|Smiling on the trail. The beauty of the Siskiyous.|
I had done my homework. I knew this was a tough course with some technical sections and some long climbs. Out of 160 people registered only 120 were on the starting line at Pine To Palm 100 miler on September 14, 2013. So 40 people dropped even before getting to the starting line. According to realendurance.com this race was ranked slightly harder than Western States, Tahoe Rim Trail, and Leadville. I knew it wasn't going to be a cake walk, but I have a tendency to make things out to be much harder in my head than they actually are in reality so I figured this race was one of those races.
Um. NO. I was sorely mistaken.
This race was more relentless and sadistic than I could ever imagine.
But it was also more beautiful than I could have ever dreamed. But, I wasn't there to pick flowers in the Siskiyous (well... only if I had the time to spare, which I didn't). I was there to step up to a challenge and learn a thing or two about my limits and potential as an ultrarunner. I was stepping into the unknown. A dark and floating space of questions I've had for myself might finally be answered. Do I have what it takes to finish a challenging 100 miler? How far will my body let me go? Am I strong enough? Is my mind strong enough? Is my strength training and low mileage running enough? I was ready to be schooled in what was to be, for me, the ultimate test of ultras.
I learned a lot.
I learned the importance of a really great crew for one. Really. I had the absolute best crew EVER. Not only were they organized and on top of things but they had the best attitude and sense of fun than any other crew at that race. But, you kind of have to. I honestly think its harder to crew a race than to run it, although, this was a hard race to run which made my crew that much more valuable and me, ever so much more grateful.
They weren't your typical ho hum crew...
...my crew had some hardcore enthusiasm!
Yeah. That guy in the front? That would be my husband. He was my biggest cheerleader for this race. Little did I know all of them would be my cheerleaders for the full 100 miles. Literally.
|My friend/coach Rick waiting for me at Applegate Resevoir.|
|Maggie, Patrick, Rick, Matt - THE BEST CREW EVER!!!|
Oh... and it got better... later on they broke out the party hats and disco lights. My husband even ran with me to the top of one of the peaks dressed in a leisure suit, mirrored-ball bike helmut and playing disco music all the way up while feeding me chocolate covered espresso beans.
|Gettin' their party on!|
|Dance party in the ultra van!|
And they were already crewing me before the race even started. I don't know how many times they ran back to the car at the pre-race orientation and medical check-in to get a pen, or tape, or the camera, or some other random item. They were already trying to "save" my legs for race day.
|Me and Mags at pre-race |
orientation and check-in.
I was not shy about representing my favorite gym and coaches at the Ranch Athletics. Afterall, weren't all those people there to see the gun show?
|Dun, Dun, Dun... what DOES she weigh?|
We were a little bit like the naughty kids in the back of the class goofing off while the teacher is talking and then skipping out of class early. We missed the bit about all the important safety and medical issues. Oh well... they didn't need to remind me. I prefer the Born To Run motto anyway - "If I get hurt, lost, or die... its my own damn fault." But, I was promptly reminded by Matt on his pacing leg with me that I can also still sue for negligence. Apparently, he was a little less than impressed with the "safety" of the trail conditions. Oh well... falling to my death might get me to the bottom of the mountain faster and being jabbed in the eye by a random tree limb would... um... just plain hurt. But whatevs...
... so we had to bail to go shove some food into our faces... oh and the crew needed to drink some beer. Afterall, we WERE in Oregon, home to some pretty cool breweries. I, on the other hand, was still respecting the training and my upcoming race so I was off the wagon (or on it - I just never know how that works.)
|Drink up Pat, Mags and Matt!|
A big fat burger was totally on the menu.
|How does an ultra-runner eat before a 100 mile race?|
They EAT BIG!
|The DirtyGirlZ were with me in "spirits." |
Love those girls!!!
I can't remember the last time my belly felt that full. I felt like I just ate a basketball. But I was loading up on race fuel and a burger and fries has never done me wrong pre-race, so that's what I had. And it was delicious!
