Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Fat Dog 120 (Race Recap)

Manning Park, BC
Friday, August 5
Weather - Pretty great   

This was a random and unplanned race that I signed up for a month out. I felt like I had a decent base, and I was still on the emotional rollercoaster with Ben/Western States drama and it seemed like the "perfect" reaction to run one of the hardest "100 milers" in the world.

I woke up exactly one minute before my alarm went off, at 4:44. I had actually slept AMAZING, which is incredibly rare, even on a NON race morning. I was happy to have allowed extra time, because once again, even though I had mostly everything ready to go, it took longer to get everything done. The shuttle buses were leaving through the lodge at  7:00 am and I hoped to arrive a little before 6:30.

The drive was longer than I had mapped the night before, but I also hadn't accounted for the extra distance from the BnB. Thankfully, the sun was up, so the drive wasn't awful. I arrived within a few minutes of my plan, which gave me enough time to use the bathroom and grab my stuff out of the car and get on the bus. With the race not starting until 10, I was wondering why we were leaving so early. Apparently we had to go WAY up and around to get there - no direct route.

The shuttle was buzzing with nervous excitement. For once, I was strangely calm. In the time leading up to race day I was definitely having panic and anxiety attacks. This is touted as a remote and incredibly difficult race. I wasn't familiar with ANYTHING about this race, and yet I was going to be toeing the line in a few hours - and wasn't nervous about it.

Even with a quick pit stop in Princeton, we arrived at the "start" with about a half hour until it was time to go. When I say "start," I am using quotes because we literally got dropped off by the bus in the middle of a dirt road that wasn't necessarily wide enough for more than one vehicle. I'm not sure how the bus was even going to turn around, nor the TWO other buses that were behind us. I had probably had a liter of water on the drive, so of course I had to use the bathroom. It was probably a 5-6 minutes walk down a hill to the start line. There were two primitive pit toilets, and I was glad to have had a chance to use one. After that it was just a few minutes of double-checking gear and waiting.

One minute to start & why do I look like hot garbage here? lol

Suddenly, time to go. We had to do a 200 meter out and back up the hill to "thin" the crowd to avoid bottlenecking on the bridge. Spoiler - didn't work. I've heard there were 170 people in the 120 miler, and then there were also runners for the relay, so not sure how many people started. The bridge had some sort of fencing/barrier that literally only allowed one person to go through at a time, so that slowed things down. I didn't mind, I obviously like to start slow, so it was fine. I assumed I was one of the last people, and when I briefly turned around to look, I was right.

I made a joke about "keeping the pace down," but within minutes I was sucking wind and thought I was going to die. Like Palisades, within the first... third of a mile, I was the very last person on the trail. All the same thoughts of "how can I be THIS bad at climbing hills" and "I shouldn't even be out here, I should just quit" started to enter my head. I'd take a few steps and then have to stop to catch my breath. My left calf already felt tight. I knew this was going to be a fight to the finish.
I could see a guy in front of me and thought about yelling out to him - hey, we should stick together on this since we are the only ones struggling. But I kept my mouth shut, my head down, and kept moving the best that I could. After nearly a mile, I caught up to the man. I introduced myself, he said his name was Michael. We talked for a few minutes and I learned that he had also been at Cloudsplitter last year, although he had done the 100k. He was struggling with the altitude, living in Virginia. 

The trail became a fire road, and I finally was able to move a bit better. Suddenly, vehicles began to show up behind me. As far as I know, this only happened to a few of us really slow people, but it sucks. The cars would creep up behind me and then gun it as soon as they got the space to go around me. I hate having cars behind me, and dislike the dust they kick up even more. The road only lasted for about an mile, then became more of a trail again.
Up and up it went. I was struggling with my feet going numb (something that has only happened once in the last few months, and that time I blamed wearing Hokas, but I had my Topos on this time). I stopped briefly on a log on the side of the trail with my feet up to have the numbing subside and eat a few crackers. 

It was smoky out (must have been a fire somewhere) and it was HOT. This section until about mile 4 was also really tough for me. Lots of breaks and wondering how I was ever going to get through this. 

