Saturday, August 6, 2016

Canadian Death Race 2016; Guest blog by Melissa Budd

While the rain, water washes away who you are
We go over the mountains and under the stars
We go over the mountains and under the stars

Ruben and the Dark, Bow and Arrow
Melissa Budd Canadian Death Race 2016 
My friend David always jokes about getting a DFL (Dead F**king Last) someday.  He figures it is just as hard to come in first as it does to come in last.  While I question his logic on this one, I knew it was certainly a position that I never wanted to be in.  My perspective changed Death Race Weekend in Grande Cache.

This was my first time running CDR.  For a prairie dweller like me, I had some reservations about the elevation, but I was confident I could do the distance.  My friends, David, Bert and Shane had already done this race and were very helpful in their advice.  Bert had offered to run with me which put my mind a little more at ease.  David’s friend James and Bert’s girlfriend Rosario would crew for us.  Perfect!
 The Start

The morning was beautiful.  Cool temperatures, cloudy but not ominous.  The only electricity apparent was that of excitement in the air.  Bert and I started conservatively and leg one flew by.  We came in faster than I had anticipated.  With a quick change of shoes, a Coke and a sandwich, we were off for leg 2.  Leg 2 consisted of 28 km and 2 mountain summits and lots of downhill running.  This was my favourite part of the race.   I felt like a kid running down those hills.  To add to the fun, there was this beautiful lab mix dog that would either be running ahead, beside or behind us looking like he was having more fun than us.

We finished leg 2 in good shape.  Now we just had to get through leg 3 before the 7:00pm cut off.  I was happy when we did with time to spare.  The Race Direstor said that getting to the 7:00 cut off was the key to finishing this race.  I picked up my rain jacket, hat, gloves, head lamp and tied a zip up sweater around my waist.  On to Hamel. 

Bert Blackbird, Melissa Budd and ?

Hamel - Leg 4

 The ascent up Hamel is a grind.  Almost 7000m of elevation - all right away.   I’m not a fast climber but Bert and I kept it steady as we climbed.  Up, up, up- it seemed like it would never end.  Bert reassured me we were doing fine and we would get there if we kept it up.  I remarked how we lucked out with the weather being so great.  Almost immediately I realized I spoke too soon as it started to rain.  It got worse as we continued to climb.  The winds picked up, thunder rattled us and lightning shot across the sky.  I stopped to put on my rain jacket but left the zip up tied around my waist because I wasn’t cold yet.  The temperatures seemed to suddenly drop.  

As the rain pounded harder I noticed that it was turning to sleet.  It was snowing on the mountain?  We reached the emergency drop out station.  It was before the cut off but there was no one there to check us in.  Bert got worried that they moved the cut off to the top of Hamel.  Now we had to be on top by 10:15?  Hurry, hurry, hurry!  The weather conditions continued to deteriorate.  We got to the top by 9:40.  By then it was almost white out conditions.  The visibility was so poor, I couldn’t tell we were on top of a mountain and could only see people when they were within a few metres of us.  We had to get down, as fast as we could.  

We passed a girl crying, “sorry, sorry I’m just too cold”.  I remember her looking so strong as she passed me on the ascent.  My fingers felt like blocks of ice as I wiggled them to keep the feeling in them.  Bert and I made our way down.  The “easy” downhill was now wet and incredibly slippery with large pond like water filled mud holes every few 100 metres.  Quads were going up and down the descent shuttling people off the mountain.  They would stop and ask if we wanted a ride and if we were okay.  We said we were fine and continued.  Our conversation became limited to me saying, “I’m cold Bird” and he would reply back “I’m cold too”.  I no longer felt the pressure of time cut offs as I was now concerned with fighting down that mountain without shutting down.  I untied my zip up and put that soaking thing around my shoulders.  It seemed to help but I wished I had put it on under my rain jacket when it was dry - but that was hours ago. 

More quads came and each time they would ask if they could take us down - No - and then they would ask how I was doing.  At one point Bert stopped me and said, “ don’t talk to them, you don’t sound right, next time let me do the talking, they are going to pull you from the course”.  I nodded.  There was no way I was going to get pulled now, we had come so far and we were still moving.  We were getting down the mountain together and I took strength in that. 


