4 years ago, I was driving along Toronto’s lakeshore, on route to a cafe in the west end. As I drove, I took inventory of all the questions I wanted to ask when I sat down with an ultrarunner who was kind enough to meet with me. I was now a month away from the biggest race of my life—a 100-miler in Haliburton, ON. Not only was it the longest distance I’ve ever tackled, but it was also a trail race—terrain that was a foreign concept to a long time road runner like me. I was a bit early arriving at the cafe, so ordered us some coffee and shortly after, Melanie Boultbee walked through the door. Mel is a prolific ultra runner in the racing community—she had completed some pretty extensive endurance events, and at an incredibly fast pace nonetheless. After some brief introductions, I went through my rolodex of questions, spitting them out one by one. I honestly had no idea what I was doing. We covered all topics including training, nutrition, and proper gear. When I suggested bringing a cotton hoodie for the night stretch, she understandably laughed at me. “No,” she said…”definitely not”. After about an hour of Q&A time, I began asking her about some of the toughest races she’s done.
One that stuck out to me in particular was Fat Dog 120—a 120 mile course through the grueling BC mountains. At the time, I was living in Toronto; I could barely even fathom running 100 miles through Ontario trails, let alone run 200 kilometers through mountain terrain. Mel told me she finished in 38 hours, but suffered through 16 hours of severe stomach issues—puking on and off for prolonged periods at a time. I sat there in awe, jaw dropped, wondering how one prepares and trains to tackle an event like this.
Since Mel first told me about this event, I knew one day I wanted to give it a go. I had no idea when, but it was a challenge that was terrifying enough to obsess over—I love a good masochist plot. It had been at the back of my mind since our first conversation and just lived there for years.
Have you experienced this before?
When you get wind of a goal that might be a bit crazy, but you just can’t let it go? You don’t really understand why you want to do it exactly, but you know you need to try. A compulsion, if you will. Ideas come to us all the time—some stick, some are in passing and some die before they even get the legs to start. This race was cemented in my mind and as the years passed, the urge and desire to give it a go became stronger and stronger.
I moved out to Vancouver in the summer of 2021 after a tumultuous year of moving cross-country multiple times from Toronto to Calgary, then back to Waterloo with my parents, and finally settling in my now Vancouver home. I had taken a big break from racing for obvious reasons (COVID), but when organized races started opening up again, I wanted to get back in the game. When I was researching ultramarathons in Vancouver, Squamish50 seemed like a popular one. It usually took place in August, but at this time, it was moved to October due to COVID. On a whim, I decided to sign-up a few months before and test my luck at my very first mountainous ultra. My training consisted of completing ad hoc long runs along the flat Vancouver Seawall. I kind of winged it, but not to my benefit. My lack of preparation showed when I rolled up to the start line completely unprepared physically, mentally, and with a terrible choice of running gear (note to self: wearing running shoes is a guaranteed way to eat shit. Not just once, but multiple times). The weather forecast called for “atmospheric rivers”—weather I had never even heard of but gave off dooms-day vibes. While I’m not going to recount the details of this traumatic race, let me just say that I spent more time on my ass than on my feet. I thought about calling it quits a handful of times throughout the race, but persevered and got it done, hoping to redeem myself with another ultra next summer. Only this time, I would invest in some trail runners and spend more time training in actual trails and climbing real mountains.
Since Squamish, I’ve ran 3 more races in the Coast Mountain Trail series: Buckin’ Hell 50k, Diez Vistaz 50k, and the WAM 100k—the last race being the best precursor to Fat Dog as the elevation profile was +6,000m of gain—a hell of a lot of vert for a 100k race. So earlier this year, after finally recovering from another calf injury, I pulled the trigger and signed up for Fat Dog. I asked my coaches and friends, April and Mel Boultbee, if they’d help me train for this beast, and they agreed. So we started the training at the end of January and I committed to 6 months of prepping for my first 120-miler—an epic adventure that scared (but also thrilled) the shit out of me.
April and Mel explained that the training would be broken up into 3 training blocks: VO2 max, tempo/threshold and to round it off, an endurance block. I started off my training with excitement and vigor. I hadn’t done any speed work since before my injury so I was eager to push the pace and vary my oftentimes monotonous 5-milers along the seawall. Since I was still pursuing my run streak, my coaches had to keep in mind that I wouldn’t get any full rest days on my training plan. The ‘rest’ days would be a very easy 5-miler. Active recovery, baby.
