How to Become a Fat Dog

My love affair with ultras began three short years ago, and I still remember nervously lining up for my first 50km race, the Squamish 50km in 2013, not entirely sure what I was getting myself into. After several years of running increasingly longer distances and getting stronger and smarter through the guidance of my coaches Gary Robbins and Eric Carter, I signed up for the Fat Dog 70 mile distance last year.

In a classic example of why I have a coach (aka my reality check and voice of reason), I had wanted to sign up for the flagship 120 mile distance immediately – go big or go home, right?? –  but Gary reigned me in and told me that I wasn’t ready yet. He said I should stick with the 70 mile distance for one more year to let my body continue to adapt to the heavy mileage volume I was beginning to tackle. Those who know me know that patience is not my strong suit, and so I begrudgingly lined up to race “only” the 70 miler last year, watching more experienced friends tackle the 120 mile distance with envy. Well, I had to eat my words in a big way when I ended up having an enormously successful day, placing first female overall in what was by far my best race result to date. Having conceded that maybe Gary was right about that whole patience thing, I set my sights on running the entire 120 mile distance in 2016.

This race has been the focus of my entire year’s training, and I’ve avoided signing up for many tantalizing events in favour of saving my racing legs and logging long training miles instead. Training for a race this big while also balancing school, a full time job, and working on a career change, hasn’t been easy. There’s been setbacks, minor injuries that have derailed planned workouts, unexpected travel that has been hard to train around, and family and relationship commitments that have all at times simply had to take precedence. I’ve had to accept that sometimes things don’t always go according to plan, but that in the grand scheme of things, my training over the past several years has all pointed me in the right direction. It’s been hard to feel that I’m doing enough, because short of actually running the entire distance in training (not recommended at all), it’s impossible to perfectly replicate the conditions and length of a race that could take 40 hours to complete.

This was completely uncharted territory, and I felt it keenly. Conversations with Gary in the weeks leading up to the race focused on the mental aspect of things – because in a race this long, once you hit a certain physical pain threshold, the race becomes more about how you manage that and find a way to stay positive and motivated to continue putting one foot in front of another.

It Begins

I headed into the Fat Dog weekend with no small amount of exhaustion hanging over me. A couple nasty falls on my knees two weeks earlier had left me starting an early taper and running exactly once in the 10 days before the race, and a fun but exhausting trip to Utah the week before the race had me craving more than two days of sleeping in my own bed.

Last minute changes to my pacers the week of the race had me scrambling to find someone who wanted to run 63km with me all night on four days notice (I really can’t imagine why there weren’t a lot of takers for that appealing invite…😁). Thankfully I found one – a triathlete who thought this would be fun – through a friend of my boyfriend Jer’s, and before I knew it I was driving to Manning Park with a sense of impending doom hanging over me.

The logistics of this race are daunting, and I don’t think I’d really realized how much work it would be to coordinate my crew and pacers and figure out where I’d be when, especially given that there is no cell coverage in Manning Park. I put together my best and worst case time scenarios and when I “should” potentially hit various aid stations – usually with a 3 hour window of when that could be, and with the caveat that it could be even longer if the wheels fell off the bus along the way. Really, I had no idea what to expect, and I felt like I was just throwing darts in the dark and hoping they’d stick.

A mere fraction of my gear, food and drop bag supplies for the weekend.

After a whirlwind morning of finding a campsite and setting up tents for my crew,  checking in and making it onto the shuttle bus to Princeton with about 30 seconds to spare, I felt exhausted before the race had even begun. Following the mandatory race briefing in Princeton, where my stomach started to tie itself in knots at the thought of what the following 48 hours held, I grabbed dinner with Tara and Tory, two of my very badass group of girls who were also racing the 120 mile. We carb loaded as if it was the last supper, and it kind of felt like it was. I washed down a couple of muscle relaxants with a glass of wine (my ultimate secret sleep weapon before a race – and trust me, there was no way I wasn’t going to try to get as much sleep as possible the night before I got no sleep at all), and tried to pretend that the next day was going to be no big deal. Ha.Ha.

