Fat Dog 120

Why ultra?

Is it because I enjoy putting myself through pain and suffering?

Do I get pleasure out of projectile vomiting?

Maybe extreme sleep deprivation turns me on?

 

My ultra-season this year had been going too well. I was becoming complacent, maybe starting to believe that running ultras was easy. Don’t worry, Fat Dog did I great job of shattering that illusion.

 

The day started off well-enough. I tried to take it easy on the first 5000ft climb up to Cathedral Lakes but somehow still found myself hiking along next to the course record holder Nicola Gildersleeve.   The views from the top of the climb were spectacular and I cruised along the trail full of optimism for the day to come. I met up with my friend Jay and we sailed down the long descent together chatting about ultras, unicycles and travelling. The trail was narrow and cambered, but my shoes were gripping well so I didn’t give the camber too much thought.

 

With the help of my crew, I was able to get in and out of Ashnola aid station in no time. I began the hike up the road towards the next climb with a cream cheese and pickled asparagus wrap in hand. Normally I would avoid cream cheese during a run but I knew I needed the calories so I just kept the effort really low until a felt like the wrap had digested.   I love hiking uphill and once the food was down I fell into a groove. I plugged in a headphone and continued to run/hike all the way up to Trapper aid station. This is where the run began to get interesting J

 

I passed through Trapper and the thunder boomed as rain began to fall. I met up with a runner from Minnesota and we chatted for a bit. He had run Tuscobia and now was focused on running Arrowhead; if you don’t know what those races are, look them up. He was a legitimate badass and I was fascinated to hear his story. The rain turned to hail and sideways sleet. I was wearing my friend Bert’s rain jacket which is two sizes too big for me, but it was perfect for the situation as I could easily wear it over top of my pack. My Minnesota friend slowed as the trail conditions deteriorated, so I cruised ahead on my own.

 

During this time I was extra vigilant about eating regularly – I needed to keep the furnace burning. I knew there was a super high risk for hypothermia, and I wasn’t sure when we would duck below treeline again. The course turned off-trail so now I was following flags cross-country through the dense fog. It was a true adventure and I loved it!

 

I ran into my friend Travis during the descent from Flattop. He was in rough shape but there wasn’t much I could do for him. I reminded him to eat and tried to get him to run with me so that he could get his body temperature back up. It was a losing battle and I soon found myself running on my own again.

 

Tunes cranked, cruising downhill, I stopped to walk every 15 minutes so I could eat. By the time I reached Calcite I had passed a couple of other hypothermic runners and the aid station looked like a triage. This was where I had my first taste of the kindness and experience of the Fat Dog volunteers. They made me up a cup of hot broth and refilled my pack as I updated them on the race situation. I told them about the hypothermic runners behind me, and gave them special instructions not to let Travis quit. I was hoping that he could find a sleeping bag to huddle up in at the aid station for a couple of hours until he got warm.

 

The next section of trail was very quiet. I continued my 15 minute intervals and slip slid down the muddy slope to Pasayten River Crossing without seeing another soul.    The friendly people at the river told me I was third lady, 21st overall. Secretly I wanted top 10 overall, but I was happy with the information and told myself to be patient. I had been moving steadily up the field on this leg and I was feeling confident that I could continue to move well.

 

At Bonnevier I met with my crew for a second time. I would not see them again until morning so I got my night gear on and munched on a piece of pizza. I was feeling fantastic and ready to tackle the night ahead of me. Time for another big climb – bring it on.

 

I got ¾ of the way through the piece of pizza before I felt full. Unlike the last crew stop, where I’d slowed down to enable digestion, this time I kept the pace and forced the food down. It seems I need to learn the same lessons over and over again …

 

At 10pm, 2/3 of the way up the climb, I found myself doubled over throwing up everything I’d ingested over the last couple of hours. Why must I learn the same lesson over and over again?! I allowed myself a moment to mourn over the lost calories, but then I reminded myself of my rebound at Sinister 7 and switched my focus to recovery. The rest of the climb was slower as I nursed food and water back into my body.