Without getting into too much detail on the training, the first block went well, but as I moved into the second, I started getting pissy about the tempo workouts. They’re hard and I straight up hate them. My tempo runs were slotted in on Tuesdays and I would dread them. In addition to the hard workouts, I was also building up my mileage with long back-to-back weekend runs. While I enjoyed these at first, their toll on my social life was starting to wear me down. In early January, I was single and fed up with dating. I was dating casually, but my main focus was to put my energy and time into preparing for this race—my 2023 focus, and my big goal for the year. I was casually seeing someone over the course of a few months, but as we got to know each other and spent more time together, it turned into something more. With that being said, I was finding it difficult to maintain any sort of balance in my life. My business started ramping up, I was in the midst of winding another business down, trying to chip away on a creative project, contributing content to my blog and social media, all while trying to put energy into my friendships and this new exciting relationship with my now girlfriend, Brandy. I got to a bit of a breaking point with my training where I just couldn’t handle the time commitment anymore. With the back-to-back long weekend runs, I had no time to recover from my busy work-week and couldn’t commit to social plans on weekends because of how physically and mentally demanding my workouts were. My life was literally work, run, sleep, rot on the couch for a sliver of relaxation in my day—rinse and repeat.
I decided to have a call with my coaches to let them know where my head was at and we made some revisions. The weather was starting to warm up in Vancouver as I moved into my final training block before Fat Dog. I was getting excited about the prospect of training in the mountains. Going on a 5-6 hour trail run/hike sounded so much more appealing than multiple 2-3 hour long runs along the seawall in Vancouver. Don’t get me wrong, I love running the seawall—it’s fucking beautiful—but when you’ve been running the same route for months and months, diversity in scenery and terrain is very much welcomed. All the training leading up to that point helped me build a solid fitness base, but I knew the best training for Fat Dog was about to commence.
Fat Dog consists of several long ascents and descents—mostly on non-technical trails, but some technical. There’s also a large list of mandatory gear that you need to bring with you which all-in-all weighed in at over 10 lbs. I started training with a heavier pack that included 2L of water, my bear spray, this heavy pancake thing I love to eat on hikes, and all the additional mandatory race gear. At first, it was uncomfortable. I was chafing in new places, and the extra weight didn’t make for fun ascents. But I did feel comfortable carrying more with my upper body strength. While training for Fat Dog, I never let my strength training fall through the cracks. I was still following an upper body push/pull split 3-4x per week which provided me with the much needed back strength to carry a heavy pack for hours on end.
In addition to all the physical training, I was also required to have a GPX file of the course map on my watch. Not only did I need to figure out how to use this functionality, but I also needed to be extremely comfortable using it in the off chance I somehow veered off the course. Before I started each hike, I’d visit AllTrails and send various routes to my Garmin (*you need a premium account to be able to use this feature). It felt a bit awkward at first, but as I continued using it, I got more and more comfortable. I tackled a few big hikes around Vancouver including Panorama Ridge, Garibaldi Lake, Elfin Lakes to the Gargoyles, Golden Ears, Mount MacFarlane, Wedgemount, and a big day in Whistler which started at Singing Pass in Whistler Village, up to Russet Lake, through the Musical Bumps Trail to the High Note Trail—taking me to the top of Whistler Mountain. I was doing all these hikes solo which allowed me to go at my own pace and figure things out as I went. Brushing up on those problem solving skills.
There were a few precarious situations I got myself in where I veered off trail, but my watch navigation led me back on path. I had a lot of shit workouts where I left the hikes scraped up, bleeding, with massive headaches and rolled ankles. The worst day was at Golden Ears. During this hike, I made it to the peak and down in one day, but this was complimented by technical trails, steep inclines and declines, and a rancid number of bugs. This trail did not treat me well. I’ve never been so happy to see the parking lot than I did on that hike…ever. All these terrible workouts, I thought, would hopefully prepare me to overcome the inevitable low moments in Fat Dog. I was developing mental tools that I could draw from during the dark times. You know the old saying, “pain is temporary, quitting is forever”—that’s a testament to the mental endurance you need.
