Written by Olive Toews



Saturday started out beautiful – just the right temperature to start a long day running and hiking in the mountains. My friends from Peace River, Marian, Karen, and Diane were also running. Diane was only doing leg 1, so she positioned herself further ahead in the starting lineup. The rest of us tried to start about halfway through the pack.

near death race1

Leg 1 was so much fun…started out trying to keep my heart rate down and take it easy, as I knew there was a lot of running ahead of me yet! But it was a joy to get out there and I loved hitting the trails after we got out of town – pavement is NOT my preferred running surface. When we got to the downhill sections in that first part that were rutty and rooty I was in my element. Felt like I was flying down them (just allow me my illusions!). I was having so much fun and remarked to another runner that I should just be done now, as that was my best part of the race. I didn’t realize then how right I was. They weren’t too steep either – like what we encountered later on… I feel like I ran the first leg ‘smart’ and not like an idiot. Apparently, in a race, “don’t be an idiot in the first half and don’t be a wimp in the second half”.

The first aid station came too soon – literally! – as it was at 14k as opposed to 16.5k like we had been told. That messed with my head, as I wasn’t expecting it that soon. I had used the washroom just before getting there, so at about 13k. That was the only time I peed until I got back to my hotel room, possibly 9-10 hours later. Oh, and before I got to the first aid station, I had already given away 2 of my salt tablets to a young lady who was starting to cramp. I had started out with 12, thinking that was lots, enough to give away some – not realizing how I would regret that later.

near death race 2

At the aid station it was a mad scramble to fill the water bladder, get the rest of my nutrition, spray suntan lotion, strap on the bear spray, etc. Spent about 10 minutes there, which was still too long. The first part of Leg 2 was fun – the four of us were together again for a bit and we enjoyed the scenery and remarked about how it reminded us of our trails back home behind Walmart! But then we said goodbye to Diane as she had to leave to catch a flight, and we started up Flood Mountain. And we hiked up and up and up Flood – it felt like we would never get to the top of that section where we could then turn to head into Slugfest. At every creek we crossed we stopped to wet our buffs and put them around our neck, and then dipped our hats and put them back on. That felt utterly glorious each time – such cooling relief. I had started taking my salt tablets at 1 hour in and took them every hour after that. I also had Nuun tablets in my water. I sweat so much that I have to be careful to keep up my electrolytes, but somewhere in this section I gave away another 3 of my salt tablets to a guy who needed them worse than I did at that point…

Then we turned into slugfest and started the battle with steep descents that were very dry and slippery. I gave in and slid down a lot of them on my butt, which is what a lot of people were doing. Somewhere along here my left knee started having issues and hurt painfully on the downhills but was fine on the flats and uphill. This was very annoying because usually the downhills are my strength and I can make time there, but not now. We also realized that we needed to start making better time if we wanted to beat the cutoff. We kept pushing and got to the next aid station where we filled everything and then carried on.

Near death race 3

That led us eventually to the climb up Grand Mountain, which was hard…but we persevered and finally got up there. We were almost out of water again, so Marian and I each got a bottle from a support crew that we met there before we headed down the Powerline. Karen caught up to us soon after, we were glad to see she had made it that far too but going down the Powerline we separated. Marian took off as she was feeling good, I was taking a little more time because of my knee, and Karen fell a bit behind. As I was heading downhill, I got a bad charley horse in my left leg above my ankle. I had to stop and let the spasm pass over, and as I carried on, it didn’t take too long, and I realized that my knee was better! Somehow that muscle spasm fixed my knee problem – go figure. I have no idea what that was all about. So, then I started running down again. I figured now I could make up time and still get in before cut off. Problem was that my balance wasn’t the greatest anymore and the ground was “slippery”. Because it was so dry, the rocks and gravel and dirt just shifted underneath our feet. I fell more times than I can count – I have never fallen so much in my life – but I kept running because I just wanted to get down this stupid Powerline!!! I actually managed to catch up to Marian not too far from the bottom, but then I started to “bonk”. I had run out of Nuun in my water at the top of Grande, I had run out of salt tablets somewhere in the last couple hours, and I could feel myself deteriorating fast. It got bad enough I sat down to get down the descents because I couldn’t trust my balance or feet, then got up and walked the flats. When I made it to the bottom of Powerline, I checked with the support crew there and they had no salt tablets.

near death race 4

At some point coming down the Powerline I rolled my right ankle – well, I rolled them both quite a few times, but obviously one time I did a good job of it. Never realized until after the race was over how badly I had hurt it. I guess it was the least of my worries. Its healing well, wasn’t broken or sprained, very thankful for that. Just swelled up good and got a nice bruise for a couple days. And the portion of my anatomy that I used to slide down the hills and bore the brunt of my falls has lots of bruises and is rubbed raw in a couple places. Nothing that time can’t fix!

