This past Memorial Day weekend, I decided to give back to the gods and goddesses that make us do this crazy thing called running and participate in the North Bend-2-Vantage (aka NB2V) run as crew person.
The course itself is a 108 mile distance along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail (side-mind-trip: Why in the hell is this thing called John Wayne? Did the Duke shoot a movie on it or something? Why on earth is this thing named after a TV/Movie Cowboy? Anyway....), an old railroad system that use to connect to Illinois. Well, the rails got gutted and it was replaced with lots o' gravel. Some of the course is scenic, some kind of boring since it all looks the same (when you see one farmland area, you've seen 'em all!), and ALL of it runnable being a gentle grade varying from 2-5% in 99% of the places. A variety of folks showed up to do this thing, some aimed for the LONG distance (tc, Arthur, Shawn, Ray G, Jane, Scotty, and Tim who I would be dedicated crew for in the first half), others not nearly as long but still having a good time all the same (Steve S, Chris, Leslie, Lesa, Michelle). Shawn was the original brainchild for this run and was the sole person who did the full distance last year. This year, more folks came to whup the Duke's ass.
The race was setup differently then last year. Due to the closure of the Snoqualmie Tunnel and an avalanche warning at Hyak, the course was diverted and unfortunately shortened to being about 92 miles. But honestly, your legs are not going to know the difference between 92 miles, 100 miles, or 108 miles after you've been on your feet for nearly 24 hours solid. However, if anyone gripes, I'm sure that we'll beat a raincheck into them for the missing miles. :-P
Prior to the race, I made sure that my minivan would be ready for the long drives. A full tune-up and new tires set my mind at ease and also gave me a good excuse to get it finally done. Good thing too since my car now is able to go almost 500 miles on a 21 gallon tank. That's really close to 40 MPG!
Gearwise, I packed what I thought would be needed:
- Ice Bath Tub with several gallons of water (I was able to manage 16 1-gallon jugs)
- Butane-powered portable stove
- Cooking gear (pans, pots, food)
- Some drinking water for cooking and drinking (duh!)
- Change of clothes for myself in-case I could do some running. My hope was to do a cumulative marathon or 50k during any downtime.
Prior to race day, I took two days off to spend with the family and rest up. I knew that I was going to have a wonky sleep schedule after going through this, so I figured to get some good sleep before the event so I could be ready to help out when needed. I loaded up my car the night before with all the gear and got a good nights sleep.
Race morning, I drove to the Safeway Gas Station to fill-up the tank. The moment I started up the car, the glow of the Check Engine light came on. WTF? I just fixed this car up fully! I prayed that the minivan would maintain. Seemed to drive fine, so I did my best to ignore it as I got to the race start. Once I got to the start, Tim and I got started with loading up his gear and went over his race plan one last time.
Close to the start of the race, I took out the airhorn that I had been saving for the start. It fizzled. How embarassing!!! It sounded like an asthmatic fart! But even with the pitiful sound, the runners set off at 6:30am and all the crewers got in their cars to hit the next place on the map.
I got to RattleSnake Lake soon after (10 miles out from the start). For the hell of it, I tried the airhorn again. It worked! Loud too! Guess it wanted to go off at the original start of the course. :-)
At 7:30-ish, the cyclists came up. This is where I got to meet Shawn's other half (Seth) and the rest of the wheeled bunch (Seth's Dad, Seth's Bro, and Jay - Shawn's Bro). Around 8:30am, runners were coming along and Tim was apart of the group. I got into action and gave Tim what he needed. His stuff was setup in a really organized way. Each point he would be meeting up with his crew, he had a separate labeled bag for that had stuff he needed critically (mostly Clif ShotBloks, GU's, and S!Caps). Everything else was in separate boxes (food in one box, medical kit in another, etc.) I filled his water bottles and gave him his bag for that point. A quick mental check to gauge his spirits and he was off. At this point, I chit-chatted with others who were crewing as well. Shawn's mom (Judy) was crewing Shawn, tc, and Arthur. Ray (aka McGyver) was crewing his wife Jane, Lesa, and Leslie. Chris Ralph (the co-creator of the 12-hour Watershed Run at Redmond) was crewing for Tom Ripley (the other co-creator for the 12-hour run). I believe that some crewing was done for Steve S, his dad, and Michelle, but I'm not sure.
