Ambuehl defies death race
By: Justin Brisbane
| Posted: Thursday, Aug 09, 2012 06:00 am
Fourteen litres of water, three large Toblerone bars and 15 homemade deer sausages. That’s what 59-year-old Andres Ambuehl of Canmore used to power himself to the finish line at the Canadian Death Race on Saturday (Aug. 4) in Grande Cache.
“The sausage, we call them power sticks. That’s my secret,” Ambuehl said.
Ambuehl was the oldest man to complete the fabled race, which spans 125 kilometres over three mountain peaks. He finished the race in 17:58:14, crossing the finish line at 1:30 a.m., which put him at the top of his age group. He was also the 13th racer across the line.
Plowing up mountains and paddling through knee-deep puddles of mud, Ambuehl grew stronger as the race went on. His best leg was his last, where he passed about 100 racers in the last 20 kilometres. He was the eighth fastest runner on the final leg.
“The mountains are my strength. The last leg was 22 kms of solid uphill running, like running up to the Nordic Centre.” Ambuehl said. “For some reason I had so much energy.”
The race went relatively smoothly, although he did have two falls.
“The second leg is downhill and has these big boulders. You can’t run it because you beat the crap out of your knees,” Ambuehl said.
With bloodied knees and elbows, another runner stopped and asked if he was alright. Ambuehl told him falling is what he does for fun.
Training three hours a day, six days a week, he decided to race after his daughter Ursula attempted the race four years ago. To train, he started running up Grotto Mountain, blazing through the Highline trail and jogging to Mount Assiniboine.
“Running up Grotto is a good workout,” Ambuehl said. His daughter and Lesley Barkhouse worked as support for Ambuehl during his attempt. He tried to race last year, but his doctor forbid him after a white blood cell count test came back much too low. This year, he was more prepared and the training regimen paid off. He finished two marathons this year, but nothing like the death race. The accomplishment hit him at the medal ceremony.
“For me, it was emotional. I was the oldest one there. Other guys were a lot faster, but they were 25 years younger,” Ambuehl said.
To celebrate the win, he plans to go bow hunting. Chugging up steep terrain to find bighorn sheep is no problem for the butcher by trade.
“Between training and holidays, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for work,” he joked.
Banff’s Brenda Williams also competed in the race. She finished second in her age category with a time of 21:01. This was the ultra-runner’s second attempt at the Death Race. In 2008, she used the Death Race as her first ever ultra-race competition.
“I definitely noticed a change in my strength. There was an hour difference in the overall time (from 2008 to 2012) but this time I was more focused on pacing for the race. I wasn’t bothered about the time,” Williams said.
This time, she planned to use it as a training race in advance of the Dragon’s Back ultra race in Wales.
“It was hot and very, very muddy, but very beautiful,” Williams said. “I thought it would be fun to do again.”
She suffered on the fourth leg and ran into dehydration issues, but got her second win on the back side of Mount Hamel.
“I was like a horse going back to the barn,” Williams said.
Even though her result was strong, her racing comes second to her true love of mountain running.
“Every summer there are more trails to discover. I like to run the Rockwall or Skyline in Jasper. The races are training for mountain running. I’m not super fast. I run because I love running in nature. Races are a great way to compliment that,” Williams said.
With most ultra-distance races, pacing is the toughest part.
“I was happy with my pacing. As long as it feels right, it’s a success. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 14 hours or 24 hours, if you pace well, it’s a success.”
Canmore’s Todd Wolansky teamed up with Jasper’s Dave McDowell, Petra Graen and Valemont, B.C.’s Reiner Thoni to finish second overall in the team event. They beat the mixed team course record with a time of 10:58:30.
Full results are available at www.canadiandeathrace.com