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I am a 45 year old long distance runner who is on a journey to regain the joy for running and life.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pine to Palms 100-- September 18-19, 2010

The big race for this year is now over and as usual it went nothing like I imagined and I learned things you can only learn by taking the journey.  It all started on early Saturday morning when the alarm went off at 3am sharp.  I immediately looked outside to see if the rain that was predicted for the entire weekend was here.  It was cloudy, but not raining.  Not bad.  I drank my coffee, got all my equipment ready, and was out the door by 4:30 to meet Russ in the parking lot of the hotel.  We arrived at the start about 5:10 and all was well.  It was quite warm and humid because of the clouds, but still no rain.  We started at 6am sharp.

The first 6 miles of the course was road and climbed about 1500 ft in the last 3 miles.  Kate, Russ, and I took it easy and chatted most of the way to the first aid station where the course turned into the woods onto nice singletrack trail.  At this point Russ and I got split up and about 2 miles later we lost contact.  Over the next 7 miles the course goes up another 3500 ft to over 6500 ft.  That was a tough climb, but I felt really good.  I managed to run a lot of the climb.  It started raining pretty good on the climb and didn't stop at all for many hours which I just decided to accept.  My right heel had been bothering me for the last month and was a little sore, but thankfully didn't get any worse the whole day.  I made it to the next aid station at mile 17 in about 4 hours 30 minutes, which was quite slow, but that was the plan.

The next 7 miles was still mostly singletrack trail and it descended about 1600 feet.  It was really wet at this point but the downhill felt good.  A couple of miles aprox. before the aid station  we turned onto a nice, mostly flat, gravel road.  Boy did that feel good.  I came into the aid station at mile 24 at aprox. 11:45 am, which was 5 hours and 45 minutes into the race.  To anyone who has not run steep uphills and downhills on trail, these times might seem slow.  It is hard to describe how much harder it is to run uphill on a trail than it is to run on a flat road.  I can run a 26 mile marathon in under 3 hours, which is about 6:45 per mile.  On some of these steep climbs I might only be able to manage a 18 or 20 minute mile.  Unbelievable, but true.

31 mile aid station
The next 7 miles were mostly on this road with only the last 2 miles or so on trail.  So I was able to run this 7 mile stretch in about 1 hour and 5 minutes.  There is a 5 mile stretch from mile 60 to 65 that took me over 2 hours.  So anyways, I made it to the aid station at mile 31 in about 7 hours flat.  This was the first time I got to see my crew which was very uplifting.  I had a "hot spot" on my left foot which Karen so beautifully patched up for me, I changed my socks and shoes, got fresh water, changed my shirt and jacket, and was off.  The stop was quite long, probably 15 minutes, but I think it was worth it.  I felt refreshed and dry leaving the aid station. Total elevation loss was about 300 feet, but it was rolling terrain.  

So I took off across an open field and onto a nice single track trail, but straight uphill again.  On the course profile this section is not the longest hill but it is probably the steepest.  It is a bear.  Oh, and speaking of bears, the runner right behind me saw a bear in this section and we saw many fresh bear droppings along this trail.  Kind of scary.  The next 4 miles saw an elevation gain of 2300 feet!  Let me say that again.  The next 4 miles saw an elevation gain of 2300 feet!  Beautiful, but hard.  To put this in perspective there is a major hill in the Boston Marathon called heartbreak hill has about an 88 foot elevation gain over about a half a mile and that is considered extreme. A nice little one mile drop from that point took me into the Stein butte aid station at mile 36 where it was still pouring down rain.  This aid station is very hard to get to by vehicle and it was awesome.  Those volunteers were great.  They had hot chicken soup and hot quesadillas.  I had some soup and some coke and was off into the pouring rain.  Still feeling pretty good.

