There are runners and then there are people like Jody Labriola. The North Vancouver resident is training for the Canadian Death Race, a 125-kilometre contest in Grand Cache, Alberta, that takes place over 24 hours and features more than 17,000 feet of elevation change. The annual event is about as extreme as it gets. It’s the training involved that Labriola really enjoys.
Consider the route she and a friend, who is also competing in the arduous race, mapped out for a recent Sunday: the two would climb Black Mountain in Horseshoe Bay, then run to Cypress Bowl before making their way to the Cleveland Dam via the Baden-Powell Trail. Then they’d go up along Nancy Greene Way to the base of Grouse Mountain, up the British Columbia Mountaineering Club trail (adjacent to the Grouse Grind), down Old Mountain Highway, then back onto the Baden-Powell and into Lynn Valley, for a total of about 40 kilometres.
“I love being out in the trails,” Labriola says by phone. “I look forward to an eight-hour run on a Sunday. I know that sounds really sick, but I enjoy the mental and physical exhaustion that comes with an eight-hour run.
“I would rather do a 125-k race than a 25-k,” she adds. “I don’t know why; I just like that push. I’m doing the Canadian Death Race because I want my son to see you don’t have to be number one, you just have to enjoy what you’re doing. And it’s always nice to cross the finish line.”
Labriola clearly falls into the category of elite athlete, and she knows that she must be physically and mentally prepared for such gruelling challenges.
But no matter what kind of race it is, whether it’s a paint-splattered five-kilometre fun run or an obstacle-course event like the upcoming Muddarella, proper training is vital when it comes to avoiding injuries and overexertion.
“At our clinic, we regularly see people who were unprepared for running or cycling events and end up with an overuse injury like patellofemoral pain and iliotibial-band friction syndrome,” says Vancouver physiotherapist Carl Petersen, a partner at City Sports and Physiotherapy Clinic. “Others who were not adequately prepared for obstacles or lifting-type events can injure their shoulders or backs. And those who are unlucky and twist their ankle or knee, fall down, or hit something may also end up in the clinic.”
Just as with skiing or playing tennis, Petersen says, people should not view an event as a way to get into shape but should work on getting into shape in order to do the event.
“If it’s Tough Mudder, you need to be able to crawl, jump, carry, and run over obstacles,” he says. “If it’s the Knee Knacker [Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run], you must be able to run a long distance over rough terrain. So including these types of activities in the general preparation is important.
“In general terms, think of working on the five Ss: stamina—aerobic and anaerobic—strength, speed, skill, and suppleness [flexibility],” he says. “Depending on the event, tailor your training so that it mimics what you need to do. Start easy and progress slowly to build up to the time, distance, and intensity you need.”
Physiotherapist Dorothy Berwick, with North Shore Sports Medicine, suggests people turn to the event itself to see if it has customized training and workout plans. September’s Muddarella, for instance—an obstacle course just for women that’s not a timed event but a group challenge—has a six-week program to help participants prepare. She says it’s especially important for first-timers or those who are new to exercise to take a cautious approach to a fun run.
“If you go from sitting on the couch for six months to running a 5-k, you may cause excessive stress on your joints because your muscles are not strong enough to support your body,” Berwick says. “The most common injuries from pushing yourself too hard are ligament sprains and muscle strains, which require physiotherapy and anywhere from six to eight weeks to heal. It’s best for at least two to four weeks prior to engaging in a fun run that you do regular jogging, hiking, or walking of a distance similar to [that] which you’re going to compete in.
“Try and register at least six weeks prior to a race,” she adds. “Not only do you save money, but it will be in the back of your mind, helping you prepare for the event and get off the couch.”
If you follow the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, Berwick notes, you should be completing 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week in bouts lasting at least 10 minutes each. She also recommends cross-training.
“Find a boot camp, yoga, or core class to complement your training,” Berwick says. “The stronger you are all-round, the more stable the body is going to be.”
Always do a proper warm-up and cool-down, too, Petersen says.
The mental side of things is a whole other story, but Labriola has some advice.
“There’s a point in any running race, even in a half-marathon, [where] we have a wall. You just have to get up the wall and get down the other side. People can do it, but some people have a hard time, mentally, getting over that wall. We’re stronger than we think we are.”