(Pine to Palm 100)
“The key is to trust in your preparation. You have done all you can, so focus on that fact. You will remain the same person before, during, and after the race, so the result, however important will not define you. The journey is what matters.” Chrissie Wellington.
(P.C.: My sister, Samantha. At the Pre-race meeting with Ryan Ghelfi and David Laney)
4 AM. The day begins.
My alarm on my cell phone starts playing the theme to Billy Yang’s UTMB film. Ready? As I’ll ever be. I take time to warm up in the shower and just relax. I never do eat much for breakfast but after some digging around, I settled for a Stroopwafel, some red velvet cookies, and a gel. I then start assembling my pack and cleaning up. Everything is ready. I keep thinking “what am I forgetting?” A game I have been playing for months. Now here, driving to the start with my family, I am very relaxed. I really have no idea what will happen. I am hoping for a 24hr time but I try to keep myself distanced from that goal to keep that perception from controlling my race. I both fear the mountains in my way but also know that I can really have fun up there.
(P.C.: My sister, Samantha. My parents with me.)
Finding a break-through.
This will be my first 100 miler. It was in my mind for a few years before I even did an ultra. I would be doubling the distance with no buffer just like my first jump into to the ultra-world. And come to think of it, running in general. I went from a 6 miler right up to a Marathon. Ever since then, I have been running marathons. But while I was faster at shorter races, I kept getting slower marathon times on all but the last two. Finally, last year, I decided to run the SOB 50 miler. I really needed it as a good challenge to get me back in it. At the time I always ran fast at the start and pushed hard at the end even though my second half was always slower. That’s how I started running my first 50. About 20 miles into my poor pacing, hydration, and fueling plan, it caught up to me. I drug back up to Jackson Gap; puking twice. I was ready to quit but there was lots of time until I could get a ride back. With nothing to lose, I ran and was able to really run for about 5 miles. Then I drug even harder on the last climb to the finish. I felt like I was going to fall asleep at every tree I stopped at. That race taught me so much and it was the hardest race I have ever ran. But if I had to, I would do it all again. Lessons learned through all that suffering would see me making many break-throughs in my running to this day.
(P.C.: My sister, Samantha)
Edge of morning.
Having a headlamp helps in a lot of ways: less tripping, more speed, and an easier time in the Porta-Pottie. Just sayin’. Ryan and I took off ahead of the pack and I decided to hang to his left, lighting the way till we got to the pavement. As soon as we started uphill, I backed off and watched him climb effortlessly away. I started to walk and did some talking with some runners until we hit the trail. At this point, I was in 4th place, just running a good rhythm with the trail and making sure I was fueling as I went. I passed 3rd and found myself running/walking alone. The smoke wasn’t bad however it did cut the view at the top. I started to have a strong feeling that today was going to be a good day.
(P.C.: Paul Nelson Photography: Greyback Mountain)
Slower is faster.
After running the Bizz Johnson Marathon last October, I learned to slow down and run more relaxed to get the benefits of endurance training. I kept off speed work all together and slowly picked up my mileage. Then just before the Redding Turkey Trot, I cut my miles back and did a lot of specific workouts. I then set a pace I didn’t know was possible. When I started running the Frosty Fun Run series, I started to really explore how much I could push myself. I had decided when the series was over, I would go all in for the Silver State 50. This time, though, I was ready and really wanted to do my best. So, it was time to do what I been wanting to do for some time and get a coach. This was a big step for me and I’m glad I decided to reach out to Trails and Tarmac. They helped shape the way I ran and improved my weaknesses. I am very grateful for David Laney for making me into the Ultra Runner that I am today.
(P.C. : Paul Nelson Photography: Coming up to Squaw Peak.)
5 miles makes a friend.
Coming off the top of Greyback Mountain, I was now in my element: the fast smooth downhill through the trees. There were a few streams that I dipped my hat in to keep ahead on my cooling. The trail started to steepen and get technical. I tried not to brake too much and burn my quads so soon in the race. I was glad when I finally came to the O’Brien aid station. I filled my water and grabbed a lemon Gu. A few miles on the now fire roads, I was caught by Riccardo. We talked some and ran back and forth all the way to the Seattle Bar aid station. I hit my best case scenario pace. My crew got me through in a good time. After I was cooled down with a cold sponge shower, I took off. A few minutes later, I saw Riccardo at a switchback ahead. I didn’t give him chase. I knew that I needed to walk the early parts of the climb and refuel. The heat of the day was about to come.
