From the Pain Cave to the Zen Den: My account of the Pine to Palm 100



4:00 AM: Alarm goes off. Not much sleep, considering I’m without a tent and under a tree. Oh yeah, not to mention the nervous energy. I throw on a headlight and quickly make an avo sandwich. Gingerly, I  grab my gear and head to the school bus filled many who look as though this is not their first rodeo. Can we please just start? I double-check all of my stuff to make sure I’m ready to go. I see the starting line about 75 yards away. All of a sudden, the runners take off and the few, brave, spectators lined up at 6:00 AM on an obscure mountain road begin to take loads of photos. It’s a moment filled with all sort of optimistic racket. I’m a tad bit frazzled, but I laugh, realizing I’ll have 24 or so hours to to get into a groove. Let’s get it on!!!

The climbing begins. We hit a jeep road and some single track. It’s going to be about 10 miles (2000 ft to 6500 ft). The sun’s out and the stoke is alive. In my head, I’m trying to grasp that this is really happening!!! We finally descend and hit the Mile 15 aid station at O’brien Creek and I dip my hat and bandana into a bucket filled with ice water. The heat is starting to bear down, so keeping the hat wet is a much needed perk.

We continue to groove down jeep roads and pass through another aid station. I repeat my cooling process, pony up and carry on. Finally, after cruising through some more single track, I hear tunes being blasted and realize I’m about to descend into the Mile 28 aid station-Seattle Bar. I see my Pops and Kadalak. We exchange high-fives and encouragement. I enter the aid station to a plethora of people cheering, along with a grip of attentive volunteers. I hop on a scale and am six pounds below my starting weight. Not really sure what that means, I go straight for the watermelon, orange slices and a frosty popsicle. The volunteers warned me that the next seven mile climb to Stein Butte will have lots of exposure and a severe incline. Buzzing with optimism, I smile and savor my popsicle.

The climb to Stein Butte is more shaded than I was warned, so that’s a plus. I end up meeting two dudes, each named Alex. I decide to jam up the mountain with them. It was here that I witnessed an awesome act. We ran into the third-placed gal, who ran out of electrolytes and water. She looked a bit disoriented. Each Alex offered her some encouraging words, water and S caps. We then trudged forth. As we walked into the Stein Butte (Mile 33), Alex P. belted out, “We’re not even going to act like we’re running”. It was a much needed laugh, after such a long climb. Eat. Drink. Rinse. Repeat. Carry on.

The next couple of miles consisted of lots of downhill. Alex P., Alex C. and I met with a couple others and jammed out for quite some time. We rolled up to the next aid station posted in front of a pristine lake (Miles 39-41: Squaw Lake). The heat was definitely evident, as runners would take off their gear and hop in for a refreshing soak. Being used to the heat, I did not want to get too comfortable at this juncture of the event. This is the last time I would see my Pops and Kadalak. They provided a salty V8 and plenty of encouragement. The timing was clutch. Pops told me that the hard part was over. I nodded and smiled. This was only the beginning. Haha.

It was about 4:00 PM and the next couple of miles were runnable. It was the perfect time to blast some jollies on the iPod and feel the flow. I arrived at the next aid station-Kilgore Gulch. It was just past the 50 mile mark. I was officially entering new territory. At this station, we had to climb a mile, grab a diaper at the top and return it to the aid station. It was, at this point, I saw a dude laying on the road, puking. Things are getting real!!!

The next fifteen miles were going to be vicious. While climbing, I linked up with two dudes from the Bay area. One of the dude’s names was Taylor. I cannot for the life of me remember the other guy’s name. Forgive me for having a dodgy memory; it was a long day. Anyways, we had all sorts of discussions ranging from beers to traveling to politics. It was a nice distraction from the intensity of the climb. The sun set down on us, meaning it was now time to throw the head lamps on.

Taylor and Friend pushed ahead of me. Coming out of the aid station, the beastly, five mile climb towards Dutchman Peak (Mile 67) was glaring down at us. I gradually began slowing down. I started to dig both hands into my quads, hoping to make the climb easier. My feet were hurting like never before. Dutchman Peak represented the starting point for pacers and access for cars to help out and crew. This meant that cars shared the narrow, jeep road with us. I started to fade. Quickly. My head was bobbing, mind wandering and eyes flickering. All that sounded decent was a nice sleep. The fire in my shoes would not subside. I could hear the music blasting from the top of Dutchman, but still felt lightyears away. Fatigue, doubt and negativity infiltrated my mind. I found a nice rock to sit on. A group of three cars passed me and the last vehicle stopped.

The passenger asked me, “Are you running in the Race?”
“Yes”.
Her: “Well, you missed your turnoff 3/4 mile ago. You need to turnaround and you’ll see it veering left.”
Not sure what to say, I replied, “Thanks.”

To my dismay and frustration, I turned around. I thought I had officially hit my brink. It was 10:00 PM and I was pissed off. My body was destroyed and my mind was drained. I started to feel sorry for myself, thinking how convenient it would be to drop out. Since nobody was near me, I fired a few expletives at myself and threw on the iPod. I thought of all the people back home who were so encouraging. This can’t be it. There is no way. This was my wake up call. I blasted “Crystals” by Of Monsters and Men, and jammed back towards the turnoff that I had previously missed. Finally! I crawled into Dutchman Peak, worn thin and weary.

I arrived at Dutchman feeling like a deer in the headlights. Constructing a sentence was difficult, so I decided to take a seat. Beware the chair! I couldn’t let myself get too comfortable. Seizing up didn’t sound very fun. The volunteers informed me that my friend had dropped from the race. I was angry at myself for missing that turnoff because, otherwise, I might have been able to encourage him. I was crushed and confused. They gave me soup broth, V8 juice, light food and my Red Bull from the drop bag. The energy at Dutchman Peak was surreal. The volunteers were absolute rockstars. My only goal at this point was to harness the positive energy with me until the next aid station.

Descending from Dutchman, I saw my buddy and explained how I was bummed for him and he told me to go and finish it. It wasn’t his day. He made no excuses and I’ve got nothing but mad respect for him. He is a way better runner than I’ll ever be. Anybody who knows anything about endurance sports, knows that there are have good days and bad days. I was overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions. It was out of my control. It was time to push forward into the night.

The night was pitch black. I looked around and didn’t see anybody in front of me or behind me. I felt as though the forest could engulf me at any time it wanted to. It was actually a seemingly pleasant thought. I rolled into the next Aid Station (Long John Saddle: Mile 72 ish) and saw the wear and tear on the looks of a few that marked being on mountain trails for 18+ hours. Long John Saddle was loaded with carnage. Time to press on.

I don’t remember much after that, other than ethereal darkness and jeep roads. I met Otis and Kenny. Two positive dudes who had been going together since the start of the race! I linked up with them and kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Miles 81-86 ended up being the final climb of the race. They were absolutely grueling. I got to the top with Alex P. At the top, we had to grab a sprinkler flag emblazoned with the P2P logo and carry it to the 2060 Road (Mile 90 Aid Station). The difficult part was getting to those blasted flags. In order to grab a flag, one must scale a rock face. The hard part wasn’t climbing up the rocks, it was getting down them. Every part of my lower body was screaming “NO!!!!!”. I gingerly eased my way down the rock face. It felt like two minutes, but probably took ten. Such is ultra running.

After the flag grab, I decided to roll with Kenny and Otis to the 2060 Aid Station. These dudes were legends! They were allocating the optimism!!! This section was during the last two hours of darkness. After ten hours of concentrating on the little LED-lit piece of trail, shedding the head lamps was a massive reprieve. We were hoping the sunrise would set our bodies back into a rhythm, seeing that it’s a new day.

It certainly did. We arrived at mile 90!!! Sun’s out. Headlamp’s down. The stoke factor was high. The boys were saying that it was now time to bring it home. The hay was officially in the barn. The realization of finishing was starting to become evident.

Due to the final ten miles being downhill, I decided to slog them out. In the middle of this stretch, a wave of emotion crashed over me. I starting welling up. I didn’t even bother fighting it because it was such an intense feeling. Pure, raw emotion. Powerful stuff.

I finally reached pavement. The road and its sharp decline had my feet going from numb to pure fire. I saw my Dad, Kadalak and Matt waiting for me with a half mile left. I nonchalantly chatted with them and made my way down. I turned back to see if they were going to catch me in the car, but, instead, I saw another runner and his pacer charging hard! No Way!! You’ve got to be kidding me! With a half mile left, I had to get the legs churning and lungs burning. If not, I would get passed. It was slow, but I turned the final corner and saw the purple sign that marked the finish line.