The interesting thing about training for ultras is that there really isn’t one universal way to train. While the physical demands are of course going to be there, mental training is equally (if not more) important in my opinion. Some people go for very long hikes and training runs (+50k) and train throughout the night. My training was one big hike a week and a smaller one (about 8 hours per week training on my feet in the mountains) plus semi-long runs during the week, and a nice little mix of my streak runs. The longest training run I did was 34k, ~1,400m of elevation on the North Shore.
After I got in my last big mountain day doing the Hanes Valley Loop, it was time to sit back, relax, and finally enjoy the taper.
Since the endurance training block commenced, I was really looking forward to the taper—taking advantage of some downtime where I could have a bit of a life again. I told myself I’d use this time to see more friends, do a bit more reading and writing, and focus more on my business. When the taper finally came and I switched from “active” to “passive” mode, my pre-race anxiety and nervous energy took hold. I obsessed over various scenarios of race day and over all the many details of race day prep. It was all-consuming.
A few days after my taper began, I had a full-blown panic attack likely due to the pent up stress over the last several months. Mentally, I felt like things were crashing down around me and was desperately trying to hold it all together.
A few days after, I prioritized rest, spoke with friends and fam, and was feeling more grounded and focused. I still needed to get a few last minute pieces of gear and organize all my race stuff, but I kept reminding myself to trust my training and take each race moment as it comes.
I listened to David Goggins new book, Never Finished, for a burst of motivation and to help me craft more mental tools for race day. On one of Goggins 200-mile adventures, he said a line which would prove to be instrumental for my race to come—something I would repeat to myself over and over. He basically said that no matter how much pain he was in, it would end eventually. One can keep pushing through all the discomfort knowing that there is an endpoint—that particular state of being is ephemeral. While not the cheeriest thought, it’s realistic—and when you get to those moments of extreme pain, you need these reminders in order for mind over matter to prevail.
With ultras, I had to remind myself of the cyclicality of energy. More often than not, you get multiple “winds”—a first, a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, and sometimes a sixth. At one point in the race, you can have no legs and feel nauseous, and an hour later, you can feel strong and powerful. It’s volatile. The way you feel fluctuates throughout the race, but when you hit that wall, there are luckily various ways to persist, and get you back on track.
It was now race week and my nervousness grew. I started dwelling on all the worst case scenarios that could happen. Before almost every race, I have dreams that I’m going to be late. I don’t know why, but it happens everytime. What if my car battery died or my crew and pacers flight was canceled or delayed? On top of my anxiety-filled hypothesizing, I started getting a weird niggle in my adductor and glutes. During my last 10k trail run in North Van, the pain came in hot and sharp about 7k in. I freaked the fuck out. I called my girlfriend in a panic and messaged my coaches. They all tried to calm me down, saying it might be a common issue called “taperitis” where essentially all the training and load to the body starts manifesting in tightness and weird pain. I prayed it wasn’t an injury and got in with my PT the next morning. My run the following morning was better and I felt looser after some foam rolling. My PT confirmed that it was just tightness and she did some light massaging to work out the sore spots. After that appointment, I took a deep breath and began my pre-race ritual—prepping my gear, getting my food ready, and making my never-ending checklists.
My focus for race week was eating good food and getting lots of rest. I was in bed by 8, would read for an hour and pass out by 9. Geriatric life. My goal was to get my body in tune with my biological clock. When prepping for an ultra, it’s imperative that you get a good night’s sleep when you’re 2-days out from the race. Of course the night before the race is also important but, let’s be serious, you’re not going to have the most restful sleep— whether it’s pre-race anxiety or the discomfort of sleeping somewhere new, your sleep is going to be impaired. On Thursday morning, I woke up early to find out that my crew’s flight was delayed. As I read the email, my heart stopped and a rush of panic flooded in. In the next moment, I took a breath and actually read the rest of the e-mail. The flight was only delayed by an hour, thank God. I scooped them up from the airport and we made our way to Manning Park to grab our race kit and attend the mandatory pre-race briefing. After we got the goods, we headed to Princeton (about an hour drive from Manning Park Resort) where we were staying.
