11 September 2016

Pine to Palm 100-mile Endurance Run

If nothing else, 100-mile races sure are an education and an insight into your own motivations, amiright?

This summer has been an amazing time for me. After over 14 months of nursing a hip injury, four surgeries and then having to start running again literally one mile at a time, I am finally back to running ultras. Real ones too. First there was the Eiger Ultra Trail E101 and now the Pine to Palm 100-mile Endurance Run. Nice.

Were they easy? NO. But I finished both, in pretty good times considering my rapid ramp-up in training AND my body has been tolerating these longer distances better than ever meaning I have experienced no hardships other than the expected soreness and a couple of blisters. Super nice.

Here I am at the Dutchman Peak aid station. It's night and windy and I have not eaten anything in about 15 miles. Does this smile look forced? Read on to find out.

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Pine to Palm was my second 100-mile event. How do you make your second harder than your first? You pick a tough course and you show up with no crew or pacer.

Logistics were a bit tricky. This being a point-to-point race each runner would ideally have someone dropping them off at the start and picking them up at the finish. I parked at the pre-race meeting site where runners could camp for free and then walked around from car to car at 4:30 AM asking if someone could give me a ride to the actual start which was about seven miles away. Luckily I found a nice guy in a VW camper bus that was also driving two other runners to the start. At the finish Hal Koerner (the Race Director) arranged for a shuttle that took us back to our cars.

The weather report was for HOT (95-100 degrees Fahrenheit) so I took the bare minimum to the start. At the pre-race meeting someone asked Hal if we would need a light at 6:00 AM (the Runners Manual said we would) and he said most likely not. That was all I needed to hear and I showed up with just a short sleeve shirt and my running vest. Done. Turns out there were three guys (two of which were US Marines) that started with no shirt at all. Oorah. I was shivering a little but I usually do in the morning, objectively it was not cold. And then with very little fanfare we were off.

The new course goes down a short dirt road, up a paved road for perhaps two miles and then you turn off onto some nice singletrack and continue to climb. Including the pavement this first climb is at least 10 miles long but it's not a killer grade and you are in the shade and so I felt fine. Great in fact! I was using my poles, breathing easy and even took some pictures, the colors were beautiful!

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At some point on this climb I brushed a thorny bush and drew first blood!

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There was an aid station on this climb (Rock Creek - mile 4.5) but I didn't need anything so ran right past. At the top you could see the smoky haze from a CA fire that was still burning. Some people complained after the race but I never found this to be a problem.

The descent from the top of the ridge was super fun. Mostly soft singletrack and I was motoring. On the climb I saw Phil Kochik just ahead of me and kept him in sight. On the descent I caught him and we ran together to the second aid station (O'Brian Creek - mile 14.5).

ASIDE - about halfway down this descent I was behind Phil who was behind another guy. Suddenly the guy in front is swatting his body and then Phil is doing likewise. Half a second later I feel a sharp pain right on the crown of my head. Yellow Jackets. :( In my haste to swat the attacker, I almost flipped my visor down the ravine... that would have been tragic as I would not have been able to retrieve it. Luckily I caught my sun shade just in time and didn't have to break stride. And luckily the sting was not so bad, no swelling, just a constant reminder. :)

Loads of people had blown by me on the initial paved climb but I pulled some back on the dirt climb and then a lot more on this first big descent.

After the 2nd aid station you are running on dirt road. A very long dirt road. It's about seven miles to the 3rd aid station (Steamboat Ranch - mile 21.5) and it's all dirt road, and then about seven more miles to the 4th aid station which is also mostly dirt road. Of those 14 miles I suspect 12 are road. That about killed me as actual running is not my forte. But I was still moving very well. I filled both my bottles with Perpetuem at the 2nd aid station and just grabbed a slice of watermelon at the 3rd so passed several more people in this stretch.

The 4th aid station (Seattle Bar/Applegate River - mile 28.5) is cool. Here they have cowbells, cheering people, tents, chairs, buckets of ice water with sponges, you name it. It's the first place crew can meet runners so busy, busy, busy.

