They should have called it the Hot Dog 122. Yes, this year they added 2 miles to the fun because, y'know, metric. Last year the lucky bastards had a winter storm hit in August and those who didn't become hypothermic had really fast times. This year in response, they had a mandatory gear list which made UTMB's list look like a day at the zoo for 2nd graders. Two survival blankets, basically 3 shirts/coats, gloves, rain pants, warm hat, note from your mother, two liters of water, bean bag chair, remote control, spare pint of blood, quart of Maple syrup and a kilo of back bacon. By the start, which was 10:00 AM and sweltering, my pack was the only shadow around in which to huddle.
Suck it up Whiney Baby. No that isn't what my son said to end up in the principals office, it is actually the race's slogan. Trumpian and trollish yet a good deferral for those who dare complain about any issues with the race. Let's just say I might relegate the race shirt to "house painting" duties.
The bib #s were alphabetical. I pulled a 77! So I'm wearing my 7Hills hat with a big 7 on it and my 7Hills shirt with a big 7 on it which is basically 77 and I pin a 77 on my Merrell shorts. Damn bro, this could be my day.
I stayed the night in Princeton, Canada with Rich White, RD for CCC100 until I take over in a bloodless coup on August 26th. The Evergreen Motel was oddly not horrible and the Free WiFi actually worked if you found the right spot in the parking lot between the stoned guy in the resin chair and the dump truck parked by the pool. Pizza was consumed, Olympics were watched, sleep was had.
Race morning I was picked up by Linda and Gary Robbins and kindly driven the hour and a half to the race start which is in the actual middle of no where near a pine tree and hot dirt road. I got to meet Peter, the co-race director and he was great. I saw a bunch of hot nervous other runners waiting to get going and then we were. Up up up and the sweat came down down down. We were all going out way too fast. I had a plan, the plan of the old codger. My plan was to not go out too fast but here we were and damn, we were killing that first climb! I backed off. Most everyone passed me except the sweeps and an octogenarian with vertigo. I was running by feel and I felt sweaty. Half way up the first big climb we hit the start of Trapper Lake and a burned out forrest. It was amazing. I wanted to stop. I swear I'm no pyro but I love a burned out forrest. I love seeing the geography, the big rocks and crags which are usually hidden by brush and trees. I wanted to stop and explore but i din't. I kept running because that is my sickness.
There is a dude who is connected to the Ultra scene in Canada who owns a blueberry farm. He presses unsweetened, pure blueberry juice. I had it at Squamish. I hit the third aid station, where the heat of the day had turned into a sauna and dude had his blueberry juice there. I filled one handheld with water, the other with 1/4 blueberry juice and 3/4 water. I took off and that combo was like heaven. Water for hydration, then, when I needed fuel, calories, I'd hit the blueberry juice and get an immediate lift from it. I was stoked! At the next aid station I asked for blueberry juice and they looked at me like I'd asked for a caviar or escargot or a tongue massage. That was the only blueberry stop of the race but I will, in the future, find a way to drop bag it into my race plans.
The race went up, across, and on and on and on.
At some point in the late afternoon I hooked up with Angela Shartel. She was 2nd place woman at the time and we are both chatty. We had a great time getting to know each other, trading stories and watching the miles click by. We bonded in a way that only happens on the trails. Sharing very personal information and trusting each other with our openness. It is something which is a special part of Ultra Trail Racing which I cherish. Then we got passed by the 3rd place woman and it was game on. We crossed a deliciously cool river then donned snazzy neon orange vests for a little highway running. We crossed the Trans Canada Highway and wandered into the Bonhiver aid station. A major crew station. I had no crew or pacers. I saw Daisy Clark, a Seattle friend who was crewing another 7Hills runner, Dave. She jumped right in and crewed me. Helped me dump the debris from my shoes and watched me grump around the food. Her enthusiasm was so welcome and meaningful. She may not have know it by my demeanor, but I thought about her kindness for miles and miles that night and the next day.
Pet Peeve: Why the F can't an aid station which is on a major highway have actual food? No coffee, no soup, no watermelon and definitely no blueberry juice. Suck it Up Whiney Baby. I left with some bacon, a piece of grilled cheese and a few fig newtons. I was in my 40something mile funk.
On to the third big climb of the race out of four. The climb up to Heather Ridge was a mess of dark switchbacks and as night came the heat of the day stuck with it.
I was without a pacer or music. I had been repeating a children's song which goes, "It's hot in here, forrest in the rain, it's wet in here, tropical domain. Then you add all sorts of rhyming lyrics to it. Until you want to scratch your brain out through your ears. I had this song in my head for roughly 30 hours and 37 minutes.
