We arrived at the race start at about 6:30 a.m., got checked in, and then went back to the car to stay warm. While we were in the car talking, I noticed C start glancing around, looking behind the seats, in the back, etc., but didn’t think much of it. I didn’t think much of it until she turned to me and said “Where’s your hydration pack?”
After a rather intense 2-3 minute freak out, I came to the realization that in my zombie-like state at 3:30 a.m., I had left at it home and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Luckily, I saw my buddy Mark at the start and he said he had an extra vest with ONE 20-ounce water bottle that I could use. (I usually carry 2 20-ounce bottles AND a 70-ounce hydration bladder).
So, with a borrowed vest and some scrounged-up food (one Pro Meal bar and a single GU) I went up to the start line, knowing full well I had no idea what I was in for.
It was cold and rainy at the start and all I could do is think about how my pack was doing at home, resting in the warm apartment on the back of the kitchen chair. I couldn’t think about it for long, though, because before I knew it – we were off!
The first five miles were on some rolling single track that’s part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Everyone fell into line and we all marched along. We caught word at the start that the aid station that was supposed to be at mile 5.4 wouldn’t be there. Apparently the car got stuck, so the first official aid station wouldn’t be until mile 13.2.
Once through the first would-be aid station, we started our roughly 5-mile descent to the desert floor. Part of my strategy was to take it relatively easy on the downhill, as I still knew I would have to climb back UP this trail on the way back (about 2,000 feet).
Once at the bottom I picked up my pace on the fire road and ran it all the way into the first aid station at mile 13.2. By the time I got there I was starving (I was saving my bar for the climb out – as I KNEW I’d need the calories). I dined buffet-style at the aid station, grabbed a few gels and took off toward the turnaround.
C was waiting for me at the turnaround, and I could tell she was a bit worried about what shape I was going to be in. All in all, I had managed to refuel pretty well at the 13.2 aid station, so at the moment I was feeling pretty good! I hit the turnaround in about 3 hours 10 minutes and knew the toughest part was yet to come.
I cruised through the desert, reloaded at the aid station and started heading toward the big climb up Oriflamme Canyon. I ate half my bar and started powering up the hill – but not for long. I bonked. Hard.
The run hike out was long, slow, hot and generally miserable. I was WAY undernourished and it was really starting to show. Regardless, I knew this was a good mental test for me to gut it out and keep moving forward, which was exactly what I did.
After what seemed like an eternity I FINALLY got to the top and reached the final aid station (Mason Valley, mile 26). As soon as I got there I took some electrolytes and started pounding shots of Coke like it was closing time at the bar. I woofed down 2 cookies and some chips, hung out for a few minutes and then took off.
The last 5 miles were some of the strongest of the day for me. The weather was good, my stomach was full and my mind was at ease. Oh, and the views were plentiful.
I finished in 7:11, and in 96th out of 136 runners who started. While I was physically and mentally ready for a stronger finish, I was incredibly happy with my time – knowing that I had overcome (and improvised) A LOT on that run.
After the race I had several people ask me if I was upset that I forgot my pack. Now, during the first part of the race – you bet I was! But once I got done, and had time to reflect on how NOT having it really challenged me to adapt and make the best of an unforeseen problem, I said no.
Would having my pack have gotten me a stronger finish at Oriflamme? Probably. But forcing myself to walk up to the start line and take on a course I had NEVER run, without the comfort of my own nutrition and hydration pack, did more for me mentally than a strong finish with my pack could ever provide.
Up next: the PCT 50. Time to get back to it!