Friday, March 20, 2015

Race Report: death and all my friends--a less-than-scientific investigation on ultramarathon death races not involving vehicular homicide

(originally posted as a Facebook note on 20 March 2015.)

Since a few of you live vicariously through me....

full disclosure: the RD's for both of these races wanted me to run these races so badly they made me pay my own way to participate in both events.  the opinions stated below are fully my own.

by the numbers:

 Canadian Death Race ("CDR")
  • date run: August 2, 2014
  • location: Grande Cache, AB, Canada
  • distance: 125k/78mi
  • type: loop
  • time: 21:30:01
  • elevation gain: 5260m/17000ft
  • elevation range: 938m - 2162m / 3030ft - 6986ft
  • gear: Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2's to 67km/24mi, Hoka One One Stinson Trails for the balance
  • weather: high of 27 C / 81 F; low of 5 C / 41 F.  humidity factor of +13 C / +33 F
  • trail conditions: pavement, ATV trail, forestry service road, mining road, single track.
  • trail conditions: mostly dry.  mud in one early section.  
  • relay option: five person team
  • pacers: not noted in rules but impossible given number of check-in stations and a boat crossing that only accepts registered racers.  yes this race is weird. 
  • overall placement: 53/366
  • DNF%: 69%
Georgia Death Race ("GDR")
  • date run: March 14, 2015
  • location: Union County, GA (Amicalola Falls State Park to Vogel State Park)
  • distance: 107k/67mi
  • type: point to point
  • time: 16:51:51
  • elevation gain: 4692m/15154ft
  • elevation range: ~464m - 1314m / ~1500ft - 4250ft
  • gear: the CDR pair of Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2's to 48k/30mi, a new pair of Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2's to 69k/43mi, Hoka One One Mafate Speed for the balance
  • weather: rain and fog.  EVERYWHERE.  high of 16 C / 61 F; low of 9 C / 49 F.  humidity factor of +5 C / +10 F
  • trail types: stairs at the beginning.  less than 1/6th pavement.  forestry service road and single track for the rest. 
  • trail conditions: wet is an understatement.  nothing was dry.  
  • relay option: none
  • pacers: safety runners permitted from 61k/38mi onwards but disqualifies you from prizes. 
  • overall placement: 51/207
  • DNF%: 19%
  • DNS%: 38%.  This may have had something to do with the course reversal three days before the race though.
I ran this race because:
  • CDR: a few colleagues and I signed up as a relay team but then they all backed out for various reasons.  I had wanted 2014 to be a year of 'gateway ultras' in the range of 50k/50mi anyways so I said "what the hell" and switched to a solo registration.  (my company paid for the entry fees anyways.)
  • GDR: when I ran the 2014 Georgia Sky to Summit I was told finishing that race would be a GDR qualifier...but it would not prepare me in any way for the race itself.  I signed up because that totally made sense [to my curiosity].  
the whole ___________ gets behind the race:
  • CDR: town.  the volunteers, suspension of nighttime noise regulations, drive to find lodging for everyone, allotment of a tent city, discounts for runners everywhere in town--this race saved this town's bacon at one point and every year it just turns into a giant circus for one weekend.  as you'll read below, there's a reason for that though.
  • GDR: Amicalola Falls lodge--the whole place turns into a circus for one weekend and they let the nearby roads be a part of the course.  I should note though that this race is still in its infancy but it's going places--when I ran it it was newly a part of the US Skyrunning Series and newly a Western States qualifier--so hopefully more and more of the vicinity will recognize the cultural potential of this event and support it accordingly. 