The night was lovely. I would eat, get energy and run really good, then use up the fuel, start slowing and either eat out of my pack or wait for an aid station. The stations were few and far. The night ones were around every 10- 12 miles. I was riding the bonk but didn't succumb. My night was saved by a remote hike in aid station where they had perogies. Damn! Perogies! I loves me a perogie and they went down smooooth. I powered up and caught up with Angela who had dusted me much earlier. I ran a while with her and her pacer then got passed my 7Hills Dave and I decided to put in some sprinting and catch up with him. We flew down the mountain and after some never ending switchbacks, emerged into morning. Head lamps were shuttered and we hammered our way to the big morning aid station at Cascade. The sun was coming up, the aid station was full of friends and they finally had coffee and breakfast burritos. I positively lollygagged. I chatted, I nibbled, I dumped my shoes. I ran out of excuses to stay so I left. Sadly. They even had ripe avocados. Another neon orange vest for another couple miles on the side of the road. Yuck. Dave and I ran to the next aid station where I dumped the neon and hit the flats. He stayed behind for reasons unknown. The sun was coming up but under a mantle of clouds, the Skagit flats, 20 miles of undulating flatish trail, way runnable were in front of me and the plan was still very much in play.
In studying the race, it seemed to me people blow their legs early and have nothing left for the most runnable section of the race. My plan was to scuttle time in the first half and make it up in spades on the flats then hammer the final climb and descent to the finish. I hit the flats and started laying down some serious turnover. I felt good, really good. I had been injured for a year with a wonky hip. It was finally healed and I could do anything I wanted. No pain. My training was perfect building up to the race. I put in a ton of milage in Seattle, went to altitude at Hardrock and trained there and paced for 13 hours, then took that acclimation home to pound out more big mile weeks pre race. A week long taper and I was feeling better than I had in years. It now was playing through as I kicked up moss along the Skagit River. I caught a runner and he stuck with me. I stopped to pee and he took the lead. I was hot but hydrated. I chased him into the aid station at Sawattum. I had drop bag #2 there, a Bigfoot lunchbox containing bug spray and a bottle of coffee. I had both and some bacon and watermelon then headed out passing a knot of runners still in their chairs. I rounded a corner and the guy I'd been chasing was walking... he said, "I thought you'd already left the aid station." I ran past him and he didn't stay with me this time. I realized he'd already let me go once. I continued my torrid pace on the flats.
The flats ended and the final climb looked, on the race profile, like it went straight up. I was stoked to kill it. I couldn't have been more wrong. The trail went sideways, switchbacks. Runnable switchbacks, inefficient switchbacks, meandering stupid, made for day hiker switchbacks. I grumbled, it was now super hot, in the mid 90s and buggy. I used a buff as a horse tail and soaked in every creek and drip on the mountain. It took forever but I finally got up high enough on the ridge to catch the slight breath of a breeze. Miserable. Worried my kidneys were going to stop working. Buggy. The scenery was really nice though Whiney Baby.
As I stared at the baked trail just trying to get up and over the ridge, my eye caught something miraculous. Ripe Alpine Strawberries! Nom. I ate them and it raised my spirits and my depleted calorie count in equal measure. Hot in here, forrest in the rain, wet in here, tropical domain.
Not in the happiest of moods, I found the last aid station. They were parked on the side of the mountain with not much of anything yet they had cold, meat pizza. Mmm Ok. I gnawed on it up the last half dozen stinger climbs of the ridge. The food professional in me tried my best to not think about how long it had been out of refrigeration. Finally, I crested the last hill and knew I was about 5 miles of downhill away from the finish. I had no idea what time it was or how I was doing. Some aid station workers had said, "you have a good time going." or something the likes which gave me hope. My original goal was to be under 30 hours but that was before the heat. Once it got hot my priorities became, don't blow up, don't lose your stomach and keep the kidneys functioning. I sprinted the final 5 miles of switchbacks until it flattened at a campground then crossed the lake at a bridge. From there it was a looong way around Lightning Lake to the finish arch but it came and with it a 30:37 finish time, 4th place and a substantial, not cheap belt buckle. I saw Daisy and she helped me get down to the lake where I took off my pack, my shoes and simply laid down in the lake for about 30 minutes. It was dreamy. When I went to get out, my legs were locked tight and I had to physically snap them with my arms.
I sat and waited for #5. A long time. almost an hour. #5 ended up being Angela winning the Women's race. She killed it! I got a hamburger which I had a bear of a time eating because my tongue wasn't working. I found my van, changed and fell asleep and missed the finishes of the rest of the top ten.
Eventually I made it out of the van and enjoyed the company of the other runners finishing and hanging out. There was absolutely zero cell coverage in the area so no one was on their devices. It was kind of nice. I crashed for the night in the van and awoke in the early am just in time to see Linda Barton Robbins finish her first 122 miler less than a year after birthing her first child. Rich was pacing Linda through night number two. We hung out in a field of sleeping runners and limping shadows until the sun came back to remind us who is boss.
Sunday morning we drove my van, without air conditioning, back across the border to the USA. Mission accomplished.
Shoes- Merrell All Out Peak
Socks-Drymax Trail Pro
Shorts- Merrell, new, zero chaffing.
Shirt- 7 Hills running shop jersey.
Fuel- peanutbutter crackers, fig newtons, Larabars, aid station fare, can of coffee.
Injuries- lost big toe nail due to smashing it into 3 rocks, feet wrecked from running 122 miles.
Lessons learned- blueberry juice & really, don't go out too fast.
No pacer, no crew, no problem
If I was a bear I'd eat people who wear bear bells 'cause that shiz is annoying.