Race morning: 5AM sure rolls around early in Squaw Valley. Gary and I dragged our butts to the start, half dazed/totally exhilarated. The overall energy was enough to take your breath away (if the race itself wouldn't do that for you).
Kate said she hadn't been nervous until pretty much the very moment this pic was snapped. I spied Hal up front at the start alongside Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka, joking around. Before I knew it, Greg, the race director, was up on a ladder with a microphone, informing us that race founder Gordon Ainsleigh would say one sentence, which he - somehow - managed. God love Gordy, but you give that guy a microphone...well, suffice it to say: Don't give that guy a microphone :)
The countdown from 10 seconds out started, and BLAM, off went the shotgun, and "Woo!" screamed a bunch of runners and crew members, and then...well, that was it.
Gary had hiked up to the first aid station to watch the pack climb up, so I opted to hide out in the restaurant area and try to catch some z's. I passed out on a bench in a tucked away area as I heard volunteers cleaning up the place. Gary phoned me to say he was nearly to the front door, so I roused myself, feet dragging, to meet him. I tried the front door.
I tried the side door.
Locked again. While I was asleep, the volunteers had locked everything up and taken off.
Gary was pacing on the other side of the windows, trying to figure out where I could get the hell out, and I felt like I'd seen this in a movie before.
Finally, I found a remote back door, gritted my teeth, grasped the handle, and...WHEW. Sweet release.
We'd planned on jumping in early-on at aid stations, but from the looks of things, access was fairly limited, and chasing Hal would actually be cutting it close due to his speed. So we opted to meet him at 2 accessible aid stations: Michigan Bluff (mile 55) and at the elementary school (mile 62). We hauled ass back to our hotel in Truckee, then grabbed our gear and raced down to Auburn, checked in to our hotel, and figured out Hal's approximate arrival time at Michigan Bluff, only 10 miles from the hotel.
Gary and I hung at the aid station at Michigan Bluff, enjoying the pomp and hugeness of the race (I've never seen more than 5 volunteers at an aid station - this place was HOPPING with both them and "fans"), meeting with and talking to crew members (one in particular was gregarious as hell. He invited Gary and me to stay with him if we were ever in Boseman, Montana). Then, the crowd burst into cheers - the leaders were pulling in! yay, Hal!
Wait. That's Anton and Spanish ultra-champ Kilian Journet.
They were in and out of the aid station in the blink of an eye. I have never, EVER before seen anything like the well-oiled machines that were their crews.
A few minutes later, the crowd began again to cheer. Go, Hal!
Oh. Wait. That's Geoff Roes.
Again, lickity-split, and he was gone. I knew when Hal rolled in, I would get precious few seconds with him, so I readied my recorder and braced myself.
Within 5 minutes, I saw Hal's telltale visor bobbing through the crowd, coming right at me. He weighed in, refilled his bottles, and I ambled up to him.
Me: "Sorry, man. I warned ya I'd be here."
Hal: "Hey, brutha!"
Me: "How's it going out there?"
Hal: "It's getting warm, but I don't think that's gonna change."
And BOOM, off he trotted.
Gary and scrambled to the car and floored it to the next aid station, only 6 miles away by trail, 3 by road. At the pace they were running, we'd barely be ahead of the leaders after parking and setting up.
Now THIS is an aid station: Music blaring, scads of onlookers, announcement upon announcement over the loudspeakers. It felt more like a party than a place runners would eventually be crashing out in chairs later on, whining and sobbing.
Down the street came Anton and Kilian: They weighed in, got new bottles, and off they dashed yet again. I was stunned. A few minutes later, Geoff rolled in, made the same, amazing transition, and - with a huge smile on his face (which would be a harbinger for things to come), off he sprinted.
I was a bit suspicious about Hal's race, as he hadn't snatched up any distance between the front runners. Again, I saw his visor trotting down the sidewalk to the school, and I gave chase as he weighed in.
Me: "Anything changed since I last saw you?"
Hal: "Nah. I'm just glad to be here."
He lingered a moment, then took off to an SUV where his crew handed him fresh bottles. But in doing so, I noticed something was off: Hal was walking. And walking. In fact, he walked a good 1/4 mile with his pacer to the next section of trail.
Again, we leaped into the car, this time, heading for the finish. We'd have quite a wait (remember: We last saw Hal at mile 62), so we grabbed a mid-afternoon meal and found our way to the track/finish, getting completely lost at the first stab, although I knew that we'd get VERY used to our way from the hotel to it eventually (exit I 80 south, cross over interstate, right, left, left, right, park).
Hanging out at the finish was surreal. As you know - if you run these races - the most you get at a finish is MAYBE a few hands clapping and a "Good job!" or two. Well, the grandstands were PACKED, tents were set up all over the infield with products to test, and music was pumping.
But seriously: If I hear "Running on Empty" once more time, I will give Jackson Browne his well-deserved black eye.
An announcement finally came: Geoff Roes had passed Anton and will be approaching the track in approximately 10 minutes. This blew my mind, as the course record stood at 15 hours, 36 minutes, and Roes was poised to finish close to 15 hours! The buzz was hilarious as all of the ultra-geeks (myself included) began nerding out.
If you too want to nerd out, here is Geoff's final mile approaching the track.
As Geoff entered the track, the place went berserk. He crossed the finish in 15:07, running a 7:30 mile the final mile. Unreal. And Anton pulled in only a few minutes later in 15:13, both of them crushing the previous record. I had a sinking feeling about Hal, so I went to the "Where's My Runner" tent to see where he last checked in, but their internet was down. I texted my pal/crew member Mariko to see if she could find any info, but as she saw, Hal had checked out of the elementary school, where I'd last seen him.
I grabbed a few quick words with Anton (the best part: He was answering my question and his pacer pulled of his shoe. The, "DUDE MY TOE!" still echoes in my ears) and parked myself in a chair, exhausted.
50 minutes later, Kilian crossed the finish. I began wondering if Hal was still even on the course when I heard someone say, "Hal dropped at mile 80." What?
Apparently, he'd come into the race with an achy ankle, and I'd find out later from him that his running gait was compromised due to it. After 80 miles of running wonky, his hips were killing him, as well as the ankle. The only logical choice was to drop.
I hate to do this, but...
MORE TO COME SUCKAHS