|The MEC Relay team and I before the 10am start!|
I had DNF'd Western States 100 earlier in the year. I only made it 55 miles, which was a hard pill to swallow. Could I redeem myself at Fat Dog? Do I have it in me to finish 120 miles?
I went into the Fat Dog 120 with an entirely different attitude. Being such a low key event, I could take a very relaxed approach to it. The only thing that really stressed me out were the logistics, once I finally sat down and got organized. I had 2 incredible people who were crewing for me (Josh Barringer and Shauna Connaugton) and both of them I had spent many hours out on the trails with this year. My employer, MEC North Vancouver, had put together a relay team and I was super stoked to have them down for the race. My partner Peter Watson, manager of North Shore Athletics, is also one of the race directors and it excited me to know I would see him along the course.
The day before the race Nicki Rehn and I drove down to Manning Park. We picked up our bibs and went to the lodge to have some food. There we met a few other 120 mile runners, which got me even more excited to run.
Nicki and I drove to Keromeos and prepped our drop bags, caught up with friends, made new one's, and sat through a fun pre-race meeting. Before long we were eating dinner and drinking beer at the best Thai food place in town. I don't normally have beer before a big event but I figured it would only serve to relax me, which it did. As we walked back to the Elk's Motel we spotted a cute diner that opened at 6:30am and decided that's where we would have breakfast in the morning.
I woke up at 7am and ran the 3 blocks to the diner. The diner was awesome and the 80 year old owner was flirty and charming. I don't normally have coffee, eggs and toast pre-race but with such a late start time (10am) I decided to have something more exciting than the usual oatmeal. We boarded the bus at 9am that would take us to the Lakeview trail head about 30 minutes up a very scenic logging road.
I took my place in the back of the pack with Kendell Blenkarn, a co-worker of mine from MEC. Before we knew it the bear banger went off and away we went! After a quick 10 second run over the bridge, I was into a power hike which went on for a good while. I chatted a bit with Diane Van Deren who is a North Face athlete from Colorado. It was her first time running in BC and she was such a delight to talk to. A lot of people were hiking with poles and I was wondering if I was missing out by not having any. I was hiking strong without them and quickly made my way up the pack without feeling like I was moving "too fast".
Early on in this leg I could feel a hot spot forming in my right heel. I couldn't believe I was feeling something this early on. When I got to Randy and Lori at the Cathedral aid station I asked if they had any kinesio tape I could cover it with but they didn't. I knew Peter would be at the next aid station and hoped he would have some supplies to help me out.
As I ran along the trails in Cathedral park I couldn't help but wonder if I was in Heaven. I had heard these trails were stunning and stunning they were. I kept telling myself that there was no other place I would rather be than right here running.
I was stoked to finally be on the long downhill to Ashnola where I found myself in a pack with 3 others. Towards the bottom I could hear Peter cheering. He had come a little ways up the trail to cheer on the runners. I told him I had some blisters forming but first needed to hit the little girls room. He ran to the aid station to gather some supplies while I did my thing in the woods. When I got to the aid station I was treated like a Nascar racer at a pit stop. Peter cleaned up my feet, then sprayed sticky stuff on them and then once that was dry he covered my heels in tape. While all that was going on, my co-workers from MEC (Dennis and Allison) were helping out at the Aid station. They were quick to fill up my bladder and handed me any food I needed. I found out that I was 6th overall at this point.
|Beautiful burnt trees in Trapper Lake|
I ran a couple of km's up a logging road before starting uphill on a single track trail. At this point I had caught up to the guy in 5th who had been walking the logging road section. Not long after I passed the guy in 4th and then I passed the guy in 3rd. All that passing was done power hiking. After a few km's I ended up running in one of the prettiest sections all day. The trail was surrounded by burned trees and millions of pink flowers. I felt like I was in a video game because the scenery was too unreal. The flagging tape was also pink so you really had to look ahead at where you were going. I got to the next aid station where I saw my good friends from MEC, Dennis and Kendell. It was so great to see folks I knew along the course. I also ran into my good running friend Sara Elias and we chatted a little bit before she flew away as she was part of a relay team.
The next section from what I remember was a little boggy and I remember dancing around some wet areas trying to stay dry. Up until this point the flagging was flawless but I came across Sara and another girl who were having trouble seeing where to go. After a couple minutes I found the next flag ahead but later found out a sign and a couple of flags had been messed with. This was the only spot for the entire day where it was unclear exactly where to go.
