Sinister 7 Race Report
Having never written a race report before or anything that’s been shared publicly this race report is the final challenge (or Leg 8) of Sinister 7.
The idea for this race came to fruition when I was looking for Ultramarathons as close to Nelson, BC (our new temporary home) as possible. Sinister 7 was the most logistical/closest 100 miler to our new home so it was on a big list of ultras that were possible for 2018.
“Backpack check, Nutrition Check, Bear Spray …. wait what?”
the Sinister 7 Ultra — a race that may be the greatest challenge of your life. The 100 mile (161km) course will take you through the most rugged, remote and beautiful terrain in Alberta’s stunning Rocky Mountains. With 6,400m of elevation gain across the course, this race will punish those who are not prepared.
The Sinister 7 is open to solo runners or teams of up to seven. The course is split into seven stages, each featuring a geographic and historic highlight of the area. The race’s name is inspired by the treacherous Seven Sisters Mountain that looms over much of the course.
The Sinister 7
I’m not entirely sure when the conversation between myself and Jerry O’Sullivan happened but it’s likely it happened at our beloved Everest of Newcastle, Australia, Heaton Gap. Anyway, the conversation as I remember went something like this:
Luke: So I’m moving to Canada to do a few snow seasons.
Jerry: That sounds sweet. Have you looked into any ultras over there? I’d come over and do one.
Luke: I’m going to try for Western States and if not maybe Broken Arrow and then Sinister 7 or one of the other 1000 races in North America.
Jerry: Sounds good.
Sure enough neither of us got into Western States so the next week Jerry messages me.
Jerry: Hey mate, just signed up for Broken Arrow and Sinister 7.
So yes the idea was there but I wasn’t 100% on a miler in 2018. However, Jerry had signed up and was coming so the choice was made. Good choice Jerry. The reason for Jerry’s trip was that he wanted to complete a 100 miler for his 30th birthday. He managed to complete his 1st 100 Miler in 24hrs 6mins, in 17th place and he started the race as a 29 year old and finished as a 30 year old. At the finish line he looked easily 40 though. So anyway, this is what brought two Aussies to Sinister 7, the Canadian 100 Mile Championships.
What ensued was approximately 6 months of training geared towards this race. My training began in the winter with ridiculous amounts of snow on the ground, my main training weeks were while traveling around Canada and Alaska and culminated with the Sinister 7 training camp. By no means was my training perfect. There were way too many missed runs and sessions, a few hungover days and only a few weeks over a 100kms in training. However, the Sinister 7 training camp was my main test and if I could get it done I knew that I could finish this race with a respectable time. Got it done is what I did. Thanks to Keri Bowzaylo (for organising the camp and keeping me mobile on Day 3) and Jay Kinsella for running/guiding me the whole weekend and providing me with key information about the race.
So, on the 6th of July my girlfriend (the best support crew person) and I travelled to Blairmore for Sinister 7. We arrived at our hotel and went to check in only to be told that the hotel had accidentally overbooked us. This was stressful but fortunately I had seen a post from a local lady who was renting out rooms for the sinister weekend. I messaged and she promptly replied that we could stay at her house. With this problem solved and after race check in and some last-minute organising it was time for bed. I had a shocking sleep which was inevitable. Calculating race times in my head, thinking of things I needed to do in the morning mixed with the 20 trains that came blaring through Blairmore that night = a couple of hours of sleep at most.
The morning of the race I got up at 4:30 am to eat, stretch and get ready. I felt nervous but ready.
Prior to the race when people asked me what time I wanted to do I was reluctant to give a number. I mean if you asked me what time I “wanted” it was breaking the course record in the low 18s but wanting and doing are completely different things. You need to do the work necessary to get to that level. So based on the training I had done + previous 100km races my B goal was sub 24 hours. My A goal if everything went absolutely perfect was 20 hours which I knew would get me in the top 5, probably top 3 and my C goal was to finish the race.
