Monday, September 14, 2009

Plain Weekend 2009

Plain is an epic run. I'll give you the end first, in case you don't have a lot of time to read. Eric and Rob made it to Chikamin Tie, approximately mile 77. Eric missed the cut-off by six minutes, Rob by a bit more. They both know that they gave it everything, and they are already discussing next year. Read on for the crewing story, with perhaps a bit more of the runner story woven in...

Our weekend started Friday morning about 10:30 when Steve rolled up in front of our house, trailer in tow. We quickly loaded up about half the contents of our house. Seriously, two bags for Eric, a cooler, a cook stove, a lantern, two crates of food and cooking implements, a bag for me, another bag with my road shoes and trail shoes, another bag with towels and blanket, our pillows, water and propane. In addition to the house trailer, Steve had the chairs, tables, another lantern, more food and all his gear. Once we were loaded up, we began the three hour drive to Plain. We met up with Rob and his family in Easton, where we hit our favorite Cascade Crest burger joint before continuing on. We made it to Plain about 15 minutes before the mandatory runner meeting. Steve and I dropped Eric off and found a campsite. We walked over to the meeting, listened in for a bit, then went back to unhook and set up camp. After the meeting Eric and I enjoyed the pre-race spaghetti dinner put on by the fabulous crew of Plain cooks, while Steve went off to find his Dad and grab some dinner with him.

Morning came awfully early - 3:30 am. We all got up, Eric race-prepped, and we walked over to the lodge for the pre-race breakfast. Bob (Steve's Dad) joined us there. I think there were 34 racers signed up, and 32 people at the start. Finally, race time rolled around at 5:00 am. It's cool to see the runners standing on the lodge steps, flashlights and headlamps beaming toward us. There was a quick countdown to start, a shouted "go" and they were off. Steve, Bob and I spent the next half-hour or so helping clean up and stack tables and chairs, then we headed off on our own adventure.

Steve had run most of the course with Eric and Rob on various training runs, so he figured out a couple of sections for us to go out on a run. We had to get RD approval though, as any support or contact with the runners would cause the runner to be disqualified. Our plan was to run on the opposite loop each day, and we got RD approval to do so. At eighty-something, Bob is still in love with running and trails, though he's a little slower than he used to be. His plan was to go out an hour, then head back, while Steve and I were shooting for about eight miles. Steve selected a fairly smooth trail with rolling hills for us and it was gorgeous. Eastern Washington offers a different type of forest and foliage than we get on the west side, and I really enjoyed the diversity. The trails are a bit beat up from motorcyclists, with lots of whoop-te-doos (kind of like moguls in skiing), and unfortunately, kind of trenched from the bikes. Apparently we were on one of the nicest sections of trails the racers would encounter and due to the damage, the footing wasn't easy. We were out there just as the sun was coming up - it was much colder than I expected, but the added bonus of seeing the early morning sun filtering down through the trees made every minute worth it.

We whiled away the afternoon with a visit to Leavenworth for lunch (and Starbucks), napping, reading, and prepping for the evening crewing. We wandered over to Deep Creek, approximately mile 55 on the course) around 5:00. Even though we knew it would be much, much later than that before we say the guys, we also knew it would be fun to hang out with the other crews. The crew area is just a wide spot on the road, and I'd guess there were about eight or ten of us set up there. We set up our table, the cook stoves, the lanterns and chairs, made sure the bags and food were ready, and settled in to enjoy the evening. It was really warm back at the campground, but here, at just a bit higher elevation it was cool. I had my jeans, socks, shoes and two layers on within the half hour. The first runner came in right before we arrived - on track for the new course record, and two more arrived right after we got there. After that, there were long periods of time between runners. We tried to help them all, offering grilled cheese, grabbing drop bags, anything they needed. We knew several of them, or had met them and their crews the night before, so it was a very social and fun experience.

Our friend Shawn was the only woman starter, and the first of "our" runners to come in. Steve and Karen concentrated on helping her restock her pack and care for her feet, while I cooked her a sandwich. I also had added soup to the communal pot, and had hot water for whatever was needed. There was a little confusion from the radio guys when we asked about Eric and Rob's status - they could tell us Rob had passed the last checkpoint, but not Eric. Then Tony came in, our second runner, and said Eric had been having trouble on Signal Peak. We tended to Tony, and just as he was getting up to go, we heard the monkey call echoing down the road - that's the signal Eric, Jenny, Steve and I use to let each other know we are on our way in. We knew it was Eric and felt some relief knowing that he was okay - it was just a miscommunication from the SAR checkpoints.

They were in right on schedule - 19 hours, as planned. Eric told us about his big bonk, changed his shirt, and said his feet were fine. We helped them restock, fed them sandwiches, soup and hot cocoa and they were gone. By this time it was after midnight, there were only two runners behind them and we were fading. We packed up our gear and headed back to camp. No worries about those two runners though - there were still people left to support them.