Peter had told me I would love the Trapper Lake section and he was right. My favorite part was the 8km downhill section into Calcite aid station. I had found heaven once again! I also passed Hans, a 7 foot tall guy with long bleach blond hair. I was now in second place overall, behind Sammi. The Calcite aid station was pumping some pretty loud beats and they cheered me in. My friend Dennis from team MEC was just leaving the aid station as I came in. We had joked weeks earlier that I could beat our work relay team but I told them something would have to go horribly wrong for that to happen. I had beat the first 2 runners and the 3rd runner was in sight. For a brief moment, I wondered if it were possible.
It wasn't long before I was descending down to the Pasayton River which is where I had to cross over to get to Bonnevier. There I found Dennis wading in the river. We crossed over together and thanked Don, the owner of the cabin who's backyard we had to pass through to get to the next aid station. Dennis and I ran all the way along the highway to Bonnevier together. He was quite hung over and feeling like crap and I kept saying "Good job Dennis", "Almost there Dennis". I thought it was amusing that the 120 mile runner was pushing in the 30km relay leg. Dennis and I could see someone running out to us, which to my surprise turned out to be my pacer Josh. I had been so excited to know that when I reached Bonnevier I would see both him and Shauna, and hopefully Peter.
|My soon to be pacer Josh and on our way to Bonnevier. I swear I am feeling much better than I look here!|
At the mandatory meeting in Keromeos on Thursday night we found out we could have a pacer 19km earlier than we originally thought. As this was news to me I had not planned on having one there but I sure was keen on the idea. For some reason hiking 3-4 hours in the dark was unsettling to me. Interestingly, I got a random text on Thursday night from my friend Raj that said, "Are you doing the Fat Dog 120?"
"Yes," I replied.
"We are camping in Manning for the weekend with friends," says Raj.
"Does Patty (his wife) want to pace me for 19km?" I say.
"Let me ask her," he says.
I didn't hear back until the next day. He told me she was stoked to pace me and I told them to meet me at Bonnevier somewhere between 6pm-8pm.
I get to the aid station and immediately sit in a chair. Peter is there and I get him to work on my feet again. The heel tape is still good therefore I have him re-tape one toe and a nail that I grated the other day that seems to be catching on my clothes. I change my socks and shoes and pack my bag to get ready for the night. Sadly, there is no sign of Patty. I then yell out "Who's coming with me!!!?" but there was no reply. I say goodbye, put on my headlamp and mentally prepare for some long hours in the dark.
I plugged my ear phones in for the first time all day but took them out a minute later as it was distracting me from listening to my body. I could no longer hear myself breathing which was a sound I came to enjoy. I also couldn't hear the sounds of the night and I wanted to be able to hear those. It would be 45 minutes before I had to turn on my headlamp. I spent the majority of the climb bear calling, "Eh ohhhhhh." I can remember thinking to myself that I was moving really strong. The grade of the hill was not too steep thus you could climb at a good clip. The stars were magnificent and I was excited to finally be out of the trees and into the alpine. I kept bear calling "Eh ohhhhh," but this time I got a reply, "Eh ohhhhh." I got really excited because I knew that was Peter. He paced me in the last km to the aid station.
I was elated to be at the Heather aid station because Peter's oldest sister and her family were running the show for the second year in a row. They are best known for their world famous quasadilla's with avocado and salsa. They literally hike in enough supplies to make 70 of them and I sat down and patiently awaited my own. It was the best thing I had eaten all day and it truly hit the spot. Here I changed into tights in anticipation of a colder night.
I was now ready to run the next 20 miles with my pacer Josh. I had run this trail to Cayuse flats a few weeks prior so I knew what I was in for, however it seemed to have more climbing than I remember. The temperature was a little bit colder and all I had to put on was a water proof jacket because I had forgotten my wind breaker. It wasn't long before I was way to hot and felt like I was wearing a garbage bag. I took off the jacket and back into the bag it went. Then we would have a stretch of downhill and I'd put the jacket back on, only to feel too hot again once I climbed a small hill. I feel like my jacket came on and off a million times and I cursed myself for not having my windbreaker. I was happy when we finally reached the Nikomen aid station. I had been waiting all night for some warm broth and maybe some coke. My stomach had been a little off and I was looking for some easily digestible things to consume. The two boys were camped there with a small fire to stay warm. I sat down right in front of it and asked for some broth. They said they didn't have any, nor did they have any coke. My heart sank a little in my chest. I settled for a pringle but could hardly stomach it. I filled my bladder and we were out of there pretty fast.
The next section is 16km pretty much all downhill. I was struggling as we started down. Descending is something that comes really easy to me so I knew something was wrong when I was laboring. I felt like there was something jammed in my throat. I pulled out the good old gag technique, which I administered for the first time at Western States in 2010. I told Josh to hold on a second and that he would probably want to plug his ears. The first gag made this horrible sound but nothing came out. The second caused a flood of liquid to dart out of my mouth. "That's the one!" I said. I instantaneously felt better. In fact, I wasn`t just better, I was ALIVE again!". I instantly became super chatty and was so happy to be able to eat properly again.
