Pine to Palm 100
|September 19, 2014||Posted by Emily under Uncategorized|
Before I started Pine to Palm, I kept waiting for the panic to set in.
On the two and a half hour drive to Southern Oregon with Jason, as we talked last minute crew strategy and, more importantly, where we were going to carb up that night.
Once we got to the pre-race briefing and were surrounded by 200 nervous and compression-clad runners. “Were you also looking around thinking, ‘only half of these people will make it?’ and trying to pick them out?” Jason whispered as we walked away.
Over carbs, both liquid and solid, with Jason, Meredith and Joe as I realized in less than 12 hours I would ACTUALLY BE RUNNING 100 MILES.
Once we got back to our rented apartment, with piles of gear exploding all over the floor as we debated the best way to sort them. By aid station? Type of equipment? Level of necessity? SO MANY OPTIONS.
Before bed, while I flipped through the pages of the novel I was reading, trying to distract my mind from the kind-of-sort-of-daunting task ahead.
Once the alarm went off, at 3 the next morning, giving me time to shower, drink tea, and make my normal breakfast of spinach, cheese and eggs.
On the rushed drive to the start line after we left behind schedule. “Do you think driving two mph under the speed limit is going to get us there faster?” said someone other than me. I would NEVER say that to a friend generous enough to give up his weekend to support my first 100 miler.
On the mile march in total darkness to get my bib and line up with the other runners. “Is the start line this way? Oh, you don’t know either? Well, I hope you’re as excited as I am about getting lost before the gun even goes off. This will be a new PR for me!”
And certainly before our beloved RD told us to get moving and start running 100 miles.
But the panic never came.
It wasn’t that I stopped thinking 100 miles would be hard, or that I stopped worrying about braving the night by myself, or that I thought the mountains got any lower on my way to the start line.
I just never doubted that I would be able to finish. And I knew as long as I started putting one foot in front of the other, I’d get to Ashland eventually.
So when Hal told us to get going, that’s what I started to do. Right foot, left foot. And repeat.
Because there’s no need to wait for the fun to start, the course immediately starts to go uphill and it doesn’t stop going uphill for 10 miles.
One piece of advice that I heard over and over and over again before I started Pine to Palm: “don’t run anything in the beginning that you wouldn’t run after mile 50.”
Well, let me give you another piece of advice: you have no idea what the hell you’re going to run after mile 50 if you’ve never run that many miles before, especially when you throw some mountains in the way.
That being said, I had no idea what I was doing as soon as I started Pine to Palm. So I just tried to fake it. Running anything that seemed mildly runnable. Hiking anything that was steep. And chatting with anyone and everyone around me along the way.
We hit a ridgeline within the first hour of the race where we could see the red sun burning through the smoke of the uncontained nearby 100,00 acre forest fire. That was the first of many moments when the view took my breath away a little harder than the lack of oxygen.
Eventually we reached the summit and then had to start going down.
Please note my very intentional choice of the word “had” above. The top part of that descent was gnarly and in no way offered any relief from the taxing climb. It was steep, it was technical and the dirt was loose and anything but skid-proof.
After a few miles of stumbling through this, we finally reached an aid station (note that our first aid station of the race was probably 3-4 hours into the day. Which is about the length of time of a marathon. If that helps give you some perspective into the level of support we were dealing with (not QUALITY of support, just quantity. Quality was unreal. THANK YOU, VOLUNTEERS.))
The next section was really runnable. So that’s what I did. By myself, with new friends, and by myself again.
And then we hit our first crewable aid station at mile 28. Which was the first time I appreciated what a gianormous high my friends were going to give me every time I got to see them.
Seeing their faces and getting to spend a few minutes checking in with them gave me a WAY bigger boost than any of the food or drink at the aid stations could. They hooked me up with new bottles of Perpetuum, a bandana full of ice, and enough smiles to keep me smiling even though I knew what a bitch of a hill was waiting for me on the other side of the aid station.
As soon as you leave the Seattle Bar Aid Station, you start climbing again. The advertised distance of this climb is 5 miles, but even the race director will tell you it’s more like 7. (This RD has developed a reputation for the lack of accuracy in his mileage markers, which always seem to be short of the actual distance and never in favor of saving the runners’ legs a few minutes of running. Which is great. I wouldn’t have wanted to run a step under 100 miles. THANK YOU, HAL.)
It was on this steep and steamy trail up Stein Butte where I encountered my first lows.
Primarily because of the terrain. Is there a word that indicates severe steepness better than “steep”? Maybe “sections of trail that leave you pleading with the sky for an escalator to drop down, Hunger Games style”?
While not easy to climb, this portion of of the course did afford me the opportunity to master the art of glancing quickly over my shoulder to see if another participant was close enough to catch me mid-plea-with-sky. Short of one close call, I managed to keep my craziness a secret between me and the forest.
