Top female: Mandy Currie’s running comes alive in iconic Canadian Death Race

Submitted photo. Saskatoon’s Mandy Currie, shown here in this file photo, was the top female runner in the 2023 Canadian Death Race, an 118-kilometre ultra-marathon held over the August long weekend in Grand Cache, Alberta.

Darren Zary, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Seeing the expression on her child’s face was worth it.

Worth having to endure an excruciating 118-kilometre run over insanely challenging terrain.

Worth all the fatigue, pain and suffering while trekking through the mud, rocks and hills.

In the end, Saskatoon’s Mandy Currie was able to celebrate with her family as the top female in the 2023 Canadian Death Race — an iconic ultra marathon that was held over the August long weekend in Grand Cache, Alta.

Being able to celebrate with her husband and young children Grayson, eight, and Mylah, five — “we let them stay up to midnight to let them watch me finish my race,” Mandy said — was a victory in itself.

“My eight-year-old’s reaction was, like, the best,” relayed Currie after finishing the Death Race in a time of 15 hours, 47 minutes and 28.3 seconds.

“It made it so exciting for me because he was so excited.

“It was pretty cool.”

This was the first Canadian Death Race for the 33-year-old mom, who works as a pediatric ICU nurse at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. The race certainly lived up to its billing, and Currie certainly lived in the moment.

“I was very shocked myself,” admitted Currie, who began running marathons in 2011 and continued with longer ultra marathons the following year.

“I’m pretty surprised, actually. It was kind of like I didn’t really believe it until they actually told me at the finish line because I was not in first place all day. I was the fifth or sixth woman for a good chunk of the day, but I kind of climbed my way up as the day went on, just held steady and ran my own race, back to my own plan, and did my own thing, really. There were lots of other strong women out there too, so it was exciting to come in first.”

This was no Sunday morning jog on the Meewasin Trail along the South Saskatchewan riverbank. This was, at times, pure hell.

“It’s goes from sloppy to bushwacky, I would call it, and then, all of a sudden, you’re summiting a peak and then it’s rocky,” recalled Currie.

“A lot of this course was runnable … but there were sections where I had my hiking poles out. The main thing is you’re out for a long time; the weather is a huge factor. A lot of people don’t finish the race. It takes a toll. It’s definitely very difficult terrain. It was very muddy this year, too. I keep hearing it’s wet and muddy there every year, but this year it was pretty muddy.

“You kind of run the risk of developing blisters and maybe having to drop out because of that reason, or the heat takes its toll on people. So, yeah, overall, the entire course itself is gruelling but the elements add another factor, too.”

Prior to this, Currie had also completed the 100-mile Sinister Seven ultra marathon, a sister race to the Death Race. (“That was my further distance,” she said.)

That was two years ago and she won the shorter Sinister Seven 50-kilometre race a year ago.

Grew into distance running

Currie does not have a high school or university cross-country running or track and field background.

“No. None. No. No running background. I played soccer growing up — that was it,” she said with a laugh.

“I do run quite a few of these mountain ultra’s, and an ultra is anything over 42 kilometres and they’re primarily — but not always — trailed,” she said. “I’ve had quite a few ultras under my belt and most of them are really hilly, but when it comes to training, there’s not the same way to replicate that at home here. Every now and then, I’ll go run up and down Blackstrap multiple times.

“I have a lot of experience racing, but I don’t get a lot of time on that kind of terrain, that’s for sure. It’s very minimal, but there was about 4,500 metres of elevation gained for this raced over 118 kilometres.”

This particular race is “kind of like of an iconic race in Canada, so it’s kind of been on my list for a while,” she added. “I just hadn’t had a chance to get out there yet.

“I had a good time out there.”

As a nurse and mom, Currie often finds herself running alone in the wee early hours.

“Being a parent and working shift work sometimes, my time to run is 5 a.m. or nothing,” she said. “I like to run with friends, but it’s not always an option.”

She was not alone in the Canadian Death Race. She had some Saskatchewan company.

Saskatoon’s Jen Kripki finished 25th in the women’s ultra marathon.

(Of the 60 women registered for the 118-kilometre Canadian Death Race, only 33 competitors finished.)

On the male side, Cameron Mang of Regina placed sixth overall in the Death Race.

“So that’s pretty neat too,” noted Currie. “It’s nice when those of us from Saskatchewan can go out and not only participate in a mountain race but also compete in it, too. Once I ran a race earlier this year in North Vancouver, and when I came across the finish line, they saw where I was from and they jokingly said, ‘Here’s Mandy Currie and she’s finishing and this is the first time she’s ever seen a mountain.’

“It’s unassuming.”

Post-race insomnia

By Wednesday — four days after the race — Currie said she was “not quite back running again but recovered pretty well.”

Rest was not an option.

“I was right back it — I was back in parent mode next morning,” chuckled Currie, who also had to battle sleep deprivation.

“My biggest problem after a race of this distance is I can’t sleep. I finished just before midnight on Saturday, going into Sunday. I just kind of laid awake in bed all night because I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline or what it is, but I always get a little bit of post-race insomnia.

“Your body feels pretty broken. I think I’ve problem-solved enough that I can manage most of the issues. I got away with very minimal blisters. I got away with no injuries that can happen sometimes. The terrain is difficult enough. There are sections so steep that you can’t possibly run them and then there are sections so steep coming down, too. There’s a section called ‘bum-slide’ — literally a sign there saying this is ‘bum-slide.’

“So coming out without having an injury is a win — a huge win. So, for recovery, sleep is difficult. Everybody’s different, but sometimes getting your appetite back, it sometimes takes a day or so and sometimes you just can’t stop eating after that.”

And sometimes, your children can’t stop smiling at their mom.