40+ KM of Canadian Death Race: Near Death Marathon Race Report



Elevation Gain

1816 Meters

Avg. Pace

09:28 / km



Cellular Coverage: Partial Coverage

Trail Type: Loop

Canadian Death Race Google Earth Flyover


I don’t know exactly what it was, but my headspace was not awesome on this one. I don’t know why because I love all Sinister Sports events. The RD’s are amazing, and the races are always incredibly well run. Yet there was part of me that was in the “Let’s just get this over with” mindset. I still don’t really understand where that came from. After all, this was one of the few races Michelle and I would run together. Many of our trail friends would be up in Grande Cache for the event, and the weather looked perfect.

But I digress.

Michelle and I made the 5 1/2 hour drive up to Grande Cache from Canmore on the Thursday prior to the race. We always try and get in a bit early so we can settle into our accommodations and have plenty of time to explore or relax as the want may arise.

Canadian Death Race
Canadian Death Race 2019

I did the full Death Race course in 2019 with my son Chris crewing me. This year I opted to do the shorter marathon distance. Again still a little unsure of what my body would tolerate given the injury that plagued me for all of 2022. That said, after a very successful Sinister 7 50 miler, I was tempted to bump to the full 118km distance. Ultimately, I decided to stick with “Just” the marathon. I laugh as I type this because it is funny to think that running a marathon in the mountains with almost 2000m of elevation has become an ‘easy’ run for me.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing ‘easy’ about this race. However, it wasn’t the 100 miler that I had been hoping to run this year. So, by comparison, a mountain ultra seemed much less daunting.

This year’s plan was to get the race done, then help crew our friend Shane who was running the solo CDR.

Based on my times in the 2019 full race, I figured I would come in somewhere around 7 hours. Knowing that the shorter event would allow me to push harder, I set my sights on a 6 hour 30 minute finish.

Race Day

Lesson 1 – Always bring your timing chip

Michelle likes to tease me about my “Check-in Anxiety.” I like to get to the start line nice and early. Usually far too early, if I am being honest, but I would rather be at the start line and freeze my buns off than be panicking about getting to the start on time. Saturday morning, race day, Michelle and I compromised, agreeing to leave the hotel at 7:15 for the 10-15 minute walk to the start line. The race start was 8 am.

We were probably a little later than that getting out the door, and I had to remind myself that we had lots of time to get to the start. Sure enough, we got to the start line about 30 minutes before the start time, so I felt good. My anxiety started to settle a little. As we approached the start arch and saw the timing mat, Michelle said, “We better not cross that… Holy shit! I forgot my timing chip at the hotel!”

I looked at my watch; we had about 25 minutes to start. Michelle had been fighting a nasty head cold for three days and felt like shit this morning. I knew there was no way she would make it to the hotel and back before the start time.

On went my never-husband superhero cape, and off I ran. A nice 2 km warm-up before a mountain marathon never hurt anyone, right? Oiy! I checked my watch often and jogged as quickly as I could trying to keep my heart rate in check. The only win of this incident was that I got to use the hotel bathroom for my last nervous BM and did not have to wrestle the lineup to the port-a-potties at the start line. My run friends will understand completely.

I grabbed Michelle’s timing chip, and out the door, I went. I glanced at my watch. Fifteen minutes to go time. It would be way tighter than I like, but I should be OK. When I got back to the start line, they had started singing Oh Canada, a pre-race tradition. Now all I had to do was find Michelle and get her the timing chip. It shouldn’t be too hard. There were only 2000 runners there.

I found Michelle where I had left her and frantically packed her timing chip into her pack.

“Ninety seconds to go!” yelled the Race Director.

Holy shit! That is one way to get the adrenaline going pre-race.

The good news was that I no longer had time for the pre-race waiting anxiety, and it was now go time! The jackhammer rhythm of my heart in my chest was starting to slow down when the gun went.

Leg 1: 16.6km, +244m

We’re off! Leg 1 was relatively short and relatively flat. I settled into a comfortable pace early and started to think a little bit about pacing. Did I want to push this one or enjoy a jog in the mountains? I looked at my watch to see I was ticking away at close to a 6-minute pace. Pretty quick for me, but I felt good. I thought, the heck with it. I’m just gonna run how I feel. Not pushing nor slacking either.

The first 4-5 km or so was pretty flat. As usual, with the start of any race, there are always a few bottlenecks trying to get around runners on the single track. Today was no different, but I was happy to settle into the pace of the pack.

The next 5 km, there was a little bit of up and down but nothing significant at all. The last 4 or 5km of leg 1 were flat on a gravel road. I looked at my watch to see I was pushing a sub-6-minute pace. I shrugged and thought, “why not. Let’s take advantage of the runnable flat while we can.”

