On trail or road, Whitehorse’s Denise McHale is hands down one of the best long-distance runners in the country.
Racing in the Haney to Harrison Road Relay, McHale defended her Canadian 100K Championship title last Saturday.
Slicing about 55 minutes off the women’s course record, McHale ran all eight stages of the 100-kilometre course spanning Maple Ridge, BC, and Harrison Hot Springs in eight hours, 15 minutes and 56 seconds, finishing second overall behind Darin Bentley from Surrey, BC, in the men’s division.
She came in almost a full 15 minutes ahead of second-place women’s finisher Suzanne Evans from New Westminster, BC, who led McHale for most of the race.
“I overtook her at the beginning of the seventh leg with about 20 kilometres left in the race,” said McHale. “She passed me at the end of the first leg and she was just going at a pace faster than I wanted to go.”
It was McHale’s first time racing Evans, who won her third Royal Victoria marathon in October. Being only Evans’ second attempt at a 100-kilometre race, McHale stuck with her preferred pace, figuring inexperience might lead Evans to pick the wrong speed.
“I figured what I was capable of, and had a feeling she might go out faster and I’d would maybe catch her,” said McHale. “I knew she runs faster than I do.”
McHale expected some bad weather along the way that she assumed would work to her advantage, having competed in grueling multi-day adventure races and winning the Rock and Ice Ultra, a 225-kilometre race last March outside of Yellowknife.
“I thought the weather was going to be pretty bad, which would probably be in my favour, being used to running long races, in miserable conditions, just suffering for long periods of time,” said McHale.
Winning the Canadian Championships qualifies McHale to compete on the Canadian team at the World 100K Championships, which she plans to attend next November in Gibraltar.
Last year at the Worlds in Italy, McHale was the first Canadian over the finish line and 23rd overall.
To prepare for the road race, McHale spent more time on pavement even though she prefers trail running, proof of which was seen in August’s Yukon River Trail Marathon, not only winning the women’s division, but finishing the course faster than any other runner.
“I’ve had a good season – a continuous season – and I’ve done a lot of racing and a lot of long stuff,” said McHale. “So I’ve been training all year, so I just switched my focus from trail running to doing my long runs on the road. Running on the road is way different from running on the trails, and I actually prefer to run on the trails.”
At the end of the month, McHale will be leaving for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, a six-stage race taking place December 4 to 9. There she will be on Team Solomon, the team that finished second, one spot ahead of McHale’s team at the Primal Quest Badlands in September.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org