I have documented my experience running the Pine To Palm 100 Mile Endurance run in two parts – one with stats and facts, and one as a narrative that allows me to grab the memories bouncing around in my head and pin them down while they’re still fresh, before they inevitably drift away on the currents of time: a dense, chewy story with feelings, ideas, observations, inspirations and lessons that will probably put more than a few people to sleep; a sleep aid (Bonus – without the groggy after-effect!). I also have a need to express myself with words, in hopes that one day my daughter will read about my adventures and better understand what this whole running thing means to me. And maybe there is something here for anyone interested at all in running long.
Before the race, I estimated 28 hours to finish. Not by way of calculating pace or effort or by experience of another hundred compared to this course profile, which offers a combined ascent of over 20,000 feet, but by intuition; this was my first hundred. I vowed to stick to a very calm 16 minute average pace during the first 15 miles and +/- 5000/5000 feet, which I think allowed me to finish in much better shape than I first estimated; my goal was to just finish. Nutrition was spot-on for the first 45 miles, despite some stomach issues – that I did not lose it around mile 48 was a real victory for me. I was able to keep the sugar and caffeine to a minimum, at least to mid-point, consuming only 2 gels in the first 20 miles, which allowed me to have more in the tank late in the race, relying, I think, more on fat. I planned to start caffeine at mile 80, and wound up dipping into that well at Hanley Gap, 50 miles. Obstacles, both mental and physical: Nausea, yellow jackets, a wrong turn after mile 66 where I opted for the 102 mile course, tendinitis, blisters and gear SNAFUs that distracted me, including a stretched-out HRM strap that sometimes stays put but which didn’t, and a watch that recorded nearly all my distance and gain/loss, but with a lost GPS at mile 56 that robbed me of recording my pace and reflecting more definitively on my finish after conquering the worst obstacle (mental): I really thought I had macerated and torn open my left foot by mile 94, until I instinctively made the decision to push past the potential damage and just run the last 2 miles into the finish, a completely unconscious act and mind blowing for me; I was able to deal with real pain on my own terms after letting it initially take control.
For whatever reason, I feel the heat and elevation did not bother me like I anticipated, which I attribute to luck; we do live at sea level, and in the fog a lot of the year. I know it was a little cooler than last year, and when you’re at elevation at P2P, it’s never for very long and manageable.
This race afforded me opportunities to learn lessons I can’t wait to apply in my next 100, and I am excited to even fantasize about that, considering issues surrounding my knee: 20 years of chronic pain that I just accepted as part of the bargain with life, including during the first 5 years of trail running that I enjoyed/endured…and how good it felt during and after this race.
A course change this year allowed 10 more miles single-track than in past years (10 fewer miles of fire road!), which may have made it a little more difficult, but also more enjoyable. The whole thing is spectacular and beautiful; I love this area and we will definitely go back to run Ashland again.
I recommend this race to every person who can hike through a really good challenge – or that special person who can run all or most of the course. Speaking for myself, this race is special, not only for the varied and difficult profile and the sheer, at times mind-blowing beauty of the Siskiyou’s, but also the low-key, soulful experience you are most likely to have when you take this thing on, from bib pick-up to awards ceremony two days after.
A highlight: sitting at the chill awards ceremony held at 4:00 PM on day 2 so EVERYONE who wants to attend can, where every racer recounted their most difficult and favorite sections of the course; you have to stay to tell your story to pick up your SWAG. This was attended by both Ryan Gelfi, the men’s winner at 18 hrs. and change, and course record holder Tim Olson who was there to support his wife and her father, a man in his sixties. They shared the mutual bond and commitment to start and finish this race together, or not at all; they did it in under 34 hours; beautiful. Others encountered a family of bears and other wonderful an strange events that can happen when you run and seemingly live a lifetime in one day. I can’t say enough about how RD Hal Koerner put it together, and what an amazing experience it was for me – and how Good the SWAG is.
The P2P100 was a one year goal made two when I sheared cartilage from my Femur on April 13, 2015. Prior, Rebekah and I had registered to run the race together, excited at the prospect of a 100 miler – my first, with over 20,000 feet of cumulative gain and altitude changes of nearly a mile – a more than worthy challenge yanked, possibly forever, out of my grasp that April day. The ensuing months would bring surgery and hope, but also major changes in the direction of my life and that of others, with lives turned upside down amidst emotional devastation.