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Hydrating.

The bus ride to the start line felt like an eternity – one of those rollercoaster rides where they buckle you in, and then you spend the next few minutes regretting your decision to get in and waiting for the inevitable sudden drop to happen. We checked in nervously, cleared the mandatory gear check (I was pretty positive mine was all there, since it felt like I’d also thrown a couple of bricks in for good measure as well), followed by about three nervous pees in between saying hi to friends and waiting for the day to begin.

Catching up with fellow Ridgeline Coaching athletes at the start line – and that beard.

Tory’s friend Jeff had also very sweetly made us girls matching buffs that read “I’m a fucking unicorn” for the race. I put mine on and didn’t take it off all race. Seemed somewhat fitting, especially given that the ratio of men to women in this race was like 70:30. It’s a toss-up whether I felt more like a fucking unicorn or just fucking stupid at this point, but either way I’ll take it.

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Day 1 – Start line to Bonnevier Aid station, 66 km

With the traditional lowkey start that I love so much about ultras, the pack started moving across a narrow footbridge (that felt more like a suspension bridge than it had any right to, under the weight of all of us pack mules), and I basically walked the first KM or so as we all shuffled into a very mellow conga line that snaked up the immediate first hill. The longer the race, the slower the start, and I could already tell this one was going to be a doozy. After a few minutes the pack started to spread out a bit as people settled into their comfortable climbing pace, and I chatted with friends as we all found our rhythm. As in previous races I knew that I do best when I start out at turtle pace and then slowly build from there, so I climbed according to my heart rate, making sure my breathing was super comfortable. It was already hot (I had freaking elbow sweat before I started moving… that’s the definition of hot!), and by the time we climbed above the treeline and onto the exposed ridges it was midday and the sun was just hitting its stride. Perfect recipe for a siesta, I thought wistfully. Instead, I shuffled along, admiring the stunning terrain and trying to ignore my hamstrings, which were way too loud and angry given the fact that I’d been running for exactly 3 hours.

It’s getting hot in here, uh huh.

I was kind of glad that I was running by myself for much of the first day, as it let me stick to a comfortable pace and pay attention to eating and drinking. Aside from the occasional yelp to warn nearby bears, I was pretty quiet, content to enjoy as many ‘easy miles’ as possible.

Let me digress momentarily to talk about the general race stats for a minute, for those who aren’t familiar.

Ranked as one of the 9 toughest ultramarathons in the world, Fat Dog 120 mile is actually now 122 miles for 2016 (or 197km for those of us on the metric system), due to a “bonus” out and back section that was necessary to add to keep the good folks at BC provincial parks happy. This bumped the total elevation to 8912 meters of elevation gained, which is in fact higher than climbing Mount Everest in its entirety. Based on some very rough internet calculations about running speeds blah, blah, blah, I could expect to take somewhere between 230,000 to 270,000 steps during the race. That’s a lot of impact. Sorry knees.

When planning, I’d broken the race into three parts to wrap my head around it: Day 1, Night 1, Day 2.

Night 2 was also floated as a horrid but real possibility, but goal #1 was to avoid going into the second night at all costs, so I kept that fourth part firmly in the dark recesses of my brain, only to be entertained if the wheels fell completely off the bus.

So now that we’re clear on exactly what I was embarking on, back to Day 1. As I said, I spent much of it running alone, content to ponder important questions such as WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? This question really doesn’t have a good answer other than “to see if I can”, so it tends to be a bit of an endless loop conversation. Good thing I’ve got nothing but time.

