They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Five women from the Nelson area can attest to that after completing the 125 kilometre Canadian Death Race.
Heather Hollman, 27, Brittany Boyer, Chantel Orr, Nadia Lebel and Heather Weberg, all 28, placed fourth in the event, which took place in Grande Cache, Alberta on the August long weekend.
Everything about this ultra marathon is known for being a killer. On top of the race distance, there is 17,000 feet of elevation change which climbs over three mountain passes in the Rocky Mountains, plus a river crossing in a boat. Each of the women — who called themselves the Kootenay Krush — ran one of the five different legs of the ultra race.
Boyer ran 27 kilometres over two mountain passes in four hours.
“It’s known for being one of the more technical sections. It was really steep and it was really hot at 27 degrees,” she said.
With a name like Death Race, it is not that surprising that she suffered scrapes and bleeding.
The majority of the trail is a single track. To tackle the trail she carried a small backpack with water and energy gels. On her feet she wore minimalist lightweight shoes, akin to barefoot runners.
“At first when I was running the race I said I’m never going to do this again,” said Boyer. But when she was done and her team placed fourth, she had another thought. “I’m pretty competitive so when we were done I thought, we can win this.”
Boyer had a tough leg but she was quick to point out that at least her run was during the daylight. Her teammate Hollman began and finished her entire portion of the race in the dark.
Starting at 8 a.m. racers have 24 hours to complete the course. Kootenay Krush finished in a time of 16:37:13, at roughly 1:30 a.m.
Hollman raced the last 22 km of the course with a headlamp and handheld light which was much needed as after the first 30 minutes, it was “pitch black.”
“It was amazing definitely,” she said.
Her hand-held flash light was so valuable as there were “lots of roots and rocks; there were reflectors on the trees that tell you you’re on the right track. Even with my flashlight I still tripped six times and fell flat on my face.”
Hollman could only see 10 metres ahead so she focused on what was ahead of her to overcome her fearful thoughts.
Another challenge was the isolation she felt in the dark night. Hollman has been living in North Vancouver and she said as a woman you don’t run on trails at night. There are even some trails people don’t run in the daytime alone for risk of personal safety. So the mental component of overcoming her fears was prevalent.
“The scary part was I didn’t see other people for the most part. I passed 10 people and one person passed me but other than that, I did not see anyone. You try to control your thoughts, but it is grizzly bear country. I was focusing on how to pace myself as there were hills I couldn’t see the top of.”
After the first seven kilometres in her route there were no kilometre markers. Not knowing how far she had left to go, she was once again conserving energy. “Even toward the finish I thought I still had five kilometres more.”
In spite of the challenges, Hollman felt fantastic at the finish line.
“I was so relieved to be back in society, near house lights and people. There was so much else going on during the race that I wasn’t able to push myself physically like the other girls did,” she said. “It was really exciting to do something with a group of friends from high school where we played sports together and haven’t seen each other much in the last eight years.”
She said the race is totally different than the basketball, soccer and cross country running they did in school.
What kind of training does one do to prepare for such a challenge? For Boyer, who works 12 hours a day, six days a week as an apprentice welder, preparation meant she started months ahead running on a treadmill four to five time per week. Hollman hikes regularly in the North Shore of Vancouver giving her a strong fitness baseline.
And even though Boyer and her teammates were exhausted after the race, they still managed to enjoy the live entertainment and music that followed.
Despite the gruelling course, both women said they would like to do the race again next year. Registration for the 2015 Death Race opens November 27.