I was lucky to find a gifted Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Christopher Layman, who was concerned for loss of my base should I elect to go under the knife or drill (I did both), which factored into how he approached the surgery. It is no exaggeration when I say I would again place my running life in his hands; I have so much gratitude for his skill. When I withdrew from the 2015 P2P100, RD Hal Koerner offered a roll-over to 2016, by then just an exercise in fantasy, yet still motivating – a carrot for that primal force within that moves us to do silly things such as run long. As months passed, I hiked and rehabbed, which became my respite from other turmoils, eventually watching with happiness, excitement and incredible respect over that September weekend as Rebekah took that ride and crossed the finish in Ashland. She kept the promise and accomplished the goal, and I was so, so proud of her. And then it was my turn.
Although the knee felt iffy at times, I ramped my training and cross-training. Everything I did was with the objective in mind. After a painful Miwok, where I feel I rushed my return to real distance, I ran Mor’s speed workouts whenever I could, ran tracks in Ohio and Connecticut on vacation. Alta Vista was my go-to for that quad burner of a climb, and I would occasionally do loops to hit it twice in a day, putting together 4 to 6 thousand feet of gain by hitting the mountain from 3 or 4 directions for satisfying wobbly fatigue; I really fell in love with Montara Mountain during this period. But the true long runs never materialized. Between taking my daughter on vacation and a work schedule bloated with commute, the final six weeks allowed a longest run of only 25.8 miles and a week with the most mileage of only 63. During the final week I had scheduled a last long run, my daughter broke her arm and we spent my only free afternoon at the hospital. Two years of expectation and planning created angst that dissipated only when I realized I could not change the situation through nagging self-doubt, and three days before the race I found peace: after everything, the injury, the turmoil, I would just run P2P and I would finish. There could be no other possibility.
Saturday, September 10
We sleep in until 3:30. It’s more than an hour to the start, and we make it by ten till gun time. In the buzz of excitement illuminated by beams of expectation, we collectively count down to one in a build of energy…and then we walk. My first hundred. No sprint, no crazed mass pushing out from the line, only my realization that average people such as myself will still be running and hiking this time tomorrow.
The fire road snakes up and away from roughly 2000 feet, before we step onto softer trail. It’s all up, and I vowed to take the first 15 ridiculously slow, acknowledging that the kid in me likes to go out fast; I lurk with the hikers. Not my pace, but I keep reminding myself to be disciplined. I will finish. As the sky lightens, the smoke warning becomes more than a forecast, and we comment intermittently as we climb. Hal senior greets us from the water-only first aid at Rock Creek. Top off and Upward. Conversation. Races in Georgia and Colorado and California entertain us. I talk with Betsy from D.C. and Kevin from Sacramento. I ask Betsy how she trained in a swamp for 20 thousand feet of climb. She tells me hill repeats on one little hill. Over and over. The thought of that terrifies me. Kevin had run Rio last year. Eventually, a few restless souls pass along the trail’s edge and, feeling like a caged animal, I leap-frog with them to a new group of hikers that move a little faster: “with respect, on your left, have a good run” I say, respecting the order and the determination we all brandish. Kevin follows. Thicker smoke prompts comment: California really IS burning. I snap a few pics of trees obscured by haze only yards away. My sinus does not like this. Finally the ceiling of smoke drops away beneath us, the sky bright and beautiful with depth above. We reach 7000 feet, and looking down at the smoke is like looking down on our coastal fog. The summit is spectacular. From a pine forest we begin to pick up speed across a sloping alpine meadow on sharp, clean single track toward more trees, looking down on the smoke that obscures the valley floor a mile below. It must be stunning here in winter.
Now I’m running, and I’m free. I laugh out loud. I am joyful. This is what I live for, after my daughter and family and the woman I love with every fiber of my being and her boys and even the mother of my daughter. Gratitude. Happiness. The trails are good, smooth, and they roll on the way back down the forested slopes. We talk less and breathe more. There is beauty in smoke, although it eventually again obscures all and fills our nostrils with carbon. Despite that, this is the best I have felt in weeks. I’m doing this, oh man, I’m finally doing this! After that insanely long climb, we’re descending at 7-8 plus pace and it feels like I’m moving too quickly, but gravity calls and I’m in love with everything now; how do you say no to your other true love? This side of the mountain is closer to California and we taste the smoke with every breath. Trees are obscured by the haze of…what am I breathing? Trees from California. Poison oak. Owls. This makes me sad and I mentally look away and continue my glide down the mountain.