 

The weather above treeline was horrendous with sideways sleet, sometimes looking suspiciously like snow. I was not cold so I kept my puffy jacket half unzipped and didn’t bother to pull my rain jacket over top. When I reached the Heather aid station to refill my water I was suddenly freezing and I realized my mistake. I spent the next 30 minutes huddled in a chair with emergency blankets around my legs and shoulders. The volunteers fed me bottles of broth and hot coffee as the shivering eventually subsided.

 

I cannot say enough about how amazing these volunteers were (are). They huddled up in that storm all night, nursing hypothermic runners back to health, sheltered only by a couple of tarps. The wind and sleet was relentless but they served everyone selflessly with smiles on their faces. It was amazing to watch.

 

I stumbled out of Heather Aid Station feeling rejuvenated, and powered along the next exposed stretch of ridgeline to Nicomen. Navigation was a little tricky as I think the wind may have blown off some of the reflectors and the dense fog sometimes made the trail unclear. I was using a Petzl Tikka RXP and the reactive lighting worked like a charm. The beam was super bright when I was looking up to scan for the next reflector, but it would dim when I was looking down at the trail, allowing me to see through the fog. I passed a couple of runners on this section. I was feeling really good and not at all worked up about my extended break at Heather. The descent to Nicomen was unexpectedly treacherous with slippery mud on the technical trail. I used my poles so that I wouldn’t fall down the mountain. After a brief stop at Nicomen for another ½ bottle of broth to-go, it was time for the looonnnnggg descent to Cayuse Flats. The beginning of the end …

 

At some point on this descent my ankle began to hurt. I didn’t think too much of it at first but the pain became more and more persistent. I began to dwell on the discomfort. By the time I got to Cayuse I just didn’t want to run anymore. I spent nearly an hour of completely wasted time there. I should have pushed through to Bonnevier, I certainly could have, but I just didn’t have the drive. As an ultra runner you would think that I’m a masochist, but the truth is that I hate pain.

 

It was during my pity party at Cayuse that Leo and Mike passed me. They both went on to have fantastic races. Congrats guys!

 

I hobbled along the trail to Cascades, hoping that I’d be able to tape up the ankle in some way so that I’d be able to run again. Matt met me a few kilometres out from the aid station and I asked him to go find my friend Liza, a physio.

 

Liza didn’t like the idea of a rigid tape job with athletic tape because it would restrict my range of motion, but she did help me out by putting on some Kinesio tape to help support the injured muscle. (Thanks for the tape Jackie!). During the night I had developed a gazillion blisters, so I removed my bloody socks and shoes while the First-aid Lady taped up the worst of the blisters on the backs of my heels. All taped up, it was time to head back down the trail.

 

The gradual downhill was killing me, each step seemed to stretch the injured tendon a little closer to its breaking point. Only 4km down the road I came to the next aid station and I was totally demoralized; the tape was not helping. Trashley (Travis and Ashley) were at the aid station helping out runners. Travis lent me some topical ibuprofen for my ankle. I was hoping it would be the miracle cure …

 

I continued my slow hobble down the path. My pace was deteriorating rapidly. I reapplied the topical pain reliever a couple of times before I admitted defeat. The pain was travelling further and further up the shin. It was excruciating. I decided that I needed to drop out of the race, and the thought of quitting was heart breaking.

 

I thought back to the pact I had with Josh – that neither of us were going to quit this year. We could time out, but no quitting. I thought about missing my Hardrock qualifier, about having to restart that whole process. I thought about my sister and her husband, who had been crewing me all weekend. They had given up days of their lives to help me out, shivering in the rain, and now I was going to quit. Their efforts would go for nothing. Quitting sucks.

 

Somewhere in the middle of my pity party Angie ran by me. We are internet friends but I’d never met her in person. I felt terrible that she had to meet me like this. We were talking, I was crying, and then Tony, Joanne and company came running up the trail. Someone gave me a big hug and now I was bawling. So much trail love.

 

Tony gave me a Naproxen to help me limp along to the next aid station. Everyone walked with me for awhile but I was moving extremely slowly and they were getting cold. Eventually I was back on my own again. Rain once again began to fall, but this time I didn’t have a rain jacket. I tied a space blanket around my shoulders like a cape in an attempt to stay dry. It was not working very well.   Thankfully a runner from Georgia came by and gave me her emergency poncho. Thank you lady!

