L-R Craig Houghton

L-R Craig Houghton

Only the fittest survive

Six brave adults and three gutsy kids from Fort St. James, travelled to Grande Cache, Alberta to run the 24-hour, 125 km Death Race.

The name alone would scare most people away, but then the tag line doesn’t help either: “it’s a killer.”

Yet six brave adults and three gutsy kids from Fort St. James, B.C. travelled to Grande Cache, Alberta to run the 24-hour, 125 km race through the Rocky Mountains.

Five of the group went as a team: Deirdre Houghton, Yvonne Gilbert, Misha James, Anthony Boyd and JP Wenger. Each runner did one stage of the route, which ranged in length from 19 km to 38 km.

At the beginning of the race, each team was given a timing chip and a coin, which each runner must present in the final stage of the race in order to take the ferry across the river. Without the coin, no runner can cross the river.

In a near catastrophe for the group, one of the Fort team fell during a stage, and in the process dropped the coin out of the pack without knowing.

However, luckily for the team, the coin was in a pouch which Deirdre had written their team name on in order to keep it from becoming mixed up before the race with her husband’s coin.

Another runner saw the pouch and picked it up, bringing it to the transition station, and it was delivered to the next runner in their team before it was too late.

The team called themselves the Fort Flatliners and their tag line was “Racing to the end.”

As a team, they finished 49th out of 256 teams total and they were 30th out of 161 mixed teams.

Gilbert placed second in her age category in her stage of the race.

It was all six runners’ first attempt at the race, and so far, they all have expressed the desire to do it again next year, and would like to take another team with them to the event.

The route the race follows goes over three mountain summits and 17,000 feet of elevation, all which must be accomplished in 24 hours.

“It’s a pretty tough race, not just the landscape,” said Deirdre Houghton.

The group had been training for the race since last year, but were limited in their training over the winter somewhat.

There was some cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and running, but by March of this year, they were running up to 10 km, and they tried to run up Mount Pope about once a week starting in June.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Deirdre Houghton. “It’s a lot of hard work.”

Her husband Craig Houghton was also one of the six who went to Grand Cache for the event, but Craig was running the race solo, making it his third attempt at the race.

While he said he was hitting or getting within minutes of his targets at each of the transfer stations – there are four along the race, one for each leg where relay or team runners switch off – he became severely dehydrated at 85 km and had to pull out of the race.

But he plans to keep going until he finishes it solo at least once.

The group went together for the event, leaving on Thursday and staying until the Monday, but plan to go for longer next year.

“It went by really fast,” said Gilbert.

The race is part of a major event for the community of Grand Cache and the entire town comes out, cheering the runners on and volunteering to make the event a success.

The weekend is more than a race though, it becomes a community full of activity, the hotels are booked a year in advance, with around 1500 runners coming into the area. There is also a Sunday night concert, this year featuring the Sam Roberts Band. a carnival and games and a reptile zoo.

The group from Fort took trailers and tents and camped out together for the weekend, making it a family affair.

Three of the kids with the group also ran the under 16 kids race, a hilly 5 km race which also has a time limit of 90 minutes for the kids to complete if. All the young runners who complete the run within the time limit receive a medal.

Sarah Sampson, Nolan Sampson and Sean Houghton all ran the afternoon race in 30-degree heat, a challenge at any age.

But the race was for fun, and the younger runners had not trained or been pushed to attain high standings, though they all did well.

“It’s more recreational, we just want to keep it fun,” said Deidre Houghton, Sean’s mom.

They must have been successful, because the young Fort runners wanted to return next year, but only if they got to bring friends and stay longer.

The runners managed to enjoy themselves, despite the dire warnings on signs along the route and on the website.

If the challenge doesn’t entice you, how about this little piece from the website:

“There are no big prizes for winning: finishing is hard enough. And the bragging rights are priceless…”