|The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. Habakkuk 3:19|
I started the 2016 Fat Dog 70 event at 7:00 am on Aug 13 with the goal of simply finishing the distance, ideally in 24 hours. I surpassed my goal by more than 3 hours and finished as strong as I could have ever hoped for. But this run was about more than just me. It was about more than 1 day. It was about 8 months of training and developing friendships with a couple special people that culminated in a the most perfect day of my summer.
Shortly after moving to Manitoba last summer from Vancouver Island, BC, I went on a run with Scott. Then a few weeks later I met Todd. Little did I know where these chance meetings would lead me. Before I knew it, Todd and I had joined Scott in his plan to pursue his dream of doing the Fat Dog 120. In December we registered, booked our hotel, and named ourselves the Manitoba Dawgs. Over the next 8 months, we ran together when we could and supported each other virtually when we couldn't.
On Aug 9 we loaded up the truck and started a 23 hour drive from Manitoba to Manning Park, BC. Todd and Scott where entered in the 120 mile event, and one can predictably assume that the focus of all conversations was the 120 miler. There was talk of 49 hour cut offs, running through 2 nights, 3 major summits and a general suffer fest. I frequently heard myself saying, "I'm ONLY doing 70 miles." When I quietly put my run into context with theirs, it seemed relatively easy. Not quite as daunting. After all, I was only going to have to run through one night, not two. It's all how you frame it.
I desperately wanted my friends to have the race of their dreams. I spent the first 2 days in BC going to the 120 mile start line, going to the 120 mile race brief, doing acupuncture on the guys, taping them up, making sure they ate well and slept well. I drove them to the race start, wished them luck, and put my race completely out of my mind until they started theirs. But as soon as they headed up the trail, I allowed myself to start thinking about my race, content to be in my own headspace.
As I headed back into Princeton for my traditional pre-race meal of sushi, I felt calm. I looked up at the mountains and felt peaceful. Although I had spent the last year running in the prairies of Manitoba, I still felt prepared. The only thing missing was Sarah Seads. This would be my first ultra without her. She's the one who got me started, trained with me, coached and mentored me for years. We had a good chat on the phone and after she gave me last minute tips on a course she had rocked the year before (2nd female - 50 miler), I hung up totally centered and reassured. I had gone for a short run the day before, feeling like I had wrapped myself in an old comfy blanket. The smell of the forest, the sound of the creeks running, the shady cool of the old growth forest. This is where I was meant to be.
Back at Manning Park Lodge I finalized my drop bags and my race plan, had dinner with BC friends Rob and Kim, who were also racing, attended the 70 miler pre-race brief, and was sound asleep by 9:00pm, feeling the most relaxed that I had before an ultra to date. That is, until the phone rang at 9:30.
I was devastated to hear that it was Scott telling me his race was over. He was so upset, but the first sentence out of his mouth was, "I'm so sorry to mess up your pre-race sleep." What a guy. By the time he made it into the hotel suite and I managed to get back to sleep it was around 11:00. I felt bad for him, and said a silent prayer for Todd, still out there on the trail. I was roused out of a second deep sleep around 1:30am by Todd. I blinked furiously, scarcely believing he was there. My pre-race calm was shattered by the appearance of both my teammates in the middle of the night. I started to panic, thinking that maybe this race was more than I was prepared for after all. I slept fitfully until I woke just before my alarm went off at 5:00 am.
Scott saw me off as I caught a ride to the start with Rob and Kim. It was bittersweet. It meant a LOT to me that he was there to wish me well, but at the same time he wasn't supposed to be there. I was now feeling more than a little unnerved about coming from the prairies with no mountain running this year except the Grand Canyon 50, until we arrived at the start to find a little pocket of cell service in an area of total blackout. A text found it's way to my phone from my dear friend Sarah, "You're still a BC girl in your legs and your heart. You so have this!!! Enjoy!!" It's like she read my mind and send me just what I needed to hear at that exact moment. I put the blinders on and my vision narrowed until nothing else existed except the spectacular sunrise and the trail stretching out ahead of me. I was going to have an epic day and I was going to bring it home to Manitoba. I now had not a single doubt.