The miles were ticking by, and then finally I actually saw another person in front of me! I was wondering if there was any possible way that I could catch up to him, and then... I did! He didn't look like he was doing well, and I offered him some salt, but he said he had just taken some. We had a downhill for a bit and we leapfrogged a bit coming into the Cathedral aid station. This was definitely bare bones! All that was left by the time we got there was water, a few small snacks and THREE Spring Energy gels. I haven't used gels since Angel Fire (barf) but grabbed one anyway. The gravity of just how remote we were, and how long it was going to take between aid stations was really hitting me, as I was even slower than my worst case scenario pace at this point. Chris, the guy I had caught up with asked for bug spray, and I'm glad he did. I had them douse me as well, and shortly after leaving the aid stations the flies and mosquitos got really bad.
Most of the course is a blur. There were sections that were in the trees, pretty trails that actually weren't overly technical. Many sections where it was kind of boggy and muddy, although it wasn't clear where the water was actually coming from. There were also sections that were incredibly exposed and rocky - like something I would have to travel to 13,000' in Colorado to get. Chris and I passed the time by chatting, and I definitely felt better being with someone else on this course, especially when I found out he had a background in search and rescue!

I was already off on mileage by more than a half mile from the first aid station, and it seemed like I was going to be over coming into the second aid station as well. I remember nothing about the second aid station, Ashnola, other than I had a drop bag there and the volunteers LOVED my INB jegging shorts. I did also use the "toilet" here - it literally was just a bucket.

Heading out, I was in a really good mood still. When we left, there were a few guys that looked ROUGH, and while were not moving fast at all, we both were apparently at least looking good. It supposedly wasn't very far to the next aid station, Trapper, but we were already a bit jaded from having mileage not adding up. This one, however, was right on the money! Chris had a friend volunteering at the aid station, and we could kind of tell that we weren't doing great because they were basically tearing down the aid station! We did not stay long, although I briefly sat down to put blister powder on my feet as I was feeling a hot spot on the heel of my left foot. 

We headed out just as a few other guys were coming in behind us. Next stop was going to be Calcite. At 15.1km (9.3ish miles), it was going to be one of the longest stretches without aid. This doesn't ever bother me anymore after doing 200s, I mean, sometimes I've had to do over 20 miles without aid! The course was really pretty in this area - lots of green and TONS of wildflowers. I didn't want to waste time taking pictures, but I couldn't resist getting a few. 

The climb at this time wasn't bad, it was really pretty gradual. We also were treated to an incredible sunset and panorama view of the the mountains.

I realized that it was starting to get chilly, plus I still needed to get my headlamp ready. Once we got to the top of Flat Top (basically the end of the climb), I put on my Roost EZ rabbit long sleeve,  pulled out my Smartwool gloves, swapped my baseball cap for a beanie and added my headlamp. I ended up needing the light within probably 5-10 minutes. 
I was sure we were going to be at the aid station pretty soon, while Chris seemed to think he'd heard them say at the last aid station it was 18km and NOT 15km. At one point I pulled out Gaia to double check something when we hadn't seen a marker in a bit and it appeared he was right. ONLY, he wasn't really right either! By the time we arrived at Calcite, our watches showed a HUGE overage. Mine was about 4 miles, and his Coros showed something similar (I think he had the segment at 22km). When I mentioned this to the volunteer, he said "that's what everyone is saying when they come in." Oof.

Chris felt like he had a lot of blisters and wasn't feeling super great. I actually still felt fine and grabbed a quarter of a cheeseburger (this aid station was basically torn down as well) and told him, let's get out of here ASAP and do what we can to make cutoff, even though I was fully aware I couldn't make up for FOUR EXTRA MILES, I wasn't going to quit. I decided to NOT grab my R1 out of my drop bag since I was pretty sure we weren't making cutoff anyway, and it didn't seem necessary to take it since the next aid station was only 7ish miles away and had my puffy coat in there.