(Kaci asking me, “This is only your 2nd 50?” My family and I together at the end of the Silver State 50.)
I was very prepared for this 50. I knew how the course was run successfully in the past. I was ready to deal with the heat and my nutrition was carefully planned. Then many unexpected things happened. The first was Nature on the drive over: we were greeted by snow (in May!). Then my pace: I was hoping for 9 hours but as I was climbing, I just couldn’t hold back and caught up with Kaci Lickteig. It was just amazing to spend a couple of miles chatting with her and Tim before they took off to the top. Eventually, when I made it to the bottom of that mountain, I also had a rough patch where I wanted to quit. Then, I eventually convinced myself I could run again. After about an hour of this, I found I could fly. I caught and passed five people including Tim, then pushed hard down toward the crew aid station. I saw Kaci again, coming up the trail with Andy Reed. My brother, Jacob, paced me the last 20 miles. We walked a good deal of the hill. Then we ran downhill to a 6th place finish. That was also very unexpected!
(P.C.: My Mom, Nancy. My family helping me out at Squaw Lakes/Leaving Squaw Lakes area.)
(P.C.: Paul Nelson Photography: Grabbing a flag at Squaw Peak)
Roll with it.
Halfway up the climb to Stein Butte, I felt strong again. Even though I was consuming a lot of electrolytes, I was riding the edge of cramping in my hamstrings. But, I still picked up the pace in the more runnable sections of the climb. I caught up to Riccardo just before we got to some downhills and I took off. I made it to the aid station and then I had to look twice. Second place was cooling off as I filled up my bottles! I asked the aid station captain how Ryan was doing and was shocked when he told me he was only 20 min. ahead. I really thought that he would be over an hour ahead of me at this point. I caught and passed the second place runner and took off on the downhill. When I arrived at Squaw Lakes, I saw Ryan coming the other way out of the aid station. I gave him a high five. Then reality sunk in: my crew were nowhere to be found. Second place came through right then, so I followed him around the lake. I realized that I was now over an hour ahead of my best case scenario pace. I started hoping that my crew would arrive before I had to leave. I took time to hop in the lake; taking my shoes off beforehand. After a couple of minutes, I walked up to the aid station, gave them my bottles, grabbed my drop bag, one of the aids grabbed me a chair and right then, my crew arrived. Aww, relief! I got my socks changed. Dad rubbed my legs down with Tiger Balm. Topped off my electrolytes and I was off. I wouldn’t get to see them till I got to Dutchman’s Peak. I started walking the uphill till my legs came around again. Riccardo had passed me while I was in the aid station and I was now running in 4th place or rather walking there.
As successful as Silver State was, my nutrition was adapted and I fell behind many times. If it weren’t for the aid stations having strawberries and coca cola, it could have gone a lot worse. After a few months to try a lot of new products, I was ready to race again. Siskiyou Outback 50k fit perfectly in the build-up and a lot of friends would be running. We all took off fast from the start and I was giving chase. I was doing much better at keeping fueled. I did throw out my Oreos that I had packed. I was pushing hard to catch 4th; I even had sight of him again at mile 14. I started up the last hill but I ran out of water. When I finally made it to the next aid station, I made the mistake of drinking too much and puked 4 times while walking it in. I now had a good feel for what hydration and fuel works for me. Ready for the final build-up for the Pine To Palm 100!
(P.C. : My sister, Samantha. Heading up to Dutchman’s Peak.)
Running to the dark side of the mountain.
Don’t get me wrong, I love sunshine. But, the climb to Hanley Gap in the heat made me a lover of the shady parts of the trail. My legs were getting tighter as I ascended. One runner passed me on the climb. It was here that I tried to think of the most inspiring things I could. That helped me from sinking low when walking was about all I could do in the heat.
