The Canadian Death Race is known as one of Canada’s toughest adventure races. Held in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, the race is 125KM’s long, 3 Rocky Mountain Summits, 17,0000m in elevation gain and has a tight 24-hour time limit. The Death Canadian Race lives up to its name with its killer course, relentless and unforgiving ascents, deadly descents, boulders, tree routes, mud, large puddles, creek crossings and unpredictable weather conditions which include; wind, hail, rain and snow.

The course elevation is high enough to take a person’s breath away and leave the most elite endurance athletes feeling winded. A part of the race course is marked “bum slide” because it’s so steep that many participants find it easier to slide down on their bums! Another part of the course is called “Slug fest” and this is where runners have lost a running shoe or two! Slug fest is a section of the course, that contains a large amount of mud. It feels like quick sand and it’s easy to get stuck. Participants, run through the night using headlamps and consume Pepsi, gels and other nutrition to keep themselves awake and fueled to push through to the finish line.

The term “Runners high” is taken to a new level once exhaustion sets in. Runners’ fears come alive in the night with hallucinations including critters such as, bears and cougars appearing in the night. This part of the race is where plants are also mistaken for porcupines and rocks look like frogs jumping around in the puddles!

The typical response most ultra-marathoners receive when they share the stories of the challenging runs that they participate in is, “Are you crazy?”. The reality is, most of us are more than capable of reaching any goal we set for ourselves whether it’s completing an ultra-marathon of 125KM’s, participating an obstacle race, a body building competition or losing 50 pounds. Believe it or not, we are the only ones in our way. Many runners say the biggest reward of conquering an ultra-marathon is overcoming the “impossible” and inspiring others to follow suit! One might ask, how do you accomplish a killer 125K race within 24hours? Just as any large goals are accomplished everyday…It’s simpler than one might think. Just like anything you want in life, you must work for it, commit to it, plan for it and train for it. Along the way you may make mistakes and have set backs, however; those are opportunities to learn and rise above them.

The greatest approach to achieving a massive goal is just as a runner would approach an ultra-marathon and that is to pace yourself and move towards those goals, one step at a time and one foot in front of the other. Don’t forget, that in the end it is the tortoise that wins the race not the hare! What about those negative thoughts? Tell them to shut the front door! Talk back to that inner critic by saying “Sit down, shut up and hang on for the ride!”. We can be our biggest bully and sometimes we must take the bully out by standing up for ourselves. What about the naysayers? Ignore them! They are setting their limits not yours. During a race as immensely challenging as the Canadian Death Race, a person’s mind can play tricks on them, especially when lack of sleep, fatigue and exhaustion is thrown in the mix. Many racers experience a mix of emotions; joy, laughter, anxiety and defeat. It’s all about the words you feed yourself. Positive affirmations help whether we believe them in the present moment or not. The trick is to choose to speak to yourself positively even if it means faking it until you make it!

A person may feel overwhelmed, intimidated and even paralyzed with fear if they are to look at their biggest goal. Why is the big picture so daunting? Because, just like the distance of 125KM, the bigger goal or task seems unattainable! If most ultra-marathoners dwelled on the entire distance of their races, they may have felt defeated before even lacing up their trail shoes. The Canadian Death Race course is broken down into five legs. Just like setting a goal, to achieve success within a reasonable timeframe a person must set deadlines. In this specific race, each leg has a deadline or “time requirement” that must be reached to move on to the next part of the run. The smartest strategy is to examine each section of the race course and set specific goals for each individual leg. Because, each segment of the course is different, the strategy and goal maybe slightly different. As they say with any goal, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail, so plan wisely!

In addition, during the race it’s important to stay in the present moment and only think about the current goal. It’s far too easy to get distracted and overwhelmed when staying in the past or stressing about the future. How can you give the now 100%, if you’re not in the moment? Just like anything in life, you must show up to win! What happens when you are driving your car and are not watching the road?…You crash!

Rewarding yourself along the way to accomplishing a goal is equally important! Each section of the Canadian Death Race has an aid station. For an endurance athlete, it may come as no big surprise that the reward is eating GREAT food, such as; bacon, chocolate, sour dinosaurs, pop and chips at their races aid stations. Finding encouragement and inspiration is also another key to success.

Often runners will look to other runners for support and encouragement, one will make a pit stop to call a life line (phoning their family members for an encouragement boost)! Some endurance athletes, will dedicate their run to a charity that has meaning to them while others, will thinking about something that inspires them to help carry them through.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela. Saying, you can achieve anything you set your mind to, is “cliché”. However, Ultra Marathon running, is proof that you really can achieve anything you set your mind to! Running across Canada sounds insurmountable and people are accomplishing it. There are very successful ultra-marathon runners who have been in debilitating accidents where, they have obtained significant spinal injuries and were told that they would never walk again!  These same individuals are proving their doctors wrong and are now crushing 125KM-160KM marathons on extremely difficult terrain.

At the Canadian Death Race there was a very inspiring blind team who conquered the torturous race course within the critical 24-hour window. One of the unstoppable blind individuals to complete one of the hardest sections of the race relay even took the time to encourage another runner while they were struggling up the 12KM ascent to reach the final mountain summit. It was raining, and the course was slippery. The blind runner fell a few times in the mud but without hesitation or frustration he got himself back up. Not only did this blind individual carry on like nothing happened, but he passed a runner who was feeling completely defeated and this is where he offered his encouragement. He told the other runner not to worry and that, they would make it up the mountain, even if it meant that they had to drag this struggling runner themselves. The runner felt instantly inspired and pushed themselves to not only reach the mountain summit but finish the race with thirty-five minutes to spare. That runner was me!

Yes, I felt defeated and tired! Yes, it was tough! Yes, I was scared! However, I got out of my own way and I still reached my goal. Eight years ago, I could barely run 5KM’s and I hated long distance running. Never say never. If I can achieve my goal of finishing a 125KM solo with time to spare, you can achieve your goals too, seemingly impossible or not! We all have what it takes within us if we make the choice to get out of our own way!


Holly Grahn

Leading Edge Performance Coaching
Owner, Life Coach and Personal Trainer