Pine to Palm Race Report:
6AM, Mile 0, mid 50’s, clear skies: Go! We began the 2016 edition of Pine to Palm 100 with a quick downhill which led to a left hand turn that signified the beginning of the 10.5 mile climb up to Greyback Mtn. The first two miles of the climb started out on pavement. With the guidance of a course marshal we dove onto the single track trail that would eventually lead to the summit. At this point there was enough space between the runners to run comfortably, without being in a conga line, through the Southern Oregon wilderness. Around mile 3 I was able to discard my headlamp due to ample light that had risen and I began to power-hike up the relentless grade. Half-way up the climb I had tucked in at the back of a group of 6 runners, which I remained with until the miniature rock outcrop-laden summit. The sun had risen by this point and the group of us took off down the backside leading to the first full aid station at O’brien Creek (mile 15). For the first mile or so of the descent I kept it conservative. After realizing the speed of the group was a little too slow for me to run efficiently I asked to pass everyone and picked up the pace, within reason, all of the way down the tight single track and into O’brien Creek.
Betsy feeding me Watermelon and salt, a trick that I learned at Westerns States Training Camp earlier in the year. Mike and Luke look on and take my splits. Luke created an amazing notebook of splits and time for the lead runners. Even David Laney was coming to Luke to check on his runner, Ryan Ghelfi.
After filling my bottles and stocking up on GU’s I eased back in to a comfortable pace, cautiously taking note of a few hot spots on my feet, especially in my toes. The next section was a 2-3% descent into mile 22, the Steamboat Ranch Aid station. Once again, after refueling, I eased back in but noticed that something was off. Further on down the flat and exposed dirt road into Seattle Bar I clipped a rock with my right foot, which immediately sent a sharp pain through my foot. I had popped my first set of blisters on the day. At mile 27, as the course took a righthand turn into a short section of single-track, I clipped another rock with my left foot and again felt the sensation of 2-3 blisters popping. While attempting to limit the panic, I met up with Josh and Mike with .5 mile to go to Seattle Bar, and told them to get the blister kit out. I was going to need a bit of aid-station surgery to repair my feet.
Once I arrived at Seattle Bar I met my crew, sat down, ate accordingly, and had them tape up my two big toes, just to help curb the problem and limit the damage. At the time I thought it might be enough to hold me over for a few hours…time would only tell.
The next section, the climb up to Stein Butte, is notorious for putting runners into a world of hurt due to its exposure to the sun and the dry, dusty single track. After 15+ miles of descending it can be a shock to the body to go into a tough and rugged ascent. The climb is advertised as 5 miles, but in reality you keep going up for around 8. The trail itself is awesome! Tight single track featuring endless switch-backs through rugged sagebrush. After reaching the open ridge around mile 3 one can look to the right to catch a comprehensive view of the southern Siskiyou Mountain Range. In training I had run the climb several times but on this day I knew I needed to get in more hiking than normal considering where the climb was on the course. Towards the top I ran into a Mountain Biker who was running down the trail without his bike. It seemed strange. After we passed each other he immediately turned around and began matching my stride back up the climb. After 5 seconds of this I asked the guy to please give me some space, he was kinda in my bubble, which I get protective of during runs. He obliged and I thanked him. Then he disappeared back down the mountain, again, without a bike. Wonder where he ended up?
Once I reached the Stein Butte Aid Station (mile 33) I could tell that my blister-ridden feet were in fact getting worse. It really became an issue as I began a few rolling miles toward the descent that would lead down to Squaw Lakes. On the technical and rocky downhill rollers I realized that I could not run with confidence and speed that I was used to on these types of sections. Normally I can fly down these sections, but not today. The uncomfortable feeling reached its worst once the course took a sharp left and proceeded down a quick, steep, and twisty trail that led into the next aid station. Not being able to attack these sections became extremely frustrating however I had to limit the anxiety because there were still tons of miles to go. I remained relatively calm as I approached Squaw Lakes .
At mile 41, after the steep technical downhill, runners made their way through the Squaw Lakes Aid station and around the 2 mile flat course of the lake itself. After the 2 mile section on flat terrain it seemed as if the blisters weren’t getting any worse. In my mind the damage had been done and I just needed to manage the pain while staying mindful of my stride. Another realization I had while going around the lake was that it had been hot for the last couple of hours, and I hadn’t even really noticed. The temps were reaching into the low 90’s at this point.
