Race Report – Pine to Palm 100

Race Report – Pine to Palm 100

Wagner Butte

Faint light filtered through the trees nearly 7000′ above sea level, indicating that we had been out on the trail for over 24 hours. I had been moving very slowly up the 2000′ climb to Wagner Butte, causing my friend Tom to stop and wait frequently. I had no fire. I wasn’t sad or even slightly bothered about moving so slowly. I was just a bit sleepy.

I finally sat down on a rock. I’m not sure how long I would have stayed there otherwise, but within 30 seconds I heard people approaching on the trail. A shot of adrenaline jolted me from the rock and I proceeded up the trail as though I had never stopped. Tom had waited for me and was happy to see me moving again. He was anxious to go ahead, as planned, at daylight.

A small group of us soon arrived at the base of Wagner Butte, a pile of rough and rugged rocks about 50′ high. Another shot of adrenaline… I love bagging peaks. While others groaned in annoyance or disbelief, I happily picked my way to the top, where we each retrieved a flag as proof of our summit.

Tom catching his flag at Wagner Butte

Tom catching his flag at Wagner Butte

Down to Road 2060

Tom went ahead to finish super-strong. My legs were slowly warming up to the idea of running again. Then I bumped into my “selfie buddy” for the last time ~ a young man from Nashville who posed with me for several photos during the day. I thought it would be funny to have a bunch of photos with a random stranger on my camera roll. It was funny. And fun.

Next I remember a section of steep downhill single track. My legs and mind weren’t quite ready for it. A woman passed me flying down the hill behind her pacer. So be it. Maybe I would be flying downhill if I had a pacer, I rationalized.

The sun was warming the forest floor and waking up all sorts of buzzing bees, wasps, insects, etc… I have been apprehensive of buzzing beasts since I was stung by a honey bee last month. The Road 2060 aid station was about 3 miles off, and I had to decide if I would take one last Vespa supplement as planned. Vespa is made from wasp-extract and I can’t get the idea out of my head that it somehow contributed to me being stung by that peace-loving honey bee.

I was finally feeling my legs run down the hill. I went through my pre-aid station list in my head. I imagine Betsy’s advice: dump everything and run light. There would be only 10 downhill miles to go.

Road 2060 Aid Station

I arrived at the last aid station where I asked for my drop bag. I felt great and wanted every advantage, so I swallowed my fears and took the Vespa. I left lights, batteries, and night-time layers in my drop bag. I finally pulled out my tunes and as I left the aid station I noticed a man and woman arriving. I wasn’t certain, but had a fair idea that the young woman was my competition and the man was her pacer.

I set the iPod to my “Anthems” playlist, packed with favorites from different times of my life. I tried to stay enough ahead so that the woman behind couldn’t see me. Each time I saw a bend in the road, I would speed up to get around it, to be just out of view. In reality, I was probably out of her view the whole time, but I didn’t know that. I wasn’t looking back.

Neil Diamond

I couldn’t believe that I was actually running at mile 90-something. Neil Diamond played in my ear bud. He had been a recurring theme of the day, as it turns out that few people can resist a little Song Sung Blue. During the day before, I had pulled out my iPhone on three occasions to host brief Neil Diamond dance parties on the trail.

Now I was having my own private dance party, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Loosy-Goosy Distances

I passed a fellow from earlier in the day. I think we had spent some time together in the wee nighttime hours on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He and Tom were concerned because we hadn’t seen a course marking in some time and because the aid station was a solid 2 miles further than advertised. I shared concern about the aid station distance, but I was neither surprised nor annoyed. The distances had been loosy-goosy all day.

I was certain that we had not missed a turn and used the course GPS tracks to confirm that we were still on-course. The men were still very worried and driving me nuts. The only thing to do is keep running. And we did, eventually, arrive at the mis-placed aid station.

I wondered if there were any more distance surprises in these last 10 miles. Hal Koerner, the world’s most likable race director, mentioned that he had some “really fun” single track in store for us in the final miles as we dropped into Ashland. With fewer than 5 miles to go, I could see Ashland terribly far below us, and had a difficult time trying to figure out just what “really fun” could really mean.

4 Miles

I blew past a water-only station and a sign that said “4 miles” on it. I kept going over the math in my head… maybe I am off by an hour? Am I really coming in under 28 hours? Is there any truth to that “4 miles” sign?

About a mile later the course turned onto the single track. Two runners were just arriving at the intersection from the bottom. “How far?” I asked, even though I rarely trust on-course intelligence. The gal said, “3 miles.” The young man took a moment to look at his watch and reported, “2.8 miles.”

