Pioneer Hall in Ashland was filled with ham radio operators, patients on cots and medical personnel on Saturday, but this was no disaster area.
The bustling command center served as the finish line for the second annual Pine to Palm 100-mile endurance run. This race is tough, even by 100-mile race standards.
Beginning near Williams, the course traverses three 7,000-foot peaks and more than 20,000 feet each of climbing and descent before ending in Ashland. Of the 75 starters, only 45 runners completed the race, a finish rate of 60 percent.
Volunteer ham radio enthusiasts relayed times and locations of runners to Pioneer Hall to keep track of runners and to update the progress of each competitor online.
The race could not have been more different from last year's event, where runners faced rain and wind the entire time. This year the weather cooperated, offering clear skies with mild temperatures that barely topped 70 degrees.
Ashland runner Timothy Olson successfully defended his title, knocking more than an hour off his 2010 winning time, establishing a new record of 17 hours and 19 minutes.
For Olson, the difference between his two victories went beyond the weather. "Last year, I felt steadier through the whole race, but my feet were blown up from all the rain," he said. "This year, I had a low patch for 30 miles. I kept hoping things would turn around, so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other."
That perseverance paid off.
Olson had a lead of 30 minutes at the halfway point, and extended his lead at the tape to 1 hour, 56 minutes over runner-up Chris Downie.
"It was a good internal battle, being really exhausted but still having that mindset of wanting to finish," Olson explained. "There's that point in the race where you don't really worry about the time, you just really want to finish what you started."
Olson separated early from Portland runner Yassine Diboun. Chris Downie from Burnaby, British Columbia, was in third place for many miles, biding his time.
"I learned I was 30- and 15 minutes behind the top two runners," Downie said. "About mile 50, before Squaw Peak, I caught Yassine. I knew Tim was a caliber above me, but anything can happened in a 100-miler. Apparently, he turned on the jets later in the race."
Downie ran the entire race without a support crew or a pacer, a common practice in races of this distance, where darkness and terrain add to the challenge of the distance.
"My strengths are descents," says Downie. "That's where I catch people. But darkness is the equalizer."
A pack of four led the women's race through the climb up Sugarloaf Mountain to mile 14. On the next downhill, eventual winner Liz Koop made her move.
"I've been practicing downhills," said Koop, a resident of Colorado Springs, Colo. "I've been training a lot on Pike's Peak near where I live."
That strategy paid dividends for Koop, a first-timer at the 100-mile distance. She was never challenged after she took the lead. Her finishing time of 27:15:40 gave her a margin of victory of nearly 11/2; hours over runner-up Gretchen Evaul of San Diego, Calif.
Koop had several personal incentives to finish. She was determined not to waste the money she spent on the plane ticket. This race also served as a celebration.
"I'm celebrating the last 10 years of my life, since I've been with my husband," Koop explained. "Ten miles for each year. Over each 10-mile segment of the race, I thought about all the good things that happened to me in that year."
Pine to Palm was a race against the clock of a different sort for several runners.
Competitors were given a maximum of 34 hours in which to complete the course, with several interim cut-off times mandated throughout the course. Claire Heid of Tacoma, Wash., was the final runner to complete the race. She came close to being pulled from the race several times, barely making several interim cut-off deadlines.
Heid never doubted her ability to finish—this race was her third 100-miler. The challenge, she says, is that "along the way, I had to think about what I'd tell myself to get me to the finish."
With a finishing time of, 32 hours and 29 minutes, Heid finished more than half an hour ahead of the cutoff time, with the added distinction of being the youngest finisher, at 23 years of age.
"You ask yourself in the race, 'Why am I doing this?' " Heid says. "When you cross the finish line, you know why."
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.