Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hashimoto Runs 120 Miles--the Crew's Story

Last year I crewed for Jeff Hashimoto when he did the Cascade Crest Classic 100-mile trail run, mostly because I was curious what crewing was like and, having done some 50k trail runs and finished way at the back of the pack, I wanted to see the scenery from the very front.  It turned out to be an almost perfect race: Jeff's training had gone well, he handled his nutrition during the race well, and the course was challenging but do-able.  He ran the whole thing smoothly and easily and finished in second place with a big smile, looking like he could do another 20, no problem.

This year, a different story.  Jeff signed up for the Fat Dog 120, a notorious point-to-point 120-miler in southern British Columbia that Outside Online calls one of the nine toughest ultras in the world, with a total elevation gain equal to Mount Everest, and I offered to crew again to get another taste of the rarefied air at the pointy end of the pack.  But less than two months before the big day, out on a long training run in the mountains, he had a bad bad crash, falling down a big scree field and ending up with a compound fracture of his finger, a broken elbow, cracked ribs, and a lacerated scalp and feeling like he had been beaten up all over by a hundred baseball bats.  He was lucky to survive, and when I heard about the accident, I assumed the race was off until next year.

But a few weeks later he emailed me that he was feeling better and getting back into training.  He managed a couple of training runs on the course, to familiarize himself with it, but his training was definitely not optimal.  Nevertheless, there we were at the start line last Friday morning, ready to see what would happen!

This is what happened: the course was super tough, the competition was stiff, and the weather turned out to be just plain brutal.  Sunny and toasty at the start, but after the first crew access aid station, as Jeff refilled his supplies and headed back out on the trail and I headed back to the car, driving down a long long forest service road to get back to the highway, and then on the highway toward Princeton, conditions began to change.  It got really windy, then it started to rain, then it started to thunder and lightning and hail and oh my gosh there were big sheets of water washing across the road and the car was being blown all around and I could barely see through the windshield for the deluge and the temperature dropped thirty degrees in the space of an hour.  It was biblical; it was apocalyptic; it was glorious and a little bit scary.

And it stayed like that for basically 24 hours, or the rest of Jeff's race, with maybe a few short breaks of just gentle rain.  It was freakin' unbelievable, and I couldn't even imagine what it was like for the runners, especially as it got dark and the storm showed no sign of blowing over.  Carey joined me in the late afternoon and we shared crew duties for the rest of the race, leapfrogging the runners, meeting Jeff at the crew access points in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere to make sure he had his supplies, keeping track of the runners in front of him, making friends with the other crews.  We had a chance for a short nap at one aid station, trying to snooze while the rain pounded relentlessly on the roof of the car.  I can't even tell you how crazy it all was!

But we eventually ended up at the finish line; the thunder and lightning and hail had moved on, but it was still raining hard as 120-milers and relay runners started to cross the finish line and scurry for the tents.  Jeff finished in fifth, which was super impressive considering the summer he had had, smiling -- or grimacing -- and running in more pain than I have ever seen from him.  It's so amazing what he can will his body and mind to do.

A full 50% of the racers dropped out before the finish, but there were a number of impressive stories on this crazy day.  The man who won the race is a baby 25-year-old with some truly boggling stats: he finished the 334 km Tor des Geants mountain run in Italy in second place, first American, last year, and the year before that was one of the very few people who have ever even finished the legendary Barkley trail run, in equally monsoonish conditions.  Stiff competition indeed!  He finished two hours ahead of second place and knocked a half an hour off the record at Fat Dog this year, even in these abysmal conditions.  And the winning woman ran the whole thing with no crew and no pacer, just her by her own self out in the storm all day and all night, and destroyed the old record by three hours.  When she crossed the finish line, her face looked like she didn't know if she wanted to laugh or cry, so she did both.  There was the relay team looking to set a new relay record: their first leg was a tiny little girl who flew up the super-hilly first section of the trail barely touching the ground.  At the first crew access and relay exchange, the leading 120-mile man was right behind her, running way too fast for what was still ahead of him, and his crew yelled to him, "She's a relay, she's a relay!"  By the next aid station, he had fallen on one of the treacherous slopes and broken his arm and was out of the race.  The relay team missed out on its CR also, as one of the legs took a wrong turn and added a cool 20k or so to his race.  And what about the people who took the full 48 hours to finish the race, running all day and night through the storm and then another day and another night?  I can't even imagine, and as a back of the packer myself, my heart swelled with pride at their accomplishment and their fortitude.

So ... with that, I think my short career as a crew is over.  I wanted to see what it was like, up there in the front where I will never be in my own race, and I really value and appreciate these two opportunities that Jeff gave me to experience it, bookending the good and the bad of ultra running.  But now it's time for me to go back to having adventures, however small and silly by comparison, of my own!

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