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"Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not."

Fat Dog 120 2015 – A River Runs Through It

I was asked by my buddy Matt Hall to pace for him at Fat Dog 120 this year. Having completed the race last year (race report \ lessons learned) I felt like I was in a pretty good spot to crew and/or pace. My knee, unfortunately, still isn’t 100 % (exactly one year later) and my training has been pretty lackluster as of late… So I was nervous, but said “ok”.

I trained hard for 3 weeks (haha) prior to the race, logging a few 30+ km runs and some nice ish weekly mileage (nearly 100 km) and wasn’t having many issues with the knee. I asked my friend the Puppy Whisperer (hereinafter “PW”) if she wanted to help crew and for a weekend of camping, hiking, and hanging out in the sun by the lake. Sounds glorious!

We drove up to Manning on Thursday morn after dropping off the dogs at the kennel. Weather was scorching hot, as expected. We did a really nice hike up to Heather Aid station, to see some of the alpine (sub-alpine?) meadows. It was cooking out. The aid station was well stocked with about 32 huge jugs of water, and the flagging was good. I was pumped. Knee felt good.

Perfection in the form of a trail.

Perfection in the form of a trail.

Perfect Manning Park, on a nice, sunny day.

Perfect Manning Park, on a nice, sunny day.

Race Briefing

We headed down and up to Princeton for the race briefing. They moved it from the Lodge up to Princeton, for more space and a better presentation. Was really good. There were a TON of questions about the mandatory gear, which was much more stringent than last year. I had been bitching endlessly about it to Matt, and really thought it was ridiculous. Long pants? An extra top layer? A waterproof rain jacket with hood!!? I was pissed. Thankfully I didn’t have to run a night section, so I wasn’t too fussed, but it was still too much gear, if you asked me!

But the briefing was good, although a bit late, and I saw lots of friends. Lots of people who read my race report and were using my splits for pacing strategies, etc. Felt good, man. Glad someone reads my endless drivel!

PW and I checked into our rental and then headed into Keremeos to meet up with Matt for some Thai. Ate delicious Thai, talked about race strategy, blah blah. Had some beer at the “Wrong Turn Tavern” (you’re tellin’ me…) and then headed to bed.

Organic farm & BnB called TreeToMe, highly recommended.

Organic farm & BnB called TreeToMe, highly recommended.

Race Morning

I love this race because it starts at 10 AM. So civilized. PW and I had this insane organic French breakfast in which I ate about 7000 calories. We headed to the start and milled around with all the runners. I met more people I knew, including the incredible Jen Edwards (randomly, while checking out their Ford Excursion, which I lust over), Oleg (Strava friend who beat my ass at Elk-Beaver), Tim, who I met last year, and Nicola Gildersleeve, who was running Fat Dog for the second time, having come 2nd overall in 2013. My other very fast internet friend Big Johnny Burton was lining up too, although I hadn’t seen him yet, so I was stoked for a lot of people to be running.

Super pumped crowd at the race start.

Super pumped crowd at the race start.

Oleg at the start line.

Oleg at the start line.

I was energized like crazy and bitter that I wasn’t running (damn you, real job! Damn you, knee!) but oh well. We hiked up the trail a ways, took some pics of the runners zipping by. Busted out my usual jokes (“Nearly there!” and “Nice pace!”) although that joke goes over better with the 10k runners than these people who are preoccupied with the idea they might be hiking to their deaths.

Matt Hall out of the starting gates.

Matt Hall out of the starting gates.

The weather was good, almost identical to last year. Slight rain drops, a bit cloudy, not too hot, with the potential for scorching heat later.

Bromley Rock park near Princeton.

Bromley Rock park near Princeton.