elevation (different scales used):
  • CDR:
  • GDR:
things you need for the race (excluding mandatory gear):
  • CDR: a crew--the only drop bag point is more than 80k/50mi into the race.  shoes and socks (ALL OF THEM)--it's going to get wet.
  • GDR: either drop bags or a crew--there's two drop bag points 48k/30mi and 69k/43mi in so I went without a crew, but because the terrain is very imbalanced (pavement/forestry service road, then single track) it would be smart to stack your shoes accordingly.  (I had to switch out my Rapa Nui 2's for a newer pair of Rapa Nui 2's at the first drop point due to a lack of traction.)   wrist/waist lamps if there's fog--in case you don't want to be blind or tripping balls on the night section.  shoes and socks (ALL OF THEM)--it's going to get wet.  gels--none available at aid stations. 
aid stations had:
  • CDR: cookies, candy, pudding, fruit cups, granola bars, chips, water, sports drink, energy bars, instant noodles WITH NO HOT WATER, Hi-Chews for some reason
  • GDR: bananas, cookies, coke/ginger ale/mountain dew, Sword energy drink, pb&j sandwiches, bread, pickles, steaming hot vegetable broth and noodles, chips, fresh grilled cheese, steaming hot homemade pizza, bacon at 82k/51.5mi and girl guide cookies at 94k/59mi.  also fireball whisky was available at 94k/59mi but I suspect only after the temperature dropped to a certain point--I was too fast for that.  but I honestly think I did not lose weight at this race. 
the volunteers were
  • CDR: pretty awesome, but they really weren't memorable.  (EXCEPT YOU BRAYDEN.  I REMEMBERED YOU.) 
  • GDR: super awesome.  at no point in time, even at the start of the race when we weren't that spread out, did any aid station volunteer just ignore me.  I'd say their friendliness and eagerness to get you what you need to go to the finish line is on par with what I have heard about those at WS100.  some noted water-only aid stations somehow had chocolate milk and massage rollers as well, and there was also a Montrealer out there after Point Bravo between aid stations who recognized my compressions, so I guess some of them are really really passionate.  I also note that some of the stations were literally in the middle of bumfk nowhere, so they most definitely have the same, if not more dedication than runners trying to finish the race.  same goes to sweepers--there were plenty of dropouts due to the fact this course is just so inaccessible.  run bum tour volunteers wear orange t-shirts labeled "enabler"--which is way too apt. 
the scenery was:
  • CDR: ok?  the mountains were taller so you could see farther, I guess.  Hell of a sunset off of Mt. Hamel though.  landscape is reflective of the Rockies.
  • double meh.
    double meh.
  • GDR: I was apparently running in a cloud for most of the day to the point where the humidity continuously kept my Oakleys fogged up.  so yes, it was pretty depressing, but when you run ultras you're in a pit of infinite despair anyways so I did not mind.  historical pictures look very North Tyrolean though, but with the direction of the race running 50% of the gain in the last 25 mi of the race, i'm not sure the scenic stuff would have been seen in the dark for a slow guy like me.  landscape is reflective of the Appalachians/Bragg Creek foothills area for my Canadian friends. 
things to be worried about, besides DNFing and injury:
  • CDR: bears (including grizzlies), lightning, cougars, alpine winds, heatstroke, eye gouging by tree branches (clearing trail is apparently not a thing in the last 20k/13mi).   
  • fking ents.
    fking ents.
  • GDR: slipping on rocks in the rain (the state of Georgia does not believe in switchbacks), unfriendly ents, night fog reducing headlamp visibility, field mice if that's not your thing, a mountain bike race running in the opposite direction of the course (I was lucky to have caught them going uphill as I was going downhill, but a few of the fasties caught them going the same direction--while blowing their minds by matching their uphill speed), lactic acid buildup from early road pounding. 
the part where i was most afraid for my life was
  • CDR: when my first headlamp ran out of juice under thick canopy. 
  • GDR: when a strong consistent gust combined with some fog dropped visibility to just shy of 5m on the DRT.  you know how drivers ed teaches you never to use high beams in the fog?  yea, that happened. 
the RD seems