Then it was off to hotel to get to bed... um... early?? Well, not before I opened my care packages anyway. One from the DirtyGirlZ and one from my friend Monica who also trains at The Ranch.
I got post-race celebratory libations from the DirtyGirlZ including some tootsie roll pops to "LICKIT!..."
|I got a Marines Hoorag!! |
Thank you Monica!
But sleep was not easy for me which is unusual even for race day. But this wasn't a typical race for me. I was anticipating an adventure. I was anticipating a challenge.
I was anticipating sleep. Maybe a little too much cuz I only got two hours. Uggh.
Oh well...Lets get this all night party started, right? Oh wait, wasn't I already up all night? Shit. This isn't starting well. But I was awake and ready to roll at 4:15am.
Gotta love how there always has to be a banana on the start line. Mags was holding hers at her hundo when she met race director, Matt Gunn and I was rockin' the banana buff. I did eventually actually eat mine, however.
|Race Director Hal Koerner|
Greyback Mountain Summit - Race start-10 Miles
My plan (and some advice from my friend Monica, an experienced ultrarunner) - I was going to make sure the first third was effortless (HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) and the second third was work, and the final third I was going to push with everything I had. Not sure it was totally possible to do "effortless" on those trails, but whatever. I had a plan.
|Greyback Mountain Summit - Jump!!|
The only and last shot before my
crew took my phone away. Ha!
Greyback Mtn Summit to Seattle Bar/Applegate Reservoir - Miles 10-28
I arrived at the first cutoff with close to an hour to spare. My left knee/IT band had started to feel a little aggravated by the first steep downhill so I was forced to pay attention. This was one of my biggest fears. Its always the hilly and steep races that aggravate that shit. It concerned me that this was happening so early in the race. I was hoping more walk breaks might force it to go away.
At Seattle Bar my crew got me in and out of there like a seasoned Nascar pit crew. Seriously. They had their shit together. I was refueling and popping blisters (which I would later discover was a futile attempt at prevention).
|Coming into Seattle Bar at about 28 miles.|
Me and my new buddy Derrick who ran with me for about 40 miles.
|The Ranch Athletics - Ultra Pit Crew.|
|Chipmunk cheeks. |
Shoving food in my face for storage.
|Heading up to Stein Butte|
Stein Butte to Squaw Lakes - Mile 28-40
What can I say? This was a bitch and probably the toughest of sections to endure. I had my trail running fiyah on by this point (funny how miles 30-50 was my section of mojo at my 100k too) and was super motivated to climb this part. I was moving at a pretty consistent and solid pace. It was a beautiful climb at first on switchbacks through a forest, but it quickly became exposed and hot. I passed a few runners on this section. One runner followed close behind me. I was on fire, but apparently he was struggling. He told me he dropped after Stein Butte last year and he was thinking of dropping again at the same point this time. He was in a really bad place. When he asked me if I thought I was going to finish I belted out...
|Recovery from Stein Butte|
Then I picked up my pace and dropped "Debbie Downer." I'm sorry he was in a low spot, but I couldn't let that shit take me down. It was permeating and I was facing a really difficult section with the heat and exposure up on the ridgeline. I needed every ounce of positive energy I had to endure the next few miles.
I started the climb with a full hydration pack and thought that it would be plenty of water to get me to the next aid station which I assumed was only 5 miles into the climb. Apparently it was more like 8 miles and that last bit was HARD. HOT. AND EXPOSED.
But it wasn't just the water fiasco that set me back. The downhill off of Stein Butte was STEEP and GNARLY. It was some serious steep elevation change on single track powder-like dirt that dropped off into an abyss of trees on the left side that had me taking it really easy on this part so as to not aggravate my already stressed IT band or run out of control to my death below. Unfortunately, I overcompensated on my right side which I paid for later.
I made it into the aid station and around Squaw Lakes within an hour of the time cutoff which was 6:30pm but I ended up staying a little longer here to refuel - hell, it was dinner time!! My body needed calories, fat and protein. I ended up leaving this aid station a little later than anticipated with what seemed like a dozen bodies of burnt runners still on the ground around me. I assumed all those people were dropping. They weren't moving.
