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

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