It's physically and mentally depleting and when you're finished, you swear you'll never do another.

Yet, there you are two days later, scouting out the next challenge.

That's how Vern McNeice describes the thoughts that go through your head after finishing an ultramarathon.

His latest was last weekend in Grande Cache, where he successfully tackled one of the world's most gruelling -- The Canadian Death Race.

He is among three of the latest Cochrane soloists who can proclaim themselves to be "Death Racers."

The 55-year-old firefighter was proud to cross the finish together with his younger brother Monty, of Onoway, in just under 23 hours. They were two of the 173 who beat the 24-hour time limit from a field of 286 soloists who set out the morning before. There are also cut-off times for each of the race's five legs.

Cochrane's Colin Amoyotte had an impressive run, finishing 17th overall, and Fabien Cote-Vaillancourt beat the 24-hour cutoff by 42 minutes.

The Death Race is not for the meek. You run, sometimes briskly hike, sometimes stumble, as you make your way along a 125k course. You summit three mountains and endure 17,000 ft. in elevation changes. 


It takes extensive training, and a solid plan of attack before you even set foot on the course.

McNeice says he was fortunate to have the support of his brother and a fellow worker Devon Featherstone, both accomplished ultramarathoners who built him a program for the daunting challenge.

The Hamell Assault is leg 4 of the race. It's 32.5k long with a total elevation change of well over 1,500m, which comes practically all at once. The sun was going down when Vern and his brother reached its summit (2,129m/6,985ft).

"I ran it with my brother, which was really a wonderful thing, and we were at the top of Mount Hamell when the sun was coming down. You know, the mountains are different there. Boy, you can see a long way, and it is just absolutely gorgeous."

But when the sun comes down, the headlamps go on and you spend what seems like endless hours watching your feet to try and prevent tripping over the outcrop of rocks and roots. You expect a lot of aches and pains from a run like this, but there was one he hadn't anticipated.

"I turned my headlamp up as high as it would go and I'm looking at my feet, kind of five feet in front of me and then back to my feet, so I didn't trip on anything. After 8-9 hours of that, my neck was all cranked and I would never thought that. I mean, my feet were sore and my legs were sore, but my neck was really sore from looking down at my toes for eight hours, which was totally unexpected."

Then there are the moments of mind vs. body.

"It's a big mental game, and it's a tough one. You're looking for reasons to stop. I'm new to this, but others who have done it a lot know it's about having the ability to endure the pain. Your mind is saying it's time to quit, but your body actually always has more. I'm finding it to be an intriguing process."

As an outfitter, McNeice is well aware of indications of wildlife, and there were plenty along the route.

"There were signs of bears everywhere, and it's a different feeling when you're running at night and you're going through the bush. You kind of get to a point where you're in the zone. My brother and talked about it and decided, if we got attacked by a bear, it couldn't be much worse than how we're feeling right now."

Then there's the reality check that follows the race. 

"After the race, you scold yourself and call yourself names for engaging in such a ridiculous activity and swear to God that you'll never do it again. Then within two days, most people are looking for another greater challenge.

"You know, the Death Race is an iconic race. I think it's one of the toughest in Canada, and I wanted to try it to see if I could do it."

It's not long before his next ultramarathon. He's off to the Lost Soul Ultra in Lethbridge in early September.

The Death Race was created by Dale Tuck and Paul Bailey in 2000 and was one of the first of its kind in Alberta. There's also a team event and Kids' Death Race.

It has since been acquired by Sinister Sports, who added a shorter version, the Near Death Race Marathon.

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