I crossed the finish 26 hours and 42 minutes after starting. I could stop thinking about the next aid station. I could stop trying to ignore the pain inflicted on the lower half of my body. I could stop focusing on getting over that next mountain. Literally, I could finally just stop!. I sat down and immediately took of my shoes. I relished in the relief of that moment. Exhausted, I finally got have a look at what was left of my now, Baggins-esque feet. Cankles and all, it was totalIy worth it. I walked in the finisher’s room and received a chocolate milk and IPA from Hal (Race Director and Trail Running Legend). Two of my favorite beverages. You bet! I piled in the car, knocked out a quick shower and hit the road back to California. What a day!

I’m writing this 48 hours after crossing the finish line and I still can’t really process the entire experience. What I do know, is that it is way beyond the physical. There are parts I don’t even remember. I am not sure if that is due to exhaustion, pain, perceived pain, mind tricks or a combination of all of them. The ebbs and flows of being on the trail for 100 miles are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. One minute, all is well. The next, fit hits the shan. You teeter-totter back and forth from the pain cave to the zen den. One must embrace both parts, or the negativity will take over. While climbing Dutchman Peak, I slowly unraveled. After being told that I missed a turnoff 3/4 earlier, I thought I had hit my breaking point. Finished. Done. It was demoralizing. I was verbally and emotionally assaulting myself. But, again, that next aid station was right there. With that aid station, came so much encouragement from the volunteers. In turn, the stoke levels exponentially rose. I am already stoked the next adventure, whatever that may be!

IMG_7141

The last couple of steps!!

Extra tidbits, lessons and goodies:

  1.     If you really are the average of the five people you hang out with most. Why not surround yourself with incredible humans? There are electrifying, inspiring people out there. Just be yourself and you’ll meet them.
  2.      First things first, I was privileged to have had my Dad and his great friend, Kadalak, haul me to Ashland and back in Kadalak’s awesome Motorhome. My buddy Matt also came along. After he dropped, he decided to stay and wait at the finish line until I arrived. What a Champ! I got nothing but respect for such a commendable action. Those three were clutch. Without their encouragement and selfless support, the weekend wouldn’t have been nearly as special.
  3.      Kudos to the countless volunteers that give up a full weekend. Phenomenal job by all hands involved. It goes beyond filling water bottles. The positive vibes exuded at each aid station were rejuvenating. I got so juiced after leaving aid stations. Numerous strangers kept the mojo rolling. Massive shout out to all of those that volunteer. They made the experience first-rate.
  4.      A quick note to anybody that signed up for the race. Whether, you finished or not, I commend anybody willing to take on such a task. I met so many cool peeps on the trail. I hope to run into many of them again. The consistent encouragement and understated attitudes of many was awe-inspiring. Heading into my first 100 mile race, I had no idea I would leave with such gratitude. The sense of community definitely outweighed any sense of competition or completion. There is no way I could have finished it without my friends and family, the volunteers and, of course, the others taking on the challenge. What an incredible time! To me, being able to get outside of the comfort zone and share an incredible experience with others is what makes life so enriching.
  5.     A quote that is on the wall at my place:  “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Strenuous Life.
  6.      A positive attitude is infectious I am a huge believer in the power of positive energy. High Fives are just as awesome as they were when I was a boy. Despite the pain, this was an incredibly positive experience. Everybody was keeping the stoke alive. Yes. Everybody. I loved it.
  7.      I’ll forever be impacted by this experience. Literally, right now, my sleep schedule is still way off, adrenaline levels are all-time and and my palate is ravenous. Hal put on a terrific event loaded with incredible humans. I can’t reiterate how radical the people were. I hope to run into many in the future on a trail somewhere. Also, I’m thrilled to meet more. As for right now, I am looking forward to channeling my energy into other parts of my life. Onward and Forward. Cheers!

Playlist: Everything from Ice Cube to Colbie Caillat.

Nutrition: Tailwind. Lots of it. Watermelon, oranges, occasional V8 tomato juice, salty broth, S Caps, Electrolyte caps, Red Bull, a little 7up, a PB & J and some pretzels.

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