Took a little bit to get some time to start this, but figured it was worth at least a little bit of a post. I was a little bit nervous and a whole lot excited to get the opportunity to partake in this training camp. To get the opportunity to not only see the course first hand before we had to run it in August but also get some inside tips from not only the organizers but also from experienced 'Death Racers' as well made this trip very important to us flatlanders (this was the term that Nicole came up to describe us with during the camp) from Manitoba.
Nicole and I arrived Thursday night late and Dan (the very important 3rd component of our team) ended up arriving Friday morning about two hours prior to the start of the camp. I can tell you the elevation change if you are not ready for it can definitely play havock with your breathing, so it is very important to get a run in before just to get your lungs used to the thinner air. When you go from an elevation of 240m (786ft) above sea level in Winnipeg to 1,280m (4,200ft) above sea level in Grande Cache before you even start up a mountain, you need a little time to get adjusted. With this in mind Nicole and I went out for a quick (ok, not so quick) 1 mile loop around town to take in some of the great vistas and get our lungs introduced to the local conditions. Wow, what a difference, it seemed like the lungs were working twice as hard for that short distance, this was going to be interesting to say the least. I was actually more tired after that mile run than after I finished my 3 miler in Cold Lake the previous night.
This was the sunset we were treated to the night we arrived in Grande Cache
After a night of restless sleep in anticipation of the next three days, we headed over to the Grande Cache Information Centre to check in for the camp and 'Face the Day' ahead of us. Suddenly the three of us from Manitoba were surrounded by some seriously fit people and I will be honest, I was a little intimidated, most of these guys and gals had that look in their eye, you know the one that 'I am going to eat you up and spit you out', look. Hmmm, I wonder how they were going to take to this smaller in stature, barefoot runner from the prairies treading on their territory, I seriously hoped by the end of the camp there would be a little mutual respect flowing my way as I start my journey to gain the covented title of 'Death Racer'.
The camp started off with a quick overview of the next three days and an introduction to the organizers and volunteer team that would be working out with us throughout the weekend. Dale Tuck, the founder of the race did a spirited speech about the course including the ups and downs that we might experience throughout the race utilizing a little bit of humor and fear that had me wondering what I had really gotten myself into. You could tell that he had fun doing this as the smile slowly got wider and wider as he went along. I could tell this was going to be a weekend to remember and I was going to embrace every minute of it and dig for as much information as I can from him and the rest of the team. The team of organizers for this event were fantastic and you could tell they were happy to be there and ready to help and cheer on at every corner, I can not thank all of them enough for everything that they did. The camp ran like clockwork, the organization skills of everybody involved were second to none. Another treat was that Tracy Garneau (the 2010 Western States 100 miler Women's winner) was involved in the camp as well, and not only were we able to run with her (let it be way behind her) but we were able to pick her brain for advice and hints. She is the best downhill runner I have had the honour to see run, and Nicole was bound and determined to get some downhill running hints from her as well.
Once we dropped all the cars off at the end of Leg 2, we crammed everybody into a few select vehicles and headed out to the start of Leg 2 south of town. This was where the first of many 'Feats of Magic' performed by the organizers and volunteers happened. The mysterious car drop and they magically appear at the end of the run, ready for us to go. As I said earlier, the coordination and logistics of running this camp was second to none. As everybody headed over to the other side of the highway to where we were starting from I was starting to get some questions about my shoe choice. I was wearing my old VFF's in anticipation of me losing them as we started the run, but of course I was not devulging this to anyone. So I answered some questions, advised those who were curious that I was testing the waters to confirm my foot coverings of choice (basically none) for the race. I got a couple of good lucks and a couple of 'I don't think those will last' and a 'Your a braver man than I' comments from the runners and that was that. Prior to starting Dale conducted a tutorial on the use of treking poles, showing us the do's and don't's to utilize them effectively, that is a skill that I definitely need to master and he made it look so easy and fluid. I on the other hand, look about as graceful as a walrus trying to tiptoe over a iceburg, not so much. I would see running with poles was going to be a bigger challenge than I originally thought, oh well, On On.
