Thursday, August 28, 2014

Less pain, more fun, and my love of aid stations

Even before the race I knew things were going to be different at this year's FatDog120. Training was going really well, we managed to get out for a number of runs on the course, and we put in some really long back-to-back days through July. All that training gave me the confidence to go into the race without a pacer or crew, plus I knew that if I went really slow my dad or Jenna would catch up to me, so all was good.
On Thursday the pre-race briefing in Manning Park was a real eye-opener... there was five times more people than last year, so many that they were spilling out the doors! And thanks to Peter, (assistant RD) they all knew I was 'the guy wearing the silver skirt in last year's race video', yay...
Hoards of runners at the start line!
Anyway, we stayed the night at Stemwinder campground near Keremeos, and somehow managed to get a full 9 hours of sleep!
The morning of the race we were greeted by throngs of people! We had two bus-fulls driving to the start, which I thought was a lot, but arriving at the actual start was something else entirely. Vehicles were lined up all along the small dirt road by Lakeview Creek Campground - We're definitely not in Kansas anymore!

At 10:02 AM on Friday, the gun (bear banger) went off and it was time to hit the trails. Things went fairly smoothly up the first climb to Red Mountain through Cathedral Park. I wasn't having any foot or shoe problems like I did last year at this time so I was hopeful! Also, it only sprinkled on us for about five minutes before clearing up for the rest of the day. Thanks to Sam for the company on this section!

Pano of the top of Red Mountain in Cathedral Park! (Sam in the left corner)
Coming into Ashnola, the first major aid station, I was right on track for a 40-hour finish according to my pace chart from UltraSplits. The second climb up to Trapper Aid went well and I got in a few minutes before my pace schedule. From here I ran up to Flattop Mountain with a fellow from Victoria - the people are great at these races. Near the top I was warned by another runner that if I wasn't careful I'd take off 10 hours from last year's time. All I could think from then on was that if I was careful I could take off 10 hours from my time!

Calcite Aid Station was in a slightly different spot this year which was a little confusing, but it had some really great food nonetheless - salted potatoes, cheese quesadillas, and some sort of greasy fried bread... so yummy!
On the descent into Pasayten River I saw the first hint of sun all day. It was just the motivation I needed to run the final bit to the river crossing. The water felt so good I could have stayed in there for hours, but instead I had to settle for a refreshing rinse off. At this point I was half an hour ahead of schedule, uhoh!

Reaching Bonnevier Aid, I was pampered by the volunteers offering all sorts of foods and drinks as I changed my socks and shoes and got my night stuff ready (bear bell, music, headlamp, shot bloks with caffeine, etc). I probably should have taken them up on the offer and eaten more at this point because by half way up the climb to Heather Aid I was feeling extremely tired. From 10pm to 12am, it was all I could do to keep moving and not fall asleep on the trail! Luckily, there was another runner that I was able to tag along with for a little extra motivation. The real motivation though was the cheese quesadillas waiting at Heather Aid Station! And trust me, they didn't disappoint!
I tried not to stay long at Heather because it was rather chilly - we were in the clouds and there was a breeze over the alpine meadows. However, I did end up staying for nearly 15 minutes while drinking hot chocolate and eating.

Running towards Nicomen lake was certainly an adventure! The mist from the clouds made it hard to see more than several feet ahead on the trail. The only good part about the clouds was that they kept the day's heat in, at least when the wind wasn't blowing. The final descent into Nicomen Lake was the most treacherous part, given the rocky, scree-like nature of the trail and a slight lack of flagging for the misty conditions. At times I truly wondered if I was on the right trail at all! I did pull out my Suunto and reassure myself using the navigation functions that I was on the right track a couple times.
Finally at Nicomen, I enjoyed the most delicious piece of bacon I have ever had!! It was exactly what I needed at that point. Somehow I spent 10 minutes at the aid station, what could I possibly be doing for that time?! Continuing on I was feeling great, if not a little worried that I was still going too fast as I had reached Nicomen Lake 50 minutes ahead of schedule!

The descent into Cayuse Flats seems to take forever. Fortunately, my feet were still mostly intact (only a couple tender spots), unlike the fellow that I ran part of the descent with. I changed my socks at Cayuse and told myself I had to get them taped and fixed at Cascades if I didn't want to hate myself for the rest of the race. It was great to see Tim's mom helping out at Cayuse (she makes the best jam squares in case you were wondering!). Skagit Bluff Trail, and all of its glorious hills, wasn't nearly as long this year as it was last! Clearly, our training was paying off.

