100-mile vets told me to expect the unexpected, yet I never dreamt I would be rained on for 15+ hours, but … As the day progressed the leak in the sky would not cork up. There were brief moments of relief, but basically I ran around like a soggy dog most of the day.
The 100-mile distance is everything people tell you about. It’s different than any other adventure you could ever embark on. It takes you to your highest highs and lowest lows. I had moments of invincibility followed by pain that humbled me to the point of wanting to drop to my knees. I just wanted to yell, “I surrender…stop the torture”. The torture finally stopped around 12:38am after 40,000+ total elevation gain and loss through the day. I arrived to the finish with a huge group of friends, family and my crew chief, my wife Krista. I wanted to see what 100’s were all about; I wondered what it felt like after mile 70… and I found out. There are not a lot of words to describe the roller coaster of emotions I voyaged through, in an adventure packed day running around in the woods.
I made my way down to the start of the race from my campsite just down the street. I arrived with less then 3 minutes to the start to take a few pictures and take my shirt off for what felt like a pretty humid start. I thought this meant warmth to come…I was mistaken.
Neil Olsen sprinted to the lead followed by JC Callens, putting a gap of 100 yards on us for the first few miles. I thought this to be a little fast for the start of a race so I held back. Lewis Taylor, Ben Hian and myself hung back getting to know each other and trying to relax as we had a long way to go.
Climbing felt really easy that morning and I fell into a good rhythm as we made our way to first aid station ready to enjoy the first taste of single track. It was already raining which unknown to us would be over our heads most of the day.
I might have been pushing the climb a little, but it was a little chilly and I thought there was no better way to stay warm than to run just a hair faster.
The first big climb (5000 ft) was over and I was flying on down to O’Brien Creek (mile 17). I was already soaked, but happy to be on a dry road again with a decent lead early in the race. With no strategy for the race, I was hoping to just get to mile 30 feeling good, but I also wanted to push it a little bit and maybe have a lead ready to push the climb to Squaw Lake.
Reaching Carberry Creek road I felt I was pushing a good pace, but not uncomfortable. I timed a mile split between two road markers and realized I was running around 7:20 pace, which was fast but I figured the guys behind me would be cruising down this stretch fast as well.
A couple miles before Seattle Bar aid (mile 31) the course took us on a couple mile single track, dipping into California and back out into Oregon. In my brief visit to California I was hoping for some sunny skies they brag so much about, but no luck. There was crappy weather in California too. My short trip through California went smoothly, no offense to California, but I took a much-appreciated dump on your now freshly fertilized soil. I did however notice y’all have soft maybe aloe coated leaves, I believe it was even 2-ply, and that sealed my still positive vibes with Cali as I skipped back into Oregon excited to see my crew for the first time.
I had excellent crew all day. Like always my beautiful wife was there to flash that smile and restock me on my way. This particular race I had two more to add even more help. With the addition of my father- and mother-in-law from Wisconsin, I had an unbeatable team at my side.
It seemed the easy part of the race was over and now it was time to put forth some work. Our next section up to Stein Butte was a heck of a climb (3000+) and I did not take it easy. Since I heard cheering just five or so minutes after I left Seattle Bar and the Applegate River, I pushed and grunted up this peak to hopefully give my self some breathing room.
Aid pit stop, Pic by Win Goodbody
Pushing up this section was about the only time of the day I was able to see the beauty Southern Oregon has to offer. Charcoal gray skies with streams of fog and mist weaved through the mountains, with both the mountain peaks and myself grasping for just a second of sunshine. This was my only section of ”sun” all day; I took it in, as I began to come with the face that I was going to be Eeyore all day with the clouds a following…oh bother.
I passed by some good friends up at Stein Butte Aid (mile 36) feeling in good spirits, but a little worked from the effort. The climb and pace eventually caught up with me and I had my first low point of the day. This was a hard section of roller coaster terrain that left me a little dizzy. However I knew help was on the way at the next aid station and if I continued to stay fueled and not get discouraged I would escape this funk.
Flying down the quad-jarring descent to Squaw Lake aid (mile 44), I was extremely excited to see my crew and enjoy a flat/soft 2-mile regroup around Squaw Lake. With a much-needed bowel movement (hence the sluggishness) I was able to compose myself and get ready for the second half of the race. By the way, it was still raining, and so it goes.
After some more climbing I reached aid at French Gulch Divide (mile 47), ready for some bushwhacking through the red-velvet pathway of poison oak (blessed to not have gotten any). This being a very run-able section to our next climb, I kept pushing.
Arriving to Hanley gap aid station (mile 53.5) I caught Renn and his crew a little off guard. I had to do an out-and-back up to Squaw peak to retrieve a flag from the top, giving them a moment to prepare for my trip back. Finally reaching the dirt road I felt like I was putting a good lead on my competition and was thrilled to reach the bottom and dry off with a towel, without seeing any other runners.
Hanley Gap Aid, Pic by Win Goodbody
The dirt road was a nice change from the brush on the single track that was constantly flooding my shoes. It was however straight up for the next 10 or so miles yet never too steep to justify too much walking. This was a section where all I could do was concentrate on my foot placement and breathing and try to stay as relaxed and in a rhythm of movement to keep my lead and to stay warm. It was now getting a little brisk as I traveled to higher ground.
