My Canadian Death Race Story

2 08 2010

On March 7th 2009 I decided to get back into shape. To lead a healthier live style and run Marathons again. I’ve never been a fast runner but I’m steady and strong. The Goal. Run the Philadelphia Marathon in 3 hours 19 minutes and qualify for Boston 2010 and run with my sister Ava who had already qualified. I had run Philadelphia in 2005 in 3 hours 28 minutes. In the back of my mind lurked a much bigger goal …run the 125 km Death Race in July 2010, in Grande Cache Alberta. 

I ran a Marathon in July 2009 in my childhood town of Barrington Passage NS. It was tough as I was not quite ready and ran it in 4 hours 18 minutes. I trained much harder and by october I was reasonably close to my goal. Then out of nowhere on November 7th I got kidney stones which flattened me for 2 weeks ending my opportunity to try Philadelphia which was in mid november. As I lay in bed waiting to pass the stones I made the decision that I would focus on the Death Race training. Slow down and go longer. I joined a running room clinic for support and met a coach by the name of Stephen Bogardo who impressed me with his strong and direct personality. His no nonsense approach to training appealed to me very much. When I hired him in april I had been training in volume in a very non specific way and was getting a lot of small injuries. He offered to help and immediately cut my training from 6 days a week to 4 days running and 1 day cross training in the gym. 

With my injuries I met with Dr Chris Oswald of Oswald Chiropractic on Young and St Claire Toronto who started to help align my back legs and feet to handle the 135 km a week I was logging in my training. 

I ran the Mississauga Marathon in a relaxed 4 hours 18 minutes without any muscle fatigue. The following weekend I ran the Bluenose in Halifax ( love this run) in a very easy 4 hours and 38 with my sister Ava. The catch to that one is we ran it at 2 AM so she could be back to assist the volunteers by 7AM. Yes she is hardcore! 6 days later ( the reason why I ran so slow) I ran my first Ultra Marathon in Sulphur Springs ( Ancaster Ontario), a 50 miles ( 82 km) which I completed in 10 hours 8 minutes. I made many rookie mistakes including getting lost for 20 minutes and did very poorly un assisted at my transitions and only ran for about 9 hours 20 minutes of that time. 

After Sulphur springs I started to develop some serious foot problems and due to my work/travel schedule I wasn’t seeing Dr Oswald as often as I was supposed to so he could barely maintain me. 

In June I was on a long run and felt a sharp pain in my knee. I didn’t treat it very well and 7 days before the Death Race it was swollen and throbbing often. Dr Oswald treated me enough to get me to the race against his advice. Stephen had been working me hard on hills and big distance and I was in peak physical condition and we were fairly comfortable that if the knee held out not only would I finish the Death Race I would do so in 18 hours. 

I felt great on Race day. No knee pain! My sister Ava was with me and would “crew” me the first 4 legs of the race and then anchor a relay team called Girl Heart Rockets from the USA on Leg 5 of the race. They went on to win the women’s division in 14 hours 46 minutes. Her finishing an hour after dark on a seriously sprained ankle! 

With a bit of miscommunication by race officials at 2 minutes before the official start time I found myself sprinting back to the car for MANDATORY gear I apparently had to carry the whole race. I did the 1 km in 4 minutes jacking my heart rate to 172. Thankfully the race start was delayed by about 5 minutes so I had 2 minutes when I got back to the start line to calm down! 

I did the first leg 7 minutes ahead of schedule and felt fine. I met up with Michael Wentz of California whom I had been chatting with on Face Book for several months and we ran together a bit chatting. He’s a super nice guy who shared tonnes of valuable information with me over the past months. 

No knee issue so far and it was a perfect day for a run but already 22C by 10AM. 

. Leg 1 was already MUCH hillier then I anticipated and hillier then anything I trained on although described as fairly flat in the course outline. With this in mind I entered leg 2 with a bit of trepidation. 

Leg 2 was an amazing and brutal climb of 2600 feet to 6000 feet above Sea Level where I could feel the effects of the elevation on my breathing. I knew from that climb I was off schedule by 30 minutes and would have to gain time on the decent. At the top of Grande Mountain there were a group of people taking a break and looking out over the spectacular vista with a view of the town far below. It was breathtaking ( literally and figurative). It made me happy to be alive. I was having a great day and was on a spiritual high. Amazing. Canada is a spectacular country. After a Five minute break of munching pretzels, walnuts and dried apricots I started off. The decent was aptly called “The Slug Fest” by the locals and was a Phenomenally tough 2 part decent. The first 1000 feet through a black spruce muddy slippery forest then another 600 foot climb followed by a severely sharp/almost vertical decent on loses gravel and scree for 1800 feet. On the first 50 feet of the decent into slug fest I stepped between two roots as I turned and wrenched my knee so hard I saw white and threw up from the pain. As I stared down the final decent I knew I was in trouble. I cinched a towel as tightly as possible around my knee brace and started to pick my way down. Stepping gingerly with a jolting pain in the knee every step. I knew now I was in trouble with my timing with dozens of other runners passing me. 

I felt good when I hit the flats and jogged and walked into the transition area where Ava was very nervously awaiting me an hour and a half behind schedule! I iced the knee and changed into a lighter street shoe and set off on Leg 3 seeing if I could make up time. I ran a bit and soon realized I had to hike 60 percent of the time. I was in great spirits and was passing a lot of people with my fast hiking and intermittent running. The knee was swelling and I hiked most of the last 10 km coming into check point 3 to 4 in 45 seconds under the mandatory cut off. I knew it was time to make the decision I had been wrestling with for the past 2 hours. Could I continue physically and mentally? Yes. Although by times the pain was intense. The day, the scenery and the camaraderie were unparalleled! 

