Death defying race winners
With many teams and soloists not finishing the race, Richard Ireland, who came second in his age group last year as a soloist, spoke on behalf of the team when he said, “we just go there to trash ourselves.”
Todd Wolanski, who competed in the 24-Hours of Adrenalin race the week prior and the Boston Marathon with Ireland earlier this year, said the best part of the race was the “satisfaction of seeing them completely trashed at the end of their legs.”
Despite running until near exhaustion, the team also noted that the race was “really about the soloists” taking on the whole 125km themselves. “It’s not that much of an achievement (to compete as a team),” said Wendy Niven, who also competed last year with her husband Dave MacDowell.
MacDowell, team captain and solo competitor in last week’s 24-Hour of Adrenalin mountain bike race, had just hoped his team would “get in the mix” of the competition similar to their thirteenth place finish last year.
“We did far better than expected,” Ireland added. “I’m in a state of disbelief.”
“After all, it is the biggest trail race on the continent,” MacDowell added. “You just go as hard as you can go.”
“Not to take away from the hard work everybody did though,” said Ireland, “but lots of people could have beat us. We all just had solid runs on the day.”
Either way, their teammate Michael D’Antonio said, “we’ll go back to win next year.”
The race began with Niven running a 19km leg where she took the team to 18th place despite having the flu.
With a good start, Niven passed on the team batton and coin, which if misplaced results in disqualification, to second leg runner D’Antonio.
Originally from the United States, D’Antonio said his portion of the race – a 27 km long leg with an elevation gain of more than 6000 ft – was all physical.
“You just have to laugh and hold on,” he said describing some of the torturous downhill sections. Ireland could relate to the drops, having done the entire trail the year before.
“I can remember looking down and thinking, ‘this can’t be the trail’, and then someone would head straight down,” he said.
There to meet D’Antonio at the end of his leg was Ireland and Wolanksi, who said the worn-out runner just couldn’t believe them that he was in second place.
“Mike’s our ringer,” chuckled MacDowell, who had to follow up from D’Antonio and Niven’s outstanding performances which had put Jasper just over two minutes behind second place.
McDowell’s leg was a 19km trail that consisted mostly of a rocky downhill with an elevation loss of about 1000 ft. Soon enough he was in the lead.
“As I passed them, I thought ‘wow we’re in the lead,” he said.
With what Ireland described as “a nice cushion”, which was about 13 minutes between them and the second team, he began the fourth leg – the longest of them all at 38km – under a little bit of pressure.
For Ireland, running the race with a team was “more stressful” than the year before.
“I can’t let down my teammates,” he said, “you can’t back off and then rationalize that to the team.”
Ireland and Wolanski, who ran the last leg, said the race was more of a mental challenge for them because of the good position and the long waiting game prior to starting.
“I knew all the guys had put me in a position where I was now race leader,” said Wolanski, who noted that after about 50 metres his legs were already sore from competing in the 24-hours the week prior. Despite MacDowell telling him it would be fine, “fifty metres in and I thought, ‘Dave you liar.’ ”
For him, being able to see the absolute exhaustion on his teammates’ faces and bodies prior to his run helped him through the mental challenge.
“At those really physical lows, where you’ve run too fast already, I would think to myself ‘I don’t know if I look that bad yet’,” he laughed.
Though the result of the race was a little ambiguous as Wolanski finished the race, the five Jasperites and their two young support crew celebrated an unexpected win.
With their eyes set on a casual run of the Skyline trail this weekend or next, the team won’t be taking a break now the race is done.
“We’re really lucky here,” said Wolanski, adding that the team never had a regimented training schedule like many of their competitors in the Death Race. “We just train to run the trails.”
For MacDowell, and his team, running is just something they all enjoy. “It’s just a great way to enjoy the park,” he said with Niven adding, “if you’re busy you can’t go on a long back packing trip, so you can just go running instead.”