The race started with 2 frantic days of organizing, rushing, packing, airport pickups, etc. I squeezed one little run in, and managed to get some reasonable sleep, but it was pretty hectic. I guess in my very, very limited experience, this is just how it goestm during the days leading up to a big race. Perhaps if I ran more of them I would have a system… perhaps not.
We drove up to Manning for the package pickup, drop bag drop, and briefing. I didn’t learn anything, so that was good. A very large number of people seemed to have very little idea what was going on. “Can I get a bus to Manning tomorrow?” “No… the race starts in Keremeos…” That kinda thing. I later spoke with a newly acquired friend who said “A lot of these people have no idea what they’re getting into…” Funny. Lots of intense dudes. Every single person had some sort of race t-shirt on. Almost every one said “100” on it. One guy had a Badwater jacket. Apparently there were some multiple Hardrock finishers in the crowd. Yeesh.
I also did some pre-race testing for UBC, which involved a very long process of various tests, like a grip strength test, a little computer reaction speed test, and some crazy ECG (or was it EKG?) tests. Lots of very attractive and friendly UBC girls doing the testing. That’s how they rope you in… Smart. It was fun.
The last test was a vertical jump test. (Of course) I have a completely illogical and possibly delusional belief that I have an excellent vertical jump. So I was excited for this one. However, I thought, and said to several strangers: “Someone is gonna blow an achilles on this one!”
Well, of course it was me, the man with arguably the worst achilles in the business. I couldn’t believe it. I actually tweaked my achilles on my last attempt, the day before a 120 mile run. I think I did 20.5 inches, which my brother dismissed as being shitty, but he’s like a foot taller than me and played basketball. Whatever man, screw you.
At the testing people were friendly and sociable, and I met a couple people, Tim from North Van and Matt from Ottawa. After the testing I offered Matt a lift to the hotel in Princeton (rather than being stuck taking the bus, which, as everyone knows, sucks.) We ended up adopting him into our family for the rest of the weekend, sharing rides to the various spots, and hotels rooms and such. It was cool.
We drove up to Princeton afterwards, and promptly booked a second hotel room: after listening to Dad snoring the night before, which actually drove my very tolerant brother into another room, there was no way I was sleeping in the same room as him. So I dropped another hundred bucks and kicked him out. I’m such a loving son! Good practice for his retirement home, I told him. “See Dad? They have a railing in the shower, so you won’t fall down! You’ll like it here!”
My diet the day before the race was terrible. I made awesome bacon and eggs for breakfast, but the rest of the day was a write-off. Since I’ve been avoiding carbs pretty much the last three weeks, I was a bit hesitant to eat … well… anything. I had some nasty turkey pepperoni things and some almond milk for lunch. And a bit of cheddar cheese, haha. What an idiot. Then for dinner I had a shrimp salad, which was exactly: 4 little shrimps in butter and a plate of lettuce. Ah, small town dining.
So needless to say I was pretty worried about my pre-race nutrition.
Thankfully the day before was perfectly healthy, gluten and dairy free, and carb supplemented with a ton of white rice, so I think that helped. And my diet through my taper was pretty solid.
My sleep the night before was pretty good. Well, as good as could be expected. My throat was a bit sore, as it had been throughout pretty much my entire taper. Which had me really worried. My shin was definitely still sore, which had me really worried. I was massaging it constantly at any chance I got, and it was giving me crazy anxiety. Otherwise I felt ok.
I had the craziest dream:
I was hanging out with the family (and Ross) and I was thinking about the race, which I had completed. I even checked my watch, and saw that it was August 18th, so the race was 2 days ago… But I couldn’t remember any of it. I remembered setting up my gear in my Gregory pack, the gels and stuff. I remembered lining up at the bridge for the starting line, but then after that, nothing. I couldn’t remember one second of the race. And so I was wracking my brain trying to recall anything at all! Really freaking out. At one point I leaned in to Ross, to confide in him like “Dude, this is crazy but … I literally cannot remember any of the race!!?”
And at that point I woke up with a start, like “Oh shit, I haven’t run the race yet!” Almost like one of those “I missed my exam” nightmares. So bizarre.
Anyway, the 10 AM start helped with the good night’s sleep, versus say, a 4 AM start! I guess with a race this long it makes no sense to bother people with a crazy early start.
For breakfast I had a packet of UCan (Vanilla protein kind) and that’s about it. Later at the race start I did another (Chocolate protein kind!) and that was it. Because the start was raining and kinda overcast, I put on my black shorts, rather than my short-shorts. However, after walking all the way down the hill to the start location I had a bad feeling… Call me superstitious, but I sent Ross back up to the truck to get my short-shorts. Disaster averted. I changed behind someone’s car, and I was ready to race.
Some dude saw the whole thing transpire (hopefully he didn’t see me bending over to change) so he joked about my short-shorts decision every time I saw him during the race. He was a cool guy, a relay runner from North Van I think.