When you're crewing, you get some serious downtime. So the only thing to do is...talk! We did alot of that. Lots o' gossip. But what happens at NB2V, stays at NB2V! :-D
Checking my watch, I knew that Tim would be right on time for the next place (Twin Falls - 4.5 miles away). I drove to the next point. Heck of a time finding it. Seems that Google Map is only so cooperative. Another thing I didn't anticipate - gravel parking areas. My pity for the poor souls who decided to drive behind me and get pelted with rocks coming from my tires. At Twin Falls, you have to head up to the trail along a very steep side access trail. I wasn't sure whether to just give Tim very basic things or to haul up his entire box of really important stuff. So I did the latter. Then not being too sure whether I was even in the right place, I ran back down and checked my map directions. Thankfully, Judy showed up and told me I was going to the right place. So, I ended up doing two hill repeats of over a half mile. Not bad to start for any kind of running for myself that day. I met up with Tim and the rest of the NB2V yahoos (tc, Arthur, Shawn) and filled some water bottles and gave Tim his aid. (Odd sidenote: Prior to meeting up with the runners, Judy and I encountered a lady hiker who asked us, "Is this the 'Jane' Run?" We were really baffled at this question, but then put two and two together. Seems that the lady was Jane's sister Barb. Who knew that the small world we were on just keeps getting smaller?)
Next place was McClellen Butte - 5.3 miles away. This isn't the NORMAL place for this run, but it was the place we had everyone go to. And a horrible place it was for driving. Unlike the other trailheads, this place was littered with potholes and there was broken glass everywhere. Seems that folks out in them woods like to break into cars. Here, I got to meet Arthur's dog, Sheila. Sheila was pretty happy to see me (or anyone for that matter) and jumped on me in joy. Arthur's wife, Jen, had to lay the smackdown on the pooch. There will be plenty of time for her to play, that was certain. I retrieved Tim and we drove (yeah DROVE, I told you the course was detoured) to Easton.
The drive to Easton was fast and informative. While Tim was recovering from nearly 20 miles of running, we got to talking about life and running. Seems the struggles I've been going through are shared. He put it best when he said "Sophomore Jinx". That describes my latest ultras to a tee. But he said that I'll get out of that funk soon enough as long as I find the right balance to my training and my life. I think I'm getting there, but I'm still crossing my fingers anyway.
We got to Easton and we're suprised. Some kind of carnival/fair thing was going on in the little town that is usually dead on a weekend. A dude in a cowboy outfit asked if we would give a "Dollar for the Children". I asked, "Who's Children?" He then told us about the local school needing money. That was good enough for me. I bought two buttons. One for me, one for Tim. After that, we got to the trailhead and we prepped him with 3 bottles of water and his aid bag. Although it's 11.5 miles to Cle Elum, the temps were increasing and there would be no shade for him.
At this point, I decided to gear up myself and get into my running clothes (with my new Dirty Girl Gaiters!) and drive to Cle Elum to do some running and continue with crewing. When I got to Cle Elum, I ran to my wife's grandfather's old house to measure distance. She still misses that old man dearly and wanted to know how far it was on foot. About 3.5 miles later, I arrived to the front of the house along the trail and started to head back. About 1.5 miles away, I get a call from Tim. He's early! Crap! I start to haul ass back to the trailhead, frantically pushing the unlock button on my keyless entry remote for my minivan to let him get access to his gear before I arrive. I felt so bad to abandon him like that! But the rest seemed to do him good and he was on his way to Thorp to get the first half of this event done.
About an hour later, Ray G came in and I was open-jawed after realizing he was going totally self-supported. A few days earlier, he drove to each crew access point and left himself aid along the course in plastic bags. He was thankful for help from us (including the ride someone gave him to Easton), but was doing really well on his own. Simply amazing!
After helping out Judy in watching Sheila so Judy could get some running in herself (Arthur dropped her off, I think the heat was getting to the pooch and she looked like she was limping - poor doggie), I did a bit more running to catch Jane and Leslie. Hopped in the car to wait for a super-long freight train to go by and drove to the Safeway to get several bags of ice to get it ready for the ice bath. I figured the ice should hold up in the tub for the next 12+ hours and not melt completely away.