I wasn’t the only one affected. I saw Ryan still in first place as I entered Hanley Gap. My reaction was “Woah, I did not expect to see you here.” He looked hot and a little tired. I packed my pack and headed up to Squaw Peak. Riccardo was coming down in second, he looked strong and was doing well. I grabbed the flag in 5th and took extra time to eat and top off my bottles before heading out. The next 6 miles descended some, and climbed a lot in the sun at first but became shady for most of it.
Still hot when I hit another aid station before the last 7 miles of uphill. I started to test my critical thinking by seeing how close I would be to my predicted time. Concluded after a while that I was still roughly an hour ahead. Two runners passed me on this climb because I was mostly walking to save my legs for later. Chris AKA T-Rex head passed me in one of the cars headed to Dutchman’s Peak.
You could hear the music coming from the top in the final miles of the climb. David greeted me at the top and talked with Chris while I took advantage of the buffet. They had strawberries; it’s all I wanted all day! We descended to the cars where dad had set up my aid station. By this point, my crew was working more efficiently than ever. We got my gear changed out for the night. Refilled my pack and had my legs rubbed down again. This was great for keeping me going. The sun was beginning to set as David and I took off.
(P.C.: Samantha. Coming down Dutchman’s with Laney, my grandpa, and getting aid from my Dad)
Normally, things start to get easier the closer to a race you get. But as life would have it, something big was thrown in my way. The house that my family had on the market for a long time, sold, and the escrow lined up with the day before the race. Crazy. I spent a lot of my shorter runs on the treadmill getting to bed after 10 pm regularly and getting up before 6 am. We found a rental in Redding for a temporary place until we could find a place up north. But the real trick was that it became available about a week out and we decided to close escrow early so we only had four days to move. We had a lot of stuff and a lot of heavy stuff. That left me with three days to try to rest and recover while still doing all the training I could.
So, going into the race, my legs were compromised and I knew it. I was also far from being as rested as I should have been. But, this was not at all discouraging. I was ready. I trusted my training, pacers, and crew. Despite what I was faced with, out there, I would just run smart. There never was a doubt before or during that I wouldn’t finish. I thought of it as a day in the mountains and who wouldn’t want to do that!
(P.C.: David Laney. Dutchman’s Aid Station and on the P.C.T.)
Running with, not into, the sunset.
I was now running on the Pacific Crest Trail with David and we were moving. The sunset was amazing on Red Rock Mt. Right there, the once second place runner, had stopped to rest. He would drop later. David was great! Having him there help me to stay focused. It was great to chat and express how I was feeling. David tried to assure me that I would make it under 24hrs. But, I was still running cautious, knowing I could have a long night ahead.
We arrived at Siskiyou Gap aid station where I got some broth and coke. We heard some actual cowbells on cows. How about that! A few miles before Grouse Gap, we came across a runner who was very visibly tired and out of it. David stopped and made sure he was ok before catching back up with me. I hope he finished.
Coming into the aid station, I started grazing when I heard the magic word “RAMEN”. I ate a couple of cups while my crew was taking care of me. I got out my windbreaker as it was getting cold. And I had to get moving because my legs were getting tight again. We took the time to get a final photo of David and James who would be taking over pacing for the final 20 miles.
(P.C.: Samantha. Grouse Gap: James Wang, Wyatt, and David Laney)
James and I ran and walked side by side till we got to the split rock trail. I took the lead at first but I was having some trouble navigating so he took over as navigator so that I knew where I was going. The terrain was rocky; rolled up and down, sometimes very steep. Even some called this the worst section of the course. It felt like real trail running and I enjoyed running it with James. We chatted any time there was enough oxygen to do so.
The last miles up to Wagner Butte was where I got very tired, stopped a few times for just a minute or to take a gel, then kept hiking to the top. I could barely keep my eyes open at times. When we got to the top, James texted my family to let them know where I was. I grabbed a pacifier in the bucket at the peak to prove I made it and then ate a gel, just looking around. I could see Ashland one way and the headlamps of runners way back on Red Mountain. This would be a great place to watch the sunrise. But I still had at least 13 miles to go before I wanted to see the sunlight again.
All downhill from here.