Next morning we slept in till eight, then headed out for trail run number two. We went up to Maverick Saddle - driving all the way up. The road was horrible - narrow, rocky, rutted, with a mountain on one side and a thousand foot drop on the other. It amazed me to realize the runners had come down that road during the night - I can't even imagine how they kept their footing. We decided to run for an hour out, then an hour back because we wanted to get back, shower up and break camp. We enjoyed the run along a beautiful creek - though there may have been more walking than running. It was much warmer than the day before and I was much more tired. As we drove back down we talked to the SAR guy at Deep Creek (where we had crewed the night before). He told us that there were only five runners left on the course, that several had dropped at Chikamin Tie. I had a bad feeling about this news, so when we reached the paved road, I hopped out and ran the quarter mile to the lodge while Steve and Bob drove around.

I got there to find out that Eric and Rob were in - though neither were to be seen. After a bit of wandering we found Eric (he'd been there while we were here and vice-versa). We never did see Rob - they'd been back about an hour by the time we came in, and Rob had already left with his family. Eric told us about the eight hours after they had left us - Rob suffered a bonk, Eric's feet were trashed, once Rob knew he was going to drop at Chikamin Tie, Eric decided to try and make it, missing the cut-off by six minutes. I think it was for the best though, as his feet are so bad he can hardly walk today. After his shower, I worked on the huge blisters on the balls of his feet, each the size of a half-dollar and deep under the calluses. He also had one between his toes that had ripped open, chafing around the collar of the shoe, and another blister on his heel. Plus, as soon as he stopped, his feet started to swell.

We waited to see Shawn finish (the only female this year, plus only the third or fourth woman EVER to finish Plain), and then waited for Tony. Finally, we climbed in the car and headed for home. We stopped again at our favorite burger joint in Easton, and arrived home about 8:30 last night.

I worked on Eric's feet again today - we've drained, soaked in Epsom salts and hot water, smeared antibiotic ointment and re-bandaged. I anticipate more of that to come.

I am very, very proud of all the runners - the ten or so that made it to the finish line, as well as all that did not. Plain is a brutal course - over 19,000 feet of climbing, tough technical trails, no course markings, no support. Runners can't ask for help except for from another runner. Water is carried and refilled at rivers and creeks. There are stretches where there are no water sources, so runners have a full bladder plus two bottles - a lot of weight on a big climb. Runners have one opportunity to see crew, refill their food and gather fresh supplies. Imagine heading out into the deep forest, up mountain trails, carrying all your food, water, maps, knowing that you are on your own. I can't even think about it. We are all used to trail races where aid stations pop up every five or six miles like an oasis in the desert, where you can talk to others, carry just a bit of food and water, look for ribbons or signs marking your course, ask for clarification and help, pick up a pacer to run by your side during the night - someone fresh and awake to cheer you on, keep you moving, remind you to eat and drink. That doesn't happen at Plain. It's you, all alone, or maybe with another runner. We heard stories of runners lost, some for just a mile or so, a couple for two or three hours. Shawn saw a bear while all alone out there. Amazing. To even think about tackling this race is huge, to attempt it, inspiring, to finish it, unbelievable.

So, before the race I groused to Eric - "I'm tired of all this training, I'll be glad when this is done, maybe you could just think about 50 milers next year..." After getting one look at him yesterday, I said "we'll be back next year and I'll be here to support you". How could I not? He's set himself an epic challenge...year one: 50 miles, year two: 77 miles, year three: 107 miles. He'll do it, and I'll be there to see it.

12 comments:

scott keeps running said...

That race scares me. I don't even like thinking about it. Those guys did wonderful. And you are the best. :)

olga said...

Plain is like wine, gets better with age...ahm, with years:)

Jack said...

Amazing report, the race is currenlty beyond the scope of my imagination. You are so supportive of Eric and the other runner's, my hat goes off to you! You guys will be back next year, it's in your blood.

Thomas said...

Epic challenge is right, That race is beyond brutal, and your boys keep coming back for more, year after year.

I guess it will make victory all the sweeter one day.

Wes said...

I don't even want to race vicariously through Eric when he does stuff like this! :-)

Joe said...

terrific write up Michelle... thanks for being so articulate!

I do think the guys set themselves up for success next year. It's is just that tough, though.

You are quite the mountain road queen, too... all that driving "up in the air"!!!

Hope Eric's feet recover quickly!

Sunshine said...

Amazed, as always.
Thanks for your report.. congratulations to all!

robtherunner said...

Nice write up from the crew. I am sorry I didn't get to hang around and watch runners finish, but the family called. Thanks for the support and I am looking forward to next year.

Irene said...

I am completely awestruck with those miles. I hope Eric's feet are tougher for those miles!

Wonderful write up, Michelle!

lizzie lee said...

I am glad everything went great for your cousin... To celebrate!!!

Darrell said...

What an epic challenge. It is not too difficult to understand why Eric has to keep trying it.

Sarah said...

What Olga said. : ) Next year is calling....