We did some running here when we could, and it was definitely a little chilly, so I mentioned to Chris that I was definitely going to keep the puffy coat on me, even if we made cutoff. Throughout the day we had been discussing the upcoming water crossing, and Chris had always been looking forward to it because he thought it would be nice to cool down. I WAS NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO IT. It was nearly 1 am, there was literally no way we were going to make cutoff, and now we were going to have to cross a freezing river.

I thought I heard the water below, and sure enough, we went down a switchback and it seemed like we were there. I thought I could see people across the river wearing reflective vests, but as I stood there, it turns out it was just some chairs. I could not see anything but the river and a rope. Chris asked if I wanted to go first, and since I was in front anyway, I figured I would just go. This wasn't my first rodeo, it's not like I haven't crossed water before. I was just a little surprised that there was no one out here helping with the crossing. But ok.

I put my poles in my left hand and grabbed the rope with my right. I was debating which side of the rope might be best to cross on, and ultimately stayed "upstream" since it was my right hand holding onto the rope. With my first step, I noticed the rope was not very taut and the water was literally freezing cold. My second step was probably the first one where things went wrong, although it's all kind of a blur now. I slid and ended up squatting/sitting on a rock within a few seconds. I jokingly yelled to Chris, "so much for staying dry." Gritted my teeth and tried to regain my footing. It was literally one misstep after another. The rocks were slick, I was tired and cold and  I could NOT stay upright. I "fell" more than once, and every time it happened, panic swelled over me. I got about halfway across the river when I slide and nearly went completely under. My entire body went under, up to my shoulders - obviously including my pack. I freaked out and began screaming "CHRIS I NEED HELP" - and out of the corner of my eye I saw him throwing down his poles and taking his pack off. (Did I mention he was SAR and certified in swift water rescue?) 

I literally thought I was going to die. I was tempted to let go of my (new) poles since I couldn't seem to get steady, but briefly thought that both hands on the rope with my feet downstream actually seemed like a terrible idea. I stayed still for a moment, managed to get a foot under my body and then was able to stagger out of the water. I came on that rocky shoreline thankful I hadn't been swept away or drowned, when I went to pull out my phone to see if it was ok after being submerged and realized it was missing. OMG. The stupid thoughts that came to mind after that - "where am I going to get a new phone in the tiny town I'm in in British Columbia" and "how am I going to get into my BnB later because the door code for the place is in my phone" were the things I remember thinking, along with not being able to map my way to the BnB or call/text anyone.

I yell to Chris again (not knowing that he cannot hear me over the raging water) that my phone was in the river. Luckily, as he was crossing, he saw it lodged against a rock and picked it up (although he didn't even know it was mine).

I couldn't believe it.

We knew the aid station was close and I told Chris I was going to drop here if the would let me, even though it wasn't a major aid station. We followed the pink flags up the embankment to arrive at... a completely abandoned open space. The aid station had clearly been there at some time, the canopy was still set up. There was a tarp next to it with a box of trash. And no aid station. My drop bag with new shoes, change of clothes and a puffy coat? Not there.

WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO. It's hovering around freezing, I've been able to see my breath since the sun went down. I still THANKFULLY pack gear in small dry bags in my pack (only because my pack basically has to be empty to put a full bladder back in) - so thankfully, I still had my rain jacket I could put on. I stripped off my long sleeve tee that I had to wring out it was so wet and put on the jacket. My gloves were obviously no longer useable. Thankfully, my beanie was still dry, but I was in rough shape. Even just stopping for a few minutes to put on these clothes chilled me to the bone. My teeth were chattering and I was really concerned about having hypothermia or frostbite. 

Luckily, it was a climb out of the non-existent aid station, and at some point my teeth stopped chattering, although I was still chilled to the bone. We came across the road, and then we realized we were going to be going up another dirt road behind some sort of factory. At the time, these hills were soul-crushing and seemed so steep. Looking later at Strava, they probably weren't that bad, I think the shock of almost dying and being so cold really locked my legs up.

We spent this section discussing what we were going to do if the NEXT aid station was also abandoned. I told him I was for sure going to hit the emergency button on my inReach if that happened. After what seemed like FOREVER, we were finally heading down and we could see the glow of some heaters. There were still people there!! Chris' wife, Melanie, met us at the bottom of the hill. 