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As you leave Seattle Bar you simply run out of the parking lot, across a field and into the woods.

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This section to the 5th aid station was supposed to be "exposed" and "really hot". I didn't find it that bad but I suspect it did take its toll on me. It was on this climb that I caught Paul Morrow who would play a pivotal role in my race. Here is what this ridge looked like, and that is Paul in front of me.

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There was a lot to see up here! Like some giant trees.

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Paul also found a rattlesnake and there was bear scat everywhere!

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ASIDE - why is bear shit called bear scat...? People always need to pretty things up don't they.

There was so much bear scat I was very surprised we never saw a bear. Then again, perhaps they don't come out when it's this warm. I couldn't help notice how the bear(s) always shit right in the middle of the trail. It was as if it was saying, "This is my trail, want to do something about it?"

At the top of this ridge was the 5th aid station (Stein Butte - mile 35).

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I was still feeling reasonably good and just stopped to fill both bottles with Perpetuem and grab some more watermelon. Well, and I got some pictures of myself too... :)

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From here down to Squaw Lakes was pretty running. I believe it was mostly trail and it was mostly descending.

Squaw Lakes was the next big aid station(s). It was number 6 (mile 41) and 7 (mile 43.5) and another spot where crew could meet runners. There were more cowbells, cheering people, tons of crew; it was quiet uplifting to be here! Once you pulled in you had to run a 2.5 mile lap around the lake and then you could get aid again before you headed out. I had been developing a blister on my left foot so stopped here to put a Band-Aid on my toe and I removed both shoes and dumped out as much dirt and dust as I could. I didn't take any pictures at the aid station itself for some reason... but I did on my lap around the lake. This is a recreation mecca it seems with lots of camping sites and people were riding mountain bikes around the lake and kayaking and SUPing in the lake, etc. I saw this pump on the road around the lake. I even tried it out but when I didn't get any water after about 10 pumps I decided to save my energy and continued on.

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On my way out of Squaw Lakes I filled both bottles with Perpetuem and had more watermelon. I was getting tired but I was still feeling okay otherwise and not lost my appetite or anything. My biggest concern at this point was the blister on my left little toe. Too bad for me the next section was more dirt road. And man was the 8th aid station (French Gulch - mile 47) a stark contrast to what I had just left...

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Cue the crickets.

Between aid station #8 and #9 it was pretty barren. But also pretty beautiful.

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At the 9th aid station (Hanley Gap/Squaw Peak - mile 52) I "caught" Phil. And by caught I really mean I saw him again. When you pull into Hanley Gap you are directed up a one-mile out-and-back to Squaw Peak where you have to grab a pin flag and bring it back down to the aid station as proof that you achieved the summit. Phil was two miles ahead of me by now (he had pulled away at aid station #2) so he was descending as I arrived.

This was the first time I noticed that I was moving noticeably slower. As I sat in my chair I watched Phil rub some ointment on his knees and thought, "That would be nice..." in spite of the fact that my knees weren't bothering me at all. I think I was just jonesing for some crew support.

My climb to Squaw Peak was s l o w. And with just a bucket of flags to greet you at the summit arriving there didn't exactly give me a big boost. Note my shadow is not smiling.

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Let's just say I stayed in my chair for a bit at Hanley Gap when I got back from Squaw Peak. :( The sun was past its zenith so it was not getting any hotter, perhaps even cooling down at this point, but I was bushed. As proof of my weary state it seems I didn't take any more pictures until 14 miles later. At which point I was destroyed. But let's not rush things.

I honestly don't remember much between aid station #9 and #10 (Squaw Creek Gap - mile 59.5). I do recall that once I got there I had not eaten anything substantial in quite a while and nothing they had sounded appealing. I filled a bottle, this time just with plain water, ate one slice of avocado and sat in a chair for a while listening to one other person talk about the fact that they had just dropped. Eventually I left and trudged up the road. In the dark. Alone. I finally had to turn on my headlamp when I left here.

