The bad weather would prove to be a major factor for this race. Ultra-marathoners being what we are we shrugged our shoulders and hoped for the best. We are an all terrain all weather kind of folk. We pray for conditions that is conducive for fast times, we can whine and complain with the best but we won't put off a start because of inclement weather. It's part of the game. The weather was enough however to make the difference between finishing or dropping for a lot of people. It's not just the rain and wind you understand it's also the footing and the condition of the trails. Wet, muddy trail is a bigger challenge. At least for me, I'm more tentative on slippery ground. I want to go fast but because I'm also being careful not to lose my balance I'm tense the whole time, not totally relaxed. As conditions go I've had worse. Kettle Moraine 2008 takes the cake; hot and humid at the start with lots of biting insects, two thunderstorms that filled the trails with running water and the constant bass of the tornado warnings in the air. Second worst would be Bighorn 2007. The storm came the week before but it left in it's wake an extremely muddy course, stream crossings and snow at the turnaround point. That is the only race where I broke 30 hours and finished in a state that is uncharacteristic of my happy-go-lucky self. It broke me and I just wanted to crawl into a dark hole until I felt better. So as bad as it got at Pine to Palm I didn't think it was terrible. I did get cold out there which is unusual for me since I am comfortable in cool, rainy, windy weather and in my last hour when the skies opened up one more time with the heaviest downpour of the race I complained to my pacer, "I am so tired of being wet!" Of the 26:27:11 hours that I was out there I was wet for 24 of them. Boohooo right? Yeah I'm with you, at least I finished.
I think I'm a pretty solid runner overall in terms of being able to push through and work around obstacles. I felt confident that while I wasn't going to get the time that I wanted I would be able to persevere to the finish. It was all pretty routine, just another day at the office kind of day until Kathleen and I hit the last manned aid station at 93.5 miles. I had started shutting down since mile 90, things were tightening up and the quads were feeling quite trashed. We caught up with friends at the aid station and chose to rest up a bit. I made the mistake of sitting down while I ate and all of a sudden I felt colder, nauseous and dizzy. Immediately I got up and told Kathleen we had to get out of there. As we walked out I passed by a cot with a warm blanket and it was all I could do not to turnaround. I got scared at that point that I wasn't going to finish, that I was going to pass out and deemed unable to continue. Fortunately I felt better as we kept moving and eventually I traced it down to being low on my electrolytes. The gels were making me ill and the sweetness of the energy drink was not helping. I made the switch to water but in the midst of all of this I had forgotten to take my salt and it had been five hours since I had taken my last salt cap. I made the correction and by the time we finished I was right as rain.
The race has road and lots of it; asphalt, asphalt covered with gravel and hard packed fire road. We started with 6-miles of asphalt. Lovers of single track won't enjoy this race as much, I on the other hand was okay with it, it made the single track sections much more precious and I was able to make up time that was lost on the big climbs. There were a number of good climbs, miles 6 to 14 was the biggest of them all and I'm glad we got that out of the way early, the big climbs were also followed by long downhills which I found quite hard on the quads especially if they were on road. The downhill from 15 to 30 was just such a downhill. It started with a steep single track downhill that gave way to a long section of road. Before we arrived at the 31 mile aid station of Seattle Bar/Applegate River, we crossed back briefly to California. It was here that Evan Hone caught up to me. He had gotten lost with several runners early in the race. He looked relaxed and upbeat, had an "it is what it is" attitude about the whole thing. I wished him luck which was all I could do since he was quickly on his way. I thought for the most part that the course was well marked. In the case of Evan and the several runners who got lost with him, there was supposed to be course monitors at the crucial intersection who were not in position when they came through. There was also some confusion on the marking ribbons. At the briefing we were specifically told the type of ribbons to look for because there was another event being run in the same area. We were told to look for pink and black striped ribbons and fluorescent green ones, anything else we should ignore. Well we also found orange ribbons which were also meant for our race. I knew this to be true because the orange ribbons would be the only markers on the course and just when I would be convinced I was following a different event's course I would run into a pink and black striped ribbon or a green one. If it was true that there were two separate events sharing the same trail the pink and black striped and green ribbons would have come in shorter intervals, like every quarter mile as they indicated.
30 to 37/38 was a long and steady climb. Just before the 36-mile aid station of Stein Butte, Joe Palubeski catches up to me. Like Evan, Joe was another runner who should have been way ahead but he was part of the group that got lost with Evan. Unlike Evan, Joe was content to run my pace, he had expended a lot of energy trying to make up for lost time and needed to regroup. His misfortune was my blessing. Joe was excellent company and it was our first time running together. We were both amazed at how long it was taking just to reach 50 miles, I think we hit in the vicinity of 11:30 hours or so - a long time for a 50-mile. It dawned on us then that sub-24 was probably out of the question but we were optimistic. No sense giving up the fight only halfway through the race. When we arrived at Hanley Gap at mile 52 Joe's stomach was in rebellion. Hanley gap featured one of the three down and back sections where we had to go out and grab a flag at the turnaround point and return back to the aid station. The top of Hanley Gap was supposed to feature a terrific view of the area, what we found of course was fog and wind. When we left Hanley Gap for the last and second time I had fresh shoes and socks on and a light. I also asked an aid station volunteer to count the number of flags they had already received - the number came out to about 30 and indeed I would finish 31st in the overall standings. As we made our way to Squaw Creek Gap and mile 60 I slowly pulled away from Joe as his stomach continued to rebel. I was reluctant to leave the support of his company but it was time to go and he had been pushing for me to do the same.