And, then the big surprise… it really was really fun single track! It was a buffed-out downhill trail that was just a bit on the steep side. Now my only question, as I calculated a possible finish in less than 27 hours and a half hours: is there a mile of pavement in addition to these 2.8 miles, or is that included? The suspense was killing me.

Pavement

And, then, before I knew it, I was running down some of the steepest pavement I’d ever set foot on. Betsy’s husband Paul greeted me a few turns before the finish. Betsy is so awesome ~ she was the third woman finisher (24:58) after running on a sprained ankle for 95 miles.

Paul directed me around the final few turns and pointed out the finish arch in the middle of the street. The (college?) cross-country running team was running up the road as I approached the finish. “Go get high fives from them,” Paul advised. I couldn’t help but grin ear-to-ear as I slapped hands with a half-dozen shirtless 20-year-olds.

photo by Betsy Nye

photo by Betsy Nye

The Finish

I completed the 100-mile course in 27 hours and 24 minutes. Tom, who had spent the bulk of the day with me, was cleaned up and waiting at the finish. He had slammed down the hill to finish in 26:46. Betsy and my parents also greeted me at the finish. It was my parents’ first opportunity to see me at one of my ultras and I was excited to have them there. I missed having my husband and kids there, but was confident that they were tracking from afar.

My parents helped me retrieve my vehicle (a.k.a The Beast) from the start and we stayed for the finishing ceremony. Then we all ate a fabulous meal together. I slept well, then we all ate another fabulous meal together. And that was that.

Tom, Paul, Betsy, me, Dad & Mom

Tom, Paul, Betsy, me, Dad & Mom

Epilogue

I am now “qualified” to put my name in the had for one of the few, coveted spots at the Hardrock 100. But just barely. The day after my Pine to Palm finish, I received an email containing this statement: “Finishers of Pine to Palm 100 in 2013 and 2014 are qualified for the 2015 Hardrock, however Pine to Palm 100 will no longer be a qualifier after the 2016 HR.” I am thinking that, from now on, only I will decide what I am “qualified” to do… the Hardrock infatuation fades.

 

Race Report – Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100

Race Report – Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100

The Start: I’ve been here before. The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Runs are in my backyard and I have run both the 55k and 50-mile distances in the past. This would be my first 100-mile race. There were lots of poor-quality pre-dawn photos to snap, and then we were off.

Mile 15 – Overheating on the Read House Flume: The morning started fine but not great. It was a little warmer and more humid than normal for Tahoe, and so I tried to ice myself from early on. But I was already too hot early on, running the flat and miserable Red House Flume. I lowered my expectations. Maybe today will not be “my day.”

Mile 17 – Out of Red House: Oddly, I started to feel better on the steep climb out of the Red House Loop. It seemed a little cooler. My friend Julie (running the 55k) spotted me with her camera, and I was feeling good enough for some goofy poses.

Mile 18 – Weigh-In: I came into the Tunnel Creek Aid Station for my first weigh-in of the day – 3 pounds lower than my pre-race weight. It was my wake-up call. I have to troubleshoot my situation. Ice more. Drink more. I got on it.

I was fortunate to have my own crew up at Tunnel Creek. My friend Tom hiked the 3.5 miles up the hill to help me for less than 5 minutes at a time on my first three passes through the Tunnel Creek Aid Station. He had my Tailwind sports drink mixed and ready to swap with empties. He executed flawlessly as I barked orders for ice and other necessities. Later he said that I was bossy. Really? That’s well-documented. I can’t believe he didn’t already know that about me.

Mile 30 – Best Day of My Life: The rest of my A-Team was waiting at Diamond Peak. I felt fabulous and was right on schedule. My husband Javier and good friend Betsy were both there to help me through. This time the weigh-in was spot on. I got more ice, ate some turkey sliders (turkey & avocado) and got doused with hose water on my way out. My friend Pete gave me some of his famous rice balls to-go and caught me up on other friends running as he walked a little ways with me up the Diamond Peak ski slope.

Mile 42 – Easy Does It: I left the high-point of the course, Snow Valley Peak, well ahead of schedule. I tried to ease up, but I could see that I would be into the 50-mile aid station about 30 minutes early. Thunder clouds formed in the distance, and it was not a question of if, but when and where, the storm would hit.

Mile 50 – Hail: My early arrival caught the team by surprise, but they jumped into action. I had hoped to spend as long as 15 minutes here to prepare for the night of running. As I started to change my shoes, it started to rain. And then hail. And then flash lightening. I put my coat on (I had been carrying it all day) and my team covered me with towels and plastic. I was already getting cold.

