Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 Bear 100 Race Report

2011 mile 45
When I ran the race in 2011 I melted in the afternoon heat between mile 30 and 45.  I was not looking forward to another hot day in 2013 but had put in enough miles in the heat that I wasn't terribly worried about it. 

The weather leading up to race day 2013 was sketchy at best.  I try not to concern myself with things I can't control so I kept an eye on the forecast but didn't plan on it until I was packing on Wednesday night.  The forecast at that time was saying partly cloudy with scattered snow showers on Friday and below freezing temperatures with breezy conditions Friday night and into Saturday at higher elevations.  These are not ideal conditions for most runners but I was excited about the forecast.  My best races this year have been in unseasonably cool / freezing weather.  (Wilson Creek, Buffalo Run, and Speedgoat)

I dressed warm for the start but quickly realized I would be one of the people stopping to ditch a jacket if I didn't shed a layer.  I took off my jacket but stuffed it in my pack just in case it got colder up high. 

Frank, Me, and Emily
Frank Morris and I ran together at the start.  We were both shooting for a 24 hour finish and were hoping to help pace each other in the first half.  We took off pretty quick, hoping to get into the 264 person conga line in good position.  I learned this valuable lesson from Dennis Ahern 2 years ago and I think Frank and I did a pretty good job of getting in right where we needed to.  We passed a handful of people and we let a handful of people pass us.

About 2 or 3 miles in with hit the snowline and the snow began gently falling just as it was starting to get light.  It was a gorgeous sight to see all the pine trees draped in snow from the past few days and the yellow aspens sprinkled across the hillside.  The snow on the first climb was actually kind of helpful for me.  There are a number of rocks, roots, and random holes in the trail that were made quite obvious with the layer of snow tracked over with a dusting dirty brown footprints.

When we hit the top of the climb around mile 5 the visibility was about 100 yards.  That was too bad because you can normally see Logan and the entire valley from this point.  Frank and I rolled along the next few miles of gentle up and down terrain that finishes with a steep uphill into the first aid station.

We hit that first aid station right on time at 8:30.  The first 10+ miles is the most challenging climb of the day with roughly 4,900 feet of climbing and 1,800 feet of descent.  The reward for making up that crazy climb?  You drop straight down the other side into Leatham Hollow. 

Since this was my 2nd time doing the race I was somewhat familiar with the course which came in handy on several occasions.  The first time was just after Logan Peak.  The route crests over this hill onto a 5-way intersection....with ZERO flagging that we could see.  I was confident that the correct way was the straight path that forks a bit to the right.  We were still stuck in the clouds so visibility wasn't wonderful.  I pushed down the hill farther and farther with no flags.  I pulled up to a stop to survey the situation with Frank, afraid we were about to turn around and climb back up the long downhill we were cruising on.  Just then a woman came running up towards us. Oh crap, here is someone else who found out the hard way! She starts waving us down yelling that we were heading the right way and that she was coming up to add flags! Whew, that was a big relief.

We continued along on what is undoubtedly the most beautiful section of the race into Leatham Hollow.  As I was running, I kept remembering back to the sights and sounds of the 2011 race.  While we were on the forest service road I was telling Frank about how at about the same spot in 2011 Dennis caught a rock and went down hard.  About 10 seconds later I did exactly the same thing!  I dusted off with a smile and said, 'That's gonna make for a funny story afterward!'. 

The open forest service road turns onto an absolutely stunning narrow single track into Leatham Hollow.  The aspens, scrub oak, scrub maple, and pines make for an amazing fall color show.  The forest floor was dusted with snow which made it even better!  The footing was a bit tricky in places because the fall leaves had already started to accumulate and create slippery footing in places. 

We arrived at the aid station right on time again and a got the chance to refill and see our wonderful crew and friends for the first time.  Before the race Michelle made me promise that I would be nice to her and give her a kiss at every aid station she met me at.  I was on a mission at this point and was there less than two minutes.  I started running out of the aid station and yelled back,  'Honey you forgot your kiss! Catch up to me!'  I continued on the trail making Michelle run (just to be a pain in the butt, which I have a lot of experience doing!).  I came back to her got my kiss after quickly explaining to the confused onlookers what was going on.  They all got a kick out of it and I hollered back to Frank that I would walk a bit to let him catch up.

We got back together then power hiked and ran what we could up the road to Richards Hollow.  The road is relatively easy and I had planned to try and run the whole thing.  There is just enough up and down that running the whole way felt like it was burning too much energy.  I stopped once to empty my shoes and Frank caught and passed me. Then he stopped to do the same and I continued on hiking expecting him to catch back up at any moment. 