I managed to reach Cascades an hour and fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, yikes! But then I spent 45
Hanging out at Cascades aid station
minutes at the aid station drying my feet and getting them taped (thank you!) and eating everything I could! Potatoes, broth and watermelon are seriously fantastic!
Back on the road, it was time for the second highway section, which I managed to run at a reasonable pace and gain back some of the lost time from my prolonged stay at the aid station.
A quick stop at Sumallo Grove to use the bathroom and I was off and running. Yes, actually running! Not fast, mind you, but I'm fairly sure I did 11 or 12 minute miles for several miles. All this was spurred on by the fact I (momentarily) thought I could make a 36 hour finish. All I had to do was run the 10 miles from Sumallo to Shawatum in 2 hours, then the next section to Skyline in 2 hours, and that would leave me with 8 hours for the final 20 miles from Skyline to the finish. It sounded doable... until I got tired of maintaining a 12 minute mile pace halfway to Shawatum. Maybe 36 wasn't quite so doable, but sub-40 was still a possibility. It was at this point that I got passed by one of the 50-mile racers who encouraged me to run with him... yeah right!

I did manage to run the last couple miles into Shawatum, though this was really only possibly because walking was hurting the calluses on my heels - I thought those things were supposed to help?
Coming into Shawatum I was 1h20m ahead of the 40 hour pace, but I again spent a bunch of time at the aid station. Over 20 minutes, in fact, while I had my toes re-taped. This did give me time to refuel and rebugspray.
The next section to Skyline seemed to actually take forever, even longer that the part into Cayuse! I just wasn't going very fast; my feet were starting to get sore and the hills (I forgot that they were there) just weren't expected. I also may have been getting a little tired and delirious as I mistook a couple different stumps/bushes for people on the trail, oops. I was still doing 20 minute miles, so it could have been worse!

34 hours into the race, still looking fresh!
Skyline aid was a very welcome sight. Here I took the time to dry my feet and get them taped properly (thanks guys!) and change into my Altra Olympus shoes, a recent addition to my collection. I also took the time to devour some exceptionally delicious food. Really, it was heavenly! There was bacon and eggs and hashbrowns and smoothies! This really got me fueled up for the climb to Camp Mowich, which was fairly uneventful. I managed to reach the top in 3h15m, the same as when we hiked it in training! And the best part was that the sun didn't set till I was just out from the aid station.

My attempt at photographing one of the two owls I saw on
Skyline 2 trail. The two bright spots in the middle are its eyes.
At this point I was still an hour ahead of my 40 hour schedule, and I was still feeling fairly fresh. However, sitting at aid stations was starting to feel a little too good, I never wanted to move. On the trails the only thing that was bothering me were my feet and it was only really the downhills that hurt. I could still truck along on the flats and ups without any discomfort, but heck, whose feet wouldn't be a little sore at this point.

Peter and Nicola at Sky Junction!
After a seemingly long hike from Camp Mowich, I could finally hear familiar voices emanating from Sky Junction up through the trees. Things really started getting going at this point - I kicked it into high gear and ran (I think it was a run...) up the final switchbacks to Sky Junction aid station. I was greeted by the wonderful sight
and heckling of Peter (from before) and Nicola (also extremely involved in FatDog). These two are seriously awesome!

Fed and ready to go, I hit the trails. With only 8 miles left I could sense the finish line was getting close. And being nearly 4 hours ahead of my 40-hour schedule was a great feeling. Downhills still hurt a bit, but that was subsiding, surprisingly! I know some of the other racers were complaining about the last sections, but it seriously felt like I flew up some of those false peaks!
Coming down through the burnt out forest I could see there was potential to come in exactly 9 hours ahead of last year's time ie. do a 39h01m, and darn if I wasn't going to try for it! At about 2 to 2.5 miles from the finish I really kicked, getting down below 8 minute miles for the final portion around the lake.
There's not much better than that final 'sprint' to the finish of a race. Everything that you've done to get there, whether it's in training or during the race, sort of culminates in a final hoorah! and that just feels plain amazing!