From here to the 11th aid station (Dutchman Peak - mile 66) is entirely dirt road. Not only is it road, but cars are traveling on it as they drive to and from Dutchman Peak which is where runners could finally pick up a pacer. This might not be too bad if 1) you were fresh and 2) the road was not entirely covered in ultra fine dust that is kicked up by anything moving at more than 2 mph and then hangs in the windless air waiting to fill your mouth, coat your tongue and finally settle in your lungs. Except I wasn't and it was.

I walked most (read: 99%?) of this stretch. Boo. At least it was peaceful, when no cars were present. But I was inhaling so much dust that not only were my mouth and teeth coated, the back of my throat was totally dried out which made even the mere thought of swallowing anything other than water that much more repulsive. Let's just say I didn't eat anything here either.

All the volunteers at this race were freaking outstanding! But to me the folks at Dutchman take the cake. They had some sort of generator powered mega sound system up there and it was BLASTING music. Dance music! You know how when you finally hear the noise of an aid station it perks you up because you know you're close? Well I could hear this aid station from FIVE MILES AWAY. That perked me up for about 10 seconds and then I realized I had no idea where the aid station really was. As I climbed the dance music would fade in and out as I switched back and forth up the mountain. Since I kept squinting into the dark eventually I figured out where it must be. And that location was still really far away. So in the end the dance music had the opposite effect on me that the aid station staff was probably intending.

Finally I got close. And I just couldn't help recording the moment.

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Oh man. I. Was. Done.

I believe I said in my Eiger Ultra Trail E101 race report that I had never come quite so close to dropping but this was exponentially more so. My left foot hurt, I had not consumed any calories for at least 14 miles, I was all alone and I had zero motivation. I felt broken and weak! I sagged into a chair and started to freeze. One of the volunteers came up to me and said, "You look great!" I replied, "I want to drop." [Pause for dramatic effect...] He looked me right in the eyes and said, "No one drops at Dutchman."

I figured right, whatever, he was just giving me the usual pep talk but after I insisted I wanted to quit he told me cars were not allowed up here and so I literally had no way out other than under my own power. But of course I could wait until 2:00 AM when the time cutoff arrived and then there might be something they could do. I had arrived here at 10:02 PM.

Damn.

So I asked him if he would take my picture.

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As he handed the camera back to me he said, "That's not the face of someone who is going to drop!" At this point I put my jacket on. I tried to drink some broth but could only put away half a cup. When I realized my jacket was not going to warm me up sufficiently I got out of my chair and shuffled off into the darkness.

My plan was to walk down to where all the crew cars were parked and beg a ride. As I got there and saw a driver I opened my mouth and before I could say anything he yells, "The trail is over there!" And without a conscious thought I pivoted and headed down the trail.

If Dutchman was my lowest point, in retrospect this instinctive reaction to continue was the beginning of my recovery. But man was it slow. And keep in mind that in my mind at the time I was still just looking for a place to drop.

From here to the 12th aid station (Siskiyou Gap - mile 73.5) was great trail but I wasn't enjoying it. I could still jog the descents but walked every incline and some flat sections. People were starting to pass me now. When I told one runner and her pacer that I felt like garbage the pacer gave me some Brach's candy from a giant bag that he was carrying. Thanks kind pacer, but I had to spit both pieces out as I could not finish them. I think we were on the PCT here. Somewhere on this stretch Paul caught me and we ran together.

What a blessing. Just having someone with me was doing wonders for my attitude. I was still running on empty in terms of calories but a mental edge is everything. Note that this mental recovery was only obvious in hindsight, while I was running with Paul I was still telling him I was going to drop at the next aid station. Plus, Paul was talking about trying to run the last 10 miles hard and right now I could not fathom that.

Aid station #12 has been wiped from my memory.

