An athlete as elite as Denise McHale could probably pull a string of grand pianos 90 metres in less than six minutes, but unfortunately record books don’t operate on assumptions.
The Whitehorse running sensation recently found out her 100-kilometre women’s Canadian record, set last November at the 100 Kilometre IAU World Championships in Gibraltar, has been stricken from the record book due to a mistake made by race officials.
McHale, who finished eighth in the race, shaved more than six minutes off the Canadian record, coming in with a time of seven hours, 56 minutes and 41 seconds.
However, after measuring the course and finding it just 90 metres short of 100-kilometres, the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) deemed all times inadmissible for record consideration.
“That’s the frustrating thing, if I had of just squeaked by – just beat it by 10 seconds or so – then you can kind of go, ‘Well, you wouldn’t have made it anyways,’” said McHale. “But I had ample time to run that 90 metres. It’s frustrating, to say the least.”
The miscalculation of distance resulted from an officiating mistake early on in the November race. 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 cut short one of the loops – by 90 metres too much.
“I’m not sure what happened, they didn’t turn us around where they should have,” said McHale. “So they had to modify one of the laps – they made it a little bit shorter because we ran too far out in the first bit. So they rerouted in Lap 12 to counteract the screw-up in the morning.”
The Yukon News received a short reply from an IAU director when asked if any other runners from other countries set national records in the race. However, since the IAU only registers records on an international level, leaving ultrarunning organizations within countries to determine their own national records, it could not be determined if any others were in the same predicament as McHale.
“I’m sure there were a few,” said McHale. “Usually every race a few records go down. We had pretty good conditions that day and it was a pretty good course to run a record on.”
At this point, it’s more about if McHale wants to try for another record rather than if she is able to set one. She much prefers trail running to road running.
“I don’t know if I want to do it again badly enough,” said McHale. “I went in hoping to break the record and the eight-hour mark, and I did all that. While it’s frustrating, that doesn’t change. I did everything that I was in control of for the race.
“I don’t want it to discolour any of the accomplishment I felt.
“I was like, ‘I’m doing this one more time.’ I have some ability at it, but that doesn’t mean I like it that much.”
If she decides to go for the record, McHale will head to Winschoten, the Netherlands in September for the next world championship.
Other races she’s debating are the World Trail Championships during July in Ireland and the Commonwealth 100 Kilometre Championship in Wales (on trails) in September.
“I have a lot of options,” said McHale. “It’s whether it means enough to me to go for the record again.”
McHale’s previous best time in the 100-kilometre was 8:15:56, set at the Canadian 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 woman, setting a course record. That performance landed her a spot on the national team
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 2009 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.
Last August, McHale competed in the Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache, Alberta, a 125-kilometre run through the Rocky Mountains; she finish third as the top Canadian.
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.
In February McHale became the first woman to win the marathon division of the Yukon Arctic Ultra, setting another course record.
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