Whistler's Sonia Mahoney and Stephanie Hostetter are two of the 98 athletes to finish this year's Grand to Grand Ultra — a six-stage, seven-day test of endurance that starts on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon and finishes at the Grand Staircase in Utah. The total vertical gain over the race is over 5,596 metres (18,000 feet), and the longest stage between camps, which runs over two days, is over 84km.
Mahoney finished the event in 64 hours, four minutes and 54 seconds, with roughly 28 hours of that spent on the 84km third stage. Hostetter finished in 75:44:29, and was 29:34 on the long stage.
The twist to the event is that athletes must be completely self-supported with food, sleeping bag, headlamps and other outdoor gear including suntan lotion — something that was necessary with the temperatures climbing over 30 degrees every day. Water and electrolyte replacement tablets are provided at checkpoints, and organizers put up tents as well.
"I'm actually feeling pretty good, I didn't suffer too much compared to a lot of people," said Mahoney on Monday, less than two days after crossing the finish line. "A lot of people had really bad blisters or body issues to contend with, so I was lucky from that point of view."
Mahoney found out about the race from Hostetter, who was competing for her second year. Tess Geddes, who lives in Whistler most of the year, is also the race director.
This was the first multistage race like this that Mahoney has participated in, but while challenging she said it's a race that anybody can do with a little training.
"I've really only been running for about five years and only really do half marathon races," she said. "I did one longer race just to prepare for the Grand 2 Grand, and you obviously have to train for this, but I think they've done a great job of making it open to a lot of different abilities with generous cutoff times that the average person can do. You have to be prepared, but it's not just the elite athletes out there."
The highlight for Mahoney was the terrain, which varied from hard rock to desert. At one point the racers had to cross a sea of steep sand dunes.
"It was just so different coming from here," she said. "Some of the time it was really tough — there were lots of rocky slopes and sections with loose terrain, or you were weaving your way through sagebrush going cross-country. A lot of people also found that the sand sections were hard. About 35 per cent of the course was on sand, and when I say that I don't mean it was on a sandy track, but really loose sand that your feet would sink into.
"On one stage we were actually climbing up and down sand dunes. One section of sand dunes was five kilometres, climbing up 25 to 30 feet and then back down again.
"But it was amazing, and sections like that were so distracting from the whole distance of the race because you were always looking around at the incredible scenery. And at the end of the race we had to run through a lot of these deep slot canyons in Utah near Bryce canyon, through all this red and pink rock. It was really beautiful."