When we rolled up to the Rainbow Castle Resort Lodge, we saw the ruins of a castle on the left, a cage with two peacocks on the right, and signs warning guests of bear and cougar sightings on the resort property. This felt like a fever dream. So we checked in and drove down the road to a cute little cabin. While the resort grounds were sketchy and unkept, the cabin was nice and well maintained and most importantly, it was quiet. After organizing my gear and eating a giant tub of gnocchi and salad with my crew, I organized my gear, and crawled into bed.
The race started at 10:00 am, which is the latest I’ve ever started any kind of race. I wasn’t so sure about starting at this time because I’m an early morning kinda gal and I don’t typically fare well in the heat. The late start gave us plenty of time to get ready, have my nervous bowel movements, eat, and make the ~1.5 hour drive to the start line. After driving to the middle of nowhere, we finally arrived—with my lovely girlfriend, Brandy, meeting us at the start line. I anxiously paced around, reviewing the course map and various splits in a binder that my crew put together. My coaches reminded me to stay at the back of the pack during the first climb, which was the longest (1,400m of vert of 13k) and to take it real slow. Fat Dog is pretty much entirely composed of single track trails which makes passing people difficult. It makes passing a long conga line of people near impossible.
The announcer began counting down the clock and it was now just seconds away before I began this epic adventure. Next thing I knew, the gun went off—we were all off and I found myself barely moving as I was stuck behind a ton of people. The first few kilometers of climbing tested my patience as I was going way slower than I wanted to. I had planned to take the climb slow, yes, but man, it was getting annoying being stuck behind so many people who were hindering my time.
I knew the pack would disperse as we neared the top of Cathedral and began the descent down to Ashnola, but I wanted to go a little quicker. So when I got the opportunity, I passed a few people here and there, finding a bit more space and a faster pace—but still not to the degree I was hoping for. That whole stretch was annoying as I continued getting stuck behind long lines of people, but as I reached the first aid station, as Mel promised, the pack dispersed a bit and I started into my own groove.
When I got to the first aid station, I knew I had a big descent coming. I needed to be super careful, scale back my efforts, and make sure that I wasn’t trashing my quads too early. I made a big mistake in the WAM 100k last year. After the first slow ascent up Blackcomb Mountain, I was feeling really good and pushed it on the first big descent—paying for it dearly later in the race. The heat started giving me a headache, but I tried drinking more frequently and as I got closer to sea level, the headache subsided and I started feeling better.
The next aid station was a major one where I met with my crew. I had a sit down and ate some real food (versus just gels) as my crew topped up my water and gave me some encouraging words. We reviewed the next stretch to come (another decent size climb ~1,000m), and I was outta there pretty quick. I felt strong on the second climb so I power hiked it and was soon at the Trapper aid station, about to embark on my first big section (18k to the next AS). I topped up my water and filled my 1L bladder to full capacity—I was only carrying 0.5L to help manage the weight, but knew there weren’t going to be too many good streams to drink from, and the last thing I wanted was to run out of water on top of a mountain in the blistering heat. This stretch felt painfully long and while frolicking atop of the alpines, I started to feel bad, then worse, and then terrible. Once again, the heat and the altitude made me lose my appetite. I tried to take gels, but started dry heaving—turning my eating luck to some bars I had on hand. I kept reminding myself that feeling this way was normal—I don’t do well in high altitudes. Combine that with a blistering sun beaming down on me and you have ol’ grumpy troll Em. After some climbing, I finally started the huge descent down to Calcite (> 2,000m). Once again, I reminded myself of two things: 1) don’t push this descent, keep an easy pace and 2) the chances are very high that as I get closer to sea level, I’d start feeling better.
My nausea did subside as I made the descent, but then a new issue started formulating: cramping (stitches in my side) that would not let up. I drank, I took my salts, and I took another electrolyte tab, but it was still raging and ruining my day. To distract myself from my thoughts, and for the first time in this race, I plugged in some music and jammed out as I ran some nice forested trails. Aside from the side stitch from hell, I enjoyed this section and knew there were only a few more short aid stations before I got to meet with my first pacer at Bonnevier who was going to take me through the whole night into the early morning hours.
When I got to the Calcite aid station, I downed half a burger which was a horrible choice and soon after, was met with stomach pains again. One of the volunteers said, “take it easy–you just had a burger.” I should’ve probably waited a few minutes to let my digestion do its thing, but I’m impatient.
