My Weekend as Domestique

Views during the Fat Dog 100 Miler

Photo above: views during the Fat Dog 100Miler (or rather 200kms)

Domestique: "...road bicycle racer who works for the benefit of his team and leader. The French domestique translates as "servant".

This past weekend, I paced, crewed and helped-out at the Fat Dog 100-mile run.
If you've never paced, crewed or volunteered your talents to helping out at an ultramarathon trail race, I trust you will find this story to be an interesting insight into this stuff. If you run ultras, especially if you ran this one, I trust you will enjoy some of my perspectives and will add your own using the “Add New Comment” below.
Mine was a four-day weekend. Here's how it went:
Thursday 21 July 2010
  • This adventure started at about 10:00 am when my buddy Ken Legg picked me up. My role was to run with him for the last 60-odd kilometers of the inaugural Fat Dog 100 mile run. The role of pacer is as much coach as companion during the difficult final 4-6 hours of a 100-mile run. I have a fair amount of experience in the role and was really looking forward to some quality time with Ken
  • First on our agenda was to pick up Jackie Muir, another first-time 100-mile runner, and celebrate our departure with some specialty coffees and muffins for the drive. 
  • En route to Hope, British Columbia from downtown Vancouver, our conversation revolved around our invisible companion, Wade Repta. Wade had trained very hard for this event and I was supposed to pace him. Unfortunately, his girlfriend suffered a broken arm on Tuesday evening when struck by a car while riding her bike. Wade withdrew from the race to be with her. Was it the right thing to do? Something to talk about for a couple of hours… (‘Missed ‘ya, Wader!)
  •  Hope is the last significant town before Manning Park, site of the race, so a natural spot to shop for craft beers and other race treats. We met up with Glenn Pace, Mike Wardas and Rick Arikado at the grocery store and chatted about the race over soup and sandwiches before continuing our journey. I figure Ken, Jackie, Mike and Rick will all finish within an hour of each other, if not together. I look forward to helping them all, as best I can
  • At race headquarters in the Manning Park Hotel, Glenn checked in for the 100-kilometer race. Mike joined us for the drive to Keremeos where the 100-mile run would start. As one might imagine, our conversation revolved around the course, training, Wader and other related gossip
  • The wind is howling when we arrive in Keremeos for the pre-race briefing at the community hall. We missed seeing tumbleweeds, but there was lots of sagebrush in this desert-like valley. Race Director Heather MacDonald and Peter Watson shared important hints and tips with the racers. Many of the 100-mile runners signed up to be guinea pigs for a University of British Columbia science experiment.
  • Ryan Conroy, Karl Jensen and John Machray join us for dinner at a fine dining establishment around the corner. Over a few beers and the chicken special, we determine that there are more than 400 ultramarathons of experience at the table.
  • I tuck Ryan, Mike and Ken into bed, then join John and Karl for a drive of about an hour up a remote desert valley to scope-out the race start. We find a nice spot at a bend in the river for a tailgate party. Several beverages and a huge bag of kettle chips are dispatched as the sun sets behind the mountains. I return to the hotel room and find a place to crash on the floor as the runners sleep restlessly 

