Bits and pieces as I remember two weeks after the fact.
My friends Dustin, Erin, and Ed ran the inaugural Franklins 200 last year. We ran together for a bit at the start, but eventually we all ran our own race. Dustin crushed it, taking a 6 hour nap and still beating me by like 5 hours. Erin and I finished within a few hours of each other. Sadly Ed DNFed around 120 miles. It was a freaking hard race and I could not imagine wanting to do this again. And yet here we are.
It might have been because we wanted to support Rob the race director. He is quite a character and asked for our feedback after the race. We gave him quite a bit of input and suggestions. Rob wanted to make it right. So he gave us a decent discount, and we, being the goombas that we are, signed up for the race again.
The night before was the usual mild panic drop bag preparations and then trying to fall asleep. When the alarm went off at four am, we found out that we had gotten a couple inches of snow! We get to the start and everyone is bundled up. And yet Dustin is wearing shorts! I convince him to put on his rain pants. That probably lasted an hour because the next time I see him, he’s back in shorts.
We take a few photos, do the countdown, and the race starts. There’s a good bit of snow on the ground, but nothing crazy. The usual race start excitement wears off pretty quickly as the realization sinks in that I am going to be out here for a long fucking time. Worse, the field of runners is considerably smaller. Last year saw 35 starters, this year only 16. Even including the 8 runners in the 200K, there were only 24 people spread out on a 38 mile loop. We were in for a heavy dose of loneliness.
None of us -Dustin Erin, and I- had trained very well. Even though I finished last year, I was nervous about something happening and not being able to finish. My mindset going into the race was not a confident one and the inevitable first DNF was looming large. But I figured if there was a race to DNF at, a tortuous 200 seemed like an acceptable one.
I started out sort of running with Erin and Dena. It wasn’t really intentional, but we were going a similar pace and it was nice to have compan. I would scoot past them, slow down and they’d catch up. I was too much in my own head to talk much and eventually I lost them.
The first 20 miles was a mental mindfuck of wanting to quit so bad. Why the hell am I doing this? AGAIN?? Freaking five loops! UGH! Eventually, my body felt okay running. Then my reptile brain settled in and grudgingly accepted what was expected of it.
The laps with the snow were visually sustaining. The Franklins are usually pretty boring to my eyes, but covered in snow, they seemed majestic. (Snow makes everything look cool.) The windblown snow on the bushes at the peak were really neat. As the days went by, the snow melted slowly. It was the perfect snow cone-y texture and consistency and as per my usual, I ate quite a bit of snow.
One of the highlights of the first lap was the sunset. As I was running, I could see the shadows on the hills around me. If I got to the end of this ridge, I would be able to see the sun. There wasn’t much time before the sun would set so I booked it and got to see the sun set.
On the second lap, I got into Bowen AS and it was dark, maybe 3 AM. I’m 70 miles in after 24 hours. I’m the only runner in the AS so I chat with the two volunteers and then try to rest. I laid down on one of the cots, using all four of the crappy felt blankets available, two under me and two on top. It was cold and the wind was blowing like the tent like crazy. There was a metal pole holding down some tent flaps that was banging against other metal. Once again, (like last year) the AS tent seemed like it could collapse any minute from the wind. Not conducive to sleep at all.
Another runner came in and I overhear that she wants to sleep / lay down. Obviously, I have to surrender some blankets. Sleep is impossible anyway; I get up and they take two blankets for her. I get off the cot and sit in a chair, pulling up the lone space heater. New girl joins me and we share the heater. Her name is Julie. We talk and have a pretty good conversation. We were both tired and waiting for the boost that comes with sunrise.
As we talked, we wondered about the other runners. I think both Jessica and Erin had dropped by this point due to rhabdo. We inquired if anyone else had dropped and where was Dustin? Turns out Dustin was asleep in a vehicle and had been for quite awhile. Keeping up with Trevor and Jessica must have been mega taxing. I chose not to go mess with him; I wanted to sneak ahead of him.
Julie and I left together as the sun came out. It was a great mental boost being able to see the trail and having someone to run with. Julie told me about her experience doing the Triple Crown, her and Jessica’s training for the PCT FKT attempt, and other interesting things.
We had just come down the ridge of switchbacks and dropped onto the road to West AS and I was thinking about Dustin. “I wonder how long he’ll sleep?” And LITERALLY as I finished that thought, I turned, looked back and there he was. I could not believe it.
I’m happy and surprised to see him and equally annoyed that he caught up. When he woke up and found out that we’d passed him, I guess he wanted to catch up. He told us he had already run to the ridge we just descended and THEN RAN BACK TO BOWEN AID STATION and slept because – not for inability but for seemingly logical reasons – he had mentally quit last night. But he hadn’t actually told anyone he’d quit.
It’s nuts that he did about 9 bonus miles + whatever vert, slept for like 5 hours and still managed to catch up to us. Dude’s a freak.
It was great that Dustin had joined us, however now as we commiserated, both of us wanted to quit. We talked about it and there were some pretty sound reasons for throwing in the towel. But I did not want to DNF for a lame reason because I knew we would regret it.
We got to West AS, Dustin and I breezed through while Julie took a bit longer. Dustin was still in race mode and we basically left Julie. There was no way I could keep up with Dustin’s pace, and I felt bad that we didn’t communicate to Julie that we were leaving, so I fell back and waited for her. She and I had a similar chill pace that I was happy to keep. She caught up and we made our way to the Start/Finish.