Garmin time - 17:01:36
Garmin distance - 43.13 miles
Elevation gain - 10,963'
Miles 1-5 - 22:12, 28:30, 29:23, 31:24, 24:45
Miles 6-10 - 19:55, 20:55, 23:33, 26:12, 24:32
Miles 11-15 - 21:43, 18:49, 19:41, 17:22, 18:42
Miles 16-20 - 17:22, 19:10, 20:31, 21:27, 24:07
Miles 21-25 - 33:52, 23:47, 31:38, 20:51, 21:00
Miles 26-30 - 24:20, 23:30, 25:52, 24:45, 18:35
Miles 31-35 - 19:34, 22:35, 20:13, 20:49, 22:14
Miles 36-end - 20:28, 20:55, 23:23, 23:11, 33:44, 34:18, 38:06, 21:00, 19:56

Post Race

Immediately I sat down by a heater and was given a cup of broth. We regaled the volunteers with our story. They seemed to not believe us about there being no aid station. I had a lot of questions - why were we checking in/out of aid stations if that information wasn't being relayed anywhere? We also found out the sweepers had been pulled at Calcite (for no known reason and without explanation), so there wasn't even anyone behind us. While they seemed to realize that we were "unaccounted for," the right hand didn't know what the left was doing. I was glad to be safe, but wtf, this was truly terrifying.

Shortly before we left, a truck dropped of a few guys that announced themselves as "Calcite aid station in the house." The main volunteer I had been talking with mentioned to one of them that there was still a missing runner and I am not kidding when the guy said "that's not my fucking problem."

It was now probably 3 am, well after cutoff and obviously my race was over. I was, however, wide awake but not wanting to engage or talk about this anymore, and they were also ready to leave. It was a bit of drive back to the lodge, and I was really grateful for the ride.

I turned on my heater as high as it would go, and suddenly I was just as cold as when I had been in the river. I had to sit there for probably 10 minutes while the car heated up, and the temperature said it was 36 degrees out (although I have no doubt it was colder by the river). I tried to text Ben but didn't get a response (even though he should have already been up for work by then).

Started the drive to the BnB but was seeing things (people walking on the solid white line, logging truck turning in front of me) and when I *actually* saw a deer, I decided I had to pull over and sleep for a bit. I found a roadside lot and ended up dozing off for nearly an hour. When I woke up the sun was up and I felt ok to drive back to the BnB. Took a quick shower, tried to call Ben again, no answer, so I went to bed.

  • So... obviously this was even more challenging than I thought. Full disclaimer, I had a phone call with Eric, the race director after I got back home. He was very interested in my story and what happened. He was very receptive to concerns and indicated there would be changes going forward. Obviously doesn't change what happened to me, but hopefully will prevent others from being in that position.
  • Related - I will NEVER do a race in the mountains without my emergency gear in a dry bag. I've been doing this for a year or so, maybe longer. I will continue to do so as it definitely saved my life. I may add a secondary pair of gloves to my emergency kit since I blew that layer.
  • The aid stations were pretty bare bones. I had plenty of calories on me, but wow, this was... not great. I was fine and never hungry, but definitely do not plan on consuming large amounts of calories here.
  • This course is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. Obviously there were some parts I didn't love (that FSR leading up to Bonnevier, I'm talking about YOU, but overall, wow. Stunning.
  • This definitely taught me that I am NOT ready for big mountain races. I have GOT to work on my climbing, I really don't understand how I'm still so bad at it with all my experience. But without anything with big climbs coming up, that'll wait for another time.
  • The unavoidable course re-route had most runners ending up with closer to 130 miles - with the same 48 hour cutoff the course has always had. I would not have been able to pace for that - especially not knowing in advance. If you are back of the pack and plan on running this, plan to be at LEAST 30 seconds faster per mile than you think you need to be to make cutoffs.
  • Would I run this again? I've been given the opportunity to run next year, and the thought crossed my mind, but I'm giving it MANY months before I make any decisions.
May add more if I remember or if there end up being official race pictures.

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