Southern Oregon's first 100-mile footrace proved to be a race of attrition.
Seventy-one of the 131 runners who toed the line at the Williams Grange crossed the finish line at Pioneer Hall in Ashland. An unusually early rainstorm, which proved temperate at lower elevations, greeted runners near the summit of Dutchman's Peak with driving rain, temperatures in the low 40s, and winds of up to 25 mph, according to race officials.
"The weather put everyone on edge. It took everyone out of their game plan," said Hal Koerner, race director and owner of Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland.
Koerner spent much of Saturday night shuttling runners who threw in the towel from the course back to Ashland, and communicating with ham radio operators, who relayed runner location information.
The race, "Pine 2 Palm 100," began at 6 a.m. on Saturday. The cutoff time for finishing the race was Sunday at 4 p.m. — 34 hours later. For most of the competitors, a significant portion of their race time was spent navigating trails and dirt roads on the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest by flashlight.
This gave Koerner a few gray hairs. "There's no room for error here: with the weather, they're wet, hungry, then you add the wind. A couple of people went home (during the race) without telling us. But now everyone is accounted for, and safe," Koerner said.
Twenty aid stations were spread throughout the course to assist and monitor runners. All offered water, and most were stocked with a variety of food. Medical staff stood by at several aid stations, and all runners were weighed at two stations to monitor for dehydration.
The wind was the worst for the lead runners, but this didn't stop Ashland's Tim Olson, who won the race in a time of 18 hours, 38 minutes, 50 seconds.
"The toughest part was the last 20 miles. Climbing was OK; climbing I could deal with. It was the coming down that hurt. We climbed all those rocks up to the top of Wagner Butte," Olson said. "It was chilly up there. My pacer gave me his coat."
For safety reasons, runners are allowed — and encouraged — to have a friend pace them for the final 34 miles of the race, beginning at the aid station at Dutchman's Peak.
"It was just nice to chat with someone. It was so cold that it was great to get out of that mindset of chattering teeth and think about something else," Olson explained.
While Olson led for more than 90 miles, there was a battle for second through fifth place. Neil Olsen of Central Point held second for much of the first half of the race. Lewis Taylor of Eugene passed Olsen at the aid station at mile 53.5. Ben Hian of Oxnard, Calif., took over third a few miles later.
By the time Taylor reached Wagner Butte at mile 83, the climbing and descending of Greyback Mountain, Stein Butte, Squaw Peak and Dutchman's Peak, had taken their toll on his legs. He looked back and saw a pair of bobbing headlamps.
"We saw Ben (Hian) and his pacer. He was about 30 minutes back, but he's a really good downhiller, so I was running scared the last 10 miles or so," Taylor said.
Taylor increased his lead and finished second in 21:00:14, ahead of Hian by 54:35 and 2:21:24 behind Tim Olson. Neil Olsen sprinted the last quarter-mile to hold off a hard-charging Brett Rivers for fourth.
Amy Sproston of Portland won the women's race, slowly increasing her lead from the beginning, and finishing in 22:38:51, with a lead of 1:03:21 over Kelly Hambelton.
Sproston was also the women's winner in July of the Siskiyou Outback 50k (31-mile) run at Mt. Ashland, Southern Oregon's only other ultramarathon. Other than losing two toenails, Sproston finished tired but not destroyed. She had her moments, though.
"It definitely got harder around mile 65, where it got so cold. That was kind of a low point. I had some vomiting spells that weren't really much fun, but besides that, I'm OK," Sproston said.
She's looking forward to a long rest beginning today on a plane trip to Africa.
"I work for Mercy Corps, and I'm going to Ethiopia and Nairobi, Kenya. ... It will be a nice recovery time because it's hard to run overseas. It's too dangerous to run," Sproston said.
Battling the elements and the limits of physical endurance were only part of the challenge for these athletes. Mental endurance makes or breaks a runner over the course of 100 miles.
"All I could do those last few miles was 'deep breath in, deep breath out.' That's all I concentrated on," winner Tim Olson said. "Breathing is good."
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.