Had someone had a microphone in front of me for the last leg of the Fat Dog 100 it would have recorded mostly expletives and curses. Ask my pacer, Scott Corsie. After coming so far and being out there so long only to encounter the last bunch of miles up Skyline trail was my breaking point. But not to get ahead of myself. I could bitch and moan about all the little things that I think can be changed but I think race director Heather Macdonald has heard it all and I hope she takes it all in to make it a better event next year. I'm just going to tell the story of how my day (and a half) went.
I was a little nervous about this race even before my stress fracture back in April. I've only run one other 100 mile trail race two years ago and that ended with me walking the last 5 or 6 miles on feet that got pretty chewed up with blisters. Since then I've come up with ways to avoid the same thing, on shorter courses, though. The feet were my biggest concern for the race, not the stress fracture I had months ago. Of course I wondered about my endurance as well but I'd done a few five to six hour runs in the last month with some gnarly climbing so I figured I'd be ready for any bit hills. Turns out I would need every bit of "power-walking" practice I'd done.
The family and I stayed with our friends Scott and Michele in Penticton from Tuesday until race day. Before that we camped in Fintry for three days so my pre-race diet consisted of lots of camping food and my favourite - ice cream.
Scott and Michele treated us like royalty and it was awesome to sleep in a bed before the race instead of a tent. Scott would be accompanying Carrie and the kids around the course to help crew for me and I was grateful that Carrie would have some help to take a bit of the pressure off. Having a crew was the best thing as it made life so much easier when I pulled into a station.
We all woke at 1:30 Friday morning and hurried out the door around 2. We followed the directions to the start line but where it said Lakewood Trail Head there was supposed to be a small parking lot. Turns out you had to go off a gravel road to the left to reach the small parking lot. There was another car there with two girls wondering where to go as well. We said we'd go down and if we didn't come back in a few minutes that they should follow. We went down the bumpy gravel road and eventually came across the lot where a few other cars were. The good thing was there was a men's and women's outhouse. The bad thing was that the men's had no toilet paper and the women's only had half a roll. Seeing as no one was waiting, into the women's I went.
We all started crossing a small bridge which was about two people wide and stopped halfway across. Peter Watson counted down and at 4am shot off a starter's pistol and anyone camping within a mile knew we were starting as well.
I was stuck almost at the back as we all slowly started up some single track switchbacks. It took about twenty minutes and I was able to scoot past a few people then it opened up somewhat and I could move a little faster. Eventually I was with Brian Morrison, a very accomplished trail runner, and Hassan Lofti-Pour, also a great runner and World 100k Championship teammate in England last year. We did a lot of climbing the first portion of the first leg and arrived pretty much at the same time at Cathedral aid station at 12km. After that there were a bunch of switchbacks leading up to the treeline and the alpine. I could see the lead relay runner off in the distance and used him to find the trail more easily. If not for the flagging I don't know how anyone could have followed the 'trail' because often I was running over a field of rocks or small shrubbery from one flag to the next. To the credit of the organisers the route was extremely well marked for the first few legs. Hassan caught up to me and we caught up to the lead relay guy, Peter from Langley, but he was soon off flying on the downhill while I went at my own pedestrian pace to save my quads. It couldn't come soon enough because at that time of day it was pretty chilly up there with a nice wind blowing. It would have been good to have arm warmers and light gloves.
I pulled into the first crewed aid station, Trapper, at 27km (according to the route maps) after 3:30 of running to find the gang there, chair waiting. I fell into it and immediately took off my left shoe and applied a blister pad on a hot spot I felt forming on my instep. A note about my shoes: In the pre-race meeting they mentioned the river crossing at 54km and it was suggested to change shoes after. I figured I'd use my older, crappier shoes until the river then change right after (I figured it'd be about 4-5 hours on my old shoes so no problem, right? Little did I realise the course was longer than advertised and I'd be in those shoes for over eight hours). Carrie was trying to fill my camelbak with me bent over tying my shoes but it wasn't working. I stood and she was filling it and that's when I noticed the little black flies or whatever they were feasting on my legs and arms. I could barely stand still while she re-filled my pack without doing a dance to get rid of the bugs.
Hassan and I left at the same time and we began running up a gravel forestry road. He suddenly remembered he didn't take off his long-sleeved shirt so went back to the aid station to drop it off. I continued on at my slow pace knowing he'd catch up soon enough. I saw a relay runner ahead of my up a trail and set off after him. Higher up I looked down and saw Hassan about to go past the trail leading up to where I was so I called to him. I figure I saved his whole race right then and there and he should give me the North Face jacket he received for winning the race. We went up a bunch more switchbacks (sounding repetitive yet?) to another gravel road and this was where I led us wrong. We went about ten minutes on the road when it started going downhill. I was pretty sure on the maps that this section was another long climb up to the alpine again. We backtracked and couldn't believe we missed the trail.
Up we went until the next alpine section where we came to a beautiful lake and kept running only to realise we'd run out of flagging tape again. We searched another ten minutes until we went back and, again, saw how obvious the Centennial trailhead was.
We were supposed to run into a water station and it just never came. Finally after three and a half hours and no water remaining, we found the small Calcite station. It was supposed to be at 40km, but, really, 3.5 hours to do 13km from the Trapper station?? After we filled up we headed for the river crossing, the 50k mark, and ran down the trail Elias and I had marked months ago. The grass had grown up substantially and I hardly recognised the trail. There were some steep downhills to the river and we set across. We should have gone one at a time because the current was moving fast at waist level and us losing our balance and grabbing the rope was causing the other guy to be thrown around as well. I tell you, if either of us had lost our grip on the rope it would have been damn hard to stop ourselves from being carried downstream. The rocks were very slippery and it would have been tough to stand up and walk the rest of the way without the rope.