After race start PW and I had all day to kill, so we went to Keremeos to check out some fruit stands, went “swimming” aka wading in freezing cold ice water at Bromley Rock, then to Princeton to do some shopping (not a particularly successful trip) and then headed to the lodge for lunch. Then we went for a short run around lightning lake. At this point the weather was taking a turn for the worse. We started our run ok, but about 3/4 of the way through, it was thunder and lightning and a horrendous, torrential windy freezing downpour. We huddled under a tree, hoping it might blow over, but eventually just made a run for it. Arrived to the truck soaked to the bone, in about 1 km. Yikes. I thought to myself that “I hope that weather isn’t hitting the runners..”

Bonnevier

We zipped over to Bonnevier in the hopes of meeting Matt on the way through, to have a better idea of when to expect him at Cascade. The weather was shitty. It was gross, raining. It eased off for a bit, giving me hope, but then got even worse. Rain. Cold rain.

Nice weather for a 25+ hour run.

Nice weather for a 25+ hour run.

We hung out in the truck, occasionally venturing out to check out the aid station, help out with some stuff, help Matt’s crew (his parents) with their things here and there.

Waiting, waiting.

Finally a few runners came through. First runner down the hill was Big Johnny Burton! He was fucking flying and I thought holy shit this is crazy. He barely recognized me (the perils of internet friendship) and was in the zone. Got changed and headed out, looking really good. I was pumped! After that another guy came in with a broken arm or something. (I think it was a dislocated shoulder? Broken wrist maybe?) He was obviously super fast. I think they cleaned up his arm and off he went. (I have reason to believe this was Jeremy Humphrey, an RD from a big race down in Idaho, who it seems later DNF’d, unfortunately.)

Runner coming into Bonnevier aid station in miserable weather.

Runner coming into Bonnevier aid station in miserable weather.

A few guys came in, but I was back in the truck, waiting for Matt. Finally he came by, maybe 1.5 hours later than this (admittedly very optimistic) goal. He was looking good. Soaked, but good. Spent a lot of time at the aid station, getting changed into new gear, new shoes. Parents had things pretty much sorted, although having to re-pack packs is a real time-suck. Two packs is key. Everything is slower in the rain, too. Finally he took off, after a few delicious slices of bacon from the amazing aid station crew. I hiked up a ways with him. He seemed to be moving well, running up the muddy hill. Moving faster than I had been at that point, certainly, so I was optimistic. I guess we estimated 2 hours later than planned at Cascade, which would have put him around 3 AM.

Not much to do in the pouring rain. I don’t recall what we did. Probably headed to the Lodge. Met up with Matt’s parents and some new crew, who were up from Squamish to crew the last half. Ate some food, hung out, and headed to the aid station. We were literally the first car there!

Waiting… waiting…

Finally the aid station was set up. Really nice station, nice tents (that hadn’t occurred to me…) and so we waited. Finally a runner came through. Nickademus something or other, some insane beast of a runner who was flying. He looked really good! Didn’t sit around much, just fuelled up and left, from what I could tell. His g/f/crew had shit under control. But I was worried about Big Johnny. Where was he?

Waiting… waiting…

More runners coming through. Some dude pissing blood. Had only peed once in 14 hours. How is that possible in this rain? His girlfriend went to tell the medic about his condition. She came back and I said “What did the doctor say?” and she immediately replied “He’s not a doctor. He’s a medic.” and I thought “Ah, so you’re a doctor!”

Anyway, I was right, and it turns out the runner and his g/f were doctors. I felt like staying “You’re only an anethesiologist, is that even a real doctor?” but I already wasn’t on good terms with her, since she was all worried about his kidneys, and I was trying to motivate him to ignore her, get out of his seat and start walking to Sumallo! He only really had to decide to drop at Skyline, he may as well get the fuck up and keep moving! Anyway, trying to argue with a doctor is harder than running 120 miles, so I eventually left. In the end, he was gone, so I don’t know if he dropped or not. I really hope he kept going, because he was looking awesome (bloody pee thing aside) and could have finished top 3 I bet.

DEATH BEFORE DNF, buddy.

Waiting… waiting…

The weather finally cleared up a bit. I praised god. I was so uninterested in running 50 miles in the dark, in the rain. My gear was packed, (no short-shorts, sadly) and I was ready.