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Heading into Trapper Lake Aid station, Day 1. Photo credit Nadine Schuurman

I was rudely jarred out of my musings when I ran into several gentlemen from Idaho, Derek and Kyle, who were walking when I came along at a decent clip. They decided to try to use me to jumpstart their pace again, and we soon settled into a pleasant little trio for the next few hours. Part of what I enjoy so much about these races is that you get to know people by virtue of a) having nothing better to do with your time than share your life story as you go, and b) running slowly enough to talk comfortably in the first place. It does help the time go by, though, and I enjoyed the break from talking to myself. We navigated the notorious Pasayten river crossing with some head dunking and cooling off (at knee deep levels, it wasn’t exactly epic, but it sure felt great on the feet), and ran the boring few KM along the highway into Bonnevier aid station.

Ultra fashion choices.

This marked the end of the first day for me, and it was where I was planning to take my first real break to eat, change gear, and get ready for the long night. Jer (with doggy co-pilot Odin) was the captain of my crew extraordinaire, and his first big job was to meet and shuttle my night pacer, Mike, to Bonnevier aid station from where Mike would later finish. Due to that whole no cell coverage thing, I had come up with VERY approximate guesstimates of when they should expect me, with a 2 hour window of time on either side, and so he really had no real idea when exactly I’d be arriving. We both had to just stick to the plan and hope it all worked out.

Luckily, I wasn’t too far off my first estimated time, arriving at around 8:30pm just as it got dark, and about an hour after my “fastest predicted time”. This suited me fine, as it meant I was keeping my pace under control, and it was a nice boost to see Jer, Jackie (who was my pacer for the following day but showed up at Bonnevier to say hi before bed), and my new friend Mike. I seriously can’t thank Mike enough for being willing to pace a random stranger for 63km all night – it truly made a difference to my race to have the company during what I knew would be a particularly challenging section of the race for me.

Night 1 – Bonnevier to Cascade Aid station, 63km

I perched in a chair at Bonnevier for 15 min or so as Jackie changed my shoes and socks for me (she’s very brave, and didn’t even comment on the smell), and Jer fed me banana bread and chocolate milk while Odin licked my salty legs (thanks bud). I changed into a merino wool shirt, decided it was too warm for pants so stuck with my shorts, grabbed my borrowed Black Diamond carbon fiber poles (courtesy of my awesome RMT Matt) and my trusty Petzl Nao headlamp, and headed into the night with my new buddy Mike.

I felt pretty strong after taking the time to eat and change my gear, and Mike and I powered up the Three Brothers climb with little effort. We passed a few racers along this section, which is always a nice confidence boost, and I felt like I was moving smoothly. I had only done one all night run prior to the race, on a “practice round”, so this was still very new territory to me. The Perseid meteor shower was happening during our race, and a few times I tried to dim the headlamp and enjoy the stars as we ran. There is something very peaceful about running at night, but I’d imagine that if I was on my own I would have felt a lot less at ease than I did having Mike to chat with – especially given that we’d been warned about a Grizzly bear that had been recently active in the area. Grrrrreat, right? Tara, who was in front of me, actually saw an entire bloody deer leg lying on the side of the trail along this section. Quite glad I missed that.

We ran into Dennis and his pacer Nicola along here, who were stopped on the side of the trail to talk some sense into his uncooperative glute, as well as one of my running club friends Michael Senior, who I yo-yoed with most of the night. The ultra trail running community is a small one, and being able to see so many friends throughout this race was a definite pick-me-up.

The newly added 4km out and back section to the Buckthorn aid station (with several hundred meters of added up and down) were along this section, and as we turned off the main trail to head down to the aid station, I had my first “pout” moment of the race. “This is so unnecessary”, I grumbled. “Who even needs this aid station anyways?” “Why can’t we just skip it altogether? Each rock on this washed out trail felt like an added insult, and poor Mike very graciously ignored my little tantrum as we plodded along. My excuse is that we were approaching midnight, and it was officially past my bedtime. 😉

When we hit the aid station, I felt better instantly seeing friends Dave and Brandi there. They had decorated their aid station as a Mexican fiesta, complete with sombreros, quesadillas, and tequila. I declined the tequila (too early in the race, seemed like a terrible plan), but happily devoured a cheesy corn tortilla that Dave had specially sourced and made me, knowing that I would have trouble finding gluten free food at most of the aid stations. It was heavenly, and silenced my grumbling handily.