I breezed through Richards Hollow with just a cup of water and continued the solid power hike.  The 7 mile stretch up to the Cowley aid station has 2,500 feet of gain and 1,400 feet of descent.  I checked back down the switchbacks hoping to see Frank but I never did see him again until the end.  I remember dreading this long climb in 2011 because the heat was starting to get to me early in the race.  This year it was still in the 30's and just right to keep my body heat right where I needed it.  I definitely didn't realize how beautiful this section was until this year.

I was still on pace at Cowley (mile 30) which had me pleasantly surprised.  I set this crazy 24 hour goal for myself not know exactly what to expect.  I told myself beforehand that I would evaluate how I felt at mile 30 and mile 52 then adjust the plan if necessary.  So far so good!  I reached the aid station in 6:17 while navigating 9,600 feet of gain and 8,000 feet of descent.  The reason I was surprised that I made it on time and feeling decent is my fastest 50k was the Foothills Frenzy last year.  I finished in 5:45 and it has about 5,600 feet of up and down.  How on earth could I do 4,000 feet more climbing in only 30 minutes longer AND have enough gas to run 70 more miles, hmm we'll see I guess.

I typically run with a heart rate monitor to help me gauge my effort level so I don't go out too fast.  I started with the monitor but for some reason it ceased to function nearly from the get go.  This was a huge blessing in disguise for me.  I am pretty good at gauging effort level without it anyway and when it died it was one less piece of information to process.  For about 95 miles I just ran what felt right.

I left Cowley with my Nathan bottles full of chicken broth and a hydration bladder full of water.  The only problem was that the Tailwind energy drink powder I put in the bladder first had packed into the drinking hose so it was like trying to suck sand through a straw.  I thought I could easily blow air back or shake the bladder to mix it in.  Nothing worked! I had to stop, take the entire thing out, and open the slide to get enough air in to get it mixed up.  This was a minor delay but quite frustrating.

After a few miles of uphill there is a fast, rocky, single track descent into Right Hand Fork aid station.  Before I left Boise I asked my two youngest kids to pick a number between 1 and 100 and I would run that mile just for them.  My 10 year old daughter Kaylee picked 35.  I ran mile 35 in 8:37 and it happened to be the fastest mile of the day!  Let's just say Zach wasn't that lucky since he picked mile 100!

Right Hand Fork mile 37
The whole section leading to Right Hand flew by and I came in feeling good and still on pace.  It was great to see my cousin Gail and her daughter Stephanie volunteering at the aid station.  When we came down 2 years ago we stayed with Gail and we must not have scared her too bad with our craziness because here she was volunteering!  Michelle got me all set up and kicked me out after mugging for a few pictures.

I was feeling really good and was actually talking myself into the possibility of a 24 hour finish through this section.  The terrain is open and rolling.  This is where I really started to unravel in 2011 due to the heat and the fact that I was nearly out of water.  There is a water drop about half way to the Temple Fork aid station that couldn't come fast enough that year.  This time I ran right by smiling and thanking my lucky stars for the cold weather.  

Mile 45 feeling a bit better this year!
The other thing that had me smiling and feeling good was the prospect of having some of Derek's magical chicken pot pie.  I rolled in hoping to see Michelle because the parking at Temple Fork is quite limited and she told me she may or may not be there.  Luckily she was! I was somehow still on pace and excited to get in and out.  I hung out way too long boobing about the heat last time and didn't want to repeat a long aid stop.  I sat in a chair for the first time so I could enjoy my unicorn pie and empty the sand out of my shoes.  I headed for the exit and Derek went back and checked me out.

The next section to Tony Grove is almost 7 miles that has 2,500 feet of gain and 600 feet of descent.  The gain is the first 5 miles with nearly no reprieve from climbing and the loss is roughly the last two miles.  I told my friend Sue Richardson that I would run mile 46 for her and I had her in my thoughts as I cussed the never ending uphill! 

After the first mile I slowly realized the gain in elevation was the least of my worries.  By now it was about 4 in the afternoon and temps were probably in the low 40s.  The snow and rain of the past few days combined with the warmer afternoon temps turned this whole climb into a gooey mud fest.  To compound things, there were a fairly large number of cattle grazing through here turning it into a soupy mess.  I could feel my goal time slipping away but was determined to  put my head down and give it 100%.  I hiked for what seemed like forever through the mud and finally crested the mountain and began my descent into Tony Grove.  Knowing the course came in helpful again here.  On the way down the hill, you feel like you should be there any second but it is quite a long section through the campground leading to the aid station.

