Six years ago, a few friends had a dream. For full time-lapse effect, imagine this page going blurry and sepia-toned. Their hazy dream? For one of them to make it into the Western States 100 via the lottery.
Now, there are a couple problems with that dream. One, the best way to get into Western States through the lottery is to run qualifying races for many years to accrue enough tickets to increase the probability of selection, or the other option is to cover Will Smith in blue body-paint and ask him for three wishes. They had just started running ultras, and they didn’t know Will Smith.
Two, they hadn’t run 100-milers yet. It was like jumping into the deep end and learning how to swim when you hit the water.
But that didn’t stop them. They were a group of resilient, scrappy, hilarious Canadians. There is no challenge that they couldn’t laugh at over a Molson and some poutine. So, in May 2013, the Fraser Street Run Club formed, founded by Jesse Booi, Kat Drew, Michelle Ford and Cody Callon. Their mission was to lift up the Vancouver running community and each other.
They hadn’t even run 100-milers yet. It was like jumping into the deep end and learning how to swim when you hit the water.
But that didn’t stop them. They were a group of resilient, scrappy, hilarious Canadians. There is no challenge that they couldn’t laugh at over a Molson and some poutine.
As their website says, in trail running, “Sometimes things can get a little bit silly.” And the ultimate in silly may have been a group of ultra newbies planning a pilgrimage to the Western States 100 that would take six years to come to fruition. They put their hands in the middle of a circle and made a pact:
“If one goes, we all go.”
Getting to the Start Line
They started by running the Zion Ultramarathon together for their lottery tickets. Kat echoed the experience that so many have, “Lottery day came and WOMP WOMP no one got in.” That scene would repeat itself year after year, as all of their lives changed immensely and the Fraser Street Run Club grew to 100-plus members. As everything changed around them, though, they had their running North Star: the pact.
At the 2018 Western States lottery, it was another sad trombone playing the womps. But Michelle had a strange feeling. She booked late June 2019 off work, just in case. You see, this run club wasn’t just about silly jokes and stories. It was also about silly belief.
Michelle saw Kat’s growth over those six years, and she put her chips on the table without telling anyone. It was Kat’s year for a golden ticket. Michelle just knew it.
She was right. At the Canyons 100K, Kat won and earned a coveted golden ticket to the 2019 Western States 100. Oh, heck yeah! It was time to load up on gas and see how many Canadians could stuff themselves into a camper van.
From Fraser Street Run Club, eight people made the trip down, including all of the founding members. Jesse and Cody would be Kat’s pacers. Michelle and Monica her crew chiefs. Boyfriend Jeremey her emotional support leader. And Mike, Nadine and Marc filled out the super crew. They printed shirts that said, “Gotta Be KD,” a strikingly Canadian reference to a famous ad for Kraft Dinners that ran up north for many years. The crew prepared like they were on Magellan’s ship circumnavigating the world, with several team meetings in Vancouver to prepare every little thing. Pacts are not to be taken lightly.
I met them at the starting area in Squaw Village on June 27, two days before the race would start. What jumped out to me was just how joyful they all seemed to be. As Michelle said afterward, “Our goal was to make sure Kat was happy.” That lightness and levity was probably best embodied by their choice of pre-race movie. Sitting together in a crowded hotel room with 10 hours until race start, they watched Magic Mike, the 2012 tour de force starring Channing Tatum as a male stripper with a heart of gold. That’s one way to make sure Kat (or anyone with eyes and a soul) is happy.
The Super Crew In Action
The race began and Kat was running like Magic Mike danced: enthusiastically. She found herself in the top-10 early on, an audacious running strategy. Pre-race predictions are notoriously difficult, but the IRunFar groupthink predictions had her as the 19th-ranked vote getter. However, she was going for the automatic invite to next year’s race that is given to each athlete in the top-10.
The crew was at each accessible point, with a mission to “wait on her hand and foot,” Michelle says. “Literally,” she added, referencing the foot massages with anti-chafe cream Kat would get a few times throughout the race.
Michelle described the big goal: “We wanted to make sure she didn’t have to use too much brain power and was able to put 100 percent of her energy into the race.”
Kat said that freed her up to run with gratitude and focus. “It meant the absolute world to me that everyone came down to help me run!” Kat said. “They took time off work and were all stoked to be there. I get so much energy from getting to see my pals at each aid station—that’s what kept me going and motivated.”
But no amount of stoke and motivation can prevent the low points in a 100-miler. When I saw Kat at the mile-62 Foresthill aid station (the unofficial start of the race according to many race veterans), she didn’t exactly look like she was feeling that Magic Mike eagerness. She ran to the camper van with all of her crew, and sat down. Then … the jokes began.
For five minutes, the best friends all riffed off each other’s comments, laughing the whole time (other than when Kat had to scarf down a sweet-and-salty granola bar). When Kat got out of the chair, I was less worried about her legs cramping from exertion than about her abs cramping from laughter.
Kat said the laughter pretty much continued for hours afterward. All that led to one of my all-time favorite videos. At mile 80, in the midst of a grueling uphill that has crushed countless athletes’ spirits over the decades, they did an impromptu flash mob dance to the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.” Magic Mike would be proud.
Later that night, I made it back to the track that marked the finish line, where I ran into her crew. They were very easy to spot with their bright purple “Gotta Be KD” shirts and nervous laughter. Around midnight, a headlamp came bobbing onto the track, flanked by two bright purple shirts that could be spotted even in the low light. The headlamp moved faster and faster, until it was at a near sprint around the final corner. The Canadian crew started screaming, jumping up and down with glee, as Kat motored toward the finish. You can accomplish seemingly-impossible dreams with a splash of unconditional support, a glug of resolute belief, and a gulp of Channing Tatum to wash it all down.
Kat’s final time? 18:59, a dream day.
Her final place? 8th female, an automatic entry into the 2020 race.
And the Fraser Street Run Club crew? They’re already blocking off the time from work. After all, a pact is a pact.
—David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, The Happy Runner, is about moving toward unconditional self-acceptance in a running life, and it’s available now at Amazon.