I arrived in Thorp just after 5pm. TC had just come in and Judy caught him a minute after (whew!). He looked pretty soaked for some reason. Found out later that there was some kind of cow trought that he dunked his head in to stay cool. Cow water...ewwwwww! Shawn and Arthur came up behind him a few minutes later, I got into action and snatched Shawn's bottles from her. Arthur immediately ordered me to empty them since one of them had cow water in it. Ewwwwww!!!!! I rinsed those things out REALLY GOOD before giving them back to Shawn. While waiting for Tim, the other crew that comprised of Thomas and Gary (Tim's coworkers, Thomas being also a Marathon Maniac) showed and I gave them the instructions for the rest of the course and Tim's last status check from Cle Elum. Those guys would be with Tim during the really hard parts at night and I wanted to make sure they were ready. As we moved supplies to their car, Tim rolled in. He did alot more walking in this last stretch, but was in okay shape. I directed him to the picnic table nearby and had him load up on food and aid while Thomas and Gary were doing their own info recon on Tim and his needs. After a 30 minute stretch, Tim was on his way and I was a free-floating crew person with no dedicated runner. At this point, I was just going to volunteer my services for whomever needed it.
While waiting in Thorp, I did some more running along the trail while waiting for additional runners to come in. Waves of rain from the east came up on us. Damn low pressure system! I'm sure it wasn't going to make life any easier for the rest of this run. About an hour later, I was told by McGyver that folks were out of water and he asked if I'd get on the course to play mobile aid station. I grabbed a jug and hauled ass on the trail. Running over 4 miles straight with a gallon jug of water isn't exactly a FUN thing to do. About halfway to them, I was told to turn back! A park ranger was being a dilhole and trying to yank folks off the trail! But to be fair, the park ranger did give them a refill of water.
So, I turned back around and slogged my way to the Thorp trailhead again. A short while later, McGyver asked if I could pick up Jane along the course. The plan was to get her to the Thorp trailhead away from the park ranger and have her continue from there. Took a bit, but I found a road that crossed the trail and pretended I was waiting for Triple-A when instead I was waiting for Jane to get to this point on the trail. We were close to 9pm when she arrived and I gave her a lift to the Thorp fruit stand where her crew was waiting. After that, it was on to E-Burg.
Now, I'm very familiar with Ellensburg. My grandparent-in-laws live out there (two miles from the Yakima Canyon River Marathon start!), but I never drove over there at night. VERY WEIRD PEOPLE. For a college town, they got some very bizarre folks who live in campers next to the trailhead. I called ahead to Shawn to make sure if we were still on to continue or if this was the end. She said what basically everyone else did (except for the dude who called it quits at Thorp when the park ranger gave him an 8 mile lift) - Fuck the Ranger, keep moving!
Both Scotty and Ray came in within minutes from each other in E-Burg and I helped Ray find his stash on this part of the trail. He hid that thing TOO well. But we did find it after running over a mile back and forth on the trail. He went on his way and I called ahead to see how Tim was doing. Thomas said that he was doing well after Kittitas and was consistantly ahead of schedule. That was good enough for me. After eating my cold steak & rice dinner with some kimchi (hey, I'm Korean, get over it!), I drove to Army West...or rather I should say, I got LOST getting to Army West and had to drive to the Kittitas point to make sure I knew where I was headed to.
Army West is in a spot that is practically the beginnings of the middle of nowhere. Arthur, tc, and Shawn had already gone before I arrived, but I caught Thomas and Gary as they were helping Tim out for this last 20.6 mile stretch. Any runner would have to seriously load up here. There are no roads of any kind that connect to this trail in the middle, so being prepared is a must. Tim was in really good shape. The rain seemed to do him some good and woke him up on the course after Thorp. He'd be waking up plenty at this point since the clouds weren't going to let up till the sun rose.
While Thomas and Gary were doing their thing for Tim, I did a favor for Ray G by going to where he told me his stash was at Army West. In the middle of nowhere, there is an outhouse! He put the bag on the outside of the outhouse. I found it and loaded it with his two bottles and Starbucks DoubleShot. Ray definately knows what he's doing with all this self-sufficient stuff. I then went into the outhouse to verify whether what Ray told me was true...and it was. That was the most cleanest outhouse on the planet. Since the trailhead is in the middle of nowhere, this means no one is there to use the outhouse.
