Location: Williams, Oregon
Total distance: 100 Miles
Notable features: Point to point course with lots of ascent and descent; parts on the PCT; rock scrambling.
Weather: 55º at the start, going up to 89º at peak and 50’s during the night.
Cutoff: 36 hours
Total Elevation Gain: 20,000’
Total Elevation Loss: 20,000’
Average Elevation: 4872’
Max Elevation: 7448’
Min Elevation: 2042’
Total runners who started: 110
Total runners who finished: 82
Goal Time: Have a fucking blast
Finish Time: 23:26:04
Overall Place: 9
Pine to Palm was actually supposed to be my first 100 miler in 2018. Right after I registered, a close friend let me know she was getting married the same weekend, so I jumped into Mogollon Monster instead, and well, that’s a story for another day. When it came time to plan out my adventure calendar for 2019, P2P was still high up on my list, and after losing out on the Western States, Hardrock, and Cascade Crest lotteries, it felt like maybe the lottery gods were telling me something. I’m still surprised that P2P doesn’t sell out, considering that it’s a Western States qualifier and gives out UTMB points, plus it’s stupid beautiful and very well organized, but I digress. I really enjoyed my first 100 miler and learned a lot from the experience, and was really excited to see what the next one would bring. I chose P2P to see a beautiful and new-to-me part of our country, plus to learn more about 100 milers and what my body and mind are capable of. It was also going to be nice to get some solid climbing and descending in, but on less technical trails than most of the other races I’ve done lately.
Before the Race:
I was able to fly out to the race on the Wednesday night, thinking that getting two solid nights of sleep before the race would help, especially as the night before the race usually isn’t great sleep. My flight was delayed getting out there and I managed to tweak something in my back running to make my connecting flight in SLC. It got in my head a little at first, but I just reminded myself that somethings always hurts in an ultra anyway, and I figured I could deal with it when I got to Oregon.
We stayed at a really awesome Airbnb in Jacksonville: to the left of us was a gorgeous cow and horse farm, and to the right, a huge pot farm. Oregon doesn’t fuck around when it comes to the sweet, sweet cheeba. In fact, from what I can tell, 90% of the stores in Medford are weed dispensaries. I spent a solid amount of time in the house’s jacuzzi, letting the hot jets sort out my back while sipping a beer and reading over some race reports. I turned in early Thursday and slept a glorious 11 hours.
I woke up on Friday feeling pretty fresh, but my back was still bugging me, even after a short shakeout run. I drove down to Ashland to see a sports chiropractor who was able to fit me in last minute, Matt Terreri at Southern Oregon Spine Center. Matt was from New Jersey originally, talked like the Dude, and knew his way around a back. I felt much better after leaving his office (and my back didn’t bother me the entire race). Clara arrived midday on Friday and we cooked some lunch. She was a great, calming energy. She’s never actually been out to any of my big races, and I was so happy she was with me. I like doing these things alone, but having the love of your life with you really changes it, and much for the better.
The rest of my crew, Adam and Sara, was driving down from Portland that morning, and we met them around 4:00pm at packet pickup. The race gave us some sweet swag: a bright-green finisher’s shirt, a pair of custom Goodr sunglasses, and an awesome trucker hat, plus a sweatshirt at the finish. I also couldn’t help but buy a Pine to Palm Hydroflask insulated coffee mug. Given that it was Oregon, I’m surprised they didn’t have Pine to Palm bongs or vaporizers. Maybe next year, Hal? We bumped into a friend, Michael Ortiz, at packet pickup, who would be attempting his 41st 100 miler in as many weekends. What he is doing is so inspiring and so unbelievable.
We had a nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant, then headed back to the house so I could show them the crew gear. I managed to get in bed a little after 8 (and by manage, I mean Adam basically manhandled me into bed) spent 15 minutes reviewing the course, eventually falling asleep around 9.
I woke up to Adam’s sonorous baritone informing me it was 3:40, pleasantly surprised to have slept through the night. I slugged down my cold brew, banana, and Bobo’s bar, lubed up, and shimmied into my race kit. When I got out of my room I saw my crew was wearing custom “Team Imbo” t-shirts and sweatshirts that Clara had made. It was so fucking amazing! We hit the road promptly at 4:20, a very Oregonian time, and set off on our way to the start in Williams as I sipped on sports drink. We arrived at the start at 5:15 and I immediately hit the porto potties to unusually great success. I walked around trying to find my old coach, Brett, and my friend Steph, but couldn’t so jogged a bit and hit the bathroom one more time. We still had 15 minutes to the start so I huddled with my crew and we took a last minute picture. Just before 6:00, Hal gave us some last minute words of encouragement and then we were off.
