On August 1 and 2, 2015, the annual Canadian Death Race (aptly named) – better known as the CDR – takes place in the Rocky mountains; specifically from its base in Grand Cache, Alberta.
You might ask yourself “why in God’s name is coach Jeff blogging about something that has DEATH in the title?” And I would respond with “I have absolutely NO idea!”. In all seriousness, I am blogging about it to support one of my barefoot runners – Michelle Bolhuis – who is attempting to complete the race in her 2nd attempt (she made it almost to the 3rd of 5 legs last year running barefoot). Beyond this, she hopes to become the 1st to ever complete the race whilst running barefoot. In all likelihood, this will take her 3 to 5 attempts! I have been training her off and on specifically for the race since April of 2014. In that time, Michelle has made tremendous progress in her ability to handle the challenges of the CDR. Some of these include the following:
- 125 kilometres that begins and ends on a 1500 metre (4200 foot) plateau
- the bogs of Leg 1 – the technical 4 kilometre section can take a 1:40 1/2 marathoner up to 2 hours to complete (ouch!). Runners spread out over slippery pathways holding onto barb wire lines to keep from falling (heavy gloves are required). The bogs can be waist high – thus, running them barefoot is a BIG advantage IF you can figure out how to keep moving in waist-deep mud
- the bronze Rocky Mountain summits (3) of Leg 2 that include over 5.500 metres (17,000 feet) of elevation CHANGE (again, ouch!). This is by far the most technical section of the race finishing with 5 kilometres of vertical climbing to the summit of Flood Mountain – better known as the ‘rabbit hole’ (you don’t want to know!). This is immediately followed by a slug fest with other racers during the steep and technical descent along the hydro lines, down the side of Grand Mountain.
- the river rock (aka mid-sized boulders) of Leg 3. Suffice it to say if you make it this far, you MAY be begging for mercy. Many have suffered broken limbs in this section amongst other serious mishaps. Running barefoot over these is actually easier than in ‘coffins’ – IF you can master the technique of fascial bounding (the ability to use the natural elasticity of the muscles to transfer power from the earth through the feet with NO noise
- the Hamel Assault of Leg 4 (the longest and toughest leg – and the one Michelle HOPES to reach in this year’s race). Cutoff time is 4:15 a.m. and includes the 2,300 metre (6,986 feet) ascent of Mt. Hamel done basically with NO rest. It’s broken into 2 long climbs that suck the life (or whatever’s left) out of you. If you are able to continue, it’s off to the spectacular cliff bluffs at Hell’s Canyon (that’s its name!) to retrieve (of all things) a PRAYER flag (as if you haven’t prayed to God enough during the race!) as proof of making the turnaround point. If you can imagine, it’s all downhill to the finish – it happens to be strewn with boulders, slag and deep ruts – done mostly in the DARK (which is unfortunate as this is one of the more scenic sections)
- the bush run of Leg 5 (done at night) that leads the racers through a major deep glacial river crossing where the Smoky and Sulphur Rivers converge. If you are still moving, the reward is a spectacular sunrise view of Hell’s Gate Canyon
Michelle and her training friend, Patricia, who is NOT doing the race but wanted to support Michelle at the camp attended the 1st of 2 CDR training camps from June 5 through 7. The goal was to experience as much of the race segments as possible whilst being realistic as to how far you can get on race weekend. They did phenomenally well – all things considered. Michelle was the only barefooter at the camp. She surprised everyone with her ability to run over some of the toughest terrain on the planet – without injury and at a faster pace than last year – all barefoot. The coach can’t make this stuff up – Michelle is one of a rare breed of humans willing to take on seemingly impossible physical challenges…because she CAN!! As a barefoot runner and barefoot running coach, I know the benefits of doing such a race barefoot. Faster, lighter, injury-free are just a few of the reasons for doing so. Good on you, Michelle!
I admire those who take on challenges that go beyond the norm. The CDR is NOT something I -the coach- would take on BUT I certainly enjoy training Michelle to do so! Here’s to her attacking the CDR course…and WINNING!