With no one on my tail and reaching Squaw peak gap (mile 60) with at least a 40-minute lead I needed to dig deep to keep pushing myself. I visualized some elite runners ahead of me, gapping me and pulling away. Even if this was not the case I needed to give the animal inside some hunger for the brutal, bone-chilling climb to Dutchmen Peak. I believe this was a good mind set to have, because I only walked for maybe a brief minute during the whole climb. I wanted to see what was next.
Reaching Dutchmen Peak aid after 5000 ft of climbing was a mix of heaven and hell. I knew it was mile 66.6 and Rob Cain and his crew had some sort of hell theme going on. The stories I heard as a kid were of hell with flames and heat that any amount of s-caps could not fix; this was not the case. Hell as I know it, is a freezing, windy and wet misery. If it wasn’t for seeing my crew, pacer and all my friends cheering me on at the top I would not have had the smile I came in with. Hell briefly turned into heaven as I was pampered by my amazing crew who were ready for anything I needed (Thank you for the encouragement y’all, it was so needed).
Climbing Dutchmen Peak, Pic by Andy Atkinsons
Leaving the cold peak of frozen tundra with a shaky mind, chattering teeth, and achy knees, life did not quickly improve but I kept moving…slowly. The rain only got worse and even cheers from drunken four-wheeling campers only made the frown turn upside down for a few brief seconds.
My pacer and good friend Aaron Brian was my lifesaver. We talked my wandering mind out of some lows and God finally put a cork on the rain, which started to bring me around. My frozen knees where tired of the rocky down hill and ready to get to other terrain to warm my legs up. Things kept feeling better as we were slowly reaching the next aid station. At Dutchmen they told us 8 miles to the next aid, but after many turns without a station in sight and 11 miles later, we finally came to Glade creek (mile 78).
We left going uphill and I was ready for more action. This was a time when I was entering my happy/conscious state where all there is, is the moment I was in. I was inside the moment of one foot in front of the other and the pure love and joy that running brings. This amazing freedom I have, to go off in the woods and frolic for a day, is a blessing I do not take for granted. Even in extreme conditions, I just am. I am connected with this beautiful earth that feeds and nourishes my every need. I’m stripped of everything and all I can do is just be. Letting the synergy of my body and the earth take off into the bliss I call living. I’m alive and ready to explore what these next miles will bring…one step at a time.
I entered Wagner Gap (mile 83) in high spirits able to run hills in what felt like a great rhythm. I felt solid and strong, ready for another boost from my crew who were ready with a smorgasbord of fuel (honey stingers), natural energy drink and lights to bring this day to an end. I’ve been curious what it feels like to be at this point of the race and if I could still run. I was hungry and ready for the finish line; little did I know there was some harsh/grueling pain to come.
The climb of 4000ft to Wagner butte was a variety of emotions. I was climbing hard and fast, very excited that I could still put up a good pace this late in a race. Unfortunately after the hard climbing it turns to very tricky rocky single track through brush that soaked my feet to the extent that every step turned pretty painful. I tried to accept what was and deal with it the best I could. It was hellish cold again at the top of Wagner butte and the slow climb up the jagged rocks to retrieve the last flag broke me down me to my core. It made the trip worth it to see the glow of Ashland’s lights and to say howdy to fellow Ashland speedster Erik Skaggs lining the trees with glow sticks.
The steep slope of switchbacks down to road 2060 was the slowest I moved all day. My feet were miserable; every step felt like 10-grit sandpaper was scraping open another layer of skin…and so it is. I had emotions of frustration occur, thinking I could be running so much faster if my feet did not blow up like this. But then the rational thoughts entered; if it wasn’t this it would be something else. In an ultra you’re going to have troubles and if not this, it’s that. You just have to roll with the punches. I could have used a few less punches to the bottom of my feet though.
Reaching aid 2060 (mile 93), it was great to be so close and to see my friends, Carly, Karolina, and Doug frying up some hash browns and getting ready for their long crazy night.
I thought this section would go by smoother and that the grade was less steep, but the sandpaper gauging kept me on my toes. The pain was making me dizzy; a few times I felt very light headed and walked a little, but that hurt too, so I kept taking big deep breaths knowing this torture session would be over right when it was suppose to be.
You could see Ashland’s lights in the distance but having run this section many times before I knew Ashland was further than it looked and would not be in front of my next step for awhile.
We continued down at our snail pace, so close to the toilet paper finish line and a refreshing foot numbing gluten-free brewski that I have been dreaming for all day.
As the last painful sections dissolved into the night I made my way to the finish, filled with friends that have been sending out positive vibrations all day. Man, did it feel good to see their smiles (Thank you for coming out!). I crossed the finish line 1st place with a time of 18:38:50 and that’s my first 100-mile race folks!!! I had a lot of emotions at the end; mostly joy, a little pain, but no amount of pain can take away that I Finished my first 100-mile foot race!
Pine to Palm 100 recap video, Edited by Debbie Loomis, Videography by Bobie Loomis
Music By Michael Franti “Sometimes”