Two years ago Elizabeth Halleran was chasing cutoffs at the Finlayson Arm 100K race in Victoria, BC. Feeling fatigued and burnt out from a heavy racing season, Halleran pulled the plug and DNF’d at kilometre 85. Last weekend she won the Canadian Death Race (CDR) 125K solo race in Grande Cache, Alta., placing 11th overall. Although it seems Halleran went from zero to champion in two years, her progression is anything but linear. Here is how she did it.
Four months before the CDR, Halleran wasn’t running at all. In February, she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her shin after hobbling her way across the finish line at Black Canyon 100K in Arizona. Even though a bone scan confirmed the fracture, Halleran was devastated, and cancelled most of her races, including the Boston Marathon.
Halleran eventually accepted her injury and resorted to cycling and yoga for nine weeks. Under the guidance of her doctor and fellow Death Racer Andy Reed, as well as coaches Jacob Puzey and Manuela Vilaseca, Halleran was running again by April. Starting from scratch wasn’t easy, but Halleran was patient. She began with 1-minute runs to test her leg.
It took one month for Halleran to run for 30 minutes pain-free. But even by the end of April, she wasn’t sure if she would ever feel normal again. Halleran experienced doubts, constantly questioning the status of her progress. At first, she says, “I felt like I couldn’t remember how to run. It felt so awkward.”
By the end of May, Halleran raced the Calgary Marathon 10K, and things began to click. She finished less than a minute off her PR. “I couldn’t believe how little fitness I had lost. I hadn’t been doing much speedwork or running at all.”
Halleran had yet to take her name off the starting list for the CDR. Vilasca helped incorporate her new love for cycling into the build for the Death Race. Halleran used cycling to complement her transition back to running, realizing she does “not need to be running myself into the ground.”
In her conservative build for the CDR, Halleran only had three weeks above 80K, and “did not do any crazy workouts.” The majority of her weekly mileage was 40-60K with consistent cycling in between. She would often ride to one of her favourite cafes in Lake Louise, 60K away. “I’m very food motivated. I like bike rides if there is a snack involved.”
Halleran also began riding to different peaks around the Rockies, and even completed Reed’s beer mile on a bike. Her new bike-peak-bike hobby helped her take the pressure off and take training less seriously. Although she felt some pain on and off in July, once she completed a 50K training run pain free, she felt more relaxed about toeing the line at the CDR.
Halleran’s taper for the CDR was almost as unconventional as her training. Six days before the race she biked 150K and summitted Mt. Temple with 1,700 metres of gain. She didn’t do much else before the start line. Halleran didn’t make time goals, splits, or even study the course until the night before the race.
Considering how runnable the Death Race is for a mountain ultra, Halleran was surprised how good she felt after the first leg. “It was kind of weird how the race played out. I knew there were four or five girls ahead of me. And I didn’t realize I was in first until the last 19K. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that good in a race that late.”
Halleran didn’t go from zero to champion in two years. She navigated the ups and downs a passionate endurance athlete often must when pursuing what they love. She plans to continue with her cycling adventures, and next week is riding 300K from Jasper to Banff. She’s also registered for WAM 55K and The North Face 50-mile in November.