News flash: 100 miles is a long fu%&ing way.
News flash for everyone outside the USA: 100 miles = 160km = a long fu%&ing way.
In honour of my first 100 Miler, the Pine to Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run, and the things I learned along the way, I present my race report in a slightly different way. I have so much to say about 100 Miles but in the spirit of 2013, in the spirit of the internet, and in the spirit of Buzzfeed, I present to you:
30 Things I Learned from the Pine to Palm 100 Mile Run
1. 100 Miles is a Long Fu%&ing Way. When I outlined my running goals for the season back in March I threw in “100 Miles” without specifying when or where that would happen. Typically when I make these lofty declarations, it’s because I’m not actually sure I want to do them (for example: lofty declaration to wear a squirrel suit and go BASE juming, lofty declaration to raise a baby panda then set it free from captivity, lofty declaration to wear harem pants with heels). I wasn’t sure I could physically or mentally last for 100 Miles. My furthest run to date was the 2012 Canadian Death Race at 125km. Adding another 35km and a few thousand more feet of elevation gain/loss…well that’s just mean. But…Pine to Palm fit into my schedule, and I had a training partner, and there was no real reason NOT to do it…so I signed up. As with many things in my life, I’ve found success when I bite off more than I can chew (then learned how to chew it). Safe to say I went into P2P hopeful, but not entirely sure I’d finish.
2. Don’t Qualify Your Run. Let the number on the clock (or the letters…dare I say DNF) speak for itself. I arrived in Oregon less than 10 hours prior to the race start. I had work commitments that kept me from getting there early. I wasn’t rested thanks to said work commitments. But the qualifying is pointless. “I could have done better but I wasn’t recovered from my last race,” “I could have been faster but I couldn’t sleep last night,” “I’m just taking this one easy because my shoelaces are the wrong colour.” You see what I’m getting at? We all have excuses, we all have reasons why we’re not 100%, and they really don’t matter. I didn’t want to spend my race regretting every step I took to get there. So I kept my mouth shut and tried not to dwell on those excuses. Sure I could have trained more. Sure I could have arrived earlier. Sure I could have invested in aerodynamic shoelaces. But I forced myself to keep it simple: I was at the start line. I wanted to be at the finish line. And getting there was up to me.
3. Don’t Look Sideways. During these races my head want to care about who is passing me, who I’m passing, is that person faster because they have blue shoelaces, etc. I have to be forceful, and remind myself of a piece of advice I got from a celebrity gossip blog (my grand source of all knowledge and realness): Don’t look sideways. Meaning, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Run your own race. The 6:00 AM start of Pine to Palm consisted of me and twenty others hiking quickly up the first hill. Everyone else appeared to sprint, judging by the headlamps that went flashing by. I knew this was going to be a long day so I took it easy at the start. And didn’t worry about anyone else. Eating, drinking, and moving forward. Don’t look sideways.
4. Watermelon Slices Cure Most Things. I was greeted at an aid station by a cheerful volunteer who said “Welcome to 22!” which meant I had made it 22 miles. I thought to myself, my legs should not feel this fatigued at this point. I was 22 miles in and I felt like I should be 50 miles in. My quads were sore from the first short descent (I had 3 more big ones ahead of me). Now I’m not sure “ignore feelings and eat your emotions” is a good coping technique in life, but in ultra running it applies perfectly. I ignored my thoughts about fatigue and channeled my emotions into a few large slices of juicy watermelon, while a volunteer refilled my water pack for me. The refreshment I received from that watermelon, combined with sticking my head in a bucket of cold river water, lifted my spirits and helped combat the heat.
5. Humour Is Good. These two signs, positioned about two minutes apart, cracked me up. Nice work, team. Educational and informative.
6. Five Miles Can Feel Like Fifty (and You Have to Suck it Up). I think my fellow P2Pers can agree – there was a section between Seattle Bar aid station and Stein Butte aid station that became a special type of hell. The official distance was 5 miles, and we all learned the hard way that number was a ‘loose estimate,’ as most of us ran out of water in the heat of the day. I got a nice break when I ran into two friends from Calgary, Adam & Kim, taking a breather on the side of the trail. We all agreed that Stein Butte aid station was likely ‘just around the corner’ when in fact it didn’t come for another hour. Hottest hour of the day and zero water. That was rough. I suppose the lesson here is it doesn’t matter what you think is coming – you have to keep going. Relentless forward motion.