After circling the lake I met my crew at the Squaw Lakes outbound aid station to receive refueling and one of Betsy’s custom sewn ice bandanas to put around my neck. I had seen these work at Western States earlier in the year and indeed they worked here at Pine to Palm for it kept my body cool despite the soaring temperatures. From Squaw Lakes out-bound I got on a 2 mile downhill dirt road section that led to the beginning of the climb up to Kilgore Gulch and the Little Greyback Mtn. trailhead.
Once I turned right on the forest road up to Kilgore Gulch the climbing once again began to kick up. Again, in training, I had been able to run this ascent with relative ease, but today it was the smart move to get up the pitch with some fast power hiking. After a couple of miles I reached the righthand turn onto a beautiful single track trail that contours Little Greyback Mtn. This section, one of my favorites of the day, twists and turns, up and down, through the rugged and remote Siskiyou Forest. At each clearing one could look down into the canyon below, to the right, for a view of Squaw Lake, the lake I had run around not 2 hours earlier. The views on the trail were outstanding but were met with a dry and raw heat in the early afternoon sun. Temperatures were around the mid-90’s in the sun at this point. Luckily, the ice bandana that I had picked up earlier was still doing its job and helping to keep me cool. The only tough section for me through this part came after I had caught a rock with my right toe that proceeded to pop, what seemed like, every blister on my foot. The pain felt as though someone had inserted a half-dozen knives into each of my toes. After 5 minutes of stopping to catch breathe and composure I soldiered on to Mile 50 and the Hanley Gap Aid Station.
After a few minutes of running following the blister incident I settled back in to a good stride trying to let go of the pain I had just witnessed in myself. As I approached Hanley Gap my boy Josh met me to get an assessment as to how I was doing. I felt great at the halfway point, coming in at just over 10 hours. Mike’s comment to me was that I looked solid, despite the foot issues, I looked strong and composed, poised to keep trucking into the latter half of the race. After a brief 2 mile out and back up Squaw Peak to retrieve a flag, proof that I had made it to the top, I met back up with my crew team and got all squared away with a new ice bandana and fuel to attack the Dutchmen Peak Climb.
Coming out of the Hanley Gap Aid station the pain in my feet had once again subsided a bit and I was able to lock back in to a comfortable stride. The next 8-9 miles of rolling terrain on forest roads, into the Squaw Creek Gap Aid Station, felt very easy and manageable. There were a couple of sustained climbs on this section but neither were enough of an effort to write home about. Also on this section I settled with a group of 3 others runners. My introvert side took effect and I largely kept to myself behind them. However, once we took the right hand turn that signified the beginning of the climb to Dutchmen I picked it up a bit and began to run the ascent right out of the gate. 30 minutes into the climb while still on the forest roads I looked back and realized that I was gaining some good time on the guys that I had shared the last aid station with. Unfortunately, after having gained that time, nature began to call. After getting my business done the gap that I had created had but all been erased. No matter, there was still plenty of time.
After 6ish miles of dry and dusty forestroad climbs we veered left to make the final ascent up to Dutchmen Peak. When making the turn I could start to make out the booming noise of hip hop coming from the summit. It was a welcomed sound. After making the left hand turn onto a single lane jeep road the pitch began to increase. The next 3 mile section up to the top of Dutchmen was surreal. The sun was setting amidst a thin layer of smoke from a nearby forest fire, creating a reddish tint in the sky above. After climbing 3 separate tabletop inclines I finally made it to the top of Dutchmen Peak. The view was absolutely magnificent. At the aid station I found myself among the same 3 runners that I had started out with back at the last aid station at mile 60, Squaw Creek Gap. They seemed to be taking their time so I took it upon myself to hurry up and scurry back down a 2 mile stretch of jeep road to the Dutchmen Crew station ahead of them.
