That's my nickname for the Pine to Palm 100 miler, Hal Koerner's race showcasing the arid Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon with over 20,000 feet of gain/loss. Pine to Palm did not go as planned and I was disappointed to pull the plug at mile 59. It was a day of long, exposed climbs with record high temps in an area I was unfamiliar with. I joined a few other VHTRC members for what would prove a daunting task to all.
When we started at 6:00 am from the staging area near Williams, the weather was cool and dry with some runners even wearing jackets; this made it all too easy to start out fast heading up Grayback Mountain. Bee stings only a couple hours in added unnecessary stress and discomfort. After the first major Aid Station at mile 28 came the hottest climb of the day where things started to deteriorate. Mentally I dropped at mile 42, but continued to death march to aid stations at miles 50 and 52 trying to rally. The only warm food available at this point was ramen noodles and hash browns. After trying somewhat successfully to resolve stomach, dehydration, and nausea issues (which included jumping in a lake), I was left with unrepairable muscle soreness from cramping throughout my body. After over an hour at the Hanley Gap AS where I debated dropping I decided to hobble forward in a true act of self-loathing. 7 Miles later at Squaw Gap I had nothing left to give, physically or emotionally, and the choice was clear to drop.
|The view off Grayback Mountain.|
Excuses aside, I am already realizing some mistakes I made in the race that provide valuable lessons learned. While the pace seemed comfortable at the time, in hindsight I disobeyed some of the tried and true strategies for 100 milers, namely to start slow and then slow down even more. I got caught up in a pack of fast guys, some attempting their first 100. I should have been running my own race and remembered that the race doesn't start until the 100 km mark. I would have been wise to pack more "real" food in my drop bags; orange slices and gels can only carry you so far. Eating extra early on here would be extremely valuable, since trying to get food down in the heat of the day can be daunting. Also important to remember is that muscle cramping is mostly the result of over exertion, not necessarily dehydration like was once thought. This helps remind me that while it would be easier to blame the hot weather entirely, a more conservative start may have helped me maintain my composure. Running point to point in an entirely new area presented a huge unknown. Bottom line is that I went out too hard and couldn't get it done.
Pine to Palm is a challenging race on a tough course run point to point with a 58% finish rate according to the live tracking site. The winner was Ryan Ghelfi of Ashland, in an unfathomable time of 18:28, 90 minutes ahead of 2nd place. These mountains reminded me more of the rugged landscape of Northern California than the lush forests typically associated with the Pacific Northwest. This amounted to long steep climbs, exposed ridge running, and eventual descents. While the ASs were adequate, they are of no comparison to the mobile buffets that VHTRC has a habit of featuring back east. The trails themselves were not very technical and I recall about half of it being on gravel roads (similar to MMTR). Perhaps the last third features more singletrack. All the turns were well marked, though a lack of confidence ribbons often had me questioning if I was headed in the correct direction.
|Dry, arid conditions that reminded me of California.|
I met plenty of other runners, some who finished strong and others that I commiserated with during our defeats. The majority were from out west but there were plenty of east coasters and, in particular, a strong contingent of Tennesseans. While the volunteers here were great, the biggest human element highlights of this race were the incredible generosity I experienced from spectators and other runners' crew members. At one point, a woman there to support her son jogged with me around Squaw Lake to try and help me clear my head. After, her son's friend helped facilitate me jumping into said lake to try and cool off. I met a gal from Nashville running who said her crew would be more than happy to feed me pizza, to which I stupidly declined. Much later, after I dropped I was transported to a remote crew parking lot by Dutchman Peak to wait outside in windy, 40 degree weather. A couple here who had been crewing for a friend that had already dropped were hanging out enjoying the party and offered me a spare sleeping bag to warm up in. Then 20 minutes later proceeded to drive me the 90 minutes required back to my hotel in Medford, which they said was on their way home.
The race could work as a weekend trip, or be built into a longer vacation with potential side trips to the Oregon Coast, Portland, or northern California. I opted to build in one extra day to side trip to the spectacular Crater Lake, about 2 very remote hours east from Ashland.
|Wizard Island in Crater Lake from the Watchman lookout tower.|
Pine to Palm was a humbling experience to say the least. My first DNF in a goal race really hurt, but I'm trying to remind myself that by staying conservative I should have a lifetime of finishes to look forward to. Knowing these lessons and the logistics of the area will do me well when I eventually return to finish what I started.
Full race information and maps are on the Pine to Palm website.