My coach Jonathon Worswick from Up Coaching had sent me an email prior to the race saying, “you have done enough training to finish, maybe even do alright.” It wasn’t much of a confidence booster but I do believe there’s a method to his madness and that is “do not go out too hard thinking you can run with the lead pack.” In UTA 100km last year when I saw him on course his message was “slow down and wait for 80kms to race.” Shortly after seeing him I didn’t slow down and went through a rough patch from 60 -80kms. The other thing that he said in his email was “the race doesn’t start until 100kms”.
With these thoughts in mind the gun went off (not even sure if there was a gun) and Jerry and I didn’t take off crazily with the rest of the lead pack for the first time in any running race I’ve ever been in. It’s a hard thing to do watching everyone overtake you and that’s what Jerry and I did for the first 2 Legs. We both ran steady on these legs and made sure there was absolutely no puffing on these legs at all. We came into TA 1 at 28th and 29th place. I made some ground on Jerry on the steep downhill section in Leg 2 and didn’t see Jerry again until the next morning.
Coming into the TA/Aid station 2 I was calm, grabbed my bottles of tailwind some Clif blocks and got out of there. At this point I was sitting in 21st.I knew I had to cruise Leg 3 so made sure I wasn’t exerting during this Leg. It started to get hotter through Satan’s sack but there was a breeze and because I wasn’t pushing I was absolutely fine with the heat. I kept up the nutrition however 300 calories is a lot for me during an hour so I was maybe taking in 250 calories an hour at this point. I met Ryan (Calgary) and Chris (ex-Nelson local living in Victoria) on this leg and it was awesome to break up the run chatting with these guys. At TA3 I was in 19th position and I spent less than 2 minutes grabbing what I needed and my first decent meal of the day, a peanut butter and maple syrup sandwich. I know the race was supposed to start at 100kms but sorry Johno (Coach) my race started at about 65kms. I knew that I had been completely within myself during the first 65 and was seeing a lot of people who were struggling at this point. So, I started to pick up the pace and reel people in.
I had fond memories of Leg 4 from the training weekend however the climb they call Saddle Mountain which is only 350 metres elevation gain was not a good one. The switchbacks were clearly mountain bike trails as they took the easiest possible route up which just extended the climb dramatically. Short and steep would have been appreciated. At the top I stopped to pee, not realising the severity of mosquitoes in the area. As soon as I started to pee the mosquitoes came out with ferocity and I found myself trying to jog and pee at the same time down a steep single track. Not a good look. Luckily, I was still coherent at this time. Leg 4 concludes with about 6.5kms of undulating forestry road which you may think is a good thing, but I disagree. Pounding the road for an extended period and running up short hills at a semi-decent pace is not my idea of fun 85kms into an ultra. This was the roughest patch I had during the race holding my screamingly fast 6-7 min kms. Upon arriving at TA4 I found out I was in 12th position. I got in an out within a minute or two.
Leg 5 starts with some easy road running slightly downhill then slightly uphill. After some nutrition at the aid station and seeing Sam I was ready to run this section. I made sure I didn’t walk the first 8kms as this was all road or quad trail and runnable. I overtook 4 racers during this section and saw Jay Kinsella by the side of the road looking a bit worse for wear. I stopped and had a quick chat and he was deciding whether to continue or not. This would have been a hard decision for him as he would have wanted to finish however he has the 100km world champs coming up so also needed to save himself. As much I felt for Jay I was also disappointed as I’d been looking forward to running some of the race with him and had been trying to catch him since the start of Leg 4. Another notable memory on this section was the dog hanging out the window of a car and each time the car reached a runner he would bark and howl, stop until he saw the next runner and then continue again. I asked the owner if he barked on command, but she assured me that he just likes cheering on the runners. Shortly after I overtook two more competitors. One being Jean-Luc, who lent me his portable charger after mine had broken. This seems minor but was major for me as I not being able to check my kms and see how far until the next check point would have had a negative impact on my race. The poor bloke ended up running out of battery on his watch 5kms before the finish line. What a legend! It then took me majority of the Leg to overtake 6th place and the eventual female winner. She seemed strong and in good spirits. At this point I put my music on and didn’t really stop it until the end of the race. The mix I made on Spotify was extremely random, so apologies to anyone I annoyed. The mix ranged from Reggae, to disco, to rap, to metal, to punk, to many other genres and some Black Sabbath for good measure. I must say when the disco music came on people were loving it.