It’s also where I realized exposed ridgelines are the worst places to need a pit stop because there’s nowhere to hide your exposed bum. And then I went anyway.
At the top, I was greeted by a familiar face running the aid station, and let her help me find the sun lotion to slather all over my reddening skin before I kept moving through the peak heat of the day.
I knew the next section well since I’d run it during training. And I knew the descent ahead was nearly as gnarly as the first one so I cautiously picked my way down it as some adrenaline-fueled boys bombed past me.
At the bottom, I was greeted by my marvelous crew once again and got to leave my pack with them while we ran a quick, cool two mile loop around Squaw Lake.
And then it was off to descend along some gentle fire roads before hitting the 20 mile stretch of mostly climbing.
I had a little mid-race dance party as Meredith and Jason drove past me on the fire road, blaring T. Swift’s Shake it Off. I was feeling great. My legs were good. My stomach was good. I was good! And then, just like that, I wasn’t. BOOM. Wall. Bonk. Shit. Are you kidding me? We’re not even halfway through this thing and I’m F-ing bonking?
I hiked, real slow like, thinking about how to handle bonking at Mile 45 of a 100 mile run.
I’d heard rumors that you can pull yourself out of a bonk if you wait it out and eat something. But at that point I was too nauseous to even think about food. Plus it was fucking hot and we were high up. Factors that don’t exactly alleviate symptoms of dehydration. I knew I needed to get my heartrate down and cool off, but the only tools I had to do this were slowing my pace and drinking a lot of water. So that’s what I did. For the next five miles. And when I got to the aid station, I saw Jason, who had worriedly hiked a bit up the trail to wait for me.
As soon as I saw him, I smiled and said “it’s fine, I bonked a little. I just need to sit for a few minutes and eat some food. We’re all good!”
10 minutes, amazing support from my crew, one quesadilla with avocado, one grilled cheese, and some chicken soup later, I left the aid station running.
YOU REALLY CAN PULL YOURSELF OUT OF A BONK.
I was stunned, and thrilled, and proud of myself for slowing down and taking care of a problem instead of trying to push through it like an asshole and make it worse.
And I was rewarded for playing it smart with an absolutely spectacular few miles. The next section was one of my favorites. The climb was gentle and runnable and as we ascended, the sun was setting over the Siskiyous, with somewhere between 12 and a million beautiful colors burning through the smoky sky over the mountains.
Photo stolen from this runner.
Unfortunately, the sun ended up totally setting. Which was rude. And left me in the dark. Alone. With only the occasional reflective trail marking that looked eerily like the eyes of a predator to keep me company. Every stump was a bear waiting to turn me into a midnight snack. And every dark corner threatened to lurch me off course.
But word on the trail at the Squaw Peak Aid Station, was that I got to pick my pacer up at the next stop. And that kept me moving in a big way.
Until I got to the next station and didn’t see my pacer.
“Isn’t this where we pick up our pacers?” I asked the saintly woman who handed me chicken soup as soon as I ran in.
“No, that’s at the next one. It’s just five more miles…uphill.”
I started doing the mental math as to how long it would take to hike five more miles and almost let out a little whimper as I realized there was nothing “just” about five miles uphill.
So that was a sad moment in the race.
But there wasn’t really anything I could do about it but march on.
Fortunately, I now had a friend to keep me company.
Unfortunately, so did he. His mother fucking garmin. That kept us painfully aware of just how much further we had to go. As did the headlights of the cars headed to the next aid station WAY OFF in the distance. And the music from it. Equally WAY OFF in the distance. And all WAY uphill.
Basically, the universe was making sure we were mentally suffering as much as possible, in case the physical pain and fatigue wasn’t enough to bring us down 60+ miles into the race.
By the time that we finished the five miles of climbing, we learned we actually were not there and still had another two to go (uphill, natch), all I could do was laugh at myself for thinking I had a mere two hours to run before getting my pacer…four and a half hours ago.
After another eternity, I got to the top and immediately saw Jason (one of the benefits of having the tallest pacer in the field) and then spotted my friend Andrew who’d rushed down to join Jason and Meredith as soon as he was done with work. I collapsed into hugging him as I thanked him for coming down, not really thinking about the amount of sweat and dirt I was gifting to his clean body, and then I started eating as much salt and fat as I could shove in my face before Jason told me we should get moving.
The next section was beautiful, moonlit singletrack along the ridge. I was moving well and running almost all of it, fueled by the thrill of finally having Jason along for the ride. We chatted, we laughed, we enjoyed the happy, easier miles.
It would have been one of my favorite sections of the race, but Hal had to go and ruin a good thing with some more poorly marked mileage. Unfortunately for Jason, Hal was not around for me to chat with about the 2.5 bonus miles we were running in the middle of the night when I wanted nothing but an aid station, and so my kind and selfless pacer got some of the death stares and snark instead. Especially when he told me he could “hear it” an hour before we saw the thing.