As we started up Flood Mountain, I lost the shoes with a big sigh of relieve as my toes felt the contact with the ground for the first time in the mountains. I was suddenly rejuvenated as my legs started turning over and the run began for me in earnest. I stuck to the back of the pack but I did end up passing a few surprised runners as this guy with no shoes rambled by them with their fancy trail shoes. The trail was absolutely fantastic a mixture of soft pack and hard pack, a few areas of water to tromp through and a good introduction to hill running with a steady incline up towards the top. I could feel the quads starting to burn a little bit as they were not used to running uphill for any extended period of time, but I am quite sure I was grinning from ear to ear. Fun Fact: We were all given two flags to help mark the course as well, this was my first on Leg 2 about half way up Flood Mountain, my little piece of history and Dan better remember to pay homage to my contribution when he runs by in August. I also tied one on Leg 4, Mount Hamel on the descent but I forgot to take a picture.
Here are a couple of the photos that I took while being a tourist going up Flood Mountain, I figure I would get them out of the way because there will be no time for photo taking during the race.
My contribution to the marking of the Death Race Course
'Mark of the Barefoot Death Racer'
Trail heading up Flood Mountain Doesn't look to daunting does it.
... and looking down.
Love this sign, I blame it all on Nicole
There was lots of this up the trail, creeks crossing the trail or just running down the trail
One of the many of vista shots from Flood Mountain
More photos to follow:
As I reached the final bend at the top (not really the top but at the start of the 5km loop to the summit), all I hear is Tracy shouting at me 'Oh my god did your shoes not work? Are your feet ok? This kind of confused me for a second, then I realized she did not know I run barefoot, so I started to chuckle and like the smart ass I am, I pointed to my shoes shoved into my pack strap and said no the shoes are fine they are right here. Then I explained to her that I run barefoot, and she gave me one of those quizical looks, shook her head and then the questions started coming. You could tell she wasn't sure how to take it and with general concern with my safety as well to ensure I knew what I was doing, so with a raised eyebrow Tracy asked me how long I have ran like this, how far and what type of terrain. I must of satisfied her concern because once I gave her my answers that was that and she headed back over to the main group. I got some looks from the other runners who were waiting, I don't know if they were having a hard time with what they were seeing or they just could not believe someone would be crazy to run up a mountain barefoot. Well what can I say, I guess I could be classified as a little bit crazy, hopefully in a good way. A few of the runners were curious and started asking questions about my feet, the typical ones, 'You must have crazy calluses on your feet', 'How can you run on rocks'. One of the other runners, I believe it was Nikki said, 'I could never do that, Ican't even walk barefoot around my house, stepping on Lego hurts to much'. I think I surprised her with my answer to that one, 'Yes stepping on Lego hurts me too, usually because you are not expecting it to be there, when you are running on gravel you know it is there thus you are prepared for it.' This kind of set the tone for the rest of the day, I kept getting a lot of comments from everybody how tough I was and they could never do that, etc. etc. Really it has nothing to do with tough, just finding that thing that works for you, and running barefoot works for me, end of story.
I also got the look from Dale as he rounded the corner with the last of the runners, but he did not push the issue, I am assuming that he figured I either knew what I was doing or didn't and would be done the camp by the end of the day. Nicole decided not to carry on and run back down with some of the other runners who were not running this leg to conserve themselves for tomorrow, so I switched packs with Nicole as my bladder (no not that one) system was not working properly and I was not getting any water from it. I love my wife so much, she is always out to make sure everybody is taken care of, and thinking about herself last, this is a trait that is really hard to find and she has it in spades.
