Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pine to Palm 100 - a rollercoaster of a day

It has only taken me almost 4 months to get round to this post! Tardy, i know, but it has given me some time to think about my experience at the Pine to Palm 100.

This was actually my first official 100 miler as I don't really count the 148km Sinister 7 - but hey what's 20 km amongst ultra friends. I have done one 100km, a bunch of 50km and 50 milers, and of course Sinister 7 - 148km.

The race starts in Williams, OR, near to the California state line, and finishes in Ashland, OR, a seeming mecca for ultra runners these days, with the likes of Hal Koerner, Jenn Shelton and Timothy Olson residing there. Hal is the race Director, and he owns the local running store Rogue Valley Runners. If you want more info on this race, is the place to start.

Its a mountainous and at times, remote course, with an estimated 22, 000 feet of ascent. Unfortunately I wasn't able to confirm the exact data as my Ambit lost it's signal for about 30km, but at least the constant math I was doing in my head figuring out how far I'd done, converting kms to miles etc, kept  my mind occupied!

Race map from

In any case, I would imagine that as far as 100 mile trail races go, this is a pretty challenging one, and I really had no idea how long this was going to take me, although my ultra encyclopedia (aka Wade Jarvis) assured me that sub 24 hours was possible. I went into the race feeling well trained, well rested, and injury free.

My aims going in were to:

1) Finish sub 24.
2) Avoid getting chick'd - though with Jenn Shelton towing the start line, that was a toughie.
3) Not die in the heat (estimated highs of the mid 90 Fs).
4) Get my nutrition right - as I'd had a few issues with the guts in prior races.
5) Still be running when I picked up my first pacer (and wife) Saira at mile 65, and my second pacer Jarvis, at mile 75.
6) Enjoy the experience enough that I would want to keep running this silly distance.

As I lined up just before 6am, Sept 15th, I had that usual pre race nervous excitement. This was what I'd been training for all year. I really wanted to test myself over 100 miles of trail.

The start was a pretty fast and furious affair, though I was really trying to hold back. Having said that I wanted to be in the leading group or thereabouts, so I likely went out a bit fast. The first 11 miles are all uphill and climb almost 5000ft, so you don't want to blow it early on. Indeed, we did blow it as about 10 of us missed the first turn at mile 3 in the dark, and ended up running about a half mile further up the road than we needed, but hey it was only mile 3! After a quick about turn, when RD Hal Koerner raced up the road after us, we rejoined the trail, but by now we were fighting to get past the back markers in some tight single track, so again, I was likely pushing a bit hard. I think this is what led to a few issues later on!

The start - that's me in green

After 30 mins or so the climbing proper started, on beautiful soft, leafy single track switchbacks, and gradually I felt like I had managed to get by most of the field and up near the front of the race. I settled into my steady uphill easy breathing pace, and started to enjoy the running. I ran the whole of the first climb, and never felt like I was pushing too hard. The legs felt good and my breathing was easy. Training and living in the mountains of Canmore, AB is definitely an advantage.

Cresting the first summit in the early dawn, was quite incredible, and I wished I'd had a camera with me. It really is a beautiful spot high on Grayback Mtn.

The initial climb, image from

From the summit it was a fast and furious descent off the back down to an aid station (mile 15) and a long gradual downhill stretch on gravel road down into Seattle Bar (mile 28). One highlight here was having Scott Jurek fill my water bottle, which was quite cool!

Arriving in Seattle Bar (a stellar aid station by the way), I was feeling good, having not pushed the pace too hard down the long road section just completed, but the day was heating up and it was still very much early days. It was great to see Saira and Wade here, enthusiastic and tending to my every need. I wasn't exactly sure, but figured I was in about 6th place at this point, having been passed by some speedsters on the road - Tim Long being one. I ditched my jersey here, stuffed some food down, grabbed 2 new bottles of water, and prepared for the heat.

Leaving Seattle Bar it was a long run/hike up Stein Butte. It was really starting to heat up, and I worried a bit that my two handheld bottles wouldn't be enough. But I still felt good, and kept running all but the steepest of pitches. I passed a couple of runners on the climb and assumed I was in about 4th place. Just as I ran out of water and was starting to feel thirsty, the aid station on Stein Butte appeared. Mile 33 - perfect timing. Friendly volunteers filled my bottles as I quickly grabbed some food and a few gels.

