3rd place female
This past spring I had originally signed up for Canyons 100K, which was supposed to be my qualifier for Western States. I got a hip injury but was holding out hope all the way up to the week of the race when I went on a field trip with a group of students to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. I realized I needed to face the music and drop from Canyons when I couldn’t jog ten steps across a grassy field without experiencing pain.
During that week while we were at the festival, I went on a short hike with a couple of my colleagues at the park in town. I loved Ashland and I so enjoyed that leisurely hike with Loni and Pete. I kept looking at the mountains around town and wishing that I could go explore them with my running shoes on. I emailed Chaz, the Canyons race director, that I had to drop from his race due to injury and immediately started hatching plans to run Pine to Palm 100 instead in September. It seemed perfect. I could train all summer while I was off work and start tapering when I had to start back teaching and when life would start getting busy again. This time I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes and end up injured.
I bought Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for and Ultramarathon and actually wrote out a training plan for the first time in my life, using his training plan as a guide and fitting it in with my parenting and vacation schedule for the summer. It seemed fitting to follow his training philosophy for the race since he was the race director. Previously, I had only run when my girls were at their dad’s. Clearly only running five or six days every two weeks was not working. I committed to fitting in my training anyway I could. Through hell or high water, I would find a way to run six days a week. I would have to embrace running with the double stroller, fit in late night and early morning workouts, and basically train every free minute that I didn’t have my girls.
I got running with the double stroller down to a science, and believe me, there is a science to it. Between planning runs around the Sacramento heat, snacks, games and distractions, routes that included parks, and then chasing the elusive-yet-miraculous, double nap that my girls gifted me with a few times—I had it down. All-in-all those runs are something I don’t think any of the three of us will ever forget. It was magical bonding time, and my girls were just as invested in me running a great race as I was.
When I finally made it official and signed up for Pine to Palm, my friend Jessica Harris wrote me asking if I had a crew. When I said no, she told me she would pace me, then minutes later she wrote that Nicholas Banaszak was on board too. I hadn’t wanted to ask anyone to go through the trouble of travelling out of town and devoting a whole weekend of their time, and I was honored that they were willing to do that for me. A few weeks later, my friend Lisa Coronado asked me the same thing and also offered to come crew for me. Little did I know that I had lined up the dream team.
There was the issue of smoke from forest fires looming for the months, weeks, and days leading up to the race. A new fire had started just days before the race that led to the closure of I5, the main North/South corridor on the West Coast, and my route up to Ashland. I kept the faith that the race would still happen, and thankfully I was not disappointed.
When I finally made it up to Pacifica campground near the starting line of the race, having made the extra two-hour detour around the forest fires, I was antsy and ready to run. I went to the spaghetti dinner and chatted with a guy named Greg, who had this huge, easy smile always lighting up his face. He was a public defender in Minneapolis, was visiting his sister, and planning on running the race without a crew. I put my drop bags in the piles after dinner and Hal’s race briefing. I didn’t have cell service, and Greg happened to walk past me and offered to let me use his phone to call Lisa, who was still on her way. She arrived shortly, we chatted for a bit, then we both went to sleep in our cars, I wearing my outfit already for the next day. I slept well, considering, and the next morning I went through my ordinary morning rituals that I had nervously written out on a list: brush teeth, eat breakfast, lube feet, charge phone.
Lisa drove me to the start about five miles away and I put my key on the driver’s side tire. “Don’t you want to at least put it on the passenger side tire?” she asked.
“You’re right,” I said, moving my key to the passenger side tire. I had asked Jessica and Nick to move my car to the finish at some point that day. Lisa then texted them where I had left my keys.
When Hal arrived at the start, he counted down and we were off a few minutes after 6 am. The first few miles were uphill on a road. As we were running up, Hal came racing by us in his pickup and waited for us at the turnoff onto single track offering water, which I didn’t need since it was only 15-20 minutes into the race. I hit the single track, walked when it reached a certain grade, but ran as much as I could. As I headed up that climb the smell of smoke got really strong. I looked off to my left and the sun was coming up, glorious and blazing red through the smoke. It shined red splotches of light onto the dirt single track in front of me. The smoke concerned me a little, but as I was looking at the sun through those huge, beautiful trees, I knew it was going to be a great day.
