racing 19:05:00 
Last year after finishing the Death Race, I swore I would never do a 100+km trail run again. A few months later, I signed up for Sinister 7. My friend Titanium Kathie had done this race a few years earlier and raved about it, and clearly others feel the same way - as it was sold out in mid-December. Something in the water out there in Alberta seems to make people want to run on trails for very long distances...
As I know that Bash, Mrs Gally and Dee are looking at doing this race next year, I'll try to summarize the highights/lowlights without getting into too long-winded a race report. Crowsnest Pass is an absolutely gorgeous setting for a race of this format - even the drive from the Calgary airport was stunning. I arrived Friday afternoon to meet up with Heather B, Titanium Kathie, Mark and Lynn, who had all flown in a day earlier. Kathie was attempting the 148km solo again this year, while Heather, Mark and Lynn had joined relay teams they found through the online team-finder, and were each doing different legs of the 7-stage race. Usual race prep routine, and then we bedded down for the night at a small conference centre just west of the host site of Blairmore (the only accommodations we could find, as everything gets booked up nearly a year in advance). One pre-race tidbit worth mentioning for the sake of summarizing the experience was that registration was chaos and the lines for the pre-race meal were nearly out the door of the local arena. I highly recommend checking in as early as possible and eating elsewhere - between Blairmore and the neighbouring town of Colman, there are ample options to choose from.
Titanium Kathie and I arrived for the 7:00am start and went our separate ways - Kathie had injured her calf muscle a week before we got there and needed some taping done, and I needed to scout for washrooms. I ran into Dee, M&M and their friend Janet before the start and wished them luck. Dee very kindly offered her assistance in each of the 6 TA's that we would be passing throughout the day, which was awesome given that Heather B, Lynn and Mark were supporting both Kathie and me, while also focussing on their own legs. This race is well-formatted to enable solos to be fairly self-sufficient (much more so than Death Race), in that drop bag service is available at each TA, and water stations are usually no more than 15km apart. However, I was very well looked after in the TA's by everyone there, and very grateful for it!
Gun start and we were off. A bit of an eerie start to Leg 1 as we passed through the Frank Slide, which decimated the town of Frank in 1903 when a 1 kilometre width of mountain gave way in just over a minute. Experts are saying that the mountain above could potentially slide again at any time...yikes. This leg was an otherwise uneventful 16km stretch routed through a mix of gravel road and ATV trail, leading to TA1 where the cheering crowds made you feel like a rockstar. Leg 2 was basically the same distance, but began with an immediate climb up to some fairly scenic high points as the trail contoured around a mountain, and then dropped us back down to the host site. So far, so good.
Leg 3 is tough – a 35km loop from the host site and back with some decent elevation through a burned-out section that allows for some great views of the surrounding mountains, as well as a fantastic downhill through a massive clearing left by a 2003 forest fire. The race guide describes this leg as the toughest one, but my sense is that this ranking is intended more to help relay teams determine how to split up their stages. Coming off the end of the loop, I felt the best I’ve ever felt at 60+km, with high hopes of carrying that feeling through the second half. No so...
Leg 4 is brutal. Heather B had been assigned this leg and her thoughts were the same, but for a solo, I’d rank this one as the toughest by far. As soon as you leave the TA at the host site for the final time, it’s straight up a ski hill (ie. Alberta ski hill) and then into a 32km stretch of seemingly never-ending ATV tracks and roads. The weather was actually pretty much perfect in terms of temperature, but the sun was out in full force, and the length of time spent on this almost entirely open and exposed section allowed it to sap your strength pretty badly. Lots of creek crossings to soak one’s head though, and the allocation of 3 water stations was quite generous. By the time I finally hit TA4, I needed a good 15 minutes to recover before I could stumble onwards.
Leg 5 – next worst in my view. Long, long stretch of ATV trail north to get around Crowsnest Mountain (which is spectacular to look at, not so much to run around), and then into a climb, followed by a descent, followed by an even bigger climb that leads you to the only real “summit” of the race. Views from up top during sunset were awesome, but the winds were howling and the temperature had started to drop quickly, so I bombed down the other side right away. This leg was 23km, and I knew that it would be pretty much home free once I had bagged it, so I pushed through. Heather B and Lynn apparently only just missed me as I passed through the TA, but Dee and Janet made certain that I was well-equipped for the final two legs. My stomach had been pretty unhappy with me since early on in Leg 4, but otherwise things were good. Time to finish this thing!
Leg 6 is only 13km and was a net downhill, so it passed fairly quick. Leg 7 is only 12km, but it starts with a torturous fat climb with a rather sketchy downhill on the other side – Titanium Kathie later told me that she literally crawled down it. Beyond that, the trail leads you to one of only 3 real pieces of “singletrack” that I can recall, but it was beautifully timed in that the change of terrain from what felt like endless ATV trails gave a bit of boost which had me moving almost at short-distance race pace. I had abandoned my hope of finishing in under 19 hours once I realized how much time the final climb had cost me, but I thought I could at least keep it close. A sign at the final checkpoint before the town of Colman said 6km to go, which was about 2km more than what my mind had me convinced was left. Oh well – the goal all along was just to finish and finish strong, so off I plodded.
Nothing beats the feeling of finishing these things in the dark with a huge crowd of people cheering you through. There wasn’t a race clock that I could see, but my watch said 19:05. As per last year, I decided then and there that I would never do a long-distance ultra ever again :) Race results aren’t posted yet, but I was told that I was the 7th solo through, which I was pretty happy with even though three of the top contenders had to pull out for various reasons (including Zoolander, who had taken a fall in the first legs and started to cramp badly on Leg 3). I was particularly pleased with the fact that at 125km I had shaved an hour off my time at Death Race last year, despite not having done nearly enough long run sessions to prepare. Could it be that experience really is the best training?
This is a brutally tough race – quite possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I spoke to a number of other racers on the trail, and the general consensus seems to be that it is more difficult than Death Race, and not just because of the extra 23km in distance. I can’t honestly say that it was my favourite course – the monotony of ATV trails and gravel roads without key features or highlights interspersed throughout (other than TA’s!) leads me to favour the Death Race route, which offers at least 3 peak summits to look forward to. However, a lot of the things that this race does well are the things that I found frustrating at Death Race. Ultimately though, what makes either event a total blast is being around awesome people around pre, during and post-race, so if there is a group planning to head west again next year – count me in!