Fat Dog 50 miles: my first 50 Miler. It was all Richard’s fault. “BEST race in Canada! You’ve just gotta do it. SO scenic! You’ll love it.” So instead of registering for what I had planned as a 40 mile race, I signed up to run 50 frickin’ miles. Fat Dog actually has several races, all running point-to-point, and all finishing at the same finish line. There’s a 40 miler, a 50 miler, 70 miles, a relay (120 miles) and the flagship race, Fat Dog 120 Miler.
Ferry Buffet- breakfast with Champions!
We had several friends racing the full 120, but they had to arrive earlier than we did since their race was a whole extra day long.
Our group of 4 from Victoria headed up on Friday (left to right Kent, Andrew, myself, and David). We were staying in Hope, so we checked into our hotels, and then headed up to Lightning Lake to check out the finish line. We also stopped at several of the aid stations along the way, just so we could see what it would be like.
Enjoying the river view
While on this reconaissance trip, we came to Bonnevier Aid Station, where the first relay team members were expected to be coming through within the hour. We waited for a bit but they were nowhere in sight. We decided that we wanted to surprise our friend Richard, our 120 mile Fat Dogger. So, in true trail runner style, we begged to borrow a sharpie from a volunteer, and then scrawled graffitti/messages of encouragement all over the lid of his drop bag/box there.
Cheering- ultramarathon style
We had hoped to see him but due to a mandatory briefing we had to attend, the timing would not have worked. Our hope was that it would cheer him up knowing that we were cheering him on. (he told us later that it did. Mission accomplished.)
I was glad to have seen a couple of the aid stations in advance, so I had teeny understanding of what they would look like. It was also nice to explore some of the trails in a calm, peaceful manner. We then headed to a mandatory briefing with Heather the race director.
At the package pickup, they took a photo of us holding our bib number for identification purposes should anything go wrong.
Our buddy Sean, taking Andrew’s ID photo
Between this, and the stern reminders that we needed to carry all of our mandatory gear at ALL times, Heather’s message was clear: Be Safe. And don’t let your guard down…this race is hardcore. After the long (50minute) drive to Hope, we turned in early as we knew the next day would require everything we could give it.
Finish line, the day before, Skyline in the background
I awoke on Race morning with the words “GO TIME!!” racing through my head. I quickly dressed from the “flat Lisa” I had carefully laid out the night before. Checking my gear lists one final time as I baked my potato in the microwave, I added the last couple of items, grabbed my Garmin (watch) and my hydration pack, and headed out to the car to join the guys. As I got into the car I tried to put my hair in a ponytail…and the elastic snapped. Crap. Reaching for my spare, I made a second attempt…and that elastic broke too. Not a great start for a gal with super long hair. Andrew had a spare that he used for holding something together, so he lent it to me. It didn’t feel secure at all (it was a different style than usual) but it worked for now, and I wasn’t going to complain. A quick stop at Tim Hortons and we were on our way.
We arrived at Manning Park overflow parking lot with little time to spare. We boarded the bus, which drove us back several kms to the Lodge where we then waited for 20 mins. While we waited, we chatted with other racers and bemoaned the heaviness of our packs due to mandatory gear requirements. We reboarded the bus, and we were off.
A while later, the bus pulled over alongside the highway. Quite unceremoniously, our driver announced “we’re here.” We all piled off the bus, alongside the highway. No parking lot…barely room to pull off the highway. We were met by Heather, who informed us that it was 5 minutes until mandatory gear check time. Right at this time, discovered another potentially major problem. I found a spot off to the side, and tried to determine the cause of my already soaking wet pack. Had the reservoir spring a leak? Was a bottle leaking? Or had the valve been pinched, releasing water? I couldn’t find a leak, so I packed it all back up and hoped for the best.
Heather started calling out items, and we had to pull them out (of a jammed pack!) and show them to her. Despite all her warnings, someone showed up with no headlamp. (she made the runner carry her massive one- safety first). All of my gear was in order, and I was cleared to race. We shuffled across the highway, frogger style, and climbed a short trail to get to the “start line”….which was more like a stick in the ground, since the trail there was singletrack and we were all single file.