7. Don’t Try Something New During a 100 Miler (unless you’re desperate). Many ultra runners rely on Coke for a sugary boost during races. As for me, my stomach has typically rejected anything with carbonation and my Coke expiriments have never ended well. However - arriving at Stein Butte after the hour-long grind I just mentioned, I was parched and desperate for a boost, a bump, a hit, ANYTHING WET WITH SUGAR BRING ME SUGAR LIQUID PLEASE SUGAR. So, on a whim, I grabbed an ice cold Ginger Ale and created a system with a dixie cup and toothpick, to remove carbonation before I gave it a go. I figured the Ginger in the Ginger Ale might counteract the stomach problems I was afraid of. To my surprise, it worked. I felt better and no stomach issues. I consider this experiment a lucky break and do not recommend trying this at home.
8. Expect Highs and Expect Lows. It’s really going to suck sometimes. It’s really going to be amazing sometimes. But you have one job out there. Relentless forward motion. Feeling bad or feeling good. Keep moving forward. I will say there were way more lows than highs in this race. Basically mile 33 onward felt like a low. Not sure if that ever changes. I hope it does. I blame it on my rookie 100 Miler status.
9. It’s Hard to See People Having Fun While You Suffer. While doing the 3 mile Squaw Lakes loop I mentioned above, the sun was lowering and the last light of the day danced across the water. And the air was hot. Really really hot. All I wanted to do was jump in that lake, cool down, and call it a day. Through the trees I heard laughter, and peered through the bushes to see a group of people on their canoes, chilling in the middle of the lake, having a great time. I have never hated a group of strangers more than I did at that moment.
10. Getting Over Stage Fright” Is Important. Any runner knows when you’re out there running for hours and hours, sometimes nature calls. And often we find ourselves in remote locations without plumbing and without the comforts of home. I’ve always had…um…an issue with this. I call it Stage Fright. My mind and/or body have never been able to relax enough to…get things moving. Which can get uncomfortable, let me tell you. I’m happy to report that for the first time in the history of my races, I got over this at Pine to Palm. That’s all we need to say about that
11. Remember Why You’re There. At one point I had a quick chat with a volunteer who was wearing a Run Steep Get High t-shirt. I asked him about Hardrock 100 and Colorado. The conversation was short, but stayed with me when the mind games started happening. I remembered my amazing trip to Colorado this summer. I remembered the feeling of camaraderie as I helped crew a Hardrocker (Hi, Billy!). I remembered sleeping soundly in the back of a truck in the shadows of the San Juan Mountains. And I remembered feeling “drunk on elevation” at Ice Lakes. All those thoughts made me really happy. I knew the most trying portion of the race was sneaking up on me. The hours in the dark with nothing more than a headlamp to lead the way. I knew that would be the time I’d justify a DNF. So I remembered why I was there. Because I wanted to challenge myself. Because I was out of my comfort zone. Because I had something to prove. Because despite the hatred I felt towards the pain in my feet, I wanted to be there. Because maybe, just maybe, I could get to that finish line and accomplish something I never thought I could. That’s why I was there.
12. A Familiar Face is Worth Gold. At Squaw Lakes aid station, runners cross the aid station twice – once before a loop, and once after. As I entered the aid station, I ran into a familiar face exiting – who else but the guy who got me into ultra running (an enabler!). Seeing his face and having a quick chat was comforting, refreshing, and reassuring. I wasn’t ready to sit down yet for fear of not getting back up, so I literally (and figuratively, perhaps) was leaning on him.
13. Poles Are Your Friend. I used mine on all of the inclines, most of the declines, and attached them to my pack for the flats. I also used them as support a few times in the middle of the night, for quick 10-second power naps standing straight up. I’m slightly embarrassed & somewhat proud to admit I learned how to attach my poles to my Salomon pack the night before the race. I’ve had the pack for 2 years now. In bed with the lights off I finally YouTube’d how the hell to do it, and the 4D system worked like a dream. I also got a few laughs remembering how the friendly fellow in the instructional video pronounces “bungee.” It’s the little things.
14. The Moment You Turn on Your Headlamp Can Be Enjoyable. For a second, I suppose. It was quite daunting seeing the sun sink, knowing I had 8 to 9 hours ahead of me, of which I’d be staring at a circle of my headlamp. Fortunately I took a minute to glance left before I flipped the switch on my headlamp. Oregon, you’re lovely. This is the view I saw:
15. The Halfway Point Is (Mentally) Hard. I reached Hanley Gap, the 50 Mile point, just after darkness really settled in. We had to go on a 2 mile return trip to Hanley after retrieving a flag (from the top of a peak, of course). For those 2 miles I really came to terms with what had just happened. And knowing I had the exact same distance left to run, and figuring the second half was bound to be slower and take longer than the first half. I estimated how many hours I had left out there. It was depressing. And daunting.
16. The Halfway Point is (Physically) Hard. After retrieving the flag, I stopped at the aid station to have some soup (and watermelon). I was at 52 Miles. I told myself I had 15 minutes to eat, rest, and get moving again. I had company for those 15 minutes, my boyfriend, and I was really hanging on to the familiar face and comforting voice. I was exhausted. I was too tired to bother changing my shoes, shirt, or shorts, despite having fresh everything in my drop bag. My legs were in way too much pain for only being halfway done. The blisters on my feet were becoming harder and harder to ignore. I did not want to leave that aid station. It was comfortable. I was not wanting to face the reality of the next 50 Miles.
