Leave it to a group of Terrace athletes to sign up for an event called the Canadian Death Race, once again proving the tough character of this northern city.
Five local cross country runners met in Grand Cache, Alberta, to participate in the 24 hour grind on Aug. 4 and 5, a 125 kilometre, 3 summit run with 17,000 feet of elevation change, one wild river and a huge party called the Death Dance on the last day celebration.
It’s a sport event catering to the most extreme athletes aiming for ultra thrills.
When team leader Samantha MacKenzie saw her relay partner approaching from his 27 kilometre leg, he was covered in mud and looked like he was about to collapse.
“Matt was running down hydro lines. But it’s all pure mud so he came in and he fell over kind of thing, covered in mud.”
MacKenzie’s team finished four hours faster than their goal at just over 19 hours. Of the 1,000 competitors, many are very serious, some professional athletes. The top time for the relay component was 11 hours. There is also a single’s event, which has a mere 33 per cent finish rate.
The team of five included, in the relay order: Heather Levecque, Matt Beddie, Samantha MacKenzie, Danielle Allan, and Aimee Rumble. Another Terrace competitor who was Ottis Broekstra who competed in the junior race and clocked in at 56 minutes. At 6 years old, he’s a mini death racer.
The team ran under the name Nightmares, borrowed from Terrace’s roller derby team which MacKenzie plays for.
MacKenzie said the hardest part of the race was in fact waiting in the cold for Matt, at one point taking refuge in an outhouse. That and the brutal final stretch on ankle-buckling terrain.
“It was the last 3.5 kilometres and you are on the side of the highway slanted and it was painful. That was the hardest part for me and waiting for an hour and a half freezing.” She says it was an emotional experience that she would however recommend: “I think it was emotional for everyone because you train so long for it and then it’s over and you’re like, ‘what’s next?” adding that the race had been a long term goal for her.
Despite the extreme nature of the event MacKenzie said that it was only her second official race of this type, her first being in Terrace at the Skeena Valley Relay.
“I have only ever done just like the Skeena Valley race, so for me the Death Race was amazing because it was in the forest and I had 13 creek crossings and just being off the highway I found I prefer trails, it’s so much easier on your body. There’s about 1,000 competitors and the whole town shuts down and comes to the Canadian Death Race,” MacKenzie said.
And, as if running through bogs and rocks for 11-24 hours isn’t hard enough, there are also signs about grizzly bears in the woods.
“As I’m running there’s a big sign about grizzly bears. I’m like oooooh, lovely,” MacKenzie said. The torrential rains that blasted down that weekend made for many puddles and MacKenzie said she did a face plant at one point, bruising herself. Though she didn’t get a single blister.
At the finish line, the ritual goes that a coin must be given to a grim reaper. Then the anchor times out.
The Canadian Death Race has become legendary, with several features on major news outlets and a reputation spread well beyond Alberta.
There is a full magazine called the Death Racer dedicated to the event.