Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Canadian Death Race -The 'Views' From A Barefoot Runner'

I had truly intended for this post to go out very quickly after we finished the Death Race, but everytime I sat down to start writing I started thinking about Lost Soul which I ran last weekend (report to come hopefully very quickly). I was on such a runner's high right after the race that I could not sit still long enough to start typing and when I did, my mind would drift towards thinking about my upcoming 100 miler. So for this I applogize, especially to Wendy as I know she has been chomping at the bit to read this. So here we go.....

We left Winnipeg at our usual time which is very early in the morning so we could make it into Edmonton as soon as possible. It's always interesting travelling with kids and a dog, because play and run breaks are very important, thus a usual 12 hour drive turns into 14 and sometimes more. As always, we had some interesting moments along the way. We almost ran out of gas twice, once in Saskatchewan (shudder the thought) and once in Elk Island National Park (seriously I thought there was more gas stations along the Yellowhead). Luckily we were able to coast into the gas station both times, phew I really didn't want to start running a long distance that soon I was trying to save my legs.

I also want to point out that I now know where all the mosquitos disappeared from Manitoba too, holy crap Alberta (especially around Edmonton). It brought a tear to my eye to hear all that familiar buzzing and skin smacking as the hoards of little blood suckers pounced on our relatively unblemished bodies. Five words come to mind, "You can keep them Alberta", they are all yours, we do not miss them at all.

We stayed in Edmonton overnight, to give the kids a hotel (and waterslide) fix, and this also allowed us to opportunity to go back to the Enjoy Centre which is a interesting place to check out when you are in the Edmonton / St. Albert area. To borrow the catch phrase description of the Centre from their website, "The Enjoy Centre is a unique multi-use facility featuring a spa, restaurant, bakery, deli and whole foods market, kitchen and décor boutique, liquor store, floral studio, greenhouse—even an events space!". It really is worth checking out.

The Enjoy Centre located at 101 Riel Drive, St. Albert. Just off of Ray Gibbon Drive
The Enjoy Centre is where we found quick access to the VEGA SPORT product line, that both Nicole and I have found preliminary success with in the form of hydrators and gels (I really do not like the GU gels, they are just nasty). I have also found that the Electrolyte Sustain Hydrator - Pom Berry flavour is the perfect thing to add to my water in my camelback bladder for the long run, it gives me that extra little bit that water cannot. Even the bars are pretty good, as they do not taste like that crap that Powerbar or some of those other companies put out. Who would of thought a year ago this meat loving transplanted Albertan would be using vegan products and actually telling people about it, for shame, for shame. Don't fret though, I still like my bloody slab of red meat though, I think I feel like steak for dinner tonight, but I digress.

VEGA SPORT Line, great products and they do what they advertise. Even this meat eater appreciates it. 

After we filled up on the necessities, we packed everybody back into the truck and started on our way to Grande Cache, another 4 hours with breaks and we would be there. The excitement was starting to build the closer we got, along with this was also the thoughts of  'What have we gotten ourselves into!' and 'Shit, are we really ready for this?' Nothing like a little bit of self-doubt before the biggest run I have done, like EVER.

We rolled into Grande Cache to something we were not expecting, cool temperatures and off and on rain. Crap I was really hoping for mid-range temperatures and partly cloudy, but it being the mountains that was a pipe dream. But at least I knew there was going to be MUD and lots of PUDDLES to tromp through, it gives me a slight advantage over those shoe wearing folks who are trying to keep their feet dry.

We were booked to stay at the Grande Cache Municipal Campgrounds for the weekend, but in true fashion, I screwed up and booked us in for Friday night to Monday, this would normally not be a problem but it was Thursday and this was CDR weekend. Well, I am happy to report that the operator at the campsite is an absolute doll and went out of her way to find us a campsite to use for the night. I really wish I could remember her name but as usual, it has disappeared into the black hole that is my name recognition area of my brain (one of these days I am just going to randomly start spewing names out of all the people I have forgotten over the years). It would mean we would need to move the tent to our reserved spot on Friday, but at least we had a place to sleep, all was good. Plus have you ever seen a couple of people walking down the road of a campsite with a completely constructed tent, I am sure it was quite interesting to see as that was what Nicole and I did the next morning, and it didn't even fall apart, as the shirt says above, "Be Impressive", and dammit we were. I would highly recommend the Campgrounds if you need a place to stay, absolutely fantastic.

