Moving to Ashland was a sweet idea! My wife and I are truly blessed to live in such a beautiful peaceful place with some of the finest people in the world. My Ashland family was on the top of their game this past weekend with endless smiles and support along the Pine to Palm 100 mile endurance run. Thank you Ashland!
I’ve been looking forward to racing this course again since last year’s inaugural monsoon of a race. Last year I was rained on for 18+ hours and stripped of all the amazing views Ashland has to offer. This year Pine to Palm had its redemption. The weather was ultra perfect. Temps were between 40 and 80 F with a whisper of a breeze to cool and push us along. The sunrise and sunset of radiant blood orange broke through the clouds to add some color as we journeyed from Williams, Oregon, dipped into California and explored further vistas back home to Ashland, Oregon.
Seconds before…Picture by Pete Beck
Start! Picture by Pete Beck
Running a race in your own back yard has perks… like when you forgot all your water bottles at home the night before, you can have some friends deliver some to you bright and early, seconds before a 6 am start. So with that hiccup out of the way, Yassine, myself and a gang of ultra studs and stud-ets braved the first 5000ft climb to get things rolling. I met Yassine a couple years ago and in our handful of moments together we always catch incredible views together. Mt Rainer, the Puget Sound, and a plethora of other mountains, valleys and sunrises are what we partake in as we chase each other around the West. We stuck together for the first few hours catching up and cruising along at a relatively safe pace for the start. The early hours were bliss while we swerved around some single track up to Little Greyback Mountain as the sunrise made the sky glow with fire.
With such a beautiful start to the race, I was excited to see what other views I missed last year. I flew down to the first aid (O’Brien Creek, mile 13.6), filled my water and was on my way. The next section is a few miles of dirt road, which I was ready to get out of the way and back to some single track around Applegate Lake. Those miles ticked by as I pushed the pace a touch hot, yelled at some snarly dogs to stop nipping at me, while Yassine was nipping at my lead.
Feeling a bit depleted coming into Seattle Bar (mile 26.4) I knew I was in for a rough patch. I’ve been working with my diet and energy burning the last month to try to figure out my stomach issues once and for all. I’ve basically taken grain carbs out of my diet and have been sticking to veggies, meat, nuts and fruit.
My food choices are as natural as possible, making fat my fuel as I run mountains. I do use carbs, but try to use them strategically to make my body as efficient as possible. I’m also supplementing with an incredible product called VESPA, an amino acid supplement that helps my body stabilizes energy, metabolize fat and optimize recovery. I’m still working on it and those first 5 hours of running I should have eaten a little more. I was on about 100 calories an hour and it came back to haunt me later. Rookie mistake, yet I look forward to completely dialing in my nutrition for running and daily living. One positive of the day was that using VESPA, my stomach was the best it’s ever felt, which I’m sure i wouldn’t mind getting used to!
The climb up to Stein Butte (mile 30.9) is where I began to feel a little more seriously deflated. I just could not climb very strong, and even though I was still moving, things were just not clicking like they should have. I figured this would pass and I needed to just keep pushing and ride it out. Seeing good friends at the top helped to bring on a smile and the views of Applegate Lake and the surrounding peaks made the suffering a little more manageable. It’s incredible up there and I’m definitely going to have to go on a run/hike with my wife for a picnic soon.
The day was heating up and I knew I wasn’t gapping the runners behind me like I wanted to. At least I had some down grade to pick up the pace and get me to Squaw Lake where my crew was ready to amp me up and for me to enjoy a couple mile loops around the shimmering lake of glass. Around the lake I tried to get my mind back in the game and also suck down some of First Endurance’s Ultragen, a protein drink with a bunch of calories in the hope of turning my energy levels around.
Still no luck, but I kept running, even though I just didn’t have that next gear. It felt like a nightmare when you’re being chased and everyone else is moving fast and you’re stuck in slow motion. My heart wanted to go, but there was nothing in the tank.
Picture Michael Lebowitz
The climb up to Squaw peak was difficult. The heat was on, my throat was dry with my water bottle empty, goo was disgusting and my mind was in a bad place. A dark place that did not want to move, and there was still 50+ miles to go.
Picture Michael Lebowitz
I did however stumble over to Hanley Gap aid (mile 49.5), which included an out n back up to Squaw peak. From above, Squaw Lake looked like a diamond etched into the land giving me a twinkle of hope, but still no pep in the legs. Rennagades aid station also cheered me up with their Rasta man vibrations and I was told I had at least a 25-minute lead on whoever was behind. I thought it was Yassine, but found out Downey was on my tail and having a good day.
The hardest climb up to Dutchmen Peak (7500ft) was approaching and I knew I needed to keep moving if I didn’t want to get caught. My sloth like movement was not what I had in mind, but I figured as long as I kept running and not walking up this big climb I would be doing ok. I was not in the brightest of moods and anytime I let my mind take over, all it said was to stop. Fortunately I don’t like listening to those voices and I chose to let the energy of the great outdoors drive me on instead.