I lined up at the front of the pack. I knew well enough that if I could maintain my plan, I wouldn’t be too slow. I also knew that the hiking was going to be really slow for everyone, so why not avoid the traffic jam. Since the course is single file right off the start, it was gonna get sticky. A few guys looked pretty pro in their fancy-pants Salomon gear and neon outfits, but I’m thankfully over being too impressed with ultra runners, so I wasn’t too nervous at the start, and didn’t feel too out of place. Matt looked very zen and was keeping quiet, so I didn’t bother him too much and left him to do his thing.
Leg 1: Cathedral (Start to Ashnola River Road)
At 10 AM, the bear banger went off, and so did we. Straight up a hill. People would later say the start was the hardest part of the whole course! Ha. I actually love the start and so I can’t really comment on how steep it is. It’s definitely a hike!
About a dozen guys (at most) took off ahead of me, I figured, and I got passed a few times, but in general the pace was pretty good. The rain held off and the weather was nice and relatively cool. Things were going well, 15 minutes into the race. (Ha! No shit.) However my left hip started hurting pretty much immediately, which was somewhat concerning… Only 119 miles to go. (In the end, it would hurt for the entire time. Not too badly though.)
The funny thing about this race is that everyone looks tough as hell. The Badwater guy powerhiked passed me. He said he ran it in 39 hours. (He also said he puked and shit himself the entire time, which was hilarious.) The guy I was hiking with had calves like freakin’ beach balls. We chatted a fair bit, but if I recall his pace was a bit faster than mine, and I let him go.
The hiking went on for a while, people chatting here and there. I don’t remember much of this section. Near the top, I was caught by Tim from North Van. He knew the area really well and gave me geography / trail lessons, and talked about crazy shit like the dominance hierarchy of black bears versus grizzly bears.
Eventually we hit the first aid station. A few people stopped, and I just flew on through, so I think it was at this point that I lost Tim and one other guy I’d been chatting with.
We hiked up the rocky bit towards the peak, and soon I was on new, uncharted terrain. The top was rocky and the going was fairly slow. It was probably here that I met up with the giant calves guy, whose name was Jake. He ended up being a super friendly guy, and we had very similar paces. I was running anything flat or downhill, and walking anything uphill. He was doing the exact same, so it was working out. We chatted a bunch, he was super cool, and things were going well.
On the downhills though, he was leaving me in the dust. I was unable (and/or unwilling) to keep up with him, so on that very, very long descent out of Cathedral I lost him. From what I can recall I did basically most of that run down the hill alone. And it was rough. Despite being only about 20 km into the race, my ankles were already sore. Because you’re running along the side of a hill, your ankles are at a funny angle the whole time… and this goes on for ever. It’s very hard.
Finally, after a completely impossible-to-remember descent, we arrived at the first Aid Station, at Ashnola River Road. Some guy in a race t-shirt was like “how did you do up there?” with this really inquisitive look on his face. I thought that was odd and was like “uh…. fine…?” I realized later he was probably screening runners to make sure they weren’t messed up already, but it was so early in the race I didn’t realize. Sorry if I gave you attitude, guy. Stop being so intense at km 33, though.
I grabbed my next bag from my crew and basically didn’t even pause, and took off down the gravel road towards leg 2. I didn’t even see Jake, but my crew told me that he’d been telling his crew “I want to keep running with that guy, I like his pace.” Wish I’d known that I would have waited up a second for him! Hope his race went well.
According to the Garmin I finished the first leg in about 3:54, about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. All that time appears to have been made up in the first climb, where I made it to the Cathedral aid station in about 2:05, versus 2:15 planned. The distance on the Garmin was about 28 km versus 29 in the race guide.
Leg 2: Trapper (Ashnola River Road to Bonnevier)
After leaving Ashnola I was back on familiar terrain, having hiked the ascent to Flattop Mountain a few weeks prior. I hit my stride pretty well on the road, and caught up to a guy (or did he catch me?) who then sorta stuck with me for a while after we made that sharp turn up into the sandy switchbacks. We chatted for a while, though I don’t recall his name. He had done Leadville the same year I did, apparently. One other person had too. Jake, perhaps? Pretty funny.
Eventually I dropped him on the hills though, and ran most of this section alone.
The burned out forest bit comes sooner than you think, and I was making great time through here. The trail had been flagged very well, and quite a bit of the brush / plants had been cleared, so despite tons of new growth it was actually easier to run than when I’d visited previously.
As I neared the top of the burnt section I saw a guy ahead of me, wearing a jacket and moving very slowly. As I passed I asked if he was ok and he was definitely not ok. His face was very pale, and his lips were kinda looking a bit blue. I recognized him from earlier, but we’d not spoken. He was carrying an empty water bottle, saying how dehydrated he was, how he was feeling terrible, woozy, etc. I didn’t actually think he was dehydrated, since it was so early in the race and it wasn’t really hot out at all, unless he’d been out shooting tequila all night. Plus there was a beautiful stream about 10 feet to our left! So I offered him some fuel and asked him if I could help, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do. I think he just need to sit down and chill. I let him know the aid station was fairly close, and wished him luck. Ultra running is crazy, that you can suddenly just take this turn and feel like death after “only” maybe 40 km of running.
A little further on, an aid station volunteer came running back, asking if I was the dehydrated guy. Nope, he’s just back there! And off I went.
