Sinister 7: Tales from the Pain Cave

Sinister- giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen

7- equivalent to the sum of three and four; one more than six, or three less than ten.  Also, the number of remaining brain cells in people who attempt to run the Sinister 7.

The Sinister 7 is my white whale, my Moby Dick.  This was my third solo attempt at it.  The first attempt in 2013 was because I wanted to see as much of the course as possible, and this was the cheapest way (I'm Dutch, we have a cheap date thing names after us).  I made it 2 legs.  2016 was a relay team. 2017 was a good old college try, I made it to the last aid station on 4 before the heat got me.  Then 2018, this year, which was a success.  I obsessed for 5 years, and even moved to the area to be within harpoon range of the course.

I've decided to write down my observations about this course, so you can prove to people that don't believe you, about how horrible this course truly is.

Observation: In 2016, the movie the Barkley Marathons rose to prominence on Netflix.  Race directors everywhere got inspired. I'm sure somewhere the Race director for Sinister 7 (we won't divulge his real name, but just refer to as 'Brian' henceforth to protect his identity) was watching this movie and taking notes.  With newfound inspiration, 'Brian' unveiled the new course in 2017.  It was hell.

I must be a keener.  Two years in a row with this bad boy
Who am I: If you bumped into the dude wearing #1 on race weekend, that's me.  I've had that number 2 years in a row, if I get it next year, I believe I should get the  buy 3 get 1 free on the #1 bib.  I'll add my picture on here too, although the sexiness emitted may break the Internet quicker than a Kardashian photo shoot.  I also need to add that in the 6 weeks leading up to this race, I'd run the 100 mile Sulphur Springs ultra in Ontario, and two weeks before had run a 24 hour race in Fort St. John.  I say this not to brag (although totally to brag, because it's what runners do), but to add weight to the statement, 'my body was not feeling funky fresh'.

Pre-race 'I'm Chill' photo
Leg 1: (easiest leg, or hardness ranking  1 of 7)  My buddy Calvin was doing a two person team this year, and attempting his longest run ever by running legs 1 through 4.  My aim was to stick with him for the first four legs.  The course description says 1 to 3.5 hours for 18.3km, we didn't see the Jamaican track team at the race so we started out in the front 50 people because if you don't, you get trapped in the snake of people on the single track a few hundred meters in.  Leg 1 is runnable.  With the exception of a few small climbs, the terrain is nice.  It can be run quickly.  While no leg is easy on this race, leg 1 gets the prize in my opinion.  The route takes you on road and rail ties for a few km before finding trail.  Calvin and I ran this leg at a reasonable pace, and didn't encounter difficulty.

Leg 2: (ranking 3 of 7) This leg, and almost all the legs of this race are designed to have runners slowly grind uphill over the course of most of the leg, only to lose the elevation down a goat trail of pain.  We began the climb on 2 nice and easy, keeping in mind it was going to be a long day.  Our group often swelled to three or four people, as I'm a social butterfly, and love meeting people.  I ranked this leg harder than 5, because the terrain is treacherous.  If you got this leg 'because it's only 16.7km, and the third easiest', and then proceeded to take 2.5 hours, and endure ribbing from your relay team, show them this.  The run doesn't truly begin until after the aid station with the short death climb, then the hellish descent.  The downhill isn't so much running, as it is controlled breaking.  A nice addition to the course now, is a bridge (or plank of wood) over the creek crossing.  Calvin and I continued with our planned pace, and made our way into the TA for leg 3 in just over 4 hours.

Note: At this point I knew my legs weren't going to show up today, and allow me to run fast.  My ankles and feet had taken serious damage on the 24 hour race a few weeks prior, and the downhills were definitely hurty.

Leg 3: (Ranking 7 of 7, deal with it leg 6 people!).  If you're on a relay team and drew this leg, congrats on getting the short straw.  It's like winning a free meal at Taco Bell.  You get to eat out (yay!), but it's Taco Bell (barf!).  Leg 3 is where I entered the pain cave. 31.4ish km of hell.  You get to climb the ski hill, while fighting gale force winds.  When there aren't gale force winds, you either get hot, or mosquitoes, there is no in between.  The real kicker on 3 is that on the descents, you have to try and not slide down the whole way, as its basically a big rock garden.  When you aren't slowly climbing on this leg, you are in a controlled break, putting on bug dope, or looking for a stream to cool off in.  Calvin and I took our time on this leg and used the 4.5 hours we planned.

Note: This leg is tough on the joints.  My pain censors were definitely telling me 'this is a bad idea bud. stop trying to kill us'.  If people are interested in nutrition plans, etc, I subsist on Boost meal replacement drinks, and Clif gels.  The aid stations are basically sugar or salt, so relying on them to keep you going for 24 hours will usually result in your stomach turning into a swirling vortex of death, or as I like to call it, 'Taco Bell Syndrome'.

Myself and Calvin out on leg 4
Leg 4: (ranking 5 of 7).  This leg is where runs go to die.  What makes it so hard, is it is right after leg  2 and 3, so you haven't actually gotten to run, so much as jog while avoiding breaking an ankle on rocks.  Leg 4 used to be a gimme.  You'd convince the person doing 2 legs on the relay team to do this one.  This is where the race director..'Brian' showed us his hand.  Leg 4 only shares the name with it's previous iteration.  If you got this leg, thinking it would be 'not too bad', I'm sorry for your loss. This is my least favorite leg as a soloist. Runners are treated to slowly running uphill on mountain bike trails (the race site describes them as 'fast' trails).  After the 'fast' trails, it's one hell of a grunt to the summit of the mountain they decided to add to the race.  The views are amazing, but its basically a fallen tree, parkour playground at the top.  After hobbling the ridge, runners are treated to a hellish descent, where they get to pick themselves down around rocks and boulders.  With my ankles and knees hurting, I had to be super careful.  Once all the way down, you get to the final aid station, only to get another hit of pointless elevation gain (can you feel the love for this leg??).  In 2017, I DNF'd at that aid station.  The workers remembered me, and we got to hug it out this year, as I was in a much better place this year at this point, and not worried about a DNF.  The end of leg 4 has you run it in on something actually runnable.  It's the first time since leg 1.

