The World's Worst ultramarathon


Our buddy Steve in full race mode 'he's the dude waving'
So to fully understand how this race came to be, a little history.

While running a while back, I met a man named Steve.  He was fast.  Much faster than me.  I'd been putting in 100 mile run weeks for over a year, and working to increase my performance. Steve had a course record to his name, and multiple podiums.  He was a swim coach.  He made everyone he was friends with feel like they were his best friend.  The dude was amazing.

People eagerly waiting to start the run at midnight
We would run this god forsaken 2.5 mile loop patch of hard packed dirt and pavement. It had no consistent elevation.  The city had built this trail a decade ago, but had long since forgotten that maintenance was required.  The bridges are on angles, a mudslide has caused a small forest to slide onto the trail, and in a streak of sheer city planning brilliance, they had put in some wooden stairs, tethered to the dirt with rebar.  the wood has long since rotted leaving rebar shanks sticking out of the dirt.  But the runners of this little northern town were not deterred.  This was the only patch of 'trail' in town to run, and run it they did.

One day running this horrible patch of dirt with Steve, we were chatting about goal races.  The topic came up of what we would least like to run.  We agreed.  A 100 milers on this crappy little loop.

A year later Steve died.  He was out running a 50km mountain run in Jasper, AB with some friends when his heart quit.  It was tragic.  The word spread fast.  He was more or less the leader of the trail runners in Fort St. John.

The pavement bit at the end
I got the call while driving home from the airport.  I had moved south the previous fall to Fernie, BC.  It was from my buddy Shayne, another one of the guys that ran with Steve.  Within a few minutes, we knew what needed to be done to honour our fallen comrade.  Steve had a wicked sense of humour, a love of craft beer, and a love of running.  A plan was set in motion.  We would create a 24 hour run on that god forsaken patch of dirt.  We would create the World's worst ultramarathon, and we would do it in a week.  Steve would be drinking a craft beer in the halls of his ancestors, laughing his ass off at us.  It was the least we could do.

That's the backstory.

Now, off to the races!

We would start the race at 12:01am on a Sunday night.  Because no one should be rested on a Monday for work.  It would end at 12:01am Monday, with a beer.  There were no bibs, no one counting your laps, and one aid station.  Runners would run the 2.5km loop again, and again, and again, and again...you get the idea.

The course would start on pavement, then roll progressively downhill into the mud near the creek, on hard packed trail, made of solidified clay.  There was a bridge crossing at the low point, that had plants growing through the metal slates, as well as a sinkhole at the one end that caused the bridge to tilt precariously.  From there, runners would run along the creek (but unable to see it due to the dense foliage) before climbing back up away from the creek.  They would then be treated to a mud and clay ridge, completing a small loop, before heading to the other side of the trail (did I mention each loop consisted of two smaller loops?).

Shayne getting set
The second loop had runners head down to the creek again, this time able to see it.  They would have to be careful on the descent, as there was a few spots where the trail had sunk, creating one foot drops.  Then, at the bottom, runners would head across another bridge, before hitting the rebar stairs.  After a brisk climb, runners would be treated to a final half mile on pavement.  Exposed to the prairie winds and sun/rain.

Rinse.  Repeat.  As many times as possible within 24 hours.

We had about 100 people show up at midnight to run the first loop (as this was a memorial to honour Steve), and about a dozen runners start the night shift.  We had a few horrible surprises that were unexpected.

First.  Toads.  It was like a biblical plague.  If a man with a staff showed up, and told me to 'Let god's people go!', I wouldn't have been surprised.  As we ran, you would see toads flying off the trail as people accidentally kicked them.  We developed a code word as the night rolled on.  When the lead runner saw a toad patch, he would yell the code word 'TOAD' to the runners behind to alert them.  I came up with that code word myself.  I'm pretty proud of it.  We also used a similar system for mud.  the lead runner would yell 'MUD'.  Again, I came up with that.  Anyone know if I can trademark either of these?

One of the beautiful bridges (stock photo from 2013)
Did I mention that we didn't order any outhouses for this run?  I'm sure a few people on this course spent the next week scouring the internet to ensure no stories about 'rogue poopers' appeared.  Luckily, if you didn't mind adding a few hundred meters to your lap, you could access the city outhouses by the ball diamonds.  After about 15 laps, I think most runners enjoyed the variety of running on the short gravel road to the outhouses to break up the monotony.

The hard packed trail took it's toll on the runners as the day went.  Shin splints and walking zombie syndrome set in.  By lap 30, I cursed the stairs. By lap 32 I cursed the sink holes.  By lap 34 I cursed the city's lackadaisical maintenance of this trail.

It was fun to watch people run further than they ever had before.  Many of the runners had never done more than a half marathon.  It was awesome to see running groups from other local communities drive out to participate, as well as many of the local runners who had never even met before get acquainted.

We have a local mountain half marathon in August, as well as the Canadian Death Race, all located within a few hours of Fort St. John, so many of the runners who were training for these events came out as well.  It was a moment from a Disney movie as people descended upon this hellish patch of dirt to put in laps.

We planned originally for 5 to 10 of us to show up.  We had over 200. 

Concerned citizens, and the overall good people of Fort St. John kept us in food, water, and anything else an aid station could need (someone legit dropped off some pizzas).  For such a crappy run, we had a 5***** aid station.

We ended the run, as planned with a craft beer toast to our fallen friend.  People were laughing, joking, and in overall good spirits.  In typical small town fashion, we had a tailgate party.  It was excellent.


The toast at the end with the remaining runners


We began joking about doing this again next year.  So stay tuned.  Registration for the new and improved 'World's Worst Ultra Marathon' opens soon. We promise to make it worse!  It's definitely a destination race (google Fort st. John on a map).

See you next year,

The Canadian Ghost Runner

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