I ran through the aid station feeling great. I filled up a bit of water in a 10 oz flask and stole a gel, as I was worried I wasn’t going to have enough. Dave, the guy we did trail maintenance with was there, and recognized me, so that was really cool and encouraging. I took off out of there feeling great. I’m guessing this was the best part of the day, for me.
I hit that aid station at about 5:06 total, so just over 1:10 for that leg, just about bang on to my plan of 1:15 for that leg. Strava lists the distance at about 35.4 km, pretty much bang on with 36 in the race guide.
Shortly after the aid station I passed someone else, a guy dressed like a crazy adventurer with all this gear on like he was running the Marathon Des Sables. I thought he must be dying of the heat. He was moving pretty well but just not as quickly as me, so I just squeaked by.
From here I ran around the lake, getting my feet really wet in the swampy section. I didn’t even bother trying to avoid it, just powered through. It would be impossible to stay dry through this section, I think. After that it took much longer than I remembered to get out into the alpine meadow, but eventually it happened. Here I saw two more guys way off in the distance, but they were moving really well. When I looked back I could see several people behind me, coming up the meadow, so I kept the pace up just a smidge, and just kept powerhiking. The terrain was really slow, just rutty and full of gopher holes and frost heaves and stuff, no real trail. Eventually it turned into the “descent” off Flattop Mountain.
Again, I can’t remember much of this, because the descents are just endless in this race. You just hit these downhill sections that are so long, so consistent, and the terrain is so similar, it just feels like an eternity. From the top of this mountain I was on new terrain, and I knew this was a section where getting lost was a real possibility, so I kept my eyes peeled for markers. Thankfully I followed the trail easily and made no mistakes.
During this really long down bit, I felt a blister forming under my left big toe, right in the crease. I guess my wet socks were bunching up on the decline. It wasn’t too concerning, but I did stop to clear some dirt and rocks out of my socks and try to clean it up. Didn’t help much, but thankfully my brother and I had decided to stash fresh socks and some bodyglide at the next aid station, in a drop bag! Genius. So when I finally tore through there I changed into fresh socks. Glorious! I took a gel and some Stinger chews from the drop bag and refilled the 10 oz again, and off I went.
This section, from Calcite to the river, was supposedly 7 km. I remember it feeling really long, and I was definitely getting tired at this point. A relay runner blew past me, which really bugs the hell out of you. He was friendly and supportive, but it still sucks! After that though, it was a real trudge. This was the section that I’d done my trail maintenance on, and so I had an idea of what was coming. But it was still longer than expected. (Definitely the theme for the race!)
Finally I hit the Pasayten river. I charged into the river crossing and damn, it wasn’t easy! I lurched my way through, as quickly as possible, and popped out the other side with no need to stop at the aid station. I might have grabbed a single chip, which I think the aid station person found kinda funny, grabbed my highway-patrol approved reflective bib, and headed up towards the road.
Now yet again, this section was incredibly slow. First of all, the driveway to the river was sooooo long. Then we hit the highway, and it went on forever. A few cars honking and cheering, so that was kinda nice. I was moving well, certainly, but didn’t feel great. I was not even 66 km into the race and I was tired. Later, a buddy would remark “That section was enough to make you never want to run on the road ever again!”
I waited a bit to cross, and then met my crew. They had a stump for me to sit on while I changed into my good pair of shoes and some dry socks and bodyglide. Then they basically just handed me my pack and off I went!
I had reached Bonnevier at 8:46 total, which is exactly according to plan, meaning I was a bit slow over that last section, having lost my little lead. No biggie, I didn’t want a lead. The distance at Bonnevier was about 65 km on the clock versus 66 km in the guide.
Leg 3: Bonnevier (Highway 3 to Heather Trail)
Unfortunately, my planning here was kinda shitty, so the pack my crew handed me weighed like 30 lbs. It was filled with: headlamp, spare batteries, beanie, gloves, arm sleeves, calf sleeves, windbreaker, water bladder with 2 L of water, 2 x 10 oz bottles with perpetuem and UCan, a ton of gels and chews and stuff, and an emergency space blanket. What the fuck! I literally could not run. I was immediately in a rage. I was so angry! I had told them “It’s going to be very cold on top of the mountain at night” after I’d descended off the first mountain (Cathedral) and so they’d loaded me up with gear. Goddamnit! Didn’t they feel how heavy this was??
I half ran, half hiked on, angrily. Some dude blew past me. He was going pretty damned fast, running up the inclines. I couldn’t compete with that, no way. Especially not with this 40 lb pack on my back. He waited for me a bit and chatted a bit, and was a nice guy, but hardly carrying anything and moving super well. He took off and I was left to my own devices.
Eventually you cut off the dirt road and onto the dark scary trail, which is probably the grossest section of the course, except maybe for much of the Skagit valley / Centennial Trail bit. Kinda overgrown and muggy and blah, but steep.