A descent nearly as long as the way up. Things begin to fuzz. When I run long, my chemistry changes. My eyesight. My memory. I slip in and out of meditation or flow even as I focus on every strike to avoid the ever-present possibility of a twiswted ankle; everything’s fine till you turn an ankle, right? No one has passed me since half way up Greyback Mtn. This is a silly metric, as I am older and slower, but I am competitive with myself if nothing else, and I take satisfaction in that little notion. Kevin is trailing, followed by others. He eventually announces that we are on track to make it to O’brien Creek, mile 14.5, at 16 average pace. I finally look: 16:08. I bolt. There is no conscious thought here. Just run. It has been a long descent, and I can feel the first whisps of knee fatigue, which alarms me. But what did I expect being so under-trained? I’ve left everyone behind. I pass a woman who has more patience than I. I hit aid: cantaloupe, ruffles and water. I have been breaking one cap into my 20 oz since O’brien Creek, and simply note the bowl of sodium. No sugar but Mellon, and that one gel on the way up chasing a sandwich and nut butter. I feel good, and I take off for the heat of the day.
Miles of road. Fire road, forest service road, dirt road. Along a cool stream that radiates a chill that feels like someone left the refrigerator door open; It feels unbelievably good. All is green and cool and lush down here with the sound of a stream falling over itself trying to outrun me. An hour? Less? I leave the water behind and dust has coated everything now. Trees thin. It warms, and I realize I had shade for more hours than I had planned and I am grateful. I stick to a nine and ten minute pace and watch my average decrease to 14. There are stretches of flatter, straight dusty road that allow me to see other runners further up ahead – a woman that I sneak up on…a pair of guys messing with their gear. I slow to 10-11 as I near 13 average, because everyone is walking. I pass Little Bear Farm, an industrial marijuana grow behind ten foot walls of black plastic; it’s different in Oregon. Eventually, it feels like it has cracked 85 degrees and the only wind is my pace. A lot of walkers. I stick to 10-11 and just keep moving and slowly passing. Mahlin, from Sweden by way of Tennessee talks of walking breaks. I am resolved to keep running slowly and say goodbye. The heat doesn’t bother me for whatever reason, but when I come upon another farm with a huge open field irrigated by an industrial sprinkler that rotates 360• that barely catches the edge of the road just past the barbed wire, I stop and let it cycle around onto me 3 times. By the time I am off again, I have been drenched by cold water fresh from a well. How lucky is lucky? A q-mile up the road is next aid at 21.5. Watermelon and ruffles and I don’t dither. No one has caught me since the first ascent and I like it that way.
But. My memory now seems to decrease in a relationship that feels inversely proportional to each degree of temperature rise. It is hot, easily mid 90s and things are fuzzy…feelings more than memories. At some point I begin to get lower back pain that radiates and grows more and more intense on my left side. Great. A serious side stitch – I never get those. It gets worse and I try to focus on other things and stretch it out while running; I’m not stopping. Finally, it dissipates in a wave of relief and I have to pee: a kidney stone. Really? I catch a group of young guys walking and engage. Then I move past for a solitary few until one catches me. Jason, who works in a running store in Olympia, tells me he turned his ankle and says that if he keeps moving he’s fine. I look down and see Asics street shoes and really thin socks and comment: back in the day, I ran my first trail 25K in Asics street shoes; funny now. He declines my offer of wrap to put tension on it. We talk. It’s hot. I eventually move away as we leave road and enter trail. More interesting now. Up and down. Obstacles. Tree cover. Finally a decent descent again as i approach Seattle Bar at 28.5, and it’s downhill into aid and I’m smiling when I see Rebekah.
“You look great”. I feel good. She says it was blazing hot last year and she had filled her arm warmers with ice, which was heaven. I do that and the cold is so intense it sets off waves of nausea just after I slam an Ensure; oh no. I lean over feeling like I’m gonna lose everything. An aid worker checks in as I fight to calm the storm. A gin-gin later (so intense!), ice on my head, and I’m gone.
