Thursday evening, my Dad, Annie, and I drove down from Portland to Grant's Pass, Oregon, about 30 minutes from the start of the madness. We stuffed our pieholes with incredibly sub-standard pizza (pro-tip: If you're burping up pizza 3 hours after eating it...yeah, it kind of sucked as far as pizza goes) and crashed out in our respective rooms. I want to say I watched the shit-fest that is "Terminator: Salvation", but I'm pretty sure that was Friday. Which ever, we awoke Friday, I stayed off my feet, and late afternoon, we headed to The Grange in Williams, where the race would kick off only 13 hours later.
I've echoed this a million times, so what's one more, but the ultra running community is ridiculously small. Crammed in the basement of this tiny hall (Hal, the race director, found out only a few days prior that the upstairs was being infiltrated by a dance troupe), it was like a high school homecoming: We hooked up with Kate and her crew, Gary and his crew, and a slew of friendly and familiar faces. All of us crapping our pants about the fact that forecasts in Southern Oregon were screaming about, "OMFG THUNDERSHOWERS AND STORMS AND RAIN AND GGGAAAAHHH!!!"
I am paraphrasing, of course.
Waiting in line for my swag and to get weighed in, I saw Hal's (now) wife Carly handing out fleece jackets, and she immediately smiled and said, "I'm gonna be at the mile 93 aid station - I'll see you there!" This pumped me up, having someone hinting at waiting for me (aside from my crew). She seemed as jazzed for me as I was about actually finishing one of these damned things. I introduced her to Annie, grabbed my goodies, and went to weigh-in.
Okay, to clarify: I visited my doctor in late July and weighed in at 162 pounds, fully clothed, which didn't surprise me, with all of the training I was putting in. I stepped on the scale and "179.5" popped on the screen! What the hell? I'd find out later that Kate weighed in 8 pounds heavier than she actually is, and Gary weighed a good 3-5 pounds LESS than he should have been. Ahhh, science!
After briefing us about specific turns to watch out for on the course and other details, Hal and Ian bade us all farewells and good luck...until Hal turned to everyone and announced, "One last thing - does anyone have a birthday tomorrow?"
I sheepishly raised my hand, and Hal looked me square in the eyes.
"Tomorrow is Russ McGarry's 40th birthday, so if you see him out there, give him a slap on the ass, or rub his head and wish him a happy one!" Well, now, if that isn't motivating, I don't know what is! (Ann had contacted him earlier in the week and asked that he make an announcement. Hal replied that he'd embarrass me good.)
We headed back to Grant's Pass, dropped off Gary and his crew at the hotel, and Annie, my Dad, and I dined at a local brewpub. As we chatted, I have to admit: The course was scaring the living HELL out of me: 20,000' of up, 20,000' of down, peaking at 7,000' THREE TIMES? I live at 160 feet above sea level. I was lucky to merely choke down my turkey club. The two Dead Guy Ales I chased it down with helped steel my nerves a bit, but in the pit of my gut, a storm was a-brewing. Nearly as big as the one outside.
I actually slept fairly well ("Better sleeping through chemistry," my ultra-hero Bud once told me, holding up a sleeping pill the night before a 100 miler) and woke up with the alarm for once. Before I knew it, Annie had gathered all of our gear, stacked it in the SUV, and we were off to the start of my third 100 miler.
Pause: Shout out to my crew - Dad, Tom, Ondie, and Annie, my crew chief. Christly lord, I don't know what I'd do without you out there. You are amazing.
Play: A light drizzle played with our nerves as we boarded the SUV and headed to the start. Maybe this is as hard as it will rain, my lying brain kept telling me. Gary and I had freaked out the night before about the rain but decided that, hey, it's yet another hurdle we get to overcome. "GET TO" being the key words I ran over and over in my head.
As I meandered around the start, I found Kate, Carly reminded me, "I'll see you at mile 93, okay?", kissed my Dad and Ann, and suddenly, I was trotting in a pack of 131 runners, 6 miles up a road towards the first of three epic climbs. Seriously, I don't remember the countdown to "Go!" at all. I think Gary and I were too busy dicking around and joking about how trashed our quads were at the moment, and how we might be dropping in a mile. Yes, we are hilarious.
Miles 0-6: Drizzly, but nothing that distracted me. Hell, I live in Oregon. It's like I live in a bath tub with a shower head that has a slow leak year-round. Kate and Gary and I hung together and chit-chatted as the miles ticked away to the first aid station, which was water only. There was 11 miles to the next aid, so I made sure to fill my water pack, as the first big-ass climb was staring us in the face.
