Fat Dog 120: Runners’ dreams go up in smoke as race cancelled due to wildfires

You don’t run 120 miles on a whim.

So when a wildfire led to the cancellation of the Fat Dog 120, an ultra marathon that brings runners from around the world to Manning Park, there were tears and anger.

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It’s pointless to be angry at a wildfire, admitted Erik Bird, an Abbotsford runner who planned to do the 50-mile (80-kilometre) route this weekend.

“What can you do?” he said. “It’s been a year of late-night runs, early-morning runs, hours on the trail. What a waste.”

The trail runner quickly added: “It’s not really a waste. It gave me so much purpose in my running.”

The Fat Dog 120 stretches 120 miles from Keremeos to Manning Park. A section of the trail cuts through Skagit Valley Provincial Park, which was closed Thursday as a wildfire burned through 50 hectares of forest near Silvertip campground.

The decision to cancel the race was extremely difficult, although organizers didn’t have much choice, said Heather Macdonald. The founder of Mountain Madness had already rerouted the course once three weeks ago to avoid a fire burning near Cathedral Lakes. The Silvertip fire wasn’t on her radar until B.C. Parks called to say they were closing Skagit Valley.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “We thought it was small and contained.”

A B.C. Wildfire Service update said wind was a factor in the decision to close the park. Skagit Valley is one of seven B.C. Parks currently closed by wildfire. The list also includes Sasquatch Provincial Park near Harrison Hot Springs.

Macdonald notified racers of the cancellation on Wednesday, but not before some international visitors had already arrived in B.C. Four hundred people from 12 countries had signed up to do the race, which also includes 40-, 50- and 70-mile distances. More than 1,000 people were expected in Manning Park during the race weekend, which was set to begin Friday morning with the start of the 120-mile race, and finish Sunday morning.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said the organizer. High alpine trails need to be cleared and flagged, while aid stations must be planned and stocked. “It takes a year to get ready.”

Brent Krahn had his shoes and backpack set to go and was starting to pack his food and water when he got word of the cancellation. His wife Alicia, who had planned to be his pacer for the final 40 miles of his 70-mile run, began to cry.

“We’ve invested so much time,” he said.

The couple had a babysitter lined up for the weekend and planned to go to Manning Park despite the cancellation. A barbecue and some casual runs with other racers were planned.

Krahn said he’s already thinking about next year’s race.

“I think I’ll try to do the big one — 120 miles. The 70 is dead to me,” he said.

For Vancouver’s Jennifer Closs, the cancellation was “devastating.”

Her goal was to complete the 70-mile race in 24 hours, beginning Saturday morning.

“I would have been running right now,” she said. “The race was supposed to be the celebration of all the training.”

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