Rebekah had warned we about Stein Butte…but, really? All those tired jokes about false summits evaporate. It’s ridiculous and never ending and supposedly only 4300 feet at the top but it comes near the apex of the Sun’s travel for me and there is little tree cover at times and just feels relentless. Up, down a bit, up a lot, level out, whaaaat, up again? I play leap frog with a couple of people repeatedly and eventually pass them and it’s at what I think is the (latest) summit with an amazing view that I take off as I cry to the heavens in absolute delight. And then my expectations are just beaten with a rock to a bloody pulp. My training on Alta Vista has given me legs that (for now) out-hike everyone…but my knees both hurt right under the patella – they both ache and are stiffening. And mentally, things begin to get to me. I catch myself griping and it is, I think, now that I coin the term “butte head” and call Hal Koerner a butte head repeatedly and thank him for the opportunity to prove something to myself; this is why I’m here. More back pain, this time worse, and I drain my 20 oz trying to push things through and eventually it works and I have to pee again. Wow. And then my hand-helds are empty. It’s 90 plus and I’m dry.
Dizzy, slightly. My field of vision is narrow. I climb and descend and climb or it feels like that. I do fuzzy math and I don’t believe the advertised distance to aid and then there are young women sitting on logs in front of me. The tunnel shortens as my field of vision widens and aid is right there. A cross country team runs this station at mile 35, and someone asks if I want to be sprayed by chilled water and oh, why in the world do they even bother to ask? Cantaloupe here. I linger. This is perfect. I feel unstoppable as I depart. After, I catch a young guy named Matt and a man named Bill Thomas, 59, a resume of running achievement – ten or so times States, Leadville, Vermont….he says he’s running P2P to qualify for States again; that is what it takes these days even if you’ve seen the track at Placer High ten times. Matt and I are in awe. Bill is great and an encyclopedia of running lore. The damn road after aid still goes up, and then things fuzz-up again. I lose them somewhere, Matt catches me again, before I hike a little harder. Then haze.
I guess there’s finally a descent because suddenly I’m slowing my pace and entering Squaw Lakes. Why do I have no memory of anything before? There have been trees, a loss of time. Some guy with a tattoo of a 45 record on his calf with a split green Mohawk. I have no explanation for the haze – it just is. I stiffly jog into aid, Rebekah is there and I am so happy, smiling but a little disoriented. 41.5 before a loop around the lake for 43.5. She tells me I look great and that she got permission to run the lake with me after promising she wouldn’t pace later. So lucky, so reassuring. We talk. She says that last year when she made Seattle it was 98• and it was a war zone, tons of drops. I tell my nurse about passing the kidney stones and she is surprised. We have to walk at times. We come across a guy who is walking and repeating the words “no running between 11 and 7”, which prompts ‘Beck and I to glance at each other quizzically. Then he confesses he had run Cascade Crest the week before last; ouch: two hundreds in two weeks. It is tough getting around the lake, and I try to jog a few times, but I need to walk: I should be building energy, storing it for the next climb. At last I sit down for the first time today on the ice chest and it is both heaven and hell. Legs throb but it is wonderful. A Woman next to us has an elevated chair and she offers it and I am grateful but leery of stiffening up further. I slam an ensure and refill my belt and pack. By now I am done with the Bologna and the almond butter is wearing thin. The ensure sits reasonably well, but things begin to percolate.
Hiking. I don’t feel good. Determination rules and there is nothing on my mind but my stomach and my legs and one foot in front of the other. Quads. Knees. Stomach. Repeat. I keep coming back to a particular long run in the Headlands before surgery, a 43 miler before North Face, it’s lessons having resonated and evolved into my own rules: if you slow your HR and continue to fuel the engine, everything will straighten itself out. Except my stomach is in knots. No more ensure, I’m done – it’s a cow derivative, I drink goat, and it wont sit still in there. By now HR is in line with expectations because it’s just a hike and the knee isn’t talking back other than general inflammation radiating from both and I am able to summon enough energy to continue to out-hike every person I come across. I’m chasing someone and catch him and reflect again that no one has passed me, to my knowledge, since the initial ascent that morning – after the fast ones flew by, of course. It’s about 5 and everything should be good. But it is definitely not. One gin-gin, two gin-gins…they stick to my teeth and I feel like a dog gnashing its teeth eating peanut butter and there is temporary relief both times. But like the climb, the nausea is unending. The guy I just passed passes me. One Tums two Tums…I begin to contemplate just puking and getting it over with and wonder where I would get the Calories afterward: would that be the beginning of the end? I can’t imagine more sandwiches and almond butter, and gels are finally disgusting and aid seems too far away. I stop, close my eyes and breathe. By then the smoke is long gone, so it is crisp but still warm as the sun descends toward the horizon. Two guys come up behind me. One puts his hand on my shoulder. “you okay?” I share a little and he asks about sodium. Looking for answers, I thank him as they move past and I realize I haven’t done ANY since mile 35 or so when my parched lips warned me to slow that train down. I begin to look for a spot to lose my stomach. I look up into the darkening blue sky. 48.5 feels like the lowest. And then I remember the music. “You’re gonna want to listen to something when you leave Dutchman. It will be dark, and a low point and it will do you good”, Rebekah had told me. I trust her beyond all others, and even though I don’t run to music, preferring instead to hear bird song and the crunch of my foot strike, I had downloaded music by Anders Ilar, a Swedish electronic composer who does both dark, driving beats and deep ambient.
