Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pine to Palm 100 Race Report

DNF stands for Did Not Finish.  I am not entirely sure where the phrase originated, but it has been accepted in the ultra-distance world as an acceptable phrase for those who, start but don't finish a race (there is also a DNS, Did Not Start, those who are registered but don't start the race).  You can receive a DNF for several reasons, you missed a mandatory time cutoff, you were involuntarily pulled from the race by medical staff (for your own safety), you voluntarily chose not to finish, or you finished the race but not within the overall course time limit.  I pulled myself from Pine to Pam 100 last year 76 miles in after 24.5 hours, this is the story of those hours.

The 5th annual Pine to Palm (P2P) 100 mile endurance run was scheduled for September 13th, 2014 beginning at 6 AM.  The race takes place in the mountains outside of Ashland, Oregon.  A generally looped course, runners begin with a gradual 4 mile climb up a paved road before embarking on a mix of single track and dirt forest roads for the next 96 miles to finish back in Ashland.  While southern Oregon weather is generally dry and warm, the first year of the race saw a torrential downpour for 30 hours.  Since then the race has been known for hot and dry weather, which is more typical for the region that time of year.

We camped at the race meeting area the night before, just a few miles from the race start.  Similar to my pre-race camping experiences at other races I got little sleep the night before.  Between race jitters and pitching our tent in a low spot resulting in a very cold night, I probably only slept a few hours.  We woke up race morning to reasonable temperatures and clear skies.  My crew drove me to the race start where I suited up and gathered at the start line with about 140 other willing participants.  For a moment I had to take a deep breath and realize just exactly what I was doing, attempting to run 100 miles!

My beautiful wife and wonderful crew captain. 
My Brunkle (brother-uncle) Jerry
Final gear prep minutes before race start.

At 6 AM sharp the race began and we were off!  This was it, 100 miles, an entire day plus some of running in the mountains, the pinnacle distance for ultrarunners.  The first 4 miles were uphill on a rough paved road.  Moving in the light of our headlamps I headed up the hill in what I assumed was the middle of the pack.  Even with a headlamp it was a struggle to not step into a pothole and roll my ankle.  The glow of the morning sun became ever more bright and around 7 AM I stopped to put my headlamp into my pack as we headed onto our first section of single track trail.

The runners thinned out enough at this point to not bottleneck at the trial head but was still close enough together to form a conga line heading up the first climb.  The first 10 miles of this race are a net uphill cresting at about 6,600 feet in elevation, a 4,500 foot gain from the start.  The elevation gain spread out over 10 miles, and it was early in the race so spirits of the runners was still high as we enjoyed the sunlight and beautiful views of the southern Oregon mountains.

Cresting the top of the climb was a really great moment, probably one of the better ones of the day. It not only meant that we got to head downhill but also that the group really started to thin out.  I started running on the downhill trail section feeling good but soon didn't feel very good, not terrible, but not great either.  About 5 miles later we left the single track and found a fully stocked aid station at the bottom.  Leaving he aid stations we started what would be many miles of dirt forest roads.  I grabbed a quick snack, refilled my pack with water and headed down the road.

The next 13 miles consisted of about 99% forest roads, less a few very short sections of trail.  The hours ticked by and the temperature rose.  At this point heat wasn't becoming issue, but with the rising temperatures came increased levels of smoke from nearby forest fires, enough where the the sun turned orange and the air smelled like smoke.

Right around noon, 6 hours into the day, I came around a corner, saw a bridge and then saw what was the Seattle Bar aid station at mile 28.  The first major aid station of the day and one of the few where I would see my crew.

Coming in to Seattle Bar at mile 28.  No filter, the sky was actually orange from the smoke. 

My crew patiently waiting as I arrived over 30 minutes behind schedule.

I was still feeling good coming into the aid station.  While I was not moving as fast as I wanted I was still doing well both mentally and physically.  My crew had water, food, and my gear ready.  I left the aid station shirtless with 2 handheld water bottles.  Knowing the next section was going to be hot I didn't want my pack limiting my bodies ability to cool.

The course headed up and away from the aid station in a serious of long switchbacks.  The first few miles were in the shade but soon we were exposed to the heat of the sun at midday.  While the smoke was blocking some of the direct sunlight, it was hot and I was starting to break down.  At times I would take 10-12 short steps and then take a few seconds to rest, either finding a nearby rock or log or simply placing my hands on my knees.  I was not alone in this struggle as the runners around me were all doing the same thing.  The combination of heat, smoke, and breathing in thinner air than I was used to was starting to takes it toll.

Luckily at the top of the hill there was a small aid station with water, food, and most importantly ice.  I sat down on a cooler while ice melted on my head and tried to take in as much water as I could.  After a few minutes I was feeling better so I filled up my bottles and headed down the road.  My stomach gave me issues for the next 15 minutes but once we hit the shade it was as if someone turned my switch back on and I started to feel good enough to run.  My stomach and mood improved so I kept running and moved quite well for the next several miles.

