Sarah Roberts originally from Saltcoats competed recently in the Sinister 7, 100 mile ultramarathon in the Crowsnest Pass.
The course took participants through rugged, remote and beautiful terrain in Alberta's stunning Rocky Mountains. With 6,400-metres of elevation gain across the course, it challenged the 250 solo participants who had 30-hours to complete the grueling event.
The race's name is inspired by the treacherous Seven Sisters Mountain that looms over much of the course.
When the 30-hours had passed only 69 of the solo racers had completed the run in the allotted time, Roberts only of 13 women. She completed the run in a time of 27:49:39.5, third among female competitors.
Roberts, who is now 35, has only recently become involved in ultramarathons.
“I started running ultramarathon and trails about four years ago,” she said, adding that ultramarathons are any race longer than 42 kilometres, or the standard marathon most people are aware of.
“The 100-mile distance is a bit of an iconic distance, one that most sort of aspires too.”
The Sinister 7 race was Roberts’ first attempt at the distance, although she has sort of been working up to the 100-mile plateau.
“Last September I did the Canadian Death Race,” she said, adding it is a 125-kilometre race at Grande Cache, AB.
“The 125km course begins and ends on a 4200-foot plateau, passes over three mountain summits, and not only includes over 17,000 feet of elevation change but a major river crossing at the spectacular Hell's Gate canyon at the confluence of the Smoky and Sulphur Rivers,” details the website devoted to that race.
Before the Death Race Roberts was generally running 50-80-kilomtres races.
So how much more difficult was the 100-mile race?
“It’s more than double the difficulty,” Roberts told Yorkton This Week in a telephone interview. “There’s nowhere to hide.”
Roberts said the race was not just physically grueling, but also mentally hard.
“You’re out there 28 hours. You’re up for more than 30-hours. It’s mentally tiring,” she said.
On the physical side, Roberts said the longer race tends to make everything that might be wrong with the body come to the fore.
“It causes niggling injuries to come out and be a problem,” she said.
In a 50-kilometre race you can power through the occasional ache or pain, but that doesn’t work in a 100-mile race, said Roberts.
Roberts said she went into the race with some concerns, an ankle injured a year ago, and an abdominal surgery last September.
“But, I got pretty lucky, I rolled my other ankle and at 146 kilometres my knees started to hurt a little bit,” she said, but she added she was able to persevere.
The Death Race does allow some time to recover, but the clock keeps ticking.
Roberts said there were seven legs, and at each checkpoint there was a chance to get fluids and food, or a little help from the crew, in her case her mom and dad, having her headlamp and warmer clothes as she headed out into the night section of the race.
Looking back, Roberts was still a bit in awe of what she did.
“It’s considered one of the toughest 100-mile races in North America,” she said.
And the 30-hour limit wears on the mind.
“It’s always in the back of your mind. At the start of the race your miles ahead of the time,” she said, and then the fatigue sets in.
Roberts said there was one uphill section where she said she was thinking about how slow she was actually moving, and then began the battle of dealing with doubt if she could do it.
It didn’t help that there was rain, and that meant muddy conditions.
“It was really wet. When you thought you could run a bit, your feet were still slipping away,” she said.
But she made the finish line under the time allowed.
“It’s just an accomplishment to finish it,” she said.
So why does Roberts do it?
“I like to be outside, and I just wanted to do something,” she said, adding she found her way to running.
Now she said, “There’s nothing else I’d rather do with 24-hours of my life.”
And more ultramarathons may be on Roberts’ agenda.
“There are 200-mile races, but I’m a long way from wanting to try that,” she said.
The Larapinta Trail ultramarathon, a short-223 kilometres in Australia, where Roberts now lives, has her attention.
“I’ve been thinking about doing that one for a long time,” she said.