Me at Squaw Lake
Boy was it pouring rain at this point.  Enough to really start to be annoying.  I felt like throwing some F bombs at mother nature but I realized that mother nature is not a person.  Maybe later in the race I may not be able to make that distinction, but at this point it was clear.  So it's about 7 miles to the next aid station at Squaw Lake. I was at about 4000 feet at this point.  This section of the course was around 7 miles and had a net elevation loss of 1000 feet.  But that doesn't mean it was easy.  The first 4 miles was rolling and went up to 5000 feet, which means I actually climbed more than 1000 feet to get there.  So after reaching this high point I plunged down a very muddy single track trail that dropped about 2000 feet in 3 miles.  That was extremely difficult to say the least. This section would have been very challenging in dry conditions because it was so steep.  Add mud and all I could do was laugh.  I had a thought while running this section that I bet very few humans on this earth could run this section at all.  Period.  Just to not fall down was a major achievement.  I managed to not fall once, although I did slip and slide.  And for anyone who thinks downhill is easy, it is actually really hard on your quad muscles.  Finally after about 30 minutes of this "fun" I saw a couple of people who told me it was only 1/4 mile to the aid station.  Coming into the aid station at Squaw Lake the road turns flat and that really felt good.  I came into this aid station at around 4:30 where I saw Terry, Daniel, Nick, and Ann.   I immediately sat down and changed shoes, socks, and got fresh water and gels.  I found out that Russ was doing well and was about 45 minutes behind me.  I took off around the lake and ran the 2 miles in about 20 minutes.  The flat sure felt good.  I zipped by my crew on the way out of the Lake aid station and was on my way.  It was still raining pretty good but I had dry shoes and was feeling pretty strong. 

So this next 5 mile stretch is on old dirt road and starts with a gradual downhill, which was nice.  I went down about 600 feet in 2 miles and then started a climb that didn't really end for 20 miles.  At the start of this climb I met a nice guy named Todd from Wyoming.  We power hiked this hill until we reached the aid station at mile 47.  There were some really nice volunteers here from the local cross country team.  I had some flat coke, which hit the spot.  Then Todd and I entered a single track trail where the sign read "Grayback Mountain."

It was still light here, at around 6:30pm.  I decided I would  run most of the flats in this section so I went ahead of Todd.  I also decided to get my headlamp out and put it on to be ready for the dark.  I felt pretty good through this section in part because it wasn't raining.  On a nice day on this course the views would be stunning.  So I made it to the aid station at Hanley Gap (squaw peak), mile 52, at somewhere around 7:30pm.  Then I started a 3/4 mile climb, so they said, up to the top of Squaw Peak at about 5000 feet.  I am sure this was not 3/4 of a mile.  I think it was about 1 1/2 miles up and 1 1/2 miles back.  Anyway, it was a climb of about 700 feet in that distance, which by any calculation is very steep.  I reached the top just before I really needed my headlamp, around 8:30pm.  The descent back down was very hard on the quads because of the steepness.  No switchbacks here.  By the time I made it back down it was dark and misty/foggy.  I headed off into the darkness, alone.

This whole section is on old dirt/gravel road.  I was really starting to feel very tired at this point and it was hard to run.  I did a lot of walking, especially on the steep climbs.  The road goes up 1000 feet in the first 2 miles and then is very rolling.  The thing that is so hard about these roads is that they are pretty darn steep while they roll.  So it is all hard.  I trudged my way into the 60 mile aid station at about 9:40pm and was happy to see Hal.  He greeted me and told me to keep moving and that I had plenty of time to make the 1 am cutoff.  When I saw him the first thing that came out of my mouth was something like, " what the hell are trying to do to us?  Kill us?  Could you make the course any harder?"  He laughed and told me I only live 4 hours away and I could have come down and trained on it.  I told him he was right.  Then I took off with some renewed spirit knowing I was doing ok.
Nick-  My Pacer