As I was angrily powerhiking I saw what I thought was a blue shirt through the trees. I turned the corner and saw nothing. I hike some more, and again, saw a glimpse of blue shirt. The guy I’d been chatting with previous was wearing gray, I was sure of it! But again, when I turned the corner, there was no one there. I thought “Damn, am I hallucinating this guy?” It really felt like it. I would see a glimpse of blue but then when there was a long clear section, there was no one! I eventually stopped looking for it, and just put my head down. Hallucination or not, I still needed to keep hiking.
Finally though, I did catch a guy in blue, and it was the guy that had blown past me earlier. His name was Kristian, and we settled into a matched pace after a short while. As I knew this section, I gave him some of the beta – Hike up the shale mountain, then a fairly significant descent, then right back up to the top of Bonnevier trail on several easy switchbacks. And that’s pretty much exactly how it went. My pack was bugging the shit out of me but I was drinking and eating it up, so it was slowly, slowly getting lighter.
We ran together for a long time, and then decided to put our headlamps on, as night fell. We helped each other sort out our gear, then kept moving. I think it was through here that I started to feeling kinda nauseous and shitty. I was still moving ok, but generally just felt ill. We kept moving up those switchbacks, which are really runnable but definitely up hill (so we didn’t run them.) The pace felt incredibly slow, and at night you tend to go even slower. I was definitely not feeling well though, and pretty much had to stop eating gels at this point. I was gonna barf them all up, anyway.
Finally we emerged into the alpine and started to make our way to the Bonnevier / Heather trail junction aid station. I think we passed a relay runner on this section, though I could be just imagining that. It was fully dark out, and the moon was trying, but failing, to make much of an appearance. Up in the alpine the wind picked up significantly, and I was getting really cold. My short-shorts and 6 Foot singlet were not exactly mountain gear. I didn’t want to hold up Kristian any more than I’d already been, with pee breaks and stupid shit, so I just kept going. I was so nauseous that I had kinda hot and cold sweats anyway, so I didn’t want to get too warm.
You hit that aid station fairly quickly. I think my goal for that climb was 3:15 and I believe we hit it in about 3:20, which was great. I ate a couple of chips at the aid station, while Kristian refilled his bladder, I think. While I was standing there though, I immediately became super cold. I started shivering uncontrollably, and frantically started digging through my pack for my cold weather gear. I put everything on, but could not find my wind breaker! The aid station girl was asking if I had a jacket, and I figured I did, but maybe the crew had forgotten it?? I dug around but couldn’t find it. If I didn’t start moving soon I was gonna die up here, I was shivering so badly. My whole body was like flexed / convulsed, I was so cold. She handed me her husband’s fleece jacket, just as I left the aid station. I had to get moving, or I was gonna be fucked.
As we were running off my jaw was clenched so tight from the cold and my neck and back were shivering so hard I pulled a muscle in my back! Crazy.
But, once we started moving it eased off quickly and I felt better. I was very glad I hadn’t taken all my heavy gear out and thrown it away earlier in a fit of rage! Haha. That would have been a potentially race-ending move!
Leg 4: Heather Trail (Bonnevier/Heather junction to Cascade)
We were now on the big, long descent section down from Heather. The very, very long descent. First thing’s first though, we needed to get across this long alpine section. I knew the trail was pretty fast, but undulating, with several ups and downs. I was still very nauseous, but happy to be moving again, and very happy to be nearing the halfway point of the race. I was really, really tired.
Shortly after leaving Heather aid station Kristian and I passed a dude. He was tall, with legs like tree trunks, and a sweet beard. I think he was Spanish maybe, from the one or two words I heard. He looked like he was kinda cramping a bit, and we moved passed him fairly well, as a relay runner once again blew past us. Goddamnit. I hate getting passed.
The night was very dark, and the mountain was covered in fog. We could hardly see anything, our headlamps just shining onto a foggy white reflection. At one point, we got a bit lost. We tried to use our lights to find markers, but couldn’t find anything. I took off a short ways down the trail, and found a marker, but was confused, and thought I’d been running backwards. Had I been alone, I would have taken off back towards the aid station! That would have been a disaster. But the Spanish guy came running towards us, and I realized I had actually found the next marker. Phewf. Good thing I wasn’t alone!
This section, again, is never-ending. I mean we ran and ran and ran and ran… and finally hit the sign that says “9 km to Nicomen lake”. Nine!!? Oh my god. I was very sick and still not eating anything, for fear of puking. Kristian was really pulling me along, as he was still moving great. We just kept trudging. It was really late, like midnight, maybe 1 AM? It was hard. My core felt very hot and nauseous, and but my skull and arms were ice cold. If I put my gear on, I was too hot. It was really terrible. My legs were sore, I’m sure, though I can’t remember.
Finally, after a goddamn eternity, we climbed the last climb and hit the ridge at Nicomen Lake! That was fun, I like that spot. We descended fairly quickly, albeit gingerly, on our destroyed quads, me taking the lead, and though it felt longer than before (as always) we eventually hit the aid station. The time from Heather to Nicomen was apparently around 2:20, compared to my estimate of 2:05, which was admittedly pretty aggressive. Had I not been sick, this would have been doable. The distance at Nicomen is about 99 km, so you’re basically halfway at this point, or right up on the ridge. Which is cool. I wish the race would have a much bigger party at Nicomen hut, to make it a lot more enjoyable!