 

Are you keeping track of how many people have helped me so far? Sometimes I wonder what I’ve done to deserve so much love.

 

I stumbled along and the tears stopped flowing as I went numb. One foot in front of the other. I just needed to get to the next aid station. Then I could quit. I’d been up for well over 24hrs at this point and hallucinations were beginning to propagate. I’m not sure how your mind decides what to hallucinate, but at this particular time it was a lot of patio furniture, some porch swings, cars, a few people and their dogs – very random.

 

Matt met me along the trail – I was way behind schedule and he was worried. I was so happy to see him! The feeling was short-lived. I told him I was going to quit, but he wouldn’t accept that as a solution. I went from being happy to see him to seething with anger that he couldn’t understand how much pain I was in. Thankfully, Matt is possibly the most patient person in the world. By the time we crawled back to the next aid station I was convinced to tape up my ankle with some athletic tape and see if that helped.

 

The tape didn’t get rid of the pain, but it prevented it from getting worse. My sister and her husband were waiting at the aid station. My sister lent me her rain pants and down jacket (my warm jacket had gone on a journey), while my brother-in-law lent his rain jacket to Matt, who had decided he was going to pace me.

 

Another 15km of hobbling along relatively flat trail and we were at the crux of the race. Skyline trail is a very challenging mountain trail which begins with a 5000ft climb, followed by several smaller ‘peaks’. I had made it this far, and after battling through this much pain I wasn’t going to quit now.   Matt was determined to go with me; none of us was sure it was a good idea. He had never climbed more than 2500ft in a single shot and we were about to climb nearly triple that.

 

It didn’t hurt to hike uphill and I was determined to get this thing done and over with. I set a strong but manageable pace up the mountain. Matt kept up for awhile, but then it became apparent that we would need to go at a ‘hiker’ pace instead of an ‘ultra’ pace. Our roles shifted for as I became the pacer and he the pacee. Matt didn’t complain. I can’t help but wonder if this role reversal might have helped me, as I was forced to focus on something else other than my own self-pity.

 

Whenever we hit a downhill, and there were many, our pace would slow to a crawl. I gingerly picked my way along, bracing with my poles and trying my best not to have to point my toe (kind of hard to do when you’re hiking downhill). Matt was super patient even though I’m sure it must have been frustrating to move at that ridiculous pace.

 

We made it past Camp Mowich and Skyline Junction, and now we were on the final push to the finish. This is where we hit that series of ‘small peaks.’ I would whimper my way down each steep descent, while Matt would huff and puff each steep incline. We made a great team J

 

The trail was very narrow and cambered in sections as it traversed steep slopes. Matt conquered his fear of heights with hardly a complaint – I was so proud of him.

 

Eventually we reached the actual descent. It lasted forever! My hallucinations progressed from static images to full video. A family of birds led the way down the path for about a mile. I felt like Snow White. We were way behind schedule. I knew that my sister and her husband wanted to see us at the finish line and I was worried they’d be sleeping in the car. I sent Matt ahead to let them know I was coming. I didn’t realize that we still had an hour left of hiking before we’d reach the finish line. After all we’d been through over the last day, we should have reached the finish together. I realized my mistake too late.

 

45hrs after I started, I finally finished the Fat Dog 120. My feelings at the finish were a mixture of relief to be done, pride to have pushed myself to my limit, and above all gratitude. Gratitude to the dozens of friends and strangers who enabled me to achieve this goal. Gratitude for my amazing body, which although it complains at times, seems to be able to handle everything I throw at it. Gratitude for this amazing adventure called life.

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8 thoughts on “Fat Dog 120

  1. Mooooose

    Wow, what a great adventure, Joanna!!!! Congratulations! Almost (almost) makes me want to try this Fat Dog thingy…

    Reply
  2. Jay Kinsella

    Joanna,
    I read this at work while eating my breakfast and I almost started to tear up from how much emotion I felt.
    You are a Running star in my eyes!!!!

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Going for Broke | Joanna Runs

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