What a day. What a day!
Myself, my girlfriend Nikki and my mom and dad all arrived at the starting area by 5:30am for a 6 o’clock start. The night before we feasted on a four course meal at an incredible authentic Italian restaurant called Cucina Biazzi near “downtown” Ashland and stayed at a very cool, comfortable, and unique lodge called Callahans that was basically the closest lodging to the race start. Come the morning of the race I was feeling very rested, well fed, and ready to go.
I wasn’t too nervous until I started playing mind games with myself. I have this weird fear of altitude. Even though I live at 3600 feet and train anywhere from 3000-9000 feet I still get paranoid as I ascend to higher places. I guess it’s really just a fear of not being able to breathe. Even though I think the start was only at like 7100 feet and I have been WAY higher than that, I still found myself analyzing my breathing and psyching myself out. Weird, I know. I think that fear dissipated and was replaced with another fear when I go to get my race number and they tell me that they won’t have ANY energy gels on the course and that they will only be refilling flasks full of EFS. I had heard of EFS but had certainly never tried any so that kind of threw me for a loop. I started to get rattled but then transitioned my mentality into a “go with the flow” attitude. If I can’t breathe, chill, run down the mountain, if my stomach doesn’t take the EFS, chill, maybe I’ll stumble upon a wounded squirrel that will offer itself as a sacrifice to satiate my hunger.
I saw and talked to some familiar faces; there was quite the Bendite crew there! Just as I was starting to feel at ease I spotted pro ultra runner Tim Olson, Western States Champ 2012. It got really real right then. I had some added nerves but also some added excitement, this was not your local 5k. Even though I knew Tim wasn’t running, it was cool to have him there just to add to the vibe, I was getting excited to run!
I head over to the start with just a few minutes to spare, the fast guys mingled it up, I hung back a bit. The gun goes off (don’t actually remember if there was a gun or not) and off we go. The plan was for Nikki and the parents to see me a few times in the 1st nine miles and then I’d be solo until I’d see them again around mile 45. I told them they would see me in the best of times and the worst of times.
New Balance runner Erik Skaggs (the heavy favorite) and Ryan Gelphi shoot out into the lead and gap everyone pretty quickly. Then a pack that consisted of Jeff Browning, Zach Violett, Jace Ives, and Neil Olsen formed with me and a few other dudes a ways back from them but still in sight. Being that this was only my 2nd 50 miler I’m still a little wary and inexperienced with regards to pace. 50 miles it just so dang long and it’s hard to estimate what kind of pace is sustainable. I was happy with my position, sitting in around 7th place after 5 miles.
At this point I was running steady but I really didn’t want to run any faster and I just sort of assumed that those guys up there were going to continue to gap me; maybe if I stayed consistent I could see them real late in the race. Surprisingly though, on a long descent I caught the group of four, with Erik and Ryan still way off the front. I came thought the 9.1 mile aid station with that group, waved to Nikki and Rents, feeling good and now feeling even better about my place, I was happy to be feeling comfortable and running with those guys.
I have to mention that this course is almost entirely on the Pacific Crest Trail and I will say that it was absolutely beautiful; God’s craftsmanship. I hadn’t seen one inch of the course before the race and one of my fave things to do is run on new trails so I really tried to enjoy the scenery and environment while I was running. We began a big climb and Jace Ives jumped out and hit the climb hard, I followed, and the other three guys actually fell off behind me. At this point I was like, “Oh Crap, I probably shouldn’t be dropping Jeff and Zach. They are probably laughing at my naivety!” But really, my effort level felt totally reigned in, feeling very comfortable the whole time. So I kept running and after awhile they were totally out of earshot and I wouldn’t see them again until the turnaround at mile 25-26. At around mile 15 the course begins a 6 mile gradual descent, very fun and beautiful, but with each passing minute the daunting task of running back up it on the way back became more and more of a reality.
I hit the mile 22 aid station and to my great relief they had gu’s!! I was stoked because the EFS stuff, in my palette, started to taste almost like some sort of liquor. I grabbed a bunch of gels and did my water routine: fill water bottle, dump over head, fill water bottle, pound it, fill water bottle, run with it. This worked great the whole race. On the way out of the aid I saw Erik Skaggs sitting in a chair rubbing his ankle. Turns out he twisted his ankle and had dropped. It’s hard not to get excited because I knew I had one less guy ahead of me and I was now sitting pretty in 3rd. This was my first (and only) inkling that MAYBE just MAYBE I could pull off the win if those two Ashland boys ahead of me bonked. From that aid to the turnaround is a three mile climb.
A mile from the top of this climb I saw Ryan Gelphi flying down the hill. He looked strong and I kind of knew then that the race was for second. I near the top and Jace Ives comes by me and he actually said, “I’m not feeling good. You are going to get me.” I was surprised he said that but I was appreciating his honesty in the moment. The race was becoming more real; almost to the turnaround. The climb ends with a scramble up to a rock outcropping and lo and behold, there’s Timmy Olson. We were supposed to slap his hand to signify we were at the turnaround. He seemed like a super chill guy and offered me some encouraging words. With all the excitement, I was ready to bomb back down the hill and go catch those guys. I was soon winded and realized that, Chase, you gotta chill out, theres A LOT of running left to do, keep it steady.
On the way back down that climb I saw Zack first and then Jeff. I kind of thought they would be in the opposite order but apparently it just wasn’t Jeff’s day. He won a 100 miler 5 weeks before and may have still been feeling the hurt from that. I get back down to the aid, grab some more gels and settle into the beast of a 6 mile climb. I ran the whole thing until the very top where I was forced to integrate a few power hike sessions. Looking back, knowing the climbs that I still had to run later in the race, I would have probably actually hiked more of that 6 mile climb, it was taxing.
I thought I was going to catch Ives on that climb but I never saw him. And actually I wouldn’t see him for the rest of the race. Aid station volunteers (who were AWESOME) gave me some good intel. I think I was something like 5 minutes back from Jace, then 2, then 5, then he ended up beating me by about 6 minutes. He hung tough and I actually talked to him afterwards about the false hope he gave me at the turnaround. He must have started to feel better because he ran tough!
The last 15 miles or so were just plain hard. I was constantly turning around and looking to see if anyone was closing on me. I really should have been focusing on closing the gap on Jace but really what dominated my mindspace was how I just wanted to beat Zack and Jeff and the other guys BEHIND me. This misdirection of focus was one of my big takeaways from the race. Always look ahead. Never be content with your current position. Fight.
I hit mile 45 feeling finally like the end was in sight. I got a great boost from my parents and Nikki! It was really helpful to have them there to cheer me on in. This race allows you to have someone waiting for you with one mile to go to run it on in to the finish with. Nikki was there, super psyched and encouraging. Nikki assured me no one was coming but I kept on turning around and turning around, I never saw anyone. We took in the cheers from the spectators and as we got within sight of the finish we actually realized that I was in reach of a sub 7 hour 50 miler. So we sprinted it in and clocked a 6:59:57 for a 3rd place finish. The funny thing is that it turns out that my suspicions were right. Zach Violett had been charging hard crossing the finish line only 30 seconds after me. I NEVER saw him coming! Good thing me and Nikki sprinted it in!
Overall, this was a really really good time and awesome learning experience. The beauty of the PCT is something I will never forget. I feel much more confident now in actually RACING 50 miles instead of just surviving it. I was originally registered to run just the 50k so I’m very happy I switched! It will, I’m sure, come in handy in 5 weeks when I tackle another new distance at the Where’s Waldo 100k (62 miles)!
Thanks for reading and keep running.