Thursday, December 9, 2010

Craig Swartwout's T-Bunk 200 Race Report...

We Ran 200 miles! 

202.18 miles, 27,000 feet of elevation change, 58 hours 52 minutes and 51 seconds. How does somebody that’s 52 years old do that? They don’t!

As Tom (Bunk) and I where heading down to the Nordic loop we were talking about every imaginable detail. What we needed. What we forgot. Who was gonna do what? But inside I was having a different conversation, “What was I thinking… 200 miles? What’s gonna keep me going? How am I gonna do this?”

I started my Garmin and ran off into the woods, leaving Tom, Robert (Wehner) and Jim (Blanchard) to get things set up while I ran the first loop. After about a quarter mile I was feeling overheated and noticed I still had my warm up pants on. I’d been so jacked up I’d forgotten to take ‘em off. “Oh well. If this is the worst problem I have”, I thought. “I’ll be in good shape.”

About 5 miles into that first loop my phone rang. “Are you done yet?” the caller mocked. It was Kevin Grabowski. If you know Kevin… you know that’s love. It made me laugh, but it also made me think about how many people were out there pulling for me. “I hope I don’t let ‘em down”, I thought.

As I look back, I think a defense mechanism kicked in. “Maybe”, I thought. “If everything’s going bad right from the start… it won’t be so bad if I don’t succeed.”

Poor Robert suffered the consequences of this subconscious malady for the next three loops. He got to listen to me whine, and I was drunk on whining. I whined about not feeling good, wanting to be left alone, how the weather had turned cold, how this hurt and that didn’t feel right. I whined through almost fifty miles before I finally decided I better put on some tunes and run by myself.

I sang with “Cheap Trick” at the top of my lungs trying to drive out the demons. When along came Christine (Crawford): bad timing, right person. I just wasn’t in the mood for company but Christine is probably one of the few people you can say that to, and she gets it. Thanks Christine! You’re a sweetheart for understanding.

I bellowed my way through a couple more loops until Todd (Egnarski) showed up.  I don’t remember much about running with Todd, but as he says, “What’s said on the trails, stays on the trails.” So I guess it’s appropriate that I can’t remember… except for that story about Cobbie and the Butterfingers and possibly a rules violation at the LFM… but you should ask Cobbie about that!

Why is Todd the leader of the LPTR? Well, because he’s the nicest guy in the group! He would’ve stayed with me ‘til hell froze over, but he didn’t want to be in the way. So when Parker showed up to crew the night shift, he bowed out.

Parker (Rios)… I want you to know something. All my life I’ve hated lawyers (it’s a long story). Then I spent some time with Timo (Yanachek), Larry (Hall) and you and I have to say… lawyers can be nice people!

Parker had to wait at the Nordic shelter as I finished a loop, and he must have gotten the story from Tom about my mother being concerned that I would be eaten by coyotes at night. During our loops that evening, the coyotes were particularly active and Parker would admonish me to “Keep up so the coyotes don’t eat you.” Coincidentally, it sounded like they actually hunted down a meal that evening.

What amazed me the most about running with Parker was he kept thanking me, “Because I was helping him train for Arrowhead”. Are you serious… the guys doing me a favor and thanking me! Who am I to have friends like this!

Unfortunately, during my first loop with Parker, I took a bad step on a rock. I didn’t know what the injury was, but I knew it wasn’t good! Each time my right foot hit the ground and again when I pushed off, I wondered, “How am I gonna keep going?” I had whined so much to my crew earlier, that it was like “chicken little and the sky is falling”. They gave me that “ya right” look and “encouraged” me to keep going.

What gets you through times like that? The group of friends and family that believe in you. The people that give up three days of their lives to help. They do it without even blinking an eye! They do it because they believe you can do it. “It’s your crew that gets you through”.

I kept thinking to myself, “You can’t let ‘em down”, but I knew at some point I wouldn’t be able to continue. As Robert and I hit the one-mile marker on a loop Friday morning, I had a thought. “Hey Robert. Give Tom a call and see if he’s got Dr. John’s number? If he does, have him ask John if he can come out and take a look at my foot.”

Long story short… Dr. John arrived as soon as he was done with his last patient. An exam revealed a dislocated meta-something-or-other in my foot. He put the bone back in place, did a quick acupuncture treatment to relive the pain and I was back on the trail. Who am I to have friends like this!

I left the shelter on that next loop with Deb (Vomhof) and Ron Bero. Deb is one of those people that lights up a room and fills your soul with hope. And Ron… well if you’ve never run with Ron at night it’s hard to explain. If you have you just laugh at the thought. The man carries about 25 flashlights but can’t get any of them to work! I can’t believe some of the wonderful combinations that I was being given… exactly what I needed when I needed it.

