Fat Dog 50 mile Race Report
Fat Dog you've been a long time coming.
My Fat Dog initiation was an epic adventure complete with monsoon rains, wasp stings, a Lynx encounter and a suprising finish. It was quite the wild ride, but it was well worth the wait. If you want to read the last page, you can check out therace results hereandphoto galleries building here. If you want to avoid doing chores or some boring data entry task, then feel free to read on. Warning: my race reports are my personal journal and a way for me to relive the adventures...80k is a long run so get comfy...
In 2011 I signed up for my first ultra marathon (skipped the marathon bit), the Fat Dog 50miler. The weather that year was the opposite extreme of this years heat, and the race was cancelled at the last minute due to massive amounts of snow covering the trails. I was lucky (?) enough to be transferred into the next ultra on the calendar, the Canadian Death Race, just one week later, and my first long run became a 125km, 15000 feet adventure (which resulted in spending the next year recovering from a freak 'slow bone death' OCD ankle fracture post race). Since then I have had this legendary mountain race in Manning Park on my 'would love to do' list. And so... When a spot opened up in the Fat Dog 50miler three weeks ago I really didn't have a choice...I pounced on it!
It was to be a reunion weekend with some good friends from firefighting, a little summer road tripping, a little cheering for my peeps in the 30 and 70 mile events and a little running in endless sunshiny mountain meadows on ribbons of buff single track. I packed my swimsuit and sunscreen and visions of plunging into Lightening Lake at the finish line to cool off and clean up after the race... HAHA! How quickly things change!
Unfortunately the weatherman was bang on, if not overly optimistic, for the weekends predictions. After months of gorgeous, record breaking heat (and you know, I LOVE heat), the weather pulled a 180. Rain, wind, rain, lightening, rain, mud, rain... Let's just say I had to look up synonyms for the word 'heinous' in order to write this blog lol. From the moment the 120 milers began on Friday at 10 am until about 5:30pm on Saturday evening it rained something fierce. During my drive out on the number three highway to Manning Park Lodge the rain was such a force that my wipers couldn't hope to keep up and my wheels planed above the road like water skis. Dark by 4 pm, it was like driving into a November storm. My heart went out to the poor, poor 120mile racers who were heading into the dark of night after already battling the storm all day. Ugh. That is another type of wet. I imagine the drop rate was much higher than most years in such heinous conditions. Running 200kms (yup that's 120miles) on a perfect day, would be brutal enough. My trucker hat goes off to every one of those racers who dared to toe the line, regardless of the end result. Hypothermia was lurking around every bend and I saw many of the long course racers sporting emergency blankets alongside their zombie faces after travelling for 24-48 hours through muck and wind and rain. Kudos both to those who persevered through it successfully and equally to those who were wise enough to drop and keep themselves safe and healthy to run another day.
Those 120 mile racers sure helped me stay grounded on my 50mile jaunt through the park. If ever I felt a moment of sorry for my soggy self, I was easily brought back to my cushy reality of running a mere 10 hours in the daylight, every time I caught a glimpse of a 120mile runner. I hope I told every one of them how awesome they were. If not here it is: You are freaking awesome.
Ok Ok onto my race report...
My event was a about one half as epic as the 120 (well, not quite;). It was as also, easily, the worst conditions that I have ever spent 10 hours racing in (please correct me if I have blocked out some other monstrous race). Here is the leg by leg summary with highlights...sorry no pictures cuz it was just too wet to bust out the camera!
A little insight: My plan, FYI, was to blow my usual plan. All other ultras I have run to date, I have practiced my conservative (and very wise) racing advice: To race the distance in thirds- first third too easy, middle third just right, final third hammer it out with whatever is left. This time round, I took a different approached based on the unique nature of the course profile. I planned to push a solid pace in the first 48kms of the course-which was flat and fast over undulating terrain. After that I knew I would be forced into a trek pace up 2000m of elevation on Skyline trail for hours on end. Based on last years finish times, my dream goal was to get close to 11 hours and I had my splits waterproofed and tucked into my pocket. And so...
