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Running the Icefields Parkway: 230K between Lake Louise and Jasper

Battling a bum knee and blackouts, Sam Dickie ran two-times farther than he had ever gone before to cross Alberta's Icefields Parkway

Photo by: Nicolas Groulx

The farthest Sam Dickie had ever run before this summer was 120K. That was at the 2019 Golden Ultra in B.C. — just his third ultramarathon — which he won by more than an hour. He nearly doubled that distance in June, when he ran 230K along Alberta’s Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper. Running on an injured knee, pushing through blackouts and stopping for just 10 minutes of sleep over the course of the entire run, he finished the route with his support crew by his side in a little more than 31 hours, averaging an impressive pace of 8:17 per kilometre throughout the challenge. 

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Dickie’s running history 

Originally from Fenelon Falls, Ont., Dickie moved to Banff seven years ago after graduating from high school. In his younger years, he ran on his school cross-country and track teams, but when he moved to the Rockies he dove headfirst into the sport. 

“I started running small mountains and stuff like that,” he says. “From that, I started to explore the maps in that area and I tried putting together bigger multi-day runs and treks.” He eventually built his mileage until he was comfortable running 50K at a time, and he officially joined the world of ultramarathons in 2019 after he signed up for the Squamish 50-miler in B.C. 

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While most people might panic in the lead-up to their first ultra and wonder if they’ve made a mistake, Dickie reacted completely differently. Instead of wishing for more time to train, he felt the race was too long of a wait, so he signed up for a 100K in Edmonton. Even though the race was double the distance of any run he had done before, he won, but he notes that it was far from easy. “I got my ass kicked by that race.” 

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Next was Squamish, just his second ultramarathon, where he finished in fifth place in 8:37:05. A month later, he raced in Golden, B.C., where he won in 12:37:23, a new course record for the event’s 120K route. 

Trading Himalayas for Rockies 

Ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dickie had plans to head to Nepal to attempt an FKT record (fastest known time) on the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas. He’s been to Nepal once before, but not on official FKT business (although he did some runs while he was there). When COVID-19 shut the world down and his trip was cancelled, Dickie was left without a goal for 2020. 

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“I started looking at Canada,” he says. “I thought about running the West Coast Trail, but national parks were shut down at the time, so I decided to look even more local.” After running a marathon on the Icefields Parkway for a test, one of his support crew members suggested he run the entire route from start to finish. He liked the idea, so he moved forward with it and prepared to tackle the run on June 15. 

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After already training for Nepal, he was fit and ready to go for the Icefields, but his knee started to bug him the week of the run. “I went to physio and they said I shouldn’t be doing the run for another two weeks,” Dickie says. “This was three days before and I said I couldn’t put it off.” A few days later, with everything set to go, he woke up to a heavy throb in his knee, but he refused to call off the run. As he had prepared for the run, he was hoping for a sub-30-hour result, but with his knee acting up, there was no telling how much it could slow him down. 

RELATED: Ultrarunner sets FKT on 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail

“I threw all of my expectations out the window at that point,” Dickie says. He ultimately ran just north of 31 hours. The most difficult section came at about 190K in, still with almost a full marathon to go. At least, he thinks that was the hardest part. He can’t remember completely.

Photo: Nicolas Groulx

“There was a good 30K stretch where I was blacking out because of so much pain. I took my poles out to get weight off my knee. Every step was excruciating.” Then, with about 10K to go, he suddenly felt significantly better. “Something sparked and I picked up the pace again from a limp-walk and I took off.” At 220K, he ran a kilometre in six minutes flat, and he followed that with a 4:52 the next kilometre. “I didn’t want to walk across the finish, so I thought, ‘Let’s get this done.'” After more than a day of running and dealing with horrible pain for most of the trek, he crossed the finish line into Jasper, 230K from where he had started his run, in 31 hours and 38 minutes. 

Fundraising run 

Dickie’s run doubled as a fundraiser for jack.org, a charity he found out about through a friend. “I was looking for a charity to do with mental health,” he says. “Because of COVID, these organizations need more help than ever.” Jack.org is a Canadian charity that focuses on youth mental health awareness, and Dickie and his team raised $6,000 for the organization, surpassing their goal of $5,000. This was his first time working with a charity during one of his runs, but he says he would like to continue the newfound partnership in the future. To learn more about Jack.org, click here, and to follow Dickie’s journey, head to his website here.

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