On Aug. 4, more than 1,500 extreme athletes will gather in Grande Cache, Alta., for the 12th annual Canadian Death Race. It is a 125-kilometre endurance race over rocks, roots and hip-high ruts that must be completed in 24 hours.
Hard? “This is three marathons over three mountain summits and a river,” race administrator Lori Mullen says.
Last year, 54 per cent of soloists and 13 per cent of those doing the race’s five legs in teams failed to finish. This year, women, who are drawn to the event in growing numbers, make up more than a fifth of the field’s soloists and 40 per cent of relay racers.
They might still be the minority, but many will tell you their patience and fortitude in the face of adversity make them ideal endurance athletes. The Death Race will be the ultimate test of their skills, but it’s the challenge that draws them to it.
Ms. McLean, a 38-year-old certified financial planner from Grande Prairie, Alta., is running leg two of the race as part of a five-person team.
Why: We’ve always gone every year and helped somebody out, and now my kids – five-year-old twins – are big enough that I can find some time to train.
Biggest challenge: I’m scared of the time cut-off. They say the second leg is the hardest. It’s 27 km and you have two mountain peaks to ascend and descend. I’d really like to do it in five-and-a-half hours.
Mental strategy: Pace myself and not burn up too much out of the start, eat my nutrition as planned and drink regularly.
Essential gear: My train shoes, to grip the mountain on the downhill.
Celebration plans: If we actually finish our legs, my husband, who is running leg five, just would like us to stay semi-sober so there are some teammates to see him to the finish.
A 39-year-old nurse from Kamloops, she’s in a two-person team with her husband.
Why: I’ve been doing long-distance endurance stuff since 2004. I’ve done Iron Man Canada a few times. Our relay team name is “Running with the devil – my wife,” which is supposed to be a joke. But sometimes it’s straight-up true.
Biggest challenge: I’m training seven days a week. I’ve taken two off now because I was so sore and it’s killing me – I’m like a caged animal, I want to go for a run.
Mental strategy: You have to take the race in tiny little pieces. If you think of the whole distance, you’ll panic and make stupid decisions, like not eating or not drinking.
Essential gear: Trekking poles are an absolute must, and clear eye protection. You’re running through the brush in the night and you can get your faced scratched up.
Celebration plans: We’re actually not big celebration types. We should be, but we’re not.
Ms. Shaughnessy, 31, an environmental consultant from Spruce Grove, Alta., is running legs four and five as part of a three-woman team.
Why: Nicole, who is one of my teammates, and I were at a wedding and we both had a little bit to drink. She said, “We should do the Death Race.” And I said, “That sounds like a great idea.” Later, we thought, What did we agree to?
Biggest challenge: Managing pain levels while training, trying to walk the line between pushing yourself enough and pushing yourself too much.
Mental strategy: I’ve competed in endurance races on horseback, so I have experience with mental challenges.
Essential gear: The most important thing is a good pair of trail shoes that don’t give you blisters and a really good pair of socks.
Celebration plans: Definitely high-fives all around. We’ll probably have a beer, and then we’ll probably go to sleep.
Ms. Campbell, 51, a former IT consultant from Palgrave, Ont., is running as a soloist.
Why: The main driver is to qualify for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in France next year. I like to have a goal to work toward, and I like there to be some suspense as to whether I’m going to achieve it or not.
Biggest challenge: There’s a lot of preparation in bringing the right gear. I’ve been going out at noon for a one-hour run during all these days where we set heat records, because it’s not going to be worse than that at the race. Staying awake and alert is also going to be a hurdle. I’m aiming to finish in 22 hours.
Mental strategy: I prepare a lot. I have a degree in engineering, so I do a lot of spreadsheets. And I make a lot of lists. If I get to finish, it’s because I’ve planned it very carefully.
Essential gear: I’ll be carrying real food, like a peanut butter and banana sandwich. There’s no Coca-Cola in my house, so it will taste like the elixir of the gods during the race.
Celebration plans: Sleep.
A 42-year-old nurse from Ottawa, Ms. Loeffelholz is running as a soloist.
Why: I’ve always been really keen on extreme things and pushing my body to see how far it can go. So we don’t freak out our kids, who are 5 and 7, my husband and I are calling it the Pink Fluffy Mountain Race.
Biggest challenge: Staying injury-free and healthy. That’s a big focus of mine.
Mental strategy: I visualize what I’m going to do. I know there are going to be low moments, so I draw on my life experiences where I had to struggle.
Essential gear: My shoes. I plan to switch shoes, and I’m very focused on having the right footwear at the right time. It’s probably going to be wet and mucky at some point, so you’re going to have to change your footwear.
Celebration plans: We’re flying out as a family and we’ve rented an RV. After the race, we’re going to head down to Banff and Calgary. And I’m looking forward to a big pizza afterward.