July 26, 2010

Fat Dog 100, A Volunteer Perspective

First off I have to admit that this is probably the longest I have gone without blogging in the almost four years that I've been doing this.

Long story short, there have been some life changes as of late. I don't currently have an actual place to live as finding somewhere in North Van that allows dogs can be challenging to say the least. Life is still good. I have very little to complain about, though I have no current routine and no at home internet. I'm sure things will work out for the best in due time.

This past weekend was the inaugural Fat Dog 100k, 100miler, and relay in Manning Park. I know a lot of people seemed to be under the impression that this was 'my race' simply because of the fact that I talked it up so much in the last six months. I was/am simply a volunteer who insisted on taking the final aid station of the race. I wanted to be there when people were at their worst in the hopes that I might be able to make a difference to some people's races. Outside of setting up this aid station I had no influence over the race whatsoever. It would simply be unfair to all those involved to imply that I did more than this.

I just want to start by saying this. I had volunteered for races before, but I had never donated my time to help out at a 100 mile event. You simply have NO IDEA how much work goes into an event like this until you see it all first hand. The logistics involved in getting a race like this off the ground are simply mind boggling. My hat goes off to Heather Macdonald for her amazing ability to take a conversational idea and build it into reality in under twelve months. Had I been in charge we'd still be working on the permits! (and I'm really not exaggerating too much on that one)

There were over 70 volunteers who dedicated their entire weekends to this event. I will briefly entail what my experience was, but I would like to state that there were numerous people who did two and three times as much as I personally had to. Again my hat goes off to these selfless individuals.

From North Vancouver you arrive in Manning park in under 2.5hrs, and that's in a vehicle that is quite honestly impossible to speed in! My 81 Suub has done me no wrong in the almost two years that I have owned it. It's quite simply the best $1,000 I've ever spent! Ditching a brand new leased Nissan was one of the best decisions I've made in the last few years, but that's another story altogether.

I left North Van on Thursday night and camped out in Manning for about 6hr of sleep. Most people were up and gone at 2-3-4am. I had the luxury of 'sleeping in'. I loaded my car and headed out to my aid station, which was another 2hr away. Upon arrival I hiked all of my supplies, including a 70lb generator, to a trail intersection 1km away. It took me nearly two hours and ten kms to do so. I was sweaty, exhausted, and being eaten alive by mosquitoes, but I knew it was nothing compared to how the runners would be feeling.

After another 2hr I finally had the station set up and looking somewhat enticing. I was expecting the first 100km runner anytime after 2:30pm. Some people said maybe closer to 5pm but I wanted to ensure I was ready to go in case we had underestimated the pacing.

The great thing about an excursion into Manning Park is that there is no cell or internet service. It's like a cleansing of sorts...except of course when you are organizing a 100k/mile running event. An hour passed, then two, then three. I wanted to sleep but was on edge wondering what might be happening down the trail. At about 5:30pm recent Canadian Badwater finisher Lorie Alexander appeared. She had contemplated running the race, being the nutbar that she is, but instead settled on helping me out. Honestly I would not have been able to do it without her. Thank you Lorie for everything that you contributed to the event and my own experience!

Lorie brought with her relayed news that runners were still nowhere near us. I had also been awaiting my water to show up (I had 20L with me, but 200L more had to be utilized) and this would have entailed an additional 90+min of hucking the stuff around. Since the runners were still nowhere near us, and since the location really wasn't sufficient by any definition of the word, I made the on the fly decision to utilize the now three people to pack up my current location and add an additional ten minutes of running to the race.

My rational was this. I was manning the final aid station, the most likely place to see people pull the plug. If a runner had to drop at least this way we were already at the road and would have access to cars, heat, and immediate transport to deal with any possible emergencies. Even 1km is 1km too far if you are dealing with a serious medical incident. On top of that the location was crew accessible and a relay point, which meant there would be a decent amount of traffic throughout the night. In the first location I literally had to kick over bushes and brush to fit in the chairs, table and tent. If any crew decided to show up they would have been huddled in the trees playing 'who can donate the most blood to the bugs' for hours on end. This way they too could nap in their vehicles. Finally, this decision saved us an additional 6hr of take down effort after the race.

We had managed to fully erect our station with plenty of time to spare. It was getting late and we still had not seen a runner. Slowly but surely, one by one, they eventually found their way to us. The stories were consistent. A course that was unfortunately long, a few sections with flagging issues, and a race that was billed as runnable when in fact it was very technical. It was readily apparent the frustration upon peoples faces. Some hid it well, some did not, yet all but a few managed a smile and a laugh before they tucked in for the slog on to the finish.

I witnessed some unbelievable efforts out there this weekend and even though I took three days off of work and drove almost 800km return, I would not have had it any other way.

To the 100km runners: Every single one of you was faced with a challenge far greater than you anticipated. To those who finished, I can say with confidence that you are ready to pursue your first 100 miler in 2011 if you so desire. To those who made it to me but no further. I was closer in distance to your 100km marker than the actual finish line. I meant what I said. You could have and would have finished just about any other 100km race on the planet this past weekend. Be proud of what you accomplished because I for one am amazed at the tenacity you displayed and the toughness you possessed.

To the relay runners: Most of you were trail virgins...welcome to our world! You and your crew kept things lively and interesting all night long. I hope you either decide to pursue a bigger distance yourself next year or organize another team. You added an element of fun to a race that was taking its toll on those around you.

To the 100 mile runners: What can I say? I only saw 15 of you and every single one of you continued on to the finish line, even when I explained to you that the final '26km' was going to take at least six hours and probably upwards of seven to eight. A disproportionate number of you were 100 mile virgins. Do you really understand what you tackled this past weekend?? There isn't a 100mile course that I know of that could stop any of you. Know that and do what you will with that knowledge. You are all champions in my books by every definition of that word.

