I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour – this greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious. – Vince Lombardi
Well, I was not victorious at the PCT 50. I got 2nd, but when I slumped down at the finish I felt victorious that I had given 100% of my lean energy to this race, and to the cause of remembering a friend. Ziglar said “Winning is not everything, but the effort to win is.” And I gave that effort.
And what’s more, of the 166 entrants, there were at least five of us running with that same effort for that exact same cause, in memory and honor of Tim Ray. It was a very neat thing to know that the way Tim affected me, and the way I chose to honor and remember it, was shared by others. Solidarity in suffering.
I ran the hardest I’ve run. I competed. Intensely. I strategized, I ran with all the guts I knew how. And I was indeed running for the cause, so I put forth my rawest, most honest race effort ever in order to perform my absolute best.
Pre-race, showing off my punk rock DIY-inspired Tim Ray Tribute hat and my new race shirt over a long sleeve shirt. Because I live in 1994 style still. (NB, The long-sleeve t-shirt underneath is my Steve Taylor Loser t-shirt… actually from 1994.)
John Martinez, the race director, had assigned me Tim’s bib number, #85, from last year. I was touched. John is a quite incredible man, not just because he puts on a very good and popular race (actually several), but because in the past year I have found him so very understanding and willing to help make this year’s PCT 50 a memorial to Tim. He donated a percentage of each entry fee to one of Tim’s causes and he even posted my thoughts on Tim’s passing on the race webpage. Such quality people are the norm in the world of ultrarunning, but even among such great and dedicated, selfless people, John stands out.
Many UCSD Triathlon Club teammates were out there for Tim, and even people who couldn’t run due to injury or other reasons also came out. Adam Strobl, though he didn’t run, made a tribute page just last week that has already raised more than $1000 for both Heart Research and for Oxfam, one of Tim’s causes (and you can still give!).
I’ve written a lot about Tim, which you can find periodically in this blog, but the PCT 50 was special because he passed after last year’s race due to a heart condition. Which is why we chose this one. Similarly, a group of us ran the Grand Canyon last fall in tribute to him.
My first run ever on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was 16 miles, with Tim, maybe two years ago, along with Toby as we prepared for our first Grand Canyon Rim-to-rim-to-rim. I think us running the PCT 50 for Tim this year was Bethany’s idea and almost immediately a handful of people jumped on board. We would pay our respects to our friend and teammate. Many climbers do this kind of thing. As a climber, maybe that’s why it makes sense to me to honor a fallen friend in this way. But maybe it’s way more universal.
So, the race: I knew I was in good shape, if a bit physically tired from an ultra in Joshua Tree last weekend and various other climbing shenanigans. My strategy was to try to stay in the top 10 for the first half, then pick people off. I though I should be able to get a top 5 finish, even maybe a podium finish if I ran my best, which I calculated should be around 8 hours. I would try to run the entire race, not walking a step. Because the downhill was at the end and the hard uphills at the beginning, this was a possibility. Still, it would be the longest race I’d have run every step.
Daniel, Brian and me a couple of hours after the race. Surprisingly not too haggard!
As usual I’d race with a naked wrist, so I’d have no idea of the time until the finish line. This allows me to push harder and not let up if I’m ahead of my goal (BTW naked wrist is still available, and you can try it free of charge your first time!).
Daniel, Sante, and I kept in the latter half of the top 10 for most of the first half of the race. I was being conservative, per the plan: to negative split and reel in people on the second half. But I was a bit worried because I felt pretty tired starting at mile 12. I thought it might be due to the Joshua Tree Traverse the previous weekend (I do think my abs were still sore, but otherwise, I seemed ok).
On the way back I realized the tiredness was probably due to 3000′ of gain in those first miles. Probably I didn’t fully internalize just how steep this section was due to adrenaline, plus I was distracted by the amazing views. I’d been on that quite pretty section of the PCT several times before, but I’d never been so early in the morning, or with as many wildflowers, so I never appreciated it this much.A little more haggard below the belt post-race. My Joshua Tree running partners, my Leadville crew –especially Daniel– and essentially everyone I’ve ever run with has criticized my style of spandex under running shorts. So I finally heeded the message. This time I wore boxer briefs, which I let hang out. Am I more fashionable now?