Miles 6-17, aka holyfuckinghellisthisreallyhappening? This first climb was all switchbacks on single track trail. I powered up as hard as I could, keeping my breathing level and below the red line. I managed to pass quite a few people, but Gary was off and RUNNING up this steep climb. He waved down to me on a trail just above, and that would be the last I'd see of him until we have lunch this Thursday. Dude was READY.
After about 41 days of climbing (I might be being a bit hyperbolic), I crested on the ridge. Holy. Shit. Even with the overcast, drizzling skies hiding the views, I felt like I was on top of the world.
Excitement burst out of me, as all I'd been running were climbs, and I do love me a good, technical downhill, and I knew that's what awaited.
I attacked those downhills with excited fervor, jamming on down, although the trails were at times like peanut butter, so charging downhill wasn't an option on certain sections. I passed a few runners and ended up at the mile 17 aid in excellent spirits, refilled, ate a couple of gels, and I was off, trotting down a slightly-graded gravel road towards Steamboat Ranch Aid, 7 miles away, feeling most-excellent and incredibly strong.
Miles 17-24: I'd passed a few runners who looked to be running on fumes already, which triggered a whispered prayer to the trail-gods to hold off that look for me until mile 83, when it normally hits.
I cruised up beside T.J., a mutual friend of another runner in the race, and we blabbered on and on for about 10 miles, cutting up and laughing the entire way. We exited a 1/4 mile piece of asphalt onto some singletrack that sneaked us into California for a few minutes before plopping us into the mile 31 aid station at Seattle Bar, the first time we'd see our crews.
Karen and Heather (Kate's crew) saw me first. No, wait, check that: Ondie, one of my crew members saw me first. I forgot about that. This was her first time at an ultra-event, and I can imagine the fact that I was laughing and bullshitting with another runner having just run over a marathon in the mountains likely confounded her. So I cruised in to Seattle Bar aid, got weighed (was down 3 pounds!), and Karen - waiting for Kate - tended to changing my socks while I planned for the next 11 mile stretch where I'd next see them.
Opting for two handhelds, I jumped up and headed toward the meadow where the trail continued when Kate came jogging in! Karen and Heather - her crew - exploded in to "Happy Birthday To You" for her, and kate looked up, saw me and...well, here:
Happy birthday to us!!!
Miles 31-37 After hugging, I thanked my crew and the workers, took off across the meadow for the next climb of 2,200' over 4 miles. This wouldn't normally suck so bad, as I banged the hell out of my legs all summer on hills, but we were starting at 2,000' and ending at 4200'...and then climbing to 6500'.
Yeah, having oxygen would have been an added touch.
Some parts of this trail were absolutely the steepest stuff I've ever encountered. I would not be surprised at all to find out that 100 yards at a time were somewhere in the 30% grade-range. With the slop, going uphill was like sinking in quicksand. I managed to pass 4 people during this section, merely because I'd spent the last 5 months going up and down hills. Without that training, I would have been screwed.
I landed at the mile 37 aid which was, quite amazingly, the most remote aid I'd yet encountered, but by far the best supplied: They were frying potatoes when I pulled in to fill up my water and handed me a (very welcome) hot cup of chicken broth. Up on that ridge, I'm gonna guess winds were somewhere in the 20 mph range, and my wet clothes were stuck tight to my shivering body. Leon and Betty, two runners I'd caught up with, all said our farewells and thanks as we headed toward - what we were told - was "a small uphill and then all down".
Miles 37-42/44 Leon and I sputtered a bit ahead of Betty, who was adjusting her clothing. It was then Leon revealed to me that he had 2 separated ribs last week and could barely gasp a deep breath!
"Dude, we're 39 miles into this thing! How did you make it this far?!"
Leon: "I don't know. But I'm dropping at the next aid station."
We came across a rather large (and very fresh) pile of bear crap, which helped our paces quite a bit. And the climb kept going, up, up, up, and we three cursed it from the depths of our frozen souls, and more up, then more up and then...
"THANK GOD!" we all exclaimed upon the sight of singletrack downhills.
Technical downhill is a personal favorite of mine, so I eagerly launched myself into it and battered away at my already crying quads. Bam! Bam! Bam! and down! down! down! we sailed, although the footing became tricky at times, as the dirt was pure slop. This added to the fatigue and slowed me WAY down. I passed another runner ("My quads! Gah!" he yelled) and just let 'er rip, clocking a fast few miles into the aid at mile 42, Squaw Lake.
As I charged in feeling like a million (muddied) bucks, I saw my crew patiently waiting, with Nick, Gary's pacer. As I trotted to them, they yelled, "You have to do a lap around the lake. Wanna change now, or after?"
I checked in with myself and realized I was really tired of being cold. I opted to change everything but my shorts (much to my crew's pleasure), strapped a trash bag over me (the drizzle was fairly steady now and temps were dropping) and took my lap around the lake. I actually power walked several of the minor downhills, just to give my quads a break, figuring they'd get more abuse in the coming 20 miles to Dutchman Peak, where I'd be picking up Brian, my pacer.
