“Don’t reserve your joy for the perfect outcome. Be grateful for the journey and appreciate the scenery.”
If I could distill my Fat Dog 120 experience down to a single word, it would be laughter. I went in to Fat Dog physically prepared thanks to my coaches and mentally ready to tackle the demons these distances unearth thanks to some creative steps ensuring the ability to maintain positivity. I am not sure I can accurately portray how amazing a time I had during this race in this blog post, but suffice it to say that this was the most fun I have ever had running. Ever.
There were of course multiple doubts before Fat Dog. Was I really prepared for conquering my longest distance yet? Was I mentally ready to truly hold on loosely to my goals and allow them to shift as the day developed? I definitely was not prepared to laugh as much as I did. Upon registering for Fat Dog back in January, my immediate thoughts for the next few weeks were “what have I gotten myself into?” “how do I even train for something as daunting as 120 miles when I don’t even feel confident in my ability to train to a 100 miler?” Thus began my long search for a coach. I knew I needed someone to not only help me develop a good training regime, but also keep me from overtraining out of fear of the distance.
I approached race day feeling confident in my training and experimentation and with not many expectations. As I previously posted, I got to have the time of my life exploring the Fat Dog course a couple weeks prior. On race day, I get to share it with the amazing ultrarunning community. The energy was different this year. I was surrounded by friends with whom I have shared many miles and stories; life. I had my family literally behind me. The specialness of having my parents and dear family friend Rosanne helping me with my biggest challenge yet was indescribable.
“Perseverance is not a long race it is many short races one after another.”
As soon as the gun (read as bear banger) went off, I found myself with my best friends Matt and Dave of Project Talaria. We quickly realized how amazing it was that we were finally running the same race together and not sitting at a computer constantly hitting refresh throughout the night. There were a lot of jokes made in those first few moments, and that set the tone for the rest of my race.
I expected to be running a major chunk of this race alone and in less than an hour I was by myself. The first climb of the race is unending, pacing through scenes from an enchanted forest working towards a dramatic summit.
The descent finally started and it was a bit more technical than I had anticipated so I just tried not to slip and fall on the wet ground and cambered trail. I rolled in to the Ashnola aid station slightly ahead of schedule and was greeted by my best friends from North Van volunteering and taking photos. I knew the aid stations would be stocked with food, but I was not anticipating avocado!
I have been training on a high fat diet for a while and avocados are one of my favorite sources of fuel but are not that great to leave in drop bags. I made my way out to my family to get my pack restocked and began the climb to Calcite. This section was stunning! The forest was burnt out so all the trees were charred black which made the lush greens and vibrant purple flowers visually overwhelm me with beauty. I knew at the end of this second mountain, a river crossing awaited and then I could see my family and Ms. Rosanne again. Crossing the river was every bit as refreshing as I dreamt it to be. It was thigh-deep in places but as soon as I made it to the other end of the rope I sat down for a while and let the cool water energize me. Then it was just a quick couple miles on the highway to get to Bonnivier, my crew, and fresh clothes and shoes. As soon as I popped out on the road, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” came on and I began to hammer which felt great after the seemingly endless descent to get there.
If there was a low point for me during this race, it was here. I took my time at the aid station changing clothes, refueling, and preparing for a long night alone until I got to Cascade (mile 78) where my best bud Peter would be jump in to start pacing me. I had grabbed a grilled cheese to go from the aid station but I just did not want to eat. After an hour of carrying it, I made myself sit down on a log, drink a lot of water and eat. Almost immediately I felt better, knowing I’d made the right decision to take time to get more calories in. The ascent up to Heather is full on. I got back in my groove, jamming to music and just ticked away until I could hear a dog barking in the distance. I knew I was close to the aid station and then the lights began to come in to view from the thick fog. I was munching on the amazing quesadilla and drinking some Guinness, joking with the volunteers when suddenly I hear a voice on my shoulder asking me if I wanted a pacer. It was Nicola and I gladly accepted!! I had paced Nicola on this exact section last year. We immediately got to chatting and she entertained me with numerous stories from her and her boyfriends time on the PCT this summer. The trail was muddier than I anticipated and my shoes, while great for running support and dry non-technical, the brand of my shoes became my new cuss word every time I would slide. “PEARL!!!!!”
What seemed like a short time had passed and we were at Nicomen Lake aid station which was led by one of my best friends Matt. I ate some fresh cooked bacon, refilled my pack, got a big hug and started the long descent to Cayuse. My quad was really starting to become a legitimate issue. A few years ago I injured my left ankle pretty badly and upon returning to running starting favoring my right leg on descents subconsciously to protect my left ankle. That means that after 60+ plus of my right leg taking the brute force of the downhills was taking a toll. I became fixated on “the road” which would signify about 4km until the Cayuse Flats aid station. Thankfully Nicola did not get TOO annoyed at my incessant questioning about where the dang road was. The mood was kept light with singing songs and laughing.