The night shift with Mike.

Revived, we headed back into the night to trek back up the “unnecessary section” and onwards. This section from 1 – 3:30am or so was probably my low point of the night energy wise, and I struggled to keep my pace consistent, settling for a run/walk/shuffle combo and content to maintain forward momentum. I wasn’t really sleepy so much as tired of running, which was a bit of a problem given that I was only about halfway through the race at this point. Our chatting was reduced to Mike reminding me at half hour intervals to eat, interspersed with me wondering where the hell the next aid station was, and if someone had possibly moved it farther away just for fun.

The Nicomen Lake aid station finally arrived, and it was also manned by a group of my trail running friends, Josh, Adam, Matt and Alexa, who had all hiked in for hours with heavy packs of water and food to be out there all weekend. Remote access terrain is part of what makes this race such a logistical challenge to pull off, but these little backcountry aid stations are like oasis for the weary, and having a friendly face and a warm piece of food waiting for you in the middle of the night is enough to bring tears to the eyes.

From Nicomen Lake, I remembered from the 70mile course that the trail descends endlessly for a couple hours, and I decided to open up the legs a bit and throw caution to the wind. It felt great to move faster than I had so far all race, and Mike and I jumped and scrambled over roots and the occasional fallen tree (there really wasn’t many, thanks to the tireless work of volunteers before the race who cleared over 1500 trees prior to the race weekend!). I slowly felt my energy restored with the promise of a sunrise in the not too distant future. I had been told that seeing the sun come up would give me an instant jolt of energy, and it was true. Something about knowing that I had made it through the night gave me wings on my feet, and I flew along the trail with abandon as birds chirped good morning and it was finally light enough to put away the headlamps.

Feeling human again as the sun rose on Day 2.

As we headed into Cayuse Flats Aid Station (getting hugs from friends Heather and Johnny, who were manning this aid station), I knew we were only 5 miles away from Cascade aid station, which officially marked the end of Night 1 for me, and where I was eagerly awaiting hugs and food from my crew, which now included my mom and dad, who had trekked out to meet me and make me breakfast at the start of the morning. I started getting a bit emotional as we came into the aid station and I saw them, knowing that they don’t see me race very often. I had just run all day, all night, and I still had another day of running in front of me. The enormity of what I was doing sunk in a bit, and I just felt very grateful that I was still moving well and feeling strong. I had now gone farther than I ever had before, and there was still more to come.

Odin. Thanks for catching him doing his thing, Brian McCurdy!

I scarfed down some bacon and eggs at the aid station, forcing myself to eat even though my body really didn’t want to. Side note on eating: I was mostly using a combination of Tailwind (an endurance carbohydrate/caffeinated powder in my water), dates, and some gels and chews, supplemented with typical aid station fare such as coke, watermelon, pickles and chips. Quite a cocktail, but so far it seemed to be staying in fairly well, which I was grateful for after seeing other runners dealing with puking and massive GI issues.

After changing tops into a second trusty Under Armour SPF 50 long sleeve (perfect way to avoid needing to reapply sunscreen every 5 minutes in the heat) and changing my socks again, it was time to start Day 2. Jackie and I were issued two neon safety vests for the next 3km section which ran along the highway, and I left Cascade AS with sweaty hugs for my parents and Jer, doggy kisses from Odin, and massive thanks for Mike (I spared him the sweaty hug, which I’m sure he was quite grateful for). As I was leaving, I was told I was currently 5th place female, which was a pleasant and unexpected surprise – I must have passed more women through the night than I thought. It was hard not to go tearing out of there after hearing that, but Jer calmed me down and reminded me that my game plan was to save my racing until I hit Skyline aid station (36km from the finish), and there was still a long ways to go.