It felt weird to actual run. I'd been spending so much time managing downhill sloppiness and powering up incredibly steep uphills, I hadn't actually run a comfortable step since mile 3.
I returned back to the aid station, now at mile 44, feeling amazing and taking note to enjoy that feeling, as it would inevitably change. I strapped on a rain poncho and took off as quickly as I could, now - again - running a mile or so down a road to the next section of trail. I knew I was up against a hard cutoff at mile 65 (1AM), and it was now around 6pm. With the terrain I knew awaited, I'd have to boogie to make it with some cushion.
I found myself confused in the moment: The race was announced as "100 miles", then was altered to "101.5 miles", and was now bumped up to "103.5" miles thanks to our lake adventure. What the hell?
Kate's crew beeped and screamed to me that I run "like a girl". I imagine the getup I was wearing in the below photo didn't help. (note the eerily-appropriate sign in the foreground. Ohhhhhh...TELLING).
I hung a right onto the trail just as Annie drove past, screaming encouraging words (I believe, "WOOWNFEUAJBSUOINDV!!!!!" was it, but I couldn't quite hear).
Then, the door slammed.
Mile 44-47 More intensely straight, uphill climbing, again, at or around 20% grade. This sucked the life out of me, but I just put down my head and powered up as hard as I could. Ahead, I saw another runner in a yellow poncho look down at me and smile, one that can only be described as, "What the hell were we THINKING?!"
Eventually, a pickup truck came rolling down the road, the driver all smiles, who said, "About 3 minutes and you're there!" I felt as though he told me I'd just won the Nobel Prize. I stepped back to keep from kissing him and sobbing on his shoulder and continued up.
I landed at the aid station to find the runner I'd seen ahead of me, Alan, standing at the table, eating.
"You want a partner?" he asked.
"Hell YES, I do!" I knew that night was coming, and the next section was singletrack trail. If at any point I needed company, it was then. I also wanted my mommy and my binkie, but no matter how much I whined, neither showed up.
Alan and I powered on, again, sucked into the uphills, stumbling now on unmaintained, overgrown trail, and once the sun completely set and our headlamps clicked on, we were consistently whacked in the face by low hanging branches. Something very Looney Tunes about it hangs in my memory.
Winds were picking up, and we both announced how thankful we were for our ridiculous ponchos as we got to know one another. As I came to find out, P2P was Alan's inaugural 100 mile race. As we tripped, stumbled, laughed, shivered and steadied our staggering steps, I assured him that this was NOT your typical 100. The weather was incredibly draining, and in fairer temperatures, we'd be much farther along.
The uphills kept on a-comin', but we dragged each other up that trail until we reached a gravel road. After a minute of examination, we saw ribbons leading us down to the mile 53 aid at Squaw Peak. Running it in, we were informed that there was a 1.5 mile out and back to go up to the actual peak, grab a pin-flag, and return down as proof that we'd made it.
Okay, you're aware of the saying, "The wheels came off the train", no? Well, this is where the lug-nuts began loosening.
We climbed (again? Really?) up a dirt road for what seemed like 20 minutes. In fact, it had been 20 minutes. No way was .75 miles taking us that long. I checked my watch and noticed that cutoff was getting TIGHT. Wandering around in the dark for 10 minutes, we discovered that we'd missed a turn in the dark up a tiny piece of trail, which was marked only with a small ribbon.
Without minutes to spare, we continued onto more, 20-25% grade uphill for what seemed an eternity, switching back over and over until FINALLY, we reached the peak, snagged our flags, and headed down, our detour likely costing us 15 minutes we didn't have. I really wanted to run the downhills to catch some time, but they were so seriously steep, and the night was hiding rocks that could catch our toes so well, we opted to power-hike.
Finally back at the aid station, I told one of the volunteers, "Hey, can you make sure to mark that turn better? People coming in after us are running right to the cutoff at Dutchman." This was greeted by a confused stare.
Worker: "You missed it?"
Me: "Yeah, it's pitch dark back there. Please put down a glowstick or something."
Worker: (confused look)
Me (to Alan): "Let's move."
I hope I didn't come across like a douchey-ass, but as it turns out, MANY runners after sunset missed that turn, possibly costing them the race.
Alan and I were - what else - CLIMBING again up steep roads, constantly checking our watches. It appeared if we could keep a decent, steady pace, we'd hit the cutoff at Dutchman with 15 minutes to spare. Alan said, "We blow through the next aid station," to which I grunted or nodded or farted. Who knows at that point.
After about 30 minutes, a mini van came crawling down the road towards us, slowing as it approached.
