I thought of this post while I was up on top of Skyline Trail during the last leg of our 120 mile relay of Fat Dog. We had 9 team members, each running a leg between 7 & 33kms, ranging in age from 10 to well, let’s go with *middle aged*…and I thought it would be really cool to have each leg described in a few paragraphs by each of our runners.
I think I’ve mentioned before that the team was made up of mostly family members, but not really blood family members, the lady organizing the team is my grandma’s step sister’s daughter’s daughter. Yep, that’s a mouthful, so we’ll just say my “cousins”. The team was made up of Kelley, her son Cache, her boyfriend Vic, Kelley’s brother Mike, Mike’s son Diesel, myself, my husband Jay, my friend Katy (last minute fill-in for Mike’s injured wife Kristin), and family friend Graeme. Yep, you could call it random. But, not as random as my Meet Your Maker team last year…
Anyways, I asked everyone to send me a short 5-8 sentence paragraph on their leg of the relay, and this is what I got back!
Leg 1 – Kelley
The best part of this leg are the bridges…first one is the start when everyone is smiling and busy chatting…and the last one over Wall Creek when you know it means your leg is done. The climb to Cathedral seems to go on forever, when it levels out you get excited that you can finally RUN and not power hike. My calves were burning and most of the time I enjoy that feeling as I love to run hills but after 12 kms they were on fire. After the smiling faces and cheers from the aid station the steepness tapers off and you get steep shorter sections and fantastic views of the stunning mountains and you forget about the trail…until you come to the boulder sections where you must place every foot carefully…not easy when your legs feel like Gumby’s! The downhill is awesome and before you know it you hear the rushing waters of Wall Creek and out of nowhere a bridge appears!
Leg 2 – Diesel (Diesel was our youngest member at 10 years old!!)
Leg two of the Fat Dog was amazing. It was very well ribboned. The only time it was hard to follow the trail was when it came out to the burnt forest because all the fuchsia coloured flowers blended in with the trail ribbons. The leg was pure uphill until the last .5 km. One of the things I enjoyed about the trail was it started with a road, followed by a forest, through an old forest fire, and finished in a meadow. The aid station was super nice because of all the Coke, ginger ale, and the snacks. The aid station had snacks like Mars bars, potatoes, Ruffles, jujubes, cookies, gatorade, water, and almost every thing you could think of. Being only 10 years old and doing the Fat Dog was pretty amazing because I was running with some of the worlds top ultra marathoners.
Leg 3 – Katy
As a last minute addition to the Cascade Caribbean team I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Since getting introduced to trail running last year by Solana, I have only participated in 2 races and each time she gave me very detailed instructions on where to be, when to be there and even a map of the course. This time was different. She told me to show up at an address in Princeton where I would be driven by strangers for two hours, then dropped off in the middle of nowhere. The maps available to me regarding my leg of the relay weren’t clear. Needless to say, I was nervous. My tone changed when my 10 year old teammate Diesel came charging up the trail to start me off on my 30km leg. His smile was infectious. In just 4 hours and 10 minutes, I went through more emotions than I have experienced in the past year. The first hour took me through the alpine, and one of the most amazing views I have ever seen. As I descended into the valley, my unnecessary fear of bears and cougars set in and stayed with me for over two hours. Luckily, the 2nd place male kept missing the turn offs so I saw him briefly for 30 seconds here and there, which kept me sane. I came in to the aid station at 23km with pain in my legs that I had never felt before, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it the whole way. My fiance, Erik had managed to find his way through a web of logging roads to meet me there with a smile and a change of shoes and socks. I was feeling revived and ready to hit the last 7km! But right away the pain in my legs was back. I continued on, slow and steady and then I heard the most beautiful sounds, the river and the highway! I knew then end was close. When I got to the river crossing I jumped right in without hesitation, my legs were instantly relieved. I continued on to the last couple of km on the highway. As I neared the check point I saw a sea of bodies standing on the side of the road. At first I thought it was several different spectators waiting for their friends to come in, but it wasn’t. It was my team! All of them! A group of incredible people, who I had just met only 24 hours earlier cheered me on and met me with hugs, smiles and encouragement. As I gave Vic the unofficial baton pass of a high five, I knew I would remember this moment forever. Thank you team Cascade Caribbean!
A few pics from Katy’s leg :
Katy coming into her exchange, crushing her leg, 20+ mins faster than her estimate fastest time!!