Riding Metal Mosquitoes is the track. It arrives on distant rolling thunder chased by icicles shattering in space…a sunrise in low earth orbit..an eventual dubwise baseline accompanied by rising and falling tempos and tones. Chills rise from my lower back to the top of my head bringing with them a rising energy that pulls a smile up my face. I lift my head toward the purple sky of approaching twilight…focus on the Ridge-line above, the depth and beauty of all around me suddenly so crystalline that I begin to cry as laughter blurts from my open mouth. I am so happy and so grateful to simply be here and now, with tears streaming down my cheeks and I completely forget about my stomach. Now I’m hiking with no legs and I am hungry and I have no idea where the energy has come from as I power forward to the rolling baseline. There are a few low-key runs along the rising and falling trail and 15 minutes later I crest a rise with an ear to ear grin as I cruise into Hanley Gap at mile 52.
As I approach aid in my new awesomeness, the guy who earlier suggested sodium says to me “good job turning that one around.” I thank him. He’s right, and I feel really satisfied about that. Next, I kind of hear “You’re going to follow that road to the top of that hill and grab a flag and bring it back down to the aid station”. It’s an aid worker telling me in very precise words what I need to do next. I stand still for a minute. He’s pointing up a side road. Go up and get the flag. Capture the flag; simple enough, I reason. I ditch my pack and one hand held and start up the steep road that switches back and forth for a painful mile before small bright green flags in a small bucket present themselves. I grab one and head back down. It is my precious cargo, and I irrationally fear losing it somewhere, and I clutch it tightly in my hand as I descend. When I get there I finally get to try Chicken noodle soup for the first time, my anchor through the rest of the race. As I get 3 or 4 cups in me, I suddenly focus on Bill Thomas, who is standing right there and says to the man who gave me instructions to retrieve the flag “you know, I think in done. I’m just not feeling it”. My heart sinks for him. I hang back for a minute before I get his attention and hold out my hand “Bill – good luck man”. Bill shakes my hand with an iron grip that surprises me. I get my things and go, in reflection. Soon I am hiking up and away toward Dutchman Peak.
The climb is just long. On the outset I estimate 3 hours; in the end it’s more like 4. Twilight fades to a sky filled with stars. It’s all up so I am not ambitious. Just finish. I engage with a young woman who is so excited and eager to share predictions. Like I did when I started running long. I confess that since “the knee”, I don’t predict much anymore – and take less for granted. She tells me of working with Anne Trason, who is really big on cross-training, yoga. I reflect on my time working with Terri Schneider; there are some truly amazing women who run trail…
Dust: Cars start to pass us as we climb. There are a couple of sections where I get a little run in, but I have no motivation to burn myself out on the way to 7400 feet. A bat nearly hits me in the face investigating my headlamp. An aid station on the climb offers more chicken noodle to go with my dust as crew cars ascend the mountain. At some point there is music drifting on the wind, and my spirits rise until I realize that the road continues past and below the sound, and it’s head-fake shenanigans tormenting people tired of the ascent to Dutchman. Hiking hard, I am making progress and turn left toward the lights and cut across the windy, cold ridge to sanctuary. I enter aid and say “thank you for the music and the light and the food…”..gratitude. And then I turn and see Rebekah standing there with that amazing smile! She is not supposed to be here! She said she’d see me at the finish when I left Squaw Lakes. OH, so HAPPY! I give her the biggest kiss with, probably, the muckiest mouth, and just hold her. I have made it to Dutchman Peak, mile 66. This is the farthest I have ever run.
