"So much pain. So many types of pain."
If you read my crew report, you already know Jeff Hashimoto has had an, um, interesting summer: a bad fall in the mountains on a training run, followed by a fifth place finish at the brutal Fat Dog 120 only six weeks later, in truly apocalyptic conditions. But the story is much more incredible when it comes from Jeff, in his own words. Read on, and be happy you're somewhere warm and dry and safe while you're reading!
Six weeks before Fat Dog: Sometimes things go according to plan. Sometimes they do not. This was one of those times.
I stopped 6 feet from the bottom of the snow finger, surveyed the conditions, then took the last step. The snow was thin and concealed a 4-foot drop; my leg plunged through. My momentum carried me past the snow into the rocky gulley below. I slid headfirst on my back down the slab.
“This is bad.” I thought. I relaxed, hoping this would lessen my injuries, and felt a series of blows all over my body as I tumbled down the gulley. When I came to rest I scanned my body- there was lots of pain, but the most serious injuries were to my right arm and hand and my head. I realized that I was not finishing my trip, which involved climbing over 5 more mountains. I got out my phone- no reception. I took a picture looking up at the path of my fall- about 50 feet with two 10-foot vertical drops.
I was not dead. My legs seemed bruised but functional. I would be able to walk out. I knew the area well and that my easiest route out was back up the gulley and snow to rejoin the Cascadian Couloir, the standard route on Mt. Stuart. During the walk I considered my good luck. I have so much to live for. There’s no way I’ll make it to Fat Dog, though.
Five and a half hours of hobbling later I was at the trailhead. Another hour of one-handed driving and I was at the emergency room. Broken elbow, dislocated finger (with bone puncturing skin), head gash, bruises all over.
A week later I ran the local 5k, trying to take it easy. That night I couldn’t roll over. My torso seized up. Instead of focusing on training, I would have to focus on healing. But a glimmer of hope (or was it stubbornness) kept Fat Dog on my radar. I progressed to hiking in a week, short runs in two weeks, and after three weeks I ran two 45-mile days back to back. The first day day and a half were tough, but on the second day I locked in and was “rolling.” I could make it to Fat Dog after all.
Three weeks later, I drove to Seattle, enjoyed Boveng hospitality and met Debbie Kolp who woud be crewing for me. On the drive up to Canada my right hamstring and foot were a little tight. I didn’t say anything out loud- I guess I hoped that if I ignored them they would go away.
We arrived in Princeton just in time for the pre-race briefing. There was a lot of discussion about mandatory gear. Fat Dog has a long list of it. What counted as a rain jacket? A plastic bag? An insulating layer- would a tech t-shirt work? I weighed the benefits of these items against their weight. When running 120 miles, the lightest pack is essential. However, while exploring the trails at Manning Park earlier in the summer, my daughter Uhuru and I had been caught in a storm at 6600 ft. Conditions went from pleasant to dangerously cold in minutes. With long distances between remote (and therefore minimal) aid stations, having the proper gear for conditions was essential. During the briefing I looked at the phone of the person in front of me: “Environment Canada Weather Warning: Torrential Rains and Flash Flooding.” Hmmm.
We checked into our hotel and I cooked a spaghetti dinner on a picnic table next to a group of partying loggers. They described what it was like working in the hills, and they knew a lot of the areas where the course went. “If anything happens to you, we’ll find you in the winter when we’re out snowmobiling,” they joked.
While driving to the start we picked up a hitchhiker (karmic payback for all the times I hitchhiked to get back to my car after long runs) wearing a shirt that said “Let’s get drunk and make bad decisions.” We moved him closer to his destination and turned into the start.
The race began with a single file bridge and turned immediately up with switchbacking singletrack. I hiked and jogged comfortably in a big crowd, far enough back that I had no idea what place I was in. Some seemed anxious to move up, making little surges when the trail widened or running the awkward sidehill to pass. How comical this excess energy would all seem in 20 hours! The climb was long but gradual, moving up through forest, into the zone where sagebrush meets subalpine, and past the first aid station, into the rocky alpine zone above the trees. There were panoramic views of Cathedral Provincial Park, a gently glaciated, granitic terrain. Flowers were mostly finished in this abnormally dry year. The trail climbed and traversed, at times crossing talus fields. I wondered, “How does anyone find this trail without the race course markers? Does anyone besides Fat Dog runners ever use this trail?”
