As the dust settles from the inaugural Survival Run Canada, I am sitting on my deck in Squamish, watching the evening sun on the Chief, and reflecting on the past weeks of madness.
We decided to do something different from past Survival Runs for this first race, making it 36 hours instead of 24 hours, with proportionally more mileage: approximately 115km (70 miles) long with over 8,000m (26,000 feet) of vertical gain. A beast of a race and it attracted an extremely strong field. In addition to several past Survival Run finishers, there were some very strong new-comers – veterans of the Barkley Marathons and Italy’s legendary 200 mile Tour de Geants, Alaskan mountain guides, and prominent obstacle course racers. Even into the race, I fought constant fears that I had made the race too easy!
The challenges drew from Squamish’s history in logging and mining as well as adventure sports. In addition to the usual Survival Run staples of swimming across lakes and climbing trees, racers had to climb a glacier, rappel a 60-metre cliff, and build a pack frame to carry sand to fill in erosion on an access road used by local mountain bikers… and let us not forget throwing tomahawks and the recital of the epic Canadian Poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee! All racers who started received their “FAIL” medal, and two-thirds received the “I” medal; another two received their “DID” medals, with eight runners finally crossing the finish line on the outskirts of Squamish.
At Survival Run Nicaragua, Dave Dietrich and Vanessa Gebhardt captured everyone’s mind as they joined their efforts in the latter stages of the race – everyone was looking forward to the “First Couple” crossing the finish together, and we were quite disappointed when Vanessa got knocked out at the sling-shot, just a few hours from the finish. Therefore, it was doubly rewarding when they reprised their joint finish efforts and crossed the finish line hand in hand.
Throughout the race, Paul Romero and the Germans had been playing cat-and-mouse… even to the very end, with Paul in sight of the finish as the Germans crossed, eventually crossing 12 minutes back.
Sebastien Dion became our first new-finisher, an hour and a half behind the leaders but still with plenty of time before the cut-off. He came out of the estuary looking like he had just run a 10km fun-run, with complete aplomb.
For the first time in Survival Run history, we had two ladies finish the course, as Helene Dumais became the first person to complete all three Survival Runs (Nicaragua, Australia, Canada). Helene had been running a very smart race, with well thought-out swimming and running strategies, and delivered the most entertaining recital of The Cremation of Sam McGee – we managed to get her to reprise the recital on camera the next day, so watch our YouTube feed for this!
Mark Wheeler came to the start-line in remarkable physical condition, and we had every confidence that he was going to finish. Sure enough, he crossed the line just a few minutes behind Helene.
The best, perhaps, was saved for last, as the Wieclawek brothers, also first-time finishers, put on a turn of speed through the final stage. They were on the bubble – if they were going to make it, they would be down to minutes from the cut-off. They appeared at the top of the final rappel with about twenty minutes in hand – hopefully enough for them to descend and carry a heavy log across the tidal morass of Blind Chanel. Stefan quickly dispatched the rappel, but then a rope snag delayed Kristian, and it became even tighter. Stefan decided to continue with the log-carry, crossed the line with fifteen minutes in hand, and then ran back along the course to yell encouragements to his brother. Kristian soon appeared at the final estuary crossing clearly exhausted, as his family yelled encouragement; he finally crossed the line with four minutes in hand – a photo finish after thirty-six hours on the trail!
There were a number of adjustments made to the raw finishing times. The main one was for the second recital of The Cremation of Sam McGee, about two thirds the way through the course. Racers had the opportunity to recite as much of the poem as possible, in return for three minutes reduction in the time for each correct stanza; this saw many of the runners gaining the maximum 45 minutes and some changes in the final standings. In addition, during the flour pack, four of the front runners (David, Vanessa, Paul, Joseph) took a wrong turn when they followed chalk markings from another race and ended up in the wrong part of the course; although several other runners successfully followed the correct course even before the turn was re-enforced, it was determined that course marking was not adequate, and so the four runners were returned to the course to continue, and time-adjustments were made; these racers were far enough ahead that it was determined that this did not unfairly impact any runners or change the final standings.
We were lucky to have support from a wide range of partners, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge them.
First, it is important to note that this race took place on the unceded traditional territory of the Squamish First Nation; we thank Chief Williams and the Squamish First Nation for their support for this race.
The District of Squamish, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and their subsidiary bodies provided the permission structures for all non-private lands.
Next, the race crossed several private lands and land-use tenures; the owners have also been helpful and a pleasure to work with. In many cases, they also contributed material to the challenges through the race. In particular, we would like to thank Coast Aggregates, Black Mount Logging, Sqomish Forestry, the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia, the Sea to Sky Gondola, and the Cheema Family.
In addition to these parties which have allowed us to follow the race course, there have been several other parties who have contributed materially to the success of the race. These include Escape Route (Squamish’s premier mountaineering and trail running shop, who handled packet pick-up, offered the racers discounts on mandatory gear, and loaned us several SUPs for safety during the swims), Mountain Skills Academy (technical and non-technical mountain guiding, who guided the first rappel and via ferrata), Hillsound (British Columbia based manufacturer of running crampons and other material, who offered discounts on running crampons) and Ocean Sherpa SUP guides (who provided water safety during the night swim). We also appreciated the support of our accommodation partners, MTN Fun Basecamp campsite, and the Executive Suites hotels.
The production team was talented and hard working… a huge and hear-felt thanks to everyone involved! Space does not permit me to thank everyone who was involved, but a few people merit special mention. Although he could not be at the race in person, Josue Stephens (the originator of Survival Run) was instrumental in his support of this race – we hope to see you racing next year! Sean Meehan (one of the principals of Survival Run Nicaragua), Ben Slow (a long-standing partner of Survival Run) and Peter Marston were tireless in their energy and extremely generous with their experience! Mallory Hewlko was a force of nature in managing the tracking and social media team. Margaret Schlachter of Dirt in Your Skirt/Mud Run Guide was a dynamo, reporting non-stop from the course throughout the entire race. Jason Bagby and his film crew, and Thomas Blanc (independent cameraman) were a pleasure to have, capturing the action and emotion around the clock. And, of course, huge thanks to the dozens of volunteers from around the world who flagged the course, manned check-points, and swept the course to keep runners safe…. You guys are legends.
So, what’s next? Well, here in British Columbia, our full-time team is wrapping up the final details of this year’s race; then we will be starting on the 2018 Survival Run Canada – and we have some great ideas to make it even bigger and better! Sitting here watching the last of the evening sun on the peaks, I can’t wait to get started on the 2018 event! The race will be returning to the 24-hour format, packing more challenges in, but will continue to offer highly technical trails with loads of vertical… so get your legs strong!
The next Survival Run is Australia (http://fuegoyagua.org/australia/) November 17-19. This will take place inside a 20 million-year-old shield volcano situated in the NSW Southern Highlands. This is the same area where Australian Special Forces Operators have trained… a brand new venue, and not one to miss! However, don’t forget about Survival Run Nicaragua (http://fuegoyagua.org/nicaragua/#survival-run-nicaragua) February 18, 2018… this is going to be a tour de force, with many of the past finishers returning for a reunion and a battle royale!