I turned my headphones on and started off with “Pig” by Dave Matthew’s Band, which was such a great song to start the day with. It had been a last minute addition to my playlist and suggested by my friend Kimmy while I was driving up. I followed a guy who had passed me a few minutes earlier down a hundred yards or so of a four-wheeling trail before we both realized it was the wrong way and headed back up to the trail. When I made it to the top of that climb, about 10.5 miles into the race, the trees opened up and the smoke had dissipated. I started heading down and felt great. The trail curved back and forth and I kept picking up speed, just loving the grade going down. I was also picking up on the energy of the other runners around me, some passing me but more of them letting me run by.
I got to the O’Brien aide station and a woman said, “Yay! Another female runner!” I dropped my headlamp in my drop bag, ate some food, and headed out. This section was a fire road that was a nice, easy downhill. There were three other male runners right in front of me, but one by one each of them fell behind until I was in front, cruising at 8 minute miles, listening to James Brown and then Bob Marley and feeling invincible. I knew I was running kind of fast, but I wasn’t breathing heavily, and it felt like a natural pace. I had been training at a faster pace pushing a heavy stroller all summer.
I hit Steamboat Ranch, happy to say hi to some people, eat some fruit, and drink 7up. The last of the group of guys was there, a guy with a long, red beard and a real nice, easy running form. We smiled at one another and kept moving. I kept him ahead of me in my line of sight for several miles, watching his parted beard flow behind him as he ran. I passed an old farmer who was leaning on a shovel next to the road. “How many miles you got left to run?” he asked me.
“About 80!” I responded with a big grin.
“My goodness that’s a long ways,” he yelled after me. “Good luck!” I eventually cruised past the bearded runner, and as I neared the Seattle Bar aide station, crew for runners were driving into the aide station and a woman cheered loudly to me, hanging out of her car. I yelled back at her, cheering as well. I had already made it nearly 50K. I saw Lisa for the first time at Seattle Bar. She admonished me for not having been drinking enough fluids, squeezed ice water all over me, and gave me a popsicle. A few other friends were there and cheered me on. Then I was off.
The next climb up to Stein Butte was steep and unrelenting, but my feet and legs seemed to have a mind of their own. I felt amazing and just cruised, running every section that came close to leveling out, and continuing with a fast clip when it got steep again. I came up to two guys who warned me to not fork off on a trail marked Stein Butte Overlook. I kept picking off runners and passed both of them soon as well. The trail leveled out for a short section and I passed another male runner (I hadn’t seen any female runners since the start), but I didn’t pay much attention to him. He caught back up to me almost right away. I asked if he wanted to pass, but when he declined I just continued in front, not wanting to have to pass him again in a few minutes if I let him pass me. But then he was right on my heels. “Are you sure you don’t want to pass?” He declined again and started talking but I didn’t give him much of a response as I was listening to music and not feeling particularly social. He continued right on my heels and I was beginning to feel slightly annoyed so I said again, “Just tell me when you want to pass.” The trail got steeper but I was still cruising up. Suddenly I felt the runner behind me push on my pack, as if to help me up the hill. It both caught me off guard and annoyed me even more. I immediately jumped off the trail to let him pass me and he patted me on the butt two times as he passed. “Oh sorry,” he said as if it was a mistake. I was caught so off guard by the whole thing and before I could stop myself the words flew out of my mouth, “That’s okay.” I immediately regretted saying that. I know two things for a fact:
1) I know for darn sure I didn’t look like I needed help up that mountain. I was cruising up and feeling strong. On Strava I got a bunch of top ten trophies for the segments up to Stein Butte.
2) I know I have never patted anyone else’s butt on the trails by accident, not to mention two consecutive pats on the butt.
It wasn’t okay at all. I was upset with my knee-jerk reaction to avoid conflict and at my own cowardice. Although my day was and continued to be amazing apart from that incident, in the back of my mind I dreaded the possibility of having to see that guy again on the trails.
