Sinister 7 Ultra is a 100-mile trail run through the Rocky Mountains around Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. To many, it has become the penultimate endurance challenge, and the race attracts runners from around the world. After eight years of observation, here are some things that you need to know in order to conquer the Sinister 7.
- IT’S TOUGH – REALLY TOUGH
Let’s not sugarcoat it – this race will beat you up. There is deadfall to climb over. There are creeks and bogs to cross. You will fall on wet roots and rocks. If you cannot finish the race in 15 hours, you will be running in the dark. The course is relentless. Just when you think you have seen the toughest climb, you turn a corner and get hit with a bigger one. The route traverses remote wilderness, and racers must prepare to be self-sufficient.
- TRAINING AND MORE TRAINING
The best and most obvious way to be successful is through physical training. There are hundreds of training plans, so it’s up to the individual to decide how to approach this challenge. While there is no particular maximum or minimum, you need to constantly ramp up your weekly mileage as you get closer to the race. The bulk of the training should be on trail and involve hills (and more hills, and more hills) so that you get a sense of the 5,300+ metres of climb. It also helps to train at night, as it is very likely that you will run in the dark.
- THE WEATHER
There is a high likelihood that you will suffer some effects from both high heat and cold. The sky can be clear with 35˚ Celsius, and then send biblical rain and hail moments later. During the day you will often see racers crowding around creeks like gazelle cooling off at a watering hole in the desert. Debilitating heat is likely the #1 reason that racers DNF.
Despite the daily highs, the temperature in the Rockies often plummets to near freezing at night. Every year we respond to a handful of hypothermia cases generally due to runners going out unprepared, but accidents happen and you can get soaked. Have the right gear!
- IT’S WET
Of the seven legs, you are guaranteed to get wet on legs 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and possibly on leg 1. Most stages require at least one small creek crossing, which is refreshing, but it can also contribute to blistery feet. Runners often have towels, fresh socks, and dry shoes waiting for them at transition areas between stages of the race.
- DRINK + EAT
Competitors can upwards of 10,000 calories during a 100-miler, and even seasoned ultra runners sometimes overlook proper hydration and nutrition. Hydration is key to keeping your system going. Once dehydration sets in, you will not feel like eating. We offer aid stations stocked with easy to eat, high-energy snack foods, but if you have your “secret weapon” nosh, make sure to bring it.
- EMBRACE THE SUCK
Even with solid training, you will push your body way beyond what it would normally endure. Cramping, soul crushing fatigue, and vomiting are common. This can be partially mitigated by hydration and nutrition, but mental fortitude is the best remedy. Competitors often turn to antacids or painkillers to regulate discomfort, and this also needs to be carefully managed as it may cause all kinds of other problems. Embrace the pain and learn to push past it.
- HAVE A PLAN
Take the opportunity to get to know what you are up against. Visit the website and review the course. Use social media to ask past racers what to expect. If possible, attend the annual training camp so you can see some of the course firsthand. Once you have a good sense of the challenge, plan your run and set goals for each section of the race. Runners often get out of whack due to fatigue and environmental factors. Do not let this discourage you – adjust your plan and keep moving. There is a cutoff at the end of each stage so you need to plan to be ahead of these times and don’t use it as an excuse to quit!
- THE BREAKING POINT
Leg 3 – Ironstone Mountain (aka “Satan’s Sack”) is the breaking point for many racers. Even though you will be exposed to the sun for much of this leg, the trail can be relentlessly muddy, leaving you simultaneously scorching hot and soaking wet. If you can push through Leg 3 and feel healthy, your chances of finishing are far higher.
- IT’S MOSTLY MENTAL
Like Yoda said, “Try not. Do or do not, there is no try”. Well before the race, every thought should be, “I will finish – I will meet my goal”. When your body is shutting down and delirium sets in, your mind will give you a thousand reasons to quit. Something as simple as uncomfortable underwear becomes unbearable. You need to dig deep and find that one reason why you will finish.
- BE INSPIRED
Despite everything that might happen, the energy at Sinister 7 Ultra is electric. Competitors become friends and support each other through some of the toughest moments imaginable. That is the spirit of the people at Sinister 7 Ultra, and the trail running community as a whole. You will have fleets of people encouraging you along the way, so let them help you to your goal.
You will see some stunning, remote places that few get to enjoy. Embrace those moments and revel in the experience.