Leg 1 Cayuse Flats to Cascades: 8km with some short, moderately steep climbs
45 soggy racers self seeded on the trail and waited for the race director, Heather, to send us off at 9am. Rain. The racer chatter revealed that I was standing behind a 10:08 hour finisher from last year. I made a mental note to never see the front of him. Do not pass that man with the white visor and high socks.
The first leg was much hillier than I imagined (failed to zoom into the elevation profile lol!) and we all fell into a silent rhythm of tightly harnessed energy rolling up and down the bumps- the lovely calm before the storm. We ran past wild Rhododendrons- for real! A few 'peek-a-boo' views gave a better idea of just how far up above the highway that we had managed to climb in a very short time. The first 8kms flew by and I was into aid well before I was supposed to be, along with another gal, Katie, who was running her first ultra. I didn't believe we were actually at aid because my watch read 40minutes. I was planning on 45-60 for the first leg. She was excited, but I was a wee bit concerned- "This might not be a good thing", I said to her as we rolled into aid. I ran straight on through, surrendering to the pace because it just felt right.
Leg 2 Cascades to Sumallo : 8 kms? flat with an out and back and a downhill road grade 50mins
Leaving Aid 1 we were thrust into hi vis vests in preparation for the upcoming short road section on Highway 3. Before the road, we ran a an extra 1.5km out and back that was added to the course this year. So, last years split went out the window for my pacing game, but it made the course a true 80kms, rather than 78.5kms as in previous years. Taking a page out of the Barkley Marathons book, we had to prove our out and back mileage by returning with a page from a steamy romance novel sitting 2.5kms out on the Dewdney trail. I didn't read my soggy page. I was too focused on dodging roots and mud puddles and finding my groove.
Out of the woods, we crossed the highway by ducking under a bridge, then ran a few kms of lovely downhill grade on the shoulder of highway 3. I fell into a steady rhythm with the 10 hour pacer bunny, now introduced as Bill, and his actual pacer for the first two legs, Daryl? We were stretching out our legs and letting them run a steady pace down the road to Sumallo Aid. The boys were convinced I was on pace to break last years women's course record of 9:57. I put my hands over my ears to block them out. "I don't want to hear that!" Focus focus focus. But there it was. The seed. Planted in a little pocket in some far corner of my brain. Could it happen? Was it actually possible? Let's just see where the day goes, shall we. We are only 12k into this thing. Then the boys started putting money on the table and well, you know...
My target was 45-60minutes for this leg, based on last years distances/times. In the end, with the extra 5kms I covered it in about 50 minutes, for a total of 90minutes after the first two legs.
Leg 3 Sumallo to Shawatum: 15kms undulating, easy terrain following the flooding Skagit River.
I left aid with a high five and a warm piece of cheese & avocado quesadilla from the lovely volunteers. Oh yaaaah. So good to nibble on that savory snack for the next 15 minutes. My target time for this leg ranged from 2 hours to 2:15 as it was one of the two longest sections of the day. We were following the rushing Skagit River, and winding amongst evil Devils Club and towering cedar groves that hugged the banks. It rained harder. The trail was smooth and flowy and very runnable, with the odd short trek thrown in now and then. I ran stride for stride with Bill, my new 10 hour pacer bunny friend. I don't normally chat at all when I am racing. Making small talk usually feels like it is taking energy that I so desperately need for my mind to stay focused on the task at hand. I am always busy playing a few broken records in my head that need my attention:
"It's time to eat...It's time to drink...It's going to be time to eat in x minutes...It's going to be time to drink in x minutes...This pace feels good...No heavy breathing allowed...Look at that gorgeous tree...No burning legs allowed...Look at that lovely shade of green...I should be at the next aid in x minutes...Look at that beautiful river...I am going to eat x at aid..." Fascinating stuff I know! But seriously, that is how much of my time is spent in the early hours of an ultra. Later in the day, however, after hours of broken records and hundreds of thousands of repetitive footsteps, a few oh-so profound and perspective shifting thoughts do actually settle in.
