Today was a good day…
It all started one early starry morning; having a race start at 5 in the morning makes you an early riser (3:30am…ouch)! I don’t know how much I slept that night, some pre-race nerves plus a flat air mattress for camping, left me with a short “power nap” we’ll call it, for race morning.
With the risk of being one of the many jumping on the bandwagon of Born to Run, I admit it, I eat chia seeds before long runs and races. You can’t fight facts; chia seeds have a lot going on (high in protein, calcium, omega 3). A spoon full of chia seeds and a dash of sugar washed down with a banana and a Cliff bar and I am raring to go. I feel with how many GU’s, Honey Stingers, and salt tabs I put down during a race, I like to start my morning with a nutritional base coat.
I’m still working on having everything ready for race morning. Today I forgot to double knot my shoes and have a light that actually works – I guess you live n’ learn. As the race started I was up with the lead pack, on our morning climb (1300ft) when both shoes came un-tied. I pulled over for a pit stop and while tying my shoes, realized I had not even turned on my headlamp. So I turned my lamp on, only to realize that the battery was dying and it wasn’t much brighter than no light at all. I could barely tie my shoes, let alone see where I was tripping. I had to drop back a little bit and roll with people with functional headlamps. Victor Ballesteros led the way as we dropped down onto Willamette’s single track I’ve heard so much about. As that memory faded into a stunning red sunrise glow, I was able to discard my headlamp and suffocating nuisance of a shirt…ah, let’s run!
I eventually found out that I hadn’t strayed too far from the lead pack. I hopped on in with Dan Olmstead, Erik Skaden, Lewis Taylor, and Scott Jaime. We all floated up the first climb to Mt Fuji (7100 ft). I was behind Scott for most of the climb and as we were getting near the top Dan called out, “Are we going to race to the top?” since the first person to the top wins a Patagonia backpack and jacket. It sounded like a pretty good deal to me and there was no reply from Scott and Dan, so I cruised ahead of them just before the top for the prize. We joked about it later, but I do have a nice backpack now.
Photo by Craig Thornley
With this being my first 100K run and no plans to pull into the lead this early, I don’t really know how it happened. But I felt good and I continued to ride it while descending down at a comfortable pace (mile 14.9). I just felt like running.
The race is weaved through one of Oregon’s well-maintained, soft, single-track maze of trails that reminded me a lot of being home in Ashland. I loved it. The ground was soft and forgiving, not too many roots to trip you up, but remote and wooded with plenty of shade and marked well so you never had to think much about which way to go.
Along the way the early starters, including local friends from Ashland, Ben Benjamin, Erin Keller, and Annie Crispino-Taylor, kept my energy high by cheering me on. As I came into Mt Ray aid station at mile 20.5, I was excited to see my crew (my wife, Krista). Then it hit me, “I’m in first. I’ve never been in first.” Which was quickly followed by “What am I doing in first?!” It was so great to see the look on my wife’s face. Her shock, but also complete confidence in me kept me wanting to push it. So I kept a-moving.
My left quad had been messing with me since Mt Fuji, but I figured it would die down or other things would eventually hurt more. Other things arose, but the pain like a knife digging into my quad stayed with me the whole day. And so it goes. First lesson in Ultras, problems will arise; how you deal with it is what makes or breaks you. If you can accept what is, deal with it the best you can in that moment, and keep moving, you can move mountains or at least run up them.
After a long stretch to The Twins at mile 27.1, I was ready for a nap, but then I saw an angel! Ok, the whole aid station had an angel theme, but boy did I need them. Funny in life how miracles or angels pop up right when you need them most. Thank God or Craig Thornley (co-race director), whoever put them there; they filled me up and blessed me on the way.
Seeing my wife at her last crew stop for the day at the Twins at mile 44.7 gave me a much-needed kick to keep moving forward. I felt strong and determined not to let anyone catch me. With a mountain in the near future I was ready to dig in and give one last surge to give me some breathing room for the last miles. Climbing up Maiden peak (7800 ft), our biggest climb of the day, I could definitely feel that I was not use to being that high. I’m sure some wild life was snickering as I was wheezing for any oxygen I could get my lungs to snatch.
Running past Maiden Peak, mile 55, I could feel every foot of the race’s total elevation gain of 11,000 ft and perhaps even more painfully, the drop of 11,000 ft in descent. I knew I had a 10 to 15 minute lead, so I wasn’t lollygagging, but I wasn’t pushing myself…until I took a wrong turn with only 3 or 4 miles to go. I was a little delirious and I didn’t stay on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I passed several people over the next couple minutes, all whom could not tell me if the ski lodge was that way!?!?
Continuing down the trail I came to a man on a horse far out into a field. I shouted the same question to him, which he replied he didn’t know either, but that he had a map, so I ran over to him. As we sat down to tea, ate some crumpets, and talked about how his family back home was, we perused his map (ok, not true, but the map part is!) and he finally pointed me in the general right direction.
This wrong turn set a fire under my shorts as I went blazing off the other way looking for any type of sign that I was going the right way. Nothing hurt anymore; I felt nothing but thirst for the finish. I ran the last few miles faster then any part of the race, and to my delight, I saw a pink ribbon up ahead with a sign pointing to the finish. I ran the last ¼ mile with the hugest smile in the world. My first 1st Place, prize money, an entry to Western States 100 mile next year and most of all, I went the right way!!!!!
I want to give a special thanks to Craig Thornley and Curt Ringstand who put on an amazing event. Everything rocked – beautiful spot, great after race food, nice warm bonfire. The trails were cleared and well marked (when you’re not delusional at the end). The aid stations had amazingly helpful and nice volunteers, who even at one point grabbed my water bottles 20 yards before the aid station and sprinted to get them filled up. And the coverage for people at home was the best I’ve ever seen for a race. Thank you all for putting on such an epic journey.