Hazel at Campsite No. 1, intently watching the squirrels as they stayed just beyond her leash extents.
After we had the tent up, I went up to the office to find out where I could get some firewood for us, cooking hotdogs,etc over a campstove is just not the same. After a brief conversation with the operator (I seriously wish I could remember her name), I headed over to the wood enclosure to load up my wheel barrel ($10 for a load, pretty sweet deal), a couple of people started coming up to me and saying, "Hi Bob", I didn't think to much of it until one guy started talking about the Death Racer magazine and how I had a two-page article in it, and he went back to his truck and grabbed a copy for me. I was over-whelmed and really did not know what to say, I was contacted by a reporter about a month ago and he did ask some questions, but I was not expecting this. Pretty cool, there I was in a magazine complete with pictures, anonymity is now gone. Guess I was committed to run it barefoot now, oh well, wouldn't have it any other way.

Our 2 page spread on Team 'Up A Mountain With No Shoes'
Guess I am committed to running now.
As we mulled around keeping ourselves busy and waiting for Dan to arrive, he was flying in and was scheduled to arrive late Friday morning, we decided to head to town to check out the vibe on the street, so to speak. The town was hopping, Death Race flags and shirts everywhere, this was a town that was just busting at the seams getting ready for a hell-of-a-weekend. We started running into people we had ran the training camp with, and I was getting some weird looks and finger pointing, but honestly that was par for the course for the last few years anyway.
After picking up the race kits and taking part in a so-so pre-race pasta dinner at the hotel, we headed over to the 'Pre-Race Information' session, which was being held at the main stage by the start/finish line. Although it had a lot of good information, it was a little to theatrical for my tastes, Dale Tuck decked out as Dr. Death went through the leg descriptions one by one with a little bit of the 'Fear and Loathing' descriptions of what the runners might face thru the day. Dale sure knows how to work a crowd though it was quite interesting to watch. We also ran into Erick (City Park Runners) who was running Leg 5 with one of the North Face teams, Mark V. of course and numerous other participants of the training camp like Bert, Nikki, Carolyn, Jennifer, Rose and Christian. I know I am missing people again, but such is life in my world, if I did forget you, I apologize profusely and bend a knee to you in forgiveness (I really need to stop reading this Game of Thrones series, its corrupting me).

Dr. Death (aka Dale Tuck) and the Crystal Skull (trophy for the top finisher)

Disclaimer: As I am only intimately familiar with Legs 1 and 4 due to these are the only ones I actually ran this year. All information written below pertaining to Legs 2, 3 and 5 are only here say and conjecture, thus I am not taking any responsibility for false statements that may inadvertently be implied.
Preparation and Gear:
After a night of not much sleep (like that is unusual), I rolled out of our sleeping bag and started to get ready for the long day ahead. I was full of all types of emotions, excitement, nervousness, anxiousness to name a few. Nicole had been up and was returning from town with coffee for us and Dan (how awesome is that), and she already had half of my pack filled up with the essentials like, a full bladder, energy bars, Vega gels, emergency blanket and my bear bangers. I love my wife dearly, she always puts others before herself but sometimes I wish she thought of herself more, but at this point I was not complaining.
I was really starting to freak out as I was getting my running gear together and glancing over at the time, I did not want to be late to the start line not for this. So I started running my gear checklist through my head as I ripped through our running gear bag.
Ink 'N' Burn shorts, check;
Under Armor t-shirt, check;
Nike Running Hat, check;
garmin. check;
North Face light jacket, check;
Gloves, check;
Poles, my mid range trekking poles for those nasty hills, check;
Made For Skin Natural Skin Balm, check (perfect for prevention of chaffing, I really do not like Body Glide, this stuff is amazing and made in Winnipeg);
Death Race Coin and check in finger thingy, check, check;
Shoes, ch----, just kidding, I don't need no stinking shoes. Only my backup Vibram KSO's just in case.