Leg 4 – Vic
Vic leaving Bonnevier Aid Station :
I was really looking forward to competing in Fat Dog. I have been a volunteer and support crew since inception of the race but this year was my first time as a competitor. Having hiked pretty much every section of the route and with training runs in the Cascades and on the North Shore with the Knee Knacker groups I felt fairly well prepared. Funny how things go sideways though…I sprained my ankle 3 weeks before Fat Dog so did virtually no training leading up to the race and I felt every meter of the climb! Nevertheless, I had a great time! The trail was awesome and very well marked. Ran it under an almost full moon…beautiful! Big thanks to trail crews who marked the trail and put up the reflectors. The reflectors worked great…they were large enough and frequent enough that my headlamp easily picked up them up. I was never guessing about the route in the dark.
Big thanks also to Heather and Peter for putting on such a well-organized race. Great event, great teammates…was a hi-lite of the summer!
Leg 5 – Mike
As for my leg 5, I enjoyed every aspect of it. Vic was running the leg before me so I watched him start. This gave me a very good idea of when he would finish. Vic & I figured it would take him between 2.5 and 3.5 hours.
My leg started in the high wide open alpine at an elevation of 2,045 meters so I expected it was going to be cold and very little protection from any wind. The last thing I wanted to do was wait around for an hour in the freezing cold. When I run, I like to run with only the bare essentials. This means no pack, no water bottles, no jacket and only one pack of Sharkies. I like to take full advantage of all the volunteers efforts of hiking food and drinks in to the aid stations. I figured my run would be about 4 hours. 1 hour in the cold alpine and then 3 hours in the protected forest. Getting slightly hypothermic during the first hour of my run was expected but once I started to descend in to the forest I would warm up. What I expected was what happened. It was bloody cold for the first hour. Luckily I started with gloves and a toque.
The crux of my leg was the 1.5 hour, 6km hike in just to get to the start of my leg. Once I made it to the start of my leg I waited for Vic. It was colder than expected. 5C and dropping with 20 km winds. Not a very nice to be in the middle of the night had it not been for the incredible aid station the volunteers had created. Hot chocolate, tea, soup and even fresh made to order burritos if you dared. They also had hauled up extra sleeping bags, down jackets, wind shells and all the time they had Bob Marley music playing. You name it, these volunteers had all hauled it up to the top of the mountain.
Vic arrived at 11:00pm a little later than expected but then again his leg was all up hill.
I ran with two headlamps. It is amazing how great the lights they make now are. Running through out the night, in the high alpine on a narrow rocky trail was a blast. Before the start, this idea of running solo though out the night was way out of my comfort zone but five minutes in to the run it felt natural. My run was just over 33kms and took just over fours. I can’t tell you about all the beautiful views and vistas I saw as it was pitch black the entire way. Yes there was a moon but I had no time to look up and enjoy it. My goal was to arrive within four hours and to arrive without a bunch of abrasions from falling.
When I finished my leg it was pretty inspiring to see my 15 year old nephew waiting for me to arrive so he could start his leg 6 of the relay. The moment I arrived he turned on his headlamp, said “Hi Uncle Mike” and then ran in to the darkness.
Leg 6 – Cache (our second youngest teammate at 15)
My 7km run at just after 3am in the morning was definitely scary. It reminded me of a video game called “Slenderman,” where you would have run in the middle of the night and not get caught by a eight foot, faceless monster. It was totally different for me to run in total darkness with only a headlamp, but the upside was that I was so scared I just ran really fast.
Leg 7 – Graeme
Fat Dog 120, or in my case the Fat Dog 22.8.
It’s a long wait from the 10:00 am start on Friday to my own start at 4:00 am Saturday, but when Cache came charging into the dark parking lot about 30 minutes early the adrenaline got flowing quickly. At least I had my shoes on…
Coffee down, headlamp on and off into the darkness I went. No drama on the first section, then a 3km highway section to get warmed up. As I approached Sumallo Grove, an eerie green and purple glow appeared in the trees. As I got closer I saw the glow stick grid and the lights shining upwards. Music blared and one lonely aid station worker waited for others to join the party. I was tempted, but carried on.
The Skagit trail is made for running – just don’t expect monotony. Pushing through head high salmon berries in bear country (in the dark), loose uphill switchbacks and some tight turns made for variety, but thankfully no ankle traps to worry about. If any predators were out, I didn’t see them. Wildlife encounters were one caterpillar and three bats. I did encounter one lost runner but I don’t think that counts.
Speaking of lost runners, my navigating had a lapse at the Centennial trail junction. Being distracted by a tasty gel breakfast, I continued along to the Skagit road a mere 1.4 km out of the way. At least on the way back the trail looked familiar, and remarkably devoid of pink ribbon – oops: sorry team.
Jay and Solana had retreated to the safety of their car to wait. Jay was tired of donating blood to the hordes of mosquitoes (where are the bats when you need them?) but managed to put in a great run despite the anemia.