Friday 22 July

  •  Mike is up before the alarm goes at 2:30 am. By 2:45, all have grabbed their packs and are enroute to catch a school bus to the race start. I graze on some of the breakfast leftovers then climb into bed for a few more z’s.
  • I drive Ken’s truck back to the race finish at Manning Park, stopping for a greasy spoon breakfast of eggs, bacon and a bottomless cup of coffee at the historic gold town of Headley. ‘Stop again in Princeton to inquire about tubing on the Similkameen River and good places to look for fossils. Nice folks at the tourist office.
  • Felt guilty about not picking up a couple with a guitar outside of Keremeos, so I pick up a solo hitchhiker just outside of Princeton. Maybe he wants to volunteer to help with the race? It’s now 9:00, so I figure it will be 8 hours or so until I start running with Ken. I check in with Heather and Pete to see if there is anything I might do to help on the race management side. Not much to do, so I am referred to the river crossing where I might cheer on my friends and other runners. The hitchhiker moves on.
  • I chance driving down a narrow dirt road clearly and frequently marked “No Trespassing” signs. I am greeted at the end by the owners, who immediately offer me a beer. I check in with Tom Skinner who is taking photos and acting as paramedic. Sammy and Darren, the race leaders, cross the river and stop for photos. We all laugh. The runners continue down the trail, I peel down to my underwear and cross the river to test the current and footing. Current is strong. Footing is slippery. I get dunked. I clear some rocks in the middle so I might get some good photos to share with those in the race, then join my hosts for 7 hours of drinking beer, eating barbecued Bavarian smokies and taking photos. As friends pass, I ask them how it’s going. Rick says he lost time getting lost and almost stepped on a rattlesnake. Others complain of blisters and course marking, but all rave about the views and alpine flowers.
  • By 16:00 there are still 4 runners who have not reached the river, but I fear I might screw up on my primary mission of pacing Ken if I linger. In my haste to get to the place where I would start accompanying Ken, I skip picking up beer and ice. My bad. When I arrive, I learn that none of the 100-mile runners have come through yet.  No radio contact with what’s going on up the trail, so I chat and explore for an hour or so and go to the next aid station.
  •  Arrive Cascade Aid Station at about 17:30. Lots of activity as some of the 100K runners are checking in. No news on Ken and my pals, but I figure it will be at least 2 hours before he arrives, so I drink the rest of his beer and eat the last of my smokies while chatting with other crew, pacers and race volunteers. Learn that one of the 2 missing 100K runners may have broken his ankle up the trail, so commiserate with race crew on what to do. 
  • It’s now 23:00. I watch an almost-full moon rise over the mountains. Still no 100-mile runners. Ryan, who dropped out of the race at about 50-miles when he figured he wouldn’t be able to get to a gig he was playing at in Victoria on time, joins me for the last of the cool ones and we chat about how the course was as we count satellites and watch shooting stars. He figures the distances between aid stations are significantly longer than indicated in the race guide, and that everyone is finding the run a lot harder than they expected.

