Why do runners raid a remote Rockies town to stare death in the face? Because it might bring a glimpse of heaven. This is The North Face Canadian Death Race.
Photo by David Clifford
An anonymous source—likely a philosopher, punk rocker or Buddhist monk—said, "One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching." And, while over 1000 brave trail runners may not know the quote verbatim, they acknowledge its spirit every summer.
They arrive in Grand Cache, in west-central Alberta, Canada—a hardscrabble, defunct mining outpost 120 miles from the nearest airport—with skull stickers decorating their bumpers and their eyes focused squarely on finishing one of the continent's toughest yet decidedly underestimated trail races, the 125-kilometer Canadian Death Race.
You could say every runner here has a Death Wish.
The jokes and wordplays surrounding death flow like the frigid waters of the nearby Smoky River. "It's a killer" is the race's own tagline, appearing on everything from flags waving above town to temporary tattoos on kids' cheeks. There's even a weekend-long "Death Fest" with live music and games—and a children's Death Race 5K. But, festivities and marketing malarkey aside, this race is no laughing matter.