Foolish Gerbil 80k

Foolish Gerbil: The Extended Director's Cut 80k

Why? Why? Why?

After the Foolish Gerbil 50k a fortnight ago, event host Karl Jensen invited me back for the 80k. I smiled. Hell no, was the first thought to cross my mind.

Well, it took barely 24 hours to convince myself I needed to run at least part of it: the 50k was a lot of fun, the weather forecast was promising, and there’d likely be a few Western States finishers to prod for information.

And how could I resist doing the full 80k? Three more laps on the same course with slightly better weather, and more of the same fun people to run with. It was like the extended director’s cut of the Foolish Gerbil 50k.

Despite twisting his ankle on Wednesday, Dario taped himself up and was back for another spin around the gerbil wheel. The guy was a trooper all day and battled to about 75k before calling it a day.

We had a good early pack which included Western States veterans Chad Hyson, Jim Swadling, and Ean Jackson, as well as Mike Palichuk’s pacer for this year’s race, Ran Katzman, and one of our fellow gerbils from the 50k, Pat Malaviarachchi. Dario and I were the only two in the group planning to do the full 80k and after a couple of laps which saw us under last week’s pace — mostly because of the quick pitstops the other guys took — I started questioning the decision to stick with them. With plenty of Western States chatter to absorb, questioning was about as far as I got — though Dario and I would lose most of the group after our extended Lap 3 food break — and I finished the first five laps over three minutes faster than I finished the 50k two weeks ago. Uh-oh.

Dario’s ankle started to really hinder him during Lap 3 and he faded well behind, leaving me to run alone for almost two laps. As I approached the end of 50k and contemplated dragging my old training partners, Win Butler and Brandon Flowers, out of the backseat for the final three laps, I spotted the smiling face of Mike Palichuk readying himself in the parking lot. Mike ran a VFAC club 5-miler in the morning, but couldn’t resist the lure of the gerbil wheel and came out for the 30k cooldown. Just in time too. My hip flexors had been squealing since the 25k mark, there were fewer and fewer gerbils left on course, and I desperately needed human company.

Mike and I would stick together until we hit Imperial for the final time at which point he asked if I could, “see the light yet.” Funny enough I could, almost at that moment. You see, Imperial had become an important marker for me during these two gerbil runs: it’s the point on the course where the gerbil’s body taper’s to its tail — yes, one could call it the gerbil’s behind — and it’s only about two miles to the parking lot.

Shortly into the final lap I told Mike that I’d glanced at my watch after our final food break and saw that I had a little less than 50 minutes to sneak in under seven hours. I felt like I was struggling and had all but written off the thought until checking my watch again as we approached Imperial. Maybe I do have a shot at it. So, shortly after Mike’s question and just after making the turn from Imperial onto Salish, I pulled away from Mike, or as he put it, he “let me go” to enjoy my “moment of glory.” Thanks Mike! However it played out, it would have been a lot more difficult without you.

It was another fun day with a few other highlights….

Thankfully there were no pavement-diving demonstrations from the veteran Fools this time around. Karl and John Machray actually got to run together this time.

The giant dog-walking mob wasn’t out this time, but there were enough dog-walkers around that we had plenty of close calls with canines. I narrowly avoided a knee-cap garroting on my fifth lap as I turned from Imperial onto Salish where one tiny dog was strung out in front of its owners on 15-20 feet of nearly invisible leash that may as well have been piano wire. A lap later, in almost the same spot, an aggressive whippet — clearly resentful that I gave whippets a bad name in former marathon clinic member, Alisa Smith’s Explore magazine article — actually took a poke at my foot!

I had a brief chuckle as I crossed paths with Rachel Fouladi heading the opposite direction. We exchanged encouraging words and as she disappeared she asked if I was doing the “full eighty”? Doing the Fouladi? Ohhhh, doing the FULL EIGHTY! “Yes, yes, the full eighty!” I called back, feeling about as dumb as the stumps of the old Douglas Firs that dotted the second-growth forest which surrounded the trail.

Vancouver Thunderbirds Track Club coaches Chris Johnson and Graeme Fell were once again putting their charges through their paces on the Imperial trail hill.

The Honey Stinger waffles were as tasty as ever, but I added a few new items to the menu including dulse, salty seaweed from the Bay of Fundy, and a peanut butter, honey and banana wrap that has become one of my go-to snacks.

My lap splits were pretty even and judging from the two 46-minute laps to finish up 50k and 80k, I was clearly showing off to someone. I even managed a 6:37 final mile.

Here are my lap times with breaks in parentheses:

Lap 1 — 51:03 (1:40)
Lap 2 — 48:46 (1:13)
Lap 3 — 47:15 (4:01)
Lap 4 — 48:04 (6:08)
Lap 5 — 46:30 (7:05)
Lap 6 — 50:23 (3:43)
Lap 7 — 49:36 (5:47)
Lap 8 — 46:44

Total 80k time: 6:58:05
(50k time: 4:14:45)

Dario gutted out 75k in 7:13.

Download a printer-friendly PDF version of the map, laid out 4-up to share with your friends!

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