Leg One:
With that, we all piled into the truck and raced to the start line to get me checked in, it was getting late, about 7:40 and I wanted a few minutes to focus on the day ahead without scrambling around to much. As I headed over to the North Face check in area I ran into Lori, one of the many fantastic organizers of this event. She greeted me with a great big smile, and promptly said after looking at my feet, "Why are those on your feet, your running barefoot aren't you Bob?" I smiled and said of course, but I am going incognito until closer to race start time I don't want to freak to many people out. She laughed and wished me luck. I checked in quickly and headed back to the start line where I disposed of the shoes and tucked them away, other runners started looking my way and pointing at my feet and whispering. I just ignored as much as possible and focused on getting into the zone. I got a bunch of good lucks from runners around me as the small talk continued, and I ran into (not literally) Craig from Winnipeg, we chatted for a couple of minutes said our good lucks and buckled down for the start. As the big clock at the Start line clicked down to the 8:00 start, I quickly went through my mental checklist in my head (because out loud would of just seemed crazy). Hat...check; running pack.... check; full Shit, I forgot to go to the loo, oh oh this could be interesting, hopefully my system can hold out until the end of the leg, cross your fingers or legs whatever comes natural.
View from the start line with about 10 minutes to the gun
At 8:00 we were off, after a slow shuffle out of the gate towards Hoppe Avenue, with RCMP officers in full regalia leading the way. The start of the run featured a quick loop up and back down to the start line where we were off and running. This was when I first realized I didn't have my poles with me, crap of all the things to forget I did not want these to be one of them. As I was cursing my way along, I looked up to see Nicole, like a vision of beauty, standing off to the side holding my poles out to me. With a quick thank you, love you and good luck I was off. Things were going along swimmingly as we carried on up Shand Avenue towards 100th Street (I believe that would be Main Street) and turned to head out of town. I was trying to maintain a even pace for this part as it was all on asphalt and I did not want to blow it early by going out to quickly. I was still passing other runners, to the shock and dismay of them once they realized my feet were bare. I felt like I was surrounded by a herd of buffalo with all the foot stomping going on, I just cringed and focused on nice light steps, be the ninja, I am the ninja........ Then there was Dale Tuck prancing (and I do mean prancing) up the dirt trail beside the road looking fresh and spry, enticing everybody on. This seriously was not a good look for the guy who was sporting black and white face paint, a cape and carrying a crystal skull the night before, did he have us all fooled the night before.All I can say is 'Well played Dale, well played'.
I was really happy with my pace as we made the turn to get onto the first part of dirt trail, I was still passing other runners, my breathing was good, my feet felt fantastic, I am quite sure my smile was from ear to ear. Then as we entered the woods, the unmentionable happened.... my stomach started to gurgle, crazy noises started to escape my posterior. 'Hmm must of been a squirrel making all that noise', was the only thing i could think of saying as i cruised along the trail, hoping nobody suspected the barefoot runner was letting lethal backdoor breezes escape in rapid fire succession. 

