Greg and Denise McHale regularly run 100 kilometres, or adventure race 20 hours a day, five days in a row.
But, running about 40 kilometres a day over six days, with long breaks in between, is apparently harder for them.
Despite this, the McHales finished fifth out of 24 teams in the open mixed category of the Gore-Tex TransRockies Run beginning in Buena Vista and ending in Beaver Creek, Colorado, last week.
“It was definitely a step out of what we’ve been doing,” said Greg. “And it being purely a running race – at (high) elevation – gave it its own challenges. But, yeah, there was a lot of downtime and a lot of breaks – a lot of time to reflect on how you did over the day and how to prepare for the next.
“We want to do the best that we can possibly do, and this wasn’t an event that lends itself to our strengths.”
The McHales, competing under the name Team Merrell, completed the six-stage, six-day race, covering about 193 kilometres of scenic terrain, in 19 hours, two minutes and 20.9 seconds, 1:54:43.5 behind the first-place team.
“The competition was really tough in our category, but overall it went pretty well,” said Denise. “You’re not running that far every day … we’re running 24, 25 miles a day for six consecutive days. So you’re running fast and hard because you’re not running that long.
“You’d run for two to four hours and then you’re done for the day. So you finish in a little town, which is neat because you get to a lot of downtime and you get to meet a lot of people.”
There were a couple other hurdles for the McHales to overcome that the Yukon climate and terrain didn’t prepare them for. In addition to confronting temperatures above 30 Celsius, they had to get accustomed to the elevation, beginning at about 2,400 metres in altitude, ranging up to 3,800 metres.
“The biggest thing for us was the altitude,” said Denise. “The race starts in Buena Vista, which is above 8,000 feet. The biggest challenge for us was the elevation and the heat.
“The first day was over 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) and you’re running at 8,000 feet up to 11,100 feet. Not living at that altitude, it just felt really hard – you can’t get enough oxygen to your muscles.
“The first half of the race was almost harder because it takes time to acclimatize. The four teams that came ahead of us all live at 7,000 feet or higher.”
Downtime and hot temperatures have been non-existent in most of their recent victories.
In the Yukon Arctic Ultra in February, the two both won and set records for their divisions. Denise finished the marathon distance in three hours, 14 minutes for first, while Greg – the first Yukoner ever to attempt the 430-mile category on foot – came first, beating the previous record by more than 20 hours.
“If I were to do it, I would probably just do the 100-mile,” said Greg of the Arctic Ultra. “I don’t plan to go to Dawson City until someone beats my record.”
The two have also twice won NWT’s Rock and Ice Ultra in their divisions and have competed in adventure races in Mexico, South America and Australia.
“We’d probably have a better race if it was just straight through because that’s a bit more of our thing,” said Denise. “We tend to go a bit slower, but go for a really long time. It’s a different type of race.”
Last November, Denise set a new 100-kilometre women’s Canadian record at the 100 Kilometre IAU World Championships in Gibraltar. However, her time was stricken from the record books when the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) measured the course and found it 90 metres short, even though she shaved more than six minutes off the previous record.
At the IAU World Trail Championships in Connemara, Ireland, this summer, Denise completed the 70-kilometre course in 8:48:35 for 10th overall. With McHale’s placement, along with teammates Melanie Bos and Bernadette Benson finishing ninth and 17th respectively, the three times were quick enough to earn Team Canada a bronze in the women’s event.
Two weeks ago Denise broke her own record to win the open women’s division of the Yukon River Trail Marathon for the third time, crossing the finish line in 3:11:51.
Last September Denise also set a record at the Klondike Trail of ‘98 Road Relay in the ultra distance division.
“We’d be climbing for an hour-and-a-half, going uphill, and then you come to the ridge-line and you run across it,” added Denise, speaking of the TransRockies Run. “It is pretty spectacular. A few times we had to remind each other to take a look around and take things in.”
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