Pine to Palm 100, held in southern Oregon, was to be the grand finale of my calendar that was chock full of races for 2011. Last year I was unable to run the inaugural year because our daughter Farah was born three weeks prior. It ended up being uncharacteristically cold, windy, and rainy for the time of year so I wasn't too hung up on missing it. This year my wife Erica would be chasing Farah around Portland while I made the trip down for year number two and this rugged point-to-point 100-mile mountain run put on by Hal Koerner. Amazing how much changes in 365 days!
One of the things about 100-milers (which I told to house guest and first time 100 runner Derek Shultz) is that you have to expect the unexpected. I think this is one of the aspects that draws me to these long and grueling journeys on foot through rugged terrain. Anyway, as we got closer I started getting really excited for my fifth career 100-mile run and was looking forward to some respite afterwards.
The race started up a paved road at 6 a.m. and I shared my light with defending champion and friend Timothy Olson. After a couple miles we turned into some singletrack and then started making our climb up Greyback Mountain. Timothy and I were feeling great, catching up on things, and celebrating our birthdays which fall on the same day (Aug. 28th...along w/ my daughter's b-day too!).
As you can see on the profile above by mile 10 we already climbed about 5,000 feet and Timothy commented how we have seen some absolutely amazing vistas together in prior races, etc. This one was intense...bright pink glow of the sunrise....looking down on mountains...seeing volcanoes off in the distance. We were both feeling so good...At this point I already feel that I've experienced the epitome of nature's beauty...another thing I love about trail ultra running.
(Photo: Tetsuro Ogata)
I didn't mind this part at all especially since it was going to connect me to more of the same trails that I just ran. It was an opportunity to cover some ground, get dialed in nutritionally without having to constantly look down at the trail, and to hopefully close the gap on Olson a bit. I came up next to a house that had a couple of dogs fenced-in barking at me voraciously. All of the sudden one runs all the way to the end of the yard and somehow comes out running towards me barking. I didn't like the way he was looking at me. I open my water bottle in case I need to do a spray/kick combo (which unfortunately I've had to do in the past w/ dogs) but a good hard yell sends him running away w/ his tail between his legs. I smile and keep moving on in pursuit of Timothy. As I approach the aid station at mile 21-ish I see Timothy's long "goldi-locks" about 60-90 seconds ahead on the road. I make a quick transition and keep rolling down the hills toward Seattle Bar aid station.
About a half hour later Hal pulls up next to me in his "Swagger Wagon" and tells me that I'm on 4-hour marathon pace. We chat for a minute or two and he tells me where I'm headed, etc. and what to expect leading up to Seattle Bar. I also knew that I'd see my friend and crew chief Todd Janssen (who just finished Leadville 100 and is an offical "Lead Man") for the first time. When I roll into the aid station I get weighed in, see a bunch of friends including Craig Thornley, Sonya, and Willie's mom....and Todd passes me everything I need for the next section.
I learn that Timothy is now like six minutes ahead (I had to make a quick "pit stop" just before Seattle Bar) but Hal and company remind me that there's still lots of race left. This next section is a big climb...much bigger than I expected...about 2,500 feet but it really zapped me pretty good.
(Feelin' the burn climbing after Seattle Bar aid station. Photo: Michael Lebowitz)
Todd lets me know that Chris Downie came through shortly after me and he was looking strong...and that Timothy was like 20 minutes ahead or so. I was feeling rough but Todd talked me up a bit, told me I'd get through it, and walked w/ me as I ate some chips, a gel, an S-cap, and drank a cup of coke. This combo got me fired up about two minutes later. I started running down a long dirt road at a pretty good clip. I was feeling much stronger at this point and felt confident about the next section of the race. Just when I start getting into some consistent running grooves I start climbing up again towards Kilgore Gulch. I started mixing in some hiking and running and it was just a matter of time before I turned around to see the machine Chris Downie moving towards me w/ a focused look on his face. We chat a bit and work together for maybe ten minutes and he continues on ahead of me.
This is where the race started falling apart for me. I didn't want to lose touch of Chris so I started cranking up the hills despite my fatigue. Then all of the sudden I feel a sharp twinge on the outside/bottom of my foot. It stopped me in my tracks...I re-grouped...walked...pretended it didn't happen...walked some more....tried running again...and felt it again. The more I tried running the worse it got. It didn't take long for me to realize that my race was over. I was so disappointed and depressed out there hobbling down the trails by myself. I had thoughts of how Hal walked/ran his way around Mont Blanc this past August in close to 40 hours...thinking that maybe I could do that too...but then the pain again! I sat down at times and just looked around...tired...bummed...thinking how cool of a section this would be if I were running. Then I started getting angry with myself thinking that I raced too much this year in this first year of parenthood for me. I wasn't in a good space. I picked up some sticks and used them as makeshift hiking poles and was wondering when other runners would start passing me. It took close to an hour before the next runner came and I told them to let my crew know that I was done and that I'm walking my way in to DNF.
As I got about a half mile from the aid station at Hanley Gap I see Todd and Amy Sproston (who just placed 11th at World 100k championships and who was supposed to pace me at mile 80) running toward me. They were great and are awesome friends. They were disappointed for me and concerned and helped me get situated. Jason Hill (another crew member of mine) got me some ice and advil and wrapped me up as Todd put me in the back of my hatchback. I was lucky to have them in my corner and to have my vehicle with everything right there. Rennaker cut my wrist band and Pine to Palm 100 was over for me. Then I blazed a big fatty with the rastafarian aid station workers below (joking!).
In all seriousness I think Pine to Palm 100 is a beautiful and legit course. Last year I heard some negativity regarding the race but I think it was largely due to the weather fluke. There were some amazing views this year on the top of these mountains and magnificent trails. Yes there were some dirt road sections but I feel that it's worth it to have these roads in order to enjoy a point-to-point mountain 100-miler. Obviously I will have to return to get my buckle and see the other half of the course. Thanks Hal-daddy, Carly, Hal's parents, Kelly, all the volunteers and medical help and ham radio operators. This is a race to put on the calendar...(but practice some long downhill running!).
Big congrats to Timothy Olson who shredded the course from start to finish and defended his title. Chris Downie who ran really strong again and Derek Shultz nabbed a podium finish in his first 100...well done man! Willie Mcbride finished strong and ran a solid race...also in his first 100. Shahid Ali nailed it under 24 hours...quite impressive my friend. Everyone else that finished or attempted it...bravo!
Time to move on, enjoy some down-time from running, & let the body heal. It's been a great season!