he had been having some cramping and ran together chatting for a wee bit. Finished the loop and wished I had put another Boost in my drop bag, as was still not able to eat, but pushed on for the remaining 10km or so to the end of leg 4, which was a long gradual downhill run on the road.
I reach the final CP to see my support crew and tried to get in a few more calories for the final push to the finish. As I left the CP, the trail started to climb again and went deeper into the forest. I caught up with a relay runner and exchanged a few words and continued to climb. I continued up and up for 45 minutes or so. I realized at one point that I hadn’t remembered seeing any flagging for awhile, but also didn’t remember passing any side trails. I took note of my watch and continued up for another 5 minutes or so until I came to an intersection. The trail continued on straight, or I could turn left of right. I went down both directions on the trail for a minute or two each way and didn’t see any flagging. I started to feel a sense of panic, in that surely this close to the finish, I hadn’t made a stupid mistake and missed following the flagging. The trail had been marked brilliantly up to this point, so seemed strange to not have any markings at a major trail junction. I figured by this point if I was going the right direction and hadn’t missed a turn, the girl that I passed on the way up should be fairly close behind. I yelled down the trail several times and listened to the empty void and the echoing of my own voice. I yelled a few more times and eventually heard a response back. As it turned out, the girls name was also Denise, and I asked her if she had seen flagging recently. She indicated that she hadn’t but had done this section of the race last year and was pretty sure we were to go straight through the intersection. We continued on together and eventually she pointed out some white buttons on the trees. She said these were trail markers and that they glow in the dark, so was sure we were on the correct trail. (They do in fact glow in the dark, and are fantastic markers when it is dark, as I’d see in an hour or so). We ran together for a bit and eventually came to the river crossing. I felt a huge sense of relief, knowing I had lost some time, but hadn’t totally blown it and wasn’t going to be wandering around in the dark all night.
We paid the Grim Reaper our token to cross the river and hopped on board for the short river crossing. I got my headlamp out and ready to go, as dusk was just approaching and figure I might as well get ready so I didn’t have to stop in it bit to sort it out. I thanked the driver for the ride and Denise and I continued up the next hill and I soon lost her. I carried on for awhile and tried to take in a gel and some fluids, and instantly felt nauseous. I began to throw up the little bit that was left in my system, and then started to dry heave. It was very strange, I’ve never thrown up in a race before and as quickly as it came on, it passed and I felt some better and started running again. I was a bit afraid to eat and drink after that, and knew I only had 11-12 km to go, so figured I should be fine to make it to the end without anymore fluid or calories. It seemed like night all of a sudden arrived and I turned on my headlamp, which does an amazing job lighting up the trails. I hit the 5km sign to go at 14hr:30 minutes exactly, and I thought I should easily be able to bring it in under 15 hours if I kicked it down. It’s amazing what the “kicking it down” pace is at that point, but it felt like I was going fast even though I was definitely not breaking any speed records! I could see the lights of town and could hear music, and turned the corner to see the very welcome sight of the finish line. I crossed the line at 14 hrs: 56 mins:24 seconds. Greg was there waiting for me with hugs and a smile and I knew it was all worth it once again.