Single track near the start
We were told to seed ourselves roughly according to pace…if you wanted to smell the flowers, back of the line…if you wanted to lead, up front. As we waited, we heard the words “runner back” called forward from the folks at the back. It was actually 2 runners- one of the 120 milers, along with his pacer. And suddenly, it all became real. This runner looked more like a stoned trail zombie than an elite athlete. He was moving forwards, hunched over with a glazed look in his eyes, poles clenched in his gnarled fists. And in that moment, I realized that I could not begin to comprehend what he was going through, let alone say something helpful…but I instantly had a huge respect for this runner who had already been running for 23 HOURS. We squeezed as far off the trail as we could to make room for the weaving zombie, and then he was gone. I would carry that image with me all day.
I heard “1 minute till the start”…we shuffled our feet uselessly since we couldn’t go anywhere…and suddenly, without warning, the line started moving. We were off! It was a bit of a conga line but our group of Kent, Andrew, David, and myself were together. Within about 10 minutes, the group had separated into several small packs. David was leading our pack of about 10 runners. We kept offering for people to pass, but almost no one did. Our group’s strategy was to run the first 48 kms slowly, so we could leave Skyline Aid Station (at 48 kms) with “fresh legs,” as per the advice of our friend Richard. It was undulating but not overly difficult terrain, and we chatted to pass the time. I enjoyed the scenery. All of a sudden, I felt a searing hot needle jab into my left ankle. Reaching down in pain, i swatted at it and knocked a large wasp off of it. I limped off to the side, in agony. I could hardly weight bear on that foot. I had a sting stop in my pack, but did not want to stop yet. I knew the aid station was very close. Kent ran past, assuming i had just kicked a rock at my ankle. It was fine…we had all agreed that we would start together, and then break away as we felt ready to do so. We were 5.3 kms in. I knew I could not afford to stop yet, so I sucked up my pain, and hobbled back into the race along with Andrew and David. Every step I could feel a searing pain going into the ankle again. It was a stupid, little wasp sting but was excruciating, and I realized I would need to dig deep to finish as I still had 75 kms to go.
Race course was extremely well marked
Cascade Aid Station:
Rounding a corner, we entered a clearing and found ourselves at the aid station, despite being less than 8 kms in. Given where we had started, I had decided I would not need to place a drop bag here. I did not need anything yet. Food was available but I was OK. I kept moving through a section where there were people cheering- and there was my friend Sean!! He was pacing for Richard, but was not starting to pace until 40 kms further into the race. We also saw our 120 miler friend Dave S there….and were saddened to hear that his race would not be completed due to some health issues. Fat Dog is a beast of a race, and we were seeing all kinds of evidence of that already even this few short kms in. We also learned that Richard was behind his predicted pace, likely due to furnace-like temperatures the day before. That meant we would not see him out there. The race must go on…so off we went. We were handed a reflective safety vest, and instructed to put it on. Wasn’t worth wasting the energy trying to figure out the complicated buckling system, so I just slung it over the pack.
Leaving Cascade, we 50 milers had a small “out and back” that we needed to complete. We passed a volunteer at the turnoff- who happened to be one of our local Trail Heros- Randy Duncan! We had to go out to the turnaround on the trail, and fetch a page from a smutty romance novel, and carry it back to Randy. As we ran, we speculated on how frustrating it would be for Randy, who would receive a stack of sweaty, out of sequence book pages…would be hard to figure out the story we decided! It was probably funnier inside our heads than it was for real. We were not quite at the book yet, when we came across a very long “barrier” of toilet paper, strung across the trail. Why this random trail decoration? I looked up and discovered a basketball-sized paper wasp nest. The TP was a warning. As my freshly-stung ankle still throbbed with every step, I moved along quickly. Grabbing my book page, I headed back. We took a few minutes to chat with Randy and exchanged hugs and asked for last minute advice before heading off. A short little jaunt down the trail, and we popped out on a road. Standing there was our friend Lori Herron…another friendly face!! She cheered and hugged, us, and directed us to run alongside and then under the highway…no more frogger crossings. We then turned and ran alongside the highway for several kms. It was a beautiful downhill…but we needed to save our legs for the last half of the race so we continued our comfortable slow pace. Traffic was loud, but the scenery was nice. Somehow, David spotted a hair elastic on the ground, and Andrew picked it up. It was the same style as the ones I usually use. Unfortunately, it was pink (the WORST!) and it was dirty…and I didn’t care. Grateful and giddy, I put it in my hair and put the other on my wrist as a spare. (sorry mom- I know you told me how gross and dirty it could be…too bad, so sad!). I could finally stop stressing about the hair that was sticking to the back of my neck as the elastic got looser and looser. A short left turn to follow the long dangling pink flags/ribbons, and we had arrived at our next checkpoint.