The aid station is really remote, and it showed. The poor guys were struggling with almost no gear, a very meagre fire… I don’t even know if they had lights! Kristian was struggling with some nutrition issues as well, I think, so he had to do some messing around with his pack. I ate a few pringles and pretty much bear hugged the fire pit to keep warm. I had to get moving or I was going to get hypothermic again! I had a bit of water and some electrolytes for good measure, and a few more pringles.
Eventually we go out of there. I knew from here it was basically 1 hour of near constant running descent. It is at this point that I can safely say: My legs were fucking killing me. We’d run half of the race, almost exactly, and the long descent was just pounding my poor knees. The pace was nice and I was slightly less nauseous, due to not having to put out a lot of effort, so perhaps that’s why I can remember the leg pain more now.
We just ran, and ran, and ran. I think we got passed by another relay runner, but we also caught one. She was moving really well, and was wearing tights and a beanie! My god, I was so hot and so miserable, at this point, I couldn’t even imagine. She had these reflectors on the heels of her tights that made it look like she was riding a bicycle, Kristian said. It was indeed very disorienting!
We finally hit the Grainger Trail junction, and made that sharp turn to the left, along the river, on Hope Trail. This section is still very runnable for the most part, but gets sloppier and more undulating, and definitely slower. And of course, it’s incredibly long. We hopped over muddy streams and slowly picked our way down the mountain. We chatted sometimes, and ran in silence lots of times, mostly just trying to accept the pain and settle into a rhythm: just keep moving. Run the flats and downhills, hike the ups as fast as you can. Just keep moving.
Eventually you cross the river, a big log crossing lit with tons of green glow sticks hanging in space. Really cool, and a big accomplishment. Peter (the assistant Race Director) told us that this is the location where the vast majority of runners will drop. I can certainly understand why. The aid station was really appealing, lots of really friendly volunteers, and good snacks. I ate some more Pringles, basically having eaten nothing but a dozen chips in the last 5 hours. I ate a little mini Mars Bar.
The girl working at the station said “Did you know you’re in 3rd and 4th place?” and I laughed. I did think so (someone had told Kristian at the last aid station, I think?) but it still was ridiculous to hear it. Who would have thought??
It had taken us about 2:24 to get down from Nicomen to Cayuse, which is better than I thought! My goal was 2:00, again, pretty aggressive. Well, at this point none of that concerned me, I just wanted to be finished, at this point! Cayuse is 117 km into the race, and at this point I’d been running for about 17 hours.
We left that aid station and I was encouraged and feeling good. For about 1 minute. Then the enormity of our task hit me in the face like… a punch in the face. The next section, Cayuse Flats to Cascade, was 7 km long. In training this had taken me 50 minutes – I figured at least an hour and 15, at this point. As we hiked, it became apparent that my belief that this part was flat and relatively runnable was completely out to lunch. It was a hilly hell. I mean, some of this section was the literally the steepest bit of the entire course, I think. We climbed, and climbed, and climbed. It was incredible. And then the descents! My god, my quads were just so sore, going downhill was terrible. My left ankle, which had been hurting literally from the first descent off Cathedral, was in agony the whole time. Ugh.
But whatever. Just keep moving. What else can you do? Stopping certainly does you no good. I was counting down the distance, but it was going incredibly slowly. You can’t believe when you’re running 12 minutes per kilometre, how freaking long it takes to even go 100 m when you’re staring at your watch. Torture. Pure torture.
Luckily though, thank God, the aid station appeared early! I couldn’t believe it! Just as I saw saying we might have 2 km to go, there it was.
We ran up the driveway to Cascade, and met up with our crews. I was feeling really miserable and had to get some more pringles. My pack was still basically full of all the stuff I hadn’t eaten during the last leg, so I was worried I was going to crash and burn without some calories. But eating a ton of chips wasn’t too great for the old stomach either. I had a few more little mini chocolate bars. Delicious.
It had taken us 1:10 to get from Cayuse to Cascade, which was actually incredibly fast, given how I felt. In training (and my goal time) had been about 50 minutes. That seemed physically impossible! A 20 minutes loss over 7 km is a pretty bad stretch. Cascade distance was 125 km. Gettin’ up there…
I waited a bit for Kristian, and forgot to use the bathroom, which I’d had to do for the last 2 hours. I (reasonably) just hadn’t felt like trying to poop in the middle of the woods, in the dark, in the freezing cold, with Kristian either waiting for me, or running off ahead of me. So I had waited. And here I was at the aid station and completely forgot to go.
After a short while he was ready, so we grabbed our safety vests for another highway crossing, and took off. Fran joined us here, for his pacing duties. From my point of view, this was the halfway point of the race. 125 km done, and you take a big turn towards the South-West: you’re no longer headed away from the finish line! Great! Haha. Only, what, 12 hours to go? At best!?
Leg 5: Skagit Valley (Cascade to Skyline)
Now, in my mind, and in my experience, the next section of the race was going to be where I made up some good time. It was flat, it was fast, and if I was good on any terrain compared to most ultra-runners, it was on flat! I am living in Richmond, after all.