I had napped a bit, and was ready to go. Matt’s crew from Squamish was good company, and had an insanely cute husky puppy to play with. A bit on the boring side, after experiencing our dogs, but still insanely cute. PW was sleeping. More waiting. Talking to some of the aid station crew. The amazing Lori Herron, who finished Fat Dog 120 in 2014 in a time of 46 hours (!) and has run twelve 100 milers in 3 years. Makes me look like a chump. She was awesome. I love ultramarathoning, when people who are not “fast” can still accomplish things that are so amazing. Practically heroic.

In the end, I found out Big Johnny was sitting just a few yards away. He had dropped at Cayuse, after falling several times, losing his balance. After nearly impaling himself on punji sticks at the bridge crossing, falling off the bridge he decided he should maybe pull the plug. Scary stuff…

Waiting…

And then, suddenly, Matt was there. In a fucking emergency blanket. I hopped out of the truck, and found that he had dropped. Noooo! He had pulled at Heather (at the very top of the mountain) which is arguably the worst spot. A 6 km hike, wrapped in emergency blankets, then a drive for 40 minutes to his parent’s campsite… Bad times. He was really damned cold, so we wrapped him in three sleeping bags and he fell asleep in the back of the truck.

I guess that was it. I milled around a bit, and wondered where Oleg was. His wife (?) was there, looking tired but mostly unconcerned. I’m guessing she’s been through this before. We waited until finally she said she’d heard he’s been through Cayuse. He was obviously moving slowly, since it was nearly 6 AM. I went to bed with everyone else, but wanted to be there when he got in, so I hopped back up and waited around some more. I randomly ran down the road and met him just as he was popping out of the trail. He was moving slowly but was very cold. I had nothing to contribute. He hopped in the back of his car for some sleep, so I had nothing left to do but go to bed.

I woke up about an hour later, to the sound of Matt and his crew. I got up, and Oleg’s car was gone. Did he continue? Did he drop?

We all decided to head to breakfast at the Lodge, then went to the start line. The finisher, Nickademus Hollon, had finished in 25:07, a new CR by about 38 mins. Nutty.

In the end

  • Jen Edwards: finished in a time of 42 hours. She wrote to me saying “It was a nightmare and pretty much the worst 2 days of my life.”
  • Oleg: Unfortunately had to drop at Skyline, 100 miles into the race. No more dry clothes…
  • Dr. Bloody Pee: Still not sure. I forgot his bib number. I hope he finished. If you’re reading this, let us know.

So I stand corrected — turns out maybe those mandatory gear requirements weren’t so silly after all 😉

Gorgeous Lightning Lake, just before the storm rolled in.

Gorgeous Lightning Lake, just before the storm rolled in.

4 Comments

  1. Hey Mitch,

    Nice writing! You certainly captured the “essence” of just how horrendous it was out there! A truly Epic battle of man against the elements!!
    I recall all the long & very cold faces at Heather!
    Yes, I agree the mandatory equipment list was a tad overkill but fortunately I adhered to it strictly and had sufficient clothing, socks, gloves, food, etc. to fuel on to a sub-44 hr finish (We 51 year olds/first timers always pay attention to the rules. Even though the last 2 years was relatively warm (70 last year and pacing my son in 2013) I was glad I packed even more clothes than on the list.

    Again Great writing!!
    Cheers
    Brad C

    • Mitch

      2015-08-25 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks Brad, much appreciated.

      Congrats on your finish. That is a damned proud effort in those conditions!

    • Chris Calzetta

      2015-08-27 at 11:38 am

      The doctor didn’t drop; his name is Nick Sunderland. He managed, even with his extended break(s) and kidney scare, to finish in under 36 hours. Also ran with him last year at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, dudes got grit. Nice race report.

      -Chris

      • Mitch

        2015-08-27 at 11:42 am

        Awesome! He was moving really well and looked totally solid, so I’m super glad he continued. Thanks for letting me know.

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