Monday, August 25, 2014

Hashimoto Runs 100 Miles -- the Crew's Story


I'm never going to run a hundred miles, and I'm certainly never going to be at the very front of a race, so when Jeff said he was going to run the Cascade Crest Classic 100, a notoriously harsh 100-miler, I jumped at the chance to be his crew and see what it was like to do something so hard and do it really well.

Being his crew turned out to be a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring experience.  CREW is supposed to stand for Crabby Runner Endless Waiting, but that's not the case when you're crewing for Jeff.  He finished in second place in 18:44, in heady company: the first place finisher finished second in Western States and the third place finisher won HURT earlier this year.  Jeff more than held his own, and did it with unfailing cheerfulness and thoughtfulness, making all the aid station volunteers love his enthusiastic attitude ("Squash soup?  I love squash soup!") and the race officials (and many spectators) comment on his smooth effortless running style and his obvious enjoyment of the day.

But let's back up.  I told Jeff I would be his crew if (a) we could drive together to all the crew meeting locations before the race, so I could make sure I could find them and my car could get there, and (b) he would promise we would still be friends afterward.  We scored on both points!  The reconnaissance drive was intense; it really opened my eyes to the immense distances he would be covering and the reason to even have a crew.  You could certainly do the race without any assistance; the aid stations are plentiful and generous, but then you'd have to carry everything you need for the entire distance.  You could use drop bags at various locations, but that would take precious minutes that the front-runners can't spare.  With a crew, you can pick up your headlamp when you need it, swap it out for a fresh battery halfway through the night, and supplement your aid station grazing with power bars and salt supplements of your choice.  Our drive also gave me a good look at the remote forest service roads I'd be driving on, all dusty and winding and pot-holed and washboarded, some of them in the middle of the night.

When Jeff said he was aiming for a top five finish, I felt the first pangs of nervousness.  I've never before had responsibility for someone else's race performance; if I screw up, it's always just me that suffers.  This time, I could totally mess up his race if I wasn't in the right place at the right time with a fresh headlamp or dry hat if he needed it. As we got closer to race day, I became more and more anxious, obsessively reviewing the driving instructions in my head, getting a good checkup for my aging car, and reviewing the driving instructions yet again.

Meanwhile, Jeff was training for the race in his own Hashimoto style.  A couple weeks before the race, he ran the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, running 49 miles on Saturday, camping overnight, and running the remaining 49 miles to complete the loop the next day.  He had a great time and said that, even if the race were a total disaster, he had already had a fun adventure this summer.  Then the week before the race, he and his daughter Uhuru backpacked 130 miles, maybe not everyone's idea of a taper but it sure worked for him!

With the unpredictable construction schedule on I-90 over the mountains this summer, we decided I would stay at his house in Ellensburg the night before and we'd drive together to the race in the morning.




The high school cross country team he coaches would be manning one of the earlier aid stations, along with his wife Carey, son Apollo, and Uhuru, so there was a chance that I, as I followed Jeff from point to point, would meet up with them later.



Race day dawned sunny and warm, with a possibility of thundershowers at night or the next day.




And they were off!  After the start, I drove back to the pass to top off my gas and get some lunch at a food truck -- it was going to be a long day and night and I needed to make sure both my car and my brain were adequately fueled.  Then I headed to our first meeting location, at Stampede Pass.  I got there just as the aid station was being set up, so I helped sort the drop bags and decorate the station with sparkly stars and twirly things.



Then, with still a couple of hours before the leaders were expected, I went for a hike (but couldn't find any huckleberries).

Carey texted me that he was in sixth place coming through her aid station.  By the time he got to Stampede Pass, he was in fifth, and he left the aid station together with the fourth place runner.  Here is the time to mention various crew practices.  The crew for the runner who ended up finishing in third carried this awesome pack that slung over your shoulder for walking to and from the car, then opened up to a flat mat with multiple pockets for everything your runner might need.  I had some moments of crew envy, but then I realized that Jeff's system was simpler and more efficient; he had written out for me ahead of time a list of the exact things he would want at each aid station, mostly power bars and shot blocks and salt caps to supplement the aid station food, and later headlamps, so as he came running in to each aid station, he didn't have to think too much; I just handed him what he'd asked for and he grabbed some real food from the tables, refilled his water, and was out of there, hardly even slowing down but being sure to tell the aid station volunteers thank you as he moved through and always yelling "Thanks, Debbie!" as he ran on down the trail.  He managed each aid station the same way, even all through the night, barely even spending a minute there before he was on his way, and he had the fastest aid station times of anyone I observed.

By the Hyak aid station, he had moved up to third and picked up a headlamp for the coming night.  Before I headed out for the next aid station, I had to take one longing look at the Iron Horse trail.  See you in a couple of months!



I was leapfrogging the other leaders' crews and we were becoming friends, which was fun.