Soon after, I made it to the infamous river crossing at Pasayten, where you cross a river with current by rope. While it was a bit awkward trudging through the river, but very doable. I was now only 3k away from Bonnevier and excited to see my crew. I had a bunch of low points over the last ~20k and needed some emotional support to get me through the second biggest climb to come.
When I arrived at Bonnevier it was about 9pm and dark. I ate some Perogies (another solid choice), changed into a fresh pair of shoes and socks, and put on a new outfit for the night stretch. April was all ready to go and after giving Brandy a sweaty kiss goodbye, we were on our way. Running with April made me feel instantly better. It was nice to have someone to talk to and to get me out of my head. Despite the chatter, the climb up Heather mountain was a struggle. The trail was overgrown, I was getting sleepy, and starting to feel nauseous again. This was the first time in the race I began harboring thoughts of quitting. When the thoughts came, I vocalized them and told April to not let me quit. She said, “you are not quitting,” and just as quickly as those thoughts arose, the possibility of dropping out was gone. From 10pm to midnight, my body and brain were ready to sleep. I was worried that I’d continue to get sleepier, but I popped some Cliff caffeine chews, which made me feel more alert. The nausea began to subside and I began to feel less corpse-like.
The 18k stretch/1,200m climb to Heather was, plot twist, was terrible. I continued to check my watch to see how far we had left to go, which obviously made it worse. As we got closer to the top, the temperature rapidly dropped. My hands and upper body started to get cold, but I told April that I would put my long sleeve and jacket on when we reached the next aid station. Mistake. By the time we finally reached Heather, I was shaking uncontrollably. The wind was strong and my hands were so cold that I couldn’t even open my vest to get my clothes out. A lovely volunteer helped me, which took forever because I was frozen solid, and another volunteer handed me some warm broth which was heavenly. My lips were chattering and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to warm up. The long sleeve, jacket, and gloves didn’t seem warm enough. I cursed myself for being dumb and not putting on my gear earlier. Taking way longer than I wanted, we finally left the aid station and slowly, my body began to warm up again. This was by far the lowest point of my race so far, but decided then that I needed to make some changes for the remainder of the night stretch: 1) stop looking at my watch and counting down the miles, 2) get my nutrition and hydration back on track and 3) try to stay more present. As we made our way to the next aid station, April and I started chatting more which lifted me out of my miserable state of existence. Not checking my watch incessantly, made the miles go by faster and before we knew it, we logged another 15k and were at the next aid station before a big descent, which I was very much looking forward to.
We were in and out of the AS super quick—trying to make up for lost time—and began another big descent to reach Granger Creek. The forested trails were lovely at first; a nice reprieve from the technical ups and downs that preceded us. The sun started to rise as we slowly made our way down what felt like a never-ending trail. I was dreading reaching the next aid station. Granger to Hope Pass was a big section and another big climb. I was tired. My feet were hurting. I wanted to sit down and brush my teeth. Oh god what I would do for some Listerine. The section to Granger felt so long that I thought maybe we made a wrong turn. My Garmin was off about ~2k from the course map, but even taking into account the discrepancy from previous stretches, this one was still off. Finally we saw the sign indicating the aid station was a few hundred meters away. It was light out now and I contemplated having some coffee, but then decided against it. I did not want to have to shit on the next stretch. I was not in the mood to dig a hole and bury my poo in the bushes.
We refilled our water, April had some warm broth, and we were on our way. The ascent started off really nice with some gradual and chill switchbacks. However, from my training, I was well aware that if you’re going to be capturing +1,000m of gain and it starts out chill, it’s gonna be steep once we get closer to the top. I was very right. As we grinded away—both April and I so over this climb—I started developing some foot pain on the soles of my feet. The pain started off mild then exponentially grew worse and worse. It soon became unbearable. I still felt pretty alert despite having zero sleep and running through the night, but man oh man, the foot pain…so bad.
