Pine to Palm was supposed to be my first 100 mile race back in 2013. Things didn't quite work out and I ended up disappointingly not finishing. After the race I was pretty bummed, not only because it was a goal to finish, but also because of how epic, challenging, and beautiful the course was and I wasn't able to enjoy it. I knew in the back of my mind I had unfinished business in the Siskiyou's and I hoped I would get a chance to get back to the course one day.
Fast forward to this year, and after injuring my IT Band at San Diego 100 I knew I may be on the couch for a while. For the first two weeks post SD100 I was in a bit of denial that my IT Band was hurt as it would never bother me in my day to day work, but as soon as I would try to run the knee pain would flair up. Couple this with leaving my job at TOMS and Josie and I moving to the Bay Area (which we are loving!) and before I knew it the calendar had turned to July.
July- Time to Recover
I spent most of July focused on getting my IT Band right and after a month of Physical Therapy, strengthening exercises, stretching, and infinite foam rolling I started to see progress and the pain in my knee dissipated. It was a welcome relief to be back running by the end of the month and although I felt pretty out of shape from my six weeks on the couch I was itching to get back to my fitness prior to SD100.
As August rolled around I knew a second date with Angeles Crest 100 was out of the question for 2015. I felt like I had one more good race in me before I wanted to shut it down for the season and based on the last couple years I felt I should probably be looking for something in September as come October/November I move into hibernation mode and lose training motivation. This was when going back to Ashland and racing P2P popped into my head. On the one hand I was nervous and unsure whether I could return to 100 mile form in 5 weeks? But on the flip side I had some serious motivation to get back on that course and resolve some unfinished business. Fortunately for me P2P doesn't sell out, which surprises me as it is an awesome point to point 100 miler through beautiful mountains! I decided I would train hard through August and if my body was able to handle the training I would sign up at the end of the month.
Ironically in my first week back to "training" when I was trying to finish up a 50 mile week with an easy 8-10 miler in Marin. I met my good running friend Brian Fuerst, if you have ever run with Brian you know theres no such thing as an "easy" run. A couple miles into the run I mentioned to him my idea about getting back in shape for P2P, as he is always down for an adventure he generously volunteered to pace if I could get myself fit. When about 5 miles into our run he dropped me like a rock on only the second climb of the day, and I then proceeded to "bonk" and get seriously dizzy like I was 70 miles deep into a race. I have to laugh at the situation looking back at it, but at the time it didn't feel like a great way to start my training!
As August flew by I started lengthening my tempo runs during the week as well as putting together some great back to back long runs on the weekend. This was capped by a solid long weekend in Mammoth running with Brian and our buddy Keith who generously opened his condo for us to stay at. It was a great weekend at elevation highlighted by a 28 miler on the John Muir Trail & Pacific Crest Trail. I finally was feeling like I was coming back into form and with a couple hundred mile weeks to end the month felt confident enough to sign up for P2P.
Josie, Brian and I headed up to Ashland, Oregon the Thursday before the race. Ashland is an awesome town that happens to also be the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival! So we thought it would be fun to catch a show and Thursday night went to see The Count of Monte Cristo, the play was great, not to mention that it was in an outdoor theatre, and we may have been the only ones in attendance under 60;) On Friday we headed to Williams for the pre-race meeting and I started to get the feel buzz and excitement as the race day was almost here. My biggest concern going into P2P was the weather. It was unusually hot for Southern Oregon in September, with temperatures forecasted to be 100+ throughout Saturday. I knew the heat was going to slow me down a bit and resolved that I would carry extra water all day to compensate.
Start to Seattle Bar (Mile 0-28)
Race Director Hal got us started Saturday morning at 6:00 AM and knows how to start a 100 mile race. The first 10 miles of the course have over 4,000 ft. of gain and while the grade is never too steep, its an easy way to go out to hard for a 100 miles. I took the start conservatively and power hiked the majority of the climb, my legs felt great hiking and the nice part about hiking the first 10% of a race is it eases you into the day and you can enjoy the sunrise and cool temperatures.
The next 18 miles are all downhill, the second easiest way to blow a 100 miler, and I was determined to cruise to Seattle Bar. I kept my effort easy, but the downhill grade, easy terrain and cool weather had me rolling and before I knew it I was heading into Seattle Bar and seeing my crew for the first time, about 25 minutes ahead of my planned splits.
Seattle Bar to Squaw Lakes (Mile 28- 42)
My amazing girlfriend Josie George has become an absolute boss at crewing 100's. This is her third time helping me accomplish my running goals and I am convinced my improved times are correlated to her NASCAResque pit stops. Josie and Brian had a new pack filled with water and Gu's and had me in and out of the aid station in a couple minutes. As I recalled from 2013 this next 14 miles was some of the most difficult on the course, and where my race fell apart in '13.
I knew the climb of out Seattle Bar was steep, exposed, and with the quickly rising temperatures I had planned on taking extra water, a lot extra. As I settled into the climb I felt like I was carrying 5 gallons of water (about 1 liter in reality). I was a bit frustrated initially with how heavy my pack felt, as I was racing and felt silly carrying so much water for a seven mile section. About halfway through the climb though I realized, not only was this not silly, it was genius! The climb felt never ending and I would have easily overheated without the extra fluid. I rolled through the aid station at mile 35 and felt like I had made great work of one of the toughest climbs of the day.
Next it was seven miles of rolling hills and a steep drop into Squaw Lakes. I was excited to get to the lake, not only to see my crew, but also because I was starting to feel pretty good about my day.