We cruised into the 13th aid station (Grouse Gap - mile 80) and here I told Paul that if he was willing to run with me the next 10 miles I would try and finish. He said yes.

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So after some water (I tried broth again, and a gel - they both didn't go down) and watermelon off we went.

Not sure if it was because I was sleepy or beat down but Paul and I left that aid station with very different ideas of where the course went. I thought we had to go up a road for six miles but then after perhaps just one mile the marking went to the right into the woods. We looked up the road, didn't see any lights, so headed right. It climbed for a bit on singletrack and then descended. And it kept going down. Finally I spoke up because this did not feel right, didn't the course profile say we had to climb for six miles...? I must have sown a seed of doubt with Paul because soon we were hiking back up the descent and looking for other runners to ask them if they had been up the road past where we turned off. First we met three women who all said this was the right way. Not convinced, we waited for another couple who said the same thing. I guess we had made the correct turn after all.

This stretch up to the next summit was pretty fun. Knowing that I was past mile 80 and that the last 10 were all downhill and being on singletrack again and having someone to figuratively lean on was doing my attitude wonders! Plus our pace was such that I was actually recovering physically. Incredibly, I was doing just fine on the technical trail and before I knew it I was pulling some of the people back that had passed us earlier. But now it was Paul's turn to start slowing down. Not only was he getting tired, he was having trouble with all the rocks and roots, especially while descending. But hey, I was GLAD to hang with him and return the favor, believeyoume.

This summit was another out-and-back and at the pre-race meeting Hal was extra cagey about telling us what was up here. Turns out it was a scramble. You had to use your hands and climb up this giant pile of rocks and at the top was a bucket of little plastic pacifiers. No lie.

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Each runner was supposed to grab one and turn it in at the finish.

The sun was just starting to rise so we stopped, took some pictures, enjoy the view and Paul put on his gloves.

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I was feeling almost restored! As soon as we scrambled down and hit the trail I was jogging. And it felt fine! It was a couple of miles back to the out-and-back intersection and then the trail got steep.

The descent down to the 14th aid station (Road 2060 - mile 90) was a blast! It was steep, soft, somewhat technical and it turns out my quads were not toast so I was able to hop/bound down pretty well. Unfortunately Paul was not feeling it. No biggie, I would run my pace for a bit and then just stop and wait for Paul to catch up. I was actually having a good time.

Until we got stung by Yellow Jackets again.

But we were goth pretty lucky, no swelling and I swatted my attacker very quickly so not much poison got injected. This time I got hit in the right forearm.

By the time we hit the aid station I knew I didn't have to worry about Paul leaving me behind and this cheered me up even more. NOT because I was glad Paul was slowing down, but because it meant I would have company to the finish. Honestly, I was feeling a little bad for Paul now and this also helped shift my focus away from my own woes.

I still couldn't really eat anything but I got some water and some melon and for the first time I was up and out of my chair ahead of Paul. We walked down the road a bit and then started jogging.

The next eight or so miles are all buffed, quiet, gently descending dirt road with just one tiny "bump" to interrupt your rhythm. Paul started out at about 12:00 pace but soon he was doing something around 10:00. Nice job Paul! By now I could tell I had another blister under the ball of my right foot but what can you do at this point? Just run through it and try to land soft. :) My natural pace here was around 8:00-9:00 so again I would jog ahead a bit and then walk to take pressure off my blister while Paul caught up. Then I would let him get a head start and repeat the process.

News flash. Miles don't go by very fast at this speed. I had a little dip in motivation on this road when I realized we still had over an hour to go... I was so not smelling the barn yet.

Finally we passed the last aid station, #15 (Hitt Rd Gate - mile 95). Paul ran ahead and I stopped to rinse out a bottle and grab some fresh water. Then I also had to pee. No biggie I thought, I'll catch him easy enough. This time when I started running I gave it a little extra gas and right away my right foot started screaming in pain. Oh man, what had I done? Had my blister popped or suddenly gotten much bigger? For a second I was afraid I would not be able to catch Paul, much less finish. But I shifted into extreme shuffle mode and cranked up the cadence and somehow it worked. Slowly I reeled in Paul but it sucked.

