What’s the farthest you’ve run—one mile, 10 miles, a half-marathon or a marathon? I stopped at the marathon distance—26.2 miles—long ago, but my son-in-law Dave Miller just could not stop there. He’s run over 30 marathon races, including the Boston Marathon, the Portland (Oregon) Marathon and the Tacoma Marathon, among others with a PR of 2:49. But the siren song of mountain running began to eclipse the lure of the roads. Last summer he ran the White River 50-mile trail race near Mount Rainier in Washington and finished 7th with the ultimate goal of running the Pine to Palm 100-Mile Endurance Run in southern Oregon in the Siskiyou Mountains.
Imagine starting a race at 6 AM and not finishing until early the next morning. But that is just what is required in a 100-mile race. As race day approached we got a call from our daughter Gretchen, Dave’s wife. “Guess what,” she said. “Dave has asked me to run the last 26 miles with him. I feel so honored.” Then she paused and added, “Oh, by the way, I’ll be starting some time around 10 PM or midnight and we’ll be running in the dark.” Twenty-three miles on mountain roads and trails, in the dark! Are you crazy, I thought, but kept my thoughts to myself?
Prior to race day Gretchen sent us a link so we could follow Dave’s progress at each of the six checkpoints along the 100-mile route. The race started on a Saturday and I eagerly began to check Dave’s progress. He reached “Seattle Bar,” the first checkpoint at milepost 26 miles in 4:47, and he was in 14th place. The next checkpoint was at “Hanley Gap,” at milepost 52. It seemed to take him an eternity to get there and, as time went by, I began to worry that he had dropped out. “Oh Dave, so sorry,” I thought to myself. But then his name popped up at the checkpoint and he had moved up to 9th place. Go Dave!
He reached “Dutchmen’s Peak” (milepost 67) at 7:18 as the sun was setting on the mountains and as Gretchen was prepared to join him, and surprise, surprise Dave was in 5th place. Fifth place! He had moved up from 9th to 5th in the last 15 miles. I could barely contain my elation, but with some caution, knowing the two of them had to run the last 26 miles in the dark.
It was late in Evanston so we wouldn’t know how they had done until the next morning. I awoke Sunday morning and turned on my iPhone to check the race website. There it was in black and white. Dave had finished the race at 2:20 AM Pacific Time in 20 hours and twenty minutes in 3rd place. Third place! Dave, I am so in awe, for the result and for moving up throughout the race to finish with such an excellent time and place. To consider how impressive an achievement this is, consider this: 203 people started the race, and only 126 finished. Seventy-seven people dropped out, some having run over 50 of the 100 miles.
The last 26 miles in the dark had been interesting for the two of them to say the least. Dave posted on his Facebook page, “ended up 3rd overall, even with getting lost twice in the last seven miles.” Lost, and he still finished in 3rd! Now that’s a story, and Gretchen posted pictures of her skinned knees on Facebook, meaning she had fallen during he run. Ouch. So what happened?
The two of them took off together with headlamps shining for the last 26 miles of the race. The trail was well marked, but at that point they heard a course marshal tell them to turn left in about 3 to 4 miles. They went on, but didn’t see the turn off and thought they had missed it. They turned back and ran about six or seven minutes before realizing they were on the right course. At about that point Gretchen was starting to “fall apart,” as Dave kept up a steady pace, so they decided he would go on ahead and finish strong, and Gretchen would come in later. Imagine Gretchen’s surprise when she got to the finish line and people started clapping. “No, No,” she shouted, “I was just a pacer.” She was worried though and wanted to backtrack to find Dave, but she was too exhausted to walk back. She couldn’t make it and was about to get a ride along the road leading up to the finish, when someone said, “We see a headlamp!” It was Dave! Gretchen was so happy to see him, but felt, “I had failed him as a pacer.”
So what had happened to Dave? Somehow he had gotten lost. At the aid station at mile 90 he saw a time of 18:39 and knew if he kept on his pace he could possibly break 20 hours for the run. He was excited, but somehow he got off course and had to do some backtracking again and lost as much as 20 minutes. As Dave said, “The course was not well marked, and I was tired. It happens to everybody, but it was frustrating because I could have broken 20 hours.” Had Dave broken 20 hours he would have had the fifth fast time on the course! Dave you are incredible!
So I asked Dave, “What’s next? Is that your last 100 miler?” I should have known the answer. Next summer he may run the Big Horn 100 Mile Trail Run in Wyoming, or the Cascade Crest in Washington. Or he may even do the Pine to Palm again and see if he can break 20 hours.
So Dave, what were your final thoughts? “It was fun. I got to see the full red moon rise over the mountain. Plus it was an awesome adventure.” Adventure for sure. One that seems like it will be repeated again and again until that 20-hour barrier gets broken.