Day 2 – Cascade to Finish, 68km

Jackie was full of energy and ready to tackle the remaining 68km of the race with me (how lucky am I to have friends who think running 68km is an easy day??), and as we chatted and shuffled along I could almost convince myself that I hadn’t already been running for close to 24 hours at this point.

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Feeling remarkably chipper for Day 2 and after 24 hours of running.

The next 38km section along the Skagit river is relatively flat and rolling by Fat Dog standards – which, while that might sound ideal to some people, it definitely doesn’t to me. Because I was never really a runner up until a few years ago, and much of trail running consists of power hiking the uphills and letting gravity move you downhill, flat and boring terrain kills my mojo more than anything. Give me some gnarly, rooty excuse for a trail any day, just please don’t make me run, and run, and run some more.

I’d warned Jackie to brace herself for my grumpiness through this section, which she did a great job of ignoring as we ultra shuffled along. I would bargain with her to let me walk every few minutes, and she would ask me if I could find another gear and “pick it up a bit”. Before the race I had told Jackie, who is a veteran of 100+ mile races, to give me tough love, so even as I gritted my teeth each time she coaxed me into running/penguin shuffling again, I still secretly thanked her for it. This was my goal race of the year and I’ve worked pretty darn hard to get here, and there’s no way I wanted to finish and feel like I could have done more.

This whole section was endless, and it was definitely my low point of day two. Nutrition was reduced to liquid form by this point, as my body was just really done with running food and there was limited options for “real food” that my celiac self could eat. I’d asked Jer the night before to pick up all the chocolate milk he could find, and at every aid station he would hand me a bottle of either chocolate milk or those Starbucks Frappuccino drinks and make me chug it before I left the aid station, and then hand me one for the road. Have dairy farm, will travel. Good thing I love chocolate milk, and even in the heat it seemed to go down and stay down.

Why are we still running?

As we came into Skyline aid station, I felt a rush of excitement. This was the section that had made my 70 mile race so successful last year, and I was determined to do it again. I hadn’t been passed by anyone all day, so I knew I was doing a good job of pacing myself. If I could only find my climbing legs one more time, I’d be good.

Somewhere in here I’d moved into 4th place woman, and Jer let me know that the 3rd place woman was about 45 minutes ahead of me but that she didn’t look all that strong. I filed this tidbit away, knowing that it was largely out of my control whether I caught her or not, and I focused on dealing with my blisters (which had gotten quite ugly and taken over the ball of one of my feet as well as a bunch of the toes). After forcing down a few bites of scrambled eggs that Jer had made for me, I grabbed my poles for this last gruelling climb, handed out sweaty hugs and kisses to Odin and Jer, and estimated that I’d see them at the finish line again in around 7-8 hours. The last couple of small aid stations were perched on the side of the hill with no crew access, so for this final section I was on my own.

Let there be up. Also, why is Jackie so happy.

We set off from Skyline at a brisk hike, as I had no intention of attempting to run the climb at all. My goal was just to make steady progress and hopefully do so faster than the racers in front of me. Jackie reminded me to drink my chocolate milk at intervals, and each time we hit a slightly runnable grade in the climb she’d gently suggest running until the next steep part. Sometimes I ignored her, sometimes I gave it a go. I generally felt pretty good, but it was also the middle of the day by this point and I knew the heat was going to sap my energy more than anything. And after running for 27 hours at this point, I use the word “energy” loosely. It was more like “motivated to finish as quickly as possible”.

We hit the second-to-last aid station, Camp Mowich, where several cheerful volunteers poured black coffee down my throat while I sat on a log and caught my breath for 5 minutes. We were trying to figure out how far the 3rd place woman was at this point, but the volunteers here didn’t have a clear memory of when she’d come through. I decided to just keep worrying about my own race, and we set off on the fairly runnable 8km to the very last aid station, Sky Junction (so named because it was literally perched on the side of the mountain on one of the final climbs). As we climbed the switchbacks towards it, I saw a runner up ahead of me. At first glance I thought it was another guy, but then Jackie whispered to me “I’m pretty sure that’s the third place woman up there…” She looked back, and I looked at Jackie. Oh my god, we’d made up the 45 minutes on that climb and caught her. I couldn’t believe it.

