Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More Advice for the Fat Dog 120 Trail Race

I received an email from a fellow on the east coast asking about FatDog, here's his questions (in blue) and my response - hopefully you'll find some helpful advice in it.

1. How would you describe the surface? I live on the east coast and our trails are very rocky and rooty, which tends to be very hard on the feet and ankles. I've run Leadville and I consider that surface to be pretty mild throughout (except heading downhill into Twin Lakes)

The surface is mostly single-track trails with minimal rocks/roots. There are a couple sections that do have a rockier surface, specifically at the top of Red Mountain in Cathedral Park, a steeper section coming into Nicomen Lake, a section along Skagit Valley, and the final descent into Lightening Lakes. The softest sections are coincidentally also along the Skagit Valley. If the weather keeps up the way has been, the trails will be quite dry and dusty, and likely a little on the hard side, but certainly nothing compared to the rocky/rooty trails you are used to.

2. Wondering about your shoe choice. I'm a Saucony Xodus fan (its like a road shoe but with a lugged outsole), but I use a few others too. Was even considering using a well-cushioned road shoe. Thoughts? What did you use?

This year I'll be wearing Altra LonePeaks for the first 40miles, then after the river crossing I'll be switching to Altra Olympus. I think your choice of shoe should be fine, you really won't need too aggressive of an outsole given the trails. In fact, a road shoe might not be such a bad idea for between Cascade and Skyline 2 aid as this is the most runnable of sections (nearly flat for 20+ miles). Last year I had some issues with shoes rubbing (wore some Salomon ones), but I think I've got that figured out now.

3. Temperature. Is it hot during the day? What about nighttime? I don't have a crew/pacer and am considering just carrying a lightweight fake-down jacket to keep me warm at night.

Typically, day time temperatures are upper 20's or low-mid 30's. This, combined with the exposure of the course, can mean fairly warm conditions. That being said, a storm could very well roll in and we would get rained on all day, so who knows! Nighttime will get chilly though - not terribly cold so long as you're running, but if you stop you'll freeze. For nighttime I added a light jacket, a moderately warm toque (winter cap) and compression socks in addition to the shorts and tshirt I wore through the day. I ended up having to wrap a space blanket around me for the last portion along Skyline ridge as it was breezy through the night. I don't recall whether I used gloves or not.

4. As for a pack, I've looked at the video and Ive seen a range of what people carry. One woman was using handhelds (which is way too minimalist for me), others seem to have small camelbaks that don't have much storage space for anything more than water and a few snacks and others have bigger packs. My thought was that it should be big since I need to carry lots of water, extra clothing, lights and food. How big was your pack?

I used a Nathan Synergy Pack (only a single bladder though) as it had enough space to carry my gear (jacket, head lamp, hat etc) for when I wasn't using them. Definitely use something with space for a couple liters of water - the course will be bone dry by the race if it keeps up like it has, so that means the only water will be at aid stations. Last year I carried my bladder with approx 2L (can hold 3L) and a small 500 mL flask as a back-up so that if I sucked the pack dry I knew I had at least a few sips to keep me going. I didn't have to use the flask for myself, but I did give it to another runner that ran out before Trapper aid station. Just make sure you refill at the aid stations, especially at Trapper and Sumallo.

5. What would you say was the biggest challenge of this race? Why? Could you have better prepared for it and how?

Three of the large climbs come in the first 50 miles of the race, then you're expected to be able to 'run' the next 50 and follow that up with another large climb with several false peaks. Once you add in the distance/time between aid stations the race becomes challenging. I have increased my overall volume this year and included more hills and am hoping that, combined with fixing the shoe problem, will give me an edge over last year.

6. Did you use poles? I was planning to just go without

I didn't use poles, and don't plan to this year. If I were going to though, I would put them in my drop bag at Skyline 2 for the last 20 miles. There are a couple parts that traverse steep scree-like slopes and the added stability at the end of the race couple be helpful for some. As well, the final downhill into Lightening Lakes could probably benefit from poles, but it really depends on how you think you'll be feeling at that point and whether you'll be bounding down the hill or needing poles to lessen the load on the legs.

7. Obviously the elevation gain/descent is the big part of this race. Are the hills super steep or just very long and plentiful?

Very long and plentiful... The first climb is somewhat steeper than the others, and so are a few of the false peaks near the end of the race. The descent just before and after Nicomen is steep as well, then sort of levels into a constant descent. Overall though, the climbs are just quite long.

8. Feel free to share anything you think may be helpful. I've complete 10 100's and multiple other ultra-races. I'm not new to this, but Fat Dog seems to have this mystique. Aside from the elevation gain/loss and the 120 mile distance, what makes it top-10 most difficult ultra?

I think the real test comes at mile 100 when you begin the final ascent to Mowich and you're into that next level of challenge, having already completed what would be a tough 100. If you plan each section carefully in terms of food, water and clothing, and minimize carrying of needless items (headlamp during the day, sunglasses at night etc) I think you'll see a lot of success.

Other tidbits:
Compression/tall socks will help keep the foliage from brushing your legs in the last 40 miles and help keep you sane.
If you have a mosquito head net, it's a good idea to stick that in a drop bag for the section from Sumallo to Camp Mowich. Bug spray is good too!!!

Good luck to everyone!

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