New shorts. Soup. New Socks. Rebekah tends to a hot spot on my right foot with mole skin; my left foot feels okay. I’m losing body heat and have to move as I devour calories of all sorts in the gusty wind. I make myself wait until I know I am ready, and set off delighted that I feel like I now have some miles of good running in me; I take off all smiles and so in love with my crew. I day dream of her as I glide down the road and am so grateful and lucky. And then I realize at two miles down from the peak I have seen NO trail markers for over a mile. NO WAY! A passing car confirms I missed a right more than a mile back, and I am LIVID! How could I do that, fantasizing, not being present, dreaming! I look at the half moon approaching the horizon and note that I have maybe only an hour of natural light left. It is back up to the trail head, I am pissed, and I take off uphill running, well aware that I am just burning myself up. I don’t care. I see runners headlamps descending the valley below, and I have to catch them! Aaaauugghhhh!
In the darkness somewhere below I hear the sound of bells from animals grazing; the irregular jangle tells me they are foraging. The sound is soothing, my new constant, a new anchor. I breathe deeper and relax as I glide along, over and around stumps on the soft carpet of dust and leaves, around trees laying on their side…zig, zag. Clang, bong….
It must be around mile 70. A long descent. I come to a road and their is nothing in the darkness except a man without car or tent standing in the road and speaking to two women in a car. The women are frantic, manic: “WHERE is that fork in the road? We’ve been driving for three and a half hours trying to find our way out of here! There’s no GPS!”. The man looks to his left at me and points me in the right direction across the road with his headlamp before turning back toward the panicked women in the car. My left foot is bothering me.
Somewhere. It’s just upward at a continuous angle, or that is all I keep thinking. My headlamp pierces the darkness to reveal trees of uniform size that watch me as I make my way. I feel as if I am in a dark forest in Middle Earth, and a creature of unspeakable creepiness will suddenly peek it’s big head out sideways from behind a tree, something with giant bloodshot eyes disproportionate to its size, and a grin that conveys not happiness so much as ‘it’s time to eat’. I see a monstrous grin, as if it knows a joke and I am the punchline. I shake the dark visions and power forward. I do not like this part of my journey. And then it occurs to me that I haven’t seen a trail marker in a while. No, don’t go there. Forward….where are they, the confidence ribbons? Now, with conviction. But. Where are they? I move forward and doubt begins to both rain down upon me and ooze from my pores. I wail into the darkness. When did I miss the TURN? OMG, I did it AGAIN! I see myself being devoured in the Oregon wilderness, the only evidence my repaired femur and some Tums, and I have no idea where I am; “they will never find my body!” I endure a ten minute eternity of every doubt I have ever cultivated before a confidence ribbon reflects relief in 100 megawatt intensity. I laugh and yell at the top of my lungs all at once. Someone must have heard that….
Mile 71? I’m now favoring my left foot. We did my right foot up top and my left felt fine. I regret not taking care of both. I have a small, thin piece of moleskin, and I peel off my left shoe and sock to apply it. I am sitting at a trail intersection on a rock beneath a carved sign. Runners come by, with pacers. I ask, but no one carries anything more substantial than a band aid. They move past. I must make up time.
Mile 73.5. Aid. The chicken noodle soup is Luke warm, which kills my appetite. What do I eat now? I wait around until someone can find me a larger piece of mole skin. Kevin comes through and disappears into the darkness. Everyone else that stopped for aid has left and I am alone as I lope away favoring my left foot into the darkness.
In the narrow world view my head lamp affords me, I see great expanses of light grey dirt and stones punctuating what look like granite slabs in the high Sierra. Trees lurk at the boundary of these spaces. I am running to catch the guys and their pacers. Clean trail bordered by stones on either side, neatly placed. I am aggressive. I have slammed two caffeinated gels, two Vespa, some caffeinated beans…ignoring the increasingly loud pain signals emanating from my left forefoot just below my toes. I feel angry, happy, reckless. I suddenly slide to a stop, turn my light off and look up into space. There is no light pollution….