We entered the aid station (which was not a “drop bag” station) and knew that this was the place to refill water. I handed off the sexy highway vest, dropped my pack, and a volunteer refilled it while I dashed to check out the amazing outhouse (any outhouse looks amazing under those circumstances). The smell of bacon filled the air as they made breakfast quesadillas. I opted for a piece of bacon and a boiled potato…tasted SO good! Picked up a few chips, and pocketed a few GU gels (they were better than the ones I had packed). I also dug out my sting stop here, and applied it frequently to the sting (which still hurt). I decided that I was finishing regardless of the pain so I made a choice to ignore it from here on. (I did stop several times to smear mud on it, but that was it). The race motto “Suck it up, whiny baby” seemed perfect, and I repeated it ad nauseum.
And we were off. The 3 of us ran together, pretty much on our own. We now faced a 21 km stretch of the race course with undulating terrain. Our plan was to run it easily, keep a steady pace, and conserve energy.
Running beside the river
We found ourselves running along side a river, and discovered that the shade and the water itself kept the temperature bearable. As we ran, we fell into our typical long run banter. The excitement of new trails and new scenery distracted us from the fact that we had been running for several hours already. I loved being able to run with my friends, and drew energy from the jokes and comraderie. I would remember this later and it would lift my spirits.
Just a little warmup run with da Boyz
After a bit of a climb, it flattened out again and we were running through a muggy and “open” part of a forest. We were all starting to mention individual little “things” that we were starting to notice, now that we were well into this race. We came upon a gal who was quite ill, and having GI issues. I offered her some pretzels, and she accepted them eagerly. Carrying on, we noted that the bugs were starting to be bothersome. Without warning, I managed to toepick a rock and did a stunt roll, landing on my back. The guys were quick to try and help me up, when I was suddenly hit with a rogue leg cramp. Surprised, I muttered a few choice words, rolled over to my hands and knees, and then accepted help up. I decided to walk for a bit and David took the opportunity to stop and bandage a blister. Andrew mentioned he was thinking about slowing down, and that we might need to leave him at the next aid station. As I pulled out my bug spray (and accidently fogged Andrew who was directly behind- ooops, sorry), I realized that our group might be beginning to splinter. We all made it into the next aid station within minutes of each other, but we had things to do when we arrived at Shawatum.
Shawatum Aid Station:
Enter Shawatum. A solid, well stocked, much needed stopping point. I announced my bib number to the volunteer upon arrival, and went directly to find my drop box. A volunteer brought it to me and I set it on a chair. Opening the lid, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had written a checklist, and it was sitting on the very top of the pile. Yay- I no longer had to think- just needed to read the list and do what it told me. Refill water- right! water! Great idea! I took my gel flask out of my pack and exchanged it for the one in my drop box (containing gels mixed with water). Next item: pickle juice. I refilled my pickle juice flask (used for cramping) from the one in my drop box and put it back in the pack. I then re-applied glide to my feet. I grabbed the dill pickle chips from my box and decided I didn’t need any more than a few of my pretzels…although I did share a bunch with the runner who had been puking and having extreme GI issues. I made another bottle of nuun (electrolyte drink) and replaced the bottle into my pack. As I went through this process, I recognized my friend Avery (who was running 120). I attempted conversation with him, but he was pretty fried- and regardless of what I said, he would just giggle. 3 or 4 questions in, I realized he was needing some food and some attention, and I steered him in the direction of a volunteer. It was so good to see him, but to see him tired and clearly struggling was another stark reminder about the gravity of running 120 miles. Mad, mad respect, Avery. After grabbing a couple bites of food from the smorgasbord, I exchanged a few words with David and Andrew, lent them my pocket knife to cut moleskin, then handed my drop box back to the volunteer. Shouldering my pack, I found the guys and we chatted about a game plan as we left the aid station. They were wanting to walk, and I was afraid that walking would cause my legs to seize up. I decided to run very slowly and was sure they would catch me. They assured me they would so off I went. We had 15 kms until the next station, so there was no hurry.
