The race started at 6 a.m. There was a lot of smoke hanging over the valley, but that didn't make the course any less beautiful. From the Mt. Ashland ski area we headed down a forest service road before linking up with the Pacific Crest Trail. The front runners took off and I struggled to hold back, but knew if I didn't take it easy early on disaster would strike sooner instead of later, so I fell back to 6th or 7th place.
We meandered through the forest on soft single track with giant evergreens towering above us. Every now and then I would be surprised by a pocket of warm air in the cool morning breeze, something I always enjoy. The trail wound through dense forest and meadows, through Grouse Gap (AS) and on to Willamette Meridian (AS). The trail continued through the forest and onto a ridge with beautiful, expansive views of the surrounding mountains. At one point I was in a moment of complete "zen" when suddenly my whole body hit the trail. I had not been paying attention and caught my toe on a rock.
I sat up confused in a cloud of dust.
I got up, cleaned my water bottle and continued on my way.
I hadn't studied the map before the race, so when I got to Siskiyou Gap (AS) I asked the volunteer what distance we were at.
"9 miles" He said.
I looked at my watch. It said 01:10
"how are you feeling?"
Not much of an answer, but I wasn't sure.
I ate a banana and left.
From there I continued along more beautiful single track and through meadows with wild flowers blooming and tall grass whipping lightly against my shins. I had never smelled such a pungent, wild floral smell. It's the kind of smell you imagine when you're looking at a Pacific Northwest Outdoors calender. I was in heaven.
At Jackson gap I picked up my Ipod shuffle which I stuck in my water bottle for later. I didn't need it yet, but decided that I would probably want it before mile 35 (the next time I would be back to Jackson Gap). I chatted with a volunteer who had just bought a house in Tucson, where my wife and I just moved from. We talked a little about the weather, the mountains and the Mojave Rattlers. It was nice to converse instead of rushing out of the aid station. So I decided to spend a little more time than I usually would at aid stations for the remainder of the race. I figured that if I wasn't going to be in the top 10 then I should do my best to just enjoy the experience.
From Jackson gap I continued along the PCT, descending to Wards Fork (AS). During this descent I crossed over into California before dropping into Donomore Meadows. This section was a real treat. Just to know you've run from one state to another is an awesome feeling, but on top of that, the meadow was beautiful; picturesque.
The trees were huge, the forest was dense and the air was filled with the scent of hot pine. A few cows grazed carelessly beneath the rising sun in an open field and to the right was an old abandoned cabin; it's paneling off white and weathered, leaning to the left, ready to collapse.
I continued along the trail crossing small trickling creeks and steadily climbing towards Big Rock. About a mile from the turn around I saw the leaders heading back toward me. We all exchanged Good Job!(s) and Nice Work!(s) I stopped counting when the 6th guy passed me.
The climb up to Big Rock wasn't long, but it was steep and technical. When I got to the top I sat down and chatted with the volunteer for a while. The view from here was amazing. I'm not sure what mountains we were looking at but it was a seemingly endless panorama with an off white blanket of wildfire smoke hanging just below the peaks.
"Look" He Said "You're almost done. You just have to make it there."
"Wait, which one is Mt. Ashland?"
"You see that little dot on top of that mountain over there? That's the one. Only 25 more miles."
"Oh. Well I guess I'm gonna get going. I'll see you around."
I looked at my watch. I had made it here in 3:45 and I was fairly certain I could run an even split back, finishing around the 7:30 which would put me in the top 10. I suddenly got very excited. I put my Ipod on and bombed the next 3 miles, forgetting that 25 miles is not a short distance. I felt great! I had a smile on my face and I felt strong.
At Wards Fork (AS mile 28) I ditched my shirt and got some sunscreen. I chatted with Mike who lives here in Ashland and just placed 2nd at the Tahoe Rim 100. I ate a bunch of water melon, ate some salted potatoes and downed some coke and sprite. I was on my way to a steady grind back up to Jackson Gap (AS).
This section took quite a while, but I managed to keep going steadily. By the time I got to Jackson Gap (AS) I thought I could maybe finish in 07:40, but things gradually got worse. I did a lot of power hiking during the final miles of the race. I would feel great for 10 minutes and start running and then I would cramp up and lay down. My muscles simply weren't trained or ready for the distance yet.
The last 15 miles of the race were very painful. I laid down on my back staring at the bluest sky I had ever seen. I listened to Junebug and waited for the cramps in my calves to pass. It was surreal. So many people passed me. At first I was irritated that people were barely shuffling by, but then I just had to let it go.
I believe it was Grouse Gap (AS) where the volunteers were dressed like pirates. I really enjoyed their company. I ate a lot of watermelon, popped an Scap! and drank some coke. A volunteer offered me a cigarette; I laughed and almost took one before he told me they found them in the woods. A drag of my old friend sounded nice. I got up, grabbed more watermelon and went to sit back down. The pirate volunteer said "No, don't sit back down, you'll never leave!"
So I went on my way.
A few miles from the end I came up on Tajh, part of the seven wild and free family. He's 10 years old and was running the 50K. My wife and I first saw him and his sister Teagan (who is 8 years old) at Coldwater Rumble in Arizona. They are some very talented kids.
"Hi" I said " I met you in Arizona I think."
"How's your day going?"
"Do you like the course?"
"I don't know"
"It's really beautiful"
"Yea... but it's really hard."
"Yea it is. Well I'll see you at the finish buddy!"
"See you at the finish!"
That made my day. I felt just like he sounded at the time: like a tired kid.
I struggled the rest of the way. My right ITB began to flare up the last 3 miles and I was unable to run. I sat down a few times by small creeks to wet my bandana. At one point I stopped running and looked up at this huge moss covered tree and almost started crying thinking about how lucky I am to be alive and to have a woman like my wife. It's really weird when you're in a lot of pain and alone and tired. Sometimes the "smallest" things can make you feel insignificant. It puts everything in perspective and really makes you feel grateful for the life you have. Just another reason why I love pushing my limits.
I sat down. I picked a bouquet of small purple wild flowers. I got up and hobbled off. As soon as I got to the fire road I managed to keep a pretty steady hobble/run with occasional walking breaks. Once I hit the pavement I just started running. I was happy to be finishing and Dubstep Tutorial was playing on my Ipod, so I managed to run-hobble to the finish.
I crossed the line in 8:41:46 in 20th place, face twitching in a mix of strange emotions.
The volunteers cut my timing chip off my shoe. My wife came over and gave me a kiss and told me she was proud of me. I handed her the flowers and it was over.
You can't always have a "good" race, but you can always make the best of a rough day.
Thank you to all of the volunteers out there! Races of this caliber wouldn't exist without people like you.
This is definitely a race worth running. It was the most beautiful run I've ever been on. The aid stations are well stocked and the after party is awesome. Plus you get a hell of a lot more swag for your race entry fee than most give you. On top of the aid stations and a high tech T-shirt, you get a finishers mug, a bumper sticker, a hot meal and a tall beer! (if that's how you like to party).
Thanks SOB RD's, crew members and volunteers! I'll be back next year.
See you out there!
|Photo Credit: Sean Jeter|
|Photo Credit: Sean Jeter|