Then all of a sudden it stopped. I wasn't quite sure how to take it, was this just trying to get my system cleaned out of excess gas and potentially take a few of my competitors out at the same time or was it the calm before the storm. Only time would tell. So I figured I would take the opportunity to get some good running done, so I picked up the pace a bit and hit the muddy and wet sections adjacent the golf course with a reckless abandonment. I smiled as runners were trying to find a dry path around the many puddles that frequented this part of the trail as I just crashed right through the meat and potatoes of them. I felt like Wyle.E.Coyote at a Roadrunner convention with the doors locked as I tromped through the endless puddles. I was passing some serious runners and moving up the pack. I know I got some looks as other runners who could not see my feet until I came of out of the water seemed dazed and confused. I got my fair share of comments and well wishes as I made my way. I passed a photographer at one puddle and he went crazy with the photos as I went by I think I was also the only one he turned around to get a picture of me after going by him see link. I'm not sure if it was my crazy speed or my barefeet, I'm going with the speed because I was just flying (wink, wink). It was fun, for a while at least, until it felt like somebody just reached into my gut and twisted my insides into a knot. The gas came fast and furious and loud, so loud. I had no choice but to veer off of the trail and drop the shorts and let the world (at least the poor runners around me) see me in all my glory as i lost every bit of my dignity and cleared my bowels out at the same time. All I could think was I hope I brought the TP, because I really do not want to wipe my ass with a squirrel as my buddy Jason Robillard would say, or for that matter with leaves. Woohoo the TP was in the backpack complete with a ziploc for the cleanup, yes I am environmentally friendly, i have no issue with shitting in the woods, but I will not leave used TP around, that is just nasty.

After the 15 minute mandatory evacuation I was feeling much better so I grabbed my stuff and headed back to the trail, a good amount of runners had passed me by this time and I had a lot of ground and time to pick up. All I could think was my 2 hour first leg finish was definitely in jeopardy and I would have to run like gang-busters to get in anywhere close to that time. So I headed out with a bit of grit and determination, my bare feet felt like they were barely hitting the ground as I picked up the cadence. I hit the hills hard, trying my best to let my body go and have my legs and feet try to keep up on the downhill, it was an awesome feeling as I started to pass runners again. Things were looking up as I broke out of the woods at the highway access onto the gravel road prior to hitting the short trail run along the highway. The volunteers were hooting and hollering, and all of a sudden they stopped, then I heard it, the exclamation of "He's got no shoes on as I pounded past them with no concern with the pointy sharp rocks that were underfoot. Show no pain, lift, lift, lift, run like the ninja, was all I was thinking as I cruised by and turned up the trail. At this point I ran into one of my new Facebook running friends, PJ from Wisconsin, we talked a bit while we ran the trail to the road crossing, it was good to finally meet.

The volunteers were well organized and did a fantastic job of controlling the flow of runners and vehicles at the road crossing, this could of been a dangerous situation with cars trying to get to the transition for Leg 2 and the runners trying to get across the road, but it was 'smooth like butter' as I only had to wait for about 20 seconds to get my opening to take off across the road.

Things were going well as I felt like I sped through the next portion of trails, and onto the gravel road which at first I was quite concerned with but my feet just 'toed' the tire tracks and I carried on my merry way. With about half of the gravel road behind me, I was slowly catching up on one of the Legends of The Death Race, Dag Aabye, an absolute inspiration to me and many other a Death Racer. Dag is 71 years young and has participated in the last 10 Death Races as a solo runner and finishing I believe 7 of them. The only way I can describe the way Dag runs is, 'Smooth as Silk', he is such a treat to watch as he strides along at a consistent pace.

Dag Aabye as he came into the transition point of Leg 2
Photo Credit to Ray Stader's Better Half

