Sunday, August 7, 2011

Of Course "It's A Killer"

I came to know about the Canadian Death Race (CDR) in the Trail Runner: One Dirty Magazine back in 2009.  The race, which starts and ends in the small town in Grande Cache, Canada, with stunning, breathtaking and awesome scenery, is 125km long.  While I might have done a few 100km races, doing the CDR would present a very different challenge considering the 3 summits that you have to ascend and descend, 1 wild river to cross with a total elevation of 17,000 feet!  But I signed up for the 2010 race anyway.  Unfortunately, I didn't make the cut-off at the end of Leg 3.  A friend commented that I would never finish the CDR as I was too slow a runner but somehow, my hands/fingers and brain were so fast on the early morning of 11 Jan 2011 (Singapore time) that they filled up the registration form even before I was fully woken from my sleep!

Luckily, I had a race every month leading up to Jul's CDR which meant that I need not worry about CDR till then.  But I knew it was only a matter of time I face the devil.  So I sat down and examined my last year's timing, together with the timings of the last few finishers, and worked out an achievable target to aim for in early Jul.  I also met up with Jose 2 weeks before CDR, who shared his 2010 race experience - mainly on what to expect on Leg 4 and Leg 5.  I told him I did last year's race without any support crew as I usually travel for overseas races alone.  Jose was very encouraging and commented that if I could make the cut-off of Leg 3 with 1 hour to spare, I would have no problem to finish the CDR within the 24 hours cut-off time.  He also linked me up with his good friend Matt, who was going to attempt the CDR, so that I could tag along his support crew to help me in completing CDR.

These new info and arrangement worked wonder and I was like someone being given a shot of morphine.  On the eve of race day, I met up with Matt and his friends at Grande Cache after collecting our race packets at the Rec Centre.  I had worked out my strategy and what I needed.  This was also taken into consideration the raining weather forecast for Sat, 6pm to Sun, 5am, as well as what I had put in the Ambler Loop Drop Bag emergency aid station.  The key man - Wolfie (I think) - would be the guy to look out for at the end of every Leg.  He was extremely tall and would be hard to miss - but to me, almost all Caucasians looked alike!  :p  I thanked Matt and his friends and went back for a quick nap before the free pasta dinner and race brief.  I also met Alex (whom I met at the TNF100 Philippines, CamSur) at the race brief and wished him all the best for the race.

Back home, I prepared my gear for the morning - TNF cap, TNF zipper short-sleeved top with 3 pockets at the back, Spibelt (to hook my bib and to hold my death coin), 2XU compression pants, Nathan HPL #020 hydration bag and my all-time favourite - my TNF Sentinal trail running shoes. (All available and bought from (or sponsored by) The North Face Singapore or Running Lab, less Spibelt and 2XU compression pants).

Leg 1 CDR (19km)
All solo runners and Leg 1 of relay teams had to check-in at the start, by inserting the timing stick into the timing device.  I did and kept my timing stick safe inside my hydration front pocket.  Everyone (runners, supporters and volunteers) were excited.  I was too but with some anxiety.  At around 7.50am, the Canadian national anthem was sang and at 7.55am, we were moved to the start line of the race.  The CDR was officially started at 8.00am sharp.  Most runners started fast and furious while I slowly warmed up in my slow pace.  I found my legs very lethargic - and it could be due to the altitude of Grand Cache at 4,110 ft.  I started panting and walking even before the first upslope although we were still running on paved road!  Things got slightly easier when we turned into the highway (since it was downhill) and even better when we entered the trail.  There was even a sign at the start of the trail head stating: "Go Death Racers - 120km to go!" - my god.

I started to enjoy my running.  It didn't feel as hard as it was but that was the beginning!  Soon, we had to jump over many muddy terrains and mud piles.  Most of us couldn't run and just followed the next guy in front.  There were a couple of kung-ho runners who "ran" through the waterlogged mud.  Then, the group split into two: one taking the left and the other taking the right flank, when we encountered yet another huge mud puddle.  I was glad I made the right choice following the person in front of me.  :)  This was much more FUN than last year - I thought!  I didn't dare look at my watch, preferring to run based on my feel.  After we came out from the trail and crossed over another highway to the other side of the trail, I knew I was not far from the end of Leg 1.  The lake on our right took my mind off temporarily.  A few miles later, we entered another section of the trail.  Before end of Leg 1, I saw a few runners helping a relay runner - apparently, he stepped into the muddy terrain and twisted his ankle.  He didn't look good as he couldn't stand at all.  I hoped he was able to reach the exchange for his team to continue.  As for myself, the soft terrain meant that my right ankle felt sore and out of alignment.  There was pain when I pushed off but luckily, this feeling didn't last.  Leg 1 was done in 2hrs 21mins, 6mins off my targeted pace but 9mins improvement from last year.  Overall, I find this the 2nd easiest leg after Leg 3.  I spotted Wolfie at the end of the long lines of supporters.  I drank up my milo, and refilled my drink and gel.  I also left my trekking poles untouched - what a decision!

