08 September 2018

Pine To Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run

In this distorted, niche community of ultra running that I sometimes get lost in, people have started to say things like, "100 miles is not that far." Well it is. And although you can have a very rewarding time running (and walking) 100 miles, and although #type2fun is still mostly fun (thanks to the human brain's amazing ability to selectively save the good stuff while discarding much of the bad), for most people it takes (lots of) training, support, and a few years to get it right. I'm here to tell you that I am most people. I ran the Pine To Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run for the first time in 2016 and did not have a great day. I've wanted to come back and get it right ever since. #doneanddone

[Photo credit Ben McKinley.]

Thanks to Hal Koerner and Rogue Valley Runners for putting on an epic event.

First and foremost, thanks to Shelley. She drove most of the eight hours down to this race, supported me from start to finish (while getting exactly as much sleep as I did), and then drove ALL THE WAY BACK HOME so I could relax. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thanks also to Lucca (for once this post is not just about me). As we led our separate lives after college we had unintentionally grown apart for some time. I like to tell the story of me emailing her and my father six years ago after completing my first ultra all excited and proud. Lucca replied, "Oh yeah, that's a cool race, I've done it."  Boom! I had no idea she was into running, much less ultras. Fast forward to now after running four editions of the Seattle Marathon together, one 50k together and traveling to Switzerland for an amazing race together and wouldn't you know it, running has helped us get to know each other again. How cool is that?

And I can't forget to thank Bil (Lucca's husband) and Danielle (Lucca's pacer). And my accidental pacer.

Sometimes you just get lucky. It happened to me once when I ran the Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run and then happened AGAIN at this race... Huge thanks to Ben McKinley for being proactive and seeking out a runner to pace after his buddy had to drop. And Ben was a super pacer! We talked about tons of stuff (kids, football, skiing, being tall), not much if it related to running. Which is just how Martin likes it.

ASIDE - so there I am running up the dirt road to Dutchman Peak when this car pulls up next to me and the driver rolls down the window. "Hey, do you want a pacer?" Uh, yes please. We introduced ourselves and agreed to meet at the aid station. When I got there Ben was nowhere to be seen but this guy has quantities of team spirit. Once he did get there and discovered I had already left, he freaking ran me down! It was on a section of the PCT about five miles later and I could tell a headlamp was gaining on me. I decided to pull over and let them by and the runner said. "Martin...?" That made my day. Or night as it were.

Let me jump right in with the knowledge nuggets. I try to learn something every time I run an ultra. I can only do so many of these things and at this point, I'm not getting any faster so I figure I should at least "enjoy" each one a little more.
  • Nutrition during a 100 is tough. I've absolutely nailed it all year long but all the other races were 50k or 50 miles. I tried to apply the same formula here and I stumbled, figuratively. This is a work in progress for sure.
  • Although I'm not a faster runner than when I started this adventure in 2012, I am smarter and that's worth a ton. I was just reading a quote from Karl Meltzer (the winningest 100-mile runner ON EARTH) who said that he is much more efficient than he used to be and that this is the main thing which keeps him competitive. I concur. I keep spending less time at aid stations, being smarter about what goes in which drop bag, tweaking and tuning my gear and nutrition, getting better at pacing myself, and it's paid off big. Usually (read: hopefully) it's me passing others at the end of an ultra and not the other way round.
  • Having a crew and pacer is fantastic. I have never started a 100-mile race intending to have a pacer but happened into one twice. And having Shelley support me at two of these has also helped a bunch. All that no-trekking-poles and loving-the-solitude-of-the-woods stuff only goes so far. For me.
  • Speaking of which, trekking poles rule. Hey, not everyone uses them or even likes them but wow do they work for me. I have a herniated disc in my lower back and anything I can do to keep my spine aligned is a godsend as the day wears on. Now my legs/fitness are the weakest link which is the way it should be. Not some dumb, old injury.
  • I have never listened to music during an ultra prior to this race. I took along an iPod Shuffle and turned it on around mile 60. Wow! That was nice.
  • Changing shoes and socks is also nice. I changed both (and washed my feet!) at mile 43.5 and then socks only at mile 67.
  • It takes time for a body (especially my body) to adjust to this kind of distance. I know, right? When I started running I had loads of fitness from bicycle racing and ramped up my miles way too fast and consequently had various injuries that I could have avoided. It's just been the last two years that I have finished ultras and only felt tired and sore instead of destroyed or hurt. And you know what? I like this feeling better.
  • Trekking pole quivers are cool. More about that later.
  • Shoes matter! OMG do they matter... I continue to be blown away by how comfy my Topo shoes are. Unless I stub my toe or similar, I have not had a single foot issue all year long. No blisters, no bruised toenails, no problems in other words. That's pure gold.
For a change, it wasn't just me taking pictures at this race, it was everyone else! Here are some highlights/lowlights in chronological order.