I finished in 39h02m, 1 minute after my goal time of 39h01m, according to my watch that had been going since the second the gun went off so very long ago. (The finish line clock showed 39h04m)
Unfortunately, there was basically no one at the finish line since it was midnight. But after a little bit I look up from my seat by the propane heater and see my mom has come to cheer me in... Her and my sister finished the 30 mile distance several hours before and had been sleeping in the car, so you really can't blame them for not being there when I finished. Thankfully they brought clothes for me to change into
Post-race relaxing!

Post-race celebrations included a delicious midnight bacon cheeseburger from the wonderful volunteers at the finish line, and the awards ceremony at 10am the next day, from which I got a watermelon (score!) and a free trail race entry (double score!)
Overall, much more fun was had at this year's FatDog120 trail race! And turns out, I spent over 3h20m in total at aid stations!!! I think I know where I could shave off a little bit of time in the future...


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Impromptu Kayaking in Desolation Sound

Cruisin' in calm waters!
Almost a week after the big race we returned home to find ourselves with a bit more free time than initially planned for - so we jumped on a ferry heading towards Powell River for another exciting adventure!

Thursday August 21st. 4:30 PM - We return home from the Okanagan. Jenna is booked on a flight leaving for Calgary for field work at 9:00 am the next morning. 
5:00 PM - We get the call. The field adventure has been cancelled, leaving us with 3 work free days!
6:00 PM - Thinking about adventure to Powell River for the weekend.
8:00 PM - Adventure confirmed, packing commences.
10:00 PM - Backpacks are packed and we're ready to go! Let's hope we didn't forget anything!

Friday August 22nd, 9:40 AM - Missed the first ferry. Next connecting ferry isn't until 5:30 PM.
10:00 AM - Decide to take Monday off work to maximize adventure time.
6:30 PM - Arrive in Powell River

Let the adventure begin! We arrived in Powell River and were immediately whisked off to one of the coolest swimming holes I've ever been too. It came complete with a sketchy looking rope swing, and a rather terrifying cave. Just in case you aren't convinced - Chris will demonstrate (video comes complete with tarzan yelp).
Jason with the Humpback!!!

After a delicious salmon dinner with my cousin Jason we were off and planning the weekend's adventure.
And then we have this brilliant idea - let's go on a three day kayak trip with a couple of hours notice, and be on the water by noon the next day!
I'm not even sure how we did it, but by noon the next day we had all the food and gear packed and we were ready to hit the water. We didn't even forget anything! Well, except for the bug spray - but that's a minor detail.

There's not much I can say that the pictures don't show. It was a beautiful weekend filled with seals, whales, crabs, star fish, sea bacon and sunshine!
Yes, you read that right, sea bacon. Now we were too chicken to try it - but rumor has it if you properly disect and pull the veins out of a sea cucumber it takes just like bacon! I think I'll stick with the traditional kind!

If you're looking for an amazing place to kayak (even paddle-free kayaking) - Desolation Sound is it!
Thanks for being an amazing host Jason!! We owe you!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Will do laps of Grouse Grind for charity!

I don't ask for much, in fact I hardly ever ask for anything at all.
But this time I'm asking you - no I'm begging you to help me help the Golder Trust for Orphans.
It's simple really.
You donate money (small amounts, large amounts, pennies, nickels, quarters, dimes, pocket lint).
The more money I raise - the more laps I do. For every additional $50 raised I will do an extra lap of the grind!
I'm not asking you to donate the full $50 yourself, unless you would like me to loathe you as I do a lap of the grind in your honour, purely because you're such a kind, generous individual....

In all honesty - Take a look at the amazing things the Golder Trust for Orphans does to improve the quality of life of children who have been orphaned or displaced by the AIDS pandemic.

The Trust, which is funded mainly by contributions from Golder’s operating companies and Golder staff, provides financial support to NGO’s caring for and counselling families and dependents of people living with HIV/AIDS. The Golder Trust for Orphans supports NGO’s and other organisations of all religions and ethnic groups. The primary focus is in Africa, with a vision to one day support projects all over the world.

When you're convinced that your money is going to a great cause, and as a bonus will cause me to endure another lap of the grind (named by Outside magazine as one of the world's most dangerous hikes, might I add) then donate, donate, donate! And pass it on!

Donations can be made securely through paypal here:

Help me keep on running :)

J.B. Running

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Fat Dog's Tale

It's Saturday August 16th at 4:45 in the morning. I wake up to my alarm blasting beside my head, hit the snooze button and snuggle back into my sleeping bag. Ten minutes later my alarm goes off again, I can hear Chris' family drag themselves out of the tent, and I know I have to do the same.
I finally muster up the courage to go out in to the cold and brave the day I'd known was coming for almost a year. I can't believe it's finally race day!

