Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 Pine to Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run - Part 2

Part 1 covers the first 52 miles, and now for the final 48

It just isn’t possible - Hanley Gap (52) to Dutchman’s Peak (65)
I now was right on the cutoffs and facing a huge climb.  In addition, I would be above 5,000’ from now until the final miles, with the two highest points of the race still to come at 7,000’-7,500’ each.  With a 2:00 AM cutoff, I had 4 ½ hours to cover 13 miles and 3,000’ of gain – over 20 minute miles.  Of course I was going to make it, right?  But what I thought would be my strength going into the race, power hiking up climbs, had betrayed me all day.  I even said out loud, “I’m a fraud.”  And in my head, it wasn’t going to get better.  I was going to be struggling through those same 23, 24, 27 minute miles I had suffered through earlier in the day on the climb to Stein Butte.  There’s just no way.  I thought about those “poor bastards” hiking up the hill at Hanley Gap that I knew weren’t going to make it, and realized I was just like them but instead of 45 minutes of "wasted" effort only to get cut off, I was going to put in 4 and half hours!  A mile in, I considered turning around.  But I told myself before the race that if I ever wanted to quit I had to get to the next aid station (even if I was already at one) before I could consider it, so I squashed that thought.  At least every step was a new distance PR, right?  So just keep taking steps.  And step I did, up and up and up a fire road, with crew cars going by every few minutes on the way up to the peak kicking up dust that reflected in the light of my headlamp and made the smoke of earlier in the day seem like not such a big deal for my abused lungs.

As I struggled through the low thoughts, things started to get weird.  There were dead little scorpions all over the road, crushed while they basked in the sun hours earlier by the wheels of the leaders’ crew cars.  Was I really seeing them?  I asked a nearby runner, and yes, she saw them too.  Then I saw a runner leaning into the trunk of an SUV.  That’s nice, I thought, his crew met him on this climb to help him out with aid.  Only when I got there, it was just a runner leaning against a tree, stretching.  Another runner a quarter mile up the road was wearing a reflective rectangular pack, and combined with reflective strips on his shorts it looked to me like a robot walking backwards up the hill.  Not hallucinations, per se, but my brain wasn’t processing what it was seeing very well anymore.  At least it was entertainment.

My Garmin died here, so all I had was the clock on my iPhone to let me know the time, but no more mileage, no more splits.  I started talking with another runner about what time we needed to get to the next aid station in order to have time to time to make the final climb up Dutchman.  I couldn’t figure it out in my mental fog, but he said “2 ½ hours.  We need 2 ½ hours to make that final 5 mile push.”  Ok, I thought, we’re a couple of miles in to this 8 mile climb, maybe this is doable.  Maybe this isn’t over.  Then I caught up to another guy – wait a minute, I’m passing people? – and he told me he was further back at this point last year, wasn’t moving nearly as well as I was, and he still made the 2:00 AM cutoff by a few minutes.  I moved on past him and kept going.

Then it was a little flat and downhill section, and I was running!  I hadn’t run in forever.  And while the IT band hurt, it wasn’t worse.  I’m sure they were 12 minute miles (at best), but I felt like I was flying.  Let’s do this!  It never always gets worse.

The Squaw Creek Gap Aid Station at mile 60 came into view, and I pulled out the phone and saw 11:15 – we had 2:45 minutes to make this last push!  I could totally do that, let’s go!  I took a few minutes to eat – a gel, 2 cups of soup, a cup of sprite – as I was still having trouble doing so while moving on the climbs.  And then it was up and up again.

The Dutchman Peak Aid Station is known for blasting music from the top of the peak, but only doing so in bursts.  So you hear it loudly thinking you must be close, but then the music disappears.  Cruel, I know, but luckily I had read that in some race reports so I was ready for it.  I don’t remember much about this section at all other than that, and then I could see lights above me – like stars moving on the mountain, headlamps climbing the Peak and then heading back down.
Headlamps on Dutchman's Peak, Pine to Palm 100
Headlamps on Dutchman
 It seemed to take forever to get there, but at about 1:00 AM I came upon Jim and his wife Jen sitting in chairs in the saddle below the peak.  They were surprised to see me, figuring I’d be a lot closer to the cutoff.  I was starting to get cold, so Jim grabbed the bag of warm clothes and made the mile climb up to the peak with me, and it was great to have company again.  We hiked into the party that was Dutchman’s Peak Aid Station to blasting music, bright lights, a warm fire, and knowing that I had made the last cutoff on the course with time to spare.
1:13 AM, 19:13 elapsed, 18:36 pace for the section, 115th place