Here I am warming up outside of the Applegate River Lodge (where we stayed the previous night) before heading out to the start. I recommend this place by the way. Quaint building and gas/food/beer/wine across the street. Also, lots of blackberries around and no one appears to want them.

[Photo credit Shelley Criminale.]

The start. And you can see me on the right in the red shirt 18 seconds in.

[Photo credit Shelley Criminale.]

I don't have a photo or movie (or soundtrack) of this but the crew at the Steamboat Ranch aid station (mile 21.5) were playing all Mac Miller all day long. They were young and male, go figure. It was kind of touching actually.

Pulling into the Seattle Bar/Applegate River aid station at mile 28.5. If you listen closely you can hear Shelley comment that I am ahead of schedule...

[Photo credit Shelley Criminale.]

Someone else's support crew, doing yoga while they wait...

[Photo credit Shelley Criminale.]

Someone who looks a lot fresher than me.

[Photo credit Lucca Criminale.]

Leaving the Squaw Lakes aid stations at mile 43.5.

[Photo credit Danielle Micheletti.]

One of my favorite sections of trail around mile 50. Turns out Lucca thought so too.

[Photo credit Lucca Criminale.]

The Squaw Peak fire lookout. This is at the top of the first out-and-back which you need to run after arriving at the Hanley Gap aid station (mile 52).

[Photo credit Lucca Criminale.]

The Siskiyou Gap (mile 73.5) aid station. The night was an ocean of DARK and every aid station was an oasis of light. It was super cool.

[Photo credit Ben McKinley.]

How Shelley felt after having this guy park behind her with his headlights on for two hours.

[Photo credit Shelley Criminale.]

Shelley helping me at the Grouse Gap (mile 80) aid station.

[Photo credit Ben McKinley.]

Bil helping Lucca at the Grouse Gap aid station. Lucca discovered that plain yogurt was working for her. I am taking notes.

[Photo credit Danielle Micheletti.]

Lucca sumitting Wagner Butte at mile 86. That's right, still looking fresher than me.

[Photo credit Danielle Micheletti.]

Danielle and Lucca on top of Wagner Butte.

[Photo credit Lucca Criminale.]

Lucca finishing her second 100-mile race!

This race was a new experience for me. Cascade Crest starts later in the morning so unless you are pretty speedy you will finish in daylight. And the last time I ran this race I also finished in daylight. Finishing in the dark was not so bad!

I usually save maths for the very end of a race but this time I started working things out way too soon. Prior to the start, I had the brilliant idea of having Shelley write splits on my forearm so that I would have a gauge for my pace.

I used splits from Phil Kochik (owner of Seven Hills Running Shop) who was the slowest sub-24 time in 2016 (he finished in 23:30). The numbers wore off in a hurry (turns out a Sharpie is no match for 100-mile sweat) so I kept asking Shelley how I was doing compared to the splits. And she kept telling me I was ahead! I think it was 30 minutes the first time I saw her at mile 28.5 and it crept up to FIFTY MINUTES by mile 80. Of course, it didn't take long for my mind to race (way) ahead of my body and soon I started to fantasize about a sub-23 hour time.

Was I having an inspired day or was I going to pay the proverbial Pied Piper? Turns out a little of both.

When you get to the Squaw Lakes aid station at mile 41 you need to run a 2.5-mile lap around the lake. It's pretty darn flat but I had to walk a couple of times. This is what happened to me in 2016 so I was getting worried.

But when I left the Squaw Creek Gap aid station at mile 59.5 and started marching up the road, I felt much better than I did in 2016. Two years ago I was about ready to throw in the towel here and this time I was looking forward to meeting Shelley and to the lights and music this aid station is known for.

By the time I got to Dutchman Peak (mile 66) in 2016 I had thrown in the towel big time. It still amazes me how I finished that race. This time I got out of my wet clothes stat, drank some broth and started right back down to the parking lot where Shelley was waiting for me. I was cold, but not defeated.

ASIDE - this course is super scenic and the aid stations and volunteers are awesome but the actual course marking is not so hot... I got confused once heading up to Stein Butte around mile 37. The trail I was on went straight ahead but there was also a trail that went up to the Stein Butte Lookout on the right. Where was the ribbon located? On a bush right in the middle of the intersection. C'mon... The two guys I was with at the time spent at least five minutes exploring the lookout trail until I convinced them (and myself) that we needed to continue straight. Thank goodness I was right. Another time I was on the PCT and suddenly the trail dumped you out onto a four-way dirt road intersection. For the life of me, I could not find a ribbon. I walked at least 50' down each road looking and letting my headlamp linger. I eventually found the ONLY ribbon marking the trail and was able to continue.