Foggy start to the FatDog70 up Blackwall Peak
It's now 7:00 am and Brad and I are loaded on the bus heading up to Blackwall Peak. It's warm enough outside to be in shorts and a shirt. We're hopeful the weather will hold and it does - sort of. We unload from the bus in the mist/fog/clouds to temperatures that have our teeth chattering, sending everyone scrambling for their jackets. After a short wait, we're off and running straight out into the alpine meadows. Although I know from training runs its absolutely beautiful up there, it was difficult to see more than a few meters away. It made for a pretty eerie start to the race!
I didn't make it far before I was hungry, since I always have trouble eating before a big race. Despite eating constantly, this hunger would plague me for the next 20 miles.
Let me just put this out there now... I'm not a strong starter. The first 20 miles was a mix of excitement that I was finally out doing the race and fear that I would get lost or run out of food.
About 5 miles in I was already on my own. I couldn't see far enough ahead to spot other runners, and I had no idea if there was anyone behind me. Though my legs were feeling good, I was rather tired and a little concerned as I'd already eaten half my food. I slogged through the next 20 miles, running where I could and walking pretty much every slight incline. By the time I made it to the first aid station (Cayuse flats), I had already had dangerous thoughts of failing at least 50 times.
Coming into Cayuse flats was one of the most motivating parts of the race. I had my watch on the minute gps recording intervals, so I came into the aid station 2 miles sooner than expected (according to my watch distance). My race crew (aka my family) was there to get me fed and back out on the course. I'm not sure what changed at that point, but I left Cayuse feeling like a whole new person. There are some nasty hills through the section between Cayuse and Cascade Aid Station that I powered through feeling rather fantastic.
The next section has a lot of aid stations close together, which was a blur of eating all the food I could stomach, and getting attacked by bug spray (thanks mom!). We also got to put on fancy safety vests and run on the highway for a bit which was fun!
Coming in to Shawatum aid station at mile 40
After Summallo Grove comes a flat section with nothing too exciting; I was feeling energized from all of the aid stations so there wasn't much to complain about. At this point the sun was out and it was glorious sweaty running along rolling hills. Though the flattest section before Shawatum aid station seemed to drag on forever, I finally made it back to my wonderful crew who fueled me up and sent me packing.
The next section was the only part of the racecourse I hadn't seen, which had me a little concerned. I'd been out on the trail for 10 hours by now, but I knew in 10 miles I'd have a pacer to drag me the last 20 , which was pretty darn motivating! The highlight of this section had to be the song that wouldn't leave my head, something like "walking on the trail with candy, walking on the trail with candy". Intelligent, eh? When I got bored of singing about my candy, I pulled out my mosquito net.  I was actually digging in my pack for electrolyte tablets, but decided I'd put it on the mozzy net and see if it helped. There were a few mosquitos buzzing in my ear - so it really couldn't hurt. This is when I knew I'd been running for too long, because I really don't know if it helped with the mosquitos, but it sure was a lot of fun. It added a new jungle like element to my vision that spiced things up a little. Though it did make it harder to eat candy.
I made it to the 50 mile mark (Skyline Aid), and was now excited knowing that despite the rather crappy start I could still make the full distance. I picked up my cousin - the BEST pacer in the world - grabbed my poles, and set out up the hill to break things! Yes, break things. But we'll get to that. Up until Skyline Aid I had been ignoring my pace chart completely, but I had the general feeling I was going pretty darn slow. Apparently, I was actually on pace for a 26 hour race (the cutoff being 27, my goal being 24), but thankfully nobody told me that.
I'd grabbed my poles at the last major aid station (Skyline) to help me get up and down the insane mountainous terrain that is the last 20 miles. Lucky for me, about 20 minutes in, the strap on my pole snapped, leaving me with a nice bracelet. A girl needs to feel pretty 50 miles in, right? The pole itself still worked just fine so we kept on truckin'. The next few hours are a blur of climbing uphill and stuffing down candy as darkness descended upon us. After 3+ hours of climbing in the dark we reached the descent into one of the remote aid stations - Camp Mowich.
I sat down to have some broth while the aid station crew filled my pack. A few minutes later I put my pack back on, and immediately tossed it right off. It was soaked! Of course my bladder was leaking. So we pulled out the bladder only to find a lovely little pinhole happily spouting out water. Nothing a little duct tape couldn't fix. A few minutes later I was all duct taped and ready to hit the trail.
And then I fell apart. It was about midnight, I was dead tired, sick of eating, overheating, and I felt like I could pass out any minute. Doing what any sane (ha!) person would do, I stopped and told my cousin we had to go back to the aid station - that I was too tired and I needed to sleep. She wasn't quite as convinced on heading back, as we had already hiked 15+ minutes uphill from the aid station. So she pulled out a garbage bag, sat me on the trail, and got me to eat and drink and recover for a few minutes. Shaking and still feeling like crap, I made the decision to go back to the aid station. So we started to hike back down the hill, stopping every 2 minutes because I wasn't entirely convinced I wanted to go back, and because I was feeling a little better. So after a quarter mile adventure back towards the aid station we again turned around and decided to trek the 8k to Sky Junction, where I could take a nice nap before continuing.
This was the hardest 8k I have ever done! I didn't want to eat, but if I didn't eat I started to feel sick so I had to eat. I battled this the whole race, but the waves of nausea and near loss of consciousness made it that much harder. So I kept moving forward, and eating, and drinking to stay awake. I don't suggest hydration as a means of staying awake, because I was overhydrated for the next 21k to the finish. I have to admit that having to pee every 5 minutes is a rather great way of staying awake on the trail, though its not very helpful for running.
We finally made it to Sky Junction. I had no idea what time it was nor did I care. They asked what I wanted and I said I needed a nap. I can't tell you how thankful I am that Peter (the assistant race director) was at that aid station. He sat me down on a nice ledge covered with a space blanket, handed me a giant can of pringles and refilled my leaky pack. He got me to put my music in, and pretty much just forget about everything. I'm not really proud to say this, but it took me 40 minutes to get myself off that ledge and muster up the strength to continue. If I wasn't getting cold I don't think I would have left. It also helped that it's further to hike out at this point than finish.
Now comes the fun part! It's 2am. I've finally dragged myself out of the aid station, and I'm on the top of a mountain singing - terribly, I might add. My pack is still leaking. It's duct taped, but there's a little too much water in it this time. So I spent the last 13k getting progressively soaked as my pack leaked all over me, and I had to stop to pee every 5 minutes. Have I sold you on how much fun I was having yet? BUT I MADE IT!
We finally came down the last hill into lightning lakes and the trail was lit with glow sticks to the finish line and it was incredible!! I crossed the finish line wet and cold at 4:30 in the morning - 4.5 hours faster than my predicted time after leaving skyline aid station at mile 50! My final finish time was 21h29m55s