As I ran I carried my bag of dill pickle chips, munching as I went. The saltiness of the chips settled my stomach, which was not overly thrilled with all of the gels. I could hear the guys behind me, and waited for the inevitable “catchup.” I got sick of my chips, but my pack was so full for this next long segment that I had nowhere to put them. After stressing about this for over half an hour, I carefully dumped the remaining chips behind a log, and shoved the baggie into my pack. I knew I might regret this later but there was nowhere else to put them. Around this time, I realized I could no longer hear David and Andrew, and had a feeling I might not see them for the remainder of the race. I looked at my Garmin and saw that it was 30 kms….and I laughed out loud. This was not the first time I had raced with them- but every race except one, I had dropped David at the 30km mark. The laughter lifted my spirits, and I carried on. The terrain was quite undulating, and had a bit of climbing in it. I maintained a steady pace, hiking swiftly on the bigger hills, and running everything else. It was getting hot, but I was mostly in shade so I was still OK. I did pause at the 42.2 km mark to take a selfie.
Trail Marathon selfie! I got this…
This officially marked the marathon distance- and I was barely halfway through my race. I carried on, and before long, I reached the Skyline aid station. I don’t remember much of this stretch, as I was running alone, and much of the terrain looked the same (lots of salal, fallen trees, and awesome looking single track). I missed the banter of my friends but knew that this was what I had trained for, and I knew I had what I needed to get it done on my own. Before long I saw the awesome arrow/sign, and knew I was close to the next (and highly anticipated) phase of the race: SKYLINE.
Skyline Aid Station:
As I entered, I was greeting by my friend Sylvia who was volunteering. I cannot stress enough how awesome it is to see a friend at an aid station. She reminded me there was BACON at the aid station, and steered me in the direction of my drop box. I was instantly overwhelmed by the busy-ness of this aid station. It felt a little bit like a base camp. In one area, runners sat on lawn chairs and chatted- but I was too focussed and too concerned about the next part of the race to join them. I had a job to do, and now I was on my own. I spread out my drop bag contents on the ground (wishing there was a table) and consulted the list I had written. As last time, I refilled my water, pickle juice, and exchanged my empty gel flask for a full one. This would be my biggest flask of the day, and in addition to that, I also grabbed additional gels. I still had 6-8 hours of running left to do. I chatted with a runner who had left the aid station and had drained his 2 litre water bladder within a 1 km and had come back…and then decided to pull out (DNF/ did not finish). He was disappointed, but recognized his body was shutting down and he needed to quit for safety reasons. It was another reminder that we were riding the line of what our bodies were capable of. I looked at the pack, and recognized that space was becoming an issue (due to mandatory gear requirements). I decided to offload some of my first aid equipment, but still maintained the basics. This gave me space for my new bag of dill pickle chips, and a small flask of “juice” I had in my box (more on that later). I also did a thorough assessment of the clothes I was wearing, in relation to the weather. This next portion of the race would take me into nighttime running, and it could get cold up in the mountains. I kept my gloves and long sleeves with me, but did not change. I saw Andrew come in but did not go right away to greet him as I was trying to get things done. Ditching my drop bag, I headed out of the aid station and said a quick goodbye to Andrew- and nearly ran into David as I crossed the bridge to leave. It was good to see both of them, but was another reminder that we were likely all finishing on our own.
The F’n Climb that Never F’n Ends
The trail from Skyline Aid Station to Mowach Aid Station was pure climbing. 14 kms of trail covered, which gained nearly 2000m of elevation. The switchbacks snaked back and forth across the mountain. I left at the same time as a guy named John, and we chatted for 5 minutes or so as we hiked. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that he was a stronger/faster climber than I at that point, and I suggested that he pass me and go ahead. Begrudgingly, he did. I plodded on in the stifling heat, up, up, and still up. The sun beat down and I found myself getting nauseous. Trying to take in some gels, my stomach rebelled and I started dry heaving. Nope. No gels were going in. Suck it up, whiny baby. I managed a few chips, but that was it. Pretty soon, water didn’t work very well either. I decided to focus on getting in water. The bugs were now out in full force, and despite applying more spray, they continued to torment me. Desperate, I grabbed a handful of weeds from the side of the trail, and started swatting at the bugs. (I would later learn that those persistent buggers gave up on my arms and face, and decided to feast on my backside, biting me through my long spandex shorts). The trail climbed onwards and upwards. Switchback upon switchback, it snaked up the side of the mountain, the view rarely changing.