But for some reason I fell into a somewhat chatty groove with my bunny Bill. We passed the miles with snippits of conversations about the sorts of thrilling things that ultra runners tend to chat about on the trail:
"What's the hardest run you've ever done?...The rain is coming down harder...What's the longest run you've ever done?...The newbies that keep bounding ahead and then fading away and dropping off the back...What's the steepest run you've ever done?...The best snacks at the last aid station...What's the worst weather you've ever run in?...The Oregon grape cutting into your shins...The rain actually coming down harder ...The lightening in the distance...The next leg...The next aid..."
"...I just got stung!!" I yelped, stopped dead in my tracks and inspected the back of my right knee. "I'm allergic!!". Bill stopped at that and asked if I had an epi pen and if I needed him to stay with me. "No, no...I have a pen: I said. "...and I have drugs...but I don't want to take drugs- I can't run when I'm stoned (see day 6 of the BC Bike Race and my learning curve with Benedryl)...I will just keep an eye on it and see what happens..."
EEEEK. I was a little pissed and a little scared at the same time. I haven't been hospitalized since I was a teenager but I have had some nasty reactions since then ranging from severe abdominal cramps, to nausea, full body hives and swelling in my throat. I made a tourniquet with my tights above the sting to try and slow the reaction, then I tried to hang on to the back of Bill's sneakers for the rest of the leg. I was spending a load of energy trying to stay calm. My heart rate starting racing. My breathing rate followed. My stomach started to cramp. I had to let Bill go and try to keep my energy under control. I peeked at the sting after ten minutes and it appeared to be reacting normally, with general redness and swelling. I carried on and managed to catch back up to Bill somewhere along the way to Shawatum. The rest of that leg, and the next aid station, actually, are a complete a blur. I cannot for the life of me picture Shawatum Aid. I was just hanging on for the ride. According to my watch, that leg took me 1:45, well under my 2-2:15 target.
Leg 4 Shawatum aid to Skyline Aid: 15kms on Centennial trail, undulating, wet, wet, terrain.
Somehow it managed to rain even harder on this leg lol. No matter... the ghosts of 120 mile racers continued to float by every few kms and their expressions provided a constant reminder of how easy we had it on our one day jaunt in the park.
I figured I would live. The sting symptoms were holding and I didn't seem to be getting any worse so I followed Bill in silence and worked away on my fuel, water, salt ritual to try and keep in the game. I really don't remember much about this leg, other than it was wet. Like wet from above...wet from the soggy bushes collapsed over the trail and wet from the giant growing puddles below. I remember surrendering to the trail rivers and running straight down the guts of them. I remember being grateful that it was still pretty warm and that we were sheltered in the forest from the winds. I remember being grateful that the fresh windfall we were climbing over, hadn't actually fallen on our heads...
"Noooooo!" While gracefully hopping over (read straddling) a fallen tree, my favourite Lulu running tights got snagged on a pokey branch and I hung half upside down and suspended in a ridiculous position while Bill sloshed away into the distance. I hopped on one leg trying to shake my tights free and collapsed into the giant trailriver below once I was released. I giggled like one does when things get so ridiculous. It really is the little things on days like that.
Those were the only things I remember from that leg. According to my watch it took me 1:45 as well...again, ahead of schedule but legs feeling no fatigue.
Leg 5 Skyline Aid to Camp Mowich. 14kms and 1700m? of elevation. Beast climb.
We ran into Skyline Aid like a drowned rats. 5 hours of water running and I had those wrinkly fingers. My tights were falling down with the weight of the water. My foam trucker hat was a giant sponge on my head. Bill was apparently collecting water for the next drought in the top of his visor. But they had grilled cheese sandwiches hot off the grill, salty veggie broth, smoothies and bacon for the carnivores. It was a little haven. And I stayed there way too long. I grabbed my drop bag from the tarp that it was floating 4 inches of water in, and tucked into the racer tent to change out my gear. We had run 48kms, we were under 5 hours and likely half way to our finish time...if all went well. I was stoked to change our of my soggy, light weight (and treadless) Salomon Sense Pro's into some dry socks and my second half trail shoes- Salomon Speedcross, complete with climate shield and monster truck treads for the final descents. I peeled off my drenched shirts and looked into my bag for my dry change of clothes before remembering that my buddy, Corey, had my 'half way' shirt and would be waiting for me there. But...you guessed it... I was ahead of schedule and so, no sign of Corey. I rung out my soaked Lulu long sleeve and crawled back in. It took me about 5 minutes to get that thing back on! Kind of like trying to put wet jeans on without any fingers. Bill and I both accepted help getting dressed from the selfless volunteers. Cold wet fingers couldn't do up our own zippers, tie our own shoes or pull up our own clingy sleeves. Thank you fine volunteers at Skyline Aid for taking care of us toddlers! In those comedic minutes, the second place woman, Jenny, came into aid and ran right back out...moving ahead of me and into the lead.