I ran back up to see Tim off and agreed to wait around for just a little while in the event that Tim decided to bail in the first hour. So I did some more running along that part of the trail section. When you run in this section, you're required to sign a little slip of paper to register yourself. This acts as your "permit" to be there. Call me a lawbreaker, cause I didn't sign it! Muhahahahaha! But I was only going about two miles out and back, so I didn't feel it necessary. On my way back to the minivan, Thomas called me and said that Tim was feeling good and gave us all the thumbs up to meet him at the finish. Onward to the other side of nowhere, Army East!
The drive here was the longest. It was extremely late. It was dark. It was rainy. It required to double back to Kittitas to get to the I-90. I nearly ran over a coyote that decided to run all over the road. An hour later, I end up at Army East. My eyes look at the dashboard clock, 2am. Wow. I'm ready for a snack and a nap. I kick back the front seat and get some shuteye.
I wake up at 5am and I see Thomas and Gary heading up a trail to try and pace Tim for the last 5+ miles to the finish. The wrong trail. This trail does connect to the main one, but it adds some more miles. Despite knowing this, in my half-asleep state I said, "Aw, they'll figure it out I'm sure." I closed my eyes again and awoke after 6am. I saw Arthur! He made it after 5am! I decided to get to work straight away and began to unload the ice bath and started to get some food cooked up on my little butane-powered stove. Pancakes for everyone! I saw Tim coming in soon after and let him help himself to the Chocolate Milk I had since Thomas and Gary weren't back yet. Shawn soon followed after and then we spotted Thomas and Gary show up, shocked to see Tim beating them to the finish. Some folks dropped before Army West, some a bit earlier. But almost everyone was there at the finish enjoying the company and the view. :-)
With the sun coming out, I also sliced up the watermelon I had saved for this event as well. We hit 70+ degree temps around 10-ish in the morning and it was tasty. Sheila also enjoyed watermelon too (yes, dogs do eat watermelon!). As folks were just trying to recover (Arthur and Shawn took full advantage of the ice bath), I checked my pedometer and saw that I had completed 19 miles in the last 24+ hours. Another 7 more and I'll have atleast a cumulative marathon under my belt! So, with me still in my running gear (yes, I slept with my gear on - including the gaiters), I ran up the trail in the direction of Army West to get those last miles in. Even in the middle of nowhere, you can find some serious beauty. I got a full view of the Columbia River and the Dam along with the sun and the white puffy clouds in the sky. Despite my legs not cooperating and running the incline on that trail, I was able to maintain good downhill running coming back. The course itself is built nicely that way to where everyone who is finishing at Army East will be moving their legs at a faster clip than expected.
Once I got back, we got started with the clean-up and I agreed to take Scotty back to the start since I had the only available seating left and Ray G left his car at the finish (how he managed this, I'll never know.) We loaded up the minivan and said our goodbyes for a very adventurous two days. For the hell of it, I blasted the airhorn as I was leaving. Make some noise!
We had a nice drive along the Columbia River and after getting some directions with bikini/trunk wearing college kids at "The Cove", we got onto the I-90 and headed back to the start where I dropped Scotty and his gear off.
To sum up the event:
It was long. It made us tired. It was hot. It was cold. It was wet....
And it was fun!
They say that CREW is short for Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting. But the runners were anything but cranky (well, except for the one of them - Ya'll know who I'm talking about!). It was a nice refreshing change to be on the other side of something like this. Do I plan on running this next year if it happens? Maybe. I still don't have a 100 mile run under my belt. Do I plan on crewing again like this for this event or anything similar? Of course! In my opinion, crewing trumps just doing aid station volunteering. You're not stuck at a certain point for too long and once your runner goes, you've got a ton of free time to do whatever until you have to catch your runner at the next point. It can get complicated if you don't have a plan, but as long as you're willing to go with the flow - it's as adventurous as being the runner you're supporting.
A big thumbs up to those that went the full distance and those that knew their limits. An additional thumbs up to the rest of the crews that dedicated themselves to their runners - Represent! And special thanks to Shawn who was able to wear both hats of ultrarunner and RD. I'm sure she didn't need the additional stress of the weather change and the park ranger while 50+ miles into this trek!