To those who dropped: I can't imagine the mental struggles that must have ensued early on when distances were proving long and sections were difficult to navigate. I hope you experienced enough of the course to take away some of the natural beauty with you. I am confident the Race Directors will do everything they need to to fully dial in this event in 2011.

The Fat Dog 100 will go down as an epic event in its inception year. The course is amazingly stunning and the people involved in organizing the race are completely passionate about what they do. With time and luck on my side I'll be back to serve up some hot bacon, dogs, pizza, soup, and Newfie Screech again next year, and I sincerely hope to see all of you there again!

In the meantime, if you ran this race and have some free time, please drop RD Heather Macdonald a line. Let her know your thoughts on the event and the experiences you had, both good and bad. The only way a point to point mountain run of this kind can succeed is with the genuine feedback of the participants. I think it's incredible what Heather and her crew were able to accomplish this year and I know that with a few simple yet relevant tweaks this race can and will become a classic.

Full Results



Mark Sloan said...

You were awesome. I was tired, it was 2:30AM, and you pampered me, double checked how much food I was carrying, really provided personal care to me. I thought you were crazy when you told me 7 hours. I wish you were right, it was longer. Thanks,

Scott McMurtrey said...

Rock on.

Phil Hiom said...

Awesome story thanks for the recap, I will definately send my feedback as a support crew and pacer and experienced endurance racer onto Heather in hopes that she can make this race a better and more obtainable goal for all. Thanks again and it was great to meet you out there.

Brent Chan said...

I was very interested to see what you would write about the race given that the stories I had heard were pretty negative. Thanks for your perspective. Hopefully people will take the time to offer constructive feedbacak to Heather et al.

Tom Craik said...

A volunteers perspective is always a good one. It's a fun adventure, but sure is a lot of work too.

Good for you being so involved. You're a great example.

HollyV said...

I was wondering how this race went! Will have to check out the results.

RE: a place to live. Talk to Randy (if you haven't already). He'll start rattling off places from people he knows! I know this from experience, lol!

Anonymous said...

Everyone out there was doing their best to make this event work and they all deserve thanks- runners, volunteers, even random hikers. Sure didn't know I had it in me to do a run like that.

Action Jackson said...

All aid stations I saw were over the top... but yours rocked, Robbins. Triage. Lotsa love. Severed artery? Over here. More ice in your pack? Sure! Would you like a foot massage with that? Red Bull and fried bacon, washed down with a little Newfie Screech... ah, that's and aid station!

If it goes off again next year, I want to do an aid station at the river crossing that will even put yours to shame.

Give Roxie a big kiss for me, even though she smelled Ken Legg's crotch first. Good Karma is on its way: You 2 will soon find a home

Shannon said...

Awesome account of the events of this past weekend. I was one of the 70 volunteers you spoke about who work endless hours. This was my first exposure to ultra trail racing and I was and continue to be truly inspired by each and every runner. You guys rock and the determination I saw on your faces at the Bonnevier Aid station and the finish line (cooking up burgers) has left a lasting impression on me. I wish you all continued success with your future races.

P.S. I think you're the craziest group of people I have ever met.

Anonymous said...

Just want to thank you and Lorie for help you gave me at your aid station. You both made sure I was totally prepared for the last leg. As for the race, the course is beautiful and the volunteers were incredible. Heather and her crews should be proud of what they accomplished. Yes there were a few hiccups, but the race will just get better year after year.. Personally, I hope the course stays the same. Thanks again for helping me complete my first 100 miler.


Dan Crockett said...

Gary, your hot dog was fabulous...should have had two. Ran out of food on the last leg. My apologies for not congratulating Lori on her Badwater finish, I think I was a bit delirious.
P.S. You called the finish correctly,
thanks for the mental boost.
Dan Crockett

FLWR_GIRL said...

Thank you for your eloquent story telling. Reading your blog stirred up many of the emotions from that day.
I could never have anticipated what was awaiting me on this course and on this day. But after all the challenges and struggles, in the end I am left with memories of the MOST incredible race experience I have ever had.
And none of it would have been possible without Heather's vision and passion or the uber dedication of all the fabulous people who are crazy enough to make our crazy ultra dreams come true by volunteering. A MILLION THANKS go out to each and every one of you!!
And one final thanks to you, Gary, for making it your special mission to go above and beyond for us at that last point of contact. Arriving at your little haven and experiencing your caring and concern made such a HUGE difference. It really gave me that boost I needed to face the last challenge :-)
If you ever find yourself in Calgary and need a little haven in return, just look me up!


Ted said...


Thank you. I was the last runner through and deeply appreciate the support, the encouragement, and your willingness to fire up the stove for that last can of soup - it sure helped.

Unknown said...

I hit a bad patch before your aid station and was feeling a bit sorry for myself but when I pulled in and sat down I had so much fun visiting that I forgot to consider dropping. Yours and Lorie's words of wisdom were a huge help to a first time 100k-er. Just amazing support and effort and I thank you very much. Sorry I ditched your delicious soup on the side of the trail (puking on a run was another 'first' for me!)

Anonymous said...

Great to see the people like yourself who donated their time and efforts to a race. What Heather did was dangerous, and was lucky no one got hurt. Advertize a race for what it is, don't lie to get people to register. Distance yourself from this one brother!!

Unknown said...

An amazing introduction to the trails in Manning Park, thanks to all the Volunteers who made this race possible and to you Gary for our group Hug. Our group of 3 called it quits at your Aid Station realizing that another 26K or so was to much to bear. It was our first 100K attempt and we made it to 90K. We'll be back !!!!