When we finally got there, who else should be waiting for us? I guess Dustin didn’t want to run alone, so he waited for us. And from that point, mile 90 or so, we actually verbalized our plan that the three of us would run the next 110 miles and finish the race together.
Rob and the volunteers noticed that the three of us were running together and referred to us as the “Three Pack” when really he should have been referring to us as the “Bib Buddies”. I have to say that it is way more fun running with your friends than “racing”. The conversation / distraction is well worth the slower pace.
The last three laps Dustin and Julie got along famously. Both of them have outgoing genial personalities and they hit it off. I was happy to just listen in and occasionally chime in with my two cents. As the miles added up, I spoke less as my reptile brain went further into survival mode.
Some of the good things that happened: Rob had been getting us some great food. Burgers, BBQ, Chic-Fil-A, pizza, real breakfast foods, etc. Although my lips got “salt burned” from too many burgers. And I did again suffer one of the worst cups of ramen ever – lukewarm and with barely any flavor. But overall, Rob really took care of us in the food department. Huge improvement from last year.
After getting a night of sleep, Erin made the best of her DNF and joined Kyra in crewing for us. She seemed happier not running and instead taking care of us. (She is a natural caregiver.) The best was when Erin and Kyra woke us up with Starbucks. I’m not really a Starbucks guy but it was better than the AS coffee. Pretty sure that if Erin hadn’t been at Pavillion, Julie would have had to quit or we would have left her there.
The weather got slightly warmer each day. The third day was perfect running weather. The last day was a smidge warm. Last year it was so cold that it was extremely difficult leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag and getting up to run. This year wasn’t nearly as bad, almost painless.
Because I felt like I was carrying them way more than actually using them, I decided to NOT use trekking poles after the first lap and it was totally fine. I did not miss them one bit. I ate very little the last 20 or so miles and felt surprisingly fine. I was fully expecting to bonk, but it never came. This was awesome because I was so sick of gels by that point.
Weird note that I did NOT poop at all the first day. Normally I poop practically five minutes into a run, so this was a little alarming.
We were starting the last lap and Julie had been dealing with a blister on the ball of her foot. She did some work on her feet and switched into her Olympus’. However, when we left and started climbing up the ridge, Julie was in tears she was in so much pain. I figured she was done, no way that she could continue. Understandably, she didn’t want to quit. Dustin and I talked about what we should do. It seemed cold, but we debated whether we should leave her to fend for herself.
We got to the Pavillion and fortunately, Erin was there. Julie asked Erin to drive her back to the start so she could switch back into her Timps. We all piled into Erin’s rental, went back to the start, Julie changed her shoes and Erin drove us back to the Pavillion. We unpaused our Garmins and started running from the same place. Julie’s shoe swap worked. She was able to run and we were all relieved.
We discussed how excited were were to be on the last lap. That every section we finished we would NEVER EVER have to see again for as long as we lived, because there was no way in hell we would ever run here again. So with each section we finished, we gave it the one finger salute.
The last time at Bowen we inquired about the other runners. The closest guy was Vermont. From what Jesse the photographer was saying, he was way behind us. We were thinking we would all tie for second place. But then someone was like, “Is he wearing a yellow shirt?” Jesse was sure it couldn’t be him and left the tent to see who was coming in. Sure enough, it WAS him. We were just about to leave, and this gave us a reason to hurry up. We hadn’t been racing at all, and now we sort of were.
We get going and start thinking race strategy. Dustin wants to book it, but that would mean separating. Neither Julie or I would be able to keep Dustin’s pace. And after running almost 90 miles together, it seemed a shame to split up. I suggested we stick together. Maybe Vermont wouldn’t catch us if we kept a good pace. He wasn’t some cocky jerk who we didn’t want to beat us, he was just a regular determined runner. If he did catch and pass us, good on him, he’d earned it. He might also blow up trying to catch us in the heat.
We found out from Kyra that he left the AS pretty quick. We could see him on the trail in the distance. It was crazy how he seemed to be moving slowly, but somehow covered distance crazy fast.
We stopped to take a sit break. And then Vermont appeared with pacer in tow. He passed us as we three sat in the shade along the trail. We tried to stay close. We tried to play mental games by staying close and Dustin clicked away with his poles extra loud. But Vermont was determined to be done. He dropped us, finishing almost an hour sooner.
As we got closer to the finish, Dustin reminded me that the bottom of his cooler was lined with Michelob Ultra beer. I am by no means a beer snob, but the one time I drank that beer was after a race when ANY beer tastes good, but that one did NOT taste good. Despite this, I was so looking forward to having a beer after finishing the race. Sadly, because alcohol is a no-no in the park, and we were to brain dead to figure out a way to drink it on the sly, I never did get to experience the Michelob Ultra.
We finished arm in arm just after sunset. Rob gave us our buckles. I always get emotional after a race and I shed a few tears, but fewer than last year. Finishing was super anti-climatic. But I was SO GLAD that we didn’t quit. Pretty sure Dustin was glad that he didn’t actually quit as well. And I was really happy that we had a new Bib Buddy, Julie.
While we were out there, we realized that over the course of Franklins last year and this year, the 100 miler, and the 50K, both Dustin and I had run at least 535 miles on this course. And I’m still not sure where Shaffer Shuffle is.