(Scroll to the bottom for trail/road conditions)
Earlier this week I decided to run the Baker Lake 100k Fat Ass. For non-runners, here’s a brief history of Fat Ass events in general. In summary: “No fees, no awards, no aid, no wimps.” The Baker Lake 100k Fat Ass is put on by Terry Sentinella, who also directs the Baker Lake 50k, a PNW classic.
Typically, Fat Ass events are held on a specific date and done as a social run. The 2016 Baker Lake 100k is unique in that you can do it any day during the month of January. Although a few folks plan to run the 100k the last weekend of January, the best time for me to disappear on a long run is usually Mon/Tues, not Sat/Sun. So I decided that I’d just do it on my own.
There was only one problem… my training schedule didn’t really include 100k in one day. I know there are folks out there who can crank out 50+ milers every weekend, but I’m not one of them. Therefore I was thrilled when Terry clarified: “No time limit, just need to do it in one shot. You can take breaks to sleep eat or rest as long as the break isn’t to drive home and come back the next day. ” Perfect. I decided I’d run the first 50k, eat some food, take a sleep break at the Kulshan Campground (i.e. the starting line), and then head out for the next 50k.
I woke up at 5 am on Monday morning and drove from my house to the Baker River trailhead (labeled “Turnaround”in the map below). There, I stashed a cooler that would serve as my aid station. Then I drove back to Kulshan Campground, where I left my vehicle. It was shortly after 9 am when I started the first 50k from Kulshan CG.
I had two goals for this Fat Ass: 1. Cover the distance (100k) without injury and 2. Start easy and finish strong – ideally make the last 25k my fastest.
This meant that my first 50k involved a lot of speed hiking. During the daylight hours, I jogged the flats and descents and switched to a hike any time the ground slanted upwards. I spent a lot of time muttering things to myself like “Take it easy,” “Slow down,” and “No rush.” I stopped frequently for pictures.
I confess that as dusk approached I pretty much stopped running entirely – not only to conserve my legs for the next 50k, but also because I’d spotted a fairly fresh set of mountain lion tracks along the trail. I wasn’t super excited about the idea of running alone down a deserted trail during Mr. Cougar’s dinnertime. (I only saw three people on Monday, and everyone was gone by sunset. After that, I had the entire trail and campground to myself all night and all day Tuesday.)
I never did see the big kitty, but I did almost run into a bobcat! After sunset, I turned a corner and there it was, marching towards me, glowing eyes caught in my headlamp. It was just a little thing, no bigger than a small housecat, and downright cute! We stared at each other for a second, and then it turned around and ran off with its little bobbed tail before I could get a photo.
At my very leisurely pace, I finished the first 50k in approx 10.5 hrs. This included an extended stop at the Baker River TH cooler/aid station, where I sat down, exchanged layers, ate some food, re-filled my water, etc.
When I got back to the van at the end of the first 50k it was dark and I was ready for some shut-eye. I ate dinner (a cold burrito and an apple) and then crawled into the back of my van. There I lay for the next several hours, unable to sleep. I contemplated getting up and starting the next 50k. Then it started pouring rain. Apparently that was all the motivation my brain needed to shut down and get some rest! The next thing I knew it was after 5 am. That was a bit more sleep than I’d intended… I got dressed, heated some hot water for instant coffee and oatmeal, and finally headed out for the second 50k around 630 am.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel starting Day 2, but thanks to my luxurious sleep, I needn’t have worried. I had a few aches and pains, but physically I was OK. More importantly, mentally I felt ready to tackle the trail again. Normally I’m not a fan of repeating trails, and that’s actually part of the reason I chose this course – because I knew it would be good mental training. But I was surprised to discover that doing the second 50k wasn’t as tedious as I thought it’d be. It was kind of nice to know what to expect on Day 2. I knew each and every blowdown and had figured out the fastest way to scramble over, under or through. I knew the landmarks, including my own little “Bobcat Corner.” I knew when I was getting close to the turnaround, and when I was getting close to the van.
That said, my legs still felt flat and I definitely wasn’t fresh. I hit the turnaround and ate a peanut butter cup, at which point I realized that I felt fatigued partly because I was on tired legs, but also because I hadn’t been eating enough. The peanut butter cup was a game changer. After that, I was extremely diligent about nutrition (as I should’ve been from the start, bad coach!) and perked right up. Not only was my last 25k my fastest, but it also felt the strongest.
Considering how long I slept, this was really more of a 2x50k than a 100k. Regardless, it was exactly the training day(s) that I was looking for, and I’m thrilled with how it went. Nutrition, sleep, and a very conservative first 50k ensured that I had no problem completing the 100k, and that my last 25k was my fastest. Mission accomplished!
The paved section of Baker Lake Rd was wet and bare. The gravel section had some pretty significant potholes, but if you’re willing to go very slowly you’d probably be fine in a sedan. Something with a touch more clearance would be preferable, though.
Trail conditions: There are about a dozen blow-downs, some of them significant. However, they are all just speed bumps, not road blocks. There was packed snow/ice for the first couple miles south of the Baker River TH, but nothing too treacherous. I had microspikes in my pack but didn’t end up using them (didn’t want to deal with taking them on/off ) and I was just fine.