We came into the aid station almost simultaneously with her, and in that moment I knew exactly what I needed to do. I had to keep going and not stop to refill my water or grab the glass of coke that I’d been daydreaming about for the last hour. It was the only way to make sure that she didn’t catch a second wind and start to chase me. I looked at Jackie as the other runners filled their packs and enjoyed the array of food on the side of the trail, said “If you have enough water to make it to the finish line, we aren’t stopping”, and then the two of us just kept going through the aid station. I knew I had to look strong as we went, so I power climbed and ran my way uphill until I was sure we were out of sight – and then promptly started gasping for breath.

Beep Beep.

The combination of the heat, the running uphill, and the adrenaline of just moving into 3rd all caught up with me pretty quickly, and I spent a minute getting myself back together before taking off at a fast clip again. As we climbed the four cruel, steep summits before the trail finally heads down to the lake, I put Jackie on female-spotting duties while I just struggled to get up each endless hill. She couldn’t see any sign that the woman we’d passed was chasing us, but I couldn’t relax. Here we were, 33 hours into the longest race of my life, and I couldn’t believe I’d just moved into 3rd. There was no way I wasn’t bringing this home now if I could help it.

3rd place, and feeling great.
Oh fudge. Seriously, up there too?

We finally topped out at the last summit, said hi to Sasha and Brian McCurdy who were perched at the top taking photos, and Sasha called out “you’re in third place, you’re doing so well!” as I went passed. I replied: “I know!! And please don’t tell the woman behind me where I am!” So sneaky, I am. 😉

Whee! Photo credit: Brian McCurdy

We finally started the descent, and Jackie hopped in front of me so that all I would have to do is focus on her feet. We flew down the trail (well flew as fast as one can after running 190km), and I sparingly sipped my water that was now perilously low following my whole “let’s not stop to refill our water at the aid station” plan. It helped that I remembered this section well from last year, and I knew we had 7 downhill km’s to go and that was it. We counted them down, and I turned my GPS watch on for this part so that I could yell out each km as we went. We finally hit the bottom of the lake as I took my final sip of water, and I realized that I had done this section much faster than I had planned to – in fact, I worried that my family wouldn’t even be at the finish line yet, since I was a good hour ahead of my “best guess” time. There was nothing I could do about that, though, and as we crossed the Rainbow Bridge that marked 1km to the finish line, I could see the finish line and the glowing time clock from across the lake.

I started waving madly at the spectators, in the desperate hopes that my family might be there and somehow recognize the pink dot hobbling around the far side of the lake towards them. (Turns out later that my mother did, recognizing my particular brand of shuffling as only a mother can. Well done, mother dearest). With a few more glances behind me to make sure that I wasn’t going to be passed at the last second, it finally started to hit me that I was going to finish this huge, giant bitch of a race. Jackie and I were both sniffling as we came around the corner and I started the home stretch, and I suddenly saw my mom, dad, youngest sister Claire, Jer and Odin all jumping up and down right at the finish line chute. I started sprinting as Jackie dropped back and let me cross alone, and in a few short steps it was all over. 33 hours and 55 minutes, and I was finally allowed to stop.

I collapsed on the ground, unable to stand up for one more second, and just grinned at everyone as they gathered around. I’ve never been more sweaty, filthy, exhausted, and sleep deprived in my life, but I’ve also never felt as powerful, strong, and proud of an accomplishment as I did in that moment. I’ve watched the incredulity in everyone’s eyes all year long every single time I’ve talked about this almost 200km long race that I was going to attempt, and I had so much secret doubt in my mind about whether I could even do it –  whether my body would allow me to go that far, or whether I would hit the point where I’d have to stop and accept that that was far enough. Considering that in just over three years I’ve gone from barely running 10km to running almost 200km at one time, and knowing that this race was 80km longer than anything I’ve run before, I knew it was going to push me to my limits when I signed up for it. I also recognized that there was a very real chance of failure, and I had to accept that risk when I took on the challenge. But to face the fears and beat them, proving to myself how strong I really am, is one of the most incredible feelings and moments of my life.