Deb and Ron got me through the next two loops and Robert pitched in another unplanned loop until Parker arrived for his second night shift. I have no words to adequately describe Robert. I have seen him demonstrate incredible compassion as a race director, friend and crewmember. If you don’t know this about Robert, then you don’t know Robert! He ended up putting in 110 miles over the three days!

I knew that second night was going to be tough. The forecast was for temperatures around 20 degrees with a wind chill in the teens. The frost was forming on the grass, sparkling in my headlight and making it particularly difficult to focus. Fortunately, Parker was in front. I put my light on his back and trusted he would lead the way.

It was a strange night. No moon, very dark, eyes staring back from the woods and things lurking just outside of our flashlight beams. At one point something very large sloshed through a pond. Parker remarked that, “It was heading in the other direction.” I didn’t remind him that the trail was going to take us to the other side of the pond shortly. But heading up that trail on the far side of the pond, Parker did a “face plant” and the conversation quickly changed.

“How many times have you fallen so far”, he inquired. I thought about this for a few moments and contemplated the “running gods” reaction based on my reply. “I’m not answering that question.” I responded.

“So you haven’t fallen?” he asked. “I’m not answering that question.” I replied and we left it at that.

“It’s your crew that gets you through”, but as I headed out for that last cold loop on the second night I cursed their names. Tom, Robert and Mitch were sleeping in that warm comfortable shelter and I was out on that cold dark trail!

Sometimes, what get’s you through is a little bit of loathing. If you have a good crew they understand that. They told me several weeks later they felt bad making me go back out for that loop and I believe them but I cursed their names just the same.

“I’m gonna throw that Robert off the bed when I finish this loop. Yes I am. I’m gonna take as long a nap as I want and I don’t care what anyone says!” I told Parker as we were finishing that last night loop.

Turned out I didn’t need that long of a nap. The Saturday morning TP runners started showing up before seven o’clock and as the sun came up I was up and got ready to go. Robert did another loop with me just to make sure all my parts were still in working order. By the time we finished that loop there were only three more to go. 

The sun had started to warm things up and the dynamic trio had arrived. Deb, Cobbie and Kathryn (Dunn)… are you serious! Can you imagine a more eclectic combination? There’s Kathryn “I can do the farmer nose blow and make it look dainty”. Deb “The nicest woman on the planet unless you’re racing her to the finish in the last 100 meters”. And Cobbie “I’m sorry, he’s just freakin nuts!” It was just what the doctor ordered and I laughed my way to two loops to go.

I think the beginning of that second to the last loop was my lowest point.  I was so close but not quite on the home stretch. As Cobbie and I reached the one-mile marker we passed four guys hiking and smoking a joint. “Hey maybe that would help” he suggested. I contemplated it. “No”, I thought. “I’m having a hard enough time figuring out where I’m going.

“What’ve you got in that backpack?” I asked. After a lengthy conversation we determined the only thing of value he had was a piece of gum. Great big huge back pack… tiny little piece of gum! Didn’t even have toilet paper in there. What good is he… good thing Robert came along with some supplies or I’d have been wiping my butt with Cobbie’s backpack!

Funny thing happened about four miles into that loop. I discovered the faster I ran the more Cobbie complained. This became a wonderful feedback mechanism that provided me with energy. Pretty soon I was running the hills and trying to beat Cobbie into the dust. Who am I to have friends like this?

As we were finishing that loop, Robert was explaining that they (the crew) had determined I didn’t need to do a full final loop to reach 200 miles. I could avoid the toughest part of the course by doing an out and back instead of a loop. Well, at that time I was running the toughest part and it certainly sounded like a good idea to not have to do it again, so I told him “Yes, let’s do that” and Robert went ahead to put that plan in motion. In the meantime, Deb had rejoined Cobbie and I to finish that loop.

As we came into the area by the shelter Tom was standing there waiting for us.
He politely asked Cobbie and Deb if they would give us a few moments and I knew I was gonna get the talk. I knew exactly what he was going to say and I needed to hear him say it.

“Here’s the thing”, he said. “What’d you come here to do? Did you come here to run 200 miles, or did you come here to do 22 loops? Because ya know, when you get up tomorrow morning, the worst thing in the world would be if you felt like you didn’t finish what you started… what you came here to do. Just think about that for a minute… because ya know… 22 loops… that would be special!”

I knew he was right. The name I’d come up with for this run was the tBunk 200+ because I knew if I did 22 loops it would be more than 200 miles. And, I had named it in honor of him. “You’re right.” I said about ten times as I made a quick stop to refuel and headed back out for the last loop.