Moments before reaching the summit of Dutchmen Peak, mile 67
Back at the crew station at the base of Dutchmen Peak I arrived determined to keep the momentum going given that I had just moved up 3 places. My plan for the day was to run solo until mile 80 where I’d pick up my pacer Alinna. However, Mike, my coach of several years had his running gear on. He looked eager to join me. I obliged, picking Mike up as I carried on down NF Road 20. It was nice to have some company.
After a brief interlude for Mike, to run back to the car for some Advil for me, we turned right off of the NF Road 20 onto the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) for some rolling terrain. I hit cruise control rather easily while cherishing a new energy to the run. Mike is tremendous to run with. His energy is infectious and his presence certainly fired me up to keep the train rolling. After linking back up with the PCT we made a sharp right and continued down NF Road 20. With our headlamps on full brightness we started a long downhill to the next aid station. Mike was diligent in checking behind us to see where the 3 guys were, hoping they wouldn’t sneak up on us. After several minutes of cruising downhill a truck came up from behind us. As he passed us the driver mentioned that he hadn’t seen anyone else in a long time, we were putting distance on the runners behind us. I knew I was moving up the leaderboard. With a new sense of confidence we continued to cruise down the hill.
A few minutes after the truck passed us Mike and I started to have conversations that we might be off course. There was no reason that the driver hadn’t seen the other runners, even if they were 10-20 minutes behind us, which seemed unlikely. I was so sure we were still on course and the turn off for Big Red Mountain would just be around the corner. Unfortunately the turn never came. As the bottom of the hill approached Mike urged me to consider that we had gone off course. At this point if we had kept going it would have made for a VERY long night. After a brief 2 minute chat we decided that he would run ahead back up the hill to see if he could find the turnoff. Fortunately I wasn’t panicking much, to my surprise, so I turned around and started back up the hill as Mike ran ahead. All in all we think our sightseeing detour cost us around 45 minutes or so.
As I ran back up to find the correct turnoff my mind was relatively calm and my body felt great. I was running easily back up this hill. As I got to the top Mike was waiting and we found the correct turn off that led us around Big Red Mountain. Once back on trail I took advantage of this new-found energy and we ran swiftly up the trail. Once at the summit of Big Red, after a brief section of power hiking we began down the technical ascent to Long John Saddle Aid Station. It was at this point, mile 71 while descending Big Red, that the wheels started to fall off. Coming down the technical descent my feet started to light on fire. I could not negotiate the rocky trail like I am used to doing, given that I did not trust my feet to hold up. With every step over the 2 mile downhill I was forced to a shuffle to preserve my feet. I began to lose even more time on the field.
Once we arrived at the aid station I continued to be in a significant amount of pain with the blisters that I had developed some 50+ miles earlier in the day. Regardless, Mike and I both fueled up and kept moving back on to the PCT and on our way to Mile 80 and the Grouse Gap aid station. The next 6.5 miles of single track were tough as hell. Mike coached me through every single 20 foot section, trying to get me to run as much as possible. All of the sudden, as we reached the bottom of the hill heading up to Grouse gap we began to see headlamps behind us. It turned out to be the women’s leader and her pacer, notifying me that we had lost 5 places during our excursion just a few miles earlier. After they passed us we started the mean grind of the PCT that felt like a stair master from hell.
Once to the top we were greeted with cheers and jubilation at the Grouse Gap aid station, the last place where I’d see my crew before the finish line. When I got to the car I collapsed into my lawn chair. I was in a world of hurt physically, my feet were beyond destroyed from the blisters. Any further repairs to my feet seemed senseless, I was just going to have to bear the pain. We had had our chance at mile 28 to make it right. As Wendie fed me a thermos full of Ramen noodles, and the rest of the crew refueled my hydration pack, I focused on breathing just to ease the pain and get straight in my mind for the last push to Ashland. After a couple of minutes of reprieve I rose from the chair and started to walk with my pacer Alinna up the new section of P2P, the Split Rock Trail.
After 20 minutes of walking up to the Split Rock trailhead things began to get shaky again. The new trail was filled with rocky and technical terrain which made footing a bit tricky. To her credit Alinna talked me through each sketchy section, making sure that I was maintaining forward progress. For that section I didn’t do much running, my feet weren’t in a place to be comfortable given the terrain. Once we arrived at the Wagner Butte intersection, I tried my best to break back into a stride to the summit, the last uphill of the day. I tried and tried but could not bear the pounding that the act of running was doing to my feet. Once we reached the summit, a rocky outcropping that had to be scrambled up, I grabbed the pacifier, the token indicating that I had reached the top of Wagner, we turned around and began the 13+ mile descent into Ashland.