The entering of Slugfest, this is 1,300 ft drop down to Washy Creek which is located between the two mountains. Basically a swampy area that had most of the runners complaining about getting their shoes wet or scrambling to find a way around the boggy areas with little to no success. This was a big advantage for me, as I could just trudge right through everything and no issues. As long as I watched where I was placing my feet, all was good. I ended up with a few runners following me as I was calling out where the deeper areas were as well as potential shoe sucking off feet spots were. I think I saved a few runners their foot wear that afternoon. I wish I would of took some pictures along the way of this leg but I was having to much fun running through all the muck and water, oh well maybe next time, but you can use your imagination it was pretty much a swamp.
As I said earlier what goes down must come up and we had a second mountain summit to tackle in Grande Mountain. Grande Mountain rises about 2,200 ft up above Washy Creek utilizing a combination of trails and mining roads, so lots of gravel and shale rock over the approximately 10km of the leg. Nothing beats running on rocks to solidify your form, keeps your steps light and quick. By this time I was also starting to get the hang of the poles, and wow were they an energy saver and took that extra stress off of the quads and calves, I was really starting to like these for the ups.
A view from the assent of Grande Mountain
Gravel mining road going up Grande Mountain
Kristian and Jenn making their way up
Almost to the top or are we?
I was amazed at how the roads or trails just continued to go up, round and round we went twisting and turning, I was starting to think we were never going to get there, when finally there it was. The top of Grande Mountain, I could see the weather station that we saw from the townsite (it seemed so far away), and I was in awe as I just finished my second mountain summit in the same day, well ever as I have never done anything like this unassisted before, it was just unbelievable to be standing on top of mountain and looking around. Yes I conquored it barefoot, strike that one off the bucket list. The views were fantastic, Grande Cache seemed so far down, then I realized I have to go down now, shit, I still have a long ways to go until this is done, the hardest part is the power line run down as it is a drop and no relenting until you are down. Just a continuous drop in elevation with one little up part way down before you drop the final 1,800 feet plus or minus down to the cemetary (I might be needing that by the finish) and the cars.
The weather station at the top of Grande Mountain
Another view from the top of Grande Mountain
The view of Grande Cache way, way down below
Just for comparison this was taken from Grande Cache looking at Grande Mountain can you see the weather station way, way up there? I knew you could.
The power line was just plain crazy most places were a straight down drop with a dirt trail weaving down the mountain. My first thought was just let go and run with it, but then I thought maybe a controlled descent would be better, considering there was quite a few rocks scattered all over the place, and stubbing my toes were not on my wanted list at this time. It was a challenge in some places keeping my footing but again the poles came in handy as I was able to use them to steady myself in places that I thought I was losing control. Holy crap my quads were getting a workout, I have to say this was the most difficult thing I have ever done and I was loving every minute of it. I was tired, but having the time of my life, and could see why people do this run year after year, it was like an addiction needing to be satisfied. I honestly don't know how many miles it was, nor do I care, I had an absolute blast going down, I was almost thinking of asking Dan if he wanted to switch legs, I was having so much fun.
A view of the power line descent from Grande Mountain
A look at the vertical from the bit of rise part way down.
Still a long way to go, down that is.
As I rolled (not literally) into the cemetary area at the bottom and finish I was greeted by some of the organizers (Tanis, Lori, Anita and Eryn) and the look of surprise on their faces as I rounded the corner grinning from ear to ear. I'm not sure if it was the smile or the barefeet, but it was nice to see them and Nicole at the bottom to greet me, made me feel special. I must say that was the hardest thing ever, until tomorrow that is. I have the deepest respect for anyone that not only finishes this race but runs it all. It is crazy hard but worth every second of it. So first part of the camp is done, I now know my feet can handle it and I am looking forward to the real challenge of tomorrow, Mount Hamel.
Me at the end of Leg 2, feet a little dirty but performed fantastic.
Day 2: The Hamel Ascent........... to be continued.
Some more pictures will be posted later.