Squaw Lakes to Hanley Gap/Squaw Peak - Mile 42-50
We left Squaw Lakes at 6:24pm. My friend Matt "unofficially" paced me for this section. The best way to describe most of this section was boring and relentless. We incessantly climbed uphill on steep road and unmaintained single track through French Gulch Divide and on up to Squaw Peak. But Matt never fails to entertain me, or I never fail to entertain Matt (I'm really not sure which it is) so this section was tolerable. Nature called for a short pee break on this section and although I had mastered my peeing-while-standing-up-in-compression-shorts skills, I was getting a little tired and the "wiggle and shake" I normally do at the end to keep from dripping all over myself was a little weak. I remember telling Matt shortly after that stop that I might have to remove my panties due to some chafing issues I was having. His reaction was stellar. I could tell he wasn't sure how to react to a comment like that. If you pace me you've got to be prepared for anything. I'm not shy about telling you how it is. If I need to take care of something you'll hear about it. Luckily the chafing issue resolved itself and we were able to divert an awkward moment. I think Matt was relieved.
Hanley Gap/Squaw Peak - Mile 50-52
Capture the Flag by 9:30pm
|Maggie Glo Bug|
My husband joined me for this climb, bringing some chill "forward movement" music with him on a little portable speaker. My climb to the top was unbroken, focused and silent as I power-hiked as fast as I could pinning it all the way to the top to get that flag. I tried to run as much as I could back down taking super short, half skipping, half hobbling walk breaks every now and then to relieve my aching knee.
It was 9:25pm by the time I got down. I made the time cutoff but it was close. I got the last of the soup at this aid station. No broth. Just noodles. That's all you get when you're DFL.
But I got to continue on.
Squaw Peak to Squaw Creek Gap and on to Dutchman Peak - Mile 52-65
|Matt - Ready for sleep after pacing me.|
After a small reprieve of flatish downhill Matt and I met the sweepers and ran with them for a bit. Its always eery to know the sweepers have caught up with you but they were cool folks and a welcome change on the monotonous trail. Patrick and Rick surprised me by running down the trail to greet me a few miles before the Squaw Creek Gap aid station. I stopped just long enough to shove my face full of more soup and some turkey meat and then Matt and I were on our way to the top of Dutchman Peak - another looooong, incessant, and grueling climb in the dark.
Dutchman Peak - Mile 65-67
Last cutoff before finish 2:00am
At mile 65 we arrived at Dutchman Peak. I instinctively knew I was close to the cutoff at 2am but I refused to look at my watch. I was going to push with all I had and pin it to the top regardless of time. This may be the end of my adventure and I was planning on ending strong. I could see the headlamps of the other runners checking in and I could hear the music blaring, but the peak still seemed SO FAR AWAY.
"I don't know if I will make it. " I said to Pat while taking a short break to massage the muscle on the inside of my right knee. I refused to look at my watch.
"Eat another espresso bean. Now." Pat said to me. He put a handful in my pocket right before the climb and had been directing me to eat them at timed intervals on the way up.
"We're going to do this. You get it Krista!!" He says.
I'm power-hiking uphill as fast as my legs will take me. The peak is still SO FAR AWAY.
Dressed in disco suit and mirrored
helmut mixing my applesauce
and protein powder.
Finally I get close to the top and kick it into a full on sprint up the hill hoping I've made it.
The guy at the top had a regretful look on his face. Oh fuck.
"Its 2:01 am. You missed the cutoff. We have to ask you to leave the course. Race rules. Its for your own safety."
The look on my face must have been very sad. A woman at the top yells out "You really need to hand them tissues when you tell them that."
My stomach flipped. Wha??? Really? Are you serious??? I missed it by one fucking minute??!!!
"But I worked so hard to get here!" I said.
I fucking could't believe it. I worked hard not only from the start of the race to meet each time cutoff, but I've dedicated more than a year of training to reach this moment - and to have missed it by only a minute! I looked at my watch. It said 2:00am. But the official time was actually 2:01am. I stood there. Frozen.