We run down the hill, only stopping for pee breaks which seem almost too frequent. I figured peeing too much is better than not peeing at all though. The downhill section seemed to go on forever and eventually we get to the lower section where it widens out. I know from here it's about 5km to Cayuse Flats aid station but it's undulating and I was walking a large chunk of it. I want to run but its hard after gravity had been pulling us downhill for so long. Finally we reach the turn off to the aid station. I was stoked to cross the river on a giant log that was lit up with glowsticks.
I said goodbye to Josh and picked up Shauna, one of my best friends and running partner from back home. She had never paced anyone before and the advice Josh gave her was to make sure I was eating.The 8km trail over to Cascades aid station wasn't easy. The hills were steep and although they were short they just seemed to keep coming. As we were going up a steep hill she suggested that I eat something. I think the crankiness was starting to creep out of me because I responded with "You Fu#$ing eat something!" Josh and I had been running relatively quietly all night, chatting now and again. Shauna on the other hand, seemed to be pretty damn excited to be running and was really chatty from the get go. For some reason it was really irritating me. Here I was working through this nasty section of trail and being asked a million questions. At one point I just stopped answering them in hopes that the noise would stop only for there to be another question or story. I kept thinking to myself "she just won't shut up!" "How is she still talking!" Eventually I think I just told her to stop asking me questions as I was struggling a little bit and could not respond. We've since joked about all of this and I know she won't feel offended when she reads it. Love you!
I was elated when we got to the Cascade aid station. It was no longer dark and I felt invigorated from the light of day. The very first thing I did was brush my teeth! The bottom of my left foot was feeling pretty sore/tired and I thought about changing into brand new (never worn) shoes but I feared the stiffness would prove to rigid for my heal blister and it was. I grabbed some potatoes and drank a bunch of broth and coke. Shauna and I had 3 km's to run to the next aid station where I planned on taking a longer stop.
Summalo was an aid station I knew well because I had volunteered at it the first year. From what I remember the next 30km or so were pretty flat. I changed out of my tights and back into my shorts, put on a new sports bra, changed my t-shirt, and put on a new old pair of shoes. Changing shoes (and socks) felt really good and the soreness in my foot was non-existent afterwards.
We had 15km to go to get to the next aid, which we found out later was just to a water drop not a major aid station. The major aid station, Shawatum, was a few more km's along the trail. I foolishly had stopped eating prematurely in anticipation of real food (coke and broth) at the station and started to get really deflated when the aid station just never came. I kept wondering if we had missed it because you have to detour off the trail out to the road. Had we missed the turn-off? We were on this flat section and you could see for a ways ahead and the aid station was no where in sight. I was getting pretty deflated to the point that I tilted my hat downwards to hide the flow of tears that were streaming down my face. Once I realized I was being an idiot by not eating I shoved some honey stingers down my throat and that perked me up and carried me along, tearless, to the aid station. The bugs were terrible and although they didn't bother me, poor Shauna was being eaten alive.
I was ecstatic to reach the Shawatum aid station. To my surprise, my good friend and co-worker Allison was there waiting for me. Allison is a nurse and she took great care of me. Apparently, I had turned into a zombie that just spoke two words: Coke and Broth.
We had to run back out to the trail and it was another 15km to the Skyline aid station. I knew if I could just get there and make it out that I would get to the finish line. Once you leave that aid station there is nowhere to drop out except at the finish! The 15km was hard and it seemed to just go on forever. The trail had way more short inclines that I remember and the Centennial trail is really uneven and it took a lot of energy out of me when I attempted to run. I was definitely experiencing a low point and I walked a lot more than I should have. Every once and a while I would take a deep breathe and find the energy or mental fortitude to run but it wasn't coming easy.
My good friend Tom Skinner was working at the Skyline aid station and I was stoked to finally get there and see him. Tom is a big red bull drinker and I was really hoping he would have a stash in his truck. My eyes were feeling really tired and I needed something to pick me up and give me wings! I parked myself on a cot in their mosquito tent and asked Tom if he had a Red Bull, which of course he did. I drank the half a can he gave me and asked for another. I saw an orange on the food table and for the first time all day that seemed really appealing. I downed the next Red Bull while Tom filled up our bladders and I packed my bag with fuel for the next 20 miles. I anticipated the next leg to take about 8 hours considering we had 2000m to climb over that distance.