Daniel and I raced together, pressing harder but relaxed for miles 12-22. By the turnaround point (25 miles in) I found myself in third place, feeling great. I was focused and confident and kept ratcheting up the effort. By mile 30 I saw the second place guy begin occasionally walking on some uphills, looking like he was struggling a bit. He was maybe half a mile ahead but you can see forever due to the low brush/foliage. I had the target in my sights.
It took a while, maybe 5 miles, but I passed him. I was feeling really terrible, but I put the move on hard and kept gunning; I know how to race. Rolling fast ahead of him and putting a serious gap to increase the psychological advantage, I thought I had 2nd place in the bag. I turned my attention to moving up on 1st, but Brian Peterson was still 20 minutes ahead (so the aid station volunteers told me). He had run with me at the beginning until mile 7 then made a very strong move, taking the lead by the halfway point and putting a lot of distance on me early. I reeled a lot of people in, but he was too good.
In any case, the last 15 miles were pretty hot, I was running out of fluids, and I was focused most on snakes and falling (the two things that I felt could take a podium finish from me). But I was getting emotional, tearing up even a little, some combo of emotions about Tim and the truly difficult task of hammering in the midday heat, running every step of the course for 40+ miles so far. At the last aid station, mile 44 , I for once didn’t run through in under 2 minutes, and instead chatted with the volunteers about Tim for maybe 4 or 5 minutes (thinking by this time that 2nd place was assured and 1st out of reach).
Well, as we were chatting one of them called “runner coming!”– the next guy was coming down off the mountain towards the the aid station! My thoughts of not hammering the last bit had just been shattered. “Tell him I am way far ahead” I implored and I took off like I have not ever run before. Bats out of Hell had nothing on that pace.
I heard footsteps (though later realized they were echoes of my own) for the next mile and I ran tight to the cliff so I could not be seen, accelerating in every open area and trying to stay out of eyesight. These tactics were working, either that or it was a false alarm.
I ran into Adam cheering way in the middle of nowhere, which was a good psyche boost, but he told me I had three miles to the finish–I had thought around 1.5! The last few miles were long, so long; I knew I wanted to earn 2nd place for Tim, which I couldn’t secure without going hard until the finish line. I ran so hard I got a little woozy, I mis-stepped off the trail here and there in the last couple miles. Heat and dehydration no doubt played a part.
I ended up beating the 3rd place runner by a more-than-comfy margin (18 minutes), though I had another scare in the last half mile, when my steps echoed off the overpass and I sprinted so hard in case that was him. I arrived exhausted to the finish line. No, not victorious. But having given my all. I there first learned of my time, 7:51, 8 minutes faster than my idealized goal. A great feeling to put in a big effort of 50 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, one of America’s very finest pieces of dirt.Race director John Martinez greets me at the finish line.
I am most proud that I gave my all, regardless of what result would have transpired. The point of me racing out there was to burn 100% of my energy, to give a truly full and excellent effort for Tim. I gave an honest effort all the way until the end.
Secondly I’m most proud that I ran every step (except a couple tiptoeing around a pair of rattlesnakes), a big goal of mine and a tangible way to measure my effort. It’s very uncommon to run a full ultra, and indeed it can even be slower to always run (short walk breaks can help you recover on steep hills, and burn way less energy). But I’m stubborn, and I wanted to keep pushing hard.
I’m also very proud to have been part of the posse. Bethany finished her first ultramarathon, which meant so much to her to follow in Tim’s steps; Allison (flying from Colorado) and Sante finished their first ultra race also (Allison even got 3rd woman!). Daniel went big, running with me in 4th at the halfway point, but the heat and nutrition issues caught up to him later. Other Tri-Team members Adam (coming from Arizona), Brianne, Rachel, and many others came out to crew and cheer. It was this big group effort to honor Tim that inspired me to push myself hard out there.
Lastly, and truly least of these things, I’m proud of the podium finish at a big race, especially because I honestly did it for Tim. Yes I ran also for myself, but I would not have pushed myself to go so hard on my own. To perhaps sacrilegiously edit the Bible passage, “I can do all things through [T]im who strengthens me.”
To be honest, it was so painful to run with such abandon, I’m looking forward to just running normally, just for myself again. I don’t think I could bear the pain for the full Western States 100 next month with the same kind of intensity I burned today. It took something substantial out of me. But it was the best way I could find to show honor for my friend.