A guy in a green jacket comes running down from the aid table and stands square in front of me.
"I just saw you come up that hill and you look stronger than most of the guys we just told to go on so I'm going to let you continue. But, you can't stop for anything. You have to keep moving. You get what you need here and you take it with you, but you can't stop. What do you need?"
"I need soup." I say.
So I walk up to the table and as he's pouring my soup I'm a little concerned that I might risk aid stations closing before I get there. So I ask him. He was honest with me.
"Yes. You might not have aid which is why you need to keep moving." He says.
Alrighty then. With soup in hand and a newfound motivation to pass up some runners Pat and I head down the hill. I'm spilling my soup so Pat tells me once I'm out of eye shot of the guys at the top to just stop and take a minute to drink it up. I stop, guzzle the broth and greedily shove a fistful of noodles in my mouth. We run down the hill while Pat is pulling a loaf of banana bread out of my pack and feeding me huge chunks while running. I felt stronger than ever. I was on my way to finish this beast of a course and kill the bitch once and forever.
Dutchman Peak to Long John Saddle - Mile 67- 75
|Rick - Ready to pace me.|
Within what seemed like a half hour we had already passed about 4 guys on the trail. I felt relieved. At least the sweepers weren't at my heels now. I wasn't DFL for the first time since Squaw Lakes. It felt good.
|Getting ready for the next section.|
And the best part was when we came into a clearing in the middle of a meadow on the side of the mountain and Rick says to me "Kill your flashlight and turn off your lamp."
So I did.
We stood there under what seemed like an upside down city of stars. Holy crap it was beautiful! I can't remember a time when I've seen so many stars, if ever. It was an amazing feeling to have come so far and I was feeling more uplifted by the beauty of the course even at night.
We arrived at Long John Saddle during the early darkness of the morning just before dawn. It often felt like I was the only one on course while running so I was always surprised to see runners at the aid stations. The runners at Long John Saddle were sleeping and sitting in chairs looking half human and zombie-like. A couple pacers were standing around the heat lamps and staring off into oblivion.
I really don't remember eating much here. I remember sitting down, fatigue beginning to set in. Pat told me to get warm and then nap for 10 minutes. One of the runners woke from his nap and the cot was free. I snuggled under a couple wool blankets and faded in and out not really ever dropping off at all before my ten minute nap was up.
After I awoke, Rick taped up my right knee in an attempt to lessen the pain. I took a few more minutes to myself to try and gather my strength for the next section. I remember asking the woman next to me (she was pacing the zombie guy on the cot) how many miles were left.
"There's about 26 miles left, but its REALLY HARD and REALLY TECHNICAL." She emphasized "hard" and "technical" and all of a sudden I felt myself questioning my ability to handle the next few miles with my knee and right hip in so much pain.
"So... are there anymore crewable points after this?" I said. I knew the answer to this question was "no." I guess I was grasping at straws trying to find reasons and ways to bail out should I need to. I was starting to feel incapable of moving forward knowing how painful it was to run downhill. And I knew, except for the climbing up to the last peak at Wagner Butte, there would be a LOT of downhill. I could feel doubt trying to settle into my brain.
Still sitting in the chair I looked to my left side and there was Maggie crouching next to my chair looking up at me. She had just awoke from a nap in the van to come over and check up on me. She hadn't heard what the pacer said about the hard and technical trail, but she heard the doubt in my voice when I asked about whether there were any other crewable aid stations.
Maggie looked me in the eyes. "Krista. YOU CAN DO THIS." She said. It was obvious by the look on her face that she totally believed in me and my abilities to get through the last 26 miles and to finish this race even when I had serious doubts about it myself. I could tell she believed in me.
That was all I needed. It was enough to snap me out of my questioning and doubt and forget everything that pacer said and just focus on the next section ahead of me which turned out to be a mostly runnable, gentle downhill section to the base of the next climb. Wagner Butte.