It should have been a strong steady trek to the top for me. I have spent my summer trekking up more mountains than I can count and I was looking forward to this climb...I expected to feel strong and move quickly with the power of my super beats playing in my head. Music in, long trekking strides under way, I tried to keep pace with Bill as the Skyline trail pitched up. But he soon slipped away. The second I tried to keep even a moderate pace, my heart raced, my breathing spiked and the walls closed in. I felt weak. I felt faint. It was like my limbs weren't actually attached to my body. I was a ghost floating upward but not grounded to the trail. I tried. I truly tried. But I didn't want to pass out, so I had to accept that I was in for a very long and slow climb. At the time I couldn't quite figure it out (5 hours of racing in those conditions will do that to your brain). I increased my water and salt intake and kept on my base fuel schedule. But afterwards, it was obvious that my reaction to the sting was increasing as the intensity went up. I am sure my body had burnt through a heap of glucose with the adrenaline response, and I was crashing in the wake of the storm. I struggled to put one foot in front of the other at certain grades. I even felt too weak to benefit from the power of trekking with hands on thighs. I desperately wished I had thought to pack poles.
Mr. 10 hours Bill super trekked up the mountain with his super poles. About 3/4s of the way to Camp Mowich Aid, the 3rd place gal super trekked past me with her super poles. She looked awesome and very strong and I cheered her on her way. There was just nothing there to move any faster on the ups. But she energized me and snapped me out of my fog. I made it my mission to decrease the gap she could build on me by raging down the descents as fast as possible. If I could keep that gap small enough, I might have a chance catching her on the final descent to the finish line.
It was socked right in, but I savoured the massive mountain meadows. It was drizzling but I realized the rain had stopped in earnest. It was cloudy, but there was no lightening in the distance. I was sure we were through the worst of it and I tried to shift my focus outward and take it all in.
That mega climb took me exactly as I had projected- 2.5hours.
Leg 6:Camp Mowich to Skyline Junction: 8kms of up and down and up and down and you think your finished going up? HA! No idea how much additional elevation...plenty more than I expected though lol.
In and out of aid and a huge amount of respect for the volunteers that were camping on top of that mountain, in the middle of a flipping lightening event for 2 days...just to make sure we had water and salt and vinegar chips. I love you people. Those were the best chips ever.
The boys had warned me: " There are 7 summits up there. Count em." I lost track after 3 or 4...it was hard to hold onto concrete thoughts at that point in the day. But I was certain that every one I slammed up against just had to be the last one. But I started doing the Dr Evil cackle after a while. It was like the movie Ground Hog Day...there was always one more.
This relentless leg took me 1 hour, again, about 15-30 minutes ahead of the plan.
Leg 7: Skyline Junction to the Finish: 11k, mostly straight down.
After Skyline we still had 2 (I think?) summits left before the trail finally gave way to the true decent. Of course, I didn't know this, and I ran out of aid with glee, thinking I was heading for the final downhill stretch. HA! The joke continued, and I found myself face to face with yet another false summit, and I chose to giggle my way up. I was on the final leg! I had done it! The worst was behind me! And...it wasn't raining!
The clouds even broke apart for a few moments and I finally got to see what I had come here for. Mountains. Valleys. Forest. Sky. A beautiful ribbon of alpine single track disappearing over the dropping ridge line ahead. A hawk circled above me. Life was returning to the world after the craziest of storms. Life was returning to me and I remembered why I was there. It was more than all good.
And then I reached the true final summit. There were no more climbs ahead. The trail dropped suddenly through rocky terrain and I knew this was it. Time to run dowhill to the finish! What a relief!