By the time I arrived at Squaw Creek it was already dark. I was running alone for the most part but since a lot of the course was on fire road I kept getting passed by race traffic, crew and race staff shuttling back and forth from the aid stations. I barely stopped at Squaw Creek as I was eager to start the 2,000+ foot climb to Dutchman Peak. RD Hal Koerner had been on parts of the course checking up on us and I'm assuming the aid stations as well. He was a half mile from the peak warning us about the weather at the top informing us that it gets a whole lot better the moment we drop back down to the lower elevations. The top of Dutchman is the highest point of the course at 7,000+ feet. Since I was on the shielded side and below the peak I made some cocky comment about how the weather was just fine. He gave me a high-five anyway. Dutchman at mile 65 was the shelter from the wind storm. You see the lights before you actually make the station and it was so nice in there. The whole station is shielded from the wind, there are chairs and blankets, hot fresh food and cots for the weary - it felt like the eye of a storm. Dutchman is the second of the three down and back sections. Like Squaw Lakes we had to go out and grab a flag and return to the aid station. Thankfully there wasn't much climbing since we were already at the peak but boy that run along the ridge was a windfest. Wisely I had accessed my Nathan pack before leaving and dug out my Marmot shell and headlamp. It was nice to shed the garbage bag but cursed myself for forgetting to pack extra shirts. Shell went right over the already soaked t-shirt and arm warmers, at least the arm warmers were fleece lined.
With the down and back section it was mile 67 by the time I left Dutchman for the last time. As I was making my way down the fire road I heard my name called. It was Kathleen Egan who had traveled from Seattle to pace Larissa Polischuk. Larissa had been battling ITB Syndrome for weeks. She was able to get in two good long runs in training and got clearance from her physical therapist to run but the course and it's wet muddy state was too much for the knee. Larissa dropped at 42 but told Kathleen to search for me as I was running without a pacer. Kathleen had just pulled in as I was leaving the station, it was meant to be. Like Joe, it was my first time running with Kathleen and like Joe I was totally blessed for the company and the help. Kathleen was great conversation but she also knew when not to talk and let the running and walking be the conversation. Her company was especially welcome between mile 83 and 93, the distance between two aid stations. A 10-mile distance between aid stations seems like an eternity at night, towards the end of a 100-miler when you're tired and when 7 miles of it is uphill. At mile 88 we turned into a single track for the last of three down and backs. For two miles we made our way to Wagner Butte and runners we encountered warned us of the slick rocks. I thought that was strange. I mean we are all trail runners here, how slick are these rocks? Well let me tell you. At the end of the trail there were indeed rocks and some shrubbery that obscured the view of the top from the trail. I assumed the flag was at the top so I told Kathleen to just wait where she was while I went and got the flag. Wow... I went up and was laughing and staring with disbelief at what they had us doing for this last flag. The boulder pile is about one and a halt stories high and at the top is railing from a lookout point. We had to climb up, get across the railing, grab the flag then head back down. Not a big deal in daylight, not even a big deal at night, but it was a bigger deal after 90 miles of travel plus rain. I called out to Kathleen to come back and see for herself. I thought it was unsafe but whatever, one could argue the running trails with a lot of bear scat is also unsafe - there were a few nice piles of bear poop during the day.
The last 10 miles were the longest. I had run out of gas at this point, my only consolation was that it was all downhill. Despite the downhills however it was all I could do to keep moving. There were no time goals at this point, finishing was the only goal. As I had mentioned, at mile 93.5 I had felt dizzy and cold. I made a prolonged stop because I had been so sick of energy gels and was looking for more soup and cheese quesadillas. I took advantage of the seat because I had been so tired and that's when everything seemed to go on slow motion and a dizzying spiral. I was really worried I was never leaving that station so I left while I still could. What's another 8 miles?! We left with two other sets of pacers and runners, all of us walking instead of running out of the aid station. Slowly but surely we all started running and painfully made our way back to town. I figured out it was an electrolyte imbalance and was able to down some caps which didn't make me feel better right away but I felt great at the finish. The last hour the skies darkened up again and whoosh a big ol' downpour came on top of us. I was so sick and tired of being wet but I started laughing because I was picturing someone climbing up that damned boulder pile in the heavy rain. At least they were doing it in daylight! When I got in David and Larissa were there. Brett was in the hotel sleeping as he had finished in 22+ hours and came in 5th overall. He too came to the race pacerless but I'm glad Kathleen paced me instead. Clearly I needed the support more. I've started calling Brett "TrailZilla" because he has come in the top 5 of his three 100s this year, all of them hilly, mountain type ultras (4th at HURT 100, 2nd at TRT100 and now a 5th at P2P100.
In retrospect I started out too hard. My heart rate monitor was not working and without it to keep me in line I let myself go a little too hard too early. These days I only wear it while racing and failed to check if it was in working order. Second, this was my last 100 for the year but another sub-par performance at the distance. San Diego in June was also a bit of a disappointment time wise. It seems like my departure from triathlon has hurt rather than enhance my running. More miles has not made me faster and I think cross training or the lack of lies in the heart of all this. One great thing about triathlon training was all the biking and spin classes I was doing. Anyway something to think about as I wind down my season and look forward to 2011. I've got two short ultras and a ton of volunteering to finish off the year.