NINETTE — Cpl. Danny Dowdall had enough, his words made clear, seconds before he disembarked from his canoe during a punishing race nearly 20 kilometres long by this point.
"I’m going back to Korea," Dowdall, who is of South Korean origin, shouted at Cpl. John Tremblay, now laughing.
Tremblay, acting as a lifeguard yesterday, was on a boat on Pelican Lake, cracking wise as he watched his colleagues paddle through the waters. Earlier, soldiers ran and portaged as part of the gruelling race.
Out of the water and back on two feet for the closing five-kilometre run, Dowdall said, in spite of his one-liner, he wasn’t going to miss out on his first Mountain Man, the whole reason he and 14 other soldiers from CFB Shilo put their bodies through a taxing physical feat Thursday morning.
"Absolutely, if I’m still here," he chuckled again, as he ran off the beach.
The camaraderie and jokes between the men were as ubiquitous yesterday as the strained faces of exhaustion as some of Shilo’s fittest — or its most foolish, depending on whom you ask — took part in a training exercise in advance of September’s Mountain Man Challenge. The annual event brings military members from across Canada to invade Edmonton’s river valley for a draining 50-kilometre course.
As part of the leadup, soldiers completed nearly half a Mountain Man: a 12-kilometre run, a 1.2-kilometre portage, a six-kilometre paddle and finally a five-kilometre tear through hilly terrain.
When it was all over, they dipped their weary bodies into a bath of ice-cold water.
Cpl. Reuben Doerksen, who grew up in Plumas, said every competitor wants to do well, but good sportsmanship proved to be a winner.
"Every time we pass each other up and down the hills, we give each other a high five and push each other to keep going," Doerksen said. "It’s good morale."
Doerksen ended the race in third, despite joking that he was "back by like an hour" of the leader after completing the paddling leg in second place.
His finish of two hours and 41 minutes — 16 minutes short of the winner — has him on pace for a solid showing at Mountain Man, hopefully in the top 10, he said. He has finished several dozen racers behind in previous attempts, but that was on five weeks of training instead of the five months he has planned for this time.
"It’d be good for base-side athletes," he said. "Most base-side athletes don’t really go to compete, they go to complete."
In addition to Doerksen, who is from the base support unit, racers from Shilo’s 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery were in the training exercise as well.
CFB Shilo will send a contingent of more than 50 racers to Mountain Man.
Among them is Capt. Eric Henderson, who won the race in 2015 and 2016.
The former university track athlete brought his varsity background to the mega-marathon, crediting the previous Mountain Man record-holder Sgt. Brian Weigelt, who also ran under 2PPCLI colours, with enabling him to succeed.
The mental stamina required for a Mountain Man dwarves what a normal marathon mandates, Henderson said.
"It’s not just the distance but the different disciplines. And as you’re running with the extra weight, it takes a lot more mental drive to be able to keep pushing your body to keep going, especially when you get out of that canoe … it’s hard to walk and you’re trying to run," he said.
Master Cpl. Kyle Roux, who helped organize the training exercise, is looking forward to what will be his fifth Mountain Man. Last year, he finished in third place among 290 qualifiers.
"I like to tell new people: Try Mountain Man once. If you like it, you’ll probably become addicted to it. If you don’t like it, you’ve at least done it once."
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