 I was in awe as I slowly picked up the pace to catch up to him, I wanted to shake his hand and tell him how inspired I was by him, and that I hoped I could be doing what he was doing in 30 years. All this was flowing through my mind as I finally caught up to Dag, we both looked at each other and that was when the magic happened (at least in my mind). We both held our hands to each other and said pretty much at the same time, "I want to shake your hand you are a inspiration for what you do." I was in shock, here was this man who is the epitome of what runners should be, telling me I am a inspiration. I did not know what to say, and then I shook my head and we just shot the shit for a few minutes, it was amazing and humbling listening to him tell me a little about himself. He was also very interested with what started me on the path of barefoot running. It was a amazing experience running and talking with him and I will remember it for a long time to come.
As we headed off the road and back onto the trails we ended up running along the edge of Peavine Lake where this great shot was taken (I hope I got the lake name right, I don't think it was Grande Cache Lake), I think the blue sky brings out the flesh tone in my feet, don't you.
 At this point we only had a few more miles to go into the transition point with a couple of big up's and downs and some really muddy, swampy areas. In other words, fun for me. Absolute treat getting all dirty and not having to worry about the shoes being sucked off of my feet. The poor runner ahead of me, I think that was what she was worried about, as she cringed every time her foot went in and her foot came out with a big sucking sound. I just told her, that I would help her dig it out, if she did end up losing a shoe, at least I made her smile. Then we broke out of the bush to more gravel and the last little bit of distance to the building and hopefully where Dan was waiting. It was a great feeling running by all the people and being greeted by my son cheering me on to the finish. With a quick exchange of timing chip and Death coin, Dan was off to the races for Leg 2. I ended up finishing my Leg One in 2:18:15, definitely not the quickest time in the world but I will take it. As expected my feet performed perfectly, for that matter they performed better than even I anticipated. Now the long wait till my next Leg, that would be Leg 4: The Hamel Assault.
Leg 2: Flood Mtn / Slugfest / Grande Mtn:
This was Dan's leg, this was a quick mountain assent up Flood, followed with a crazy 'bumslide' into Slugfest, which brings us to another assent up Grande and a very long descent down the power line and back into town. This can be a very nasty leg, with lots of mud and water in the bogs of Slugfest. It is one of the longer legs at 27km but it gives you some spectacular views and of course lots of mud. Great place to get dirty, and not the place to be if you don't like a little bit of mud on your shoes, or feet or what ever you run in.
Dan was shooting for between a 4:30 and a 5 hour run and he finished not to far off that at 5:21 and change. This is not an easy leg, one day to the next it can change so much, depending on the moisture received. This would leave Nicole with 3 hours and about 40 minutes to finish Leg 3 or our day was done, no pressure right.
This sign is so true as you start your descent into Slugfest. One steep drop it definitely is.
Leg 3: Old Mine Road:
This was Nicole's first leg, a 21 km run from the Start/Finish Line (yes you return to the Start line at the end of Leg 2) shortcutting through town towards the dump and potential bears looking for an afternoon meal, then up the old mine road to the active coal mine and down the highway to the start of Leg 4. Doesn't sound like much does it, well don't be fooled. Even though this is deemed one of the easiest of the legs, it has it's own set of unique challenges and can become dangerous very quickly. I will not even mention the bears, but you end up running down some interesting trails that are covered with lots of loose rocks (prime territory for a good ankle sprain if you are not being careful). The leg also brings you through the valley, which heats up substantially and this year I believe it crossed the 30 degree mark. The heat and the trees above create another interesting phenomenon as well, the sunlight coming through the trees creates this sort of prism effect, which can really screw with your eyes if you are really not being careful, thus the loose rocks on the downhill and the light create quite the tripping hazard.
Besides these little gems, this is a perfect leg to pick up some well needed time, because there are some great downhills and some flat areas where you can pick up the speed and just go. My understanding that the heat this year knocked a few of the runners on their ass, really drained them just in time to start Leg 4.
Nicole did awesome on this leg, even though she would say it was to slow, at 2:57. I say she finished it standing and before the cutoff and she gave me over 40 minutes to spare, that was all I needed. I also must say, Nicole was not feeling to well before heading out, it might have been the nerves but none the less, she made it through and that shows how tough the love of my life is. A challenge comes up and she meets it head on. So as Nicole ran into the transition station, I could tell she was slightly relieved that she finished. Although she had to rest up, because Leg 5 was hopefully not to far away.
Leg 4: The Hamel Assault
I was getting really antsy waiting for Nicole to get in to the transition station, figuring she would be in at around 6:00pm, I was starting to get concerned when 6:05 then 6:15 passed by. I was doing little circles, around and around, I almost think a wore a path into the ground with all my pacing. The great thing about this was that I was not worried about people noticing my bare feet. With all the activity going on, nobody seemed to notice anyway which was a good thing. Because, I am sure the tension was pretty high with everybody and I'm not sure how i would of reacted if somebody would of said something. Trying to take my mind off the waiting, I checked my poles, got my gloves on, double checked my backpack (also making sure I disposed of my little package from leg one, ewwwe), made sure my bladder was working and just kept an eye on the incoming runners so I would not be caught off guard as Nicole came in. At about 6:19, I saw my two boys jumping up and down madly, as Nicole rounded the corner into the transition station, so I started getting ready for a quick osculation, some words of encouragement and a really quick start.