I tried running on the outside of my foot, exaggerated heel striking, nothing was doing a good job of relieving the pain. Except more running. So finally I just decided not to dwell on my right foot. On the up side, with this blister my shuffle was the same pace as Paul so we were running together again.

This road eventually turned into a MTB access trail that looked like it would be a blast to ride. The corners were banked and there were some jumps too. I would have paid good money for a bike at this point.

We had to make one last stop when Paul suddenly had the urge to fertilize the forest. I always carry toilet paper and Paul still had the mental acuity to quip about me literally saving his ass. Way to go Paul.

When you exit the MTB trail you are on pavement and here the road dropped very steeply all the way down to the park in downtown Ashland where the finish was. NOW I could smell the barn and in spite of my right foot I was all smiles. Paul's wife and daughter were waiting at the park entrance so I figured why not capture the last stretch.

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But the story is not over! We crossed the finish line and I was beaming. Hal shook my hand and we chatted about the race. I saw Paul had taken a seat so I started to look for a snack and when I turned around Paul was shutting down. Literally. He was shivering and getting pale so we helped him into a cot and covered him with two wool blankets. Keep in min that it was over 80 degrees at the finish, when your body says it's time to stop there isn't much you can do about it. But Paul recovered quickly. After warming up and drinking some water he looked way better and soon he was moving under his own power again.

I was gross! My legs were caked in dust. Eventually I grabbed a towel and hobbled over to a fountain in the park and rinsed everything that I could without getting indecent in public. I was feeling MUCH better. So good that I hit a reclining chair in the sun and caught some rays while I watched other runners finish. But then the inevitable happened and I had to find a cot for myself and took a two hour nap.

At 4:00 PM we all congregated for food and awards. My stomach had recovered to the point that I was able to eat most of a burrito and some salad. And drink a beer.

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Hal did something fun, he had each belt buckle recipient stand up and say what they liked and didn't like about the race. It was fun to hear so many stories.

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Here is a much happier me.

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Thinking back to my other 100, I ran harder, was more tired, and had worse ailments (IT band issues and sore back in addition to blisters) at Cascade Crest than here. But I was also better trained at Cascade Crest and there I had an excellent pacer. Here I just ran out of mojo. Always learning.

What else did I learn?

  • I love trekking poles! These things are saving my back big time and not having to worry about that blowing up is huge.
  • Figuring out how to fuel throughout a 100 is not easy. It will obviously take more practice. What worked like a champ for 45-50 miles didn't work to the finish.
  • Some people love the solitude of running in the woods and prefer it. I like it to a point. For a race as long as this I prefer company.
  • Just when you are convinced that all is shit, if you are not injured or in danger why not keep trying? It blows my mind how one can climb out of a pretty darn deep hole.

I saw several people that I knew or knew of. Fun to be in the proximity of super stars.


I need to say this every time... huge thanks to the following for supporting me in what I love to do.
Here are all my pictures and video.

Results
Nutrition
  • About eight large bottles, each with two scoops Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem and two Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes.
  • One Hammer Bar
  • 2.5 Hammer Gels
  • Lots of watermelon
  • LOTS of water
  • One slice of avocado
  • One slice of cantaloupe
  • Two cups chicken noodle soup
  • One cup clear broth
  • Three small cups Ginger Ale soda
  • I tried to consume the following, all of which I could not begin to swallow or finish; Brach's taffy, Brach's hard candy, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, potato chips, grilled cheese sandwich, more chicken noodle soup, more clear broth, Coke.
Gear
It appears that when I put my fenix 3 in UltraTrac mode (which I do to conserve battery life) it over estimates the distance. This is interesting as I would think that any time the watch connects to satellites LESS frequently it would be LESS accurate. I don't do this often but it happened at the Eiger Ultra Trail E101 and here.

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