Start to Rock Creek
After a short downhill jog we started the ten mile climb up to Big Sugarloaf Peak at around 6,600 feet. In the back of my head were my friend Yung-Hae’s words of wisdom about letting all the folks pass you in the first 10 miles so you’re passing them back at 50k, so I took it mellow. We were on a wide jeep road running in loose packs, enjoying the silence and the stunning moonlight from the almost full moon. Pretty quickly we hit the Rock Creek aid station which was just a truck with some water in the back. I filled up my empty bottle that had naked flavor tailwind powder, thinking it’d be better to have some extra liquid during the long climb.
Rock Creek to O’Brien Creek
Immediately after we left Rock Creek we took a sharp turn onto lovely singletrack. I had settled in with group of folks at what felt like a comfortable effort. My mom would have been happy to know that I had joined the conga line with a bunch of medical professionals. Behind me was James, an oncologist from Philly, and Donny, an orthopedic surgeon (I think?) from San Francisco; in front of me were Chad, a Medical Tech from Ashland, and Anna, a last-year resident at Stanford. The climb was somewhat steep but not terrible and the terrain was pretty mellow with switch backs at the worst parts. I was enjoying the scenery so much and checking in with my effort, making sure that I felt like I was climbing with purpose but not too much intensity, as it was going to be a long day. Anna (also a fellow SWAPer) was setting a great pace for our group and eventually we hit the peak of the climb and started the descent down to the O’Brien Creek aid station, a little over four miles down the mountain.
The descent started off mellow and even though I wanted to pass people I forced myself to stay behind Anna and Chad, as I remember Adam’s word’s to me at dinner the night before which were something to the effect of, “I know you like downhill running, but don’t be an idiot in the beginning.” A few miles from the aid station, the trail got steeper and Chad and I passed Anna, as we were stepping on each other’s heels by then. The descent was steep but flowed nicely and we rolled into the O’Brien Creek AS at about 9:20, a bit earlier than I had anticipated.
O’Brien Creek to Steamboat Ranch
I realized at the AS that I hadn’t packed any more Tailwind or Spring Electroride, so I grabbed some watery, grape Gu Roctane drink, refilled my water, and ate a few banana slices that they volunteers had covered with peanut butter and m&ms—they were a delight. Our group had broken up, but I caught back up with Chad and another guy named Drake, from California (so many nice CA folks at this race!). The next section was downhill, this time on jeep roads. We were moving pretty quickly, but again my effort level felt pretty mellow. We sped past a huge pot farm and the smell alone was enough to induce euphoria. I sucked down my SiS gels on schedule, and started to drink more, as the sun was out and it was warming up.
Steamboat Ranch to Seattle Bar
At the Steamboat Ranch AS I grabbed some water, pickle juice, Roctane, and potato chips and went on my way. Shortly after the AS, the road flattened out a bit and I ran with a guy named Chris, again from California, who was doing his first 100 miler. He was moving very well if a little fast so I wished him luck and let him go ahead as I continued my jog. It was during this section I got stung in the calf by a wasp, and it hurt like a mother fucker. Wasps are just plain assholes. My calf felt instantly numb, and then when sensation came back I had this persistent burning. It was painful, but there wasn’t much I could do, so I just moseyed, aware that I was still ahead of schedule to meet my crew at the next AS. I had no idea where I was in the pack, and couldn’t have cared less.
Seattle Bar to Stein Butte
I pulled into Seattle Bar feeling focused and excited to see my crew. Not a surprise to anyone who knows my wife or the Devine’s, but there was plenty of yelling and jumping up and down. It felt awesome! I haven’t run an ultra over 50 miles with crew that I know before, so it felt amazing to see not only close friends, but also my amazing wife cheering me on. I felt so grateful for them. They were all ready to get me out quickly, and they swapped pre-mixed bottles for empties, resupplied my gels, slapped on some sunscreen, and took my trash. Clara read me an amazing note from one my runners and then they sent me on my way to climb up to Stein Butte, an ice bandana around my neck and my cooling sleeves in my pack in case got even hotter. I had been warned by another runner to take extra water, so I took three bottles, one water, one Electoride, and one Tailwind, plus some extra Tailwind in a zipsickle for the next AS.