Leg 2 CDR (27km)
Leg 2 was the brutest of all 5 legs as indicated in the Death Racer's race magazine.  I thought so too.  Not because of the steep incline but because of the steep decline as I was very bad at going down.  I stayed focus by zooming into what was in front of me - steady climbs.  I was again, able to pass people on my way up, but with more effort needed due to the soft ground.  I won't say I enjoyed it but at least I know I was strong to push myself going up Mt Flood @ 6,085 ft - the first summit, which I reached in 1hr 45mins, 6mins faster than 2010. (This section was about 11~12km).  At the top of Mt Flood, runners had to crest around the mountain before descending into Washy Creek - also known as the Slugfest section, where runners like me preferred to slide sitting down to save time and effort.  There were about 4~5 such steep sections.  At the bottom of Washy Creek, which was still at a high of 4,750 ft, I saw two men standing in the middle of a mud pile with their hands moving inside the mud - one of them lost one side of his shoes while prodding through the mud.  I wished they could find the missing shoe to continue.

The distance to the next summit - Mt Grande @ 6,520 ft from Mt Flood was around 10~11km.  It was another brutal section going up and I still managed to pass a few people.  I enjoyed it once we reached above the treeline - you could see the breathtaking scenery all around you.  Just before I reached the next timing station at the power line, I heard someone shouting at me.  It was Matt, on his way down to the town centre!  I was happy that I wasn't too far away from him.  This section was done in 2hrs 16mins, a great improvement of 31mins, probably because I knew when to slide down as compared to last year, when I probably tried walking and balancing my way down Slugfest.  From top of Mt Grande, it was 6km down towards the town and this was the worst section of the entire race! I couldn't use the sliding method as the various sections were too long and way too far down.  Once in a while, a cold sweat would break out of me.  After 1hr 29mins from summit of Mt Grande for a total of 5hrs 30mins for Leg 2, I finally reached the end of Leg 2 - an improvement of almost 50mins!  I met Wolfie just before end of Leg 2.  He had to shout for me as I didn't expect him to appear before the timing device.  I drank my milo and ate my gels.  I also asked Wolfie to reserve a banana for me at end of Leg 3.  :)  After I checked-in at end of Leg 2, I ate 2 more packets of jelly before continuing for Leg 3.  I was fairly confident that I could meet the cut-off at 7pm.

Leg 3 CDR (21km)
Leg 3 was the easiest of the 5 legs but one had to really open your eyes to run especially on the first half of the leg due to the big rocks that strewn along the course.  A missed step could mean a sprained ankle.  It was at this leg that I ran passed Scott, one of Matt's friend.  I wasn't sure if I should overtake Scott but as I was feeling strong, I decided to give it a go.  It wasn't that scenic so I could push myself a little.  Just after I came out from the trail, onto the paved road, I picked up my pace.  Before turning into the bridge, I caught up with Matt, who was walking.  He told me to push on and run, and not talk to him.  I did what I was told.  After crossing the bridge and highway, I hit a wall.  The 2km distance seemed longer that it was.  About 1km from the end, Scott zoomed past me.  Just meters from the end, someone grabbed me from behind and it was Matt.  I finished Leg 3 in 3hrs and an overall of 10hrs 52mins, just 8mins before the cut-off time at Leg 3.  Phew!  At the aid station, I gobbled down 4 cups of oranges!  Then I walked towards Wolfie at the far end.  There, I drank another can of milo, ate a gel and a refrigerated banana!  I also took the chance to powder my feet.  After a good rest of 20mins, I continued towards Mt Hamel's direction.  Before leaving, I packed another 2 cups of oranges and 2 cans of milo into my hydration bag.

Leg 4 CDR (36km)
Mt Hamel was the highest of the 3 summits @ 6,986 ft high.  But Jose told me not to worry as the climb was not as bad as Mt Flood and Mt Grande.  In fact, after the Hamel Escape Station near the top of Mt Hamel, the route consisted of switchbacks.  And he was very right in this aspect.  Unfortunately, I couldn't seem to get into any regular pacing at all.  One lady who walked passed me commented that I looked pale.  I stopped to refocus.  Yes, she was right.  I didn't feel as though I had sufficient food back at the aid station.  Shit.  This leg was the longest and I just started!  I decided to drink up one can of milo before I continued.  It worked wonder and I regained my composure.  By then, Matt overtook me on the way up.  I was alone walking in the trail.  Soon, I caught up with the two ladies who overtook me.  I also saw Alex!  How nice to have someone to walk with.  :)  So both of us started talking and walking.  Alex told me that the distance to the next cut-off was about 5km.  It perked me up and I was walking ahead of Alex.  I kept urging him to catch up but that was the last I saw of him.  :(  I then saw Matt not far in front.  He had stopped to help two runners on his way up.  While walking with him, I also learnt that he had a stand-off with a bear for around 30mins in Leg 3! Wow!  For a while, I wondered if it was the same bear that derailed my CDR last year.  I was glad that I didn't met any unusual creature this time round.  Along the switchbacks, I left Matt behind.  It didn't take me long to reach the summit.  After checked-in, I had to turn back for 500m to retrieve the flag.  But it was getting dark and you couldn't really admire the surrounding scenery.