There’s still work to do - Dutchman’s Peak (65) to Wagner Butte (80)
With the weight of the cutoff off my back I took a few minutes at Dutchman, looking down at the lights of Ashland and the finish line in the distance.  I ate several cups of soup, 2-3 quesadilla slices, and tried to stay warm by the fire – it was windy and exposed up here.  Then it was time to head back down, meet up with Jen, and get to their car where they had the rest of my gear.  We took another several minutes as I put on beanie, gloves, long sleeve shirt, changed socks, and then Jen and I took off on the 7 mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that we would run together.  I told Jim I’d been struggling to eat or drink on the move, so he set Jen’s watch to beep every 15 minutes and gave her directions to make me do one or the other every time it went off.

I’m sure this section of trail would have been amazing in the daytime – it’s the legendary PCT, after all!  But at night, it was scary – a narrow single track with a drop off that was likely several hundred feet.  I just made a point not to look down and to pay extra attention to my foot plants, as this would have been a very bad place to trip.  Even though we were through the cutoffs I was trying to take advantage of the relative flatness to run as much as I could, and we made decent time through this section, after the lengthy time spent at Dutchman.  I knew that I had plenty of time to make the 34 hour race cutoff, but I still had to keep moving.

We came into Long John Saddle Aid Station at mile 74 to meet Jim, he was going to take me from there.  Jen had asked in the prior section how I was peeing, and I realized I probably hadn’t in over 15 hours.  But I wasn’t swollen or disoriented (any more than I should be), so I just figured I was dehydrated and sweating out what I was taking in, but I was a little worried.  While Jim got ready I drank soup, and the urge finally hit so I walked into the bushes and actually peed into a cup so I could see the color – dark yellow for sure, but not brown and no blood.  Good, the kidneys are still working.  I sounded like a little kid, “Jen, Jen, guess what I did?  I went pee!”  After probably 15 minutes there, Jim and I headed out for the last stretch.

“Just a marathon left, you got this!” exclaimed Jim as we headed up the road.  Sure, easy for you to say, you just started.  We trudged on down a fire road, and the sleep monsters were setting in.  I was having these massive yawns, complete with full body shivers, every few minutes.  I think I closed my eyes a few times and just kept walking, then would snap them open when I felt like I was falling asleep.  And Jim’s damn watch kept beeping and he was forcing me to eat shot blocks and drink caffeinated Tailwind, even though I just didn’t want anything.  But thankfully he was there to do that, as I still had one big climb left.  A little before the next aid station the sun started to come up and we were able to turn off the headlamps, which helped wake me up a bit.  We came to the Wagner Butte Trailhead aid station, I grabbed some new socks out of my drop bag, lubed up the feet, drank more soup, and we headed up the single track.
6:52 AM, 24:52, 26:04 pace for this section (a lot of aid station time), 117th place.

Another climb? And now I have to scramble up that?- Wagner Butte (80) to Road 2060 (90)
This final climb would take us from 5,000’ up to over 7,000’ on 5 miles of switch backing single track.  I was so tired, but Jim kept talking and trying to keep me moving, while that 15 minute timer kept beeping and I kept nibbling and sipping.  Jim said, “want to pass these people?”, and I meekly responded that I didn’t care if we did or not.  Sure enough, a few minutes later we actually passed a three sets of runners and pacers on the climb, as he had sped up just a bit and I was just trying to keep up.  As we got to the last mile or so we faced a steady trickle of runners heading back down, hands firmly gripping the flags they had grabbed at the peak.

I knew what was awaiting me at the top, but it was still amazing to see – a massive pile (300’?) of boulders with a long abandoned fire-lookout platform on top that we would have to scramble up, grasping for handholds at times, to grab my flag.  I’m no fan of heights, and it took Jim talking me through one sketchy part, but soon we were at the top with an amazing view in all directions.  We posed for a picture, and then it was time to inch my way back down off the rocks and back onto the single track.
Wagner Butte, Pine to Palm 100, Sean Grove
Jimmy and I atop Wagner Butte

At this point my IT band and quads were pretty shot, and we had 15 miles of downhill to the finish which started with 5 miles of mildly-technical, barely-there trail that was difficult to maneuver with any speed.  We passed a few more runners, were passed once or twice, and after what seemed like an eternity finally came out onto Road 2060 and the aid station.
10:23 AM, 28:23, 21:06 pace for this section, 107th place