A long descent to the first crew aid station at Ashnola Creek (mile 18). A passing ranger told me I was 16th place. I was actually a little sleepy, and felt more tired than I’d have liked. I caught about 5 runners on the next climb. This is more like it, I thought. At this early stage, I like catching runners if I can do it without trying. A long way to go. The trail in here was really indistinct. Who ever goes this way? There’s no way I’d find this route! Clouds gathered, and there was a short downpour. The sky continued darkening. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
I reached Trapper Lake (mile 30), a large subalpine lake with some cabins on the far side. The “trail”at this point just proceeded on tundra- there was no trail bed at all. The clouds opened up and the rain started in earnest, accompanied by thunder and lightning. I put on my windshirt. I could see a line of pink course markers heading up the hill to Flattop Mountain. “I’ve got to get up and over that hill and out of here.” I counted 5 seconds between lightning and thunder. I quickened my pace to escape quickly. I took about 2 seconds to enjoy the view back to the east- under the clouds I could see the peaks of Cathedral where I’d been a few hours ago. I didn’t know that this would be my last mountain view of the race. I reached the crest with 3 seconds between lightning and thunder, and to my dismay, the trail turned and traversed the ridge. “Someone’s going to die up here today,” I thought. “This is bad.” I surged along. “Come on trail! Descend!” Gradually the trail dropped.
I figured it would warm up, but it didn’t, and the rain continued. I met a runner descending. “Do you have any extra layers?” he asked. We made the long descent to Calcite Aid Station (mile 35), where I feasted on hot broth and fry bread. I was quite a ways behind what I thought I’d be running- I was moving ok, but hadn’t found a good rhythm yet. “I didn’t find a rhythm until about 30 miles in Cascade Crest last year- and this is about 1/3 of this race,” I told myself.
The route continues to descend through pine forest, logging roads and trails. A runner came flying past me. “Wow- looking strong.” He told me he’d done trail work here and had removed 40 fallen trees from the course. “Thanks!” The final 200 foot descent to the Pasayten River was a rough trail down a steep muddy bank. One runner ahead had slipped off the trail and was frozen, unable to go up or down. Another runner and I paused to see that he was ok. “Who wants to go first?” someone asked. “Let the skier do it,” I replied, and boot skied through the slippery trail. I bombed across the Pasayten River, which was refreshingly warm, and grabbed a safety vest at the aid station. I ran with a runner named Nick along the dirt road and highway shoulder as trucks and RVs splashed the water in the huge puddles.
I rounded a corner to find a traffic jam! Dozens of vehicles were stopped on the dirt road opposite Bonnevier Aid station (mile 41), with more vehicles backed up onto the highway. This race has really grown! I got a huge boost seeing Carey, my Mom, and Apollo, who had arrived and had met up with Debbie. Carey was shivering, and I felt bad for being slower than planned and that she had waited outside for so long. I switched to my nighttime gear- this was a critical decision. I went with the shirt Apollo generously lent me, kept my windshirt, and left my goretex behind. No point in changing into dry shoes- they would be soaked in minutes.
I was definitely not moving as well as I would have liked, but still feeling ok. Despite some speculation that the afternoon’s storm was over, a 30-minute break in precipitation which induced more hope than actually drying out, it began to rain heavily and would not stop for the next 10 hours.
I met several runners on the uphill, including Lindsey from Scotland. We chatted and climbed together. When we got to a runnable section he just took off. “Wow, that guy’s energetic.” I was passed by a relay runner who looked ridiculously spry. At the short downhill midway up the climb, my right knee started to hurt. I stopped to stretch it. I did a bit more hiking on the next part along with a runner from Arizona. We switched on lights and as we got to the top of the climb the wind and rain continued. At Heather Aid Station ( mile 53), I asked “Who’s got Ibuprofen?” A pacer gave me a tablet, and fortified with a handful of hot quesadillas, I set off into the storm. I shivered for about 10 minutes after leaving the aid station- stopping in these conditions is certainly a bad idea!
The trail stays above 6000ft for the next 10 miles. There was ankle-deep water on the level patches. A couple runners passed me. I caught a couple runners. I was spending a lot of mental effort staying on my feet- it seemed there were a lot more rocks on the trail than there would be if it were daylight and dry! On the rocky descent to Nicomen Lake I caught 3 runners. Because of the cold I vowed to make my stop at Nicomen aid (mile 62) short. This aid station is 13 miles from the nearest road, and I have to thank the volunteers who hiked in supplies for themselves AND the runners and then stayed up all night during a storm to hand them out! A cup of broth and bacon, and I was on my way, after almost leaving a headlamp at the aid station! There was another runner shivering there- I’d like to help him, but I’m a minute of stopping away from being there too. A few minutes later I realized I could have given him my long underwear. Too late now.
It’s a long downhill to Cayuse Flats. I seemed to be moving ok- the ibuprofen had definitely helped my knee. Perhaps my day was turning around after all? At Cayuse (mile 73), they told me I was 6th, with two runners 5 minutes ahead. I liked the next section-Skagit Bluffs- with its steep ups and downs. I bungled a stream crossing and ended up in calf deep water, but it didn’t get me any wetter than I already was. Although this section was fun, the steep downs aggravated my knee again.