At the Lake Kachess aid station, pitch dark by now, I chatted with the leader's wife as we waited for our runners, and overheard the timer's radio squawk that Jeff was in second.  Holy smokes, this was getting serious!  I still had the most challenging night-time route finding ahead of me, and I really got nervous, thinking I really really did not want to screw it up now.  Carey and Uhuru and Apollo caught up with me here, as their aid station was closed down, and Uhuru said she would ride with me through the night.  She ended up sleeping pretty much the whole way, but it was very comforting to have another body in the car, so that if I got lost or turned around in the darkness, she could help me find my way.  As it turned out, I had no trouble finding all the turnoffs and I let her sleep, all cozy and warm in the passenger seat.

When I got to the Mineral Creek meeting point, which was two miles up a gravel road from the actual aid station and the longest darkest drive to get there, a couple other front-running crews were already gathered there in the dark.  I woke Uhuru up so she could see Jeff go by and also to see the BILLIONS of stars. Wow!!  I'm a city girl and didn't even know what "dark" really means until I was there, miles and miles from any man-made light.  I saw so many stars, I saw the Milky Way, I saw a shooting star ... it was breathtaking!  And it was even more magical when I saw Jeff's distinctive double lights (one on his head, one in his hand) bobbing up the road in second place.  He called out "Debbie?"  and I said, "Right here!"  Quick exchange of salt tabs and headlamps, a grab of some arm warmers and a hat for the night chill, and he was on up the road.  This is the place, in the pitch black, with absolutely nothing around, that I had a real sense of what he was doing, running completely by himself through wilderness in the dark dark night, under his own power, with nothing but a camelbak and a handful of power bars and a couple of headlights.  He looked lonely and brave as he ran up the gravel road.  Many, maybe most, of the other racers had pacers to run with them through the dark and on to the finish, but Jeff and the leading runner each did the whole thing completely alone.  I can't fathom that kind of courage.

We had a number of hours now before we could expect to meet him at the last meeting location, five miles from the finish, so we headed there, another long dark drive, and joined the other crew cars parked in the silent dark, occupants trying to sleep.  Jeff had suggested I set my alarm for four hours from the last meeting spot so I could maybe sleep and be sure to wake up by the time he got there, thinking it would take him a little longer than four hours.  Instead, I was jolted out of my seat after three hours by the sounds of cheers coming from the aid station, which was about a hundred yards up the trail from the parking lot.  I knew that was the front runner, and I knew Jeff had been about 30 to 45 minutes behind him all day, so I quickly scrambled out of the car, grabbed the backpack of supplies, and hurried up to the aid station.  There, shivering, I waited for the next runner, hoping and hoping he was still in second place.  My heart fell a little when I saw a single light bobbing down the trail, thinking someone had moved ahead of him, but it was Jeff -- he had turned off one of his lights.  He ran in, grabbed some cups of energy drink, and was gone in a flash, ready to sprint to the finish.

The winner had done an amazing job on the last five miles, turning in about six-minute miles to finish with a new course record.  Jeff's performance was not far behind; he ran the last five miles in about 38 minutes, in the dark, on the trails, after already running 95 miles.

But I didn't know that yet.  I thanked the aid station volunteers and hurried back to the car, woke up Uhuru, and told her Jeff was still in second place, and we drove as fast as we could to the finish line, all dark and quiet at the Easton fire station.  I was supposed to text Carey, who had gone home to sleep, so I could tell her when he might finish, but my cell phone battery had given up hours earlier.  Happily, she was following him online and was waiting for us at the finish.  She and Uhuru walked down to the road to meet him so they could run to the finish with him, and not long after we got there, he came running up, looking amazingly strong and fast, and still smiling!  He is like a fish in water when he's running, a creature reveling in its natural habitat.

And that was the end.  20 hours and a top five finish had been his goal; 18:44 was his actual time, and he finished in second place.  An incredible, amazing performance, and for me, as an observer, it was another reinforcement of what I already know: to be strong and fit and fluid and fast and well-prepared (and technically proficient at your sport) makes a challenging athletic endeavor a thing of joy and happiness and immense satisfaction.  It is something to strive for, even for someone like me who will never see the front of the pack.

So congratulations and handshakes and hugs and a cup of hot chocolate scrounged from the fire station, and then it was time to go home.  It became, for me, a race between the distance I had to drive home and my quickly shutting down, exhausted brain.  I had been running on adrenaline all day and night, not wanting to screw up and let Jeff down, and once he finished, with such a fantastic result, my brain could let go.  But I still had a hundred-mile drive home!  I made it, but I was getting pretty stupid by the time I got to Seattle.  I pulled into my driveway, left everything in the car, went inside and took a shower and brushed my teeth and was asleep before I hit my bed.  I didn't move for four hours.

It was an awesome awesome weekend.  Thanks, Jeff, for letting me experience it with you!

PS. Looking at the final results, I see that almost a third of the original 150 runners either dropped out or were pulled for missing the time cut-offs at various aid stations.  This race is brutal.

2 comments:

  1. Wow! Good job Debbie, and Big Congratulations to Jeff! It's amazing what the human body can do, and it's also amazing that you both could remember in such detail to be able to record the experience - I feel like I can actually visualize the whole incredible event!

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  2. Amazing the work that one must have to do to achieve this. Very inspiring.

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