Well, that might be true, if I hadn’t just run 125 km up and down a thousand goddamn mountains, and it wasn’t 4 AM. We hit the highway section and my God, it hurt. It hurt real bad. I knew Kristian (like most ultra runners) hated roads, and I could feel his misery like a warm glow. I was doing relatively well, and tried pushing it a bit, to just get it over with, but I was charging my Garmin so I couldn’t see my pace.
After another unbelievably long time, we turned into Sumallo Grove. My crew skipped this aid station, since it was only about 4 km past the last one, and they had a long ways to drive to get to the next stop. I finally used the bathroom and must have lost about 15 lbs. God I should have done that sooner. My guts didn’t feel too hot.
The Sumallo section really is fast, and we made good time to Delacey Camp. From here, we were again on new terrain that I had not explored. Unfortunately, the terrain took a turn for the worse: lots of twists and turns and root and little ups and downs that were just impossible to get a rhythm. And the downs were rooty and rocky and the flat bits were overgrown. Ugh. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how slowly we were moving! I had seriously misjudged the previous record holder’s race, through this section: I had assumed his pace was the result of feeling like crap, when in actuality, it was the result of the trail being crap. Damnit. I definitely should have given him more credit. (In my defence, discrediting him was a mechanism to allow me to develop an irrational belief that I could kick ass, which is a good thing, right? Now I can confirm he is a beast, though I still think he could run a much faster race.)
So we slogged on. Slogged and slogged. Eventually, I broke, and asked Fran how far we’d gone. “16 km since Cascade”. Fuck! That was only 12 km from Sumallo, so still 5 km to go! Insanity. I couldn’t believe it. I was very angry. Haha. God I was in pain.
In the end of that section though, it opened up a bit and I was able to move, probably doing sub-7 minute km’s, maybe even 6:30’s. At this point I kinda felt like Kristian started lagging a bit. I heard him say to Fran he should go ahead and run with me, and I tried to reassure him that we’re in no rush, just keep moving, you’re doing fine! But over just the next could km’s I could feel him suffering more and more. (He is human after all!) All night he’d been very positive, mostly saying he felt good, but for the first time he said to me “My Achilles is really sore” and that was cause for concern.
Suddenly Ross was there on the trail. What a sight for sore eyes! He took off towards the station, to warn them of our arrival. He yelled out “First place dropped!” and just like that, we were in second and third…
We quickly hit the Shawatum aid station after a tiny little out and back, and I grabbed my new pack. Kristian sat down on a chair, and looked very tired. His crew was attending to him, and he told me to go on without him. I gave him a hug and thanked him for getting me through the night. I would never had survived without him. Or if I had, it would have been with a lot of sitting down…
The total time to Shawatum was about 20:53 for 145 km. The split from Cascade was basically 3 hours. Three hours to run 20 km on the so called “fastest part of the course”. Ha.
We did a very quick little aid station change. My vampire sister tried to spray me with sunscreen when I wasn’t looking and I nearly was disqualified for murdering her. Then some aid station attendant came at me with another spray can! I put my hands up and backed away and said “Whatever that is, I don’t want it!” and he goes “bug spray” and I assured him they weren’t bothering me, which he couldn’t seem to believe. I did get attacked a bit, but I’m relatively unaffected by mosquitoes, so it wasn’t a big deal. Certainly not the nightmare that most race reports have described, although I can see how it could get a lot worse. Thankfully we were still running quite well.
Fran and I left Shawatum, leaving Kristian behind. I immediately skipped into the woods to take a dump again. My guts were still pretty screwed. Was quick though and we settled back into our pace.
I was pretty motivated to get this damned run over, and we were getting close to the end. We had to do 15 km’s or so to get to Skyline, and then, in my mind, it was over. Just 15 km’s to go… They were, of course, horrible. Again, very rutty and slow terrain, lots of growth and despite the fact that it was relatively flat, we weren’t moving very well. Bugs, pain, bugs, pain, nausea, pain, bugs. I can’t remember any of the start of this section.
Finally though, it flattened out. It actually flattened out and opened up, and I felt it: the end was near. We started to pick up the pace, and I was probably almost running sub-6 minute km’s. I could hear Fran struggling to keep up, and that was good, that meant I was moving well! I kept pushing it, desperately wanting to stop, of course, every step of the way, but knowing full well that in the end, it wouldn’t help. No, the best thing to do is just settle into a painful rhythm.
A few minutes (or was it 45 minutes? An hour? two hours? Who knows. Sense of distance and time totally fail you after 23 hours of running!) Fran said “We’re approaching dropville…” meaning – He was done. He said “Don’t slow down, we’re almost there…” and stopped to walk. I was buoyed even further, and kept on moving. The out and back at Skyline station was a lot longer than Shawatum, but both are very runnable and slightly downhill.
As I was approaching, all the 20 milers were just leaving their start! So I got like 30 people cheering me on, as I ran down the trail. That was pretty awesome. I got to the station and Ross was ready to roll. I asked the aid station guy that critical question: “Do you have chips?”