17. Don’t Do The Math. I kicked myself out of the aid station after my 15 minutes were up and began a long gradual climb up a gravel road. I was hanging on to the company and warmth of the Hanley Aid Station, and started justifying how I could get back there. The inspiring thoughts above were the furthest thing from my mind. They were gone, completely. I was sliding into a serious Low Point. I started to do some math in my head, trying to decide if I could make the next cut-off point (Dutchman Peak, 2AM). And somehow I convinced myself there was no way I could possibly get there by 2AM. Not possible. I went through how things would go in my head when 2AM hit and I wasn’t at Dutchman, how I would get a ride back to town, have a shower, write a dismal-but-cheeky DNF report for this very blog, and so on. And I was OK with that. Until I realized that no, I was moving at a decent pace (see, those poles come in handy) and I made it to Dutchman at 1:20am, forty minutes ahead of the cut off. I no longer had an excuse to quit and I wasn’t sure if that made me really happy, or really sad!
18. When All Else Fails, Blast The Music and Confuse the Runners. I learned this from Dutchman Peak aid station, who were blasting music from the top of a mountain (literally blasting, I could hear the tunes for more than an hour before I reached the station). I came around the corner in a foggy haze (can’t recall if it was natural fog or if they had a smoke machine going or if I was just hallucinating), to the tune of Ozzy Ozborne’s Crazy Train. It was a trip. A volunteer took my pack, wrapped me in a military disaster blanket (yes, irony), sat me down in front of a fire, and brought me soup. I came to terms with the happy/sad fact that I hadn’t missed the cut-off, had some watermelon (of course), and kept going. Now that I write this I realize how ridiculous it was that I was truly hoping to miss a cut-off. Utterly absurd, but those are the mind games I was playing with myself.
19. Distractions Are Welcome. Around Mile 68 I found Adam again on the trail. Having company was such a refreshing change. I found out later we were also close to our friend Joanna, but at the time didn’t realize she was just ahead of us. I was moving slowly at that point, and listening to Adam’s logical mind was helpful. I was happy to hear Kim (who had dropped earlier due to medical issues) was starting to feel better. We chatted about nutrition and hydration, which was timely. Adam picked up his pace and we parted after a while but that was a great distraction for me. I realized how little I had talked – to anyone, aside from asking for watermelon – since the race started 20 hours earlier. Something to remember for next time, perhaps I can escape my bubble of misery and make an effort to make new friends.
20…Even If Those Distractions Are Hallucinations. I hadn’t seen anyone in what felt like quite some time. Despite the course being perfectly marked, I continued to entertain thoughts that I was lost. My mind was out of sorts and I’m sure what I thought was 30 minutes was actually 30 seconds. I was tired. Not fatigue tired (well, that too) but more of a sleepy tired. I just wanted to sleep. I resorted to stopping occasionally & leaning forward on my poles to close my eyes. I may have fallen asleep standing up for a few minutes, I’m not really sure. At one point I looked ahead and saw a volunteer holding two lights in their hand, about 20 feet in front of me. I was stunned and quite happy to see someone so I let out a friendly “oh hello!”….no response. I tried again a bit louder, “hello?” to which the lights vanished, and a deer darted off sideways. Yep, I said hello to a deer. Thinking it was a person. Thank goodness it wasn’t a bear….
21. Darkness is Mean. Really, Really Mean. The hours between 3am – 7am were, by far, the hardest part of the race for me. I was SO TIRED. I was moving slowly. I lost my appetite and started to feel nauseous. The miles felt like years (I know that makes no sense, but I’m telling you, that’s what it felt like). And I was incredibly sick of this view:
22. There’s No Crying in Baseball. When the sun finally started to peak out, I was on my way to the Wagner Butte Mile 80 Aid Station. I felt so much relief taking my headlamp off, I started to get emotional. I saw the aid station from about 200 meters away. Again, emotional. I was alternating between eyes-half-closed-sulking and ugly-about-to-cry-scrunched-face. I reminded myself of a rule I set before the race started: NO CRYING. It’s a waste of energy and it really doesn’t get me anywhere. Plus I have yet to cry in a race, and since I’m stubborn, wanted to continue that record. So, I reminded myself again and again…
23. Make Yourself Laugh. A racer who passed me somehow sensed my stomach was not happy and offered me a Gin Gin candy. I had tried a Ginger Gravol earlier and was having no luck with that, so I took him up on the offer. I put half in my mouth and let it dissolve. We chatted about where to purchase them, I immediately forgot everything he told me, and we carried on. Memory retention was not exactly high at this point, ok? The delirium was definitely setting in because I spent a good ten minutes storyboarding a Snoop Dogg remix video about ultra running called Gin Gin & Juice*. It lightened my mood for a short period of time, the Gin Gin helped my stomach, and I carried on.
