Fat Dog 100 has been dubbed Canada’s answer to America’s infamous Hardrock Endurance Run, and if you’re looking for a race experience in Canada’s high mountains, it’s only a direct flight away from Taipei. Both the Hardrock and Fat Dog involve long distances, varied weather and multiple grueling climbs (10k+) to remote mountain tops. Fat Dog 100 began 5 years ago and this point to point course challenges runners to more than 7700m of elevation gain over the 120 mile event. It has been named one of the most beautiful and challenging ultra marathons run today. Luckily, for those not willing to go the 200km it would take to finish the course, organizers offer other distances in the form of relays, 70 miles, 50 miles and 30 miles.
The full course takes runners through 4 provincial parks, starting from Cathedral to Cascade, Skagit and finally to Lightening lake in E.C. Manning Park. Runners, if quick, start at 10am Friday morning, finish Saturday. 120 milers who aren’t as lucky might be faced with 2 nights of hard running in the high mountains.
For the 30 mile runners, a classic yellow school bus arrived at the E.C. Manning Resort parking lot to provide participants with a ride to the starting line/checkpoint in Skagit Park. Arriving at Skagit with just 30 minutes to spare, 30 milers cheered for the 120 mile and relay participants coming in to refuel.
30 milers then gathered in a brief meeting to review the rules, at the end of which, the organizer glanced at his watch ad announced that we had 20 seconds. He squeezed in a last word, then participants turned towards the only trail in sight, and ran. No one squeezed together anxiously waiting, there were no clocks or chips, just a group of runners, running.
Coming from Taiwanese trails, the first 12km were a dream. Beautiful, wide, relatively flat, with dirt footing and small rolling hills in between giant conifer trees. Knowing that there would be a long, grueling climb mid-way through the race, we made excellent time (5:00/km) until the first check point at kilometer 15.
The first checkpoint was the only “major” checkpoint for the 30 mile race, meaning that it was close enough to a road that volunteers did not have to “hike in” supplies. Volunteers were well prepared, cheering runners on as they entered the aid station area, filling up water bottles and preparing hot food on the make-shift grill. It’s easy to leave this checkpoint feeling enthusiastic after flying through the first 15km, but the challenging part of the course is yet to come.
Shortly after the leaving the checkpoint, runners begin their ascent from kilometer 15 to 24 with an elevation gain of 1250m. This relentless uphill battle is sure to challenge all participants, even the most well -trained. At the top of the ridge, runners are met with the second checkpoint of the 30 mile course and although it is tempting to feel relieved at this aid station, the race is far from over. The significantly higher elevation of the “Skyline Trail” brings fewer trees, strong wind and heavy cloud cover. As we pressed forward, the temperature continued to drop, and the dense cloud became intermittent showers. As the cloud swirled around this high mountain area, and briefly cleared, we caught the occasional glimpse of glaciers on adjacent peaks.
The section between CP2 and CP3 is perhaps the most disheartening, filled with false peaks and plagued with bad weather, runners have no choice but to endure. For both CP2 and CP3 volunteers had to pack in all supplies and if runners “dropped out” of the race at this point, they would be faced with an 11km hike out to the nearest road.
Finally, we reached the final check point (CP3), and had only 13km until the finish line. Although remote, this final CP of the race, for all distances, was well stocked, with gels, energy bars, soft drinks, pizza, fruit and tequila. The tequila was certainly eye-catching after 2 hours of cold mountaintop running, but the best of the course is yet to come. Resisting temptation, we continued through another 2 kilometers of rough terrain before the descent to Lightening Lake, the finishing line for all distances. The descent was gradual, with winding switch-backs down to the lake. Finally, with approximately 3km to go, runners feel like they have re-entered civilization with the trail widening substantially. The course enters the Lightening Lake recreational area, takes runners around the far-side of the lake and eventually across the finish line. As participants enter the final stretch, volunteers clap loudly, giving every runner a small standing ovation to celebrate their success.
This race was impeccably organized, with hard-working, friendly volunteers. The point to point course allowed runners to take in the beauty of several provincial parks while covering a lot of ground. While 120 miles was the main event, the participants of shorter distances got a taste of what it’s like to run in one of the most challenging and beautiful ultra running courses in Canada. Fees are slightly higher than Taiwanese races, and there is an extra fee of 65 CAD if runners can’t help with trail clearing in the weeks prior to the race. Fortunately the course takes you through some of the most beautiful, remote wilderness Canada has to offer and is well worth the effort.