On to Bonnevier station where Hassan and I each changed shoes and socks. Over eight hours to do 54k seemed not quite right. Peter, the relay guy from Langley from the first leg, came up to me and asked if he had seen the guy on his team that left after him and was ahead of us. I said no and that he must have taken a wrong turn, something I heard a fair bit during and after the race.
Up we went again along a gravel road and finally out of the sun down some more trails. When we started climbing again it was evident I didn't have the power-walking ability that Hassan had so I said for him to go on. From this point I was walking most uphills. I figured it was the elevation because after this every time we went up to the alpine my legs had no gas and felt pretty weak. At some point along there the "overflagging" became "few and far between flagging" because at one spot I ran back five minutes thinking I'd missed a turn but saw I hadn't. Back forward I went until I finally saw another piece. From here on it was best just to keep going straight and eventually there would be more tape. Once at the top in the meadows again it got pretty hot and it seemed forever until I reached the Heather station (70k). The volleys there were awesome as they filled my bottles and even made me a grilled cheese sandwich. The bugs were atrocious again and I commend the people who were up there for long periods of time. I nibbled on the sandwich for the next few kms and along this high trail were some of the best looking viewpoints.
I finally started going down eventually hitting the water drop at Nicomen Lake. After another nasty uphill I headed down some long switchbacks until finally running into Scott before the aid station. Turns out a relay runner had twisted and probably broken his ankle and Scott (ex-firefighter) headed out to ice and bandage him up. We ran back to the aid station, Cayuse, at 100km.
Scott figured to join me so he changed into his running attire and off we went, headlamps at the ready. There was another aid station at 106km (an hour of running from the Cayuse station), and Nicola Gildersleeve's and Peter Watson's station at 109km, Sumallo Grove. It was pretty much dark here but I could see the impressive spread of food they had there. Had I not been running I'd have camped out there eating everything in sight! Because of the dark and the trail being quite overgrown in places, Scott and I decided it wasn't worth the risk of injury to go headlong down the trail so we walked a fair amount of this section. It was here I noticed my hands looked very Mickey Mouse-like in that they were swollen. I felt like a cartoon character with these huge hands but could hardly form a fist.
It was along this stretch that kept going and going where I decided that I wanted to save Scott, Carrie and the kids more aggravation and time wasted by dropping out. I really thought it would be better for everyone to pack it up and go get some real sleep and save them more hours of waiting for me. Scott said he would stand by any decision I would make. When we got to the 26 mile bridge station at 121km, we realised it was near impossible to drop here because of the 1.5km hike to the road which was deserted of traffic anyways. We decided to get to Gary Robbins' Skyline trail station at 136km and decide there what to do. Plus that's where Carrie would be (sleeping) waiting for us.
On we went for two and a half more hours through the same type of hard-to-run-in-the-dark trails. There were some ups and downs emotionally but when we got to the next station I knew we'd go on. A very tired Carrie said that we've come this far and it would be kind of a waste not to go on and finish the bloody thing. We figured about 4 hours to the finish but Gary slapped us with reality when he said more like 6 hours. Well to try and cap this report soon, it took Scott and I 3.5 hours of solid climbing of switchbacks to reach the Lightning Lakes signpost. Thinking we would be heading down to the lakes soon, we high-fived and congratulated ourselves. Little did we know this was only the start of another hellish section. The hallucinations were in full swing as I called out "there's the water jugs" only to get closer and see they were a bunch of logs. I kept my comments to myself until I was sure what I saw after that. When we eventually saw the jugs at the top of a hill, we were both hesitant to believe what we were seeing. We filled up our containers while fighting off the bugs and headed, where else, up. Thinking again that one more climb and we'd see the lakes and start heading down, we went on. Of course it was too much to hope for when we ended up climbing another 6 peaks!! Some of the goat paths were quite dangerous at this point due to our tiredness and disorientation. Some slopes were so steep that if one of us slipped, it would be hours to get back up to where we fell, as long as we were uninjured and able to get there. At the top of the last peak we saw a couple hiking the other way and knew we were almost there. They were nice and told us it had taken them an hour and a half to walk up and gave us a pretty accurate description (for a change) of what we could expect on the way down. On the descent a huge bug (at least if felt like it was huge) flew into my eye and I couldn't get it out. I thought my water bottle had just water in it and so spilled some on my hand and rubbed it in my eye. It was then I realised it was CarboPro and my hand and face were now very sticky. Scott caught up to me and promptly removed the carcass from my eye, totally above and beyond the duties of a pacer. When you sign on to pace someone, you don't expect to be out there for 16 hours, which he was. He was in bad shape like me but never complained about it.
We finally reached lake level and started on the road around the lake. Hannah and Elias met us a few hundred metres from the end and ran us both in. Carrie was there with the camera but I pulled her through the finish line with us. No runner can finish without their crew is what I always say.
So it was the end of a very, very, long run, the longest I've ever been on my feet - 31:45 (although the time on the website states 32:34). After talking with people who had GPSs along some parts of the route, it was determined the 100km race was actually 120km, and the 100mile was anywhere from 115 to 120 miles. The elevation was 15,000' for the 100k race and 23,000 for the 100mile. Full credit for the family for having the patience to wait all those hours for me and for Scott for gutting out a crazy 70 or 80k with me. I couldn't have done it without all of them.
As for what's next I believe that this event has given me insight into what UTMB will be like so for that I am grateful. As for next year I hope Heather takes the suggestions that people have made in how to make the race better in the future.
Pictures to follow soon.