Tony Grove Lake mile 52
This is probably the aid station that has the most crew and family cheering you on. It was nice to see all the spectators and recharge the batteries.  Surprisingly, I was still on pace!  Even with the crazy mud I was just ahead of my estimated time but I could tell that I had expended way too much energy working my way up that hill.  In past races where I have set a hard goal for myself I have just coasted to the finish once I felt that it wasn't going to happen. I have learned over the last year that having a good plan is a smart thing, but knowing when to throw the plan out the window and just keep moving can be an even smarter thing.

Near Tony Grove - the picture doesn't do the colors justice
I pounded a Red Bull and refueled quickly.  I got my kiss from Michelle and headed out after 5 minutes which was 19 minutes faster than the last time when I engaged operation 'COAST to the FINISH!'  My cousin Stephanie had been moderately arm twisted to join me for the section from Tony Grove to Franklin Basin.  On Thursday night I told Gail that I was hoping to have someone join me there and she said I should have Stephanie go.  She is a runner so she got her on the phone and asked her. She said sure and I told Gail to tell her she needed to bring a headlamp and a water bottle.  We could overhear her on the phone reply, 'I have to carry my own water?  It's only 10 miles, who even needs water in 10 miles? What pace is he going to be going?'  I told Gail maybe a 11 or 12 minute pace which she relayed and Stephanie chuckled at since she is a quite a speedster!  (She has a faster half marathon time than I do!)

As it turns out my 11 or 12 minute pace turned out to be a pretty rosy estimate.  We had fun catching up after not seeing each other for a long time.  She kept me moving and distracted from the 50+ miles on my legs which was a good thing.  At some point after leaving Tony Grove I realized I had not taken my headlamp but Stephanie had one so I wasn't terribly concerned.  It started getting dark enough to need a headlamp just before hitting Franklin Basin at mile 62.  I volunteered to take the light since my legs were getting tired enough that little rocks were becoming big rocks.  She floated through the long valley like a ninja on a front of me...with NO light!  Hmm, I see a future trail runner here.

I picked up Jeremy Haddock at Franklin to pace me the last 38 miles.  He was ready to go and patiently waited for me to get my act together and snap a few more pictures.  I was a little slow here because I packed several clothing options due to the uncertain weather forecast. The other thing was I packed my things gallon Ziploc bags and then put them in my drop bag because I had a feeling it would be rainy and wet.  The drop bags were wet so I was glad to be pulling my things out of the Ziplocs and putting on dry night clothes. 

Jeremy and I set off into the night and put our heads down for the long climb out of Franklin.  Jeremy was my pacer at Antelope Island so I knew we would work well together.  He used to live in Logan and recently moved down to the Salt Lake area and had paced the final stretch at the Bear the two previous years with other runners.  This gave me a good sense of comfort because you never know how sketchy your brain and navigation skills may get after nightfall.

I really enjoy running in the dark so the miles went by pretty fast.  The sky had cleared and the stars were amazing.  We got to mile 69 at Logan River just after 10:30.  This aid station was much improved from 2011.  I heard lots of good comments from other runners too.  They had a nice tarped tunnel with propane heaters which I walked on the outside of (but it looked really nice).  I sat, refilled my pack, and had a grilled cheese with veggie chili which was amazing. 

We made good time to the Beaver Ski Lodge.  We met Kendall Wimmer along the way and asked if he wanted to pass by.  He was content with our pace and we cruised the last several miles into the mile 76 aid station together.  Kendall was the LAST runner Jeremy and I saw on the trail.  We saw other runners at aid stations trying to warm up or waiting for a ride after dropping.  It was kind of strange to go over 7 hours without seeing anyone on the trail.

Michelle met us in the lodge parking lot wrapped in a sleeping bag.  I had vowed to skip this aid station altogether but I was sucked in again.  It's a great aid station but the problem is people linger in there.  I wanted to use the real bathroom they had and ended up standing in line for way too long followed by a bunch of random time wasting that was completely unnecessary.  I swear I will skip this one next time!

Mile 77 was an interesting one.  We left the lodge and headed through the clearing below the parking lot and crossed over the highway.  After crossing we noticed 8 or so completely black cows standing on the side of the road getting ready to step out just as two big trucks went flying by.  We pushed them back a bit and were surprised we didn't hear of an accident involving the cows at the finish.