Once out of the AS, I crossed back under the highway on a small trail and immediately started the steep climb up to Stein Butte. The terrain felt steeper and rockier than our first big climb in the morning, so I did kick myself a bit for not grabbing my poles. It was also getting much hotter now, and the sun was really strong in the exposed sections. The race has had some notoriously hot years, so when the forecast for the day read with highs around 90º, it felt like we dodged a bullet, but it’s not like it was a cool fall day. I began to feel worked over, and worried I had gone out too fast. Had I climbed the first climb too hard? Had I taken the descent too fast? The RD hard warned us against both, as had my pacer, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t. Up until Seattle Bar, my perceived effort level hadn’t really climbed past a point where I couldn’t breath in a 4/4 rhythm, or hold a conversation, which are usually good judges of effort for me. I had come into the last AS feeling great, but I was now feeling terrible. I resisted the urge to feel sorry for myself and instead started to do a mental checklist to troubleshoot the system: I had stayed on top of my calories really well, I’d been getting electrolytes consistently, I hadn’t felt like I’d run too hard at any point, and my hydration had been fine. The only thing I could think of out of the ordinary was the wasp sting, which hurt like hell. I kept moving slowly uphill, but could feel pre-cramp twinges in my calves and quads.
It was much hotter now, so I took a salt pill just to be safe, because at that point it couldn’t hurt. The pain started to ratchet up and I decided to stop to try to stretch out my legs, hoping a short rest might help reset. Wrong. The minute I stopped my legs cramped from waist to ankle. It was all I could do not to scream at the top of my lungs. I rode it out, sucking in deep breaths as I watched my muscles twitch, as if a thousand snakes were wiggling inside each one. Why hadn’t I taken my mother fucking poles? Wait, why am I cursing at myself? How is this helping? Time to right the ship. I figured if it hurt more to stand still than to slowly walk up this fucking hill, then I better get to walking. I stopped again to put on my cooling arm sleeves, hoping that they’d bring some relief after I doused them with water.
There was a short descent and climb ahead of me to the AS, and I fought for every step of it. The descent was dispiriting mentally and physically. I love downhill running and here I was, reduced to a slow walk, slaloming across the trail so I didn’t land too hard on any steep grade and send my quads into cramp city again. I got passed a few times on the downhill, and then a few more times on the uphill. I congratulated all the runners passing me on how well they were moving, realizing it would be better to connect to those around me than feel sorry for me. Still, thoughts were slowly starting to creep into my head that this might be a very, very long day. I figured that if this was the best I could move, at some point I’d be caught by Michael Diaz (sadly, he DNF’d after missing a cutoff later in the race, the result of starting the race late because of trouble finding the start) and hike it in with him if he wasn’t moving too quickly for me. Then, the pain got worse and I was no longer problem solving: I began to think about dropping. Yup, just 35 miles in and I’m thinking about dropping. I knew there was nothing wrong with thinking about dropping. The real mistake would have been not to have an answer (or multiple ones) to the question I was asking myself: is this too painful for me to go on? Luckily, I had spent time before the race–during training runs, talking with friends or my crew, etc–thinking through the various scenarios under which I might drop. I had told my crew that I was only dropping if I was either medically unable to continue, was experiencing pain that might prevent me from running in the future (near, mid, or long term after the race) or if I missed a cutoff. None of these seemed to be the case, so I pressed on, stutter-stepping in agony and frustration into the Stein Butte aid station, but determined to get to my crew at Squaw Lakes. I knew I had lots of time, wasn’t in danger of missing cutoffs, and I was going to be patient and make the smartest choices I could, even with the pain being so intense. I knew there was some happiness to be had still.
Stein Butte to Squaw Lakes I
I limped into Stein Butte feeling rinsed. I was hoping for pickle juice, even it’s cramp-solving abilities are merely a placebo, but couldn’t find any so I grabbed more potato chips, loaded up my spare tailwind, and took another S-cap. I think there was a bottle of Advil and I thought about taking some, but quickly decided not to, since I was still able to walk, and if my body needed to slow me down it was telling me something and I didn’t want to override that message by taking a pill that could also land me in the hospital if something went wrong (for those that don’t know what I’m talking about, google “rhabdomyolysis and ultra running”). The aid station was manned by a father and son team, and they quickly refilled my bottles and got me ready to go. I took a moment to use a big sponge they had in a bucket of ice water to soak my quads and calves, hoping it would help them settle down a little. I also loaded up my pack with ice and refilled my ice bandana and sleeves, which helped some.
I probably spent about 5 minutes at the aid station, which felt like an eternity, but eventually went back out again after thanking the volunteers to tackle the last climb before the descent to Squaw Lakes, where my crew would be waiting. It wasn’t pretty and I was in a low spot: I was just over 35 miles into 100 mile race and I was already suffering; and that was the problem–I was suffering, not just in pain. I tried to think back to what I’d hear Gary Robbins say about these moments, “Don’t give a voice to your suffering” and I reminded myself that the third of Mogollon had gone similarly for me, and I was able to turn it around when it cooled off later in the day. Still, thoughts crept in about dropping, and once more it was a quote, this time attributed to Courtney Dauwalter when talking a friend out of dropping, that provided me with the answer I needed to keep moving: “Is it that you can’t go on, or that you don’t want to?” I could go on, it’s that I didn’t want to, so press on I did.
