(the following is a long pacer report; I will publish some key notes and things I learned/tips later this week, along with a few photos)
We roll into the Hyak aid station (mile 53) just after 8:30pm. Dave has been hitting all of our projected splits for the first 40+ miles, and we expect him in around 9:15-9:30pm.
Of all the runners (he was around 20th-25th place) we saw come through Tacoma Pass (mile 23) and Stampede Pass (mile 33), Dave had one of the biggest smiles of anyone. He was eating really well, drinking lots of water and said he felt great. His pacing was nice and conservative and he was very happy to have his parents crewing for him and cheering him on.
We kitted him out with lights and more food at Stampede and running out of the aid station I let him know we’ll see him in 20 miles and he tells me to go get some rest before joining him at Hyak to pace for the last 47 miles. Great, Hyak can’t come soon enough!
I try to nap, but end up lying with my eyes closed for 50 minutes; no chance of sleep.
We’re setting up our station for Dave when someone at the timing table calls out, “Are Dave Swoish’s parents here?”
We all freeze for a second, then walk over.
“He’s broken his ankle.”
So many expletives rush through my head along with moderate disbelief. Dave is not an out-of-control trail runner.
“Oh, it’s only sprained, but he’s back at Olallie Meadows [mile 47] and he needs to be picked up.”
Nothing you can do about a physical injury that prevents you from running. I guess the “good” news is that the ligaments aren’t completely torn, and he’s only in an air-boot for the next two weeks.
Dave has a great 100-mile run in him, and I hope he recovers well and quickly. He knows I’ll be there, wherever/whenever it happens.
I’m in my full kit, headlamp, hydration pack, pacer bib pinned on my shorts, without a runner. I’m really torn about what to do. I want to go and see Dave, find out what happened and hear how his ankle is. At the same time, I’ve spent countless hours memorizing the second half of the Cascade Crest course, time splits for a certain finishing time and through lots of discussion with Dave, what we thought was a solid race plan.
The only option I can think of is asking Martin Criminale if I can join him. I know he and Dave had been running together a bit (and also at the CC training runs), and Martin had been showing up at the aid stations about 5-8 minutes before Dave. He was the only person I knew (having only just been properly introduced at the start line) and that didn’t have a pacer.
Three headlamps are bobbing under I-90 along the road down to Hyak. I figure one must be Martin and run over. Sure enough, he’s the first one in.
I fill him in on Dave and he graciously says I can join him for the night. I note that he was planning to pick up his iPod here, but wife Shelley puts it back in his supply bag. He washes his feet and goes with new socks, shoes and a fresh shirt (pretty much same plan Dave had, except the shoes).
Although Martin didn’t know it, I basically tried to implement the plan Dave and I had come up with (largely follows advice of previous finishers). Martin was basically on the exact splits I had memorized (a 23:30 finish), so I didn’t have to do any recalculating. His stated goal was to finish, with a pie-in-the-sky DREAM of sub-24.
Leaving Hyak there is 15 miles of road to Lake Kachess. Everyone says you can make up time here, and you can. Once we hit the climb coming out of Hyak we had a great power hike up the steep road. We passed quite a few people here that never passed us back. Near the top of the climb it's quite runnable, and we moved well into the aid station, fueled, and headed out for the 8-mile descent.
It’s a long, long road down, and we were fairly moderate on the quads. We (or maybe just my thinking?) was trying to run it well enough to bank a little time, but not all out. Just like the climb, we passed a couple people we never saw again and enjoyed pretty much the full descent with Mike D’Antonio. We also took a walk break about halfway down. This helped Martin and Mike just take a break from the knee pounding.
Shelley meets us at Kachess, we do the aid station gig and head out for the Trail from Hell.
Everyone says this is horrendous, slow, and you should just plod through it because everyone is going the same speed. Well, yes, and no. A good portion of it is runnable; at least two miles, maybe three. There are some logs to jump over, some rocky sections, a couple creek crossings and one or two dicey steps over steep runoffs down to the lake. It’s the most technical part of the second half of the course, but it’s not hell.
The split that I had for this section was about two hours, and we did it in 1:40ish (the results' splits must include the aid station breaks).
Mineral Creek aid station: more soup and a little cup of beer for Martin (said the savory taste was nice after eating sweet stuff all day).
Dave and I had a plan to move real quick up this road since the Cardiac Needles were next on the ridge. The first few miles are pretty steep though, and we’re in power-hike mode almost the whole time.
Over the last few miles every time the road flattens out I start shining my light ahead to show Martin it’s flatter and we can run. I never say anything, but he usually picked up on it, or realized it himself, and we alternate between running and hiking.