|Myself, Kim, Rob|
Blackwell Peak to Heather Aid (2.3 miles - 26:56)
It was a slow but steady start headed down off the top of Blackwell Peak, elevation ~6558'. They had to move the Heather Aid station down off the plateau this year. I didn't stop, but blew on by shouting my bib number to the volunteers, letting them focus on the 120 milers who would need the aid station more.
|70 Mile Course|
Heather to Nicomen Lake ( 11 miles - 2:45)
My favourite leg of the whole race. Heather Trail is stunning. Wild flowers, jaw dropping views of the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Baker across the border. And the last part of this section was down hill. Oh but it was HARD not to let loose and fly. Over 10K of perfectly graded flowing single track, but I repeated my first third mantra, "When in doubt go slower," and reminded myself that I was only 3 hours into a 20+ hour run.
I chose a pace that was easy, that perfect balance between no braking on the downhills, but not trashing my quads either. I was amazed how quickly we dropped down to Nicomen Lake, to find volunteers deep in the back country manning an aid station with crisp cool water that they had just pumped out of the lake. I fill up all 3L of my carrying capacity, thanked them, and headed out.
|We ran along this ridge before dropping down to Nicomen Lake on the left.|
More downhill single track, gently curving in a counter clockwise circle around the mountain. It totally reminded me of one long Transmission Hill (for my Comox peeps). It was very shady in this section, but the cloud cover of the early morning had burned off and around noon it started to get really hot. I pulled out my new Zoot Icefil arm sleeves, got them wet in a creek, and kept them wet as much as I could after that. I had never run with them before and couldn't believe how well they worked to keep me cool. As long as they were wet that is. A nice little bonus for a little experiment on race day. I was very dry and hot coming into Cayuse. There were 120 milers laid out all over cots and chairs, looking very peaked. I quickly restocked my fuel from my first drop bag (DB) and continued on.
|View from the ridge. Stunning. Could have stood there forever.|
Cayuse Flats to Cascade (5 miles - 1:10)
Wow. I have never felt so important during a race. I came trotting into Cascade feeling very hot, but strong. This picture shows me looking not quite as good as I'd like. Scott was waiting for me on the trail. He briskly told me that the tables were to the left a few meters ahead, and that they had a chair set up for me on the right. I cruised in to Todd taking pictures, Shaun hustling to take care of my feet, and Todd shoving watermelon into my hands.
|My awesome crew in action.|
I look at the time it took me to go 2.6 miles now and I'm floored. I was moving slowly. And it was on the ROAD! Granted I took 2 minutes at Sumallo to put ice into my arm sleeves, but still. This was the only road section, it was hot, and it couldn't be over soon enough.
Sumallo Grove to Shawatam (10 miles - 2:48)
Something happened during this section that I felt was the turning point of the race for me. I had been so hot to this point, still managing my nutrition well, but definitely not peeing like I should be even though I was drinking LOTS. Around the 30 mile or 50K mark (similar to what happened in the Grand Canyon at GC50), I started to feel great. This was the point that I would either start to decompensate or improve, and I was so happy that I started to feel better and better. My middle third rule of running effort that feels "just right" was easy. The running here was relatively flat and slightly technical, and I cruised along feeling very strong. I met up with another runner, Richard, from North Van, and we chatted easily along most of this stretch. The ice in my sleeves was cooling my veins, and I stopped at several creeks to keep the sleeves cool. I honestly believe this was a key element in my success in this race. Thanks to Jen Ruland for giving my the idea to use the sleeves. A life saver. I wasn't sure if my crew was going to be meeting me at Shawatam as the drive to these aid stations was not exactly easy. I arrived there feeling awesome. I already had my hydration pack refilled, had used the sponge bucket to cool my head and neck, had changed my socks, and was eating a little when they arrived. They were surprised to see me already there. I asked them to have my poles ready at Skyline when I got there, and took off with words of caution to slow down a little and take it easy.