Somewhere around mile 40 I headed into Squaw Lakes, the 2nd aid station where I would again see my crew.  The mileage started to get confusing because the race director moved some aid stations and changed the course slightly form the inaugural year but didn't update any of the maps, so I wasn't quite sure at what mileage we were at.

Somewhere around mile 40 headed into the Squaw Lakes aid station.
Technically runners go through Squaw Lakes twice, once coming in then again departing after we ran 3 miles around the small Squaw Lake.  Most runners (at least those of us in the middle and back of the pack) covered these 3 miles with friends and family.  My wife and I headed out to cover the 3 miles and mostly walked, but I did manage to jog a bit.

I picked up my pack again since the next time I would see my crew it would be dark so I wanted my night gear, I also grabbed my ipod which in hindsight I should have had hours before hand.  Either way I geared up and headed out.

Using the aid station visit as motivation and enjoying my playlist I ran the next few miles out of the aid station until I entered a set of rolling hills.  About an hour later the course was back on single track and we ran around a beautiful hillside with views of the rolling terrain around Ashland.  I figured this was a good spot to take a quick break so I could put away my ipod and get out my headlamp.  After about 30 more minutes of running and a discussion with what I can only describe as a vegan, salt free hippie from Hawaii we entered the Squaw Peak aid station at mile 50.

By this point night had completely fallen but there was still a dark blue glow looking west.  Runners also hit this aid station twice, this time heading up the trail about a mile to the actual peak to retrieve a flag (proof you reached the summit) and then head right back down to the aid station.   I left my pack and headed up to the peak.  I wasn't feeling terrible at this point but wasn't feeling great either.  The uphill was not a major issue but I was simply not able to run down due to the jolting on my stomach.  The heat of the day left my filling slightly ill and very depleted since I was fairly dehydrated.

Once I got back to the aid station I tried to eat some food while listening to a British gentleman describing to the aid station captain that he was peeing blood and wanted to see a doctor, I figured that was my cue to keep moving.  At this point I was 50 miles and about 14 hours into the race, and this is also where the day really started to turn south.  For whatever reason I didn't run much of this section, and to this day I wonder why.  I know wasn't feeling good but I don't remember feeling all that bad either.  It was dark and I was tired with no other runners around me. .

The road was flat for the first few miles then entered into several more miles of gentle rolling hills.  Since it was dark I had no idea what the scenery looked like but I could tell there were trees on either side of the road.  I stopped every 10 minutes or so to sit down, I was physically exhausted but mentally still doing well.

It seems like it took me all night to reach the Squaw Gap aid station at mile 60, and getting there didn't do much to lift my spirits.  I arrived hungry and looking for "real" food but was met with cold soup and a slightly rude aid station worker.  I managed to find a chair and sat down and chatted with another runner for a few minutes.  Not wanting to linger too long and seeing the aid station was rather unexciting, I headed out and up the next big climb to the Dutchman Peak aid station, which was also the last course cutoff, I needed to reach that aid station by 2 AM.

I checked my watch, did some math, and figured out that I would be coming into the mile 68 aid station at the peak close to the 2 AM cutoff.  I told my crew I would be running at a 28 hour pace all day, which I was, but the cutoff was more like a 26 hour pace.  So while you had had 34 hours to complete the entire race, you had to cover the first 68 miles in just 26 hours.  This wasn't a slow pace but it was structured to where you really couldn't mess around and still make the final cut off.

Walking up the hill coming out of the Squaw gap aid station I could tell my feet had taken such a beating that the bottoms were starting to blister to the point where I was having trouble walking without pretty significant discomfort.  Trying not to get too frustrated with myself I kept moving, then my headlamp blinked twice, which meant the batteries were running low and my light was about to die.  Having no other light source and surrounded by pitch black night I looked behind me down the hill for another runner, nothing. I then looked up and saw a runner not too far in front of me.  I started walking quicker until I got within ear shot and asked her to provide light while I changed my battery.  After a quick change of batteries I thanked her and we kept moving.

Mentally this was the point I started heading down a hole that I would never really climb out of.  I was tired, my body was still struggling to cool down from the heat of the day with the night thus far offering no assistance, I was hungry, my feet hurt, and I was frustrated to not be feeling better.  Then I heard something, was it music?  It was definitely something.  I looked at my watch again and was still not sure if I would make the 2 AM cut off at the next aid station, either way all I could do was to keep moving.  The music got louder, I must be close.  Not feeling like running I walked briskly for several minutes only to hear the music fade.  This happened several more times.

Finally I came across a small section of trail that turned left and up a hill.  I could see a few people with headlamps standing at the top of the hill, always a good sign, even though it didn't look like the aid station.  "Jared?  Is that you?" I heard.  It was my wife Rebekah.  I was so far behind schedule at this point she was not only worried about me but had also been standing at the trail junction for hours seeing runner after runner pass but not her runner.  After a quick hug I asked her how far the aid station was, "just up this little hill" she responded.  I looked down at my watch, 1:52 AM, I had just minutes to cover an unknown distance to make the final cutoff.  I knew I couldn't live with myself if I didn't at least try and make it to the aid station, if anything to appease my ears of finally standing next to the speaker blasting music and giving me false hope for the last hour.