Check out my awesome 'Fat Dog' pj's I won!
The most important part of this post is to say THANK YOU! First to the amazing volunteers and people at Mountain Madness who made this an INCREDIBLE race! The course was so well flagged you couldn't get lost, the aid station crews were always smiling, there wasn't a thing I could find to complain about!
Next to Chris for dragging me on all those training runs and never getting tired of me!
My family for all coming out to support me as my crew and pacer!
And of course all of my friends and family who had to listen to me talk endlessly of our running adventures/Fat Dog/how messy our house was!

You are all amazing and I would not be a Fat Dog without you!

J.B. Running

Thursday, August 7, 2014

FatDog120 Course Maps

These maps of the FatDog race course may be of some help during the race. I've included aid stations etc so you know what to expect at each location. Some portions of the course (Leg 2 specifically) didn't have trail maps available so I had to use satellite/topo maps.
Major Aid stations have approximate checkpoint times (hours, time of day) indicated by T40 (for a 40 hours finish) or T48 (for a 48 hours finish). Hard cut-offs are indicated by C.
Each image below links to a higher quality one you can download.
FatDog120 Race Course Trail Map
Leg 1 trail map from Lakeview Creek Campground to Ashnola River Road
FatDog120 Race Course Trail Map
Leg 2 route map from Ashnola River Road to Pasayten River; potentially wet and squishy around Trapper Lake

FatDog120 Race Course Trail Map
Leg 3 and 4 from Bonnevier to Heather to Cascade Aid Station
FatDog120 Race Course Trail Map
Leg 5 trail map from Cascade to Shawatum to Skyline 2 trailhead. This is the buggiest section.
FatDog120 Race Course Trail Map
Leg 6 of the FatDog120 race course from Skyline 2 trailhead to the finish at Lightning Lakes Day Use Area