After leaving the aide station at the top of Stein Butte, my legs felt fatigued and the next section going down was more technical. I didn’t really get much of a groove until I was a couple miles from the Squaw Lakes aide station. When I came into that aide station, there was a large crowd gathered on either side of the trail, all cheering loudly as I ran through. I felt a huge sense of pride and was suddenly overcome with emotion as I spotted Lisa. I wanted to stop and talk, but she grabbed my pack and shoved my handheld into my hand as I had instructed her to do. “I’ll see you in 20-25 minutes. Go!” she told me. I kept running without missing a beat. I had no music for that portion, and I very much enjoyed the peace of the lake. I thought of the 2.5 miles in my head and how Lisa told me she’d see me in 20 minutes. “Dang!” I thought, “She’s not letting up on me. She’s expecting me to run this at a quick tempo.” It felt good though, and I just wanted to get back to the aide station to say hi to my friends for a few minutes, so I kept cruising at that same cruising speed I had found before Seattle Bar.
When I got there, Lisa was there with other friends, Clint Welch, Amy Delaney, and her son. They were looking excited and encouraging me. Then Amy let the cat out of the bag, “You’re third female!”
“You’re kidding.” I had no idea. I hadn’t seen any other women since the start but it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be that far up.
“We weren’t going to tell her that yet,” Lisa said.
Clint looked at me and said calmly, “Don’t even worry about that. Just do your own thing. When you get to Dutchman’s, then it’s race time.” Lisa washed my feet, Clint popped a blister for me, I threw my shoes on and noticed the 4th place female coming into the aide station.
“I gotta go,” I said and jumped up. I motored up the next section to Hanley Gulch in what seemed like no time. When I got there, Lisa again grabbed my pack, gave me my handheld, and instructed me to climb up to get a flag at the top of Hanley. That section was steep but I kept thinking about seeing Lisa again. I got to greet some of the runners who I recognized on that section, coming up and going down, which was fun. I didn’t see—or at least I didn’t recognize that dude who had groped me climbing up to Stein Butte, which I was relieved about. I got back to Hanley in great spirits, rolled my aching muscles, and ate some quesadilla, broth, and a few other things. Lisa took a quick picture of me and I was off again, but with a heavy pack that Lisa had filled with warm clothes and my headlamp.
I ran a lot of the next section and noticed the sun was low in the sky by the time I reached the Squaw Creek Gap aide station. There were two lovely kids running the show at that aide station with big smiles, commenting on each thing that I ate, offering me cookies and pickles. The little girl was about the age of my elder daughter, Ana. I could almost read her thoughts as she reached for an Oreo, picked it up, resisted the urge to put it in her own mouth, set it back down, looked up at me with a sweet expression, “Would you like a cookie?” How could I resist. That was the best cookie I may have eaten in my entire life. She did the same with a pickle—again, darned good pickle. “My daughters always snitch the cookies and jelly beans at aide stations when they volunteer with me,” I told the sweet girl with a wink and talking with my mouth full. She smiled back at me. I grabbed a Gu and a nice woman walked a few yards with me, describing the climb up to Dutchman’s. As I found my running legs again leaving that aide station, “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls came on my music mix. I thought about Iris, my daughter, and my other daughter Ana. I thought about how they were probably about ready to get their jammies on. I thought about how much I love reading to them and snuggling them to sleep. I thought about all of those days, running with them in the stroller while they giggled hysterically or sang songs together or asked me rapid-fire “why” and “how come” questions. I listened to the song, ran, and enjoyed thinking about them.
When I turned onto the road cars started passing me. I felt really strong again, running much of that road going up to Dutchman’s. Hal had mentioned runners complaining about the dust, but I rather enjoyed all of the cars passing me. They’d slow down and cheer for me as they passed. I played a little game with myself in which, unless it was a steep section, I tried to run every time I heard a car coming until it was out of sight again. Two friends, Matt Brayton and David Lent, drove past me and slowed down to say a few words to me. “She’s still smiling!” Matt said out the window.
It started getting dark and immediately got colder, but I didn’t want to stop to get my warm clothes and headlamp out yet because I kept thinking I was almost to the top. The last couple of miles dragged, and by the time I got to the twinkling lights along the trail at the top, it was completely dark, and very cold and windy.
