Vernon team wins division at Canadian Death Race

Warren Yablonski and four members of the Johnston family team up to tame the Canadian Rockies

It’s called the Canadian Death Race for good reason.

The 19th annual 125-kilometre trail run in the Canadian Rockies at Grande Cache, Alta., with a 24-hour time limit, is one of the world’s toughest ultramarathons.

Runners cheat death racing over a 4,200-foot plateau, three mountain summits, 17,000 feet of elevation change, and a major river crossing at the Hell’s Gate Canyon at the confluence of the Smoky and Sulphur Rivers.

Vernon’s Warren Yablonski treated the Canadian Death Race like it was a bachelor party.

“It was fantastic, I had a riot,” said Yablonski, 41.

You’d treat the race as fun, too, if you won your division, as Yablonski did, teaming up with his B.C. Timber Sales boss Colin Johnston of Vernon, 54, and Johnston’s three kids, Ryan, 19, of Vernon, and Megan, 21, and Natalie, 23, both of Edmonton (grew up in Vernon), to take the mixed team event.

The 35 years between youngest and oldest racer was the biggest among all the teams entered.

Johnski, as the squad billed itself, completed the course in 14 hours and 25 minutes to top a mixed field of 46 teams. Johnski was third overall, finishing almost three hours behind the race winners, Attitude Over Altitude, a trio of men from Ferintosh, Alta (near Camrose). A five-woman team finished second, just 12 minutes head of Johnski.

The race started at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4, and runners/teams had 24 hours to complete the race.

Megan Johnston ran the first 19 km leg, Natalie was next, going 27 km. Ryan had the third leg, a 19 km section, followed by Yablonski, who raced the longest portion, 38 km, and Colin Johnston did the final 22 km with his teammates waiting as he crossed the finish line shortly before 10:30 p.m. local time.

“The trail was really rugged and muddy, we were all pretty muddy,” said Yablonski.k “There was a lot of up, up, up, elevation, then, of course, down. It was rocky and ruddy, but the weather was perfect for running. Not too hot, not too cold.”

Yablonski competed in a trail run event at Predator Ridge in April and was given a magazine as part of the entry package. Upon thumbing through the pages, Yablonski saw an item on the Canadian Death Race and began soliciting runners at work.

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The only person who responded was his boss.

“Colin jumped on board, and when we couldn’t find anybody else, his kids were interested,” said Yablonski. He and Colin Johnston trained for the event by running at lunch hour, and on trails in Kalamalka and Ellison Provincial Parks on the weekend.

The winning squad didn’t stick around for the awards ceremony after the race, opting to head back to the North Okanagan to spend time with family for the duration of the B.C. Day long weekend. The team received medals. As the race states on its website: “Finishing is the prize.”

Yablonski said there were a couple of people who were a little sore the second day after the race, but “everyone is moving around good now.”

So…Will Johnski return to the Rockies for the 20th Canadian Death Race in 2019?

“I’m trying to talk them into it already. I’m all over it,” laughed Yablonski. “We had a great time. We’ll see.”

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