Down-slope. Careening. I’m stutter-stepping, favoring my left foot. I care about nearly nothing except the finish and know I’m drinking a little too deep from the well at this point; this is my only true clarity. Fine. Bring it. 6, 7 pace. I am high, and the only human being in the universe. Straight trail segments that jog and turn suddenly. Larger rocks, boulders; I think. I laugh to myself. I eventually see head lamps up ahead, and close. I am cackling to myself now, not hallucinating so much as feeling my chemistry, although I have by now mistaken the lights of Ashland below in the distance for aid and am briefly, seriously, disappointed when I realize it was just a hallucination. But. I. Am. Alive. I rapidly approach the trailing person, a woman who screams as fly up and announce my presence and intention to pass. It is Mahlin and the Tennessee crew, and they move aside, backs up against a rock wall as I fly past, and suddenly I am on the edge of the trail, dancing, arms flailing upward…teetering: I am on the edge of space, and this is Split Rock. “Hey, slow down man, we don’t wanna drag you out of the canyon” a guy yells. I catch my balance and accelerate into the darkness.
Mile 80. It’s light now, before sunrise. “Go up that road to the top, 5 miles, and get a pacifier out of the bucket. You’re going to bring it down to the mile 90 aid station; you’ll see the sign to turn left” the man says, again, very precisely, compensating for my having now been awake for 25 hours.
Wagner Butte. Oh man, this is too much. This is painful. It is a climb that, at mile 82 or so, puts all else to shame. I’m using my music now, but like a crutch of opiates your body builds a tolerance to, it does nothing for me. I comment at a guy with headphones who stares right through me, empty of emotion.
I can’t describe the trail other than…a goat trail at times. Always up. Softer dirt, sandy. Then rocks, logs. Trees and open slopes and views off to my left, up on my right. The sun of the second day bursts through the trees with star-burst red beams and I have to take a pic. Day two…
I am following a couple from Washington. We talk of solitude in the wilderness. They talk of moose, and I speak of the coyote and deer and the mountain lion I saw at dusk up on Montara with Rebekah after Miwok. We are all in love with what we do. The guy goes down, his trekking poles clattering beneath him as his knee cracks a rock – I hear the impact, know he is in pain. He just stands up and moves forward again. That’s it, go get it man….
Further. Kevin comes at me in a full bomb of the descent that waits for me, too. Time slows down as I move aside, and he flies past. Where did he get the energy?
Climbing, carefully. I have to pick up my knees a couple of times because there is nearly nothing left. This is…something else. And then I’m standing at the bottom of a huge pile of boulders. I look up at railing fifteen or more feet above me and realize this is the top, and now I have to climb up…there. At the top, the view is shockingly good, with Cascadian volcanoes outlined in the distance. I ask one of the Tennessee crew to take a pic of me with the pacifier in my right hand, arms outstretched, triumphant. But this is only mile 85.
Now I get it. All of the coke in my hand held that has allowed me to keep going to this point has built a reserve of energy (or so I imagine), that allows me to run all out despite severe fatigue, and it is all downhill from here. I fly, it is with ease, and I am happy in my house again, and my foot hurts and again it just doesn’t matter. I’m in love with everything. My moods and feelings are oscillating with increasing intensity and frequency as the miles pile up. Soaring, this is the best yet…
I approach the turn to mile 90, veer sharply left, and keep going. The trail steepens, transitioning to switchback, and I don’t slow. Soft dirt now, the powder of rotting logs and trail dust puffs into the air with every step. I am unstoppable…and then, I’m not. The tendinitis hits. My left foot, from my shin to mid foot, from favoring my obvious monster blister no doubt. I have to slow, and I do a little. I pass two guys who yell that my pace is unbelievable and I laugh uncontrollably.
I have to stop. The guys are long gone, far up slope, and I am afraid of damaging my tendons, never mind the huge area of blister that has emerged over the last 20 miles. I am exhausted. But I am not angry or happy or anything else. Just in pain. Pain is information, Terri once shared. I detach myself from it and keep moving. All just is.
A yellow jacket nails my right ankle. I kill it with a swat. Another. Ouch, I think. They are swarming. I bolt.
