Wednesday, November 27, 2013

2013 FatDog 120 Race Report - Part 1

Well this is a few months late, but since we only just started The Trail Effect, I think it's excusable.

FatDog120 by Mountain MadnessFor anyone unfamiliar with the FatDog120 Trail Race, it is a 120 mile race along trails snaking through Cathedral, Manning and Skagit Valley Provincial Parks as well as the Cascade Recreation Area. It starts near Keremeos BC and finishes at Lightning Lakes in Manning Park. There are four main climbs in the race and a total elevation gain of 8672.7 meters (28453.7 feet). In 2013 the FatDog120 was named one of the Top 9 Toughest Ultras by Outside Online. If you're the type that needs company on a run, this is probably not the race for you; the number of non-race related individuals that I saw on the course was no more than 3 people (not including vehicles on the road section).

First, a little bit of background on the rest of the year. Things didn't start out so well this year. In switching from running mostly in minimalist shoes to Salomons, I developed some patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) in my left knee. This started in January and with high hopes of doing well in the DirtyDuo in March I was somewhat devastated. After seeing a physio and doing the quad exercises she gave me I was feeling somewhat better, though not cured! I still ran the DD, but seeing as I really hadn't trained all that much I finished an hour slower than the previous year. The PFPS was on and off for the next couple months after that and it definitely limited my training at times. In May Jenna and I went to the Big Island of Hawai'i and didn't run nearly as much as I would have liked, though we did do some crazy hikes (maybe that will be another post). Anyhow, on June 1st I undertook the Vancouver100, a CFA event that runs the length of the Baden Powell Trail twice, starting and ending in Deep Cove. I finished under 20 hours, but only by a couple minutes. Nonetheless I was fairly happy with that performance, given the snow on the western sections of the trail. I made the mistake however of agreeing to run the BP trail from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove with Jenna only a week later. That's when the PFPS came back, just when I thought I had got rid of it! Training was again limited for the next little while as I iced, stretched and did whatever I could to stay sane. So needless to say, I was going into FatDog somewhat less trained than I had hoped to be, but I figured I would just see what I could do and could pull-out at at any point and no one would really fault me for it.

Jenna and I arrived in Keremeos BC the Thursday before the race, as the race start was Friday 10am and the pre-race meeting was that night. The pre-race meeting was somewhat intimidating since the average age was probably twice mine, plus the basic message from Heather (the RD) was simply don't die out there! We camped at the Stemwinder Provincial Campground 15 minutes west of Keremoes for the night, probably not the smartest idea (it is right beside the highway), but it was better than the over-priced 'cozy' hotels in town. Race morning I started with a bowl of oatmeal and some Gatorade. We took down camp and drove into town for 9am so I could get on the bus to the start area. Jenna would meet me in Manning park later that night.

Start of FatDog120 at Lakeview Creek Campground
Start of FatDog120 and relay option
The start of the FatDog120 and relay options takes place on the wooden bridge at the Lakeview Creek Campground. Just before 10am, Peter, the assistant RD, said good luck and set off a flare to signal the start of the race. Despite being nervous, it was somewhat anti-climactic given that the race starts directly into the first uphill and almost everyone walks it. From the start it was just under a three hour hike, if you will, to the first aid station and the peak of the first mountain. Check out the profile at the bottom of the post for an idea of the elevation changes - keep in mind the x-axis is time, not distance. Just before the first aid station, I had my first foot issue; my heel was rubbing. I decided to be proactive and stick in a large piece of moleskin to cushion it, though it wasn't all that successful in the long term. Just as I was getting going again another runner caught up with me and we started running together. Turns out it was Diane Van Deren, the exceptionally talented North Face-sponsored runner, and we ended up running together for 60+ miles of the race.

FatDog120 alpine section
There is a trail here somewhere right?
The top of the first peak is almost desolate, except for the small grasses that grow there. Running through this section was both fun and challenging since the trail was non-existent and flagging was tied around rocks on the ground. After crossing the moon-scape and running along several board-walks through marshy meadows, the trail descended steadily until it reached Ashnola River Road and the second aid station. From here, it was back up the other side of the valley to the Trapper Lake area. At some point on the way up, Diane and I came across a runner going the wrong way! We got him straightened out and continued on. The next hiccup came when Diane ran out of water somewhere before the aid station. Luckily I had brought a small flask with an extra ~500ml as a precaution. Trapper Lake aid station, though not actually at the lake, was quite fun seeing as the volunteers had music playing and it was nice and sunny with only a light breeze.

Trapper Lake along the FatDog120 course
Trapper Lake
The boggy section by Trapper Lake was so beautiful we decided to wander around looking for the trail markers for five minutes or so. We did end up finding them after a bit, but not before getting our feet good and wet. From here we headed over Flattop Mountain through a very beautiful alpine meadow. The single-track trail was quite grooved in compared to the sides and was difficult to walk in. After Flattop came another long descent! Then, at some point, it was my turn to run out of water. Thankfully the water drop (read: water collected from a stream) was only a little way down the trail and I was able to refill there.

Just as it was almost dark, Diane and I started to hear music coming through the forest. At that point we knew we must be getting close to Calcite aid station, and we were, but we were still a surprising distance away. The volunteers there had their shelter decked-out in Christmas lights and they had fresh picked, homegrown blueberries for us! So good!

I think I'll stop at this point and leave the rest to Parts 2 and 3.

FatDog120 elevation profile
Elevation profile of the FatDog120. X-axis is time. The three flat sections at 36h, 40h and 43h are sleep breaks.

Go to parts 2 and 3 of the FatDog120 Race Report

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