Come hellish heat or high water, nothing stops Whistler ultra runner Peter Armistead — but it was the former that presented the biggest challenge as he took on a 100-mile race in the heart of the Rockies.
Armistead and his fellow runners had 30 hours to complete the Sinister 7 ultra marathon, a 161 km race that took place from July 6 to 8. Punishing temperatures in the mid-30s forced more than half of the competitors to drop out before finishing the course.
“The heat just annihilated the field,” said Armistead. “This race I think it got as high as 37 degrees and it was really exposed. It was just relentless.”
The annual Sinister 7 is an ultra marathon that covers 100 miles of trail course in Crowsnest Pass. Runners can choose to compete solo or participate in a relay of up to seven people.
Armistead completed the course solo in 26 hours and 19 minutes, coming in 14th overall.
The steep mountain terrain, distance and weather meant only 46 solo racers finished out of hundreds that registered.
“It was a good result, a good placing, but absolutely the ugliest running I’ve ever done,” said Armistead. “I knew it was going to be a war of attrition, and I was aiming just to get through to the night. I knew it was going to be roasting hot during the day. My main thing was trying to control my heart rate by running slower than I normally would and trying to find shade wherever I could.”
Instead of stopping at the aid stations — which were short on ice — Armistead said he made his own aid stations along the way by stopping for cold water on the route.
“Every time I saw a mountain stream I would take a detour and go lay in it,” he said. “I’d soak all my clothing and drink the water. I just wanted to put cold stuff in my body. It was my way of coping with the heat.”
After dark, the temperature dropped to 8 C. While the volunteers Armistead passed were cozy in puffy jackets and toques, he was still running hot. He said despite the heat and the abuse of a 100-mile race, it’s the epic challenge that keeps him running ultras.
The one time he was forced to drop out of a race, it was nature’s opposite extreme — cold that caused hypothermia — that forced him into an ambulance without finishing the course. He said it was an incredibly difficult feeling to give up on a race, and one he doesn’t plan to repeat.
“I don’t want my kids to see me dropping out of things just because they’re difficult,” he said.
Before the race, Armistead’s seven-year-old son drew him a card and explained the drawing was of a “warrior dragon” that would inspire him to finish no matter the difficulty.
“How can you drop out of a race after that? I couldn’t go home and tell him his card didn’t work, so I had to keep going,” he explained with a laugh.
Watch out for Whistler’s “warrior dragon” on the local trails as he trains for the Barkley Fall Classic in Tennessee in September. Armistead said wherever races take him, his home in Whistler will always be his favourite place to train.
“It can’t get any better,” he said. “It’s one of the best places in the world for trail running. There’s a small but dedicated running community out here and it’s getting better all the time.”