Whistler runner survives Canadian Death Race 

Weather conditions made 125-km Alberta event tougher than usual

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - DODGING DEATH Peter Armistead (right) survived the Canadian Death Race in Alberta earlier this month.
  • Photo submitted
  • DODGING DEATH Peter Armistead (right) survived the Canadian Death Race in Alberta earlier this month.

With the brutal weather conditions in effect during the Canadian Death Race on Aug. 3, Peter Armistead admitted he was only too happy to encounter the Grim Reaper on the course.

It's not as morbid as it sounds, though—Death personified was just a costumed marshal tasked with ferrying competitors over an impassable portion of a river.

"This happened at midnight. You went down to the riverbank and the Grim Reaper is waiting for you when you get there. You have to carry this coin with you for the whole of the race, and you have to give it to the Grim Reaper. If you've lost your coin, you can't get across the river and you're disqualified from the race," he said. "The Grim Reaper puts you in a high-speed jet boat and zooms you across to the other side of the river so ridiculously fast. It's absolutely fantastic."

And, no, it wasn't a hallucination, although Armistead did own up to some of the visions he saw during the race.

"In every single race, you sort of see the trees changing shape," he said. "But with this particular race, I was probably about half an hour from the end, my heart rate with in the 180s and had been for many, many hours.

"There was a big chicken running in front of me, this massive, huge chicken. I knew it wasn't a chicken. I knew it was a person. But I looked at the chicken, knew it was a person, but I couldn't work out how it was a person and how it was not a chicken."

Armistead could easily be forgiven for his vision, as at that point, he was well into the 125-kilometre race that he finished in 17 hours, 12 minutes and 21 seconds (17:12:21), good for sixth in the 40-to-49 men's division and 22nd overall out of 230 finishers. Overall champion Alex Petrosky of Edmonton came it at 12:47:23.

While Armistead described the weather as brutal, he tried not to let it affect his attitude, even though he ran through a hailstorm and the threat of lightning. He also estimated he fell over 30 to 40 times over the course of the race, even tumbling into rivers and streams.

"The conditions were definitely miserable. It's been raining out there for three or four months solid before we got over there," he said. "There was a weather warning in effect the day before and the day of the race, but I knew that we were on for a really muddy, hard time out there.

"There was probably about a foot of mud, 30 centimetres of mud, pretty much everywhere. It just drained the energy and the life from you."

As well, the course, which starts and ends in the western Alberta town of Grand Cache, includes ascents of three mountains: Flood Mountain, Grande Mountain and Mount Hamell, with the latter being the greatest elevation gain at 2,465 metres.

"The course itself is very similar to running Whistler terrain," he said, likening a significant portion of the course to A River Runs Through It. "The course itself was challenging. I'd give it an eight out of 10. I've done 10-out-of-10 races."

Armistead said the key was pacing, as he didn't push himself too hard early on and banked enough energy for the back half of the race.

"It wasn't actually a miserable experience for me. The conditions were miserable, but I was well prepared for that. I knew it was going to be a rubbish, hard, long slog of a day, so I decided I was going to do it, and if I was going to do it, I was going to enjoy it," he said. "I had a goal and a time and position plan, which I'd locked up many months in advance. I abandoned that within half-an-hour of racing. I realized that my goals were way too lofty and it would be a real war of attrition out there."

Armistead reckoned that he was in the top 50 for the first half when he's usually nearer to the front, but made a surge in the back half of the course, eventually feeling strong and happy coming over the finish line.

"After about 10 hours, it became very clear that a lot of people around me were really struggling. They'd used too much energy and the conditions had got to them. They were cold, they were wet," he said. "A lot of people were battered and depleted by this, but I actually wasn't. I had a lot of energy left at Hour 10.

"I finished that race and I could have done another 50 miles."

Next up for Armistead is next month's Barkley Fall Classic in Tennessee, which serves as a qualifier for the legendary Barkley Marathons.

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