Saturday 23 July

  •  Jeff Trigg arrives. He’s in 3rd place and looking great, but withdraws from the race because I got the impression he feels he can’t trust the distances or difficulty of the 60-odd kilometers that he has yet to face. I learn that several other friends have already done the same and wonder if Ken, Jackie, Mike and Rick are even still in the race. Suzanne comes through and, as usual, she’s looking great. 
  • Ken and Jackie arrive around 2:00 am. I grab my pack. Showtime: my role as pacer finally begins! My friends have been so beaten-up by the course, they can no longer run. But with more than 60 kilometers of trail remaining, there is no talk of quitting. As we walk down a short section of highway, a car slows. It’s Suzanne. She had abandoned the race. 
  • We arrive at the next aid station where Pete, Nicola and Jackie's crew are having a party. As Jackie and Ken get their feet patched with duct tape, I am handed a beer. I eat bacon, have a soup and otherwise pig out at the wonderful buffet after having run/walked about 3 kilometers. It’s as dark as tar as we run down a nice section of trail in a forest of old growth with a river rushing nearby. Before long, we hear birds waking somewhere in the forest and see the first light of dawn. Mike looks as powerful as a freight train as he passes us. Ken and Jackie practiced the art of running while asleep.
  • It’s very cold as we arrive at John and Karl’s oasis. Machray is bundled in blankets and the mosquitoes are everywhere. Jackie is digging very deep to keep moving. She’s tough as Teflon-coated nails, but I worry if she will be able to make it as we continue down the flat Centennial Trail section.
  •  It’s almost noon by the time we reach Gary Robbin’s aid station. Roxy, the ultradog, is first to welcome us. As Ken and Jackie get fixed up, Robbins hands me a bottle of Newfie Screech to warm my whistle. We chat briefly about our chances on what might be the most difficult section of the race. He hands me a headlamp. Good God, I think. It doesn’t get dark until almost 22:00… that’s 10 hours from now! Ryne Melcher picks up as Jackie’s pacer. We have history. I am looking forward to this.
  • Ken describes the climb in front of us as “Two Grouse Grinds”. I don’t believe him. To lighten things up, I take off my pants and hike my undies tight to give Jackie and Ryne something to look at and talk about for the next 4-5 hours as they climbed behind us. I wasn’t anticipating any other company, but a man walking his poodle must have wondered if he was hallucinating.
  • Single Track up yet another ridge during the Fat Dog 100It’s late afternoon when we finally break through to the alpine meadows. Ken describes the next segment as a “series of bumps, each as big as the Grouse Grind up and the BCMC trail down.” Again, I don’t believe him. We are joined by Ted from Cincinnati, who informs us that he is the last 100-mile runner as everyone who was behind him was not allowed to continue. We agree to finish together for the company and for the safety. Jackie is out of water and can’t eat. Ken eats the last of his chocolate-covered coffee beans.
  • We arrive at a small lean-to shelter with a large snow bank. Melcher says, “It would motivate Jackie if you were to do a naked snow angel for her.” I comply. We later agree that this act probably scared Ted for life. Time will tell, but Ken was sure right about the bumps. The climbs and ascents along the ridges seemed endless. “Ho no, that can’t be. Not another ridge to climb!” went the refrain. 
  • Melcher and I were running out of jokes as we discussed what-ifs a bit apart from the runners. What if there is no water? What if something happens to one of us? What if we can’t get down before nightfall? I kept running ahead to look for the water cache we knew was somewhere up the trail. I kept returning having to tell my friends I’d not found it.  We were within a couple of sips of being completely out of water when I found the stash. 
  • The views of the mountains that surrounded us was breathtaking. The red,Will there be some water?  Running out of water was an issue during   the Fat Dog 100 yellow, orange and blue alpine flowers were magnificent… but the sun was going down and it was cold in the growing shadows. There was another, and yet another ridge to climb and descend. We heard hooting from behind us. It was the race sweeps, a pair of volunteers who were making sure the trail markings were removed and the last runners were safe. We stayed together for a while, but they were not prepared to stay the night in the alpine, so we suggested they hurry down to let the race organizers know our status.
  • Finally, the ridge ended and the trail headed downhill. While the descent was over a kilometer straight down, I could feel the mood change and the pace pick up. The descent was gentle and the trail was beautiful. Melcher and I were beat having only enjoyed a couple hours of sleep in the past 3 days, but I can’t imagine how exhausted Ken and Jackie felt after having run almost 200 kilometers on the same amount of sleep. “Please, let there be some food left at the finish line,” we thought.
  • The last 1.5 kilometers of the race is around Lightning Lake in Manning Park. By now, it was dark and cold. I had collected the reflectors and glow sticks that had been carefully placed along the trail to guide us, so was lit up like a Christmas tree. A cheer came from across the lake as soon as we rounded the last corner. Glenn called out, “Hurry up… you still can break 42 hours!” from across the lake. We all laughed. Gary Robbins, who had started to run up the mountain to rescue us, joined our triumphant procession, then my wife Sibylle and my daughter Johanna. As we approached the finish line, Ken, Jackie and Ted did an excellent imitation of running as everyone at the finish line cheered them to victory
  • Our dreams of eating “real” food were realized as Lara handed us our choice of chicken or beef burgers, straight from the BBQ. Someone on Jackie’s crew handed me a beer and I distributed it to all of our team in paper cups in a toast to their accomplishment. Although we were almost 4 hours over the official cutoff, Heather awarded Ken, Jackie and Ted silver finisher buckles for their efforts.
  • As I headed back to a shower and the comfort of my sleeping bag, I gave Jackie a hug. She was bundled up in blankets on a cot on the beach, her filthy, blistered, duct-tape covered feet in Tom Skinner’s capable hands. I think she was sleeping. Ted, who had a 9:00 flight home from Seattle, headed off to his car for a 4 hour drive.  Ken was drinking beer. We did it!