(PS, sorry Jason, you’re the best. Also, JK, Hal, loved your race.)
I should probably pause here to acknowledge Jason for being the best pacer in the history of pacers. He said all of the right things at all of the right moments. And when he later admitted he was almost tempted to drop (because at 12 hours, it was his third longest run ever, very shortly after his own 100k), I can’t believe how positive and encouraging he managed to stay for me. THANK YOU, JASON.
We FINALLY hit the aid station, salted up, and kept moving. The next section was annoyingly runnable. Which meant we ran. And I was annoyed.
This is also when everything started to look like a striped reptile. Puddles, bushes, branches, more puddles. They were all rattlesnakes curled up and ready to leap at me. Which got me to jump and scream and startle Jason at least once.
Finally (have I used that word yet?), we reached the Mile 80 aid station, where we saw more familiar faces, and then hit the final climb and started to go up. Slower than slow.
One thing you quickly realize in 100 milers: every change is temporary relief. You’ve been running for a while? Holy shit, climbing feels amazing. Long climb? That downhill will sure be good to your legs. But the amount of relief you get from these switches in terrain becomes increasingly fleeting as the race progresses.
I looked forward to that final climb for every step of running from Mile 74 to Mile 80, but by the time we hit it, actually going up felt good for about .2 steps.
This was not helped by the state of my feet. Another thing you quickly realize in 100 milers is that any pain you are experiencing will go away and be replaced by a new one. But by the end of the race, that was not the case with my poor, tortured feet. They were blistered. On my toes, between my toes, on the bottom of my toes, on the top of my toes. Places that I didn’t think could possibly blister, were about to explode with blisters. And one of my ankle bones had hit the same, hard spot on my Hoka so many times that it felt like it was broken, and every step made it break a little harder. I felt just super.
Jason encouraged me to just find a rhythm. And I tried my hardest to do that. But, let me tell you, that was a hard thing to do. All I wanted to do was curl up on the side of the trail and go to sleep and make the upness stop, even if that striped puddle was about to bite me.
By that time in the race, my legs had climbed (and descended) almost 20,000 feet (which is equivalent to going down into the Grand Canyon, back up, back down and back up again. FYI). Not to mention run 30+ miles longer than ever before. My legs were just plain tired. And going up what felt like the steepest slopes I’d ever run in my life wasn’t making them feel any less fatigued. I never doubted that running 100 mountainous miles would be fucking hard, but I really had no way of comprehending just how hard it would be.
When Jason tried to make me run a flatter section, I don’t recall what my exact words in response were, but they were somewhere in the family of “fuck off.”
But eventually we made it to the top of Wagner, where we were rewarded with a steep, 30 foot pile of boulders that hovered precariously over a cliff. And we couldn’t get any closer to the finish until we climbed up them on hands and knees and fetched a flag at the summit.
So that was fun. In the “oh my god, I’m about to die. Literally.” kind of way. But Jason was great and coached me through every tentative hand hold and helped reassure me that my legs were still functioning enough to save me from death-by-cliff.
Once we started to move back down the rocky path with a flag in hand and all of the climbing behind us, you would think the finish line would seem really close, right? It’s all downhill from here or some kind of bullshit? Wrong. 15 miles is an eternity. Especially when every step you’re taking makes you want to cry. I tried my best to run down the singletrack on the other side of Wagner, but was thwarted by its steepness and my run quickly became a pathetic shuffle that carried me about a mile every 25 minutes. Downhill. We were cruising. At one point I asked Jason if I would be disqualified if I started to roll downhill. When he told this story later and said I was “half-serious,” I assured him that there was nothing half about my level of seriousness.
At mile 90, we hit a fireroad and I was able to actually run again. Although, by that stage in the race, I was running slower than my long-legged pacer was walking. Which could have been a morale killer. But I didn’t care how fast I was moving, I just wanted to feel good about the fact that I was pushing through more fatigue and pain than I once thought possible to keep “running” so I could finish “strong.”
Those final 10 miles were the longest 10 miles of my life. I now understand how people can actually drop that late in the race. The finish line felt like it just got farther and farther away, not closer. And I was frustrated that the pain kept trying harder and harder to break me. I was trying to stay positive, smile, and be in the best mood ever because I GOT to spend more than a day running 100 miles of trails, but really, all of my energy was going into not actually crying with every step. While I couldn’t manage much conversation at this point, Jason reminded me of everything that I went through to get to the start line. And that of all the 100s I could have picked for my first, I chose one of the hardest. Which was awesome.
And after an eternity, we saw that stupid finish line. And crossed it. 100 miles, 28 hours and 10 minutes, two sunrises and a sunset after starting that thing.
Until the next one.