Monday, August 25, 2014

Fat Dog 120 Race Report

From Friday, August 14 at 10:00 AM to Saturday, August 15 just before 11:00 PM, I ran the Fat Dog 120 in British Columbia, Canada. Outside called it one of the 9 toughest ultras. Previous runners quoted on the race website say the only harder race is Hardrock.

Meh.

I mean, yeh, it's 120 miles long, and yeh, it has 28,454 feet of climbing, but I really didn't think it was that hard, nor that scenic.

I heard afterward that in previous years the race may not been very well organized. I think all those kinks have been worked out. Pre-race meetings were simple and on-schedule, and if you read the instructions, most things were perfectly clear (except for where exactly camping was) and for whatever wasn't, the race director promptly replied to questions via e-mail. Aid stations were well-stocked and almost all volunteers new exactly what terrain was coming up and how far it was to the next station (in both km and miles).

The race basically has four huge climbs and descents, each taking 20-25 miles, plus one awful flat section of equal distance. (Read page 5 here or look at the elevation profile here.) The first climb and descent took me above treeline to the gorgeous views that I was expecting. Only you weren't above treeline for very long at all.
Reward for the first climb
I climbed for ten miles, got above treeline, and promptly dropped back below treeline all the way to the original elevation.

Then I did that same basic thing (climb and drop) again, only with fewer rewards at the top. At the bottom, we crossed a river. It had a rope across it, but it didn't help (not taut enough) and wasn't necessary. We ran along the highway for a bit to a big aid station at Bonnevier at mile 41, and I thought it was pretty great that Canada spelled my name correctly.

You spell it with one "t," eh?
 After the road section was another immediate long climb. I was feeling fine so far, but I forgot to eat anything at the big aid station, and I foolishly thought that changing my socks would be enough and that I didn't need to change my wet shoes. I was fine on the climb (in the dark), but true to last year's Western States experience, Altra Zero Drop shoes don't drain worth beans, so my feet got pruney and really started to hurt on the descent. There were zero views on the third climb because it was in the dark, though apparently it's gorgeous when it's light out. (I don't think even the fastest runners got here during the daylight.) We were also inside a cloud, so you couldn't see anything other than the beam of your headlamp. I didn't do very well on the third descent, or the rolling into the big aid station on the highway at Cascades at mile 78, despite the fact that the sun had come up so normally I would be feeling pretty chipper and starting running faster.

I perked up very briefly after changing shoes and socks at mile 78, but there were a few miles of highway shoulder, a few miles of decent river trail, and then a seemingly endless section of flat/rolling/circuitous overgrown mosquito-filled boringness that was awful and felt like it took me most of the second day. This section from mile 78 to mile 99 was truly unenjoyable for me. There were some really annoying PUDs in this section, but it should have been runnable, and you'd have to run this part if you wanted a good time, or to really push yourself, but I just disliked the trail so much I had no motivation to push myself to meet my 36 hour goal. I just listened to my music and trudged on through. The runners from the shorter races held concurrently passed me left and right, but thankfully there weren't that many of them.

Finally at mile 99 we started our last huge climb. After a few miles the mosquitoes went away, and we were rewarded with the excellent views that I had expected all along, but I was so annoyed by mile 99 that I put my camera in my drop bag there. People told me this section was full of "false summits" but that is not accurate. It's a ridge walk. A ridge walk with lots of ups and downs, but a great ridge walk. This is what I'd try and make the whole race like if it were up to me.

The interesting part of this climb was that I was hallucinating a little bit. Nothing major, meaning no lizard people or anything, but I did momentarily think that I saw houses and people when it was just trees and flowers. I think everyone does that occasionally (right?) I was just doing it a lot. And instead of my mind just making the straight line of a tree trunk into something sensible like a ranger cabin that doesn't actually exist, I may have seen a leprechaun jump behind a tree. Or maybe it was just a guy in a three piece suit and a bowler hat. I can't be sure.

It got dark when I was on this rolling section, and then I spent an hour or two dropping on a pretty nice grade to the finish. I wish I'd had more energy to bomb this section as is my wont, but I was pretty worn out, so I don't think I got much faster than 4mph. I finished a few minutes before 11pm, grabbed my finish line drop bag with my sleeping bag, rolled it out under a tree, and got a decent night's sleep.

The next morning

PCT northern terminus, not really
I got a lift back to my car, gathered all my drop bags, and found two PCT thru-hikers who had just finished the trail and offered them a ride to Seattle. (One of whom is a Marine Corps vet raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project.) We had breakfast at Manning Park Lodge, and then hit the road. I stopped briefly in Mt. Vernon to say hi to Anish, then I hung out with the Ruts, and then I flew home.

The good example gun show
It was a fun trip, but given the expense, I was a little underwhelmed with the race. Hopefully the Mogollon Monster (106 miles) next month outside Phoenix will be all it's cracked up to be. 

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