So, I kept on walking and headed down the trail beside the highway. All this time I was leaning heavily on my poles to keep me upright. I took a wrong turn along the highway, I couldn’t tell which way I was supposed to go, and that led me down a steep little hill which was a huge mistake. And I had to get back up it. (We figured out later this was where Karen passed me without knowing it and I’m kind of glad she didn’t see me as she would have been so concerned for me and started taking care of me and then might not have finished. When she got to the finish and I wasn’t there and she hadn’t seen me, she got extremely worried for me. I felt so bad about that…) I sat down there at the bottom of the hill for a while, contemplating my life choices…then figuratively kicked myself back up and got back to the trail. At this point I’m not even walking a straight line anymore…and as I kept going the next thing that happened was my feet going numb. At the point where I couldn’t feel my feet anymore, I collapsed on a rock and just sat there. I was done. I had quit. There was nothing left. I couldn’t even feel my feet to walk on them and I couldn’t stay upright. I shut off my watch at 40k – only 2k left to go to finish. And I could not do it.

I sat there and took my phone out of airplane mode and read the chat between my husband and kids. They were worried sick about me and knew cut off had passed and I hadn’t shown up, but they saw my friends had finished. I wished so badly I could finish but I didn’t know how to get there. Just after I read those messages two support crew came along on a quad. Previously I had thought when someone came, I would ask for a ride back to the start. But the first words out of my mouth were “do you have salt and water?” and they had both!!! So, I drank down the most awful tasting bottle of water with salt (I’m talking way saltier than ocean water – like gag worthy salty) and they gave me another bottle of water with some electrolytes in it. I tried to stand again but I couldn’t stay upright yet, so I collapsed back down.

Near death race 6

Eventually I got to my feet and started going again. I took my bear spray off and clipped it to my vest because the belt felt too tight. There was another lady who came by right then and I walked with her for a little way. But I felt I was slowing her down, so I told her to go on ahead. She said “no, you’re weaving a fair bit, I’ll just stay behind you and make sure you are okay”. After a bit, I felt I had to sit down again, so I told her to go on ahead. Before she left me, she tucked my bear spray into the back of my vest, so it wasn’t bobbing around on my chest. I sat for a while to let the salts and electrolytes help me more, and then I slowly hobbled on my way. I leaned on my poles and slowly made my way into town, through town and back to the finish line. People were cheering me on and that sure helped keep me going. I think its possible I looked like walking death to them!

Those last 2k took forever to finish but finish I did. Luckily, I had remembered to start my watch again, so those 2k are on a different ‘run’ than the first 40k!

10 hours and 9 minutes after I started, I crossed the timing mat. I even ran the last few metres in – at least I thought I was running – its quite possible that it didn’t actually look like running! My friends came out to meet me and watchfully kept close, as apparently they were worried I might die before I made it across. But I showed everyone – I made it across and then I collapsed on the ground!!!

My Garmin showed 2113m of elevation gain and 42.3km. Two mountains. Creeks. Mud bogs. Steep ups and downs. More falls than I can count. One heck of an incredible race that tested me to my limits. Truly a ‘near death’ marathon…

near death race 5

I will end with the words of my son, that he sent me the morning after…

“Giving till you had nothing left
But the fire
And the fight
Kept you going
Though hope was fading fast
And those you love
And people you had never met
Helped you to stand
And walk one more step
When you thought there was nothing left
It was still there within
The strength to keep moving
And reach your goals
That separates the doers from those who only dream
And makes you an inspiration
For your children and all those who know you
For we know that we can do the hard thing
For all our excuses fade to dust in the light of your accomplishments
And we all have more courage to dream
And to dare when you show us the way.”

Carson Toews