When we started running downhill, it was like a switch had flipped. I could focus and we started chatting as we went. I had not forgotten how much downhill there was previously. My quads did not let me forget. I tried to run fast to avoid braking and stressing them more but it was just too steep to control under fatigued legs. I was glad when we finally got to the aid station. I sat on the ice chest a moment while I ate a gel and let the burning stop. James had a hash brown while I filled up on the Gu drink they had. That was probably the only thing that I truly regret doing the whole day. From experience, this drink works ok at low-intensity running which was what I thought the final 10 miles to the finish would be. As we were about ready to leave, Rudy (Rutemiller) came in to aid station with Wyatt L., his pacer. After celebratory “high five for the Wyatts”, James and I took off into the dark. My legs were pretty beat from the downhill so we walked for about two minutes and then ran a mile.
In the middle of a minute walk break, I heard footsteps. I looked back and saw two headlights. “And speaking of behind,” I said. James looked back and after he did, I said “we’re moving” and with that, we took off. I was not going to slow down. I figured I had a chance, they had been through the same things I had. Important to note: my watch had died a ways back so I had no idea how fast I was running. Every five minutes, when we did not lose them, I picked up the pace again and again. One time I looked back and I thought I saw four headlamps. After talking with James there, I decided I could just be seeing double. I would have been able to keep the effort up to the finish but as soon as the trail steepened, my legs had enough. I let all four pass me as I slowed to a walk.
(P.C.: Paul Nelson Photography. Walking into the Finish.)
Just 5 more.
I might have been able to catch them again but I had no idea what would happen and collapsing at the finish line was not how I wanted my parents to see me finish my first 100 miler. Looking back and weighing it all now, I should have just gone for it. Once I slowed, the damage was done. My stomach rebelled, my legs tightened and I became tired. The next 5 miles, it was tough to take the hill as it was too steep to give my quads a break. One step after another, puking and then walking some more. About two miles to go, my stomach had it again. I saw a rock that would make getting up less difficult, so I sat there and puked once more. Just afterward, Kaytlyn and Chris ran past. I was so tired that I don’t know if I said something or not.
After they left, I said, “somethings got to change.” I dumped what was left of the Gu drink on the ground and James poured water over me. Not that I was warm, but I needed to wake up.
I stood up and literally walked 5 feet before I knelt down again. Stomach felt bad; I could barely focus. My head dropped to the ground, I was exhausted. At that point I asked James how close we were to missing 24 hours. When he told me that I would be fine, I tried to be clearer. “How many hours do we have till we miss getting under 24 hours.” I really needed to know that. When he told me we had two, I did a quick calculation. Right or wrong, I decided that if I was to make it, I need to keep moving in order to make it. When I got up, I was able to focus again. I kept moving slowly but surely toward the finish.
(P.C. : Paul Nelson Photography. Hal and me.)
I’m going to sprint, oh jog, walk, slow walk to the finish.
When we finally reached the pavement, I was relieved. Almost there. My quads and right hip were so destroyed at this point that I decided to walk backwards down the street. I could simply move faster that way. My dad was two streets up from the finish and helped me navigate as I walked down. I turned onto the last hill and wanted to go faster when I saw the finish but that wasn’t possible. Hal handed me some finish swag but he didn’t want the pacifier I had hauled down the mountain for him! I sat down inside for a while and started to shut down just sitting there. Chris tried to offer me a cookie but I wasn’t ready yet. We soon took off to the hotel; I could barely walk. I took the time to wash in some hot water and get a little protein in me before I fell asleep.
(P.C. : Paul Nelson Photography. My sister, Samantha, and me at the finish.)
(P.C. : Samantha. After the awards with David and Ryan.)
I saw Ryan and David at the awards. Ryan looked a lot better than when I saw him 50 miles ago. We hung out for a bit. Come to find out, Ryan rallied in the last 50k to an amazing finish. I also got to see the last five people finish crossing the line. If you want inspiration, here’s where you find it.
All the people I met and ran with, all the mountains I climbed, all those moments I had, surely made for a day like no other. I couldn’t ask for a better day, even though there are some things I might do differently now. I really am happy with how I did and I can’t thank my family, my coach, for my pacers and my friends on the trail enough for all you did to make a 22 hr 49 min race possible. If you asked me now, “Would I run P2P again?” I’d say “Yes, in a year or two.” I first want to try a 100k. I will return to the 100-mile challenge again, very soon.
COME BACK STRONGER.