I have very little memory of this section, as I was using all the meditative tools in my kit to be inside my activity and not inside my thoughts. I did repetitive counting, I body scanned—you name it, I did it. Short of talking in an English accent to myself a la my Headspace guide, I was a zen fucking cowboy. It helped some, and finally I was at the parking lot before Squaw Lakes, thinking to myself, “Please let this be the fucking aid station.”
Squaw Lakes I to Squaw Lakes II
My crew saw me and instantly went into triage mode. It felt like a relief to look into my wife’s eyes and say, “I’m really suffering right now”. She was a ray of positivity and somehow just saying the words out loud, freed me a bit from the burden of the feelings. I plopped into a chair and rolled my quads a little with “the stick”, while Adam and Sara got my pack off and gave me a hand bottle for the lap around the lake. I stopped to soak my legs in the lake, which helped some, but mostly served to get my socks full of dirt. The best thing to happen during this part was I spotted a composting toilet and took 5 minutes to liberate myself of extra weight. Someone had put a squatty potty stool in there, and man-alive did it help my quads. I honestly think getting them into that position helped as much as anything! I’d like to dedicate this race to the Squatty Potty.
Squaw Lakes II to French Gulch
Once back at the aid station, my crew gave me back my loaded pack, and I put on fresh socks. Clara read me another motivational card from a friend. She also put a sticker with a picture of my older daughter on my arm and I was so touched and my eyes started dehydrating themselves. I grabbed a fresh ice bandana and my poles, never happier to see the cursed cheating sticks, and tried to move out of the AS with purpose. It had spent about an hour at Squaw lake, including the lap around the lake, which was a lot longer than I had anticipated it would take, but there was no sense thinking about that now.
I honestly don’t remember much about the next section. I was tired of trying to meditate through the pain and finally gave up and put in one earbud and fired up my iPod shuffle. What song might a weary, in-pain, third-generation son of Brooklyn need to hear at this moment? Yup, you guessed it, the first song to come up randomly was the Beastie Boy’s, “No Sleep ’Til Brooklyn.” I’m a spiritual if not religious man, and I’ll say I sent out my thanks to the universe for that song. The music didn’t make the pain go away, but it helped alleviate my suffering. Pretty quickly I took a right turn onto single track and up towards the French Gulch aid station.
French Gulch to Hanley Gap
The French Gulch AS was just a water cooler on a table, and I grabbed a quick refill before continuing to climb again, passing an English guy who was cursing the heat but vowed to see me again. I passed one more guy who was bent over on the side of the trail with nausea. I asked him if he needed anything, but he said he would probably just throw it up so I made a note to tell the volunteers at the next aid station about him, though he looked like he just needed a moment’s rest. Before long I was at the Hanley Gap aid station, power hiking up the hill to see my crew, the sampled voice of Jay Z in T.I.’s song, “Bring em out” yelling in my ear and whipping me into a frenzy.
I’ll pause here to say how fucking on-point my crew was all day. They navigated with speed and precision the over-packed bags I had given them, quickly getting me what I needed when I needed it. I say this, because the actual only mistake they made the entire day was at Hanley Gap, and it’s actually part of why I was able to turn my race around. At Hanley, we were allowed to crew before and after the out-and-back climb from the aid station to grab a flag to prove we had been to the summit of Squaw peak. When I stormed in, power-hiking with all the finesse of the Bushwackers from WWF days gone by, they quickly sent me up the hill to get my flag, as they thought they couldn’t crew me until I got back down. After about 10 minutes up the climb it dawns on me: fuck, I could have dropped my pack. Instead of getting annoyed though, I realized I was actually passing people. I got to the top and got my flag and was even more amazed to realize that after a long stretch of not being able to run downhill, I could now jog back down the climb I had hiked up. I wasn’t exactly setting a speed record, but I was able to pass a few people on the downhill. By the time I got back down to see my crew, I was able to say to them the most important phrase I had said in a while, “ I’m in pain, but I’m not suffering.”
Hanley Gap to Squaw Creek Gap
Beyond just my words, my crew sensed something had shifted, so the got me out quickly. I wouldn’t see them again until Dutchman Peak, the high point of the course at 7,417 feet and 66 miles into the race, at which point it would be dark. I slugged part of an ensure, Clara read me another wonderful motivational note from Brian Schwartz and Carmen Cramer (I didn’t get lost guys!) and gave me some stickers of our old dog Alfie to put on right pole. I swapped out my soaked hat for my PPTC hat and Adam yelled out a yell so loud that I think the aid station volunteers were worried we were under attack; it put a big smile on my face. I thanked the volunteers and was off.
