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Pine 2 Palm 100 Mile Run (pacing)

September 17, 2012

Back in December when the Western States lottery came out and neither Thomas nor I got in, we frantically started a chain of e-mail exchanges for other possible 100 milers. In the mix was Lake Superior, Cascade Crest, Zion, Wasatch and a bunch of others. We both wanted a point to point scenic race to be our first hundred. I ended up settling for Zion 100 in May and Thomas signed up up for Pine 2 Palm, both courses couldn’t be anymore different. At the time, I told him I would join him for Pine 2 Palm if I enjoyed my first 100 experience. Well after my disappointing performance at Zion, I was ecstatic when Thomas asked me to crew/pace him at P2P. His crew would consist of his girlfriend, Del, who would help drive us around to all the crew access points and me who would pace him from Mile 65 to the end.

We spent all day Friday before the race scouting out the crew access points. Since the course runs from Williams to Ashland, Oregon in the remote and rugged mountains, driving was a bit difficult since most of it was on narrow gravel roads. We ran around Squaw Lake (mile 39 and 41) for a nice shake-out run before heading to the race site for packet pick-up, race briefing, a pasta dinner and Hal.

The start of the race was very low key and still in the dark, but it would be light soon enough. We didn’t even realize the race was starting until we saw a bunch of runners taking off! We wished Thomas good luck before heading back to Grants Pass where our hotel was. There we spent some time getting our stuff together and buying all the food we needed to crew through the next 24 hours since there were no stores/restaurants/reception/twitter/facebook/instagram in the areas where we would be driving. Yup, we were out in the total boonies. We headed to the first crew access point, Seattle Bar Mile 28, getting lost no less than 10 times and having to backtrack our way, what else did you expect from two Asian girls driving? Thankfully we made it with 10 minutes to spare before Thomas came in. The temps were already pretty warm, but not as hot as the previous day. He came in right on pace at 12PM, we slathered sunscreen on him, dunked his hat into cold water, force fed him bananas, gus and ginger ale before he took off on the hottest and most exposed stretch of the day.

It was also a Hal appreciation station. (Did he have to approve all the themes for the aid stations?)

Del and I headed straight to Squaw Lake where we were the previous day to camp out until Thomas came in. The runners would come in at Mile 39, do a loop around the lake and come back to the same aid at Mile 41. It was the perfect setting to camp out and rest for a bit, everything was under shaded pine trees and there was a breeze to keep things cool. We met some other crew members and had a good time watching all the runners come in and out of the aid. Thomas came in around 3:45PM, 45 minutes behind his predicted schedule due to the intense climbs and heat from the previous section. He was eating well and able to get food down, so we took advantage of this and made him rest for a bit here and fuel up before the lake loop. 30 minutes later, he was back again and still looking good. We walked a bit with him while he finished his ginger ale and ate some more food. The next time we would see him would be at Mile 65, Dutchman Peak, where I would start pacing to the end.

Even though we had quite some time in between before he was expected to come in, we decided to head there immediately just to be safe and scout out the place. It took a while to get there because of all the narrow dirt roads and driving up to 7,000+ ft. Once we got there, we decided to hike up to the peak and take in the sunset since we wouldn’t be able to see it once Thomas came in.

Views of William on the left all the way to Ashland on the right. Remote, rugged and breathtaking mountains.

I decided to get in some shut eye since it would be a long night of pacing ahead. It was freezing by nightfall and the wind was picking up. Amazing how it can be scorching hot one minute to freezing the next. That’s southern Oregon for you.

We figured since he was a bit behind schedule, he probably wouldn’t be in until 11PM so we waited until 10:30 before packing up our stuff and walking 1/2 mile to the aid station. Not long after we got settled in, I see Thomas running down from the peak, we had missed him at Mile 65! He made up some time and came in a lot earlier than we expected. So instead of pacing from 65, I started at 67 once he got back from the peak where they had to grab a flag to prove they made it all the way. We layered him with more clothing and got him prepped with lights for a long night of running.

