Sarah Burns Photo
Meagan Hayashi ran 125 kilometres over three Rocky Mountain peaks in 17 hours and 38 minutes during one of Alberta’s toughest ultra-marathons.
The Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache includes 5,180 metres of elevation gain in tough conditions, especially after this year’s abnormally wet spring and summer.
Race directors told Hayashi that the runners would be facing the muddiest, wettest, swampiest conditions the race has seen yet.
Fortunately, Hayashi trained using some of those mud-filled trails, which prepared her for the conditions she would face.
“I trained through June and July, which were our wettest months. It was actually drier than when I was training this summer, so to me it didn’t seem that wet at all,” she said.
The race is divided between five legs and begins and ends on a 4200-foot plateau, it passes over Flood Mountain, Grande Mountain and Mount Hamel.
Last year, Hayashi ran leg three of the Canadian Death Race in a relay team and her team finished second place.
Her team volunteered to man the finished line from 4 am until 8 am, when the final solo runners cross the finish line.
“It was just really inspiring to see a whole bunch of those people finish.
Tears were shed, they cried, we cried. In that moment I decided, ‘I’m doing this next year’,” she said.
After training hard, Hayashi felt well prepared for the distances at the start of the race on Saturday and noted that her nutrition plan was on point.
For the first leg of the race, Hayashi quickly took the lead for the women soloists and held onto that spot until the fourth leg.
After each leg there are transition stations, where the runner’s support crews await with food, water, and anything that’s needed.
She arrived at the first transition area within minutes of her predicted time and changed her muddy shoes in preparation for her second leg.
“It was pretty sunny and warm when I summited Flood and Grande, so I dried off relatively well then,” she said about her second leg.
In leg three, it rained on and off and when she got to leg four it poured on her with distant rumbling threatening to turn into a thunder storm as she climbed Mount Hammel.
“By the time I summited Hammel, it was beautiful. I timed it really well,” she said.
Her arrival times at the first three transition stations were within minutes of her estimated times, but she fell behind on the descent of Mount Hamel on Beaver Dam road.
She lost a few spots as her quads reached their breaking point.
“I couldn’t run anymore, my legs were just done with running after the descent on Hammel. It basically destroyed my quads,” she said.
After hobbling into the last transition station before her final leg, she decided she would power through until the end even though she was no longer able to run.
“I looked at my husband and I told him, ‘Hun, I’ll see you in a few hours, I’m walking it in,’” she said.
She hugged him goodbye and started hiking the last 22 kilometre leg.
“The whole last leg, it was just a fight for myself to finish. It was very emotional, very physically challenging,” she said.
Stumbling and cold, she described the last leg as a very lonely, emotional journey.
Finally, another runner caught up to her who was in the same state as her, they walked out the final two and a half kilometres together.
“It made such a huge difference to have some company. It was just lonely to be walking by yourself, seeing everyone go past you,” she said.
It felt good when she finally reached the finish line after four and a half hours of walking through the dark woods, she said.
Around 15 other solo runners had passed her, but she still finished in seventh place amongst the women solo runners.
“My goal was 15 and a half hours. That was pace plan, but I didn’t predict that descent to do me in like that,” she said.
She added that she felt happy to have just finished the race, as it was her first time running that sort of distance.
“I maybe didn’t get enough kilometres in my training, this was my first race of this distance, my footwear choices maybe weren’t the best, and everything else was fine. My nutrition was great, it was on point, my support was fantastic. It was just maybe a lack of experience,” she concluded.
When asked if she would consider running the Canadian Death Race again, she responded with an enthusiastic ‘definitely!’
After a bit more training and experience, she could see herself returning for more.
“I know I need to train more downhill, and wear cushier shoes on leg four. I wore very minimalist shoes for most of the race,” she said.
For now, she’s in recovery mode and taking two weeks off from training.
She has already signed up for a few races in the future including a few half-marathon races and the Antelope Canyon 50 Mile in March.
“I did really good at the 50 to 80 kilometre range, so maybe I’ll just hone in that distance before going for something bigger like the death race again,” she said.
Head to her instagram page for her full race report.