The Thank-You’s

I’m so incredibly proud of everyone out there who finished this race, especially my girls – Tara, who finished freaking 2nd place woman with an incredible time of 32:30, and Tory, who finished 6th place woman in 36:48. You girls are so strong and I feel so privileged to have you in my life. You inspire me to push my limits!

Huge thanks to Race Director Heather MacDonald, and Course Director Peter Watson, as well as the legions of volunteers who make this such a truly special and remarkable race experience.

I also cannot thank my crew and pacers enough. It takes a village to pull off a race with this many logistical challenges, and I was very lucky to have such a great team at my side. My boyfriend Jer shuttled pacers, drove all over several provincial parks to wait for me for hours at tiny aid stations armed with chocolate milk, bandaids and chafe stick, words of encouragement and sanity, and provided an endless supply of sweaty hugs as required. Thank you for being there for me, babe. Odin provided doggie kisses and presided over many a dusty aid station, and my incredible pacers Jackie and Mike made sure I didn’t fall off a cliff or get lost, kept me from hallucinating, reminded me to eat even when I didn’t want to, and graciously put up with my sporadic attempts at running and racing as we counted down the many miles together. It was also very special having my parents involved in this race, and seeing them over breakfast at the beginning of Day 2 gave me the boost I needed to make it through the day. Having them there at the finish line twelve hours later, along with my youngest sister Claire, meant the world to me. It’s a crazy sport that I’ve stumbled into, and to be able to share my success with my family really means everything. My best friend Jee wasn’t able to be there in person, but she’d made me funny notes and drawings to read at each aid station along the way, and I faithfully read and loved each one (and maybe shed a tear or two when I did).

Top 3 Females, Fat Dog 2016 Edition. Photo: Brian McCurdy
Me and coach Gary Robbins

I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank Gary and Eric from Ridgeline Athletics. Having worked with you guys for 2.5 years now, I can honestly say that it’s been one hell of a journey, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without all of your expertise and faith in me. Looking forward to seeing where we go next. I’ve also worked very closely with Sean Causier from Twist Conditioning for the past 6 months, and adding strength training into my training has made a massive difference to my running. I’m stronger and less injury prone, and I know my glutes thanked those many squat reps every time I climbed uphill (which was quite a lot). In that vein, Matt Thompson from Fortius Sport and Health Centre is much more than my pole lender – he’s an accomplished ultra runner and Fat Dog racer in his own right and a fantastic RMT, and he’s patched me up many times in the months leading up to this race.

Twist Conditioning with Sean

As I said, it wasn’t just me out there. It was me + every friend, coworker and loved one who sent me notes of encouragement before the race, or kept me in their thoughts every second for the long 34 hours that I was out there running for, or believed in me even when I secretly doubted myself. I carried that love and support with me every step of the way, and it carried me when the going got tough.

The Aftermath

So immediately following the race, as soon as my body gave itself permission to chill the f**k out, I started getting nauseous, which was shortly followed by puking. This has happened to me at the finish of other races, so I wasn’t too worried, but as it carried on for hours through the night I started to be concerned that I wasn’t replacing all the fluid and calories that I’d obviously lost during the race. Even through the awards ceremony the next morning, I was only able to sip on water, which was clearly less than ideal. I knew that I’d be flying out to California as part of a trip with Lifestraw two days later, so I prioritized rest, massage, and physical recovery, all the while struggling to get my appetite back.