Ambler Loop

We were getting close to Ambler loop and it seemed the worst was over.  But then, unexpectedly as I made my way around the largest of the mud holes my foot slipped and I went all the way into the water.  I was stunned.  Up to my neck in cold mucky water.  Bert said I cried, “no, no, no” as I went down.  Bert and another guy (which I had no recollection that we were running with) helped me out.  It was awful.  I was completely soaked, although I didn’t feel any colder, which was odd.  Moments later we arrived at the aid station.  We timed in and went directly to the warming tent.  

The volunteers were excellent.  Lots of blankets, a seat right by the heater, a cup of soup in my shaking hands.  I looked around the tent and saw the zombie like faces of many runners trying to warm up.  No one was talking.  It looked like a war zone.  I wasn’t getting much warmer sitting there.  I didn’t know where Bert went, but he suddenly appeared and said there were a few trucks that were sitting outside that were warmer.  I got up (with help) and got into a truck.  Instantly warmer. It felt good.  I sat there for a few minutes and then Bert came to the window and said, “this truck is going back, there is another truck that is staying, which one do you want to be in?” Not this one!  So we made out way into the other truck.  

We both got into the back seat.  In the front of the truck in the passenger seat was Mark.  We introduced ourselves.  He knew of us because, until recently, he lived in Winnipeg.  I think he saw what condition I was in and immediately went into help mode.  “Are your clothes wet under your jacket? Yes? Strip down to your bra and put this foil blanket around you and let your shirt dry on the seat.  Have you eaten? No? Have some gatorade.  Do you need gravol? No?  Okay, warm up.”  I started to warm up.  Bert was getting nervous about the time cut offs and my ability to continue.  He asked if I was ready to go, I said that I wasn’t ready.  I was still frozen.  He looked me in the face and said, “okay, I’m going to do the 5 km loop and come back to the truck to see what you want to do”.  Okay - Bert was off.

Bert Blackbird, David Fielder, Melissa Budd

The Plan

Mark and I talked as I warmed up a little more.  He asked if I was going to quit.  I said, “I don’t want to quit”.  He said, “ Well how about you and me go, we will do the loop and see how that goes”.  I was silent.  He said, “well if you are not going then I’m not going” with a smile.  That, for some reason, made that spark that was still fighting to burn get stronger.


 Go Time

“Okay” I said as I got some more strength back.  I put my tank top back on and my shoes.  I found a garbage bag in the back seat and made holes for my head and arms.  I put that on and then put on my rain jacket.  I pulled the solar blanket around my shoulders.  Mark was itching to get out and said, “Now?”.  I said, “just give me 5 more minutes”.  I came to regret that later.  Nevertheless we got out of the truck.  Bert was just finishing his 5km loop.  He came up to us and looked.  I said, “We are going to go.”  He aid, “That’s it Buddster” and something else about being tough.  I told Bert to tell my crew to hold on….I was on my way.   Bert headed one way to the next aid station and Mark and I headed the other way to the 5 km loop.

 It was great for the first half of the loop, dryer ground, downhill, legs moving good.  I was happy I had made the decision to switch to the truck that was staying.  I was grateful that Bert and I made it off the mountain and I knew he would finish.  I was lucky that I got into the truck with Mark, someone who wanted to do this as much as I did, maybe even more.  We were the last two people on the course….DFL….  That didn’t matter, we still had a fighting chance and we  both were taking that chance.  There is something to be said about going through hell with company - so much better and stronger than going at it alone.  Mark assured me that we would get to the aid station before 4:15.  Damn cut offs, I felt like I was chasing them all day!  As we came running down Beaver Dam Road a van pulled up beside me.  It was James and David!  I was so happy to see them!  They asked if I needed a ride.  I said, “no way!”  Then I congratulated David on finishing, to my surprise he said “no, I chose not to go on after Hamel, I had no dry clothes, I’m done.”  I apologized and immediately felt bad.  David was having such a good race.  David was great and made me feel good that I was still out there.  I asked,”How far?”  About 4 km.  Mark was ahead of me, so I kept running as David and James took off to the next aid station.

Along the ditch road, I was alone.  Mark was up ahead and I knew we would be there soon.  All of a sudden some lights shone at the back of me.  A quad came up behind me and started trailing me.  I thought wow…I’m DFL… what a lucky place to be!  I was hanging on by a thread, but still hanging on!  Finally, at 4:06 I reached the almost empty aid station.  Did I make it? Did I make it?  Yes! Yes!  Mark had already been there for awhile and was ready to go.  I grabbed my hydration pack and 2 quesadillas from Rosario.  No time to sit down, no time for soup - less than 2 hours to reach the boat?  Time stops for no one and it certainly was ticking down for me. 