After I deposited my flag back at the summit, I decided to wear an additional clothing as it had started to rain.  In total, I wore two short-sleeved top and a windbreaker.  Not bad for someone who come from the heat.  I should have exchanged my windbreaker with my raincoat back at the Leg3/4 exchange but in a haste, I forgotten.  :(  That was also the last I saw of Matt who went past me while I was changing.  Once done, I started my way down Mt Hamel.  It was dark at around 10pm and my headlamp came in handy.  I decided to fast march my way down instead of running as the trail was a bit rough.  And it was a costly mistake.  By then, the rain had gotten heavier and the wind, stronger.  I wasn't feeling cold, just miserable.  And once I entered the trail again (from the treeline), I encountered more puddles of water, some of which covered the entire track!  I decided not to wad across the water as it would be very cold.  I jumped into the woods and manoeuvred my way around the water obstacles!  I also lost quite a bit of time by giving way to the numerous ATVs who were plying the route to check on the runners on course.  I had aimed to reach end of Leg 4 at 3am but only managed to reach the Amber Loop Station at 2.10am.  After completing the loop, it was already 3am.  I knew time was tight and ran the remaining distance till I reached the check-point just before the main road.  From there, it was 2km away and I finally arrived at end of Leg 4 at 3.57am - (9hrs 4mins on Leg 4) 18mins before cut-off.

Leg 5 CDR (22km)
The volunteers told me that its 7km to the boat crossing.  I was happy to hear that.  I also asked if I could have the gloves as I lost one side earlier in the night.  They were happy to give me - THANKS!  I ate 2 packets of jelly and dashed off as my aim was to reached the boat crossing between 5.30am~5.45am.  The first part of Leg 5 was exactly what Jose had described.  He said "you have to climb on all 4s".  Luckily, the section was short but it was hell.  The footing was so soft that I would slide down after stepping on it.  I had to grabbed on the roots, branches and whatever I could grab on, to pull myself up.  After that start, things got easier.  But it was a misnomer to think that you could cover the 7km "fast" - 1hr 15mins~1hr 30mins that I gave myself was just not enough.  Basically, I got screwed.  I took things too easy.  Though I slowed in another 3~4 sections that resembled the first part, I didn't panic until about 5.50am as I had not reached the giant split rock.  I started to run, passed another runner and the split rock, but I was too, too late.  :(  I ended up at the Sulphur Gates staging area parking lot at 6.20am - a full 20mins off the cut-off.  After I stopped running, I shivered all over and had to be sent to the community hospital.  Imaging running for 8 straight hours in the rain, from the mountain to the river, in your soaking wet clothes!

The award ceremony was held on Monday.  You could see many people limping around.  I won 2 lucky draw prizes and picked myself a useful compression socks and a nice, long-sleeved Deathfest Tee.  Organiser also gave out the CDR race poster as souvenirs.  I managed to grab a couple and hope to use this to entice more Singaporeans to join me for next year's race!  I was glad to hear that Matt, Scott, Will and Sergio had completed their CDR.  I should be mad with myself for taking things too easy for the last leg.  But having said that, this was also the first time that I felt that I had really achieved something - though I DNFed.  It was hard for the local Canadians to train for CDR.  And I can tell you that it was a million time worse for someone from Singapore like me.  Singapore, if you do not know, was as flat as a pancake - the highest point being Bt Timah Hill @ 545 ft!  I had absolutely no terrain long enough or high enough to train - especially on going down as that was my biggest weakness.  There was another element that was different - the weather, especially up in the mountains where weather changes could happen any minutes.  We have a tropical rainforest climate with no distinctive seasons, uniform temperature and pressure, high humidity, and abundant rainfall.  But running in the rain in high humidity area is very different from running in the rain in the cold mountain!  I was just glad my body only gave up after running 8 hours in the rain-soaked condition.  Overall, it was a well organised race, except the Ambler Loop drop bag as the bags were not arranged in any manner.  In the end, I gave up searching for my bag to save some time.  (I was not sure if the reason for not finding my bag was because it was hidden away from the rain by well-thought volunteers as there were a bunch of drop bags not retrieved until much later, after Monday's award ceremony had completed).

I would also like to thank Jose, for his invaluable information on Leg 4 and 5; Wolfie, for supporting the runners throughout the 24 hours; Matt for his encouragement whenever I met him along the course, Alex for his company at part of Leg 4; and of course to all the volunteers out there supporting the runners!  Special thanks also to TNF Singapore for the sponsored gears - the TNF Sentinal Trail running shoes and Drymax running socks - the one pair of shoes and socks that lasted me for 110km and I had ZERO blisters!  Amazing stuff isn't it?  :)


restlessmonkey said...

Great great job Kelly! You're climbing power more than makes up for you're descending "weakness" (not weak at all). I'm very privileged to have run with you again. Till the next time.

Ripley said...

thanks for your compliment... but i won't say i'm good... just that i'm fairly decent going up... btw, who is this? :p