  • CDR: like a douche.  CDR was initially started to drive tourism to an economically undiversified community in 2000 when the local mine shut down; the entry fee back then was a modest $100 (unadjusted).  the mine reopened in 2004 and wilderness tourism was proven to be a viable lifeline as well for the town's economy, but the race still very much has a for-profit feel.  you're not getting a lot for the $350 entry fee (seriously, you should be getting at least a pasta dinner the night before at that price; GDR was just $95) and dale adopts this whole over the top dr. death personality to go with the death motif--which is totally unnecessary, IMHO.  the commercialization aspect of this race  overshadows the grassroots feel you get with most ultra races, and I felt like I ran an ultra in a contained commercial environment like an amusement park or a zoo when I finished this race. 
  • GDR: like a sadist, but he most definitely wants you to finish.  the course is uniquely brutal in the sense that there is a imbalance of single track and wide boulevards so that you use different parts of your leg muscles for different parts of the race--but if you've been training, sean gives you everything you need to finish the race.  you're threatened with a DNF rate of 40% consistently, along with the whole death race "YOU'RE GONNA DIE" motif, but towards the race, he pumped us up so much we collectively said "FK the 40%". he also will not extend this race to 100mi for the sake of nice even numbers; the race will be as long as the scenery warrants it. 
course marking was:
  • CDR: pretty good--I never got lost.  for aforementioned reasons I think the course is signed all year long. 
  • GDR: pretty good--I never got lost.  the trademark run bum black polka dot on pink tape was used, and even with the course running headlong into a mountain bike race using solid pink tape, i thought the marking frequency was just right.  I should also note that the USFS was kind enough to supply us with interactive PDF maps which show your position on the course on any smartphone with A-GPS, even in airplane mode.  never used it though for aforementioned reasons. 
Spectators kept shouting:
  • CDR: Go Death Racer!
I finished the race and these parts hurt like hell:
  • CDR: feet--I had not discovered toe socks yet.  future life choices--this was my first WSQ. my left big toenail from multiple rock impacts.
  • keeping cool.
    keeping cool.
  • GDR: popliteus--from trying to run downhill without slipping and hyperextending my legs.  hip flexors--shattered during the first third on the flat stuff, but running on the hilly single track after 70k/43mi would be silly anyways.   ego--living next to the rockies and at a higher altitude means nothing to this race. my left big toenail from multiple rock impacts. 
also keeping cool.
also keeping cool.
I finished this race and all I got was
  • CDR: a challenge coin.  back when it was sponsored by TNF it would have been a decent plaque.
  • GDR: a railway spike.  obviously not real but hella unique. 
would I run this race again?
  • CDR: no, unless the entry fee decreases or I get a decent pasta dinner the night before.  seriously--$350 for a sub 100miler is stupid. 
  • GDR: yes, to try it in the other direction.  also ideally with banjo music somewhere and moonshine too. 
run this race if:
  • CDR: you shower with Dom Perignon every day.  you can't do 100mi but 100K is too lame.  you want to die by three mountains and bunch of smaller hills.  you want to get pulled over coming home during a long weekend.  you want to see a half-assed adventure race that is secretly an ultra.  you like to contribute to dale's real estate fund.  you want to do an ultra fun for the whole family (there's a kids race the following day, or failing that, a 5 person relay option during the solo race).
  • GDR: you don't want to race up mountains but want something just as punishing with stupid elevation changes.  you want to die by eleventy bajillion hills.  you want to clock at least 100K with some of the most hilariously stocked and placed aid stations ever staffed by some of the funnest people you will ever meet.  you want to show up all the spring breakers going hiking.  you want to experience Appalachia without the Northeastern snow and summer bees and snakes.  you want to see the epitome of southern hospitality. 
miscellaneous thoughts:
  • at CDR, you have to stay wet to keep cool.  at GDR, you have to stay dry to keep warm. 
  • the presence of relay runners just kills your sense of urgency in finishing the race.  when there's just one distance involved, you get your act together pretty quickly when you realize runners passing you are killing your placement. 
  • CDR uses the same course every year.  the GDR course was completely reversed three days before the race, and is now scheduled to go all Badwater every year (i.e. alternate course direction each year).  
  • other achievements: I was awake for less than 24h for this race.  I also only went through less than one headlamp battery. 
  • the GDR winner was 18 years old (AND SPONSORED BY SALOMON).  kids these days.
  • according to ultrasignup I was apparently the only foreign finisher at GDR.  lol.

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