"Hey, Mr. McGarry!"
Now this was a classy race director. Hal put himself out there on the course to help shuttle dropped runners and lend morale/support to our freezing, soaked butts.
"Just keep movin', gentlemen!" he yelled as he took off.
Easier said than done. Looking at the course profile for this section, there were moments of climbing 300' in about 100 yards. This kept occurring over and over: Just when we'd be able to start running, God or The Devil Whomever would slam us down to a near crawl.
After an eternity, we saw the lights of the mile 60 aid floating above us in the dark. This fueled our drive, and I ran in my head over and over, "In and out, in and out..."
One of Kate's crew, Heather, was at the tent waiting for Kate, who couldn't have been more than 15 minute behind us. I grabbed a couple of gels and looked up at Alan.
"Ready?" he asked, and within 2 minutes, we found ourselves - predictably - powering up more steeps. Minutes later, an older runner shuffled past us.
"How are ya?" he asked.
"Probably the same as you."
He then laid out a litany of acidic complaints about the race I wasn't prepared to hear: How deceptive the 34 hour finish cutoff was (it was), how the course is FAR tougher than advertised (well, I dunno...I mean, yes and no) and how in 24 years of running 100 milers, this would be the only one he wouldn't recommend.
Yeesh. I just wanted to get to mile 65 in time. This guy wanted blood.
As his light faded up ahead, winds began picking up even stronger, at times blowing me sideways, chilling my soaked bones, and generally making it a really un-fun situation. Without stating it aloud, Alan and I were damned sure there was no way in hell we'd make it to the cutoff, not in this terrain and under these conditions.
Heather pulled up beside us in her Subaru and rolled down the window.
Alan and I shrugged as if to say,"Who knows." And we really didn't know.
She told us we were doing great and to keep it up, but as she pulled away, I noted that the conditions were still worsening. I knew I was shivering under my layers of dripping clothing, and Alan was actually reduced to sitting down every 10-15 minutes as we slogged uphill.
"I know you're tired, but we can't stop. We'll freeze up here."
Now at 6800 + feet, the conditions had become interminable, and I knew the reality: We weren't going to make it, like dozens of other behind us, and we needed to hitch a ride up to the peak.
Next car, we're climbing in, no matter who it is. Seriously, it could have been a three-toothed local with "Dueling Banjos" playing on his 8-track.
We saw the lights of an SUV bobbing down the road toward us, and I knew this was it, and I really didn't care. Our spirits were still relatively high, but the trail and the 19 hours of straight rain and wind had left us battered.
The car slowed, and lo and behold, my friend Paul - another runner from the race - was in the passenger's side!
"Hey, you okay?"
I looked at Alan, who smiled and held out his hand.
"Good job, man."
"Good job," I said, taking his grip and shaking it.
We squeezed inside and asked for a lift down to the mile 60 aid station, where I could call my crew and let them know where I was, but we were informed that the aid station was being broken down, as the last runner had come through.
Kate? I wondered.
Paul had dropped due to hyponatremia, an incredibly dangerous condition wherein you drink too much water to the point that your body can't absorb it. In fact, he told me, Annie had taken him in to our SUV at mile 65 to warm up until his crew could get him!
"C'mon - we'll drive ya up."
We drove down aways to flips around, and through the windshield, I saw the telltale lights of Kate's flashing vest blazing up the road.
"Hey, you!" I yelled, rolling down the window.
"Hi!" she shrieked, in stunningly good spirits.
"I quit! Fuck this!" I informed her. "Good job!"
At the top, conditions were out of control: The aid station tent had nearly blown away several times, and the air was that of general chaos. We immediately found Ann and my crew, hopped into our SUV, and proceeded down the mountain, through the fog, wind, and rain, towards Ashland. I say "towards" because there was no way in hell you could find your way around. We stopped several times and checked with other drivers, who were also lost and turned around. After a diligent go, my crew member Tom guided us down for what seemed like 15 hours to the highway, and up to Ashland.
We dropped Alan off at the finish line where he'd catch a shuttle back to the start, and his car. Another soul mate found on the trails. I consider myself lucky every time I befriend another runner while out there. It's like I'm forming a family one race at a time.
I'm left after this one feeling as though there was nothing I could have done differently. As Hal told me in a later email, "You can't train for that!", and it's true. I'm amazed anyone got out of that mountain range at all: 72 finishers out of 131 starters, many of them dropping before or at mile 42.
So now for a restful winter: A fatass 50k or two, time off my feet and to reflect on my third shot at 100 miles. I'm still not 100% positive that I'll give this distance another chance for awhile. The training is life-consuming, exhausting, and expensive as hell. Maybe a 100k next summer? Who knows. For now, I'll crack open a beer, kick my heels up, and enjoy the incoming winter rains.