I grabbed my new pack, my hat, avoided my vampire family’s sunscreen attempts, and off we went. A guy who looked like a runner was at the aid station and I asked him “Is it possible to hike this thing in 7 hours?” and he says confidently “oh, yeah, sure.” With that, we took off.
Apparently he immediately turns to my crew, shrugs and goes, “Well, I mean, I assume so.”
I reached Skyline in a total time of 22:48, ish. Pretty cool stuff. My split from Shawatum was about 1:55, so finally under one of my target paces (2:05, which was a total guess.) The section was about 13 km long on my Garmin, versus 15 in the guide. Thank God.
Leg 6: Skyline (Skyline aid station to Lightning Lake)
In my psychological preparation for the race, I had entirely ignored this section. I hadn’t trained on it. I hadn’t thought about it. All I needed to do was reach Skyline. The 100 mile mark. Just get to Skyline, and it’s over. I had done it. 100 miles, in sub-23 hours (incredibly). I nearly beat my Leadville time of 22:35! That would have been super cool.
Now only one little obstacle remained: the hardest part of the course. 20 miles along Skyline trail, including 11 km’s straight up, and then dozens more of ups and downs and ups and downs over four other summits, with numerous little ups and down between them. All this after running 100 miles.
The goal then now, of course, was threefold: A) to finish, B) to not get passed, and finish in 2nd, and C) to complete this section in less than 7 hours, so that I could get under 30 hours.
I knew that if nothing went severely wrong, A) and B) should be doable. I didn’t see anyone passing me on hiking-steep uphills, which is arguably my biggest strength. I also knew I had probably a 30 minute lead on anyone behind me, maybe even Kristian. Not that I cared if Kristian passed me, but I didn’t want to get passed by anyone else. As for the arbitrary 7 hours? Well… I had no idea. I’d heard “plan on 8 hours”. It seemed doable. 35 km in 7 hours is only 12 minutes per km. Even with some insane hiking that should be easily doable. Maybe?
So we hiked. Right off the bat, straight up hill. Perfect. I was happy with that. I told Ross, the more uphill, the better. Frankly hiking uphill was a hell of a lot better than running down it. We were stoked that the 20 milers had just left, because it meant we’d have people to chase. Better to be the hunter than the hunted!
We quickly reeled one guy in, who was seriously chillin’. I think he was just happy to be out going for a hike. We then rapidly caught up to 3 more girls, one of which was like “I’m so glad I saw you, it’s just so amazing!”
So we were definitely making good time on the climbs. Up and up and up. A few really steep sections gave me pause, but honestly I was having no real difficulty and didn’t believe that anyone would be gaining on me.
Finally we reached the top and started into the ups and downs. People will say various things: 5 mini-peaks. 8 false summits. 4 more mountains. I honestly didn’t care. I was moving well, we had a long ways to go (I was used to it by now. Just run forever, look at Garmin, realize you went like half a kilometre, or less. Repeat ad nauseam.)
It was so nice to break into the alpine again. The sun was coming out a bit, and the wind was nice and cool. The views were awesome, including a fantastic lake down below. I didn’t remember seeing it on any map, but I knew it wasn’t Lightning Lake. Strike Lake? Flash Lake? Thunder Lake? Ha, sweet names. Not sure which one it was.
Unfortunately, we ran into a major, major issue: I crested a steep climb broke into a jog on the descent, and my knee just suddenly felt like, swollen. Within 10 steps it went from feeling normal, to feeling like the whole thing was swollen solid. I couldn’t move it. I couldn’t step on it. I tried to walk and nearly buckled from the pain. Oh shit. I don’t get acutely injured very often, but this … this was pretty major.
I didn’t know what to do. What could I do?? I pulled my calf sleeve up over my knee, like a tensor bandage, and it killed. Fuck, how could that hurt so much? I pulled it down, and it hurt more. I pulled it back up, and it hurt less? Or was it more? I tried walking on it and it was fucked. I mean, I was done for. I couldn’t believe it. We had 23 km and 4 more mountain peaks to hike, and I was down to one leg!
I yelled. I swore. “FUCK!” It felt very ineffective and really did nothing to alleviate my pain. It’s hard to be angry when you’re so freakin’ tired. Well, nothing to do but keep moving. If I get passed, I get passed. I started hopping / shuffling.
Being passed was my major hangup. I really, really hate being passed. It usually means you are an idiot who ran too fast, and fucked it up. I guess being injured is a fairly legitimate reason for being passed, as are several others, but still, I felt like I’d failed my only goal: to run consistently and finish strong. I’d fucked it up. I ran too hard and hurt myself pushing too much. Damn. I was really frustrated. I didn’t cry through, so that’s something.
But anyway, we kept hobbling. I realized that if I kept my leg completely straight, it didn’t hurt. It’s hard to hike up and down a steep mountain without bending a leg, but it’s possible. It’s very slow, as you might expect. On the flats I could do this weird wooden leg gait that actually could net me under 12 mins per km. Could it still be done? I doubted it.