Again, I’m a little blurry on what exactly went on for this stretch. It was lovely terrain though and I was zoning out, except I had to pee a lot, but I took that as a good sign. I felt calm, watching a glorious sunset, and continuing to suck down gels every 30 minutes, with random bites of quesadilla and salt and vinegar potato chips between. I was in a good rhythm for power hiking, even if the downhills still hurt my quads, and I felt like I was able to take in a lot of calories. There was a decent amount of jeep road in this section, but I knew we’d get back on single track after Dutchman, so I just listened to some music and moved along, trying to run the runnable and hike the hike able with some purpose.
Eventually I had to grab my headlamp, which I had put in a hard to reach part of my pack, and a nice runner name Torsten helped me grab it out of my pack as he happened to be running by. One thing I’ve figured out, at least for me, is that in races where you spend a lot of time in the dark your headlamp really matters. I have more than a few choices for lights, but decided to go with my Zebralight h600w MK IV (rolls of the tongue, right?). It’s basically a headlight strapped to your forehead. My obnoxiously bright beam basically made Torsten’s redundant, so I told him to shut it off to save batteries, and after a bit we arrived at the Squaw Creek Gap AS. I felt like I had my shit together finally. The stars were out as the full moon hadn’t yet drowned them out, and all was glorious.
Squaw Creek Gap to Dutchman Peak
The volunteers at Squaw Creek gap, a husband and wife team, were totally amazing. I had a hot cup of miso soup, a turkey and avocado wrap, and refilled my to-go bag. They told me they would sleep at the AS after they finished, because it would be too hairy getting down the mountain by the time they were done. What dedication! I thanked them profusely, slugged some gingerly, and started the long hike up to Dutchman Peak.
I caught up to Torsten and we chatted some more. It was his first 100 (he had DNF’ed Bryce I think because of injury and weather issues) and he was setting a great pace. I asked a bunch of questions about his life bopping back and forth between Berlin and Vancouver, and he humored me with answers. I decided to stick with him for most of the climb, knowing I’d move faster with someone else. The peak kind of snuck up on me, and you could see the lights of Ashland far below us. I was energized by how well I had been hiking. I had battled back a lot and was moving well, and I had a feeling picking up my pacer would mean some fun was in store. I know some people complained of feeling the altitude at this point (about 7,500’) but I was thankful to not feel anything much besides the constant pain in my quads, and even that was now relegated to the background noise that can always exist in an ultra.
Dutchman Peak to Siskiyou Gap
I arrived to huge cheers from my crew as I came up the road. They sprung into action when I finally reached them, giving me my gel and bottle resupply, Sara grabbing me to-go bags of quesadillas and Clara reading me more motivational notes from friends. Originally it looked like it might be very cold at this AS, but the temps felt okay, even with stopping for a few minutes. I finally took caffeine, a Yerba Mate shot, as I try to hold off until after midnight my time (so with the 3 hour time difference, it was after midnight for me already). I drank some more coconut water and half an ensure, then grabbed some Skratch chews, my gloves and some arm sleeves and a fresh buff to cushion my headlamp, plus grabbed a spare battery and dumped all my heat gear.
Adam and I got out pretty quickly and ran back down the jeep road I had just ascended, chatting about how things had been for me and what the plan was for the upcoming section. We passed by the cars where people were car crewing and I was extra appreciative that my awesome crew had hiked over a mile to crew me at the aid station, as it was nice to roll past people and not have to worry about stopping again. Pretty quickly we were one the Pacific Crest Trail, traversing, descending, and climbing on gorgeous terrain with the full moon lighting our path. There was lots of side hilling in this section and it was fun to see the slides to our left. This part of the course was super easy to follow, the PCT being so clearly marked and the reflective confidence flags picking up our headlights from far away. I felt a little nauseous and let Adam know that I had probably taken a few too many calories at the last aid station, so would chill with food for a bit; but that he should let me know if he didn’t see me eat in 30 minutes. Even about 70 miles in I was still doing fine with gels, although I was really digging the Skratch Lab chews. I remember trying to eat some quesadilla but it was kind of burnt and I hit that point where I had to scoop the food out of my mouth since it seemed like I’d choke if I tried to swallow.
