Whitehorse runner Denise McHale, 37, travelled to Gibraltar with three goals in mind. Not only did she accomplish each, she set a Canadian running record in the process.
Competing at the 100 Kilometre I.A.U. World Championships on November 7, McHale finished eighth – setting a new 100-kilometre women’s Canadian record of seven hours, 56 minutes and 41 seconds.
“The running gods were smiling that day,” said McHale. “I thought I could break eight hours if I was running well that day. So that was the ultimate goal.
“I’m thrilled with the result for sure.”
Obviously, in the process McHale set a personal best time – her third goal along with cracking the eight-hour mark and setting a record – shaving almost 20 minutes from her previous best.
McHale could see her goals within her grasp by the mid-point of the race, reaching the marathon-length marker nine minutes ahead of schedule.
“I was running 24-minute laps at that point, so I was just running the eight-hour pace, but I had nine minutes in the bank,” said McHale. “Then I started to lose a little more time, so my laps went to 24:30, 24:45, 25 minutes. At that point I knew if I didn’t slow down too much, I could make it.”
While the race went smoothly for McHale, it was a different story for organizers.
In a five-kilometre stretch, leading to the five-kilometre loop to be completed 19 times, organizers placed a turn in the wrong spot, causing the field to run and extra 1.4 kilometres. To compensate, race officials had to cut short the final loop.
“They spend a good part of the morning deciding how they were going to take that 1.4 kilometres out of the race,” said McHale. “That was a bit of a fiasco. They ended up taking out a section of the loop.”
Although not allowed to use GPS, runners could see their lap times as they crossed the finish line in each loop.
To break the eight-hour mark, McHale had to run each five-kilometre loop in about 24 minutes.
“My first lap was 22 minutes, so I thought, ‘I have to chill out a bit,’” said McHale. “You really have to pace yourself in these things.”
McHale’s previous best time was 8:15:56, set at the Canadian 100K Championships last year where she finished first for the second straight year. At the event she toppled the course record – one of many that have fallen to McHale.
In her first ultra marathon experience, the 2007 Black Foot Ultra in Edmonton, McHale was the top female, setting a course record. That performance landed her a spot on the national 100K team
“Most people qualify on the road because it’s faster to run on the road,” said McHale. “I don’t like to run on pavement; I like to run in the bush and on trails.”
As a member of Team Canada at the 2008 World 100K Championships in Italy, McHale finished as the top Canadian with a placement of 23rd overall.
In May of 2009 at the Elk Beaver in Victoria, the 50-mile Canadian championships, McHale set another course record within her first-place finish.
The same summer she was first overall – for men and women – at the Yukon River Trail Marathon. She also won NWT’s Rock and Ice Ultra in both 2008 and 2009 for the women. (McHale’s husband Greg McHale won the men’s events the same years.)
In August, McHale competed in the Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache, Alberta, a 125-kilometre running race through the Rocky Mountains. Her first time in the 10th annual event, McHale finished third overall with a time of 14 hours and 56 minutes. The top Canadian finisher, McHale came in behind a male ultra-marathon champion for the US and the second-place finisher, Scotland’s Ellie Greenwood, who came first in Gibraltar.
She went on to wrap up the summer running the ultra distance at the Klondike Trail of ‘98 Road Relay, setting a new course record there, too.
“It’s like training for a marathon,” said McHale. “I would do speed work twice a week – not super fast, but long at a faster tempo.
“Then there’s long runs on the weekend. I did the (Klondike) road relay, which was a great training run.”
Contact Tom Patrick at