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The Fagans, always on the run
NORTH BEND - Marty, 42, and Chris, 40, Fagan love to run. The husband and wife ultra-marathoners met on a mountaintop in Alaska in 1998 and fell madly in love. The mountain was Denali, and the two were climbing on separate teams. Located in Alaska's remote interior, Denali (otherwise known as Mount McKinley) takes several weeks to climb under ideal conditions, which are rare due to the usually inclement weather.
Marty, a Honolulu police officer with 11 years on the force, was climbing with two friends from Washington State. The outdoor enthusiast had wound up in Hawaii after serving in the U.S. Navy, and spent his free time mountaineering. It was the middle of May when, at 7,000 feet on day two of the expedition, another climbing team pulled in alongside Marty's group.
"I was focused on Chris right away. Over the next two-three days, I knew something was going on," said Marty. The two teams had a parallel course, and as it happened they summitted together on June 4. The climb down was a grueling affair, but by the end of it the two were definitely attracted to each other, with the affection being profoundly mutual.
So much so that so that Marty decided to leave his job as a police officer in Honolulu and move to Seattle to be closer to Chris. As a self-confessed "flat-lands" girl from Illinois and Iowa, Chris moved to the Seattle area after living in Chicago. She followed a business opportunity to come and work with a friend of a friend for Thinkshop.com, a successful idea generation company.
While training to join the Seattle Police Department, Marty got a job as an information technology manager for a company in Seattle and liked it so much that he stayed on permanently. Meanwhile, he continued romancing Chris, proposing in December 1998 in a rather unorthodox manner.
"It was kind of funny," said Chris. "He actually proposed to me in an ad in Climbing magazine. He was like, just so you know, there's going to be a special evening coming up soon," she said.
They were married on June 12, 1999, and immediately went off on their first adventure as husband and wife on a honeymoon in Zimbabwe, canoeing and exploring the country. "The canoeing was definitely the highlight of the trip," said Marty, despite the presence of man-eating hippos. At one point, they stopped to camp alongside a river. "We had a hippo right outside our tent, munching ... that was a good topping off for our marriage," said Marty. After further adventures in a wildlife park, including sleeping on a platform surrounded by wild elephants, the Fagans returned home.
It was around this time that the two began to pursue running more intently, running the Seattle Marathon together in November of 1999. Marty was an avid marathoner at that point, but it was Chris' first marathon.
"It was really nice because we trained together," said Chris, who ran the marathon in just over four hours. In May 2000, they went on a last-hurrah mountain climbing trip to Peru, and after encountering dangerous conditions, decided to conclude it earlier than planned.
The couple wondered if there was an alternative activity they could pursue. "What could we do that is outdoorsy, fun and remote that doesn't involve [weeks] in tents?'" said Chris. The two had previously trained for mountain climbing by running and had enjoyed their marathon together, so it proved to be a nice segway for them.
By that point, Marty had kept up his running and was prepared to go to the next level of marathoning, ultrarunning. Ultrarunning involves races with lengths of 26 miles or more. Immediately after returning from Peru, Marty dived head first into the world of ultrarunning at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Considered the "Boston Marathon of ultra-running," the Western States 100 Mile is highly regarded and one many runners aspire to. Since he had already qualified by running a 50-mile race earlier in the year, Marty felt he was ready to go an extra 50 miles.
"I assumed that since I could run 50 [miles] in eight and a half [hours], surely I could run 100 [miles] in 24 [hours]," said Marty.
"He's always been 'you know, it seems hard, but it's really not,'" said Chris.
"We were so naive about ultrarunning," admits Marty, "reality set in for me at mile 50."
Exhausted, he could have easily given up, but he persevered with help from his wife, who had originally just shown up to watch. "We get down there, and I'm just there along for the ride," Chris said. "I show up, [and] I'm sitting there at mile 30. It's hours before I could see him."
"I came in at mile 50, and was just devastated," said Marty. Chris leaped to her feet to help pace him, joining him at mile 60. "I just happened to have my running shoes with me," she said. She ran through the night with her husband, for a total of 27 miles. "I didn't think I could've run the last 40 miles," said Marty. "Without that, there's no way I would've made the cutoff (30 hours). I made it in 29 hours and 12 minutes." Only about 50-60 percent of the runners actually finish the race. "I realized at probably mile 50 or 60 what it takes to do one of these 100 milers."
"It still amazing that he actually finished ... and then when he crossed the finish line, he just feel asleep on the track," said Chris. "I was in way over my head, " admits Marty. "We learned so much at this race."
The Fagans' interest in ultrarunning only grew after this rough introduction. Chris ran two Portland marathons and her first 50 K race in 2000. She placed second in her age category, to her surprise.
"I was thinking I was last," said Chris. "I had a really good time [and] I was sort of hooked after that." In 2001, Marty ran the Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) across the Sahara desert. The six day, 151-mile endurance run is widely regarded as the toughest footrace on earth.
The birth of their son Keenan in November 2001 slowed the Fagans down only briefly. They moved to the Valley in 2002, and their home, located near the Mount Si trailhead and the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, gives them ample opportunity to pursue running. By 2003, Chris had started getting back into ultra-running again after a short hiatus, running two 50 K trail races and her first 50 miler in early 2004, at the White River 50 Mile Run near Mt. Rainer.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Marty had been keeping up his ultra-running, despite having a tough year in 2003. He failed to finish two 100-mile races due to lack of training. "We were spending a lot of time with our son - 2 year olds demand a lot of time - and not as much time on the trails," said Chris.
They've since managed to work out a system to accommodate their son, now 3, and their intensive training schedules.
"During the week, Marty does most of his running during his lunch hour and occasionally will add in some extra miles after work," said Chris, who works part time. Marty then takes over watching Keenan so Chris can run. "This gives Marty some one-on-one time with Keenan," said Chris. On the weekends, the couple alternates their runs so that one of them is always home. "It takes a lot of communication and planning, but somehow it works out," said Chris.
The Fagans recently celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary with a series of training runs, running 27 trail miles with 5,000 feet of elevation gain. "It was a fun anniversary weekend," said Marty. This run is in preparation for the White River 50 Mile Run on July 30, which they consider a "training run" for their 100-mile run, the Cascade Crest Run, on Aug. 27 and 28. This will be Chris' first 100-mile run.
With all this activity, the couple says that ultra-running has served to strengthen their marriage and family. "It's really great to share a sport that you love with your spouse. We spend a lot of time together strategizing, planning races and trips and setting goals," said Marty.
"We have a great understanding of the attraction of ultra-running, whereas some couples don't share the same hobby and don't have that depth of understanding," said Chris. "We're also able to