View climbing Skyline
I passed several people who were tired, sick, or “resting.” Every time, I would check to make sure they were ok, then carried on. I kept waiting for the views I had been promised, but wasn’t seeing them. As I began to get discouraged, all of a sudden this guy appeared behind me, just cranking up the trail at a crazy speed. When I asked how his race was going, he said, “I had a TERRIBLE start yesterday. So I had a nap for an hour…and now, I’m making up for it and it’s going FANTASTIC! How’s yours?” I told him I was ok but feeling nauseous, and just trying to stay positive. He reminded me in no uncertain terms that I could totally do this, and was doing great. I teared up…thanked him for his honest and blunt kick in the backside (which I had needed), and I straightened up and quickened my pace. All of a sudden he was gone (and I never saw him again). My mood lifted, I was now able to reframe my situation and think rationally. I knew I’d be OK and it was time to take charge of my situation. The climb dragged, and the heat was killing me. Water upset my stomach. Food upset my stomach. I did mental math and confirmed that I was hundreds of calories in the deficit….and unable to get calories in. I knew that could result in a bad end to my race but there was nothing else to do. My shoulders seized up from the weight of the pack, and the advil didn’t help. The pain was awful. Somewhere in there, I decided that this climbing was boring, and completely unnecessary….and there were no views. Richard must have been TOTALLY hallucinating when he ran this last year. LOL. I had no desire to do this again. Ever. Furthermore, those 120 miler guys were INSANE. 🙂 I was not angry, and I never fell apart mentally- I just knew that this was a very long and gratuitous climb. Finally, after nearly 3.5 hours of climbing (with a few short stints of running the flat sections in between the beginnings of leg cramps), I found myself at the base of Camp Mowach. Time for a short reprieve…
As I arrived at Camp Mowach, I was struck by how cozy it felt despite it being on a mountain. It felt like a campsite. A man was sawing firewood to start a fire. 2 other volunteers greeted me, as they stood next to their tent, in this open space on the top of the side of a hill. I felt my emotions well to the surface…it was a safe place. “Welcome to Camp Mowach….how can we help? What can we get for you?” The emotion spilled out in tears as I took off my pack… “Is there any chance that someone could work the knot out of my shoulder blades? It hurts SO much.” One of the gals offered to help, and I graciously accepted. As she worked on it, they asked about my race and found out I wasn’t eating or drinking much. They wanted me to eat, so I pulled out my chips and ate one. The other food options at the aid station all had gluten, so I opted not to eat them. After chatting for 10 mins or so, I headed off despite the overwhelming urge to curl up on a log by the fire and stay there. The prospect of a campfire and company to chat with sounded heavenly…but this was a race. I had a job to do. I made a quick stop at the outhouse on the way out, just to prove that everything was still “working” as it should be. There wasn’t much, but I was able to pee a few drops so it gave me confidence that I was still hydrated enough to keep running despite my lack of fluid intake. And then, I was off.
Heading up to Sky Junction
I was struck by how hot it still was and how overheated I felt, and decided it was time to seriously try and get it under control. I soaked my buff, and use it to sponge off my face and neck. Every time I crossed a creek (there were several of them) I would re-soak the buff. In between moppings of my head, I would swing the buff through the air to cool it down. I discovered that the air must be slightly cooler, because the water in my hydration hose would cool by a couple degrees. So I would take a few sips of cold until I tasted warm water, and then wait for more to cool. The terrain here was very hilly. There would be a 200-400 m climb, then a downhill…then another climb. This went on…and on….and on. I remember the moment I decided the climbs would never end, and I had to accept that I might be climbing for the rest of the race. The positive note in all of this was that it wasn’t all switchbacks! At least the view kept changing. Rocky outcroppings…stunning mountain trails….singletrack carved into the side of the mountain that cut a line through alpine meadows of wildflowers. I passed several people whose strength was flagging. It was nice to chat with them, and I always attempted to run with them for a few minutes just to break up the time with conversation- but the reality was, the sun was setting, and I was still not at the finish line.
Now that’s more like it….
One particular such meadow, I consciously forgave Richard. I had earlier decided he had been lying about the beautiful views- but I now realized that I had misunderstood where they were located. I breathed deeply, and noticed how fresh the air was (even if it was thin, and messing with my sense of sanity lol). So in between sips of water, and aggressively cooling myself with that soaked buff, I started to once again enjoy the view. I was aware of the sounds of crickets and birds. And then suddenly up ahead, I saw a strange movement. It was a person, perched on the side of a cliff like a mountain goat, who appeared to be slinging a large container through the air, near a tent? What the what?!
