The P2P 100 mile is held on Oregon and starts in the pine forests near the small town of Williams. The course goes over the Siskiyou mountains and ends in the palm tree terrain of Ashland, hence the name. The main feature that makes the course so difficult is the elevation gain and loss. There are three mountains around 7000′. There are several other mountains that take you around 5000′. One really gets to know the terrain as you watch the flora and fauna change from the tangles of thick blackberries in the valley bottoms up the sandy sidehills to the granite ridges or dry alpine meadows.
The race is put on by Hal Koerner of the Rogue Valley Runners. Hal is a world renowned ultra runner with more than 100 ultras completed and he is sponsored by North Face. He has won his fair share of races including some big named ones like the Western States 100 mile. There was a mandatory race briefing the night before the race where Hal would go over all the details. Important stuff like trail marking types, aid station details, crew requirements and the like. Funny – be cause he never showed up and nobody knew where he was. The medical director and an aid station captain (his wife) covered for him in front of the 75 odd racers. We did see Hal in the morning at the start and found out that he decided to run some of the course at night in the dark to re-mark some sections and make sure everything was flagged correctly. What a guy.
The P2P is solo only and the thing you immediately notice is the caliber of the runners. In many of the shorter races you’ll find runners of different body types – all shapes and sizes. Not so here. This was all 130-170 pound lean serious runner bodies. On the morning of the race, the details of running equipment, pre–race routines and setup showed a very high level of collective experience.
The race started at 6 am in the dark. Lights on, we immediately and relentlessly climbed for 24 km’s, running switchbacks up to over 7000 feet. I stayed about 20 yards back from first and second (Yassine Doboun and Tim Olson) letting them route find. The sun rose about half way up the climb and I was able to tuck my headlamp into my running pack. As I went over the summit, I took in the view and running through the alpine I thought I got a cactus stuck in my leg. I looked down in horror to find a wasp stinging my calve.
I am extremely allergic to wasps and bees. Several years ago, I went into anaphylactic shock and ended up in the emergency department. Since then, I completed immunotherapy. I have been stung since and I am now very familiar with the beginnings of anaphylaxis. I get goose bumps, itchy hands, hives and then an itchy throat. Sometimes this happens immediately but on more than one occasion even 24 hours later – that happens most often when I go for a run later. I downed some Benadryl and I held my epipen ready. Ok – now what? If I go into anaphylaxis, I’ll just run out of Epi. I decided to try to make it to the next aid station which I did, about 20 minutes later. I told them the situation and Hal, who apparently is quite unfamiliar with anaphylaxis, told me to go to the Seattle Bar aid station where there was a chiropractor. Seattle bar was another 25 kms away but the route is closer to some roads. I felt ok so I continued. About 2 km out of the aid station I got stung again finding a wasp in my sock in the front of my right ankle. Ok – this was bad. I took two more Benadryl and continued.
Although my body is allergic to vespid venom, my mind is allergic to Benadryl. It makes me feel slow and drunk. I moved quickly down the road trying to outrun it’s effects. A sign welcomed me to California and then a little later another one back into Oregon. I came into the Seattle Bar aid station still in third place and met up with Rhonda. She could tell something was up by my crazy eyes but I talked it over with her and decided to keep going. What a wife! The aid stations where only about 10 km apart from here on in, I had two shots of epi and lots of Benadryl.
I headed up Stein Butte thinking that the pro to this whole thing was that I was focusing on wasps and bees and not on the pain and strain of the run. I did really struggle to keep focused. I lost fine motor control stumbling over rocks and I developed a strange lack of ability to see in part of my right eye but the climb kept me going. Everything else was good though. It was hot but I had trained to be acclimated. I was burning lots of energy but my nutrition and hydration felt perfect. Near the top of the Butte, I helped Yassine into an aid station as he popped a tendon in his foot and had to drop out.
I kept going, running through aid stations until I met up with Rhonda again at Squaw Lakes. Then over 7000 again to Dutchmen Peak through some more aid stations and up to 7500 on Squaw Peak. I met Rhonda again in the setting sun at the Squaw Peak aid station. This was about 104 km’s in. My right ankle was swollen bad and I couldn’t tie up my shoe properly because the sting hurt.
I left the aid station, ran the ridge line and then into the full darkness down to Glade Creek. Running down, I could feel my big toenail coming off on my right foot as my inability to tie my shoe let my swollen feet continuously hit the front of the toe box. I thought about this for about every step down the 14 km’s until I I had a brainwave. I pulled out my knife and cut the front of my shoe off. Toes never hit in sandals. Looking like the one footed Hamburglar, I continued. Oh yeah!
I got the goosebumps again. Not sure if this was from the cold or what. My right hip started giving me serious grief. The swollen and tight right ankle had changed my running form for the previous 100 km’s and started to take a real toll. I had to slow to about 3 km/hr and I was barely holding that but I kept going. I also hadn’t seen anyone in a couple hours and I was still worried about the possibility of handling, both mentally and physically, anaphylaxis. In a moment of clarity near the 133 mark, I decided to drop. The risks outweighed the benefits, I had had my fun and there is always next time.
The Pine to Palm 100 mile race is tough! The climbing, terrain and miles are a real challenge. As always, I had tremendous help from my aid crew who in this case was Rhonda. She experienced the amazing camaraderie of the ultra community by making friends (it’s impossible not to!) with some of the experienced aid crews from other teams. These folks rally around each other, their own and other runners like you can’t even imagine. They talk you up and give you energy to continue. Many of these guys and gals have run many, many races themselves. One fellow she met usually runs 10 ultras per year but he says he runs them a bit slower now that he is 73. I looked him up and found that he has run four 100 milers since he turned 70. This is my sixth ultra this year. You have got to be very tough to be running 10/year in your seventies.
The positive energy at these events is amazing.