Wagner Butte Trailhead to the top of Wagner Butte - Mile 80-85
Capture the Flag.
|On our way to Wagner Butte.|
At the base of the trailhead Mags and I got into my drop bag and applied what sunscreen I had and fueled up at the aid station. It was straight uphill for another 5 miles. Some of this was unmaintained/overgrown singletrack trail taking us through multiple ecosystems, marshes, forests and ridgelines and ending up at a rocky crag outcrop which we had to boulder up to retrieve a flag. The trail was stunning. The views were breathtaking.
|The last climb up Wagner Butte.|
|Mile 80 something and I look it.|
|Climbing through tall grass.|
|The beauty of the terrain.|
|A burrito break.|
|Beauty worth the pain of getting there.|
|A little bouldering to the top at mile 85.|
|Meeting other runners at the top.|
|Me and Mags at the top of Wagner Butte!|
|Capturing the flag at the top.|
|360 degree views from Wagner Butte.|
|Signing the summit register.|
Wagner Butte to Road 2060 and on to the finish- Miles 85-100.5
It was slow going back down Wagner and down to the road. The trail coming down from Wagner is just as I was told... steep and technical. And it HURT. I could no longer put weight on my right leg on the downhills. I was trying every possible option to cope with the pain. Running/walking with a wider stance. Turning my right foot inwards (which seemed to help but was unsustainable) Hopping, skipping, gentle striking. I tried everything.
|Mags coming down from Wagner Butte.|
|Steep trail. Thankfully this obstacle was removed.|
I even tried medicating which I vehemently avoid when doing ultras. I don't like covering up the pain with ibuprofen just to push through. If I have to push through pain then I've clearly gone too far. But a 100 miler is extreme. I had no doubt there would be pain. I had no doubt I would have to push through. I held out as long as I possibly could without medicating myself to cope. When I finally gave in and took about 800mg it did almost next to nothing to deaden the pain that was radiating into my hip with a deep achy and sporadically jabby feeling. Oh well. All I could do at that point was keep moving.
|Deep in my pain cave.|
|My cheerleader husband.|
|The guys cheering and running me in.|
|Me and Mags coming into the finish.|
I was following Maggie once we hit the road and the finish still felt like a long ways off. I kept thinking I was seeing containers of water with red spickets just off the road... and tables with sparkly trail markers tied to them. Apparently, I was hallucinating.
On the way to the finish... Matt, Rick, and Pat met us about 5 miles up the trail to run with me into the finish line. Seeing the guys gave me such a huge boost! I knew I was close to finishing. It was already midday and I was ready to be done. I picked up my walking pace (walking was all I could do at that point) and kept it pretty consistent until just before the finish line when I managed to gimpily run into the finish. I did it. I killed the bitch in 32 hours 57 minutes 19 seconds. 120 people started. 79 finished. I was number 79. They even interviewed me for the local paper because I came in last place. Ha! Check out the last paragraph. Hahahaha! But that course was tough. I'll take last place because at least it means I finished.
|Trying to run strong into the finish.|
|I did it!!|
|The crew - Both Mags and I with our hundo buckles.|
So was my strength training and low mileage running enough to get me through this hundred miler?
Absolutely! In fact, I would say it nailed it!
Mechanical issues aside (by the way.... my IT band on my left leg was completely fine after Stein Butte... go figure.) if I had to judge my training and preparedness for this race I would say it was spot on.
I WAS solid. I WAS strong. And I had the conditioning needed to finish this race. I was so ready when I stood on that starting line. Had I not had my typical problems (I will continue to work on my tight hip flexors, IT band, and other problem areas through mobility & flexibility work) I could have completed this race strong and in a much shorter time than I did. But a hundred miles is extreme. Had I been doing long slow distance running and back-to-backs before this race I may have never made it to the start line at all. But, I was amazed at how good and strong I felt throughout the race despite my hip and knee pain. Take that pain away and I would have TOTALLY ROCKED IT!
Thank you so much Seth and Rick!! I will never doubt your training again!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .