Heat training, hill running set Lloydminster runner up for success at Canadian Death Race

The Canadian Death Race markets itself as one of the world’s toughest ultramarathons.

But as Mike (Dubz) Welygan trained for the 125-kilometre Sinister Sports event in the Canadian Rockies he wasn’t worried.

“I’ve run through some crappy conditions. I’ve run through minus 50, I’ve run through plus 40. For environmental conditions I’ve done it all so that didn’t bother me,” the Lloydminster runner said. “The elevation and the bears on the other hand…”

On July 31, Welygan crossed the finish line of the Canadian Death Race in a time of 19 hours, eight minutes and 50 seconds — and only saw one bear along the way.

Welygan, 35, hasn’t always been a runner. He picked up the sport less than three years ago as a way to get back on his feet after months of rehabilitation for a knee injury he got while playing in a competitive soccer league. Today, he’s Brainsport’s Hoka ambassador.

Early in his running journey, Welygan entered races of various distances and quickly discovered he loved the mental challenges of ultra marathons. He was able to test himself at the distance throughout the pandemic, including by logging up to 125 kilometres in backyard ultras and competing in the limited-field 2020 Iron Horse Ultra 100km in northern Alberta.

Mike (Dubz) Welygan ran 124.6 kilometres on a treadmill over 12 hours in December 2021 for a charity challenge. That experience was not nearly as hard as the Canadian Death Race, he said.

This past December he was part of a treadmill challenge that saw him run as many kilometres as possible over a 12-hour period with money raised on a per-kilometre basis to support the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation. He ran nonstop for 12 hours to complete 124.6km and raise just shy of $400,000.

On the toughness scale, Welygan says that treadmill run was a one out of 10. The Death Race, on the other hand, was at least an 8.5. “Maybe even a nine.”

To prepare for the Death Race, Welygan focussed on logging many miles in extreme conditions, finding hills to run on and practicing with different nutritional strategies to ensure he could fuel during the race without encountering stomach issues. His biggest mileage weeks involved up to 140km — including runs in the middle of the day during the heatwave that settled over the Prairies — and he would drive out of town to find hills to train on.

He also worked with Brainsport and Hoka to ensure he had the right gear, including a hydration vest and multiple pairs of Hoka Speed Goat trail shoes.

Getting to the start line of the race in Grand Cache was incredible, he said.

“The best part was that it was a real race,” Welygan recalled. “Even though it was a gruesome one, we were all there and there was a start line like a normal race with a bunch of people lined up, a clock countdown and a banner.”

The Death Race is made up of five legs. Welygan, who ran with his training partner Monty Christie of Lloydminster, said the first two legs flew by, but the pair struggled on the third leg as the mercury climbed. That’s around the time they encountered a grizzly bear just yards off the trail. The two runners slowly backed away and plowed a new path through the bush, giving the animal a wide berth.

Milke (Dubz) Welygan competes in the Canadian Death Race.

Adrenaline carried Welygan and Christie up a three-hour climb on the fourth leg and the two flagging runners scarfed down a half dozen bags of potato chips at an aid station. The salt and carbs were all the energy the duo needed to power through to the end. “The rest of the run was golden,” Welygan said.

Getting to the finish and celebrating with his family and support team — including Alex Lussier, a representative from Hoka who had flown in from Toronto — was an incredible moment.

“Crossing the line after embarking on that endeavor all day, with the heat and the mountains and the distance and the terrain — and especially the bear — it was just a relief,” Welygan said.

Welygan was back to running within a week of finishing the Death Race and is now training for the Beaver Flat 50km trail run at Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park on Sept. 18.

He is keen to explore more ultra races and, while he is interested in the other ultras that Sinster Sports has to offer, he says he won’t be lining up at the Death Race any time soon despite his positive experience.

“The question I get the most is ‘Will you run it again,'” he says. “I don’t need to … The medal received at the finish line that says Solo Ultra Finisher, was all I needed.”

Do you know someone in Saskatchewan with an inspiring running story? Email Brainsport Times editor Andrea Hill at