As Nicole reached me, there was the hand off of the timing chip, the Death Coin (very important for Leg 5), the above mentioned osculation (kiss) and I was off with a bang. I flew out of the transition station to a chorus of, "Hey look it's the barefoot guy" and " Holy crap he really isn't wearing any shoes!". I just focused on the path ahead of me and tried to steam roll up the pathway to the highway and the ditch until I had to enter the trees and the seamless never ending upwards trek to the top of Hamel.
I was so determined and focused that I just powered up the hill, utilizing a combination of power hiking and running when I could. I passed numerous runners, some looking better than others, some were well on their way to total exhaustion but digging deep to keep moving forward one step at a time. I took inspiration in this, as these runners (the majority soloists) were giving it their all and trying to finish, so who was I not to let them know how great they were doing and how great they were for taking on this amazing challenge. So at that point I made the decision to talk to everybody I met on the way up and let them know how awesome they were doing, its a beautiful thing. Of course with this, I ended up getting the 'Your My Hero' or the 'Your Hardcore' or my favorite 'Your Crazy' (aren't we all) comments thrown at me. The most inspiring moment for me was when I was coming up on this one relay runner, she did not look like your typical runner, a little over weight, dressed in not your typical trail running attire, but slugging it out none the less. You could tell she was putting every ounce of effort she had into this climb, she looked exhausted but determined to not let her team down and would not let the mountain conquer her. I ran with her for a bit to help spur her along, all she kept talking about was my feet and how she was just amazed at what I was doing. All I can say is, thank you for running that day, you are amazing and I hope to run into you again next year.
As I got about half way up Hamel, there is this clearing in the trees that gives one of the best views of the trail down (showing all the runners at different stages of the mountain, pretty epic) as well as out towards the other mountains, I decided to stop there and take a quick look around soak in the moment so to speak. Just on cue, I opened my mouth and I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Go Death Racer", and as my call ended, another picked up and then another, and another. 'Go Death Racer' echoed up and down the trail, it was one of the most beautiful and fitting things I have ever heard. I just stood there and smiled, then I turned and ran on inspired to finish this thing off.
Me heading up Hamel, look at all that glorious mud.......
I was setting a torrid pace up Hamel, I got to the top and checked in after the shale switchbacks, running the ridge line and collecting the flag and getting back in 2:32 which is pretty damn quick, most of the runners around our time were running this in over 3 hours so I was quite proud of my performance. Especially since I spent a little bit of extra time walking the ridge line in my barefeet, I really had to take my time up there as the the rocks were quite pointy and sharp. I also had to get some photos as well, because being on top of a mountain at sunset is the most spectacular thing to witness ever.
Looking out past the edge of the ridge line beyond the flag pick up station
The flags we had to get on the edge of the ridge line over looking a very long way down
Looking back the way I had come running back along the ridge line
just beautiful with one runner coming towards me.
I had originally figured I would put my Vibrams on for the shale switchbacks to the summit and for the summit ridgeline itself, but I was having such a great time and my feet felt fantastic, so I just carried on to the dismay of numerous runners and volunteers. Even stopped to pose for a picture or two, and possibly a proposition about watching me run over the rocky trail again or something like that. I was on such a runner's high, that it did not even concern me I would be going down the mountain as the sun was setting. That was at least until I remembered the Rock Garden that is located a couple of miles down the trail from the summit, this would be absolutely crazy to try to do barefoot in the dark. So with this thought I headed down the long and windy trail off of the summit. I will admit I was a lot slower going down than going up for some reason (yeah didn't make sense to me either), the only thing I could account it to was ensuring I had good FOOTing on the downs, one slip and my run could of been over with a broken toe or a serious bit of trail rash. My intent was to get as far down the mountain as I could before the sun finally dipped below the horizon.
With a little bit of skill and a whole lot of luck (definitely more luck than skill), I made it down to the flats approximately 5 km to Ambler Loop (a very long 5 km but 5 none the less). Here was a quick check point where the volunteers were stationed to record runner's numbers and ensure they put their head lamps on as the sun was pretty much gone and the darkness had taken over. I must say first of all both my lights sucked, they sucked royally, I thought I would be set with one on my head and the other wrapped around my waist, boy was I wrong. I was having a hell-of-a time seeing anything at all, first I thought it was my eyesight playing tricks on me, but that was quickly disproved when I was running with Barb with her crazy high powered light. So I quickly realized that my lights were grossly inadequate for running trails, technical or non-technical in the dark. So plan B came out, I made sure I was running with another runner or two for the balance of the trail to Ambler then I would re-evaluate. This worked really well, plus I got to talk to some really awesome soloists en route, picking their brains for tidbits of information on training, and them me for the ever popular topic of barefoot running. They never suspected that I was just using them for their lights, it was a perfect relationship. Just kidding, they got me back a little further up the trail when we encountered the lakes that were dotting the landscape of the trail, can you guess who tested the water. I knew you could, of course send the barefoot runner into the water to test how deep and treacherous it is. Not that I really minded, as I happily trudged through the water and mud. Pretty much they needed to find a way around if they wanted to keep their feet dry, was the verdict for most of them. Thanks to Tom, Steve and Pascal (I hope that was everybody, its hard to tell in the dark), I was able to make it to Ambler safe and sound.
After a quick stop to check in and hitting the aide station for some sugary goodness (got to keep that energy up), I headed out on the 2 km portion of gravel road to the next check in and the trail that loops back to the aide station. I was still barefoot as I headed out, and after about a km and a lot of cursing and swearing (I just could not pick up the gravel very well with my lights), I was starting to think that finishing off Leg 4 barefoot was not in the cards. I could of kept going but at a reduced pace, but I was starting to get concerned with time as I still had 10km plus to finish and the majority of it was on gravel. So with a sigh I sat down in the middle of the road and started to put my VFF's on. I was a little disappointed,  but when Jennifer and Nicole a couple of other fantastic soloists passed me and gave me the motivational speech I needed (I still can't believe you went that far barefoot), I brightened up, got my shoes on and got my butt back to racing. Seriously I just finished a mountain summit barefoot and finished about 50 of 60km barefoot on the day, I would say that was a huge accomplishment, and why shouldn't I be proud of that.
So with that, I cruised up to the next check-in point, not worrying as much where I was stepping, cause my feet were protected by my KSO's. I think my speed pretty much doubled over my previous output, well that might be a bit of a stretch but it felt like I was flying. I quickly passed Jennifer and Nicole, thanking the both of them for getting my mental game back where it needed to be and I entered the trails of Ambler Loop. You know that they added this section on to get the distance because it is the most boring section of the whole 125km, I just wanted it over, so I went quick, not worrying about puddles, just running right through them, wet shoes or not. It also helped that I really still could not see that well so a couple of the bigger puddles caught me off guard and I was in them before I even realized it. This would of not been so bad if it was just me but I was still kind of trail blazing for a few other runners and unfortunately a few of them got wet too, oops.
After finishing Ambler I quickly checked in and started heading down the last 7km of gravel road and onto the highway to the transition point. This was the longest part of the whole leg for me, it just seemed like it would never end, typically I run a 10km in about 50 to 55 minutes, this race from getting to Ambler Loop to the finish it took me 2 hours and 16 minutes, that was 12km give or take plus a aide station stop, can we say my lighting speed was very much turtle like. But realistically I cannot complain because that first 1 km and a bit barefoot on the gravel took me about 20 minutes at a run, I could of walked it faster I am sure.
When the endearment of the gravel road from hell finally came to a conclusion, I was so glad that I had only 2 km up the side of the road. I was making good progress and I caught up to another soloist about a half of a km from the finish. Now I am a bit competitive, but I could not bring myself to pass a soloist before a transition station, to me it is just not good karma. They have been out here slugging away and I am just doing two legs, no way I slowed down to let them in first. I did not find this out till later, but the runner I was trailing into the station was Craig D. from Winnipeg. A great runner who I have had the pleasure of running with at the start of the day, Craig finished Leg 4 ahead of me by 6 seconds. Overall I finished Leg 4 in 7:02:32 not bad for this barefoot guy. Nicole would have lots of time to finish Leg 5 (about 6 hours and 20 minutes), unless she got lost or fell off the trail we were sure to finish before the 8:00 am cut off, still no pressure right.
Leg 5: Hell's Gate:
This was Nicole's turn to shine, she loves running in the dark, and was really looking forward to the boat crossing at the Smokey River. She took off from the aide station with her normal zest for life, definitely feeling better than she did earlier. She headed up into the bush for the technical canopy trail with a bit of a skip and a jump in her step. It brought a smile to my face as I watched her disappear into the woods. I knew she would do awesome, because she sure kicked my ass at the training camp for this portion, so it was definitely in the cards. Sometimes I wish I could of ran with her for this, but I felt I could live vicariously through her for the trip across the finish line. I know she did great because she is my wife and she is the most awesome part of my life. She also never ceases to amaze me with everything that she does on a day to day basis. Let me just say life is never boring with Nicole around, she inspires me to do epic things like this little race.
Nicole finished strong and ended up running in with another unbelievable soloist named Laura finishing right behind her with the same finishing time (21:54:21), that would be 5:54 in the morning Alberta time. What a experience for everybody involved, this is a Class event and an adventure to remember for not just all that finished but for all that participated. The organizers and volunteers are top notch bar none, and the town comes together to put on one hell of a great event. I now know why runners who participate in this event come back year after year, and I will be one of them. Next year I will be tackling this solo and have already started planning my strategies to make sure I finish. Because I am a Death Racer, and I do not take that lightly.
Go Death Racer..............

Nicole coming into the finish just behind Laura. Note the time was adjusted due to the time out at the river crossing waiting for the boat across.


  1. I'm so glad you included all of the almost needed to have Dan and Nicole write their experiences during their legs. That's not criticism, I just find myself longing to hear their voices in the piece. Other than that, I am thoroughly exhausted, invigorated, emotional (romance, comedy, struggle, inspiration, humbleness, defeat, motivation...I mean I feel like I just got off an emotional rollercoaster) and a little scarred (from the little package from Leg 1...ewww LOL). Another fantastic post and SO worth waiting for. Brilliant my friend! I can't wait for the 100 mile!!! (Oh yes, consider that pressure!!!)Plus, I definitely want to hear more about Dags! Congratulations on becoming a Death Racer...check that...a Barefoot Death Racer!!!! Well done! Go Death Racer!

  2. Go Death Racer! Which I heard most memorably on Leg 2 on the really hot 2009 race, echoing across the ups and downs of the "Slugfest". And pleased to have run with both you and Nicole at Spruce Woods in May. I'm running exclusively in Vibrams now, encountering you being the last motivational prod. I don't know if I'll get to barefoot or not, since the Vibrams are so much fun, but we'll see. Now, like a few people I suppose, I'm waiting for your Lost Soul report...

    1. Great writing Bob! Brings back so many memories of my past attempts at CDR. Can't wait to hear about the Lost Soul race and if I remember the same things :)