I packed poles for this section but as we climbed up it was hard to tell whether they were helping or hindering. The bushes are narrow on the trail and I found the poles getting caught often by brush. I eventually put them away. The climbing felt slow going. I tried to stay as positive as possible and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I did a lot of deep breathing on the way up. I have done this climb many times and I knew exactly what was before me. I was doing this. I was going to cross that finish line. I was going to be a FAT DOG. I was even second place overall!
It wasn't long before we were at Camp Mowich, the 2nd to last aid station. Peter's good friend Grant was hosting the aid station once again and he greeted us with cow bells and cheers. It was the perfect spot and they had the perfect fire to warm us up. "Grant, do you have any Broth?" I asked eagerly. "Yes, it's warm, let me get you some." To my surprise, Jeff Humble came in and was out of there before us. I had not seen another 120 mile runner since Bonnevier, which was like 110 km's earlier. Grant and his friend Darren hooted and hollered as we walked away from the aid station, leaving me all smiles. Without saying a word to Shauna, I was now was on a mission to catch Jeff.
We caught up to Jeff pretty fast as we seemed to be running the downhills a little bit faster than him. I squatted down to pee at some point before the last aid station and felt this horrible tightness just below my knees. As I got up I noticed that area was swelling a little bit. I was a little freaked out and just hoped it would not cause the last 10 miles to be painful. The trail here is quite narrow and one slip meant you could tumble far down the slope. I didn't see it as an issue as I feel very comfortable on this type of terrain. I wonder what runners thought about that section in the dark where you could not see the consequences of a fall...hmmm
We finally reached the Sky aid station where Randy and Lori were volunteering. Dave Melanson, one of the filmers, ran out and greeted Shauna and I and informed me that they had Red Bull (something I was longing for) and all sorts of other goodies. Jeff came into the aid station right after us and I split the Red Bull with him. Lori offered me a banana, something I had not had the entire time but all of a sudden sounded like heaven on earth! I responded with an enthusiastic and drawn out "Yeeesssssssssssssss". There was 8 miles to go and I loved knowing we were so close to the end. The next 4 miles were hard as we had to climb and descend 5 mini mountains. Since I had done it before I knew exactly how hard it was going to be and was ready for it.
Jeff was hot on our heels but once we started down the final descent into lightening lake he was not in sight. I was confident we were going to finish in 2nd, which was something I was becoming more and more proud of as we ran. The 2 mile descent was punishing and although we were moving at a descent clip, I was wanting it to be over. I knew there were only 3 or so km's to go but I was letting negative thoughts creep into my head. My mind was telling my body "You are tired", "Your knees hurt", "How are you going to run 1.5km flat to the finish?" I decided to try and shut it out with some music but when it didn't work I put the iPod away. We ran our way around the lake and only stopped to walk when there was an incline. I had stopped eating miles before and I think I was mentally suffering because of it.
The greatest moment was when I could see the Mountain Madness arch on the other side of the lake. I was so close now! I could hear my name being cheered from across the lake. The first thing I heard was a cheer from Peter's nephew Tyler, "Go Nika"(Nika is a name Lucus, Peter's youngest nephew gave me because he could not say my proper name when he was young). What proceeded was one of the greatest greetings I have ever had coming into a finish line...E.V.E.R!!!!! Peter had ridden out to meet me and gave me a kiss before I finished on the last 100 meters. People had chalk written 'Go Nicola Go' on the ground in multiple locations. Friends and family were standing before the arch to give me high fives. The volume of the cheering was just bananas! The sun was setting and the sky was a bursting with color. I have never felt so much love and I won't lie, after being out there for 33 hours and 47 minutes, it felt really nice.
|Doing exactly what I had dreamed about all run- sitting on the grass!|
|Team MEC + me at the finish!|
|I even made it out to the MEC keg party after the race (no beer was consumed- too tired)|
Fat Dog is an AMAZING race. The people who volunteer for this event are amazing. There are too many volunteers to thank so I'll just thank Mountain Madness! The course is challenging. This race will make you dig deep and go to places mentally you don't normally go. The course is absolutely stunning. DO THIS RACE!!!!!! The accomplishment is worth it!
I was so lucky to have 2 of the best pacers in the world. At one point I told Shauna I wanted to go home and she said "Nicola, you have run 100 miles, you can't quit now". She was so right. I never thought about dropping out again. This race really was a team effort for me and I couldn't have done it without you guys. Thank you!
Thanks to my sponsor La Sportiva for all your support and for giving me amazing shoes to run in! I finished with only one minor blister. I still have all my toenails and none are black! The Crosslites really are the best shoe for my feet! Also, thanks to Petzl for making wonderful headlamps. The MYO XP is a great headlamp for night running.
After the race I said I would never do it again. A couple days later I am already re-thinking that!
Next up, HURT 100!!!!
See you in the trails,