I pulled into Cascades, a major aid station at mile 78. Carey and Debbie greeted me along with eggs, bacon and coffee. I changed shoes- dry feet for a little bit, and dropped my pack for the short 2 miles on the shoulder of the highway to Sumallo Grove. There was a runner in front of me- I knew because I could see his crew car driving along with him cheering him on. But my knee was hurting and this was the last time I was able to run somewhat normally. I arrived at Sumallo (mile 80), got my restocked pack, and headed out along the Skagit River. I tried to run, but I could really only manage an awkward hobble. The trail was laced with roots and rocks, all slippery from the rain. A relay runner pranced by me. “Wow, he’s like a gazelle…” I thought. The tendon on the top of my foot was hurting. Things were coming apart.
The trail followed the Skagit river with climbs when the river meandered to our side of the valley. The sky gradually lightened as dawn began, but I still needed my light in the shadow of the forest. There was a final steep climb and rocky descent before a rockslide and Harlequin Flats campground. Then for a little while, the trail was fantastic- wide, runnable, fast. It was light enough to see.
A few minutes along this trail a runner named Riccardo passed me looking impossibly spry. How was someone running so fast catching me this late in the race? He told me he had had trouble with his lighting and that he had slowed down at night, but now that it was light he was flying. I tried to match his stride a little, but he was gone. Still, he gave me the impetus to get myself going and I averaged a little under 8 minutes per mile for a while. As fast as Riccardo had passed me I came upon a person in a yellow jacket and hood walking. “Is that Jeff?” he asked. “Yes, who’s that?” “It’s Patrick,” he slurred his words. Mutual friends had introduced us, and we had talked a little at the start, before he sailed away from me on the opening climb. He was not doing well. “Keep eating, drinking, and keep on your electrolytes. You CAN finish this thing,” I told him. I didn’t know that he had sent his pacer ahead to call for a car to pick him up at the next aid station.
You have to run half a mile out and back to access Shawatum aid station (mile 90). I didn’t even see Riccardo, which is an indication of how much better he was running. I didn’t see anyone on my way back to the course either, which was nice. The trail followed an old logging road and stayed even and fast for about a mile before taking a sudden right turn and turning into a New Englandesque meandering path, about 6 inches wide and tangled with roots and rocks. The trail continued in that fashion most of the 10 miles to the Skyline aid station (mile 100). I tried to run, but I could only manage a shuffle. I imagined how I looked from the outside- like a hunchback with a charley horse limping through the forest. It would be painful to watch. It was painful to live. So much pain. So many different types of pain. That sounds clever- I’ll say that at the next aid station.
A relay runner pranced by, smiling and clean. Surely I’ll never feel like that again. Eventually I reached the Skyline junction and another half mile out and back to the aid station. I saw Lindsey climbing away from the aid station as I approached. I high-fived him, and made it to the aid station. I went with “So much pain…” A hot quesadilla and snack, and I was on the trail. I didn’t even consider dropping, although I felt like crap. If I’ve endured this much, I will endure to the finish. I pictured my friends and my team. What would I tell them if I dropped out when I knew I could make it?
From Skyline the course climbs 5000ft, followed by a ragged traverse of the ridge with 6 more 500ft-1000ft climbs. I power hiked the climb, did my hobble-shuffle when I could. I had seen a bear on this section during a training run. It was tearing up a log in search of food and didn’t hear me coming. I had watched it for a while and then hollered at it. After it ran away up the hill I continued on to find the trail switchbacked across the bear’s retreat path. I hadn’t seen it again though, and didn’t see it today. Maybe bears have the sense to stay somewhere warm and dry when it is this wet in the forest. First hallucination here-is that a person standing by a cabin? I approached- no, it was just a tree- no person nor cabin.
Near the top the blisters on my right little toe were hurting. I wondered if the aid station would have a needle and bandages. Then I realized- I have safety pins holding my number on! I can pop the blister. I rounded a corner and saw Lindsey sitting beside the trail. I stopped and whipped off my sock. My feet were so white and pruned that I could barely tell what was blister and what wasn’t. I prodded it, but it seemed to have popped already. Lindsey looked amused. “Why is there a trail here? Why would anyone hike this?” he asked. Good question- it was a brutal climb to access the high country. I put my sock and shoe back on and said “Let’s go,” but Lindsey didn’t follow. My foot still hurt. After about a minute, I took my shoe and sock off and tried again. No progress- the blister had completely lifted my little toenail off my toe, but I couldn’t seem to pop it. I put my sock and shoe back on and tried to move, but I couldn’t even weight my foot. Uh-oh. I tried again. Will I need a rescue? I really can’t move. I tried again, and weighted it a little. I advanced my left foot, and then quickly brought my right foot even with it. Then I advanced my left again. I half stepped like this for about 30 feet, and then my right foot stopped hurting. I could more or less walk normally. Crazy how pain works.