However, miraculously, God himself reached down with his physiotherapist fingers from heaven and somehow, magically, my knee loosened up. Or perhaps my brain was so goddamn cooked by this point that it just stopped caring? Or perhaps I had so many weird anti-inflammatory chemicals coursing through my blood by this point that I heeled like Wolverine. Whatever it was (Thanks, Jesus!) I was able to use it again. Honestly, it was incredible.
I still could not use it for downhills, but I could move fast uphill. I could move fast enough to make Ross sweat, and I figured that should be more than enough to avoid us getting losing ground on the ups. And so we shuffled. We kept passing 20 miler people, because we were still haulin’ on the ups, which was cool. We refilled our water at Mowich (or was it the other one? Skyline junction?) and I felt bad for taking water, because they hardly had any. I was (legitimately, I think) concerned about being out there for like, 10 more hours though, so I think it was the right decision.
On the flats I discovered I could just barely jog, just the slightest amount, maybe 8 min/km, which was also enough to keep anyone from gaining any significant ground. So we kept going. I perfect a few techniques for going downhill. The “one-legged horse clop”, which I accentuated with clip-clop sound effects. The “one-legged right hand crab shuffle”, which worked well for the steep stuff. Both were incredibly slow, and my good left leg was getting destroyed, but hey, we were moving and wouldn’t die up here. That was something. My right leg, besides my injury, was swelling like crazy behind my knee. Hamstring? Calf? Something else? Jesus it hurt. My left ankle, which had been hurting for ever (seriously, for 140 km? further?) was taking the brunt of it. Whatever. I didn’t care. Get me to the finish line!
After a super sharp climb to the very peak, and a little rocky descent (which everyone describes as this “super steep technical descent”, but it’s actually like 12 feet of slightly rocky terrain, totally easy) we finally hit the last section: a perfect, perfectly runnable, smooth forest trail. If my form was perfect, and the ground was smooth, I could run. We ran. I actually hit sub-7 minute km’s, and we just kept cruising. 40 minutes or so, I think of continuous, perfectly flat descent. If I hadn’t been hurt, it would have been the fastest part of the entire race.
Finally, we hit the lake.
Finally, we hit the bridge. (Where I randomly ran into, almost literally, a buddy of mine out camping with his family.)
Finally, we saw the finish line.
We cruised around the back of the lack at my safe yet reasonably fast pace. Took quite a while, but I’d been told (adamantly, almost angrily, perhaps bitterly) by some woman that it was “1.5 kilometres from the bridge”. I could handle that. 11 minutes. It took less than that. We sped along, nearly took a wrong turn (ha) and then next thing you know, scooted over the finish line. It was over!?
Incredibly, the final time was 28:45:43. We had crossed the entire Leg 6, 32 km, in 5:45, absolutely crushing our goal time. I honestly could not believe how fast we’d gotten over that section, actually my favourite of the entire race, even with the broken knee.
The finish line celebration was fun, although you know, you’re so out of it you just can hardly figure out what’s going on. Heather (the Race Director) says to me “You know you’re 2nd, right?!” and I said something like “Isn’t that ridiculous!?” (It is.)
It was over. 28:45:43. 2nd place. Who would have thought??
I believe it’s tradition to conclude with this:
I am a fat dog.
Incredible thanks to everyone who directly and indirectly helped me through this race. I am, at best, a very mediocre runner whose results are only due to the concerted efforts of all my family and friends. My crew, my sister, brother and dad, who flew here from all over the country to basically get yelled at for a week, including Ross, who did a great job pacing and got me through that crappy injury.
My friends I met on the course, Kristian, Jake, Matt, Tim. Especially Kristian, who basically carried me the entire night over that Godforsaken Heather trail, and all the way to Skyline! What a beast.
Heather, Peter, and the rest of the unknown and unnamed volunteers who did so much work, and were super friendly the entire time. Even you, aggressive bug-spray man, thank you for your concern!
Even the people on Strava and Facebook who “like” my stupid runs, or the people who tolerate me even if I go to bed at 9 PM and don’t drink beer because I have to run in the morning, thanks for your help. Thanks for Taryn for actually bringing a sewing machine and fixing my busted-ass old Salomon pack together so it was usable!
Though I still maintain that you have to be certifiably insane to ever run a 100 mile course more than once in your life (could you imagine!?) and therefore I will never run this race again, I loved it. The terrain was incredible.
Now I’m going to take up knitting, and if my knee ever heals I’ll start body building or something.
Here is my run on Garmin Connect: Fat Dog 120 on Garmin Connect.
Here is the run on Strava:
Here is the link to my race planning workbook on Google Docs: Fat Dog 120 Race Planning Workbook.
Kristian ended up finishing in 4th place, in a time of 30:14, I believe. He said he was feeling pretty rough, but hopefully was really happy with his race. Incredibly, the nearly-dead guy I passed at Trapper (Avery Collins, was his name) rallied and finished in 3rd, just an hour behind me. Really impressive stuff. The stuff ultras are made of.
First place finisher Matt Cecill, who completely destroyed the course record by like 3 hours, actually approached me to congratulate me, and we chatted a bit. Seems like a nice guy. In fact, everyone was pretty awesome. (They’re all insane, of course.) Ultrarunning, eh?