Squaw Lakes to Dutchman Peak (Mile 42-67)
The day was definitely turning out to be as hot as I expected. After I made the obligatory 2 mile loop around the lake Josie and Brian went to work cooling me down and getting me refreshed. I knew it was going to a hot and tough 25 miles before I would see them again and wanted to take a couple of minutes to prepare.
With a fresh shirt and a ice-soaked bandana I started making my way to Hanley Gap, the midpoint of the course. This section was by far the hottest part of my day. I ran most of the fire road, but when the course turned back onto single-track and started to ascend I immediately started overheating. It felt like the air around me had started broiling and I quickly realized that as much as I wanted to run it was not a good idea to push here.
I expected to start getting passed, but as I power hiked my way up to Hanley I realized I was likely not the only person trying to just survive and not overheat during this section. This was pretty evident to me as I got to Hanley Gap and started going up the one mile out and back and saw all 1st-5th place guys just coming down from the peak and looking pretty worked and overheated themselves. It gave me confidence to see them all within 30 minutes of me and I felt like if I was a bit more patient I would be able to pick off a couple of guys when the weather started cooling down.
As I got out of Hanley Gap I had flashbacks to this point in the 2013 race. I remember feeling totally depleted, and pretty sure I wasn't going to make it to Ashland let alone Dutchman's Peak. The weather was starting to cool down and I was reeling off the miles, and was feeling that I had plenty left in my legs. It is an awesome feeling to go back to a race that you have had issues with and be able to have a good time there. This section specifically I just kept looking around and smiling thinking how much better I felt now and how much happier of a runner I am than I was a couple years ago here.
The five mile climb up to Dutchman was supposed to be one of the toughest parts of the day, but I was rolling and in the zone at this point. I actually passed a runner and even felt like I could have been running up the climb. But I was about 45 minutes ahead of my splits and knew that I still had plenty of tough miles ahead so I continued to power hike my way to Dutchman's Peak.
Dutchman's Peak to Wagner Butte (Mile 67 - 80)
As I got to the top of Dutchman I was greeted by an incredibly excited Josie and an eager to run Brian! Not to mention the awesome aid station that had tons of energy and some great music blasting. It was great to be up at the peak, especially as we were about to get treated to an epic sunset.
I took my longest aid stop here as this would be the last time I got to see Josie before the finish and wanted to get myself ready for some night time miles. When Brian and I took off I was amped and ready to push. Much to my surprise when I turned around I had Josie on my heels, while carrying all the gear they had hauled up two miles to the aid station! This next two miles was by far my favorite of the day. Josie, Brian and I were laughing, marveling at the sunset and the incredible setting we were in. Everything felt right in my world, and it was a feeling that is hard to explain and I won't forget anytime soon.
As Brian and I turned off for the single-track I was ready to get back to work and push myself to Ashland. As we were still about 30 minutes ahead of my splits I thought there may be a chance for a sub 20-hour race, which in this heat and the lower volume of training I had, I would have been pretty blown away with. We hopped onto the Pacific Crest Trail and before I knew it we caught another runner heading into the aid station.
I was amped to be running in 4th place with less than 30 miles to go and only one major climb I knew it was time to give the race everything I had. Brian and I were running the fire road and I felt strong heading into the last major climb.
Wagner Butte (Mile 80 - Finish)
Brian and I made quick work of the aid station again and started up the five mile climb to the high point of the race at 7300 ft. The vertical in this section wasn't actually as steep as I expected, but my energy had finally started to wain and I could feel myself slowing as we made our way up. About halfway up the climb Brian mentioned he could hear people behind us. This definitely lit a fire in me and I felt like if we could make it to the peak, retrieve the mandatory flag, and get back down to the mile 90 AS and the last 10 miles of fire road I could hold off the chaser.
As we scrambled up the last 100 ft. to the peak, I took a minute to enjoy the incredible view below that was Ashland. It was 11:53 PM, and we had 15 miles of downhill separating us and the finish. As I scrambled off the peak, I noticed the runner behind me starting up, turns out it was fellow Bay Area runner Jim Atkinson, who we had met with his pacer, Duncan, at the pre-race meeting. This was Jim's first hundred and I was impressed to see him pushing the pace and that he had almost caught us at this point.
The next five miles were some pretty technical single-track, which probably would have been fun if I wasn't 85+ miles into a hundred. My quads were starting to sing as I tried to push the downhill pace, but Jim was gaining on us and about a mile out of the AS they moved to pass us. It was a bit deflating to get passed this late in the race, but I felt like pushing any harder than I was this far into the race could result in pretty blown quads.
As we finally hit the fire road and the last aid station, signaling 10 miles of smooth downhill it hit me that I was going to finish! I thought about trying to push the pace for all of two minutes and then turned to Brian and let him know I just wanted to enjoy the last part of the course. So we "cruised" for 10 miles, although they were some of the less pretty and more difficult 10 minute miles I have ran.
About 1/2 a mile from the finish Josie was there to greet us and run me home. As we came through the finish I was so elated! It had been a pretty perfect day for me, and I was proud of my 20:28:08 and 5th place overall. With a course that nets more than 20,000 ft. of gain coupled with temperatures in the high 90's I was challenged from the first mile to the last. It was a great way to end the 2015 season, and I am looking forward to a few months of mellow running and what 2016 will bring.
One more thanks to my Crew and Pacer Josie and Brian, this race was not easy to crew/pace and I appreciated what you two did for me all day! Also thanks to Hal and his huge group of volunteers who put together a superb 100 mile race, you all were great!
Thanks for reading and the support,