Aid, mile 90. So close. There is only cold grilled cheese and coke that I want and I don’t want grilled cheese. I limp away planning my acceleration to a slow jog: ” there, when you get to that tree” my inner voice says. I pass the tree and keep limping. I plan my next jumping-off point and pass it without changing my pace, which is the worlds fastest limp. My foot is screaming. Why didn’t I take care of my left foot at mile 66 as well? With each step I can feel the round swelling of a blister that is like no blister I have ever had. I walk. The two guys pass me. I walk. I jog for 50 feet – hooray! I walk. I now can’t block the pain, and look for my own trekking pole to take some of the weight off my foot. I limp. It is everything now, I let it become all; I am weak – not elated that this is only 9 miles to the finish and I have conquered 91 and two years have created an unstoppable desire to finish at any cost. No, I am disabled. I can’t walk. There is nothing else. The Tennessee crew approaches from behind and I am momentarily distracted. I try to pull my psyche out of the ditch and start to run with them and I get 30 or so feet under me and I can see myself running it in with them to the finish and the blister bursts. And I shriek in pain. My shoe fills with fluid. I look for blood and nothing is red but this is just the end of the world now. They all recoil in sympathetic pain, and I am beside myself. I ask for ibuprofen knowing that taking the drug now at mile 92 is risking kidney issues; I take two and compensate with extra water. They all leave me behind as they wish me luck.
Darkness. I have completely broken down. Two years of expectation and overcoming so many obstacles that I can’t count them all have lead up to this, the edge of the abyss. I am limping with my staff of a limb from a tree like a crippled old wizard, favoring my foot. I am going to finish (no, you’re not). Now the universe hands me another gold plated pile of a test: I hear a woman shriek in pain somewhere behind me. I can’t see her or who she is screaming to on the winding road behind, but I hear her voice:” OH MY GOD, MY FOOT IS BLEEDING!” No way. This cannot be happening. This is insidious, and now I am completely mentally crippled, shuffling at one half of one mile per hour or less and wondering how in the world I will ever walk normally again. I picture an open, macerated foot, bloody and raw and permanently disfigured; I’ve seen those pictures of racers’ feet that make you recoil in disgust. I do not remove my shoe and confirm my worst fears. I continue forward and stop the emotion. One step at a time.
A racer limps up to me. It is Evan, who looked through me like the un-dead with headphones on the way up to Wagner Butte. He has multiple blisters. We commiserate. I ask him if he saw a woman back behind us and he says he did, that she was sitting on the ground putting her shoes on with two guys when he limped past them. At least I am not completely crazy. Yet. Eventually he has to go. I wish him luck.
Mile 95. Water dispensers on a table. No people. I continue my limp to the finish.
Mile 97? A guy approaches me from the finish. He says “good job, you’re almost there”. No, I am not.
Mile 97? A guy approaches me from the finish and asks how I am. He is looking for someone and doesn’t care if I answer. I don’t answer.
A man I saw at packet pick-up approaches from the finish. He asks how I am and I just tell him that I ripped my foot open and I thought I could get it done in 28 hours and now I can’t even get 30. “Yes you can. You can totally get 30”. And everything changes, like that. After shuffling for nearly an hour, something clicks – or breaks. I run.
The road has led to trail, which has transitioned to a sloping, eroded bike path. It is wide and well traveled; I think there is a fence. I am flying. I am using everything and I am favoring my left foot by bending it so my strike lands on the outside edge of my left foot as I curl my toes to arch my foot so the open blister doesn’t take the force of each impact…which sends repeated shock-waves through my tendons. The trail is wide and changes up, obstacles, and it steepens. I see houses. I am on the edge of suburban sprawl. I am running at 7 pace and I am manic and I must finish, thinking I am within minutes of 30 hours. My brain is flooded with random thoughts of everything, flashes. I am flying. Trail turns to road, and it is steep. Houses on either side. Pain is gone. I had set my watch to 28 hour battery life before we left for Oregon, which means a ping only every 10 seconds, WHICH….means there is s lag in how my pace is recorded. I see my pace is slowing, somehow; OMG, REALLY? I am FLYING, there is NO WAY!.. A woman working the race stands at the bottom of the first steep stretch of pavement. I accelerate toward and past her and turn right; I am NOT running 8 pace, no way! I accelerate; 6-7 pace? Memory shifts. I repeatedly effort to outrun my watch, which is telling me 8:15, and I am slowing? No! I am fffflyyying….
No memory. I have run and hiked for a day and s quarter. I apparently wind my way through the last streets to Lithia park, designed by John McClaren, the man who designed Golden Gate park and who McClaren park in my old neighborhood was named after.
There is video Rebekah shot of me running with my wizard’s staff to the finish (WHAT the heck am I doing with that stick?) And I sit. Medical looks at my foot – there is no blood.
Two days later I start to talk about next year.
I KNOW I can get 27:30:…..