Shawatum to Skyline (8 miles - 2:14)
Richard and I had been playing cat and mouse, and reminding each other to save it for Skyline. We all knew that the race really starts at Skyline. At this point I had gained 5,171' of elevation and lost 9,715'. The course total was 13,303' of gain and 15,748' of loss. I still had a lot of mountain to cross, and heeded Todd's advice to pull it back a little. It was cooling off, evening was falling, and the mosquitos were coming out. There were not nearly as bad as everyone had made us out to believe they would be, but I did pull out my bug spray and spray my neck and ears. The arm sleeves came off and I enjoyed the peace of quiet of the course as runners spread out further and further.
When I arrived at Skyline Aid, I knew I had this race in the bag. I knew I was going to finish, and I was going to finish under 24 hours. I had been following splits of a girl from 2014 who finished in 21:30 and although I had a slower start than she did, I was starting to match her splits over the last few aid stations. Scott and Todd were waiting for me at Skyline with my poles prepped and ready to go. They had my drop box out with my battery chargers and grabbed my watch to charge it up for the last leg. I prepped my head lamps, loaded my pack with a full 3L of water and enough fuel to last me 9+ hours, my estimated time left on course, which left me with a very heavy pack on a back that was getting tired. The last 2 aid stations were VERY remote, and we were told not to expect to get much there other than water. I took my time at this aid station, knowing that I was about to head into a LONG night. I ate some pizza, packed a quesadilla for the road. Someone sprayed my back with bug spray and I screamed, asking if my back was chaffed. As I lifted up my shirt the look on their faces said it all. I guess it looked bad. I gave my crew hugs of thanks, and told them to expect me at 5:00am at the finish based on the splits that I had been following (give or take a few hours). I looked Scott in the eyes and told him , "I've got this," then headed up the trail into the dusky evening.
|Todd, Myself, Scott - their presence gave me such a boost!|
Skyline Aid to Camp Mowich (8 miles - 3:39)
If there was a part of this race I was worried about, it was this part. Not the climbing. I am an experienced hiker and mountain climber and I know I can get myself up a mountain efficiently. But I was worried about going through the night. I was already past my longest time on feet by over an hour. I left Skyline at 12:47 elapsed time and still have 9 hours to go. My split told me to expect 4 hours for this 8 mile leg - that should tell you something. Two miles/hour. Lots of climbing and hiking. I turned on my iPod and downshifted into a steady climbing gear. As I climbed, night quickly fell and my chances for any more epic views vanished. But the temperature didn't seem to drop that much, likely cause I was working so hard to climb that mountain. I could see headlamps spread out along the mountainside few and far between, mostly in pairs. I didn't have a pacer and I was ok with that. I actually relished the alone time. Coming into Camp Mowich, I heard that awesome cow bell sound. The ringing of the cow bell has come to signal a sense of accomplishment to me. Another leg completed. This was a very remote camp where volunteers had to hike in 14K to get there. They topped me up with water, gave me some chicken broth, and warned me that they were out of water at the last aid station. I was stuck carrying another full 3L of water across all those false summits so infamously talked about. My loaded pack is over 10 lb with food, and I have never carried such weight for so long on my back without a break. Even back country camping we would take longer breaks. It was starting to take it's toll. I honestly didn't need all that water, as I was super well hydrated at this point, but I've learned to never underestimate water needs.
Camp Mowich to Sky Junction (5 miles - 2:04)
Not much to say here except it was nighttime and the stars were out. I was starting to see things - people's faces which were creepy. A wolf (which turned out to be a log). Fleeting shadows that looked like people running. Nothing too bad. I turned off my headlamp a few times to look for meteors (there was supposed to be a shower) but no dice. I just felt dizzy looking up. There was a LOT of up and down and up and down. I was happy to make it to Sky Junction for the sole reason that it meant another segment done. I was solidly in the mindset to get it done. I had an inkling that I might be done earlier than planned at this point, but still didn't know what lay ahead of me.