The next aid was 7 miles away, or so they say, and it would all be on the single track PCT trail. The trail was pretty runnable, a couple of short climbs, but we ran a lot of it. The night running was pitch black, no moon and complete darkness all around us. Not a single runner in site. It would just be us and our headlamps paving the way. A couple times I flashed my handheld light around us just to see what the scenery was like and to my surprise, there were sheer drop offs on the narrow trail we were on. I told Thomas not to look to our left and hug the trail on the right side. Besides not being able to see anything, the trail was really nice to run on and we kept the mood light and fun. We came upon another runner who was on the verge of tears from being so lonely out on the trail in the night without a pacer. She latched onto us and followed us until the aid station. Once we hit the 7 mile mark, we were anticipating an aid station. 0.5 miles later, still nothing. Pitch black on the trail with no aid station in sight. 8 miles later we started to wonder if we had missed a turn. The entire PCT section was unmarked since Hal said there was no other way to go. Finally after 9 miles we started to see lights ahead and hear the volunteers cheering runners in. Almost every runner who exited that trail exclaimed the same thing to the aid station, ‘That was NOT 7 miles”. I told the aid that they should radio the last aid and let them know, but none of them had the contact info to the other aid. Del met us at this last aid at Mile 74 and that would be the last crew access point until the finish. We fueled Thomas up with hot soup, grilled cheese and liquid calories. He was having a harder time eating solid foods at this point, so we did everything we could to get him enough calories through soda, soup and gus. I ended up dropping my long sleeve and gloves with Del at this aid because it was getting too hot to run with all the layers. We packed everything up and headed to Mile 80, Wagnar Butte.

This next section was a long boring dirt forest road. It was a long gradual incline, runnable on fresh legs, but we decided to fast hike most of it and run the flat parts. This section was also not marked, there were a couple intersections where we questioned if we should turn. Apparently this is where a lot of people got off course, even the front runners ended up adding an hour to their time. We figured if it wasn’t mark, we should just go straight. The last mile to the aid was a nice gradual downhill so we ran that and ended up passing a couple runners who were having a hard time running the downhill. We arrived at Mile 80, Wagnar Butte early in the morning. The volunteers gave us a good description of what the next 10 miles would be like before we hit the last and final aid. We would have a 3 mile steep climb right out of the aid, followed by another 2 mile climb to the summit where the runner would have to grab a flag to prove they made it, before turning around and running 5 down to the next aid. If you showed up at Mile 90 without a flag, they would make you go back up and get one so we paid extra attention to the trail to make sure we grabbed that flag. We both fueled up for the long trek up the mountain and anticipated the worst. During this time, I was getting tired from just lack of sleep and crewing all day. We followed behind one runner pretty closely which helped me a lot in staying awake and encouraging forward movement. Though he wasn’t fast when the trail descended or flattened out, which didn’t happen very often, he was a strong hiker and allowed us to zone out and watch his footing from behind for technical sections. I chatted a bit with him trekking up the hill, but not much, since I wanted to keep as close to Thomas as possible whenever he fell behind. He couldn’t get anything down and was still holding a quarter of an uneaten grilled cheese from the last aid a couple hours in! I opened up a pack of honeystinger chews for him and told him just to pop a couple in his mouth and just let them dissolve in his mouth. Chewing/swallowing seemed to be difficult and this helped him gain some energy back. We did this until the pack ran out and I wished I had another one on me.

So many times during this trek up, all three of us would exclaim ‘where the f*&k is the intersection?’ where we would turn left before making another 2 mile hike up. The time was going by SO SLOWLY even though we were moving at a decent hiking pace, probably average 2 miles/hour. I wondered out loud how most runners would be able to get up this hill, Thomas wondered if he was even going to make it. The trail was relentless and unforgiving, we climbed and climbed some more on technical rocky terrain. Every time I thought we would be close according to my Garmin, we wouldn’t be. That seemed to be the theme of this race, everything was always further than advertised. I gave up on trying to guess how close we were because it was discouraging to Thomas to think that we were close when we really had another mile to go. When we finally made it to the intersection, we all let out a sigh of relief. Now we had 2 more miles of climbing to go, yay. This would be a 2 mile out and back to the summit to collect the flag so seeing headlamps coming the other way down the trail was a nice change to the darkness that surrounded us. Many runners seemed pretty happy to be coming down with a flag in hand, whereas the ones going up looked as miserable as ever. Once we hit the summit, I saw a bunch of handhelds thrown off to the side of the trail. I looked up and saw that we had to rock scramble our way to the top. Seriously? At Mile 85, they want us to rock scramble? I suppose if you’re crazy enough to attempt a 100 mile run, they can really throw anything at you.

Thomas threw his handheld down and we made our way (on all fours) carefully to the top, making sure not to slip and fall. When we got to the top, we were rewarded with the city views of Ashland. We took a moment to stand there and look down at the peaceful city where we would be in the next 5-6 hours at the finish during daylight. It was almost taunting us that we still had so far to go before we could see that view again.

Thomas was getting cold at the top so we carefully made our way down and knew from here on out to the end, it would mostly be a downhill course. Even though it wasn’t easy running the technical terrain, we started doing the run shuffle thing where you aren’t exactly walking, but you’re not really running either, somewhere in between. It worked for me at Avalon when I was feeling like $hit and I ended up passing a bunch of people who were just walking. We made our way down the mountain towards the intersection, before descending 2,000 ft in 5 miles to the next aid at Mile 90, road 2060. These 5 miles were pretty rough even though it was downhill. Even on a normal day with the light out, it would still be pretty technical to run down. It reminded me a lot of the trail at Northface 50 coming into Stintson Beach. Lots of sharp turns and curves and random roots and branches to watch out for. We resorted to the run shuffle thing that seemed to work pretty well, every so often, stopping to refuel on more honeystingers. Before we knew it, it was a little after 6AM and we could see the sun rising and peaking through the trees. We still needed the headlamp though, until we got to Mile 90 where it would be completely light out. Once the sun came out, it was almost like someone hit the ‘reset’ button, at least for me. We both instantly felt better, happier and motivated to finish strong.