I topped out on the climb, running a little of the flats, and then began the descent to Mowich aid station (mile 107). This hurt a lot. I could powerhike the ups pretty effectively, but the downs were a struggle. Every step hurt my blisters, my foot, my knees, and my quads. The first 30-mile runner sailed by me. How cruel to start the 30-milers in time for them to pass us 120-milers and give us a window into what normal running might look like! I caught the 30-mile leader at Mowich aid and told the aid station volunteers, “Ssshhh- I’m going to kill him and steal his legs!”
I climbed out of Mowich into the fog of Lone Goat Peak. The trail passed through meadows and at the top sidehilled along hummocky grass. A descent and then the climb to Snow Camp Peak. Here is where I’d met co-race director Peter a few weeks ago. I was training and he was on his way to filter water for the Mowich Aid station. It was on that training run that I realized the enormity of the task of directing this race. At Cascade Crest we have a “backcountry” aid station that is a mile from the road. At Fat Dog there are multiple aid stations that are 13 miles from the road! Volunteers have to hike in supplies AND stay there for 24 hours supplying runners. That is some incredible commitment.
More downhills, more 30-mile runners. I stubbed my toe on a rock and screamed. A 30-mile runner who had just passed me stopped to ask if I was ok. Do I look ok? Of course not. “I’m fine, just stubbed my toe,” I answered. As I passed the last aid station the rain intensified. It was cold out here. Matt Cecil was out taking pictures again as I descended the rocks of the final descent.
I was worried about this one. 2000ft of down. Would I be able to run? Would I just fall down? I had been looking at my watch, wondering if I could break 29 hours. Maybe 30. How fast do I need to run to get one of those cool colored buckles? Maybe it was 28 hours. As 28 hours ticked by I thought maybe 29 hours. The descent went on and on- one long switchback. I passed a spring that had been an easy 40-minute jog from the finish on a training run. I had 52 minutes to make it to 29 hours.
I ran-hobbled along, but couldn’t move fast enough to keep my soaked body warm. I pulled out my space blanket and began unfolding it. Dang, those things are folded tight! My numb fingers took several minutes to unfold it. I was walking as I did it- relentless forward progress. Finally I got the blanket over my shoulders and put my pack over it. It helped. Now I was an aluminum-caped decrepit superhero limping down the mountain. The trail widened- I was nearing the bottom. I could see the rain dappled surface of Lightning Lake through the trees. I was going to make it. Rainbow bridge was only 1km from the finish. Surely I could make that in 10 minutes, I thought as I trotted across the bridge, only to be greeted by a sign that said “Parking Lot 1.5km.” Uh oh- almost a mile to the finish and I’ve only got 10 minutes. I honestly don’t know if I can do a 10-minute mile.
But my mind let go. Ok, body, I know you’re almost done. Go ahead and finish. For the first time in 45 miles, I am running normally. I fly through the mile in about 7 minutes. Carey is about 400 meters from the finish. “Gotta go- trying to break 29 hours!” I say as I run past. She joins me and we slosh across the grass and bike path to the finish. 28:57, 5th place in the race, 9th all-time best on the course.
Blankets, propane heater, a chair, burger, tea. I could barely move. “I’ve never suffered so much in a running event,” I tell the other finishers. “Me neither,” they agree. Race Director Heather gives me the colored belt buckle. It turns out I had to break 36 hours to get it. We were going to camp and spend the day at the park, but it is too cold, and I am hurting. After an hour at the finish, I needed to go. I can’t leave the heater without shivering. I struggled into the car and we drove to a hotel, where I realized that I had left my coveted colored buckle at the finish. Apollo took a video of me walking. I can’t even get a foot to clear the other foot.
Now it is a month later. My recovery went quite well. I was limping for a few days. I spent several days mostly in bed. I began coaching 8 days after finishing, but didn’t run with the team. After a few days, though, I was doing warmups, and after 2 weeks was able to complete a run with the boys (sure, it was a recovery run). During the Fat Dog I was disappointed- I had visions of striding through the woods in the great rhythm I had felt during Cascade Crest. Instead I had made it to the finish on a combination of stubbornness and pain tolerance. As time has passed, I am more and more proud of my finish. My body had been through so much this summer. I had made it, and much better runners than me had finished behind me or dropped out. It had been miserable for nearly everyone. So much pain. So many types of pain.