When we finally reached the summit, we had a few more kilometers to go before we arrived at Hope Pass. We were about 2k past where the aid station should’ve been and we were getting annoyed. Where the hell is this aid station? That night stretch was fucking brutal and I needed a break. After what seemed like the longest stretch between aid stations thus far, we finally rolled up to camp. It felt amazing to sit down. Brandy brought me some french toast with jam and hashbrowns and god damn, it tasted so good. April was relieved to be done with her long, torturous stretch and Mel was gearing up to take me through to the finish. After an outfit change, a bunch of food and a very sad bowel movement, we were on our way. Mel said the next few sections were chill from an ascent perspective and there wasn’t a ton of gain, but there was still some (400m to the next AS then 700m to Heather return). I was over climbing by now and was beginning to struggle hard. I started complaining a lot and Mel, God bless, was very patient with me as I begrudgingly marched up one ascent after the next. However, despite the torturous elevation gain, the views were incredible. The little dose of awe was a temporary reprieve from my foot pain, ass cheek chafing, and the heavy breathing accompanying all the climbing. It was nice, for a second, and then I was back to hating my life.
Ascents are a weakness of mine. Despite all my training, I still struggled. Now over 130k in, ascents became harder and harder and my pace, increasingly slower. Yet I stuck to my plan and just kept moving. One foot in front of the other. Easy on the ascents, slow jog the flats, and a harder jog on the descents. Don’t stop. Keep going, even if it’s at a snail’s pace. Eventually, we made it to Heather where I inhaled a random buffet of pop tarts, dried mangoes, dates, and Oreos. It actually sat quite well. Refined palates are overrated. We were now about to embark on some descents and I couldn’t fucking wait. I was so over the heat, the altitude, the climbing, and listening to myself gasping for air. I wanted to cruise down for a bit, and cruise we did. I don’t know if it was the pop tart & Oreo lunch or the fact that we were getting closer to sea level, but I got another wind and was gaining some strength.
As I was on the up, Mel was on the inverse. She was starting to feel super nauseous so we slowed our pace a bit as we entered onto a road stretch. As we rolled up to Blackwall aid station, our crew was nowhere to be found. Mel needed some meds, I needed to charge my Garmin and put on more sunscreen. There was zero reception to get in contact with the crew. We got a bit frantic and decided to just keep moving and hopefully see them on the highway we were running down as they drove up to the aid station.
Shortly after we left for Windy Joe’s—the second last aid station before the finish—we saw our crew cruising up the hill to Blackwall. Such a relief…. the road stretch felt like forever. After running on trail for over a full day now, the pavement hurt. I was looking forward to a nice stretch of road, but it just exasperated the pain I was feeling everywhere in my legs and feet. The pavement was hard on the joints and it was hot out. When we rolled up to Windy Joe’s, Mel immediately started puking and we decided that it would be best to continue my journey solo for now. Mel would take a much needed break and if she was feeling better, she would join me on the last big climb to the finish.
I was feeling pretty good despite now being almost 180k into the race—the longest I’ve ever ran in my life. I didn’t feel as sleepy as I thought I would after running for over 30 hours and still felt like I had some juice left in my legs. The stretch between Windy Joe’s and Strawberry Flats was only about 8k. I spent a few minutes at the next aid station as I topped up my water and jumped back on that pierogi diet. I was so ready to finish at that point. Mel was wrapped up in a blanket and she said the race crew told her she couldn’t keep going given her state. I figured she probably wouldn’t be in a good enough condition to run with me so I had mentally prepped for doing the home stretch solo.
When tackling each of the big climbs, I found it helpful to look at the elevation profile and relate it to one of the big hikes I did over the summer in my training. Skyline Mountain was about 1,000m which was the same elevation profile as the Sea to Summit Trail–one of my favorite hikes in Squamish. So I chose that hike and decided that was the one I’d do. The trail started off with some switchbacks with a gradual incline so I power hiked and slowly jogged those. I reminded myself of a similar mantra when I started operating from a numb, automaton mode: one foot in front of the other, I’ll get there eventually. Instead of focusing on the finish, I was focused on getting to the top and then cruising down to the finish. Once I reached the top, it would be smooth sailing. As I marched on, seemingly forever, the climb started to become steeper. I would reach what I thought was the top of the mountain, begin to descend, but then soon after, began climbing again. Damn, a false summit. I was repeating the same scenario over and over. Steep climb, followed by descent then another steep climb. I don’t really know how many false summits there were, but I do know that it was pure torture. It felt like the mountain was playing some kind of sick joke on me.