An Aid station! Perched right into the side of the insanely rocky singletrack, a tent perilously overhung the trail. A man hunched over a large pot rung a cowbell and said “hey! Welcome to Sky Junction!” I was incredulous. “really? THIS is Sky Junction?” I struggled to understand where I was supposed to rest or relax at this aid station. Mostly, I was doing math and trying to guess at how close the finish line was, and whether or not I was going to make my time goal.
The words I heard spilling out of my mouth were “Do I have to stop here? Or can I just keep running?” The guy looked at me like I was nuts, but said I was free to keep going. He noted my bib number, steered me towards the correct trail, and I carried on.
The Last of the Climbing
I knew there were still a couple false summits to climb. I was becoming tired, but I loved the way the view looked as the sun was going down. I was climbing ridges now, and could see an orange glow starting to flood the sky. The tiredness of the body was overcome by the sheer incredibleness of the view around me.
Meadow with a View….spectacular
Hike a climb, run down…hike a climb, run the downhill…I lost track of whether I was going up or down as I was overwhelmed by the sheer majesty and vastness of what was around me. Darkness was falling, and as I would head up into the trees I struggled to see the trail, but in the open, there was an abundance of light. I started to think about stopping to pull out my light, but didn’t really want to stop. When I stopped, I wanted it to be in a spot that I could appreciate a great view. It seemed important that I savour the moments. I climbed another ridge, grateful that the long pieces of flagging tape had reflectors hanging off them for night running. As I came out of the trees, I was greeted by the most incredible view of the day. It was That Moment. That one I would stop for.
As I took my pack off to retrieve my headlamp, I was overcome with emotion. I stood on a ridge. Mountain ranges to the right, and to the left. Behind me, the mountains I had run through. Ahead of me, more majestic mountains. A snowfield glistened in the remaining light, to the right, and the light of the full moon above it was the exact same colour as the snow. Behind and all around, the sky glowed orange. I paused, trying to drink it all in. Tears fell, and I was aware of how awesome that moment was. I was alone, at the top of that huge mountain- but not lonely. Words fail to describe all that I felt in that moment, but I will remember it for the rest of my life. I took a couple of photos, which were a sad representation of what I experienced. As I put on my lamp, I reached for my pretzels and realized they had fallen out of my pack. Shoot. My only food source that was staying down in my knotted stomach was now gone. I would have to finish without it. Another quick moment of taking in the beauty, and I was off. I started down the ridge.
But what was this….another climb? For real? $hit. *sigh* Fine. Let’s climb. Up again I went, laughing at the pain and gruellingness of this race. Over in the clouds, I thought I saw an orange flash, but figured I must be hallucinating. This was a brutal climb. I was digging as deep as I could, and knew that this was now sheer willpower. At least it was not stifling hot. I found a pace and locked it in, one plodding step at a time, choosing to focus on the beauty around me rather than the pain I felt. The rawness of the emotion defies explanation…but it was awesome. Shadows were falling, and I put my lamp on for the dark bits, but shut it off in the open. As I crested a little ridge, I saw a figure sitting on a rock staring out at the valley. I slowed my pace, and called ahead so as not to startle. “Hey there….how’s it going?” The figure turned, and I saw the fatigued face of a male runner. “Hello” he answered. As I approached, I recognized him. “Hey, John….how’s it going?! How’s your race been?” This was the runner that I had let pass me as I left Skyline Aid Station- he had been climbing super fast! And here he sat on a rock, motionless. He was taking a break and watching the lightening storm in the clouds over the valley. (phew- I was not hallucinating!). He admitted his knee was bothering him, and he had been stopping for rest breaks ever 10 or so minutes. I stopped for a few minutes to chat with him, and then suggested we head off together. He was glad for the company. Headlights on, we tackled the last of the rocky climb. It was so great to have someone to chat with. We replayed our respective races, covering the highs and the lows, and kept each other moving. As we got to the top, we saw a tent at the top, and a man and a woman standing there! CRAZY!! They cheered for us! I couldn’t believe it. “Are you really standing here on top of a ridge, JUST to cheer for people?” I asked. “Yes. We do it every year and we love it.” They told us that other than about 25 metres, this was The Top Of The Climb. This was IT. DONE (except for a little downhill). Overcome by emotion, we all teared up. And I suddenly knew what I wanted to do. I pulled the small flask marked “juice” out of my pack (which I had picked up from my drop box at Skyline) and said to the gang “My run group back home has a tradition of celebrating epic climbs with a little swig of Fireball. I have some here. Would you guys join me in a little toast?” And so there, at the top of the mountain, with shooting stars falling, lightning storm in the distant valley, and a glowing orange sky, we shared a wee sip of fireball. It was a crazy moment filled with the emotion that can only be understood by having been through the entire experience. We exchanged hugs, and then John and I were off. The last of the climb was insignificant, and quickly the trail changed to loose, shaley, DOWNHILL. Pure. Downhill. Bliss.