I discussed with Ava’s team members and race officials and decided that even if I could make the next cut off time climbing 4000 feet to the top of Mt Hamel ( 6600 feet above sea level It would take a Herculean effort to do the Crazy 3800 foot decent. I would probably do such serious damage to my knee that I would be in rehab for months. To date one of the toughest decisions of my life and heart wrenching was to cut my timing chip off my wrist and Disqualify myself to race officials. I was devastated. I went back to my hotel to shower and ice the knee. I was suddenly overcome with emotion and was inconsolable for about an hour. This was soon replaced by gratitude and pride as word went out to friends, employers and family and the dozens of supportive emails poured in. 

I remembered something I had thought when I started…. The journey is worth more than the destination. I had derived so much pleasure training for this. I have undergone personality and attitude improvements. I had been humbled by this race and grateful I could participate in an event with some of the world’s top athletes. I had reaffirmed the beauty of life and of this country’s beauty. I had met wonderful people and forged new friendships that can only be acquired through something that we had mutually suffered. I saw how many people cared about me from family, friends and employers/co workers I finally understood the adage that “it is better to have tried and failed then to have never tried at all” 

Somehow I am writing this today with a full and happy heart. Without any shame or remorse. I am content and proud and determined to continue to strive for excel lance I all that I do. To help others and be kinder to myself. To be grateful for what I have not jealous of what I don’t! 

I release that man is a puny almost insignificant part of the universe and that mother nature in all its glory is massive powerful and in control 

As my father so aptly stated. The mountain was there for a long time and will be there far after I am gone. My kind sister said even the wind needs to bend around the mountain. So true 

But perhaps I will need to come back and attempt once again to “conquer the mountain”. To see what else I can learn of myself 

The journey continues. I will start posting video and pictures as soon as I have access to a real computer 

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15 responses

3 08 2010
Heather Meara Paterson

Stefan,
You remain heroic to so many of us and I am thankful to have lived “vicariously” through you for your incredible journey, learning lessons from you. I believe that you learned all the wisdom that you needed irrelevant of finishing or not – it IS about the journey and NOT finishing the race… You learned respect for the power of Mother Nature and gathered so much insight in the quiet, long moments of training that at worst taught you to listen to your body and stop when you needed to so that you did not cause permanent damage and at best to feel happy and proud of yourself for all that you have accomplished and taught us!! KUDOS and CONGRATULATIONS Stefan!!

9 08 2010
Yvette D'Eon

Still proud of you brother.Next year you will complete the death race.At the end of the day your health is the most important thing.

9 08 2010
Michael Wentz

What a great story! I think you have grasped the spirit of this sport in its entirety. It isn’t just about finishing. It’s about the people and the journey! You hit the nail dead on this time.

Happy to have shared the small part that we did share and hopefully we will have the chance at some future race!

Consider doing the North Face Challenge in San Francisco in Marin. I will likely be there. It is on December 6th I believe.

Also, keep you eye out for something I am working on. I have a feeling you might like it. Hopefully will be done by the end of the Month…that is if work doesnt get to busy…crossing fingers. I am pretty sure when you look at this that you will be doing the death race next year… 🙂

peace man!

MW

11 08 2010
extremechef

thanks Michael…….it was so cool to run with you. I could see that your spirit was so strong you were already at the finish from the first few miles………………looking forward to your suprise! Id like to run the San Fran run……….work and body dependant

12 08 2010
Joan Czapalay

Your Canadian Death Race story makes me so proud, Stefan, to be your mother. You have expressed yourself so openly for all to share your journey of self discovery. Your ability to write about such intense feelings has moved me deeply. Your love for Diana, your children, your family, friends and all whose lives you have touched at any time
will be able to see the growth of your fine spirit. Keep on writing and running. Life is beautiful!

13 08 2010
Stew Wilson

Great story Stefan. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. Anyone that does any one leg of this beast deserves a medal. I’m so pleased to hear that Ava and her team did so well.
Best of british to ya bud.

13 08 2010
extremechef

thanks brother

15 08 2010
Ray Bear

this knockdown will only make you stronger and more determined! I have witnessed it in you before!
Proud of you for what you have accomplished. You have and continue to be a mentor to me.

Ray

16 08 2010
extremechef

thanks man…..ive got it. its a lesson in “no matter how well we plan we cannot control the outcome” good lesson…sucked for a minute…….i ll just aim higher

22 08 2010
Christine

Awesome story Stefan! We passed each other a couple of times during slugfest on Leg 2 – you were joking about making omelettes with all the mushrooms, about the smell of pot and sharing a rest stop on a tree stump! Too bad about the knee, but sounds like you have embraced the experience at Death Race 2010 and it was a pleasure to share part of it with you!

25 08 2010
extremechef

Hey Christine….yes…i was in great spirits considering my knee was falling off!!!!!

4 11 2010
Michael Wentz

Hey man…hope your “chef ultramarathon” is going well! lol

Wanted to send you my story…since yours is so well written.

http://canadiandeathrace.weebly.com/my-story.html

4 11 2010
extremechef

Hey Michael. Thanks. I am ordering your book right away. Cant wait. I will try and post a link to your book, but im not so good at the IT stuff!

10 01 2011
Trevor Somerville

Awesome story Chef!. I still need to finish mine sometime this week before I forget exactly what happened haha.

– Trevor

11 01 2011
extremechef

get at it….of course you could always go back an refreash your memory

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