I kept pushing despite all the pain. When I was climbing super slow, almost to a halt, I felt the fatigue and exhaustion rush in, so I picked up the pace. I started passing people who were slowing down on those treacherous climbs. I don’t know if it’s because I took it so easy throughout the entirety of the race, but I felt powerful. My race strategy of staying consistent was beginning to pay off as I felt the strength in my legs improve with each climb. When I finally reached the last summit, I started the descent again and pushed it hard. I was giving this last bit everything I had left—taking advantage of the legs I still somehow had.
When I reached the top of the last summit (I prayed), I pushed hard on the descent to Lightning Lake and felt the strongest I felt in the entire race. Last year at WAM, the final stretch to the finish was brutal. My quads were ready for vacation and so many people flew past me. Fat Dog’s finish was my redemption. I exerted a lot of patience and ran my own race. Now that patience was paying off and I was cashing in on excess energy to push hard to the finish. When I reached Lightning Lake, I spotted the finish line from afar. I had one little loop to go before my journey was finally over.
As I was now just meters away from the finish, my eyes started tearing up. I was so grateful for this entire journey; for my coaches who flew out from Ontario to crew and pace me while being extremely sleep deprived, to my incredible girlfriend who showed up for me all weekend, to all the race crew and volunteers that were so helpful, supportive and encouraging, and the other incredible race participants who I met along the way. It felt like a huge team effort, but now it was all over.
I didn’t know how my body would hold up running for 200 kms with over 27,000 ft. of elevation, but it held, and I felt pretty strong throughout the race. I finished in 38 hours and 29 minutes—longer than I could even fathom just 6 months ago when I began my training. I sacrificed 6 months of my life to do this. I had some mental breakdowns along the way, but pushed myself to do my workouts even when resistance felt insurmountable. I tackled one of the top 10 hardest ultramarathons in the world and I was damn proud of myself.
As Brandy drove us back to Princeton, I tried to stay awake to help her navigate, but then I started hallucinating. I saw a horse and buggy merging onto the highway (from my good old Waterloo roots) and construction workers in the distance—neither of which were real. If you’re in the market for natural hallucinogens, just try running for 38 hours straight. When we finally got back to the cabin, Brandy—a goddamn saint—peeled KT tape off my back in the shower as I tried to at least semi- scrub some of the dirt caked onto me. A bed never felt so damn good. I slept for a grand total of 3 hours, but felt pretty good the next day.
I was tired, had some strange prego cravings, and was sore of course, but nothing crazy. I was limber enough to be able to complete my streak run (4k) when we got back to Vancouver, albeit at a very slow pace.
Over the next few days, I noticed my bowel movements were looking very strange. My stools were dark and tar-like, and I had some intermittent pain in the upper part of my stomach. I got my period the day after the race (which was a real treat), so I had assumed that the pain was cramping. On Wednesday night, I woke up at 3am with shooting pains in my stomach. Again, I wrote it off as cramping. After rolling around for over an hour, I finally passed out again. The next morning, I was feeling very off. I ate some breakfast and immediately after, the cramping in my stomach was so bad that I couldn’t even stand up straight. I drove myself to the emergency.
After I got some bloodwork and a rectal exam, the doctor said my hemoglobin was low and that I had some internal bleeding, albeit mild. He thought it was likely a stomach ulcer and prescribed me some anti-acid medication and gave me a referral for a gastroenterologist. I had an endoscopy done and the doctor said everything looked normal. He wasn’t entirely sure what caused the bleeding, but I was alright now. We don’t really know how our body is to fare with this kind of intense activity. I had a bit of a scare with this whole ordeal—internal bleeding is no joke, but a month later, I’m feeling back to normal and starting to increase my mileage again.
I knew Fat Dog would be the hardest thing I ever conquered in my life and I wasn’t wrong. The training was long and difficult, the race just as long and difficult, but crossing that finish line made it all worth the effort. The part I’m most proud of was my finish. Feeling strong and pushing hard after running for over 37 hours was so satisfying. Endurance is one of my strengths. I’ve learned to pace myself over the years and not compete with others. I contemplated signing up for another race this year, but am still unsure. For now, I’m giving myself a bit of a break. Doing some hikes for fun, being more social again, and getting back into my writing. I have some races planned for next year, but first, I need to enjoy some much deserved downtime.