* don’t you dare steal my idea.
24. Race Volunteers Are a Special Breed. I sat down at Wagner Butte with my drop bag, and decided for the first time all race to change my shoes. I knew I had blisters on my toes but hadn’t realized how many until I pulled off my socks. I’m not going into graphic details because…ew, ultra feet…but… it was not pretty. I was about to attempt bandaging them when Daniel, the volunteer of the year, saw the sorry sight that was my feet. He expressed concern that the blisters would get infected should I start bandaging them in the state they were in (covered in dirt), and offered to help. He proceeded to clean my feet for me (seriously…they were disgusting…), dry them, then individually bandage my blistered toes. I closed my eyes for a few moments while this all happened. What do you do for fun at 7:30am on a Sunday? Those volunteers deserve major recognition. Gold stars for Daniel, and everyone who gave their time. As for my race at that point…I had some soup and some watermelon, and begrudgingly carried on.
25. Pain is a Motivator. My blistered feet were swollen and sore, and the new-ish pair of shoes I had just put on felt more snug than usual, not helping the cause. All I could think about as I slowly made my way up Wagner Butte was the screaming pain in my feet and how much I wanted to take off my shoes. I had 20 miles to go which included approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain followed by a 5,000 foot elevation loss to the finish. I technically had 8.5 hours to get there by the final cut off of 4pm – which I could do, and which should have made me happy. I could have walked and still made it in time. But all I could think about was being done, and there was absolutely no way I could go 8.5 hours in those shoes. I was impatient, cranky, and hurting. So…I pushed myself. I just wanted to be done.
26. Pushing Yourself in the Final 20 Miles of a 100 Mile Race Makes You Hate Everything. My mindset at this point is accurately reflected in this GIF (sorry Mum):
27. Dropping at Mile 96 of 100 Actually Seems Like a Great Idea. I had heard stories from friends of dropping out of very long races just before reaching the finish line. Mile 98, Mile 97, you get the idea. I’d always scoffed at the thought. I mean, what’s another mile or two? Now I get it. Now it all makes sense. There is a point in P2P where you see this sign:
Which means you have 4 miles to drop 2500 feet. When your feet are screaming at you and the heat of the day is beating on you, trust me. I could have dropped right there, I kid you not. The last four miles were complete hell, I hated every single second and was on the verge of a complete breakdown as I stumbled down the dirt trail. I was using every ounce of willpower to keep my legs moving, motivated by the thought of taking off my shoes. And then…
28. The Switch from Hating Life to Loving Life Happens Quickly. When I left trail and hit a paved street of Ashland, I knew I was close. And I expected to burst into tears at any moment (after crossing the finish line of course, I had that no-crying-streak to keep up). But then I heard a cough. A familiar cough, and it made me smile. I knew who was around the corner, and I knew I was close to the finish line. Sure enough, my boyfriend (the enabler :)) was waiting for me to come around the final bend. I saw the finish line and knew it was over. And I had finished. 30 hours 56 minutes of damn hard work, 100 Miles covered, and still in one piece. Bliss.
29. Always Trust A Race Director in a Flat Brim. Hal Koerner greeted me at the finish line (as I was busy taking off my shoes, I didn’t waste one minute). Hal has put together a great race and the vibe at the finish line was perfect – chill, happy, room to rest, and there was lots of food available (including watermelon). The race gift presentation was really fun (if you want to know how he identified finishers and presented gifts, you’ll have to run next year ). The swag is definitely Stuff I Will Actually Use and Enjoy. And his wife is a champ because the race happened exactly on her due date. Gold stars for both the Koerners.
30. 100 Miles = Happiness. My learning came full circle as I hobbled around after the race in a fuzzy state of shock. I ran 100 Miles. 160 Kilometers. I kid you not, two years ago the thought of attempting this would not have even crossed my mind. It would have been an impossible feat. I wouldn’t have even considered it. It’s pretty crazy to think how my life has changed since I started attempting these things, and the recurring theme seems to be: happy. I’m not sure why so much suffering becomes such a happy memory, but it does. On our way down the race we listened to an Adam Carolla podcast and he summed up (I think) what this means. That the only happiness is earned happiness. It’s a lot of work, it’s scary, but you feel better when you’re done. It’s true. I worked. I was scared. I doubted myself. I hated everything. And yet, I earned that finish. I am proud of it, and I am happy.
(bonus) 31. Finishing Pine to Palm Poses The Inevitable Question of What’s Next. The answer to that question, my friends, is yet to come