Betsy would be running with me for the next 30 miles. She has almost 3 dozen 100-mile finishes under her belt, so she knows what it takes. Sitting still makes you cold and wastes time. We saw a flash of lightening and heard the thunder just a second later. Time to leave. I missed seeing our kids who had arrived from Truckee just as the storm started. Javier intercepted them in the car and told them to turn around. He was soaked to the bone himself.

Half-way through changing shoes as the storm hit

With Javier – half-way through changing shoes as the storm hit. Photo by Julie Nye.

Taking off with Betsy in the rain

Taking off with Betsy in the rain. Photo by Julie Nye.

Mile 70 – A Hundred Miles is My Distance: We ultimately dried out and the sunset was beautiful. Running into the night with Betsy went smoothly. I was in better spirits than I had expected to be at this point and just kept marveling to myself, “A Hundred Miles is My Distance.”

Mile 80 – Not Enough Air: Javier met us at Diamond Peak Lodge at Mile 80, where he would take over pacing duties. It felt like a slow aid station stop. I had to go outside to find the toilets, but was pleased with the first flushing toilets in so many hours. I felt fine as we initially headed up the ski slope once again, but that didn’t last long.

Diamond Peak is the steepest and longest climb on the course. I have climbed it over a dozen times in training, and one training day climbed it 3 times back-to-back. I don’t do it quickly, but I don’t stop on the climb and it generally is not a problem for me. Except for this time.

I simply couldn’t get enough air. Is this just how it goes at mile 80? My chest was tight under the sternum strap of my pack. Did I over-tighten it this time? I took the tiniest, easiest steps possible, but I still had to stop and gasp for air on several occasions. It took me almost twice as long as normal to make it to the top of the 2-mile climb. I was annoyed, but not freaking out.

Mile 85 – Temporary Relief: I mostly hiked the remaining 3 miles back to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station, where I knew at least 3 volunteer physicians were waiting to help out. They administered oral albuterol and I felt better almost immediately. I was able to run the next 5 miles to the Hobart Aid Station.

I felt the air slip away from me again just out of Hobart. The next section is a climb to Snow Valley Peak up at 9000′ feet. I did alright with moderate hiking.

Mile 90 – This is Going to Take Forever: By the time we were to descend the final 10 miles to the finish, however, I just couldn’t catch my breath. Not even for a light downhill effort. I tried frequently to at least jog downhill, but would be gasping for air after just a few seconds.

Here I hit the low point. I did the math. This downhill to the finish, instead of taking one-and-half to two hours, it was going to take FOUR HOURS. Really? We are going to be out here for FOUR. MORE. HOURS.? I almost cried a few times, but then reminded myself that I chose this and that many are not so lucky to have this choice.

All this time, Javier dutifully followed me at my meager hiking pace. Spending the whole night and well into the morning on his feet, after spending all day crewing me. I felt bad for him. We were doing a “death march” and I know that they are particularly painful on the pacer. I couldn’t talk with him. I couldn’t even listen.

Mile 95 – Seeing Things. Cool: I knew they were coming and totally expected it, but that didn’t stop the hallucinations. I actually found this to be a bonus and it entertained me for a while. That looks like a circus clown’s suitcase at the side of the trail. I wonder what it really is? A stump. And not even a very interesting one at that. It went on like that for a while.

Mile 96 or so – Running Again! At last, I had descended and recovered enough that one of my attempts to “run” was successful. I could breath again! And I was able to run the final downhill miles to the finish!

Mile 101.5 – The Finish: Somewhere along the death march I had instructed Javier (bossy, indeed!) to update everyone via text message to expect us around 10:15am. We found our kids and friend Rachael waiting for us just before the final single track into the finish. Rachael ran ahead to take photos and my sweet family ran me into the finish 29 hours and 10 minutes after I had started the day before.

With my boys & my buckle at the finish. Photo by Julie Nye.

With my boys & my buckle at the finish. Photo by Julie Nye.

Reflections: I loved (almost) every minute of my first 100-mile experience. Though I was frustrated hiking so much of the final downhill, I was never really mad that my goal time of 28 hours slipped away. I did what I could. And I did have some good luck with moving away from that storm, so I was actually able to claim a spot as the 10th woman finisher.

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Runs will always have a special place in my heart as my first ultra (the 55k a few years ago) and now my first 100-miler. It’s in my backyard and it’s an incredibly beautiful place to train and race. The run is well-organized, the volunteers are fabulous, and it all just keeps getting better.

Huge thanks to all who have supported me in this endeavor! I was especially lucky to have the A-Team including Javier, Betsy, Tom and Rachael. The encouragement and training support of my fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners made the ride much more enjoyable. I also want to thank my friends “down the hill,” the Wrong Distance Runners of Sacramento, who helped me get into shape earlier in the season. And, finally, to my parents and my family, cheering and sending love from afar, I knew you were with me!