Sky Junction to Lightning Lake/Finish (8 miles - 2:21)
False summits. They weren't kidding. OMG. I was counting and each time I was SURE I had climbed the last peak, down and up I went again. I actually swore out loud at one point, just as Heather (the RD) said I would. My legs were turning to jello, and if it hadn't been for my poles, I'm sure I would have slipped off the edge of a cliff, or went tumbling down a descent. I'm serious. My poles were my second lifesaver. When I finally reached the burned out forest and knew I was descending down for the last time, I was relieved, only to find that there were some very technical sections that still precluded me from truly running. I just didn't trust my legs to hold me up and hiked on until I felt comfortable to start running again. My GPS watch was dead at this point and I had no idea how far I had still to go. I only encountered 2 other people during this section and both gave me wildly different distance estimates. My stomach was cramping and I wasn't handling my nutrition well at this point either. The last hour I gave up eating and just gagged on the side of the trail when it got too bad. I was almost done and just simply didn't care. I started to think that I might be done before 5:00 am
Suddenly I came upon a sign that told me there was 700m until Rainbow Bridge, which I knew was 1 mile from the finish. Whoo hoo!! I picked up speed and ran it in to the finish line in 20:51 arriving at 3:51 am - over an hour ahead of schedule. I knew there was no way my crew was going to be there and sure enough they weren't. So I crossed the line, accepted my medal, and stood there wondering what to do. As soon as I stopped I immediately got cold, so I pulled out the jackets that I had carried for 70 miles and put them on. I sat down in a chair in the dark and felt the emotion welling up. I had just run 70 miles, 114K. The farthest I had ever gone by 20 miles and 34K. Longer in time on feet by 9.5 hours. But first and foremost, I had FINISHED. I sat there and had a good cry. Then wiping my tears I headed to the campfire to wait for Todd and Scott. They showed up about 15 min later, still thinking they were an hour early for me.
After 1.5 hours of sleep and breakfast, we headed back to the finish line for the awards. I found out I had finished 4th female, about mid pack overall. It was so awesome to see the last few 120 milers cross the line after almost 49 hours of time on feet.
My entire Fat Dog experience amazing. Thank-you Heather, Peter, and team from Mountain Madness. I got to fill my cup with hours of time in the mountains of BC. The weather was perfect. My body held up. But most importantly, the people made the race. Todd and Scott are the most solid gentlemen you will ever meet. They have been such good friends and training partners. Even after their race dreams were shattered, they still spent the whole day driving all over the region to crew for me. I can't tell you guys how much that meant to me. Thank-you. Rob, Kim, Shaun - thank you for sharing your crewing resources with me. It was great to hang out again. We met some PCT hikers, other ultra runners, crew members... Although ultra running is a very solitary sport, there is a whole tribe of people surrounding you through the process. Very few people get what we do...but those that do provide a special kind of support that is very special and very valuable.
|Our Mascot, Bonk #awesomedawg|
What did I learn from this race?
- How you frame your race is critical. The fact that I saw 70 miles as relatively easy compared to 120 miles made the task less daunting.
- Icefil arm sleeves work - when wet with ice in them, wind cools even better.
- Poles are a necessity for night climbing. So glad I had them.
- Training in Manitoba may not have prepared me for mountain running, but it did give me heat training. I ran for weeks above 30 deg and did one hill repeat day at 43 deg with humidex. I know that helped.
- Training on the flats helped my leg speed for the flatter sections of the race.
- Carrying a 10-11lb pack for 20+ hours causes SERIOUS chafing on your back. Not sure how I'll mitigate this next time, but hopefully won't need carry so much mandatory gear next time.
- Postural muscle strength is important for carrying a heavier running pack. Thank goodness for my strength training regime, but my neck and shoulders are still sore.
- Having a crew of fellow ultra runners is awesome. I've never had that before and I see the value now. I was very fortunate to have my aunt and uncle support me at Miwok last year and I can't thank them enough for the boost they gave me, but to have some good advice from someone who's been in your shoes is also great.
- I seem to do better the longer I go. I guess the 100 miler goal for 2017 isn't that unrealistic!
Garmin powered out (grrr) so I don't have easy stats.
Lost track. Ate every 45 min, 2-3 S-Caps every hour.
Shoes: Salming Elements (brand new pair, 3 miles of break in, did AWESOME)
Pack: Salomon S-Lab 12 set
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 920XT
Headlamp: Black Diamond Icon
Poles: Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles