When Matt Fortuna had to withdraw halfway through his first Fat Dog 120 Trail Race last August, it was the first time he had ever had failed to finish a running event of any kind.
This summer, the 35-year-old ultra marathoner from Oyama was determined to make amends.
“It hurt not to finish,” Fortuna said of his result in the 2016 race. “It was a hot day, I had issues with hydration and eating issues and it didn’t go well. I’ve been part of the sport of trail running for a long time, so it wasn’t a lack of preparation.
“It just didn’t go anything like I had planned.”
Motivated by last year’s disappointment, Fortuna not only completed the 2017 FatDog 120-mile run last weekend, he placed a strong third overall out of 105 finishers to win the bronze medal.
His running time of 29 hours 6 minutes from Cathedral Park to Manning Park also earned him the distinction of the race’s top Canadian.
Fortuna said the lessons learned from last year’s Fat Dog served him well the second time around.
“It was a different race for me, for sure,” said Fortuna, who is a winemaker by profession. “I learned a lot from last year. It was hot again and I just made slight changes to my hydration and nutrition. I’ve never drank so many fluids in my life, about 30 litres, so this time I had it right.
“It’s about patience and reading your body. I went out really slow and then just built from there. My goal was just to finish, but it couldn’t have gone any better, it was a great day. It was sweet redemption, I guess you could say.”
At 8,673 metres, the Fat Dog 120 (193 km) is just short of Everest for elevation gain and is widely considered as one of North America’s most challenging ultra marathons. Competitors are given a 48-hour limit to complete the race, which is run almost entirely through remote backcountry.
Fortuna began his trek at 10 a.m. last Saturday, and without a wink of sleep or any significant stops to rest, arrived at the finish line just after 3 p.m. on Sunday.
He leaned on the support of others to get him through the race including his pace runner, Aaron Heidt from Vernon, who ran the last 65 km with Fortuna.
Friends Tim and Stacey Parsons worked on Fortuna’s crew, meeting him at aid stations, refilling his supplies and providing moral encouragement.
Tim Parsons viewed his friend’s accomplishment—and that of the other racers—as nothing short of remarkable.
“I was utterly blown away by the performance and determination of all the competitors,” Parsons said. “We watched as Matt got continually stronger and stronger as the race progressed, his final 30 miles was run faster than his first 30 miles, I think.
“It was truly inspirational, and a feat most people could never hope to achieve.”
An avid long-distance trail runner for close to a decade, Fortuna had previously completed his share of 50-mile ultra runs as well as a pair of 100-mile events.
Now, with a successful 120-mile race under his belt, Fortuna has pushed his personal standard to a whole new level.
But based on his commitment and passion for the sport, and his love for the outdoors, it’s seems likely no challenge will be beyond Fortuna’s reach.
“I really enjoy the training and where I get to train,” said Fortuna. “I get to run in the mountains and love being in nature and being outdoors. They kind of go hand-in-hand for me.
“I spend my weekends in beautiful places and for me, there’s no feeling like trail running. I like to participate in the races and enjoy the social side of it, the feeling of community you get. It’s what I love to do.”
For more on the Fat Dog 120 Trail Race, see mountainmadness.ca/fatdog.php