OOOOh man! Well, I guess I am finally going to write this thing up. It has almost been an entire month since Pine to Palm 100 and I still really don’t feel like writing about it. However, my goal with this blog has always been to be completely honest with myself, so that I and others may learn as much as possible from each race. I have no secrets. I will admit…this one did hurt.
This year I chose to focus on two key races for the entire year and I would try and build specifically for Gorge Waterfalls 100k in April and Pine to Palm 100 in September. I was pleased with my training, effort and result at the Gorge and was really excited for my training block for Pine to Palm. I feel like 100s are my best event and I really enjoy training for them. Last year Mountain Lakes had gone well, but Pine to Palm would have several new unknown factors that I was nervous about. The heat, the altitude and the 20,000’ of climbing. These would all be new stresses coming all in one race. Of course, my only thought was to train as hard as possible to prepare myself for each of these facets. First off…climbing. My body was used to routinely running 10,000’/week, but I began climbing 15-18,000’ week after week to prepare myself for the elevation gain. Heat. I began a heat acclimation protocol about 18 days before the race. I would raise my core temperature to 101 degrees for an hour a day for fourteen days in a row. I wore six layers of clothing and would hike on the treadmill at 14% grade. As far as the altitude. Well, even though I live at sea level, I really didn’t feel like it would be that big of an issue. It only went up to 7,500’ and I didn’t feel like that would cause much of an issue. I was running over 17 hours/week with 18,000’ of climbing and I was in the best shape of my life. I tapered hard and felt very confident heading into race day.
The race began and within the first ten minutes Ryan Ghelfi started pulling away up the first climb. My first thought was that he was trying to take advantage of the cool morning temperature and was going to make a strong push early on. I thought about going with him and share his race tactics, but I thought about how important it was to stay conservative and save energy. I naturally fell into second place and simply focused on running by rate of perceived exertion. During training, I had purposely completed many long training runs where I focused only on the proper effort for the first thirty miles of a 100 miler. I began to assess my effort and pace. Ok. Well…everything felt about what it normally does during training, so let’s just check my heart rate. A good 100 mile effort for me should put me somewhere around an average heart rate of 145-150 bpm. I looked down and my average heart rate was 161 bpm. This really surprised me because my effort as well as my paces seemed really normal. I thought maybe I was just jacked up for the race, but then my pace would have been faster. I thought, let’s not focus too much on technology and just go with feel. I believe that this was where my entire race began to unfold without me even noticing it. I wish, I wish, I wish I could go back to this first climb of the race and do it all over again. I had great fitness and solid climbing coming into the race, but I needed to realize that for me personally, my body was not prepared to run at altitude. I just needed to slow down. And that’s ok. It’s a 100 mile race. Unfortunately, one of the things that makes racing a 100 miler so tough, is that you don’t come back from a mistake like this. Underestimating the effect of altitude on your body is a huge mistake. 100’s have a very large learning curve and I will certainly learn from this one.
I went on to run nicely for the next fifty miles but, the whole time my body was working incredibly hard. As the day progressed, I would start to feel pressure on my heart and my lungs. Soon enough, I could sense the inevitable was about to happen. I began the big slow down and my body began to lock up. Nutrition and hydration was good, but it didn’t matter. I was worked.
I began getting passed for the next ten miles and I told myself that my first goal had simply changed and now I would need to be focused on keeping a good attitude and trying to encourage others as I completed this race. I did not have a pacer at this race and I would see my wife for the last time at Dutchman Peak (mile 67). I came into Dutchman behind schedule and I told her not to worry about me. I’m fine. Things have changed and now I was just going to try and slowly make it to this finish line.
Night began to fall and my slow shuffle had become a fast walk. I was just trying to get from aid station to aid station. I thought that was bad enough, but now my slow shuffle had become a slow walk. It is amazing how long it takes to get to the next aid when you are walking. I was somewhere around mile 74 and stopped at an aid to get some food. They asked if I wanted a cheese sandwich. I thought…wow. The only good thing about this is that I can stop and have time for a cheese sandwich. That was cool. I do think it messed with my mind though. All thoughts of racing were now far from my mind, I thought about how my wife would be up all night waiting for me. On top of that, I was wearing clothing that was now completely inappropriate for a cold walk in the woods. But, I ate my cheese sandwich and pressed on. The next six miles felt like the longest six miles of my life. As well as a very important six miles.
As I walked through the trails guided by my headlamp I reflected honestly on my running. I thought. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Am I being too selfish? Is this even healthy? These thoughts all sound negative, but they were important for me to ask. I tend to have an addictive personality and when I get passionate about something. I can go overboard. I spent the next several hours thinking honestly about these questions. I finally reached the aid station at mile 80 and officially ended my race. My first official DNF. Yuck. I don’t even like writing that down. But, that is what happened.
As far as my last six miles. Well, I love running and I am going to continue to attack my passion for ultra-running. But…I may ease up on myself a bit. I may decrease my mileage a bit. And, I may sleep in a bit. Ultimately, life is a balancing act and I simply need to find a better balance.