Mile 90 was a nice sight to see. There were no other runners there besides us so we spent a good amount of time refueling and talking to the volunteers, one which happened to be Carly, Hal’s wife. They all commented how intact Thomas looked, he looked pretty much the same the whole way, and how he was still able to make conversation. After getting some food down for the both of us, we started to tackle the last 10 miles of the race. I thought it would be a straight downhill looking at the elevation chart, but we actually started climbing a little on more dirt forest roads. This time I didn’t mind the road so much as I did at night because we could actually see everything around us and all the beautiful fall colors on the trees and leaves on the ground. Thomas decided to start running 9 minute/miles right out of the aid until I reminded him that 10 miles could still take us a while and he better conserve that energy for the last few miles. For the first time since the race started, I was finally able to get a little reception on my phone so I quickly sent out a few tweets that we were coming home and should be in after 26 hours. I didn’t realize how CLOSE we would be to 26 hours since we stopped guessing how long the actual course was. Every time I would say we had so many miles left, Thomas would reply back that it would probably be 3 miles more than that.

We ran most of the dirt road which finally started to descend around Mile 93 with a few bumps here and there. We reached a water only station at Mile 95 but didn’t stop for it. We had a good rhythm going so I started to push the pace a little. We are both good downhill runners so I knew if he was running this strong so close to the end, he could find it in him to pick up the pace. Despite his constant pleads that he was going to collapse any second if we kept on running this pace, I told him to just let gravity work and bring him down to the finish. At Mile 95, we turned left before hitting this beautiful single track rocky downhill. I think this type of trail is both our favorite so we started to bomb the last section hard. I listened to him following closely behind me so I knew this pace was doable. We ended up passing a runner who we saw during the turnaround who had a good lead on us. He was slowly making his way down and I had to shout to him since he had headphones on that we were going to pass on the right. We continued picking it up mile by mile, going faster and faster until we hit the road where I saw 6:20’s flash on my Garmin. The same runner who we had just passed ended up catching up to us, saying how much fun it looked like we were having and that was just what he needed to get going again. We stuck together while I told the guys how close they were and to keep on pushing hard. We almost missed the sharp right turn back on a single track trail but quickly made our way back on course. It was a little confusing at times which way to go, down the trail or down the stairs? left or right? I frantically kept my eyes ahead looking for flags and any other sharp turn offs. We came across another runner and his pacer who seemed to be stuck at this gate. They were slowly trying to get it open, so I ended up jumping over the fence so we didn’t have to come to a complete stop and wait for them. I figured we probably still had a mile or so to go before the finish, with 4 minutes until the 26 hour mark, I knew it wouldn’t happen. To my surprise, the finish line was just a half mile away! I couldn’t believe our luck that the most important aid station came sooner than we thought, I yelled at the guys to run their hearts out and make it before the 26 hour mark. I stepped off the side of the trail to watch them both sprint into the finish together in 26:01 and 24th overall! I couldn’t be more proud of Thomas for leaving it all out on the course that day.  It takes true guts and courage to attempt anything like this and this race was really a test of endurance both mentally and physically. Climbing those rugged mountains in the extreme heat and cold of the day, fighting off the urges to quit and slamming down an amazing finish, it really made my job easy as a pacer. The first words Hal said to us was “are you kidding me?” after receiving our aid station time at Mile 90. My job was done. I had gotten Thomas to the finish line safely and with a great time for a first 100. His first words to me after the finish was “that was fun and when can we do it again?” Yup, leave it to the Germans to defy all rational behavior.

Congrats again!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Tyree permalink
    September 18, 2012 12:18 pm

    Very impressive all the way around. I am hopeful that I am only a week out from getting back on the trails and then I’ll see you out on the dirt at some point. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thomas permalink
    September 18, 2012 1:08 pm

    Thank you Andee for all your help (and for writing this)!!! The last 10 miles were a dream… but the rest was great fun, too.
    I highly recommend this race. And if you know Andee, ask her to pace you. She might also make you run 100 miles two hours faster than you think possible.

  3. delphine permalink
    September 20, 2012 6:03 pm

    Great report, Andee! It’s amazing that you remember all the details so clearly!

  4. January 31, 2013 6:25 pm

    This is really , really impressive!!! Now I dream about doing the same …

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