Photos by Larry Hunt
Two friends, Deno and David were at the aide station, bundled up. I grabbed my drop bag and asked them for help getting my sleeves off. I was suddenly shivering uncontrollably and my fingers were frozen and unable to move. They helped me and by the time I was ready to head the couple of miles down to my crew, all of my muscles had seized up and I couldn’t stop chattering. I moved slowly down those miles, hitting a bit of a low. My mood was immediately happy again when I saw my crew. I stepped off a few yards from the cars to use the bathroom. Good God those stars almost knocked the breath out of me when I looked up. I finished up eating and Nick and I hit the trails again.
We ran short, flat sections and hiked the climbs. He chatted away about his kids and races he’d run. Every half an hour he forced me to eat another gu, which seemed like just a few minutes. I tried not to taste them or gag as I forced myself to swallow them. The trail dropped off into the pervasive darkness below us for many sections. I slowed down on these sections because I was feeling a little unsteady on wobbly legs. We kept grinding up. I felt like I had slowed way down and was really feeling the miles going up that climb. We eventually made it to the top and started hitting more downhills than up, and I was able to keep up with him for short spurts when he ran. Nick kept telling me that pretty soon I’d get to pick up my A+ pacer, and before I knew it we had made it to Grouse Gap and Jessica was there awaiting me and excited to run.
We did a little surgery on my blisters again, I changed my socks, then we were off. “How was your day? What did you guys do?”
“Oh we just farted around Ashland with the kids. It was great!”
“Did everything go okay with getting my car to the finish?” I asked Jessica. “I’ve had a weird rattle in my car ever since I drove my car on some questionable roads during my road trip in Utah,” I chuckled apologetically.
“Uh huh,” she responded. We ran and hiked. I was slowing down a bit, and there was a lot more uphill than I remembered on the elevation profile. But Jessica cracked jokes and we chatted away about tons of stuff. The time flew by. At one point there was a guy on the trail just sitting. Jessica briskly chided him, “Get up and keep moving. Come on!” He got up but continued grumbling about how hard the climb was. “Hey, if you have energy for that much sass then you have energy to get up that hill,” Jessica retorted with absolutely zero sympathy for the guy. I started giggling, but it was as if that was exactly what he needed to hear. He picked up his pace and disappeared ahead of us.
Runners started doubling back with flags in their hands as we finished the climb. The trees opened up to a tall pile of boulders. We looked up and saw that about 30 feet above us there was a dim flashing light. We started scrambling up the loose, wobbling boulders. “Hal must have thought this was really funny to have us scramble up this shit at mile 87 in the race,” I laughed. We got to the top and took a moment.
“This is so beautiful,” Jessica said. We looked up at the stars, then down at the city lights below us.
“So beautiful,” I responded, “Totally worth the climb.” I recalled a postcard I have on my fridge from one of my besties that reads: “You are exactly where you need to be.” We stood, looking at the stars and lights a few more moments.
“That’s where we’re headed,” Jessica said, gesturing down to Ashland below us. We started scrambling down the rocks. We found a much easier way down than the way we had come up, and as we had almost reached the single track again the fourth place female was just coming up.
“Let’s go!” I said when we got out of earshot. “I want to get third place and sub 24. I think I can do it.”
“Okay. Let’s do it then,” Jessica said with a matched resolve. “Run when I run and I promise I won’t make you run anything that you’re not capable of running.”
“Okay,” I responded obediently, and we started running, I mean really running.
“Oh, and eat another Gu!” Jessica commanded.
We ran, and as we picked up the pace more with each mile, our conversation ebbed. As we neared the final aide station, Weasel Creek, I noted, “Fourth place keeps passing me in the aide stations. She’s going through twice as fast as I am.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Pissed.” We laughed. “Okay, I’m just going to slam a coke and grab a piece of fruit then let’s keep going.” We blasted through that aide station in a couple of minutes. I slammed a huge coke and a huge mountain dew. The fire road was again that perfect, beautiful downhill grade that I love to fly down. I fell right into the eight and a half minute cruising speed that I had found a few times that day. I kept thinking about how I was going to have to do that for nearly two more hours and was feeling some apprehension, but then at the same time that cruising speed felt so natural and easy.
During those final ten miles, my stomach finally gave out. I stopped to use the bathroom at least four times, but each time I’d pop right back into cruising speed. When we finally came out into the park, I recognized it from my walk with Loni and Pete earlier that spring, and I could taste the finish. We came out onto a cement road that would take us the final 2 miles or so to the finish. It suddenly felt like hammers hitting my knees with each step. The road was so steep that I was having a hard time making my steps more graceful, and at the same time I didn’t want to slow down to a walk after so easily hammering out those fast miles and being so close to the finish. I finally got to the finish. Hal gave me a high five. “Will you be at the buckle ceremony later?” he asked.