Tom said he would meet me at Tamarac with warm clothes and a headlamp just-in-case I was going so slow that it would be getting dark. But I was flying… burning up miles like I hadn’t since the first day. Unfortunately I was also cramping up because I was getting real low on electrolytes. I had forgotten to replenish my supply for the last couple of loops and now I was paying the price.

I started to wonder if I could make it this far and still fail. Things were getting pretty weird. I had noticed several loops back I’d developed a couple of strange ticks… one physical and one mental. I was flicking my right thumb and index finger together, almost like snapping my fingers but with the wrong digits. And I had this line in my head from a Cheap Trick song “Dream Police” that just kept repeating… “The men inside my brain, are driving me insane”…  over and over and over again.

But I also had this beautiful crescendo of stories that had played out over the last few days. There were all these people that had come out to run with me. They told me how inspired they were by what I was doing. There was some mountain biker that I’d never met that stopped by each day to see how I was doing and told the crew what an inspiration I was. There was Tom, Robert and Mitch that had given up three days of their lives to help me realize a dream. My wife that was worried sick yet smiled every time I saw her. The list of contributors went on and on!

I was the one that was getting the inspiration from everyone else!

I ran down that long straight section of trail toward Tamarac and I could see Tom standing there by his truck. I really wanted to finish this for him.  I didn’t need a light. I didn’t need warm cloths. All I needed was an S Cap. But it was the one thing that even Tom hadn’t thought of.

I gave him a big hug and started up that hill with a little over four miles to go. My hamstrings were like piano wire when I crested that rise. About mid way through the bend at the top I looked down and saw one of my empty dose packets. A little plastic bag that I use to put various things in when I run. I must have dropped it on one of my previous loops. I was so cramped up I didn’t want to bend down to pick it up. “I’ve been picking up crap on this trail for three days.” I told myself trying to reason my way out of picking it up and I kept on running.

But this voice in my head said, “Turn around and pick it up.”

“No”, I thought.

“Pick it up”, the voice said.

“I’m not gonna run back there and pick it up” I thought. By this point I was a couple hundred yards past it.

“PICK IT UP”, the voice said.

“OK! OK! OK!” I ran back and picked up the packet… and inside what I thought was an empty packet was one S Cap.

There are moments in life that make you pause. Make you stop dead in your tracks. Make your hands tremble just a bit. I took that S Cap with love and gratitude for whomever was providing it. Who am I to have friends like this?

As I headed down the trail my hamstrings started to loosen up. I kicked ass the last three miles. It was probably the best three miles I ran the whole time!

There were eight people at the finish. Tom, my wife (Mary) and Daughter (Aimee) and her boyfriend (Mike), my business partner Mitch and his wife (Joan), Christine and Robert. But I know many others were there in spirit because I felt their inspiration!

202.18 miles, 27,000 feet of elevation change, 58 hours 52 minutes and 51 seconds. How does somebody that’s 52 years old do that? Not alone… it takes a whole bunch of really good friends and a little help from above! Who am I to have friends like this? The luckiest guy in the world!

As I approached the finish I had another Cheap Trick song in my head…

Whenever you need someone, to lay your heart and head upon.
Remember after the fire, after all the rain, I will be the flame.

Thank you all for being the flame! We did it together.


  1. I was planning on only running a single lap with you, but this was such a special run. Thanks again for allowing me to tag along!

  2. To My Impressive Father:

    Your dedication and commitment is so admirable. In a world that all too often is consumed with negative things, you stand as a lighthouse- as a shining example of what can happen when you never give up. You are truly inspirational in the things that you do.

    Keep on trucking!

    Your Daughter :)

  3. You know what I think is totally crazy? The fact that you pick up a bag off the trail and ate it's contents (s cap). You are a brave man. Good thing it wasn't a spare cap of crank.

    Impressive. Inspiring.

    Great job

  4. I am on the mailing list for this group of runners but have only run with them once. They are an amazing group. I was getting email updates on this but did not know how far he was going. I had run that morning and checked my emails the following day while getting ready for a run. I didn't feel much like doing a run and then saw that Craig was still at it. I checked the times of the emails and he had been running over 24 hours already. I felt like such a wimp for not wanting to do my run that day. I thought of all the things I had done in the last 24 hours and couldn't believe this guy was still running. By this time I was so curious about how far he was going to go that I checked emails regularly. Had I known he had that much to go I probably would have driven out to see this amazing accomplishment. When I came across this story I was just so impressed. I am a beginner trail runner so this seems crazy to me but I want to do my first 50k in February. This story has inspired me to run many times. Thanks to all who helped Craig and thanks to Craig for being so inspiring.

  5. So wonderful to see how you have touched so many lives Craig. I always knew you were a special person. What a beautiful gift you have.

    Run over to CT some day!

    Best regards
    Scott Hetznecker (203-257-6427)