A “few” months ago a few of us texans decided to register for FatDog 120. Little did we know that this would turn out to be a trip of a lifetime. The race organization was beyond my expectations, from communication, race logistics, down to the core of the race: the volunteers. The race traverses 120 miles and goes up a few mountains in between in the Cascade Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. We signed up so early that the build up to the race was a little too much. But now, it is done and most importantly we had fun. I unofficially completed the race in 44:27:31 and I regret not one moment.
The race is split up into 6 different legs and it spans multiple distances. From 120 to 30 miles, the race is executed beautifully. The 120 milers start on Friday at 10 am, and the shorter distances start early Saturday. The race manual has turn by turn directions and it is really hard for anyone to get lost during the race, even after a few warnings from volunteers that sections were confusing, I found the course to be incredibly well marked. Aid stations are fully stocked, some of them seem like full on buffet. We were definitely spoiled.
Imported garmin gpx from the fat dog site: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/818628890
Now the fun stuff, the race is logistically divided into 6 legs, because not only does the race have a 120 mile distance, it also has a relay option and several shorter distances. The legs are distributed almost evenly and as follows:
Started straight up, with a conga line for about 20 minutes or more, can’t really tell as I only used a watch to tell time and not really to keep track of splits. A good amount of climbing in the first section. Started hiking with Ben and promptly realized that I would not be able to maintain a fast pace but was glad that we were in the middle of the pack when we started. This first section would be the best view of the race since the second and third stages would be mostly in rainy and foggy conditions.
Ran this first section just fine, I met Lise at the tail end of it and we ended up running through mile 80 together. The first aid station came sooner than expected. I saw Lety and the kids here, which was a nice energy boost. Refilled water, drank half a liter of coke (thanks Jorge!), grabbed what was in my drop bags and headed out with Lise again.
This stage is make or break, in my opinion. Turns out this year it had been pretty dry and we apparently had brought rain and some of other fun stuff, like howling wind, hail, lighting and falling trees. This stage started with our second climb of the day, I was climbing okay here but this is definitely not my strongest skill. Turns out stubbornness is, see leg 6.
Upon leaving the aid station sprinkles, turned into rain, rain turned into hail and lighting. The rain however, was the boost of energy I needed to get my legs going again. Ran with a couple of runners who seemed to think that we were going to die that day from electrocution, it turned out we didn’t. We kept counting the number of seconds between lightning strikes (Read here to find out how far a lighting storm is), at some point that count was less than a mile away. Before the Trapper aid station we heard a tree fall and didn’t make a big deal of it. Turned out that a runner in front of us, almost got whacked by that tree. I had lost Lise going up this climb but caught up when we arrived to Trapper aid station. After the aid station, we went through pretty hard rain and a good amount of hail.
The rain would continue for approximately the next 24 hrs. There were only brief moments of time where it slowed down but I don’t think it ever stopped. Unfortunately for me, my rain jacket was waiting at the Bonnevier aid station and it’d be a while before we arrived there. The wind jacket only holds off the water briefly, after that I was soaking wet. The climb to the summit of this mountain was met with howling wind and lighting over an exposed section with no place to hide from lightning, only thing left to do was move forward. At this point I was shivering and probably close to being hypothermic, I needed to advance, the descent was near. The descent on this section was fun, the trail twisted and turned going down hill the rest of the way.
Before reaching Bonnevier aid station, we crossed the river which was knee high, it was only slightly strong but it required some rope coordination. On the other end of the river an aid station awaited, nothing to do here but grab our night vest and get ready to head to Bonnevier but not before running next to the highway for 2 km stretch.
At Bonnevier, Lise and I agreed we’d take 20 minutes to regroup and warm up. We ate here to get some calories in before our next climb(s). Put on some warm layers, I kept my shorts instead of putting my tights here. Feet had been soaked for the last 8+ hours, so I was glad I had put dry socks here.
Like the last three sections this one started with a climb that immediately got our feet wet again since the precious single track trail was thick, overgrown and wet. The trail zigs zags going up hill, which is better than straight up I guess. We went up two mountains in this section, which covered around 12 miles. This section was pretty uneventful until we got close to Heather where the hardcore volunteers were battling the weather as much as we had the last few hours. The wind was expected at this aid station but I don’t think the volunteers were expecting the storm that had flown by earlier. Here I put on my tights for an additional warm layer, I was relievedabout that mandatory gear list they had emphasized the last few weeks. At this point I had a warm long sleeve shirt, my rain jacket and wind jacket on, pretty perfect combination. After refilling my flasks, eating a quesadilla and a brownie, we continued running through the rain in the night.
