Maybe Amanda Letestu isn’t just a sucker for punishment, but a thrill seeking, intensity-driven competitor?
“I would say probably sucker for punishment,” said the ultra-marathoner laughing. “We call it a slippery slope. Once you hit the 50K that’s the start of the ultra marathons and then you just keep going to see how far you can go.”
The Iron Horse Ultra, part of the Alberta Ultra Series, will test 199 long-distance runners of different stripes through trail and private farmland this weekend. Beginning Saturday morning before sunrise at Reunion Station in St. Paul, racers some will be running 100 kilometres, or in Letestu’s case, 100 miles.
This will be the longest competitive run the Elk Point native has attempted. Since beginning long-distance running five years ago, she has run in the Canadian Death Race in Grand Cache at a 125KM distance through three mountain summits, and completed this close-to-home event in 2019 in the 100KM category.
In preparation for the event, she does multiple runs throughout the week–the longest being 50KM.
But fitness levels will only get you to a certain point, Letestu says. When you enter the ‘pain cave’, as she describes it, the mental aspects of continuing to go forward become more of the challenge.
“How long can you sit in it right? So there’s a lot of ups and downs. I always joke that you’ll be running and everything will feel terrible and you feel like crap, and then all of a sudden, it’ll turn around and you’ll feel good for another 10 kilometers,” said Letestu.
“I can’t really explain why, or why people would do it. Some people have a really big reason, like they’re searching for something. But some of us are just, I don’t know, it’s just to see how long can I last? How much can my body take?”
In order to take away the tougher effects of the pain cave, Letestu has mantras she uses, and a support system of family and friends.
“I’m lucky I have an awesome crew. My husband, he crews me and then I have a few friends who also do this crazy thing and they’ll be pacing me.
‘This year is pretty special for me because my training partner and really good friend was struck by a jeep. She was in a coma for a month and now she’s recovering from a traumatic brain injury. So for me this race is really important.”
Letestu said she chose the Iron Horse Ultra because of the mental grind, and believes it’s often overlooked on the circuit because of the lack of elevation.
“Seeing kilometers of straight flat trail is a difficult thing when you are running for so long. Knowing that the trail is runnable, but also knowing that you can’t run the whole thing or trying to and the toll it takes on the body–the Iron Horse Ultra can be tough on the ankles and feet as well. It’s an awesome grassroots ultra with a great race director and friendly volunteers,” she said.
There are three checkpoints where 100 mile runners must reach a certain leg of the course by a designated time. After the race begins, competitors must finish by 10:00AM on Sunday morning, which allows 27 hours to complete, through sidewalks, range roads, and farmer’s fields.
The Iron Horse Ultra first began in May 2009 and was moved to a fall event in 2011.