At this point my mind was beginning to get the best of me as well. Alinna was having to go above and beyond to keep me moving. Every mile or so the pain just became too unbearable to deal with, I was being forced to stop and fall to my hands on my knees and refocus. Each time, like clockwork, Alinna got me back in gear and we continued moving on. I had trained several hours on this section of the course over the summer so it was no surprise when we hit the twisty and steep downhill into the Road 2060 Aid Station at mile 90. I was moving as gingerly as possible. After refueling we continued the march home. This next section, in my plan, was to be able to run smoothly into Ashland. On this night it wasn’t going to happen. Over the next 10 miles I went to a place that I had never been before.
We started walking immediately after the aid station. My intentions were to run as much as possible of this section but my feet had other ideas. For the next several miles Alinna played witness to several miniature breakdowns with crying, yelling, and constant wishing that I was capable of running. What was so frustrating was that my legs felt fine and I had plenty of energy. It took what seemed like forever down a six-mile stretch of forest road to finally arrive at mile 96 and the Hitt Road water station. Once there, I took a 2 minute breather to regain my composure. I knew that the next 2 miles would be rife with technical terrain. I came to the conclusion that I need to suck it up and not let pain take over this race. Pain is temporary, completing a 100 mile race is forever.
So, I ran, as much as I could during the next 2 miles of steep and technical downhill. Once again, Alinna talked me through the entire section while making sure that I wasn’t in danger of clipping another rock with either of my feet. She was an absolute rock star with taking care of me. With the city lights of Ashland just ahead we hit the last two-mile section which was a paved residential road. It was straight downhill. With that, and the security of sure footing, I ran all of the way home. Upon hitting Granite Street and taking a left, to the finish line, the sensation that I was about to finish my first 100 began to take the place of the pain from the day.
The time of day was 4:58AM on Sunday morning. As I crossed the line it became clear to me that I had been on my feet for close to an entire day. I was intensely amazed with what had just occurred. With my entire crew team waiting for me past the finishers corral I dropped my hands to my knees and began to cry a bit. Hal came up to say congratulations but I had no awareness of the situation. After giving hugs to Betsy, Alinna, Wendie, Josh, Mike, and Luke I grabbed a chocolate milk and headed to the medical area to get my feet checked on.
Seconds after crossing the finish line at the 2016 Pine to Palm 100
After Alinna and I had left Grouse Gap several hours ago I became less aware of my overall time and place. That being said I had just finished my first 100 miler and ran an overall time of 22:58:00 putting me into 10th overall place.
Pine to Palm 2016 taught me several things. As much as I had heard from friends, who had run the distance before, I finally started to believe them as they said that anything can happen and that rough patches are going to take place, it’s just a matter of how you deal with them. I could sit here and dwell on the fact that I dealt with blisters for 80 miles or that I had gone off course, that I was the victim and that I had failed, blah blah blah. Thankfully, I was not going to let that happen.
The day I got sober, on February 11th of 2014, I started training to run this race. During that time I had gone through some very important transitions, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I put 2.5 years into running P2P and I am very respectful of that process. Looking back, not more than a week after crossing the finish line, I am the most proud person in the ultra-running world. I took on the challenge of doing something that most people cannot comprehend, running 100 miles, and I crushed it. Today as I put the finishing touches on this race report I am absolutely stunned with the fact that I finished my first hundred. Fortunately, now the fever has really kicked in, and I am planning to focus on the 100 distance for years to come. As I posted on Facebook, I believe that I have found my distance.
A huge thank you goes out to my crew: Mike, Luke, Wendie, Josh, and Alinna. You all played an immense role in seeing me to the finish line. And of course, Betsy, who played the unwavering and relentless role as crew chief. You’re the best 🙂
Check out my Strava file from the race: https://www.strava.com/activities/710270850
My crew: Betsy, Alinna, Mike, Luke, Wendie and Josh