Sunday 24 July

  •  I woke around 7:00 at party central. (Thanks for the use of your cabin, Jim!) There were bodies everywhere: runners, crew, pacers. Before long, everyone was up drinking coffee and sharing stories. Jackie’s feet were still filthy and covered in duct tape, so she hobbled off to the shower. Melcher and I split a Guinness as a wonderful breakfast meal appeared as if by miracle. Ken popped the cork on the first bottle of bubbly. Mike Wardas dropped in.
  • As noon approached, we started to drift our separate ways. Melcher and a few others went out for a 24K run. Mike hit the road for Merritt to celebrate his first wedding anniversary. Others went for a hike on the beautiful trails. Ken, Jackie and I went back to the race finish area at Lightning Lake to enjoy the afternoon on the beach we’d anticipating having 24 hours earlier. Peter and Nicola joined us, as did Suzanne and her kids. What a wonderful conclusion to a fabulous weekend!
There you have it… I can now go to sleep and officially end this weekend of crewing, volunteering and pacing. A great big “Thank you!” to Heather, Pete, Nicola, Tom, Gary, Lara and all of the race crew and race volunteers for all they did to make this a very memorable running event. My sincerest condolences to all of the runners who tried so hard yet didn’t finish, and a great big “Congrats!” to those who did gut it out to the finish line and got the buckle to prove it. 
Ken, Jackie, thanks for having me along. I sure hope that when you look at that belt buckle, you glow with pride ‘cause you sure earned it!
PS: Below is a slideshow of collected photos (so far just mine and Ken's, but you can add yours by using the tag FatDog2010) on Flickr. Enjoy!




Rick Arikado's picture

My pics are in, too!

Your slide show now has my photos included as well. Unfortunately, I ran away from that rattlesnake like a scared ninney without taking a pic. Could have zoomed in from a safe distance with the camera, too. Oh well, just have to go look for it next year.

mudrunner's picture

A tip for snake hunters...

....a tour of the Nk'Mip Desert Center in Osyoos a couple of years, uncovered this golden nugget of information that allowed this fearlessly amazing shot taken of this (non?)poisonous snake during a crossing of the Grand Canyon.

It turns out that rattlers (& other striking-type snakes) can only strike as far as 1/2 of their body length. In other words, a 6' rattler can only strike within a 3' radius.

Next time, make sure you bring a tape measure on your run.

Ean Jackson's picture

Snakes and Stuff

Hey... you were back holding hands with RunRik and Daniel when that shot was taken.  I was the first one to almost step on that sucker!  Pretty, though, isn't it?  Reminds me of an old girlfriend....

Rick Arikado's picture

Crotalus Oreganus Oreganus

This is more like what I saw (not my photo).

Ean, in case you have plans along this line again for next fall, recipe follows. Unfortunately, it's one with beans.

Crotalus Oreganus Oreganus (Northern Pacific rattlesnake)
Rattlesnake Chili
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato paste
1 28 oz. can chili beans
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 lb. rattlesnake meat
juice from 1/2 lemon
Simmer rattlesnake in water and lemon juice for 1 hour, remove and separate meat from bones.
Combine de-boned meat with the rest of the ingredients in a crockpot and slow-cook for 6-8 hours, or bring to boil in large cooking pot and simmer for 2 hours.

Thank you for your comments!

Ean, it was a blast having you and the other CFA members up for Fat Dog this weekend. I've noticed that many of the organizing committee's favourite stories involve you: bringing hitch-hikers to volunteer, flipping burgers near the river and sharing screech at Gary's aid station. I also enjoyed having the other CFA members as finish line company, runners and volunteers. We're already working on ideas to make the 2011 edition of the Fat Dog 100+ even better (e.g., coffee at the finish line for the BBQ operator and additional aid stations).

Congratulations to all FD100+ participants! Thank you for participating in the inaugural event. 

Great having you out there Ean!

Wow what a jouney!

It was great having you out there helping us along Ean!  I had a tough run as all can atest to.  Blisters, chaffing of a degree that we don't normally see.

I'll post my pics to Flickr and write a more comprehensive report in the next few days.


Thanks again.




Ean Jackson's picture

Fat Stats

  • 37 started the 100-mile run.  22 dropped. 15 finished.  Fastest was 27:59.  Last to finish was 41:51
  • 21 started the 100-K run.  4 dropped. 17 finished.  Fastest was 19:40.  Last to finish was 31:17
  • 7 relay teams

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