Coming into TA 5 the aid station was pumping and everyone cheered. I had the biggest smile on my face and Sam assures me I was delirious at this point. Apparently, I asked her for a fruit cup then when she tried to give it to me I was confident that I didn’t need a fruit cup. She then asked me if I needed new socks and I would repeat what she said but not answer. Sam made me a bowl of noodles which went down awesome and I had a can of sprite. This is big as I generally reserve this for my last 20kms of a 100km race however it probably works out percentage wise to a similar point in the race. This means game on, so after I left the aid station I ran the first 6kms slightly uphill. It was about 15 hours in and starting to get dark. I turned around at one point and saw a guy coming up behind me with a leopard “mankini” on. At first, I thought I was hallucinating but he caught up and ran with me for a bit. As we were about to go up a mountain and to the highest point of the course (2200m+) I asked if he had a jacket and he assured me he did. I’m not sure why he was wearing a “mankini,” whether he lost a bet or just likes to wear them but the ridge at the top was bloody freezing and windy. Once the climb got steep it was relentless. It was a goat track with barely enough room for both feet to stand side by side. I tripped over numerous times and must have looked drunk to anyone watching my headlamp. But I knew I couldn’t stop, the quicker I climbed the quicker I got to the top. The dark outline of the Seven Sisters mountain was also spectacular whilst climbing the hill. Upon reaching the top I let go and flew down the hill at a mighty pace of about 8 mins per km. By the time I got to the 2nd aid station on this leg I was pretty over the race. I just wanted it done. I knew that I was finishing this race, so my only way out was to run quicker and get it done. At this point I picked up the pace a lot and began taking over a lot of the relay runners who had overtaken me earlier. At the aid station prior to TA6 the course joins up with the Leg 5 runners and I must have overtaken two runners as I was in third at TA6.
Upon arriving at TA6 Sam told me that the 2nd place runner, Patrick, was just in front of me so I grabbed some sugar and went for it. I know Patrick as his store Purcell Outdoors is the closest retailer to me that sells Tailwind and Patrick kindly ensured I had some tailwind for the race. After a quick chat I passed Patrick on the climb out of TA6 and then hammered it home to the finish line. Patrick also ran a fantastic first 100 miler, staying with the lead pack throughout the race and coming in third place. I put in all I had for those last kms, paranoid that Patrick was going to catch me and with the thought that I could sit down once I finished.
In the end I came 2nd with a time of 20 hours and 20mins. I was extremely happy with the way I completed my first 100 miler. I ran well within myself for the first 60-80kms and didn’t have a major rough patch throughout the race
Completing this race report four weeks later my body is still feeling the effects with a sore lower back which is slowly getting better. I have dropped down to the 50km race at Squamish due to my extended recovery and will re-focus after this for my first road marathon attempt in December. Sub 2:XX is the goal.
Thanks to the Sinister 7 team for putting on a great event, thanks to Nike for creating the Wildhorse trail shoe which has gotten me through all my major ultras, thanks to Tailwind & Clif for giving me the fuel I needed throughout the day, thanks to Petzl for having the best headlamp around, thanks to Valhalla Pure Nelson for having a lot of the products I used for the event available, thanks to Raven’s Eye Photography for the great photos and last of all thanks to my amazing girlfriend Sam for being the best crew person and staying up for 20-24 hours so I can achieve my goals.