The moon finally comes out from behind the clouds and we enjoy the last mile or so by moonlight with our headlamps off. It gets us out of LED tunnel vision and is really a beautiful experience, running the little downhill portion and then hiking in with our moon-cast shadows. For once the volunteers aren’t yelling, “runner!” and we sneak up on the folks at No-Name Ridge.
It’s 3:49am and a little breeze makes it quite chilly at 4,900ft. More soup for Martin and we take a minute to warm our hands at the large propane heater.
We start moving from No-Name out the ridge toward the needles. We’re off and on hiking and running and Martin’s still moving very well. We’re more than 40 minutes under 23:30 pace.
Every once in a while he frets that “24 hours” is gone and he’s not sure if he can make it. He does make a few calculations, saying things like “we have 10 hours for the last 50k” (when we were at Kachess), but I never actually told him what pace we were going.
A few steep climbs and some good shuffling and we come to the Thorp climb. Amazingly, Thorp is the only small bad patch Martin has. Eating in between aid stations increasingly has gotten more difficult and he hasn’t had any food for about an hour. We have to take two little breaks on the hike up and I snap two pictures of him on the dark summit. A dark view of surrounding hills is all we get. We hike most of the descent down.
Martin knows this is the low point so far. He sits a bit at the aid station, no hot food as it’s hike-in only, just some snacks, candy and gels.
I tell him we just need to get through the next four miles well to French Cabin, and then its downhill and flat home to the finish. We’re still great on time, and I don’t tell him what I think we can finish in.
Finally on the way to French Cabin the sun starts to come up, and it’s bright enough that we can turn off our headlamps. Earlier in the night Martin had pondered if he would get a boost from the sunrise. Whether he knew it at the time or not, he did. Maybe it was the food from Thorp too, but his hiking was quicker and the running was at a better pace too. It feels more like how we were moving 20 miles earlier.
French Cabin, 88.7 miles: fake mustaches, berets, peach mimosas, bacon croissants and a French tricolor-draped pine tree. We’d been going back and forth with Amy Rusiecki and her pacer (not bad, right?) all night since Hyak. Hiking up the climb from French Cabin we passed them for the last time.
Down, down, down, like the descent to Kachess going to Silver Creek feels long. But it is a beautiful trail: semi-open forest, wildflowers, the meandering stream. It alternates between slight downhill, which feels decent to run, and steeper downhill where we have to hike a little as its too much on Martin’s knee and feet.
About halfway down this climb we start to seriously talk about what time we’re at. His stomach is a little upset so we plan to have some cola only at Silver Creek and then bring it in as quick as we can to the finish.
This is the first time we discuss going sub-23. I hope he got as excited as I did. All night I kept track of his pace and knew that without a meltdown, we were going to be well under 24 hours. At one point we even said, “we could walk the last four miles and finish just over 23 hours.” All I'd been saying was a mix of, "you're moving well," "good job," "nice section," etc.
We got passed by the second place woman here, who went flying down about one mile before Silver Creek. She was the only person who passed us in the last 31 miles. That’s solid, both on Martin, and on Kelly Cronin. We finally see a white tent down below.
Shelley surprised Martin at the aid station with her mountain bike to ride it in with us. Martin drinks three cups of Mountain Dew (which he admits after finishing is one too many), I have some coke and just as we’re leaving we hear cowbell and “runner!” It only adds to the motivation.
We can’t all out run the whole way, but do a great alternating pattern of running a few hundred yards, walking for maybe 50-75 yards, and then repeating. The running pace is quick and the walk is a power walk.
Shelley joins us down on the road with about three miles left. Eventually it comes down to having 30 minutes left for the last two-ish miles.
“I can see the finish,” Martin says.
“You can do it man, 200 yards.”
RD Rich White is on the loudspeaker…“Welcome back to Easton, from Seattle, Washington, Martin Criminale!”
22:50:31 - 12th place overall, and 10th male. FULL RESULTS HERE
He has a truly wonderful smile on his face, gives me a big hug, followed quickly by hugs and kisses to Shelley once she gets off her bike.
That’s one hell of a run for anyone, let alone someone who ran their first 50-miler only six weeks prior and also is 49 years old (just sayin’).
Thank you for changing your plans midway, Martin. That was a risky thing to do when you hadn’t planned on having a pacer, and I’m very grateful to have been part of your experience.
Thank you to Dave and parents Swoish. You know we have plans to complete.
The volunteers were amazing at every aid station. As I was trying to get stuff for Martin they were continuously asking me what I needed. A few times I laughed because I’d only been running for a few hours, not 15! Thanks to everyone who was out there.
I’m going to write up some notes for others who will pace and share them later this week, along with some photos. I hope they’ll be beneficial for other runners or pacers.