Siskiyou Gap to Grouse Gap, 7.5 miles:
The Siskiyou Gap aid station had fantastic volunteers and more quesadillas. It also had bacon: deliciously salty bacon. I made little bacondillas, finally drank some coke (first time I’ve waited this long to bring coke in any race) dumped my trash and we were out quickly. I was still drinking naked flavored Tailwind and Spring Electroride off and on, and my stomach seemed fine after the small break I gave it leaving Dutchman (plus the two Tums I had managed to get down). Adam and I kept climbing, trying not to anticipate the summit—hell, expecting false summits. At some point Adam said he’d have to visit the pooping part of the woods and catch up with me, and shortly after he went I felt like I had to go too. I liken this effect to yawning: if you don’t yawn when someone else does you might be a socio-path; if you don’t poop right after your pacer poops you also might be a socio-path. Probably the least fun thing I could do about 80 miles in is to figure out how to recollect my shitty baby wipes in the ridiculously small ziplock I had packed them in, but I’m proud to say I did. Leave no trace, except on your hands, right? Entyways, I feel like we were moving well on this section, chatting about all sorts of things but still moving with purpose, and eating and drinking well.
We finally hit the top of the climb and ran a little twisty section before hitting the downhill to the Grouse Gap AS, which would be our last time seeing Sara and Clara. About five mins from the aid station I let Adam know I had a hot spot on my big right toe from where grit had been rubbing against my toe (thanks, Squaw Lake!) and that I should change my socks and sort out my toe, as we had 20 miles left.
Grouse Gap to Weasel Creek, 10 miles:
We got in ahead of schedule, and I was feeling really focused and ready to get out quickly. I told them I’d be changing socks and they sprung into action. Thankfully, there was no blister on my toe, just a bit of redness, so I grabbed a pair of Injinji’s and an Engo patch and put the patch in my shoe, lubed my toe a bit, and popped the socks on, already loaded with 2Toms powder. I also drank another Yerba Mate shot (man those worked great) and grabbed a spare battery, which in hindsight wasn’t a fresh one, but that we’ll cover below.
I looked up after fixing my socks to notice there was a group of people huddled around me, watching as I prepped my foot. I think I said that I felt like a celebrity, but someone kindly pointed out that I was sitting in front of the fire pit after all, and we all had a laugh. Before I left, Clara gave me one last motivational message, this time her own. She looked at me lovingly, smiled, and then said, “No regrets!” Feeling the energy from her words, we took the fuck off, having spent not that much time, even with the sock change.
I started to run the climb coming out of the AS, until Adam reminded me to slow the fuck down. Up next was a pace-killing rolling section where you’d run some, then hit an uphill just steep enough to hike, at least at this point in the race. I went into Manitou’s mode, reminding myself to run every stretch of runnable terrain, even if it means just 10-15 seconds at a time. Adam noticed and started to give me kudos for throwing in these little efforts, which really helped because I’m a sucker for positive reinforcement. We were even jogging some of the uphills. If memory serves me correct (and it usually doesn’t) this was the section that was supposed to be more technical according to other people’s race reports. I was noticing more rocks and roots, and definitely some eroded trail, but it still felt pretty mellow, at least by East Coast standards.
We finally saw the sign for the climb to Wagner Butte, and hooked a left up the trail for the out and back to the rock scramble. As we climbed further, runners started passing us coming the other way, having already grabbed their flags. I was feeling rinsed. It seemed like a really long section, and much longer than what the elevation profile suggested, but I knew not to get down about it as it just didn’t matter at this stage in the race and all I could do was move forward. A few more people passed us, the last one being Chad, who said the scramble wasn’t far ahead. I felt a bit buoyed, especially as I thought he was far ahead at this point. The trail narrowed even more and finally was just a pile of boulders, so we started to climb up to the peak, picking our way carefully between refrigerator-sized rocks. I grabbed my flag at the top and wove it into my pack’s bungees, rightfully paranoid that it might come loose on the descent down to the AS and I’d be forced to go get another or DNF. I also paused briefly to soak up the view and it was glorious, Ashland seeming less like a mirage down below than it had at Dutchman Peak. Something washed over me—maybe a sense of the race drawing to a close, maybe just the calmness inspired by the moon painting the valley below a serene and ghostly white—and I felt energized and focused again. I was ready to close.
An aside: I tend to be able to close well in ultras, even in races where I’m struggling, and I’ve always wondered if that was more indicative of having run earlier parts too conservatively–or just plain not well–or if it’s that I’m able to drain parts of the well I didn’t know I had in the end.
We had reached the point from where it was finally all down hill, and I was ready to roll. I stopped at the bottom of the scramble to tie my shoes one last time, wanting them to be locked down for the descent to come. Adam, ever watchful of the clock, finally said, “If we’re going to do it, we have to do it now.” I was in total agreement. I yanked one last time one my laces and we took off. I doubted we’d catch anyone who’d passed us while we were climbing, but I wanted to at least make up some time, as we’d lost a fair amount getting to the top of the butte and by my very fuzzy math, sub 24 seemed iffy.