It turned out the aid station had a small generator and a large speaker that was literally pointed down the mountain and playing music at a rather unreasonable level.  But they also had food and a fire going.  I sat down at 1:58 AM, officially the last person to make the cutoff.  I told the aid station captain I was done and would be dropping out. I remember him looking at me after handing me a cup of soup and saying I looked way too good to drop.  My wife convinced me to keep moving since they had fresh gear the car for me and the next 8 miles were on the famed Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which we were planning on covering together with her as a my pacer.

I changed my shoes, put on a jacket, and headed out on the PCT with my wife.  I had covered 68 miles in 20 hours, leaving me 14 hours to cover the next 32 miles. Even if I walked and did just 3 miles per hour I would still finish under the 34 hour time limit, at this point that was all I could hope for.  We were on the trail for just a few minutes when we were met by the course sweep.  While I was officially still in the race this means I was literally dead last.  He told me that since I was still in the race I simply had 14 hours to finish and a sweep would be with me the entire way.

Sunrise on the PCT.

Several long, and painful hours later we reached the Long John Saddle aid station at mile 76 . My energetic uncle was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans ready to walk the next 24 miles with me to the finish, he expressed genuine disappointment when I told him I was dropping.  I had 9 1/2 hours to cover the last 24 miles.  If you do the math that is something like 2.5 miles per hour.  Doesn't sound too bad right?  Most people barely hike at that speed, much less cover hilly terrain after having already covered 76 miles.  My decision to drop was mine and I was happy to end my day.  I was officially a DNF.

While attempting to run 100 miles you go through a lot of emotions.  My day consisted of getting behind on my liquid intake and getting dehydrated, picking the wrong shoes which caused major blisters, and not having the mental discipline to run when I should have.  While I don't regret dropping I do wonder if I could have finished or not, and whether it was a mental or physical issue.  However, when I sit back and consider what I did, I can stand proud of what I accomplished, even though I didn't finish.

Despite the discomfort, frustration, emotions, sleepiness, blisters, dehydration, like all ultrarunners I have a short memory and am already scheming my attempt for redemption at Pine to Palm 100!

76 miles later, DNF but still smiling. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Prologue - 2014 Pine to Palm 100 race report

Before I go into my, quite late, race report for Pine to Palm 100 I need to take a few steps back and fill in a few gaps since my last report.

I was registered to run the North Face Endurance Challenge - Atlanta in September of 2013.  I was excited about this race as it was a large event outside of the Northwest and a 50 miler, a distance I have discovered I particularly enjoy.  However, it was the 2nd race ever I was registered for but did not start, ironically both for the same reason.

By January of 2014 I found myself in the middle of graduate school and moving to Spokane Washington after getting divorced in late 2013.  Finding myself single and looking forward to filling my time with running in a new state, I started looking at the race calendar for the area.  Still being interested in entering the Western States 100 lottery (something I did in 2013) and knowing that all 50 milers had been removed from the qualifying list, I looked for a 100k race that would serve as my qualifier and not require large amounts of travel.

After looking at the qualifier list I saw Waldo 100k in central Oregon.  I was somewhat familiar with this race and knew that for several years it was on the Montrail Ultra Cup, meaning the top 2 overall winners earn an automatic entry to Western States and therefore bypassing the lottery.  However, this also meant that the race filled up in just 45 minutes in 2013.  However, in 2014 Waldo was no longer on the Montrail Ultra Cup list, so I was hopeful registration would be easy and figured there would be a good chance I would get in.

I woke up early the day of registration and eagerly awaited the hour of opening. At 7 AM I grabbed my computer and attempted to login to where registration was taking place.  I learned an important lesson here, when attempting to register for an event that may fill up quickly, make sure you know your login username and password.  After nearly 45 frustrating minutes of resetting my login and hitting refresh since the site was jammed, I was finally able to register.  My elation quickly changed to confusion as I witnessed my registration literally disappear from Ultrasignup.  I then checked my credit card and saw the pending charge, so I hoped for the best.  30 minutes later the news came via email from one of the race directors that my registration had been reversed.  I had actually been registered for the event, but my registration was in process when the race limit was reached so it had to by reversed.  Myself and about 50 others.  I was assured that due to the error I would be given a guaranteed entry into the 2015 race.

Following what became known as the 2014 Waldo Registration SNAFU, I considered whether or not to attempt running a 100 miler.  I had heard about Pine to Palm 100 from a friend of mine, and even done some minor research on the event. But I didn't feel I was ready to run a 100 mile race, hence the reason I was pursuing a 100k.  Once I put some though into my race plans for a few weeks I decided to move ahead and register for Pine to Palm 100!