Debbie Dyrland’s family and friends thinks she’s crazy, but she doesn’t care. She’s in love. With running.
The longer the course, seemingly, the better.
Last month, the 47-year-old lab technician, completed the world famous Western States 100 mile Endurance Run, finishing seventh in her category.
She has come a long way in the last decade when she joined the Red Deer Running Club just hoping to train to run a half marathon. It became clear very quickly that this new hobby was going to be so much more than just a past time.
“I just kind of got hooked,” said Dyrland, who grew up in Eckville but lives in Red Deer. “It’s that runner’s high … I like pushing the boundaries of my body to see what I can do.”
She says her friends and family don’t even like to drive 100 miles.
“They’re proud and a little concerned for my sanity, but mostly proud,” she said with a laugh.
She has since run in 10 ultra marathons since 2006, and she has dominated most of them. In five of those marathons, she has won her division while finishing in the top 10 among female runners six times and four times in the top 10 overall.
The Western States was her biggest competition to date, and easily the most challenging.
She finished the 100-mile race in a time of 29 hours, 29 minutes and 59 seconds, beating the 30 hour limit by 30 minutes, making her the 48th woman to complete the course and seventh in her category. She also beat her previous best over the distance by three minutes and 42 seconds, set in September 2012 at the Lost Soul Ultra near Lethbridge.
The Western States is a mountainous course that runs from Squaw Valley, Calif., to Auburn, Calif. — near Sacramento. Throughout the race, runners will climb more than 18,000 feet and descend nearly 23,000 feet. The race starts with a three-mile climb up a ski hill, just to let runners know what they are getting into.
Sections of the course are so steep that they include dozens of switchbacks just to scale the incline.
Throughout it, competitors are weighed at check points to make sure they are staying properly hydrated and are eating enough.
Every seven or eight miles there are refueling stations where runners restock on water, electrolytes, gels and snacks — sandwiches, fruit, chips and other salty foods.
There were 376 runners who started the race but only 296 finished.
The overall champion — Rob Krar from Flagstaff, Ariz. — finished in an incomprehensible time of 14:53.22.
“Those elite people are a different breed than most of us,” Dyrland said. “I don’t know it is, what they do, but they are different.”
With two miles to go she nearly joined those who didn’t complete the race, but she stubbornly pushed through the final agonizing steps.
Helping her along the way were her two close running buddies — Andy Cuthbertson and Ed Varty — who took turns being pace setters over the last 40 miles.
“They were my support crew,” said Dyrland. “I credit them with actually getting me to the finish line. When you’re running this kind of distance … you’re running a lot of it at night in the dark and by that time there’s not a lot of people around. So sometimes you cannot see anybody … a lot of times you’re on your own out there. When you are running through those low spots, it’s good to have somebody (to push you along).”
One of the most difficult parts of the race for Dyrland was the timing of the race. With a late June date, it meant she was training for the competition during the winter, and with snow sticking around Central Alberta into April, this became a serious challenge, especially when her regular training grounds are the hills around Riverbend.
Normally the ultra marathons are in the early fall, giving athletes all summer to train properly.
To prepare, she completed a 50 kilometre race in Vernon, B.C. and the 50 Km Blackfoot Ultra east of Edmonton as a tune up in May. She finished that race in a time of 5:18:00 and 22nd overall and as the sixth female runner. She also won her division.
She qualified for the Western States by running the 2013 Lost Soul Ultra 100 Km in a time of 13:46:46, finishing as the fourth female runner and ninth overall.
She believes that is the best race she has run to this point.
“I took over three hours off my previous time at that race, so I was very proud of that,” she said.
“Any other year had I run that race I would have won and beaten the course record, but there was so much amazing competition there last year that I wound up finishing fourth. I think the top five actually beat the old course record.”
Still, that result was not enough to get into the Western States, her name was entered into a lottery, which was broadcast live online, and she almost missed seeing her name drawn in the last 20 names.
“I saw my name come up and I didn’t really know what to think, I was in shock,” said Dyrland. “I was already thinking ‘Oh well, I guess that means I don’t have to run 100 miles.’ Then I got picked and I was almost like, ‘Oh darn now I have to train for a 100 miler.’”
One month later, however, she says she is still recovering from the run. It took her two weeks to start running again but says she is still not back to 100 per cent yet.
But she is already eying her third run of the year, saying she is already signed up for the Lost Soul Ultra in September.
Dyrland does not have any specific goals as far as particular races she wants to run, she just wants to compete in as many as possible for as a long as she can. Considering there were people in their 60s still completing the Western States, she has many more miles ahead of her to complete.
“There are people who are still doing it in their 70s and 80s,” she said, citing the desire to live a healthy lifestyle. “You can still do it, that’s what I want, I don’t want to be sedentary.”