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Ultramarathon winner proves he’s on the ball

Professional soccer is not the usual formula for success in the world of ultrarunning.

For Portlander Nate Jaqua, however, it proved to be just right for winning the 6th annual Pine To Palm 100-mile race yesterday.

Pine To Palm begins in Williams and ends 100.5 miles later in Ashland. In between, the course covers 20,000 feet each of climbing and descending, including the summits of Dutchman Peak and Wagner Butte.

“I needed something to be doing and I’ve always been drawn to hiking mountains,” says Jaqua, of the time immediately following his nine years with the Seattle Sounders soccer team. “There was this void of not having something to train for. I had a friend who was into it (ultrarunning) and got me into it.”

That was back in 2012. In the interim, Jaqua has run several ultras, including a pair of 100-milers.

As a soccer player, he explains, “You run a lot, but not this kind of running. On the off-season, I ran trails.”

Jaqua chose to start the race conservatively, under conditions that proved to be the hottest of the six years the race has been run.

“I was in sixth, seventh, eighth, for at least the first 30 (miles),” he said. “On Stein Butte, there were a few guys who hadn’t brought enough water. I passed them. At Squaw Lakes, I was in the top four. Gabe (Wishnie) was out in front of us there. Around 50 miles, I caught Gabe, then I tried not to push too hard, but wanted to increase the lead so I wouldn’t have to race at the end.”

Jaqua increased his lead in the last fifteen miles and won the race in 18 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds, the second fastest time to date, and 33 minutes ahead of runner-up Gabe Wishnie of Redmond, Wash.

The women’s race was also won through patience and attrition of the front-runners.

“I knew there was a lot of climbing right off the bat, so I went slow,” says eventual winner, Cate Airoldi.

“My goal was to remain consistent, keep hydrated, cool. I made a point of putting ice in my hat.”

Heat was the culprit that felled many of Airoldi’s and Jaqua’s competitors. Of the 121 starters, only 75 finished. Most of the 46 runners who dropped from the race did so because of complications due to heat.

Starting off the race in fourth place, Airoldi also moved up on the climb up Stein Butte. This trail at the south end of Applegate Lake is considered the hottest and most exposed on the course.

“Once the sun went down, I felt invigorated," Airoldi said, "Felt I could push it a little.”

Her winning time of 22 hours, 54 minutes and 48 seconds, was more than an hour ahead of second-place finisher Amy Tice, and good for eighth overall.

Pine to Palm was the first hundred-mile race for Airoldi, an Ashland massage therapist.

“It was a whole new kind of experience from start to finish,” she said. “The duration of 100 miles sets it apart, the fact that you’re that you’re doing something throughout the entire day and night — it’s a repetitive motion, it’s physically taxing, the mental game is much more difficult — staying positive, being patient, being consistent.”

For the majority of runners, however, this race went well beyond a full 24-hour day. The maximum allowed time is 34 hours, which means running through a sunrise, a full day and an entire night, which is followed by trail time through a second sunrise.

Physical ailments such as nausea, exhaustion and sore muscles plague most hundred-mile finishers.

For Anchorage, Alaska, resident Katie Strong, a series of blisters nearly derailed her after she had already negotiated 90 miles.

“I felt like someone was jabbing my foot with every step,” Strong said. “There are so many excuses that go through your mind: ‘100 miles is too far,’ ‘You don’t want to do long-term damage.’ “

Strong was hoping to make this race her first complete hundred-miler after getting sick in her first attempt last year.

But as is often the case, the true battle at the end of a race this long is mental.

“Then my better side said, ‘No, you’ve got eight hours (to finish), you can crawl in in eight hours,” Strong argued with herself. “I made the choice to keep going. It was good: It committed me because there’s not any other aid stations for me to drop (out of the race). I had to finish!”

Ultimately, Strong said, “I wanted to finish. That’s why we’re all here."

For full race results, visit ultralive.net and click on “Pine to Palm.”

—Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in Portland. Email him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org.

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Nate Jaqua, 33, of Portland, runs in the 100-mile Pine to Palm race on Saturday. Jaqua was the overall winner of the race with a time of 18 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds. Photos by Paul Nelson
Endurance runners dealth with nausea, exhaustion and blisters in their attempts to finish the grueling race.