From the elevation profile, it looked like we’d lose close to a thousand feet in the first mile of the descent. I just let gravity do the work and fell downhill, careful to avoid falling to my doom on the right as the trail was eroded. I had been concerned about this big descent since 50k into the race, when my quads were cramping like a mofo. The pain was still there, but nothing felt like it was gonna cramp, so I leaned hard into the hill and tried to run even faster, reminding myself to eat on schedule and focus only on getting to the next aid station. Then my mind went blank I was just flowing along, mildly aware I was moving fast but seemingly expending no effort. I kept waiting for the descent to get steeper, but we had already done the worst of it, so we moved faster through tight switchbacks, eventually spilling out onto the road and hitting the Weasel Creek aid station.
Weasel Creek to the Finish, 10.5 miles:
I laughed out loud when we hit Weasel Creek, as Clara and I had jokingly been calling it “Weasletown”, which isn’t funny to anyone besides parents of kids who’ve watched Frozen about 10,000 times. I dropped my poles and drank my last caffeine shot and we were out in around 90 seconds, ready to tackle the jeep road down to Ashland. We started out at a decent clip, and I remember feeling tired and wanting this descent I had been promised to start. We passed a few runners and we congratulated each other on moving well, one of them shouting, “sub-24” as we passed. I was trying not to do math because it’s never my strong point, but I figured we’d still have to run 11 minute miles to finish safely under 24, and I knew we still had a little under 10 miles left at this point—not a layup in a 100 miler. I was tired of climbing up this stupid road and finally asked Adam when the fucking downhill was ever gonna start, to which he replied, “We’re going downhill, we’re just going fast.” I was totally fucking shocked. Instead of slowing down, I did a body scan (thanks, English guy from Headspace!) and was thrilled to discover that my breathing felt easy and my body felt strong. It’s funny how your perception can change everything. I leaned into the downhill again and tried to pick up the pace, passing a few more runners that I’d recognized had passed us on the climb up to Wagner. This definitely got me motivated and I finally felt bold enough to ask Adam if we’d make it under 24, with him ebulliently replying that we’d make it with time to spare.
Adam had done an almost psychically good job of talking or being silent during our time together, and this was the only time I asked him to stop talking. What he couldn’t know—and I was too tired to articulate—was that I very badly needed to sing, “I’ve been working on the railroad,” over and over again in my head until we got down to Ashland. I have no idea why, but it seemed very fucking important at that moment.
We went through the gate that would lead us down a short trail and into Ashland, and wouldn’t you know it, my headlamp automatically dims from total its high, “total fucking daylight” setting to the low, “where the fuck did the world go” setting. Turns out that the battery I had grabbed at Grouse Gap must have been one from the used pile from earlier in the day. I was trying to balance going as fast as I could, while going slow enough to not trip on rocks, as my headlamp only brought them into relief a millisecond before I was upon them. Thankfully, we finally hit the pavement and there was light from the houses around us.
We did more descending, taking some turns as we wound downhill, and finally spotted a runner and his pacer about 2/10s of a mile ahead of us. I made a move to speed up but then slowed a little, not sure how long I could sustain the pace if the finish wasn’t around the next turn. Thankfully, Adam and I both realized that this was in fact the finish, and the last words my amazing friend and pacer said to me after 34 miles were, simply, “Let’s go get them!”
We took off, sprinting downhill until we caught them, pulling ahead of them just as we turned into the parking lot. Clara and Sara erupted in cheers as the world turned into a blur. I kept building, leaving everything behind, and then all of a sudden I was on the other side of the finish line, screaming “Fuck yeah!” at the top of my lungs, as Hal gently shushed me (it was, after all, a little before 5:30 and we were in a park next to people’s homes—whoops!).
I collapsed into a cot just as Clara rushed up to me, saying I was 9th place overall and sub-24 hours. I honestly was stupefied. I had no idea of what place I’d been all day, and I figured I’d go under 24 hours, but would end up in the high teens or low 20s. I didn’t ever care at any point about my placement, and while getting under 24 was a great motivator once it seemed possible, I didn’t go into the race with the idea that it was sub-24 or bust. I was elated to finish top 10, to go under 24 hours on a race with a fuck-ton of climbing, but I was really thrilled about the whole journey, and especially with how I had been able to find my fun, even with some very challenging parts.
After a few minutes spent getting some warm, I ceded my cot to another runner and hobbled back to the crew minivan. Clara handed me a beer, but despite how much I had looked forward to it during the race, it tasted god awful; sitting was heavenly though.
