There is a new race in town, and it’s one of the most challenging courses in Canada. Dead End Apocalypse happened on Sunday, August 30th in Saint Sauveur, Quebec at the ski hill Mont Habitant. All racers chose to race at their own risk. We put a lot on the line. We were challenged, and every single racer came out stronger in many ways.
What’s the saying? If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. Well, running the Dead End Apocalypse can change you. After running the Dead End Race 6km race in 2014, I was excited to tackle the new format. The Apocalypse course was 12km (two laps of the 6km race). There were three types of heats: the elite 12km, the open 12km, and the open 6km.
I sat down with the race director, Brian Townsend, to get some insight into why they created the Apocalypse. Their goal was to create a challenging race. They wanted it to be long enough to be hard but not long enough that it would be considered too ultra. They are first and foremost an obstacle race; so, they wanted to create a challenge based around the obstacles, the climbs, the crawls, the walls and a sandbag. Oh that sandbag… I’ll tell you more about that sandbag in a second. The race organizers wanted racers to tap into their inner strength and endurance. They wanted to find just the right difficulty level to be challenging yet enjoyable to most. And they even threw in one slip and slide; so we could have a bit of fun on-course.
The logistics of mixing competitive racers with the open 12 and 6km heats was quite an undertaking, but I believe they pulled it off. People in the 6km heats let all 12km Apocalypse racers pass by and gave them priority on trails and at obstacles. You just had to yell “Apocalypse” to get by. All Apocalypse racers had bright, pink wristbands, and all 6km racers had bright, yellow bands; so, everyone was easily identifiable. Everyone was so encouraging throughout the race and were amazingly polite to Apocalypse racers; who were allowed to jump the line at obstacles. The race format is very similar to Battlefrog, in that way, and how they handle elite, Xtreme and open heats. There was quite a bottle-neck at one inclined wall in the forest, the slack line, the warped wall and the rope traverse, but jumping to the front of the line wasn’t a problem in the Apocalypse heats.
All racers started with timing chips on their shoes. However, if you were in the elite heat and couldn’t complete an obstacle, they cut your wristband and timing chip off and you became part of the open. I don’t quite understand why they cut the timing chip off the elite racers, as the open heat had timing chips on their shoes. I definitely recommend the race allow the elite heat to keep their timing chip, as they join the open heat at the moment that they lose their wristband.
Let me tell you about the sandbag now! After the first lap, we were told to go and grab a sandbag. It would be our companion for the next lap. We had to complete the entire 6.5km with the sandbag and only put it down to complete a few obstacles.
The best innovation I’ve seen at a race was how we got our medals! Once we crossed the finish line, the racing staff helped us open up our sandbags and we found our medal inside. This was an amazing touch to the race and something I haven’t seen before. I asked Brian how long it took his team to pack them. Brian’s son, niece and 2 young friends wrapped each of the medals (took them 2 days) in plastic. Other volunteers double bagged, double tied and taped each sand bag. The best part is that, while they were on a lunch break, Brian and his family ran over and threw all the wrapped medals into the bags under the sand before they were tied off. Even the volunteers didn’t know about the medals until the next day!
The race’s organization was also second to none. There were several registrations stations. We showed up at 7:30am and were done with registration and getting our race shirts by 7:35am. There were multilple water stations on course. They did warn us that the average racer would finish in around 4 hours; so, it was smart to carry water on-course. I had my water pack, but there was enough stations to keep me hydrated as well. The only constructive feedback is to improve the instructions given during the start. Although Canada has two official languages (English & French), at Quebec races, there are sometimes some language barriers to contend with. As the elite heat was channeled into the starting corral, we received instructions in French on how we’d have to pick up the sandbag and carry it for the second lap. My friends who only speak English (thankfully I’m bilingual) never heard the instructions as the announcer never switched to English. Although they didn’t really know what was going on, they luckily didn’t spend the first lap thinking how much it was going to suck carrying the sandbag through the course the second time.
The obstacles were a mix of challenging and fun. We had a rope traverse over water, a warped wall with a ladder addition on top of it, a slack line over a bog, the platinum rig was set up after 4 high walls which was right after 2 sets of ladder monkey bars and even a slip & slide. Despite loving the obstacles, I actually think one of the best parts of the race was hands down the volunteers. They really stood out to me as amazing human beings. They were smiling the entire day and were so welcoming and encouraging. Brian tells me that they have a volunteer coordinator, Vini Saba, who deserves a resounding standing ovation. She has volunteers return time after time because she treats them like family. They get lunch boxes in the morning with all the food and drink they need during the day, shirts, and free race entries and basically act like a big family.
I am staking claim that the Dead End Apocalypse is one of the hardest obstacle course races in Canada. The elite heat had a 50% obstacle completion rate, with only a handful of elite women actually completing the course with their wristbands still on their wrists. The people, atmosphere, organization, how well the course was marked and fun factor were second to none! I highly suggest you add this race to your 2016 list now. No matter how fast you completed the course, if you kept your wristband or not, this course challenged every racer to want to become better, stronger, faster and more agile.