Climbing Stein Butte in the heat. Image courtesy of Long Run Pictures

From Stein Butte it was a long descent down to Squaw Lakes Aid station (mile 39), and another chance to meet with crew. After all the descending in the heat my quads were starting to feel a bit tight, so it was nice to get into the shady trails of Squaw Lakes. Here we did a quick loop of the lake, back to the aid station, and I took a few moments to sit, eat some avocado and fruit, and take a short breather. As I set off down the road from Squaw lakes it was baking hot and I started to notice a few little crampy niggles in my quads. I recalled Tim Noakes mentioning something about pickle juice in his book, Waterlogged, and I had brought some to the race, but had forgotten to get some back at Squaw. I was a mile out of the aid station, and was considering turning back, when Wade and Saira came by in the car.

'Get me the pickle juice!' I yelled as they passed. At the junction with the next trail - the climb to Hanley Gap - there was Wade with a bottle of pickles! Awesome!

I wasn't sure how much to take so I just glugged down maybe a quarter cup - it tasted good, and psychologically it helped. In fact I totally forgot about least for the next 8 miles.

The climb to Hanley Gap was very tough for me. I was still mostly running, but the trail was very exposed to the sun in places, and I was starting to feel frazzled. I was also starting to feel the cramps returning, and arriving at the Squaw Peak Aid and the short out and back, I knew I was in trouble. It wasn't so much much that I was in trouble then, just that I knew something bad was starting to happen in my legs.

I took a few minutes to sit down at Hanley Gap aid. I chewed down some Pretzels, some fruit, a couple of cups of water and some E-caps. I don't generally use electrolyte tabs, just nuuns now and then more for the taste, as I find plain old water does it for me, but I wanted to get rid of these early cramps, using whatever means I could. There really isn't any evidence that cramping is caused by anything other than fatigue, but hey, I was desperate to try anything I could. Eric Skaggs was there and told me it would start to cool off soon, and the cramping would abate. I left the aid feeling optimistic.

The optimism lasted about a half mile. Cramping set in. Horrible, full on, 2 leg cramping. I fell to the ground multiple times with quad, calf and hamstrings simultaneously spasming. I cannot begin to describe how awful it was. I would walk 20 yards, cramp, spasm, fall over. It must have looked comical, but it felt anything but. Hell, I was only 52 miles into this race! Barely half way. I fell into the absolute depths of ultra-race despair for about an hour. I walked and hobbled. All I could think of was, get me out of this race. There was no way I could even contemplate finishing. If the sag wagon had pulled up I would have jumped in it in a flash. Fortunately it didn't. So I resigned myself to hobbling onwards. But I was done. I was barely moving, and every step was agony. How on earth could I run for another 50 miles. The sun continued to beat down, and I got passed by 3,4, 5 runners. There goes my top ten, sub 24 hour finish. All I could think about was getting to the next aid station and dropping out. So I ate some food, drank some water, and walked.

And then miraculously, after an hour of complete negativism, of total despondency and despair, things started to improve. It started to cool, just slightly. A slight breeze started to cool me off as I walked. The sun was going down. I'd eaten lots and was hydrated. And then I started to jog, barely a jog initially, but the legs felt good all of a sudden. Then I was running slowly, then full on running, up hill!!! I passed all the guys who'd just passed me. They were walking, but I ran, and it was steep. And I ran all the way, strong, up to Dutchman peak. When I arrived, Saira who was waiting to pace me said "wow, you look strong, barely anyone has run up this hill!"

And so I glugged pickle juice - maybe half a litre - it was salty nectar! I drank coke, ate chips and pretzels. I had a full belly, the temp was cooling, and I had the added lift of my first pacer. Now I felt bloody marvellous!

We set off as the darkness descended onto the Pacific Crest Trail. Saira ran a few yards in front of me. I asked her to pick up the pace! I was 65 miles in and running strong again. Saira couldn't believe how quickly I was running at this stage. And so we carefully picked our way in deep darkness along the PCR, which would, I imagine, be an incredible trail in the daylight, into Long John AS, at approximately 75 miles. Wade was ready for pacing duties.