Shuffle, walk, rinse, repeat - Road 2060 (90) to the Finish (100.5)
I sat down and worked on my feet, as after 90 miles I was finally starting to get blisters under the calluses on the heels on each foot (I kept thinking they were pebbles) and on my toes.  Jim brought over a hash brown and two pieces of bacon, which tasted better than anything I’d eaten since, well, Friday.  A few people came in and out of the aid station, and after 10 minutes or so we got up and headed on down the fire road.  I ran as much as my stomach (uh oh, maybe bacon at mile 90 wasn’t a good idea) and IT band would let me.  So it was shuffle for 1/8 of a mile, walk for a bit.  Rinse, repeat.

It was getting hot again, and I was back to dousing myself with water to try and keep cool.  We finally hit the mile 96 water stop and I filled that bottle back up again, and down the trail we went.  Pine to Palm 100I checked the time and realized that sub-31:00 was possible.  Considering that my best case goal was 30:00, having a finishing time that started with a 30 instead of 31 all of a sudden was important.  So I started running longer stretches – quarter mile, maybe even a half mile, and then would slow to a walk for a bit.  I didn’t say anything to Jim yet in case I couldn’t keep it up (so he wouldn’t try and make me), but after a few minutes of this we passed a runner and her pacer that we had been leapfrogging with for hours and I said out loud, “sub thirty-one hours, let’s do this!”, and kept shuffling down the road.  It was runnable enough that without 98 miles in my legs I would have been doing 8-9:00 miles, but I gave it what I had.  We knew the last mile was on asphalt and we kept saying “where’s the road?”, and Ashland still looked so far below us in the valley.  Down, down we went, and finally we turned the corner and found the asphalt.  And it was so steep, and so painful on my knees.  But almost done, I kept pushing as best I could, taking a few breaks of straight-legged limping when the IT pain would get too overwhelming.  Then it was into town, and a few people out in their yards cheering.  “Around the corner!”, and we turned a corner and kept running.  “This time it really is around the corner,” yelled a bearded guy I recognized from an aid station the day before, and sure enough there was the inflatable arch.  I fist bumped Jim and ran toward the line.

Pine to Palm 100 Finish, Sean Grove

I could see Heather, my parents, Steve, and Jen, and a few dozen spectators.  They all started to clap, and I started to well up, ready to lose it at the line.  I crossed the line, exhaled….and my mom started wailing, snapping me out of my own tears!  I looked over at her, and Heather next to her crying, and tried to smile.  I gave Heather a kiss, and hugged my parents and everyone else.  I heard a “Good job, runner,” and as I turned and said, “Thanks,” I realized it was Timmy Olson!  Medical came up to me and talked to me and took me to a chair, and I sat down.  It was over.  I had done it.  I had run 100 miles.
12:51 PM, 30:51:57, 14:26 for section, 106th out of 202 starters, 126 finishers.

Pine to Palm 100 Finish
Proud mama

Pine to Palm 100 Finish, Sean Grove

I can't thank enough everyone who helped support me through this.  My girlfriend Heather Rosenblatt, who puts up with me being gone for hours on the weekends to get my training in, and then spent all day lugging around my over-packed gear while chasing me through the mountains.  My crew and pacers Jim and Jen Hammond, who kept me going through the night and to the finish.  My buddy Steve Schmitt, who came down to Ashland just to help out and be a part of this.  And my parents Dave and Sharon for always supporting me.

Of course huge thanks as well to Hal and the rest of the Rogue Valley Runners Crew, all of the amazing volunteers, and all of the runners, pacers, and crew I had a chance to share some miles with.

Pine to Palm 100 Finish, Sean Grove
Best pacer a guy could have, although his wife Jen challenges for that title!

Pine to Palm 100 Finish, Sean Grove
All Star Crew led by Crew Chief Extraordinnaire Heather

Pine to Palm 100 Finish
With the parents

Partial Gear List (I would need a part 3 to list it all)
Hoka One One Conquest (miles 0 - 28)
Hoka One One Stinson Trail (miles 28-100)
DryMax Socks (many pairs)
NX2 Calf Compression Sleeves
Saxx Pro Elite - no chaffing!
UCAN SuperStarch
Tailwind Nutrition - Unflavored, Lemon, and Caffeinated
Run Goo (held off my blisters until mile 90, and even then they were minor - amazing!)
Nathan Hydration Pack
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (original version)