Afterward: I slept surprisingly well the first night. I am still quite tired four days later, but my body is no more sore than after my first road marathon. Good thing, because a couple of weeks ago I already signed up for my next 100-miler, Pine to Palm! Abundance.

More Info:

 

TRT 100-Mile Stalking Guide

TRT 100-Mile Stalking Guide

Months of training, days of obsessing over drop bags, and the big day is fast approaching: my first 100-mile trail race at the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Runs is this Saturday, July 19, 2014! My body feels good, my mind feels taper-kooky, and I’ve got the A-team pacing and crewing me.

I know that many of you want to follow this zany adventure from afar, but need a little guidance on what the numbers mean. Let’s start with the basics. The course is two laps of 50 miles each, starting at Spooner Lake, passing through Tunnel Creek on several occasions, once through Diamond Peak, then returning to Spooner Lake via Snow Valley Peak.

Click here for TRT Live Tracking. I am bib #48.

Tracking mats will be in place at the following locations: Tunnel Creek, Diamond Peak Lodge, Snow Valley Peak, 50-Mile Lap and at the Finish. Keep in mind that some of these locations (Tunnel Creek and Snow Valley Peak in particular) are not exactly on-the-grid and sometimes communications go down.

Spooner Lake Sunset

Spooner Lake Sunset

How do you know if your runner is doing well? To start, if your runner is still on-course, that’s pretty great! If your runner previously ran TRT, you can do a little internet stalking for more guidance. Start with last year’s tracking and splits at UltraLive.net. Click on that bib number for your runner’s splits. (50-mile splits from last year are here and 50k splits are here.)

Are you really into the numbers? Go to UltraSplits.com’s Pace Analysis, which is an insanely cool free tool for estimating splits. Stalk your runner on UltraSignup.com to get a ballpark idea of your runner’s finish time (make sure you are looking at the entrant list for the correct distance.)

If numbers aren’t your thing, there is a simpler way… just keep an eye on your runner’s relative place in the field. Is your runner’s place staying consistent from one aid station to the next? Is she or he moving up in the field or falling behind? This gives you an idea of how things are going out on the course relative to other runners.

Now, following yours truly will be much simpler. I have put together a pace plan and we’ll see how close I can get. Being my first 100-miler, the second lap is the big wildcard, obviously. I am planning for a leisurely 13-hour first lap followed by a (probably grueling) 15-hour second lap.

Location         Mile     Target
Start               0     5:00am
Tunnel Creek 1     11     7:30am
Tunnel Creek 2   17.3     9:00am
Diamond Peak 1   30.3     11:30am
Tunnel Creek 3   35.3     1:25pm
Snow Valley 1    43.1     4:10pm
50-Mile Lap      50.2     6:00pm
Tunnel Creek 4   61.2     8:45pm
Tunnel Creek 5   67.5     10:45pm
Diamond Peak 2   80.5     1:30am
Tunnel Creek 6   85.5     3:40am
Snow Valley 2    93.3     6:50am
Finish           100.4    8:55am

If I get too far ahead of pace on the first lap, that is no bueno. I want to have legs and lungs for the second lap, where I’m looking to stay on task. Don’t give up free speed. Don’t linger at aid stations. Continual forward progress.

And just in case you still need to know even more about how my day (and night and day) are going, I will be carrying my DeLorme InReach Satellite Messenger. Click here to see my GPS tracks, updated every 10 minutes. Enter password: helenisagoat (Yes, it may think I am still in Silverton, Colorado, until the race.)

Let me close with these lyrics by my friend Tom:

Every breath you take
Every relentless forward move you make
Every hill crest you break
Every aching step you take
I’ll be tracking you

Every moment of the day
Every sound your body may “say”
Every mental game you play
Through the night I’ll stay
I’ll be tracking you

O, I may not see
When you stop to pee
But how my poor heart aches when a belching vomit you’ll take

Every relentless forward move you make
Every vow you make and break
Every smile you fake
When people say, “You look great!”
I’ll be tracking you

Since you’ve gone I’ve seen you slow down through this race
I dream you’re going to pick up your pace
I look for you but can’t find your bib number any place
I feel so sad and I long for your name to appear some place
I keep crying baby, baby please…get there….

Every time you trip on root or rock and scrape
Every drop of blood your dirty knees will make
As the skies above you thunder and shake
Please, no bones shall you ever break…
I’ll be tracking you

Every relentless forward move you make
Every vow you make and break
Every smile you fake
When people say, “You look great!”
I’ll be tracking you

Diamond Peak climb - training run

Diamond Peak climb – training run.