When you’re stripped to such a raw point you can only really go one of two ways, to the ground (stopping) or to the sky (pushing on). At this particular moment of the race as I was making the last 1000 ft push to the top of Dutchmen, I reached my end. I didn’t know what else to do and nothing felt right. Later on thinking about it I was calling it just a little “soul burn,” meaning my spirit was tested but I stayed strong and learned from the experience. I like ultras for many reasons, chief of which may be the way they make me appreciate the challenge of battling your mind and turning the pain from anguish to a growing experience. I learn the most about myself when I am pushed out of my comfort zone and go internally as deep as I can go. It wasn’t pleasant, but I bounced back renewed, awakened and rejuvenated.
Despite my lack of desire for any sustenance, my wife stubbornly insisted that if I could even consider the idea of the taste of Ultragen, I needed to finish it off. I slammed down the Ultragen, walked a moment with Krista and for the first time in a race put on some music. I needed a divine moment and as the air cooled and the voice of god came down as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, I was back!
Dutchmen with Shasta in background. Picture Michael Lebowitz
Finally, I put on a big smile, sang some songs as loud as I could and ripped the downhill section in pure bliss. I had energy for the first time in many hours and damn did it feel good. It’s a hard 4500ft plummet to the bottom at Glade Creek (mile 73.7), but I knew I was getting closer. The sun was setting and the sky was changing colors just like it had 12+ hours earlier. It was beautiful but reminded me that I needed to make it to mile 80 to pick up my pacer Aaron and a headlamp.
I made it in the nick of time, just before dark, to Wagner Gap (mile 79.7) to pick up my good friend Aaron who helped pace me last year at my first 100. It was a hard battle through the cold last year and I could not believe Aaron came back to help again. It was a great “pick me up” to be running with someone after 10+hours alone. And it felt good to know Aaron was going to drag me on home for my 2nd 100 mile run of the Pine to Palm.
We were having a good time and in high spirits. There was a slight haze of red surrounding the mountings in the background. The night was upon us and the last few miles were right there. I had a tough middle section, but feeling this good at the end made up for it. We cruised some beautiful single track, running through neck high grassland, breathing the fresh cool air and running our hands through the grass as it flowed in the wind. We pushed hard, but made sure to keep living in the moment. Racing was not a thought in my mind, it was more about enjoying the last few hours of the day. Grateful to have experienced this journey and also smiling that it was coming to an end.
We weaved some switchbacks as we came across some friends camping by the out n back section to Wagner Butte (7000+ft, mile 85 and 89) after a 3000ft climb. We were able to say hello, sing Happy Birthday to Maya and were then booted out to make it back home. The stretch to Wagner Butte is some rocky single track. It’s a little hard lifting your legs after 85 miles, but makes it worth it when you get to the end and have to scramble 20+ ft up the rocky cliff to the Butte. I turned off my headlamp and just took in the moment. It was a silently peaceful night with the town’s glow below and the stars and moon lighting up the sky. It was perfect and I was so happy on top of the world at Wagner Butte.
Well as they say, it was all downhill from there so we decided to keep it rolling. The sounds of the night were in full bloom, the stars glowed bright, the body ached but the mind was solid. We cruised down some loamy single track as we reached more friends at Aid 2060 (mile 90). All we had in front of us were 10 miles and then it was time for a Gluten-Free beer! My pacer didn’t let me slouch, we were on our way, and it wasn’t going to be slow. My body twinged as I plotted down the road, trying to keep enjoying but desperately ready for it to all be done.
We hit the last few miles of technical/rocky trail down to Hit road. Taking in the moment and realizing that we accomplished it again. It was a long day, but worth every second. Entering Ashland bright with lights and seeing people waiting for me with the token t.p. finish line, it felt darn good to be home. I was more than content to be done running and ready to kick the feet up. All in all it was a wonderful experience for my 2nd trip of Ashland’s Pine to Palm 100 mile endurance run, 1st place in 17:19, and done.
Finish. Picture Michael Lebowitz
I keep learning more and more each race. I’m so excited to be dialing in my nutrition with the great products like First Endurance to help fuel and recover my body. VESPA was another positive factor for aiding in my body’s metabolism of fats and speeding up my body’s recovery. A couple days of rest and my body is back to feeling great and able to run; the body is amazing.
Also, I can’t say enough of how good the Pearl iZUMi Peak II’s are working for me. They are the perfect balance of light weight and the protection I need for a long journey of many miles. It’s nice to have a good pair of shoes I can trust and know that the feet won’t be too cranky at the end of the day.
All done! Picture Joanne
I couldn’t have asked for a better place to run a hundred. Hal, Kelly, Carly and all the amazing volunteers made this race flow just perfect. I’m so grateful to have had you all out there and supporting me along the way, thank you. A huge thank you to Joanne for helping crew and videotape throughout the day, it was awesome having you out there! Aaron, my bad-ass pacer the last 2 years, you’re definitely one of my favorite people to run with and I always know it will be a good time running around with you. And to my beautiful wife Krista who has everything so dialed in and knows exactly what I need to keep going. Just one look in your eyes and I’m ready to give all I got, thanks for your selflessness.