I managed to hold it together to get in to Cascade but was really starting to wonder if I would have to walk the rest of the entire course given the progression (or digression) of my quad. I was only a little more than 1.5 hours off my fast goal time at this point. At Cascade, Nicola graciously worked on a blister and taping my feet up. Peter had the biggest smile. I’d never seen anyone so excited and that energy was definitely making stoked. We started with jokes and laughter within steps of leaving the aid station. It was only a couple miles until the next aid station and it was all on the highway. I told Peter my concerns about my quad as we got into Sumallo Grove he got to work on loosening it up which helped for a while but along the way my quad pain came back stronger than before. This section of the course was a surprise beauty. All I had heard about it was “mosquitoes.” The trail was the softest of the day, hugging a meandering blue-green river topped with early morning fog and surrounded by towering trees. Peter, who was running his furthest distance ever and first time ever pacing, did a phenomenal job. He would get me running when I just wanted to walk and kept me smiling and laughing with story after story.
The downhills were brutalizing me. I would hobble down then start to run the flats and the uphills. Rolling in to Shawatum (mile 90) aid station was a relief. Another pacer change and ‘only’ 30 more miles to go. Just before the turnoff for the aid station, I thought we surely had missed it and I got Peter to run back to make sure we had not missed a turn somewhere. Tara was waiting for me at Shawatum, all smiles and ready to see the stellar views of the Skyline ridge. The next 9 miles were a jungle adventure — swarms of mosquitoes and lots of prickly overbrush. Tara was incredible at motivating me to get to the next aid station. Once there she quickly got me a beer and bacon. I took some pain meds for my quad and off we went. I normally never take anything during a run but my quad hurt so badly.
I was now entering into the unknown with regards to distance. I had that feeling Samwise does in Lord of the Rings “If I take one more step, it will be the furthest I’ve ever gone.” The climb to Sklyine ridge is a beast. I began laughing at just how ridiculous it was but I knew what was coming so I just put my hands on my quads and powered up. Eventually, we reached familiar territory and my quad pain was gone. GONE! I turned back to Tara, smiled, and said “let’s run.” I guess from the miles and hours I’d spent having to walk my energy levels just increased because I felt unstoppable. Tara kept commenting on how good my gate looked and how fast we were motoring. These last 20 miles of the course are the hardest (and not just because it starts at mile 100), but also have rewarding views.
I got to the Skyline Junction aid station and was informed that I was in 10th place. I had not entered Fat Dog with any placement in mind but I decided right then that I would try to see if I could catch 9th and most definitely not get passed again. I could not believe how good I felt on the ‘pumps.’ These climbs are ridiculous and you can see then next one from the one you’re on. I could see people on the next summit and worked hard to pass them before they had descended. Sadly no one I passed was in the 120 mile version of Fat Dog. I knew what to expect and chugged along until we reached the burnt out forest which is the moment you know it’s 5.5 miles of nothing but downhill to the finish. I do not know what pace I was running towards the finish, all I know is Tara kept throwing down the compliments and telling me I was running a 50km race pace, not a 120 mile.
As you reach Lightning Lake you can see the finish line across the lake, and those at the finish line can see you. I could hear the cheering and dug deeper. My dad told me they had been informed from Skyline (99 mile) aid station to expect me to come in hobbling but he recognized Tara’s cape and it was sticking straight out behind her. I was in disbelief that I felt this good, was running this fast, and that my Fat Dog 120 experience was almost over. I did not want it to end. I came around the end of the lake and saw someone had made a wrong turn so I sprinted to pass them (another 30 mile runner). I had such a blast on the course that it only seemed fitting to come rolling across the finish line doing the Gangnam style dance. I wanted everyone to be laughing as much as I had. I ended up crossing in 32:03:09 which was good enough for 10th overall.
I am beyond grateful to have my parents supporting me all along the way. They had a great time, fell in love with the ultrarunning community, and kept me focused. I could not have done this without them. I have some amazing friends who will come out to the middle of nowhere and run in the mountains just to keep me moving and laughing. Nicola, Peter, and Tara, I am so happy to have y’all alongside and will cherish the memories and stories for years to come. Heather Macdonald, Peter Watson, and the multitude of volunteers put on a world class event; congrats and thank you. Thanks to Distance Runwear for all the support and Nuun for keeping me hydrated.
After receiving my colorful belt buckle and eating some food we made our way to a hotel where I passed out and woke up in the middle of the night not too dissimilar from this:
Congrats to all my amazing friends and everyone else who took on and did great in one of the 9 toughest ultras in the world.
- Have a nutrition plan and stick to it, I finally never bottomed out
- Laugh well and often
- I love my family and glad they got to see me doing what I love
- I have amazing friends and hope to one day give back to them the way they did for me
- The ultrarunning community is by far the best ever