I pretended to drink my beer for a few minutes more and then we piled into the van to head back to the house to take a well-deserved rest. I took an epsom salt bath and then gobbled down some food before going to sleep. After 24 hours of sugar, a healthy dose of yogurt with toast with butter tasted heavenly, and I drifted off to sleep for 6 hours. We finally woke up midday and lazed about the house, used the hot tub some more and shuffled around to get my blood moving again, before heading back to Ashland for the awards ceremony at 4. The ceremony was really cool, as Hal had everyone stand up and talk a little about themselves and their experience with the race; and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE who was there. The ceremony was just after the end of the official race cutoff, and it was awesome to be able to talk with people who had just finished and hear about how their days went. There was delicious, race-subsidized ramen to slurp while we chatted, and before I knew it, Hal was handing me the sub-24 hour silver finisher’s buckle, plus a nice sweatshirt. Eventually we went back to the house and Adam and Sara made a delicious dinner, which was entirely unnecessary considering all they had already done, but very much appreciated.
My main takeaway from this race is that continuing to pick races because I think I’ll enjoy them, even if they might also cause pain, is always a better strategy than picking a goal and making the race fit the goal. Having the goals of enjoying my adventure and being in the moment meant that even if I hadn’t run as fast or placed as well, I was still going to have a meaningful day. Similarly, not thinking about time until the last part of the race, and not knowing anything about placing at any point of the race, meant I felt free to experiment and run freer than I might otherwise. I didn’t feel limited by my goals because enjoying myself isn’t limited. Chasing happiness is proving to be much more successful than chasing quantifiable goals. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me happy to run sub 24 or place to 10, but those were the product of a much different and much more fulfilling process.
I’m proudest of my mental growth as a runner and human this year, and more so than any other year on this earth. It’s been a hard year, that’s been marked by some of the most challenging times, but also some of the most rewarding moments of my life. There’s things I’ve learned from it that I hope won’t repeat; but, I wouldn’t go back and change history either. This year has taught me a ton, and one of those takeaways is that I’m a strong and compassionate person and capable of great change. It’s part of what got me through an agonizing couple of hours in the first half of P2P, and a huge part of why I was able to push so hard for the last 15 miles of the race, when I was still in pain. Learning to tolerate my feelings better, to sit with what’s going on and realize I can make a choice about how to react, means that I might be in pain, but I don’t have to suffer.
I also worked a lot this year on my nutrition, less so on specifically what I was eating, and more on dealing with binge eating issues that have plagued me for a while, especially during the stressful periods of my life. Without a doubt, working on the food/emotion connection was very liberating, and I felt like I was carrying a ton less stress during training, but especially going into the race. I felt much less concerned about fixating on a specific diet, or hitting a specific race weight. I felt more aware of what my emotional state was and how that related to my eating, and I definitely noticed a positive affect on how I performed and recovered.
MY CREW WAS FUCKING AMAZING. Seriously. Who the fuck flies across country to wait for hours on end, only to see me for a few minutes in the middle of fucking nowhere and tend to my various needs? My truly amazing friends and wife, that’s who. I am incredibly indebted to them, not just for their emotional and physical support during the race, but in my life in general. You all have my eternal gratitude and love.
I’ve only been working with David Roche for a few months, but he’s been tremendously helpful in changing my perspective on my running, both how I think about it and how I enjoy it. He’s an unwaveringly positive person and I am thrilled we started working together. The greater community around his and Meghan’s practice (go SWAP!) is so incredibly supportive and friendly, and it’s a fantastic reminder that community matters so much. I’m thankful and inspired by all my incredible teammates.
I also want to thank all my Prospect Park Track Club teammates, who are the most encouraging, friendly, and inspiring group of Brooklynites I know. They never cease to amaze me with their support for each other, and I thought lots about all of you while was out in the mountains. I even thought about my teammates who put ravioli on pizza and still deign to call it pizza. Let’s grab a beer and I can help you with overcome your pizza problems!
To my Brooklyn Distance Running Athletes: you can’t begin to know how much you all inspire me. The thoughtfulness you put in towards creating and achieving your goals, dealing with setbacks as they come up, and taking on new and sometimes scary challenges is a huge part of why I do the very same. I definitely had you with me during my race.
Special shoutouts to Ben Kessel from Priority Fitness, for his friendship, tolerance of my ever-shifting schedule, and his expert insight into my strength and mobility needs. I always leave his gym feeling stronger and less like the tin-man. Also to Andrew Eisen from Symbio PT, who helped keep me running smoothly, put me back together when things were going pear-shaped, and otherwise beat the fuck out of me with his sadistic metal tools. Fuck those tools.
A huge shout out to the RD Hal, and his amazing helpers and volunteers, without whom all of this would have been a story about a Brooklyn guy who got lost in Siskiyou wilderness, never to be heard from again. You were all friendly, helpful, and encouraging each step of the way.
And thank you to the lovely folks in the Pine to Palm Facebook group for many of the lovely photos you see here!