I had grabbed some poles - Black Diamond Ultra light poles - at the Dutchman aid station and I was glad of them now, as there was a lot of steep stuff in the final quarter of the race. With Wade now pacing, we moved steadily along to the final big climb up to Wagner Butte. One runner passed us on this section, hollering how he was feeling so good after the beer he had had at Long John! 'That may come back to bite him' Wade remarked.

Sure enough as we hiked up the steep final slopes up to Wagner Butte, there he was, head in hands, emptying his stomach into the bush. We offered some words of encouragement, then pushed on. The final climb to Wagner Butte was just that, a climb! A full on night time technical scramble. With tired quads it was an exercise in careful foot placement. A fall here could have been disastrous. Unscathed, and feeling like the worst was over, we pushed the pace down from the summit. We were running as fast as I could, and then we were descending, descending, descending - steep, loose, technical single track - it seemed freshly cut, and was easily the most technical descending of the day - 85 miles in!

At mile 90 we were greeted by Carly Koerner at the Road 2060 Aid. She told us we were looking good, as we downed grilled cheese (the best grilled cheese I ever tasted) and chocolate covered coffee beans. I knew it was in the bag - all downhill from here. We cranked as hard as I could manage. We hit some narrow single track trails coming down steeply into Ashland, and suddenly there were head lights coming up quickly from behind us on the trail. We were less than a mile from the finish - I could almost see it. It was Jenn Shelton - the lead woman, and her pacer, and one of the lead men who had gotten off course. Wade took my poles, and told me to get going. I gave it all I had - a near sprint finish at the end of 100 miles!

That's how close the sprint for 5th was! After 100 miles

The finish, as always, was sweet, but anti-climactic. No big announcement, no fanfares, just a few sleepy volunteers to pat you on the back and hand over the finishers jacket. My wife even missed the finish - she'd fallen asleep nearby!

But I felt great. I had run strong over the last 35 miles - after being as close to dropping as I have ever been. I didn't get chick'd, beating Jenn Shelton by about 30 seconds. I finished without any stomach issues in the entire race - no nausea, vomiting, retching. I finished well under 24 hours - I was 5th overall, first old guy (Masters over 40), in 22 hours and change. And I didn't die in the heat, although I came close.

And best of all, I took away from this race a huge desire to keep doing it! I love these longer races. I'm not fast and I think 50 km is too short for me, but maybe 100 miles suits me, maybe it's my distance - I guess time will tell. Mentally this was a toughie, but I know that in the future, when times are tough, I just need to keep plugging away, to keep moving, keep eating and drinking, and just put one foot in front of another, because it will get better. That's what I learnt at this race. That's my new mantra when I am feeling awful - 'It will get better'.

With Scott Jurek

With Hal Koerner, RD

I have read negative comments on Facebook about this race, about the tight cutoffs, and the aid stations. I have nothing but good things to say, the aid stations and volunteers were stellar. Kudos to Hal for putting on this race, and wow, what a course. The cutoffs may be tight, but this is a hard race, and the final 30 miles are very tough.

I am running the Bandera 100km in a few weeks, I'm hoping to get into Western States through the lottery, and failing that it will likely be the Leadville 100. Pine to Palm didn't put me off ultras one bit, the exact opposite, it has fueled the desire! Keep on trucking folks.....and don't forget the pickle juice.

Thanks to RD Hal Koerner and all the volunteers.
Thanks to Wade Jarvis and Saira Reed for being stellar support and for pacing.
Thanks to Hoka One One and Injinji socks for making awesome foot apparel!
And thanks to the pickle farmers.


  1. Great reading your report. I moved from Ashland seven years ago and go back to run the Siskiyou Outback every year (they added a 50 miler in 2012). I ran P2P in 2011. Loved it!!! Hardest hundred (of six, so far). I ended up having horrible foot issues and walked the remaining 20 miles to finish still two hours before the cut off. As a result of P2P, I have had my big toenails removed. Such relief!
    I love the pickle juice idea! I ran IMTUF in McCall,ID one AS had pickles and a running whom I met while running the first 50K offered my a homemade pickle. It was great. I'll have to remember the juice. :)
    Best of luck to you in 2013.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Just read your report as part of my research for P2P 2013. Thanks for all your details -- great job!