Ok.  This next section goes from 5000 feet to 7400 feet in about 5 miles.  And there is no forgiveness at all.  It is just straight up.  About 1 mile into this hill I knew I was feeling bad.  Everything started to hurt and walking fast was very difficult.  I knew I was moving slow, and this is the first time that I remember runners passing me.  I quickly started thinking I couldn't go on and I was definitely thinking negatively. About 3 miles into this 5 mile hill my crew, Daniel and Terry, passed me in the car.  They stopped and asked me how I was doing and I told them I didn't think I could go on.  They said just get to the next aid station, and they kept going.  Back in the dark I trudged ahead.  Finally I saw what looked like lights and it was the aid station.  When I got up to the aid station tent it was about 11:30.  It took me about 2 hours to go those 5 miles.  Wow.  When I got there I saw Hal again and he told me it was a good push to get up here.  I asked him how "you guys" run these things in 16 hours?  I don't know how they do it.  The winners of these races and the elite ultra racers are truly amazing athletes.  So, I got into the shelter of the aid station and I asked if I could sit down. I was pretty sure I couldn't continue.  The wind was howling and gusting and it was starting to rain again.  We were at 7400 feet and the next step was to run beyond the aid station for 3/4 mile to retrieve a flag at the top of Dutchman Peak.  I sat in the chair and drank some soup for about 10 minutes waiting to see my crew and Nick, my pacer.  But they had somehow not seen me enter the aid station and were still down the mountain about 1/4 mile waiting.  So I decided to go out and get the flag.  It was quite scary and it ended up being a bad decision.  I was wet and was only wearing a running hat, a short sleeve shirt and a shell and my shorts were wet as well.  It took me about 25 minutes to get the flag and when I got back I needed to sit down again.  I was hoping I would feel better, but the wind had chilled me and I was starting to shiver.  The awesome volunteers helped me sit down in the chair by the heater and I tried to warm up.  I kept thinking that Terry, Daniel, and Nick would be there any time, but I sat there for over an hour and they still weren't there.  Finally one of the volunteers found them and they appeared.  I had not warmed up and it was now past 1 am.  The aid station was about to close down and I had to make a decision.  The medical volunteers asked me one last time how I was feeling and I said I was cold and shaky.  They said they didn't like the way I looked and recommended I withdraw from the race.  I was more than happy to agree with them I asked them to cut my wrist.  Not really my wrist, just the wristband that all runners wear while they are in the race.  So they proceeded to cut my wristband off, which meant I was officially out of the race.  I didn't feel bad at all mentally at that point, just glad I didn't have to go back out into the wind and rain.  Well we did have to get back to the car which was 1/4 mile down the road.  Terry and Daniel helped me get there while I shivered and hobbled and moaned like a baby.  I got into the car and just cranked the heat and still was shivering for about another 20 minutes.  But, it was over.  No more running.

When I signed up for this race I knew it would be hard, but I surely didn't envision rain.  The difficulty of the climbs I could have never imagined as this was by far the hardest day of running I have ever experienced.  I have finished two other 100 mile races and neither one was as hard as this 67 mile run.  Now I have that experience to draw on in the future.  Oh and boy did I learn some valuable lessons.

31 mile aid station
As I write this last paragraph it is  6 weeks since the race and that time has given me a chance to really understand what happened.  When I arrived at the mile 65 aid station I was at a low point both physically and mentally just like my other 100 mile races.  I ended up finishing the other two races though, so what was the difference?  First, it was very cold and windy and I allowed myself to get cold.  I should never have attempted going out to the peak past the aid station until I got dry clothes on.  Secondly, the weather had a cumulative affect on my mental state.  I can truly say I have never been so low in a race.  Thirdly, the fact that I couldn't find my crew or pacer here was the dagger that sealed my fate.  If I would have seen them right away, got dry clothes on, got a mental lift from seeing them, I might have been able to continue.  But that brings me to the real lesson here.  I am responsible for my actions and mentally I was not strong enough.  I made the mental mistake of going out in the wind with wet clothes on and once hypothermia set in I was physically unable to continue.  It's just amazing how every single decision is vital to success when you are teetering on the edge.  This race was surely a mental and physical challenge like no other I have ever encountered.  The experience will surely make me stronger the next time I am in a similar situation.  Can't wait until the next one!!