Surviving (and Learning From) the Canadian Death Race

Clint and ErikOver the summer, a couple of our Right Starters competed in the ominously named Canadian Death Race. Their experience, including all they did leading up to the race, was both interesting and inspirational. So we sat down to talk with Clint Boston and Erik Zeitlow to learn more about what it means to be a "Death Racer."


Why did you want to do this?

Clint Boston: I first learned about the Death Race through a Trail Runner magazine article about five or six years ago. I started poring over online articles, runner blogs and media coverage to get more information. The Death Race is set on a beautiful course that summits three peaks and the view from each is breathtaking  - vistas of the Canadian wilderness, the majestic mountains, glass-blue lakes and blankets of trees. I’m a mountain goat and the course has some incredible mountain ascents.  I had to put this on my bucket list of must-do races and was interested in testing myself as a solo or ultra team runner. I wanted to be called a Death Racer.

Erik Zeitlow: I have to admit that when Clint first mentioned running The Canadian Death Race a few years back, I just had to check it out based on the name alone. I first thought he wanted us to each run it solo and between the 125k (77.67 mile) distance, the 17,000 feet of elevation change and my general dislike of steep uphill running, I was thinking, "There's no way in hell I am going to do that!" A few years later, the two of us start talking about our running bucket lists and it comes up again … but this time in the context of a relay. You can run the Death Race, which is broken down into five distinct legs, as a team of up five racers. Clint was willing to let me run three times with relatively manageable hills on Legs 1, 3 and 5 while he volunteered to take on the brutal Legs 2 and 4 so I signed us up!


What important thing did you learn that you will now bring to your everyday running?

EZ: I would say the race reinforced that the human body is amazing and much of ultra running is mental.  When I “think” I’m suffering during an everyday run I can think back to the Death Race and remember what real suffering is like.

CB: It reinforced my personal philosophy of diversifying my training both as a runner and coach. I have found that doing the same fitness routine over and over can get mighty tedious. Diversifying training increases overall fitness levels and motivates you to run as well. Any form of repetition can cause someone to burn out. This remains true for running; it can be easy for someone to get caught in a repetitious pattern, as many people are drawn to activities that are convenient. You need to figure out how to switch up the routine to keep yourself interested and excited. Make running an adventure.


What would be the one thing you would recommend to anyone wanting to do an ultra adventure race like this?

EZ: Do your research and train for the event, but don’t over analyze it. Just know the terrain and elevation changes and prepare. Unless you are trying to win or be uber-competitive then enjoy the whole event. Start out very conservatively and push at the end if you feel good. I’d rather hear of strong finishes than eternal death marches.

CB: Run race course specific workouts. If you have a lot of hills, you need to run hills. If you hate running downhill, you have to embrace downhill running. If your race has a morning start time you need to plan on some morning workouts. This type of training will prepare you mentally and physically. 


Clint, you are the head cross-country coach at Green Mountain High School (in Lakewood, Colo.). How do you talk to your athletes about your experience(s) in ultra running? 

This is a very tough question to answer. I don’t mind sharing my own running story with our athletes, however as a coach, I want my focus to be on helping them achieve their personal running goals. When I do share my story, it's because it has a specific race or training context. We all have our own reasons for running so I wait for athletes to ask questions about races and training. I encourage them to become students of the sport. I share information about the mental preparedness that running requires and how, at times, being mentally prepared can be the difference between having a great race and one that ends badly. Getting your mind ready to run a personal best or finish strong for a teammate is necessary at all levels of running. Trusting your training is what gets you to the starting line. This is true for your first high school 5K, the Canadian Death Race or whatever race you are planning to do.


Erik, this is one of several long-distance, destination races you've completed this year. Is this a normal competition schedule for you? If so, how do you select the races in which you want to participate?

I’m going on 15 years of being in what I’d call marathon shape. I’ve done at least one long distance event (marathon, long-distance relay or ultra) every year since 2001 but more typically, I've done four to six such events annually.  However over the past couple of years, I have been doing 10 or more events each year. Now you have to remember that I run for the event experiences and stories and not to chase PRs. I pick my races based on my personal bucket list items. This includes earning  my medal for running the Comrades Ultra-Marathon in back-to-back years, which I completed this year;  becoming a member of the "Seven Continents Club," which I hope to complete next year, and running the World Marathon Majors, which I plan to complete in 2017. I pick other races based on what friends want to run, the race story potential or location/convenience.  Seeing many running buddies suffer an accident, injury or other bad thing that has either ended or severely limited their running, I want to do as much as I can now just in case.