We left the lodge at about 1am.  The sloppy mud was quite minimal in the miles before the lodge.  It was getting really cold by this point and the muddy sections ahead were beginning to freeze solid.  We had pretty solid footing all the way to the end of the race which wasn't the case for those who followed later in the day.  We quickly passed over the Utah / Idaho border at mile 79 which makes you feel like you are getting close, sort of....

 We arrived at mile 82 at Gibson Basin just before 3 am.  I don't know but I would guess the temperature was in the mid 20s with a 15 to 20 mph breeze.  There was about 3 inches of powder in most areas and it was definitely the coldest point in the race.  We joked with the aid station captain about busting out a fast mile.  He said this is the place to do it because the next mile is completely flat.  So, I put on my best run-walk and managed that first mile in 13:18 which felt WAY faster.  It is a quick 4 miles up and over a mountain into Beaver Creek aid station.  The snow was 2-3 inches the whole way but it was tacky enough that I never felt like I was losing my footing.

Gibson to Beaver Creek was my best section on the second half which gave me a little hope that I could still break 26 hours if I hustled.  After waiting for hours after driving down the longest stretch of road Michelle has ever crossed in a race I stayed for just under 3 minutes, got my kiss, and hit the road.  I think I caught Jeremy off guard because I yelled 'I am leaving!' catch me...and I made him work for it too!  I picked up the running where I could and even started a run / walk combo of 40 seconds running and 20 seconds walking on the uphills.  I conservatively trotted the downhills and was surprised how well my legs were holding up when we began our descent into the final aid station.

As we approached Ranger Dip at mile 92, nothing looked familiar to either of us.  When I did it in 2011 the sun came up at Beaver Creek and the 2 times Jeremy had done it the sun was also up.  There is one spot that turns left onto a road but intuitively it feels like you should be turning right.  Before I knew it we were on the smooth flat forest service road leading up to the aid station.  I told Jeremy to run up ahead, get situated, and get ready to go hard to try and break 26 hours.

I pulled into Ranger Dip at 6:06 and knew I had a chance if I could RUN the downhill.  Michelle got me set up quickly and I got refueled and was headed out.  Jeremy had loaned me some headlamp batteries earlier and now needed replacements.  Michelle ran back to the car and got them for him while I again flew out and told him to catch me!  It was again, my pleasure, to make him work for it. (Sorry Jeremy)

Michelle took this photo after we left Ranger Dip
I left Ranger Dip at 6:14 and was able to manage a decent run but nothing to write home about.  The sun came up over the horizon when we hit the tail end of the downhill around mile 97.  It was one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen and a perfect way to finish the day.  There is one last climb at the water tower 1.7 miles from the finish.  It is short but can be a mentally draining.  We cruised that section and hit the dirt highway with just over a mile to go. 

In the back of my head I had been calculating what I needed to do to beat Derek's finish time of 26:36 from the year before.  Once we hit the road I knew that barring a colossal meltdown I had that in the bag.  Jeremy and I kept trotting and fast walking and right at the final turn before the finish line we saw another runner, FINALLY!   Jeremy says what I am thinking to myself...Dude you can take him!  We are about 100 yards from the finish and that just seemed kind of mean so I walked and let them finish then picked it up and blasted through the park reaching a pace of 5:27...for about 20 yards...and the crowd of.....2....went wild! 

Other than Michelle, Jeremy, and the timing table there was a woman sitting on a blanket with her 1 year old.  It was exciting and depressing all at the same time. When I finished in 2011 I was right in the thick of things and the park was packed with people cheering me in.  This was a very different experience but I was so happy that I never gave up on myself and gave it everything I had in the second half.

My official time was 26:20:26 which was an improvement of 3 hours and 15 minutes from 2011.  I was so glad to be done!  Michelle made a real breakfast of sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast burritos and we settled in to cheer in everyone after me.  I enjoyed seeing Frank, Emily, and Sam finish strong.  We all swapped stories at the finish line and it sounded like they dealt with much harsher conditions.  I was at higher elevation during the cold part of the night so everything was frozen.  Runners who hit the upper elevations after the sun was rising dealt with miles and miles of mud.

Derek and Frank

Emily finishing

The Idaho crew! Me, Emily, Jeremy (who won in a smokin fast time) and Frank

Sam hustling in!

Recovering in the park


More hardware!

Hardware again!

Jeremy and the handmade winner's trophy!

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