Leg 8 – Jay (my hubs)
As Solana and I were getting ready for bed Friday night, we were planning on what would be the earliest that Cache would come in. Based on our estimates from how we thought our team would do from where we left Vic off at the Bonnevier Aid Station, we thought that the earliest that Cache would come in to the Cascades Aid Station was at best was about 4:20. So we figured we’d be safe and get up at 4:00am, and be on the road at 4:20 to mine & Graeme’s exchange. Just after our alarm went off, Kristin knocked on our door, letting us know that Graeme had actually started at 4 am, instead of between 4:20 & 5:00 like we had expected – crap!
And getting up at 4:00am….not exactly my ideal Saturday morning. We arrived at my exchange around 5:35am. Not knowing how fast Graeme was going to be I quickly got ready and hopped out of the car. After signing in, I was anxiously standing at the aid station waiting for Graeme to arrive. A few minutes after arriving a runner came in…all teams kind of peak to see if it is their runner. It was not Graeme. After standing around for a while, I realized that I was being eaten alive by mosquitos. So we rushed back into the car, and in the car I realized that I had 20+ large welts from the bites. As we were in the car, another relay runner came in. Sitting in the car was not a good idea, as I began to dose off. Just as I was about to fall asleep, Solana starts yelling “Oh my god, He’s here! He’s here!”
Without even thinking, I opened the door grabbed my pack and ran right into Graeme. As I left Graeme said that a girl ahead took a wrong turn at the T-junction on the trail and I might catch up to her. Still groggy from napping, I took off up the trail not realizing until the trail turned that I just ran hard uphill for the first km. All I could think about was catching up to the girl that got lost and then to try to catch up on the team that left about 20 or so minutes ahead of us. But I decided to cool it down for the next little bit to settle into the run. Whenever I do actual run (outside of races) they are very casual and I never run with any good pace, so I didn’t want to go out hard then die (like I do at pretty much EVERY race).
My first thought of the Centennial trail was that there is not much of a trail. It’s more like a half-track or just forest not single track, if there were no ribbons on some sections it would be difficult to find your way. It’s probably the least picturesque of all the legs, the entire leg is in a low density deciduous forest with a single bridge to cross a creek.
For some reason I thought this section was dead flat…that was not the case. There were no large inclines but a lot more than I was expecting. It was a lot of short ups and down and I struggled to find any rhythm on the first half (or what I thought was the first half based on the watch). I struggled mentally through this section as I was battling with what Solana’s Suunto watch was telling me my pace and time was and how tired I was feeling. Based on my pace I thought it was going to take me over 1:30. I typically run races very casually and just try to have fun (even though I am never in shape and always run out of energy in the first 3km). This was the first race where I felt bad on how I was doing because I was running as part of a Team and that put pressure on me that is never there.
As I got into the “second” half, it was much flatter with fast curvy single track, weaving through the trees. Some sections of the trails are partially covered with forest under brush making it difficult to navigate foot placement. I took a few spills due to tripping on rocks and ruts that I couldn’t see. I started feeling better about my time as I dialed up my pace through this flatter section. Just as I started felling good and started a fast downhill bit I see Graeme up ahead. I thought to myself, I just looked at the watch a second ago and it said only 12km…this leg is supposed to be 15km. I ask Graeme “Where is the aid station?” and he replied that it was right around the corner. I was shocked to realize that either the leg was shorter or the watch was cutting in and out, which would explain the slow pace early on. I quickly gave Solana her watch, gave a kiss and wished her luck (she needed it as her leg was a gnarly one).
My run finished as it started, unexpectedly running into Graeme and starting/finishing when least expect it! In the end, it was fun to run with such an awesome team and to run my leg in 1:12 is pretty solid. It would be fun to run that leg again as I know I can go much much faster on it now but I think, if there is a next time, I would like to run one of the more scenic routes or a leg in the night!!
Leg 9 – Me!
The full recap of my leg I posted here, but the short version is this: There’s a lot of climbing, more than 22 of the 32ish kms are majority climbing, with short downhills mixed in for variety. The first 8ish kms are viewless, and then the views are a plenty, and absolutely gorgeous. It gets cold on the top, I contemplated putting my jacket on many times, but never quite needed it. This leg is tough, and they really do mean it when they say to use your best climber. The downhill section at the end is not terribly technical, and a great section to stretch your legs out on and fly. The finish is around a lake, gentle rolling forested path, and you can hear the finish (across the lake), before you finish.
What was left of our team when I finished :
Mike, Kristin, Diesel, and Graeme all had to get back to Whistler.
Great job y’all!!!!