By Adam MacDonald
Runners from various parts of Canada and the US joined Fernie locals this past Saturday in Heiko’s Hellish Half, a half marathon that takes participants along a 25 km trail, beginning just off Hartley Lake Road and ending in Annex Park.
The trail, known for its steep climbs and descents, led the runners from the 1,400 m starting line up to the Three Sisters Pass at 2,300 m, over the Mt. Fernie Ridge, and back into town – a course containing approximately 1,400 m of vertical gain and over 1,600 m of descent. “Coming down Mt. Fernie is the hardest part,” said Forest Latimer, a runner from Fernie. “It’s near the end, and it just goes on forever in a really steep descent. It’s just a lot of pounding on your legs.”
Latimer placed second, with a time of 2 hours and 46 minutes, coming in 26 minutes after winner, Jakub Sumbera, from Invermere. “I’ve been trying to do [the race] for the past three years,” said Sumbera, “but I always end up with injuries before, so I never got a chance. I really enjoyed the technical sections of the trail – jumping from rock to rock and avoiding trees.”
The race is completely self-supported, requiring participants to bring everything they need with them. “You take everything yourself, and you pack it all out,” said organizer, Ross Frazier. “If you litter, you are disqualified. We want to leave everything better than we found it.” Despite this, safety is taken into consideration, with volunteers sweeping the trail before and after the race, and monitoring racers as they reach checkpoints along the trail, ready with supplies if they are needed.
After getting permission from the Fernie Trails Alliance and the province, Frazier was given the go ahead to put the first race on three years ago, and after getting his graces, decided to name the race after builder of the trail, Heiko Socher. “He’s been in this town for a long time and is a local legend,” said Frazier on his decision. “He loved the idea of the race.”
“I’d like to say that the average active person in Fernie can, with a bit of extra training, do the race,” said Frazier on the difficulty of the trail. “It’s very scary looking, but if you go and do it and push your own pace, you could definitely finish it under five hours – that’s walking a lot, and only jogging flats. It’s scary, but doable.”
This year saw the first injury the race has had in its three years, with the youngest racer, 19-year-old Lindsay Roberts, rolling her ankle.