The Last 10 KMS
Downhill. That’s the best way to describe it. Some was loose, some was rooty, some was technical so we had to go slowly. We were now running in full darkness. It didn’t matter. The long, grinding, arduous climb was OVER- and it was time to start to fatigue the last remaining muscle group. John’s knee started to bother him, and I had a bit of a cramp threatening in one leg, so we took the occasional walk break. But overall, we ran. Pitch black now, we relied on our headlamps, and the reflectors hanging from the trees. I realized that running was easier and less painful than walking. We were passed by a couple of people…no one really wanted to stop now, it was just a “horse to the barn” mentality. John stopped to walk again, and I realized that it was time for me to head off. I just needed to run. I said goodbye, wished him well, and stepped up the pace.
I ran alone through the darkness now. It was strangely comforting. I had spend much of the day alone, and it seemed fitting to finish it off on my own. Despite the screaming leg muscles, I felt strong, powerful, and energized. I was only a few kms away. I was aware that the trail was levelling off, and I knew that meant we must be nearly off the mountain and nearing the lake. The trail widened….and then I saw it. A glowing green object on the trail….what was it? A GLOWSTICK! And just up ahead, another one. And another! And then I remembered Richard saying that the last part of the course was lit with glowsticks. I was afraid to get excited…so I just continued to follow the glowsticks. As I rounded a corner, I saw what looked like a bridge and I knew this was the beginning of the end- This was the famous Rainbow Bridge I had heard about!! A quick trip around the lake was all that lay ahead. My footsteps sounded loud as I raced across the bridge, and back onto the trail. As I circled the lake, there were places I could see the finish line arch across the lake- and I realized they could probably see my headlamp as well. My pace quickened, and I Just Had To Get There. I could hear the party, and it was awesome. Coming out of the trees, I passed a lady screaming and cheering. She had NO idea who I was and I think she must have been strung out on WAY too much coffee- and I didn’t care 🙂 The last few hundred metres, I’m sure I was sprinting. I barrelled across the finish line straight into the waiting arms of race director Heather. Stopping my Garmin, i hugged her, and we had a fantastic chat. And out of nowhere, Kent appeared. A medal was hung around my neck, and i let the emotions flow. Tears mingled with laughter, cheering, elation, and pain. 13 hours, 33 minutes of running. Kent took over, and made sure I had everything I needed. He found my drop bag, got me food, and a chair. BEST. INVENTION. EVER! A CHAIR!! We had a great chat there, in the dark, along with dozens of other runners, as we waited for the others. I changed into dry clothes and ate the best burger I have ever had. David was the next one through an hour later, followed by Andrew roughly an hour past that. Once we were all there, we hung out there at the finish line. We were hoping to see Richard come through, but also knew that it might be several more hours before he came. Eventually, the cold was too much and we decided to head back to the hotel. I drove back to Hope (about an hour), and after a shower, sleep came quickly.
The next morning we woke early and staggered around, packing up all our stuff. We piled back into the car, and drove an hour back again to the finish line. We were happy to see Richard there!
The Amazing Fat Dog 120 miler, Richard!
He had made it through his 120 miler. We also saw other friends Avery there, as well as our friend Sean who had paced Richard. Hanging out in the sun at the finish line, it was incredible to bask in our accomplishments. The volunteers cooked breakfast on campstoves…and we just kept eating, and eating, and eating. After the awards ceremony, we climbed back into the car, and headed for the ferries.
Fat Dog 50 Miler Fireballers
Fat Dog 50 miler, you were a beast. A ridiculous, crazy, gruelling beast. I decided while climbing Skyline that I never want to run you again.
But I cannot get That Moment, and That View out of my mind. It’s forever etched on my mind, and seared into my memory. So maybe, just maybe….I’ll see you one more time…for 70 miles. I left part of my heart up on your Skyline, and I need to retrieve it.