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Henderson three-peats at Mountain Man mega-marathon

FINISHING STEP — Capt. Eric Henderson of 2 PPCLI is the first across the finish line Thursday at the annual Mountain Man competition in Edmonton. This was the third consecutive year in which Henderson has won the challenging event, where athletes must run, portage, and canoe for some 50 km while carrying a 15 kg sack.

A Manitoba man overcame temporary paralysis to win his third consecutive Mountain Man in Edmonton.

About 208 troops from across Western Canada trudged, paddled and ran through the Edmonton river valley last Sept. 7 as part of the annual 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Mountain Man challenge.

Exercise Mountain Man is a roughly 50 kilometre race between Hawrelak and Capilano parks that’s meant to encourage physical fitness amongst the troops, said 1 Service Battalion Maj. Chris Read, St. Albert resident and event organizer. In it, soldiers must run 32 km, carry a canoe on their back for 3 km, paddle along the North Saskatchewan River for 10 km, and then run another five km, all while carrying a 15 kg rucksack.

“This is certainly well above the expected (fitness) standard, but setting the bar high certainly doesn’t hurt,” Read said.

Another 300 troops help run the race itself, ensuring that the athletes are supplied with food, drink, and, if necessary, medical care, he said.

Agonizing win

First across the finish line for the third consecutive year was Capt. Eric Henderson of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry based out of Shilo, Man.

Henderson, 26, finished in a brisk 5:10:09, crossing the finish line about 10 minutes before his closest competitor. (The course record, set by Henderson two years ago, is 4:35:40.)

Henderson, who looked like he had barely broken a sweat at the end of the race, said this was his slowest, hardest Mountain Man yet.

“It was way warmer this year than in past years,” he said, most of which started with frost on the ground, and he had much less training time due to the army’s busy schedule and his recent wedding and honeymoon.

“It made it so that you really had to push mentally and physically.”

This year’s race started at about 5 a.m. under the light of the full moon, with troops relying on head-lamps and a glow-stick-lit path to see where they were going, Henderson said. This first leg took about three hours, and was a big challenge, especially when he pulled ahead of the pack at about the 24-km mark.

“I felt I was running slow and really pushing myself on the first leg,” he said.

“Going up every hill, my quads were just burning.”

Next came the 90-some-pound aluminum canoe, which Henderson jokingly wished was made out of something more sensible, like Kevlar.

“My back was really feeling the weight,” he said.

Henderson flopped his boat into the river and started paddling. He said he was glad to get the weight off his shoulders and have an arm free to drink, but he also had a knot under his right shoulder that stabbed him with every stroke.

By far his biggest challenge came when his body betrayed him as he closed in on the final leg of the race. Stepping out of his canoe at Capilano Park, Henderson said he managed to jog a few metres through the parking lot before his legs seized up completely.

“I was frozen in place,” he said.

“The only thing I could move was my arms and my shoulders and my neck.”

Henderson said he had run out of potassium and electrolytes, causing his quadriceps to clench as hard as your hands do when you’re hanging off a rock wall.

“It was definitely the most painful thing I’ve ever felt,” he said, and the first time he’d ever experienced it.

“It felt like someone was stabbing the inside of both quads up under the quads.”

Henderson got a race attendant to fetch him some Gatorade. Within 60 seconds of drinking it, he was able to move one leg by about a foot. It was about four minutes before his legs loosened up enough to finish the race.

The Mountain Man is a good challenge for any soldier and teaches you a lot about yourself, said Henderson.

“The big part of the race is learning about your physical and mental limitations and learning how to persevere and push past (them),” Henderson said, which is a big part of life as a soldier.

Henderson receives a medal and his name on a trophy for his win.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.