By the time I left for California I was feeling pretty good, all things considered, and I didn’t think twice about the fact that I probably should have still been taking it easy. By Thursday, which was now five days after the race, I developed a massive headache which I chalked up to ongoing dehydration combined with the heat and altitude of the northern California mountains where I was based out of. By Friday morning, I was feeling more and more nauseous, combined with dizziness and lightheadedness. As part of the event setup I was hauling a table up the side of the ski hill towards one of the climbing cliffs (don’t ask), when I started to feel short of breath, almost passed out, and started puking uncontrollably. Recognizing that I couldn’t ignore this, I crawled back to my hotel room for a couple of hours wishing that it would pass, before finally acknowledging that it wasn’t going to. I hobbled to the medic tent and collapsed there in the fetal position. My stupid, stubborn self was so upset that I had to admit weakness, especially when I was supposed to be helping out at this event, not ending up comatose in the medic tent. This was my first moment of having to confront my own physical limitations. I hadn’t placed enough importance on recovery following the race, heading back to work the day after and then flying to California two days after that for a week full of outdoor activities. In hindsight, I should have slowed down a little bit and given myself room to heal. But since I didn’t, my body took matters into its own hands.

By the evening I was so chronically dehydrated that the call was made that I needed to go to the hospital for IV treatment as my electrolytes were so badly out of whack that I couldn’t get them back on track without some help. Bryan, who was there with Lifestraw at the event with me, was an incredible support, and he drove me to the hospital 45 minutes away while I puked in a bag at the mere mention of “burritos” (poor Bryan, he instantly regretted suggesting a food stop after that). Glamorous, this was not. One quick trip to the ER followed by several bags of IV fluids and a bunch of bloodwork and tests which thankfully came back showing that everything else was working fine, I was back at the resort, finally ready to listen to my body and slow down.

Oh hi, American ER. Just who I wanted to see.
When eating popsicles is a full time job…

The rest of the weekend reinforced that point, as with every scheduled group run, hike, or other activity, I had to wave everyone off and stay firmly perched in my chair with my popsicles and gallons of electrolytes. It was slow going getting fluids back in, even with the IV kick start, and it took a while before my body stopped rejecting all attempts at food. I had to learn to ask for help, to be okay with not being the strong one, and to let others see me when I was weak. None of these are easy things for me to accept, but I also took a lot away from this experience and still managed to enjoy my time connecting with the awesome attendees and organizers at the REI Outessa Summit (from my chair).

Takeaways

Final thoughts, as I wrap up this post that is now almost as long as my race.

  • 122 miles is really, really far. It takes a LOT of physical and mental effort to push your body to do something like this, and I didn’t give nearly enough priority to rest and recovery as I needed to. Therefore, my body did it for me, which was a much more unpleasant way to learn the lesson. Point taken, body. Next time I’ll do better.
  • Chafe stick is my friend. Use it liberally, use it everywhere.
  • There is no limit to how much chocolate milk I am capable of consuming over 34 hours. Moo.
  • For those who care, here’s the gear I used:
  • Shoes – Saucony Xodus ISO (amaaaazing for these distances).
  • Socks – Smartwool all the way
  • Pack – Salomon (the 8-10 L or whatever the model was from 3 years ago around that size)
  • Shorts – Pearl Izumi (I didn’t change them all race, and they probably need to be burned now)
  • Waterproof Jacket – Saucony (crazy lightweight, taped seamed, and thankfully I didn’t have to use it)
  • Tops – Under Armour long sleeve, SPF 50
  • Headlamp – Petzl Nao (the best. That is all)
  • Poles – Black Diamond (whatever those super lightweight carbon ones are called)

Also, I have the best damn crew, family, friends and support network that I could possibly ask for.

And finally. I signed up for this race “to see how far I can go”. I guess I still don’t know the answer to that, but as I start to plan out goals for 2017, I know that I’m a) stronger than I ever knew I was, and b) still have so much to learn. The journey continues, and it keeps getting better. And longer. 😁

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4 thoughts on “How to Become a Fat Dog”

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