Note:  Leg 4 is like getting punched in the gut, or like eating a Fiery Doritos Locos Taco Supreme at Taco Bell.  What will to live you had left, will soon be gone.  This was Calvin's final leg with me, I think he liked leg 4 more than I did.  He used a lot of colourful descriptors while climbing and descending the summit.  I'm pretty sure they were all positive.

Leg 5: (ranking 3 of 7).  The running leg.  Leg 5 is great.  It`s like giving your legs a holiday.  The bit to the first aid station is 100% runnable. I was alone at this point (the only time the whole race I was alone) so I ran it out as quickly as I could.  Leg 5 is where most runners start to worry about dark monsters.  You are alone, it is getting dark, then boom!  Bear.  After leaving the first aid station you get the climb, and at the top..BOOM, bear runs across the trail in front of me, full speed.  I reach for my spray, but the bear is long gone.  I then realize I grabbed my water bottle, and was holding it like it was bear spray.  In the words of the wise sage Forest Gump, 'I am not a smart man'.  After that, I spent about two hours, unable to run.  Body just wouldn't do it.  The pristine, runnable trail, and I was trekking along...break my heart.  When I got to the last aid station, I was stoked to see they were having a rave party, and my life improved greatly.  I was running with good people, and my legs were back.  Life was good.  The last 7.5km is a super runnable downhill portion into the TA (by super runnable, I mean stare at your feet so you don't trip on rocks).

Note: After leg 5, I felt like a Taco Bell bathroom after $2 Cheesy Gordita Tuesdays.  I was a hurtin' unit.  Nothing that would end a run, but the usual pains; knees, ankles, feet, kidneys, gallbladder, teeth, shoulders, back, get the idea.  I'd been having some weird visual issues by the end of leg 5 as well.  I saw a bright white light out of the corner of my eye, and had the very serene sense about being one with the universe.  I figured it was a next level runner's high.  My wife (the common sense person), suggested it was probably DMT being released by my brain, and I was in a state of dying slowly! (you may need google to get that one).
My wife's mad picture taking skills at the TA

Leg 6: (Ranking 6 of 7).  Why 6, and not 7 out of 7?!  Because aside from a 7km stretch, a person could run the entire thing, fast! Like really fast!  Leg 6 started out with the usual Brian special, slow progressive uphill to the first aid station, I was trekking with a relay runner from Saskatoon, and being followed slowly by someone driving a side by side.  This was a good chance to recover, and prepare for what came next.  The new version of this leg, has you doing almost all the climb in a few km.  It's in a muddy nasty trench, and the grade is without pity.  I was in heaven.  I love climbing the steep stuff, it's like the only thing in trail running I'm really good at.  So, if in the middle of the night, an overly chipper dude passed you on the uphill on 6, that was probably me.  After the big climb, you then get to lose all the elevation you worked so hard for.  On fresh legs, the downhills here wouldn't be bad at all.  On tired legs it was like a slip and slide down.  You go up and down a few times, before the true descent.  Once the track levels out a bit, you can run the all the way to aid station 2.  Where once arriving, I found a ton of runners huddled in blankets, look despondent.  I soon found out why.  After the aid station, there was a short, but steep climb.  Once the climb is done, you're golden.  You can lay down a great pace all the way to the final TA.  I didn't even bother with the last aid station.  Just thanked them, and kept on trucking.  The only real challenge, is the 'FU' trench about a kilometer from the TA.  A tired person could get stuck in it I imagine.

Note: At this point, running is all adrenaline and pain.  You just do it, even if it hurts.  I met so many amazing people on this leg, it probably slowed me down a half hour, but I love hearing why people were out there.  Why they subject themselves to this utter madness?  Plus, its way more fun to chat and run, then just truck along.  I was in super high spirits this entire leg, as happy as someone that found out they didn't get gastroenteritis from the Taco Bell they unwisely ate.

Leg 7: (Ranking 2 of 7).   There is only 1 reason this leg is hard than Leg 1.  Brian's 2km death climb (can someone make that a Strava segment?).  I didn't stop at the TA 6/7, I just dropped my jacket and took off.  Legs were good as new....until the death climb.  Luckily, I enjoy climbing, so made quick work of it.  Then it's one last crazy downhill to ski down, and you're home free.  My body was hating me, but I had long since stopped caring what my body was saying.  I just kept running, knowing the end was in sight.   After about 8 or 9k, you hit road.  Road, do you remember it?  It's hard and consistent grade, the way it just invites you to move quickly.  I hit the road and it felt weird.  It took a few steps to get my equilibrium back. I hadn't run on consistent grade in over 24 hours!  I motored down the road, happy to see the finish line.  Crossed the finish line, collapsed and kissed the ground.  It was done. It was over.  I would never have to run this patch of dirt again.

Note: Anyone know what day registration opens for 2019?
The end

Thanks for reading.  If you ran with me, let me know.

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Signing off,

Canadian Ghost Runner


  1. Great review, but you rank leg 2 and 5 both 3/7. I did 1 and 2 for my team, I agree with your summary of both of those!

    1. My maths weren’t so good when I wrote this!😂😂. Midnight after the run when I finally Woke up. I’d rather run 5 all day then 2. 2>5! Good job on 1 and 2!


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