Leg 5

Leg 5 started with a steep uphill (of course).  Single track, bush covered, up and down in the dark, hell……is there anything easy past leg 3?  Mark pushed us along.  I felt bad.  He seemed to have so much energy and I was plugging along.  Was I holding him up too much?  He offered me caffeine pills- I took them.  He offered me his poles - I took them.  Anything to help move faster.  We continued on.  Every time I asked him if he thought we were going to make it, he’d say “Yes - but we have to keep pushing”.  Up and down I struggled.  Mark was a constant.  I was surprised he hadn’t left me.  I knew how much he wanted this finish and I was dead weight.  Yet Mark was so encouraging.  I was on the edge of telling him to go on without me, it was getting light and I would find my way when we heard a loud crack in the forest.  A bear!  

Mark quickly backtracked to me - grabbed the poles and started to clack them.  He started to talk loudly and calmly and encouraged me to do the same.  The bear took off but then abruptly stopped.  We continued on clacking and talking loudly until we were far enough away to feel comfortable.  Mark never asked to leave and I never told him to leave - but I could feel us getting close.  I asked him for the last time, “do you think we’ll make it?” and for the first time he said, “I’m not sure”.  That sealed it for me.  I said, “Go Mark, go as fast as you can, run to the boat!”   Without a word, he took off like a shot.  We were so close.  I hoped I hadn’t let him go too late.  If I couldn’t make the boat, I wanted him to.  I came down the steps to the aid station and saw Mark running back from going the wrong direction down the road.  No!  But he he was on his way back to the boat.  As I was coming down the final hill I heard the engine of the boat and saw it on its way to the other side.  Yes!!  Mark is on the boat!!  Now, would it come back for me? 

The Boat

I made my way down and got there a few minutes after Mark.  I approached the edge of the blue white Sulphur river and stopped.  “You missed the last boat” someone said.  I stood motionless.  I didn’t argue….I didn’t do anything except lean over Mark’s poles.  My head dropped.  Tears that I wasn’t strong enough to keep in came out.  I tried not to sob but some of them came out.  Around me, volunteers started to take down the tent.  I didn’t think to take out my timing chip and insert it so at least I’d have a time for the distance I completed.  I felt lost.  Over — it was over.  I was one river crossing and 15 km away from the finish with almost 2 hours left.  What I wouldn’t give at that moment to be Dead F**king Last.  I don’t know how long I stood there until I got asked if I needed a ride back to town.  Yes…I guess I would.  Someone opened up the back door to a sturdy looking truck and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a seat with a rather large dog.  I said that I didn’t mind as long as he was okay with it.  My feelings alternated between feeling numb and feeling a horrible rawness.  I let out a few more sobs and then the big dog, perhaps understanding more than I thought he did, put his big head on my lap.  That calmed me. 


We made it back to town and found James and David.  We got into the van and sat for awhile.  The clock was still counting.  I saw Bert finish, just after 23 hours.  He came over after hugging Rosario.  It was so good to see him finish but it was so hard.  I felt like I let him down.  I kept saying, “I’m sorry Birdie…I missed the boat”  He said he knew, but he was proud of how I handled myself.  We stayed for awhile but unfortunately missed Mark’s big finish.  He finished with 15-20 minutes to spare. 

The next morning the awards ceremony was difficult.  I was happy for the finishers but watching them and watching the video hurt badly.  At least I was only tearing up and not truly crying. 

The Cost

As I sit here and write this I’ve had some time to reflect on the race.  The cost of missing the boat?  Huge!  It cost me a finish, my coin and the feeling of completion.  6 minutes…360 seconds…  There were so many times I squandered minutes.  Telling Mark “5 more minutes” until I got out of the truck…why didn’t I just go?  I suppose if I focused on only that, this whole thing would be a failure.  But there were so many things I gained.  What would it have cost if I had the perfect race?  A race where nothing went wrong?  I would not have met and had the honour of running with these great people.  It would have cost my experience, my bonds with the people I went through hell with.  It would have been nice to come out of this with a finisher coin and a forever internet time - but maybe this will make me come back and try again.  It hurts to come up short.  It takes time for that hurt to heal.  But that doesn’t mean it is over.  At least not for me. 

With thanks to Melissa Budd, my friend, my inspiration, my awe....

It's a good day to be alive.