I bent over to use my hands on that first steep descent and something caught my eye just as I was reaching down. I looked up and watched in complete awe as a massive fluffy cat hurled itself across the trail only a few feet in front of me. I saw arms and legs stretched out into a giant grey leaping body. I saw fat puffy grey and white paws and a beautiful wild lions mane. I saw a stubby tail and those unmistakable dark tufts of hair atop giant cat ears. I pulled out one ear bud (yup, I never would have heard it coming) and watched him soar through the air to the white rocks above me. "Thank you." was all I said. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my life. Why he chose to leap in front of me at that moment I will never know. But I took it as a sign. "Be the Bobcat."
I mistook the big feline for a Bobcat, not realizing I had actually had a close encounter with a freakin Lynx, until chatting with friends after the race that night. Apparently Bobcats are quite small. Well, this guy was the size of a malamute and the dark tufts, fluffy paws and wild mane made identification very simple once we started chatting. Woah. "Be the Lynx", then.
I was beyond inspired. I hurled myself down the rocks and drops and loose sections of steep trail at the top of the descent. When I hit the final 6km stretch of buff downhill trail I didn't just open it up. I leaned forward and tried to run as fast as I possibly could. I WAS the Lynx lol. If there was any hope of beating that 9:57 record or catching the next gal I was going to give everything I had trying for it. I felt nothing. Nothing but speed and long strides and the sheer joy of knowing I was sprinting downhill at the end of an 80kms mountain race. Thank you race director, Heather, for that. I peeked around every switchback for a pony tail. I forced myself to not look at my watch but instead trust that I was running literally as fast as I could. I held onto the Adventure Racing belief that 'anything could happen' and tried to turn my legs over a tiny bit faster. And then, suddenly, around the next bend, there she was. This time, she cheered me on and watched me go on down the trail. I continued downward, racing the clock, wondering if I could do it but no knowing how far I still had to go. I hit the flats and forced my mind and legs to keep it up. I crossed a bridge and scanned a trail marker for the distance to Lightening Lake. 1.5kms. I looked at my watch. 5 minutes left on the clock. My heart sank just a little. Maybe on a downhill. Maybe not at the end of 10 hours of running. But maybe...
I could see the finish line from across the lake, but knew I still had to run around to the other side...and the minutes were ticking on by. I pushed as hard as I could to the line and saw the clock turn over to 10:01 on my way in. A few minutes off the record ( but with 1.5km extra!) and a couple of hours off of my expected time. Second female across the line and beyond stoked to have persevered on such a wild day.
I am proud of that finish. There were a few challenges to overcome on that day. Man. The power of the mind. And a little Lynx action never hurt the pace either;).
Thank you doesn't really cut it after seeing the Fat Dog volunteers hard at work over the weekend. As selfish runners who signed up to play that day, we had absolutely no right to complain. But those volunteers were outstanding from start until finish, regarless of the conditions. Every one had a smile for us and positive words to send us on our way. Every one of them asked what we needed and how they could help. Just awesome. Thank you so much to Heather and her team of stellar volunteers for putting on such a fantastic event and inviting us to spend the weekend playing in beautiful Manning Park. And thank you to the racers, especially Bill, who motivated and inspired me to keep pushing every step of the way.
I had been trying to run the Fat Dog for 4 years but one thing after another got in the way. Once on course I had to get over a few 'speed bumps' on the day. But it all led me to that magical moment on top of Skyline trail with the Lynx. I recently heard a familiar quote and it has been rolling around in my head since the weekend...
"You are exactly where you are meant to be."
I can't believe you read the whole thing. Now go back to work and get something productive done.
What I ate:
1 Hornby Gourmet Sesame Bar
2 packages of Cliffe blocks
2 Vega natural gels
1 Gu espresso gel for the finish (wish I had thought to eat one of these on my bonky climb)
1 piece quesedilla,1 grilled cheese sandwich, a cup of hot veg broth and some salt and vinegar chips.
What I listened to: A few of my faves that got me dancing on the trail and hitting repeat over and over...
Can't Feel My Face- The Weekend
Lean On - Major Lazer
Dangerous- Kardinal Offishall
Outlines- Mike Mago and Dragonette
Time of our Lives- Pitbull
Talking Body- Love Lo