We descended to Nicomen lake, but we could only see the edge, since the fog was covering much of it. The aid station was a small hut serving warm food. We had our picture taken here, I remember because the photographer kept telling me to move backwards even though I only wanted to move forward :) The descent was pretty uneventful but it went on forever, ok maybe not, but it went for 11 miles in a series of rolling hills, eventually cursing every few minutes hoping the next aid station would be at the end of the next turn, turned out it wasn’t more than one time. I kept seeing things, a.k.a allucinating, like volunteers around the next turn, a tent that turned out to be a bunch of timber piled together. Pretty sure I got Lise’s hopes up more than once. The last 500 meters before the aid station, there was a steep downhill which I enjoyed every bit of it. At the aid station, I realized that leaving some haribo gummy bears had been the perfect breakfast recipe. It’s the smallest things that make a difference really. The next aid station was 5 miles away, more single track, green moss covered rocks, everything green, it had been a good day so far.
This section was “flatish” and ran a good amount here. After leaving the Cascades aid station, we put on our vest and ran next to the highway for 2km to make it to the next aid station where we handed back our vest and continued. The trail in this section undulated most of the time and was pretty lush with all the rain that had just gone through. Ran next to the Skagit river for a good part of this section, the river level was low but the flow had kicked up a notch after the rain. Seems like everyone in this section kept practicing the put it on, take it off, karate kid technique. It would rain for a period of time, stop to a sprinkle, got warm, took off the jacket, rained again and repeat.
I reached the Shawatum aid station which was an out and back section that apparently people thought it was closer than what it really was, because at some point I was told it was only 10 meters to the aid station, it clearly wasn’t. Close to half a mile probably, nothing like a “little” miscalculation to get your spirits down. But to my surprise Lety was there waiting for me. What a relief, had not seen them this morning. Lety replaced my water here, I took a break, took my time cleaning my socks, thinking I had rocks in my socks (I didn’t) and continued on. My feet were drenched but my pair of socks were at the next aid station so there was nothing to do but to dry them out a bit, clean them and make sure nothing was rubbing.
Reached the Skyline aid station, the last aid station of this leg, where again we had an out and back, again longer than people estimated. I arrived here feeling low in calories but in hindsight it was probably my body telling me I needed to sleep. I sat here and replaced my socks, turned out to be that all this time the rocks I thought I had, were just my wrinkled skin with dirt in between wrinkles. These dry socks and no blisters were a welcome relief. The aid station apparently had gone gourmet and had smoothies, yes you read that right, smoothies. Felt spoiled but welcomed the deliciousness. Kissed Lety and the kids goodbye and continued on.
I left the aid station feeling not great but ok. We started our last big climb here, about 4000 ft of elevation in 5 miles, all I can say is this climb and the lack of sleep broke me. Physically I was ok but my body wanted to sleep. Many people asked before the race if I was going to sleep and I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had never been on my feet this long. I took about 5 naps going up this climb, leaving many fellow trail runners asking me if I was okay? I kept telling them that all I needed was a nap, I was not feeling sick nor was I hurting, all I needed was a nap. I lost an hour or more of sleep, no pun intended, with all my naps combined. I took out my emergency blanket, and would use it to lay it on the floor and wrap myself around with it. Closed my eyes, power napped, and repeat. This would continue until Camp Mowich where apparently I was expected, since I was asked if I was the napping runner :) I used a cot that was next to the aid station, wrapped myself around and asked the volunteers to wake me up in 20 mins to which they obliged. 20 minutes had passed, when I hear “alright your 20 minutes are up! time to move on”. Like a spring I got myself up, grabbed my stuff and continued on.
The biggest problem on this leg besides me falling asleep, was falling asleep while running next to ridges, I stepped on the edge of a ridge one too many times. I arrived at Sky Junction where Peter the co-RD, was manning that aid station. This aid station had Do-it-yourself mats that worked as chairs. Napped here for 15 more minutes before proceeding to the final 8 miles. I think I only slipped of a cliff once here but was feeling more awake now. Climbing out of this section was fun, you could see the lights on top of the mountain and second guess yourself, whether it was a star or someone at the top. Eventually made it to the top, the first part of the descent was sketchy and given my lack of sleep, couldn’t really make any ground. The first rays of light were out and I was almost done. The last few miles run next to Lightning lake, I could smell the barn but there was still quite a way to go. Beautiful single track trail around the lake and all the way to the finish line. Not before almost falling off a ledge and doing a 180 while hitting my knee, sleep problem solved, I was awake now.
At the briefing they had half jokingly emphasized that we couldn’t swim to the other side, when we were close to the finish line. I think I thought about it for a second and thought that even if I could swim I’d probably fall asleep and drown :) Reached the finish line in 44 hours and 30 minutes, that is quite a long time. Lety was at the finish. All is good. It has been a week since we toed the line and I still have dreams of the race. It has been a hell of a ride.
I’d like to thank Lety for being my awesome crew and my unconditional support. I know that without her, this would be an order of magnitude harder. Thanks for being there when I expected it and when I didn’t. Thanks to Ben, Lise and Pam for being awesome training partners. Thanks to family and friends that sent messages of encouragement. Thanks to the RD (Heather and Peter) and all the race volunteers. Thanks to Vincent and Trail Toes for their support (cream and his new tire trainer, check it out!).
“Happiness is everywhere, you just have to know how to capture it, how to recognise it” – Stéphane Brosse