TA200 came up way before I expected, as I had forgotten that they had moved it about 2km closer than usual. A welcome sight seeing all of the racers, crews and supporters cheering us all in. I grabbed some watermelon, oranges and bananas, refilled my 500ml flask and was set to take off again.

All of a sudden, I heard “Mike! Mike! Mike!” and I looked up to see our friend Katrina, who was crewing her husband Shane behind me. She had me come over and pose for a photo, then a quick hug and a peck on the cheek, and I was out onto leg 2.

Now the race was beginning. Leg 1 was just the warm-up.

Leg 2 – 25.7km, +1563m

Leg 2 contained the climb to Flood Mountain as well as Grande Mountain. Once we summited Grande, it was time to come down the dreaded “Powerline” section of the course.

Honestly, I wasn’t getting all the hype about Powerline. I had run it as part of the full race in 2019, and I did not recall it being that big of a deal. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

As I mentioned earlier, my head wasn’t in the game, and I kept looking forward to the race being over. This was a very new sensation for me. I did my best to be in the moment. Enjoy the views, the trails and chat with some of the other runners. I struck up a few good conversations with other racers, which helped, but I wasn’t ‘enjoying’ this race like I usually do.

We trudged up Flood Mountain, and I was surprised at how quickly we reached the top, where the marathon crew would go left, and the full racers would carry on to the summit. I was pleased to see my run friend, Cathleen, at the top of Flood volunteering at the junction. Again, in good run fashion, she made me stop and pose for a picture.

They say the section between Flood and Grand is the roughest section on the course. Lots of steep descent, boggy climbs and technical trails. I moved along as quickly as I could. Still, neither racing hard nor slacking off. I looked at my watch a few times, trying to do the math on the distance remaining to estimate whether my goal was within reach.

Ultra Math is a thing. It is a good way to distract yourself from the current suffering you are in, though it is rarely accurate. By my calculations, I was either going to come in an hour earlier than my predicted time or wait; maybe it is an hour later?!? Who knows? Just keep moving, Mike. All you can do is all you can do.

I continued to push on the climb up to Grande Mountain and was relieved to see the tower at the top, knowing I was close to the summit. The feeling of relief quickly gave way to a little bit of anxiety. I love climbing; it is where I am strongest. Once I reached the summit, I would have to tackle Powerline, the technical descent and my least favourite part of any race.

The view from the top was amazing, and I stopped for a moment to enjoy it. Now was time to start the slog down Powerline. The first section is a steep, rocky descent followed by a steep rocky ascent. In my head that was Powerline, and as I started to climb the far side I said to a fellow racer “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

He replied, “We’re not done yet!”

He was not wrong. I somehow blanked out the nearly 4 km more of pure nastiness that completes the Powerline section. I’m not going to lie; it was not fun. I think I blanked it out since in 2019 when I did the full course, it was proportionally a much smaller piece of the race. The descent seemed relentless. At one point, I told my GoPro, “I think we are done with the tough sections now.”

I was wrong. It kept going.

Eventually, I got to the bottom, where they had a water station, and my friend Keri, the co-race director, was there with water and a hug. She doused me a few times to cool me off, gave me her signature smile and said, “2km to town!”

Once again, I looked at my watch. I was just over 6 hours into my race. Holy shit, I might be able to make my “A” goal. I also knew that race supporters can be very ‘approximate’ regarding distance remaining, so I wasn’t going to get too excited about Keri’s “2km left!” I knew 2km could just as easily be 5km.

“All I can do is all I can do.”

I gave whatever I had left and just kept running. I think the most dangerous part of the race is that final crossing of the highway to get back into town. There was a lot of traffic when I came in, and not all drivers were heeding the direction of the volunteers.

As I ran the final few blocks, the road seemed to stretch out in perspective. The inner chatter started to take over.

“This seems like a lot further than I remember?! Oh shit, we have a small hill to run too. OK, damn it, there is no way I am walking this.” Looks at watch.. “Yeah, you’ve got this. Don’t slow down now!”

I rounded the final turn onto the grass, the finish line just 100 meters before me. A wash of emotion bubbles up. I feel tears starting to swell. I gently push them back down. Is it pride? Is it gratitude? Maybe a mix of everything. I am proud of all the work I have put in to get here. I am grateful that I get to do these things.

I hear the announcer call my name as I cross the finish line. I look at the clock to confirm I have met my goal. Another brief wave of emotion and it is done for another year.


36 place out of 260 overall. 25th male and 8th Masters Male. Fuck yeah!

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