Elise Featherstone, wife of a Canadian trail legend, columnist Devin Featherstone, reports on the highs and lows of watching your loved one run the Canadian Death Race.
I always tell people that when I met my husband he tricked me. He was and still is handsome: a strong jaw line, tanned skin, dark hair, piercing blue eyes, and muscles over top of muscles. On our first lunch together, he told me that he ran a lot. What he forgot to leave out was the fact that his running a lot involved him participating in events titled “The Death Race” or “Lost Souls,” which are runs that the racer tries to complete within 35 hours. Each race is 100-plus kilometers run on trails that most people find challenging to hike.
By the time that Devin had asked me to crew his first Canadian Death Race, I had already fallen in love. Needless to say I was a little nervous about taking on the challenge, not quite knowing what to expect and having little desire to take part in something that has death in the title.
At this point, I’d never walked past a finish line for a road race, let alone a Death Race. The air was electric. You could feel the nerves and anticipation that the runners and their supporters had.
Devin prepared me for what would happen throughout the day. He gave me an estimate of how long it would take him to get to each station and what I would need to bring to him in terms of food, supplement and water.I was ready.
After Devin took off and blew past the start line, much to my surprise, I ran into a couple that I knew who were cheering on their brother. They were surprised at the times that I had been given to make it to each station. Their brother had attempted the 125K race last year, but couldn’t finish due to early onset of hypothermia. This was Devin’s first—and he planned to run it fast.
I made it to the first station about five minutes prior to Devin’s arrival. What I learned from that last station is that you cannot get there after the runner. They will disown you from their support crew instantly.Lucky for me, I made it just in time to fill up some water bottles and throw in some electrolytes. A quick check in, and they’re off again.
This is what happens throughout the day. They come, they go—you wait. You prepare what they’re going to need, drive to the next station they are going to come through, wait some more for the runner’s arrival. And then finally they show up. Your heart sinks a little because they have at this point ran 50K and you legitimately feel tired and sore for them. They take off, some people stay, you watch people throw up/pass out/cry. You leave and don’t say anything in fear of offending them.
Because of the length of this run, and some of the distances in between I actually worked out and saw a full-length feature in a theatre. My heart started skipping a beat when it was midnight and I heard the announcer say that Devin was about to enter the last section. Remember, these people are running over 100K. I almost pass out when I have to run 100 feet.
With the distance that was left, and the speed that Devin was running, I calculated that he should be at the finish line by 2 a.m.
At 1 a.m., it started drizzling, but I couldn’t go inside. I was way too excited thinking that Devin was going to be finished any minute. Other than being the person who delivered food and water, I was also the person who was in charge of taking the picture when he was crossing the finish line. I couldn’t miss this. If I did, not only would I be kicked off the team as crew, but I’m pretty sure I’d be kicked off the team of girlfriend.
So I waited, and waited, and waited some more. By 3 a.m., I was getting nervous. It might have been the rain, or my chilled bones, or the fact that I had almost been up for 24 hours but I started envisioning my boyfriend being eaten by a bear or goat, or a prisoner that had escaped from the jail who thought it would be smart to impersonate one of the runners after bringing them to an unjust death.
At 4 a.m., I saw him. He was “walk-jogging” to the finish line. I sprinted over as quickly as my frozen legs would take me. As I shouted words of encouragement to him, Devin picked up the pace. He was crossing the finish line! He did it. After 18 hours of ruthless terrain, he crossed the finish line. Tears of joy welled up in my eyes. I ran to him, kissing his cheeks. I’ve never known a moment of so much pride. (Of course in all my excitement I forgot to take a picture).
Although the day was long, I learned something. Sometimes the best accomplishments aren’t the ones that you do—instead, they are through the accomplishments of the people surrounding you.
With Devin’s influence, I was inspired. I started slowly, and still move quite slowly in comparison to my now-husband, but I’ve run in three 10K races and have even tested my luck on a trail run. Passion really is contagious.