“Yup,” I smiled. It’s a strange thing to finally reach the finish after such an effort. Craig Thornley was the only other person who I noticed at the finish at that hour apart from my crew. They all gave me hugs and we took a few pictures.
“We drove someone else’s car to the finish line,” Jessica blurted out, as if she had wanted to blurt it out for hours.
“We drove the wrong car from the start. They stashed their keys in the same place as you did. I thought you had a rental or something.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, someone named Miranda.”
Lisa, Jessica, and Nick all joined in, excitedly telling me about the crazy mishap, and about how they tried to keep it from me during the race. When they called to let Hal know about the mix-up with the car from one of the aide stations, Hal had responded, “Oh yea. That’s the car that’s parked right where we’re trying to set up the finish line.” I kept thinking their story was wrapping up but the hilarity continued.
“We got pulled over too,” Nick added.
Lisa chimed in, “Apparently it’s against the law to drive in circles in Oregon.”
“Drive in circles?” I was trying to piece together all this crazy stuff that had been happening behind the scenes throughout the day. Jessica and Nick had also driven into Dutchman’s flat from a different direction than everyone else and had navigated some gnarly roads, come to locked gates, and basically crawled their way to meet me for over an hour longer than they had planned, nearly missing me.
“I missed a turn on a one-way and looped around again, then the police officer pulled me over. Nick came to my rescue but then he didn’t believe us that there was a race going on at four in the morning so he escorted us.”
“My white privilege protected me from a tazing once again,” Nick joked with his characteristic dry sense of humor. “I had the keys to the stolen car in my hands the whole time I was talking to him.”
We laughed. I started yawning. I walked down to my car, relieved to see my sleeping bag, slowly peeled off all of my stinky clothes, threw on a t-shirt, and fell asleep, sticky and filthy in my sleeping bag. I woke up a few hours later feeling rested. Lisa came up to my car smiling. We went out for breakfast then I took a shower at the YMCA. I said goodbye to Lisa and drank a beer with friends while the final runners came in. I saw Greg and congratulated him on his finish. He seemed distracted and tired but still had that bright smile.
We went to the buckle ceremony and Hal gave a nice speech. He gave an award to Craig Thornley for helping out with the ham radio every year. He gave awards to the first place male and first place female. Then he went around and had every one of the finishers stand up and tell about why we signed up for the race. Hal commented on each and every person’s remarks, patiently and intently listening to what they had to say. I sat there thinking about all of the miles and trails that we had all collectively run on in preparation for and during the race, all on our two feet. Each of us had our own experiences over the last 34 hours, but we had all come out of it better for it. Hal told us we were all family now, and I really felt like we were.
Wouldn’t you know it but after the ceremony we were fed one of my absolute favorite foods on the planet from my dad’s homeland, Argentine empanadas, salad, and alfajores for dessert. I chatted it up, making a few more new friends, and when I walked out to my car I bumped into Greg one more time and we wished each other luck.
That next day on my drive home I stopped at a diner and started going through some of the Facebook posts. Jessica had written with her typical bluntness on the Pine to Palm page, “Sorry Miranda for stealing your car.” I chuckled and started reading through the comments. Of all the people, Greg had responded that it was in fact his car, that he had probably walked past the car 5 times that afternoon. He had taken a cab out to the start to pick up his car, found it missing, and went to his hotel worrying all night that some meth addict or miscreant had stolen his rental car with his keys, wallet, and all of his luggage in it. Then he finally found out where his car was, and he was just relieved to get his stuff back. Oh my goodness. Not only had I spoken to him multiple times that day, he was one of the few people I had met and conversed with over the course of the weekend. I could have mentioned the funny story of my crew mistakingly taking someone else’s car to the finish but I didn’t think to. Lisa had his phone number the whole time because I had called her from his phone on Friday night. I later joked with my crew that since he was a public defender, perhaps he would defend them in their grand theft auto case. Lisa still had his phone number after all. You just can’t make this stuff up.