Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pine to Palm 2015

"One fast move or I'm gone," Jack Kerouac repeats at the beginning of his morose novel Big Sur. I finished Pine to Palm a week and a few hours ago, and Kerouac's quote fits my second experience at this terribly awesome endurance run. For Kerouac, if he didn't get out of San Francisco quickly, he knew he'd drink himself to death. For me, if I quit P2P, I knew I'd spiral into an extended depression.

My first running of P2P in 2014 was pretty freaking great. Fit from a spring and summer of high mileage, I ran a great first 70 miles, had a big blow up but still ran it in, finishing in 21.5 hours. The race went so well minus some of those blow up miles that I forgot how hard the course actually is. You only remember how the good moments feel. Sure you can remember the bad parts, but you can't remember how they feel. Feeling the bad moments, the aches, the pain, the mental fuzz, only happens when you're in the moment. So basically I forgot large chunks of the course until I was in the moment this year. Unlike last year when I didn't know what was up ahead, I dreaded leaving aid stations this year because I knew the toughness of ensuing climbs or descents. For this reason, I believe running a 100 without specific course knowledge is beneficial. No matter though, I was going to finish.

The field this year was less than 150 runners, opposed to 260ish last year, due to P2P not being a Hardrock qualifier this year. The smaller field reflected in the runners attitudes this year. At the pre-race briefing Hal, the race director, urged us to run with our fellow runners. I ran the first 30 miles or so with a group of great five dudes. Everyone was encouraging. That feeling of all being on the same team was crucial and what made the race fun. I wanted these dudes to run well and have good days, and I believe they wanted the same for me. It's absolutely silly to put negative energy out during any of these ultra events, especially when you can only do your best and can't influence others. So we climbed conservatively, my man Stroh leading a train of dudes with a light jog, me hiking the same speed in tow. That climb has to be one of my favorites--ever. The singletrack, high altitude (compared to the Bay), sweeping views, huge doug-firs, all blend for 8ish slow miles of bliss. The decent stayed easy, and soon enough our pack was back together on gravel roads, chugging along efficiently but not too slow nor fast. The temperature wasn't quite hot yet and the day proved promising--we were already through a fourth of the race and it felt like nothing.

Atop the first climb a few weeks back!

Three of us strolled into the first crew station together at mile 28ish. My awesome awesome crew of Keely (mah gurlfriend down from Portland), Wyatt Earp (college roommate and best friend in from Indiana), and Dmack (fellow VTech ultrarunner and comedian, new to the Bay Area) swapped my crop top for a new, iced one. Some calories in and calories for the road and I was outta there. This next section I had run with Keely a few weekends ago. It's the hottest section of the course and douchegrade. If I ran all the douchegrade on the course I would crash factually. So I hiked the whole thing while my fellow runners from earlier in the race passed me running. I was playing it smart, was digging in for the next 20 or whatever miles of douchegrade, was digging in for the heat that would hit. And hit it did! Soon it was in the upper 90s and eventually cracked 100, a record setting day for nearby Medford, Oregon.

I knew it'd get hot; I knew I wasn't prepared for the heat, living in San Francisco. Pre-race I kept saying all I need is to survive the heat then I'd be ok. But my goodness, the heat cooked me even with ice around my neck, wet t shirts, and sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. I stopped at sat for brief moments leading into the mile 50 aid station (the previous mile 40/42 aid station was a blast), and walked into the aid station saying "put some butter on me because I'm toast." My sense of humor was there and mentally ok, just frustrated that I couldn't really run because it was so dang hot. My hip flexors started giving me trouble from the extended climbs. I walked both up and down the 2 mile out and back to the peak. Crew had me sit for 15 or so minutes, trying to eat. Either Dmack or Wyatt offered me a beer, and at this point in the race my "crush-it" ambitions were far out the door, so I obliged on the beer. This moment was hilarious and a bit of a turning point in the race. Hilarious because I drank a beer half way through a 100 mile race. I'm not a huge beer drinker, I'd prefer a marg. Turning point because I needed water and calories and beer has both. Turning point because I knew I was pressing on and rolling with the punches, still trying to have fun. I saw a few folks drop at this mile 50 aid station, but I wasn't going to drop yet.

Beer. Mullet. Lowdermilk productions.

The next 15 miles solidified my race. I walked an absolute ton. My stomach and hip flexors were wonky. I started thinking about if I was going to finish the dang thing--I still had 50 miles to go. I put this song on repeat that got me thinking. If I quit, who the hell am I? I DNFed my last race (due to strep throat, but still, I didn't finish). If I quit this time around am I even an ultrarunner anymore? That's my identity man. My friends traveled here for me. My whole family is rooting for me. I'll let them all down if I quit. I'll definitely diminish in Keely's book, and I want to keep her. Most of all perhaps, I'd let myself down. I knew myself and I saw myself holing up in my room, staying in, not going out, spiraling into depression again, this time without my family, hating everything, numb to anything. I did not want that. I didn't want to say that everything is copacetic, a lie.

I thought all these things while seemingly alone in the middle of nowhere Oregon, dripping sweat on hydrophobic dirt. I'm a Rutemiller, damnit. I am an ultrarunner. I don't just quit. This quivering feeling in my throat started. One fast move or I'm gone. I'm not done as a person, as a kid, a friend, a boyfriend. Fuck that. I'm not done. One fast move or I'm gone. I might still have 40 miles, but I'm seeing this through.

The rest of the race didn't matter. The only question was how long it'd take me to get to Ashland. I had made up my mind. The temperature started to cool off, I was able to start eating and running again. I teamed up with a fellow runner and we ran to Dutchman peak, me headlampless with loads of encouragement from my crew. I ate a bunch of pesto pasta with a smile on my face in the passenger seat of my car. Our four person team high-fived and Wyatt and I RAN the next 15 miles REALLY well. However these last 35 miles hurt, they were some of my favorites of the whole run. Spending time with my best friends who I never get to see was another reason why I was still in this thing. Wyatt and I didn't talk a whole ton but we knew what was going on. We crushed it.

At mile 80 I picked up my wonderful Kangaroo after eating some more pasta. These next 10 miles are the worst of the whole race. I couldn't lift my knees any more, so they were coincidentally the most pathetic miles of my life. We climbed together and I was happy just listening to Keely giggle at me. I'd hit my toe on a rock and Keely would say, "who put that there!?" The scramble at the top of Wagner Butte was...pathetic... but awesome. We turned off our headlamps and looked at Medford, at Ashland, at the stars. Then we fell down the other side of the mountain. That trail is complete bullshit by the way. Something like, what, 15 HUGE blowdowns on the trail, I had to sit on the logs, physically pull my legs up over them, then fall on Keely on the other side bahaha. We cruised the last 10 miles surprisingly well, supper foggy-headed at 5am, asking ourselves what the heck we're doing. A fitting anti-climatic finish, and we did it.

Crew mile 42. Photo: Ashland Newspaper
Hokie love!

Running's cool. My friends are cool. Pine to Palm is hard. I'm content not training for a good while. Vibes.

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