On the way up to Wagner Butte (around mile 83), I got "stuck" behind two other racers and their pacers and I didn't have the zip to pass them. We did eventually scoot by on a descent but as soon as we established a gap I promptly had a moment of indecision about the route. Suddenly the trail went down pretty steeply and I vaguely recalled that once the trail got steep, you were on the final descent to Road 2016 and the Weasel Creek aid station at mile 90. I did NOT want to miss the out-and-back to Wagner Butte so told Ben to stop. We spent at least 10-15 minutes dorking around with his iPhone trying to get enough of a signal to see where the heck the trail to Wagner Butte was. Without success. While we were standing there, the four runners behind us caught up. My indecision was enough to make them pause too so now we all stood there for a bit until we finally decided that since none of us had seen a sign for Wagner Butte, straight must be the correct way to go. It was, whew.

On this four-mile out-and-back I definitely started to fade. Twice while scrambling to the final summit of Wagner Butte I put my foot down, put weight on it, and felt myself start to tip backward. Yikes! I was tired.

When we got to the Weasel Creek aid station all I could do was stumble over to the support crew truck, lean against it and pee into the woods. Ben was nice enough to grab my pin flag from my pack while I was peeing and handed it to the race staff. And then I had to sit down in a chair. Ouch. I managed to yank myself out of my stupor and get moving in fairly short order but for all my planning of running these last 10 miles they started out at a walking pace.

Eventually, I managed to break into a jog but it didn't last long. I had one sustained stretch of jogging (not even five minutes I suspect) so it was walk/jog for the next eight miles. Finally, after we had been on the MTB trail for a bit, I started to speed up.

Just after the last aid station at mile 95 we stopped one more time unsure of the direction to go. There had been a mountain bike trail sign on the right that was causing Ben to hesitate but we double checked the route description (since my brain was shot at this point) and quickly realized we just needed to continue down the road. I guess running at night does sometimes have disadvantages.

Just before this dirt trail turns to pavement Ben's headlamp died. Luckily he had a replacement so he told me to run ahead while he switched lights. I felt a little bad leaving him but did as I was told. One mile to go!

And then it happened. As I hit the pavement I had a vague, uneasy feeling in my guts. Within the span of perhaps 60 seconds that vague feeling became extremely specific - I was going to shit my pants.

ASIDE - I've had to poop in the woods before, most people that hike or run do. But not during many races. In fact, only during two. The first time I got saved by an outhouse at the Badger Mountain Challange 50 Mile earlier this year. This was the other race. Usually, I'm good to go if I can attend to my business prior to the start, these ultras tend to shut my system down... not so much today.

As I ran along clenching my butt cheeks tighter and tighter it became patently obvious there was no way in hell I was making it to the finish without really embarrassing myself. What to do...? Here I was running through some expensive homes in suburban Ashland and there were streetlights along the road.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and finally, I had to do something. In this case, "something" meant hopping off the side of the road that wasn't lit, sliding down a hill covered in dry leaves, grabbing a tree to arrest my slide, turning off my headlamp and dropping trow.

Oh man, how do you spell relief? Never mind, you get the idea.

As I was crouched in the leaves I saw Ben's light approaching. "Hey Ben, wait a sec... I had to take a nature break!" I scrambled back up to the road (not an easy task, those dry leaves were slippery!) and managed to rejoin my pacer.

There was no time to be gained here and I could finally smell the barn (olfactory reference intended) so we just ran it in.

To sum up this maths distraction, if I had not hesitated at intersections and made the correct navigational choices I could have gone sub-23. Oh well. As Ben kept telling me (I must have been lamenting my lost minutes), my time was awesome and in short order I was in full agreement with him. Plus, navigating is part of these events! My only goals going in were sub-24 and winning my age group. I had accomplished both (by a big margin!) so shut up already.

Here are some more stats from this run.
  • Garmin Connect claims I burned almost 12,000 calories. I think I agree. I weighed myself Thursday morning and was 190. Two days after the race and after eating this on Monday (I'm writing this post on Tuesday) I am still at 180 lb.

  • Apparently, my stomach is not as "iron" as it used to be. After finishing I could barely eat or drink anything. After a shower and a nap, I went back to the finish to cheer on Lucca. On the way, I found Standing Stone Brewing Company and could only manage this sampler size glass of beer.

I'm proud of how easily I got my Salomon Custom Quiver to work with my older, not-designed-to-work-with-the-custom-quiver pack. I found some existing loops, attached the quiver, wrapped tape around the hooks to prevent them from sliding off and ditched the elastic "4D Trekking Pole holder". Then I ran the synch cord through another existing loop at the bottom of the pack and used the same tape to reduce the size of that opening. It worked great. I am SO MacGyver.

What an experience. Thanks to everyone that helped make it happen. There will be more.

Turns our Ben McKinley made a video of his pacing experience.

And Lucca also wrote a fantastic race report.

Here are all the pictures and videos.

Nutrition (before)
  • cold brew coffee, no cream or sugar
Nutrition (during)
Nutrition (after)

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