Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Bear 100-2013 by Erik

"No, he can't have a ride!!  If he gets a ride or receives any help, he's disqualified!!"

I had just rolled my ankle and was lying face down in the dirt cursing the rocks, the rutted dirt road, the cold, my weak ankle, and the 30+ miles I still needed to run to finish the Bear 100. When I heard Greg yell these words at the hunters on 4-wheelers that kindly offered their help after witnessing my fall, I knew that there was no way I was dropping.  I'd have to break an arm or lose a limb to convince Greg that I was done.  The hunters drove off fairly bewildered, and Greg compassionately (but firmly) offered me a hand to get up and then informed me that we would walk the last mile to the Logan River Aid Station for my ankle to "swell up enough to stabilize", and then the break was over.

Typically, by the time I reach the finish line of the Wasatch 100, I'm done with running and training for the year.  I'm wiped out mentally and physically and look forward to some mellow days in the September woods.  This year, as soon as I finished Wasatch, I felt like somehow there was unfinished business to take care of, and started contemplating running the Bear.  When the opportunity came up to run, I took the bait and found myself at the start line just 3 weeks after finishing Wasatch.  My training in between was  pretty minimal.  I think I logged 50-60 miles in the interim, and I was optimistic as to how the day would unfold.

I started pretty slow, with runners streaming by on both sides as we made our way through the subdivision leading to the first of the single track.  I chuckled as the grade increased and commented to someone that if this was trail, we would be hiking instead of running.  With that thought, I slowed to a fast hike, and looked ahead to the next 99 miles.  It was overcast, in the 30's with a forecast of snow and rain showers until late afternoon and then clearing skies and temperatures dropping to the low 20's throughout the night.  It would be a perfect day in the September mountains!!

A great start to the day.

Logan Peak Aid Station

For the first 20 miles or so, I felt relatively good, although I could tell that my legs were lacking the "springiness" typically felt this early in a race.  Somewhere just after the Logan Peak aid station, I came to a 4 way intersection while running with a shirtless Kendrick ? from Colorado.  No shirt, snowing, in the 30's.  Seriously??  Anyway, the intersection wasn't marked at all.  Nothing.  We took what seemed to be the the best option, and after 5 minutes of no markers, found ourselves at the end of the road at the edge of a cliff.  Wrong way.  This could be a long day.  Maybe the infamous Bear course "marking" would be in effect today.  We met up with Robert Mueller, Seth Hales, Chuck Kanopa and a few others back at the intersection, they pointed us in the right direction, and luckily there were no questions whatsoever about the course for the next 85 miles.

Erik and Robert Mueller

Robert (Bob, Robbie) -who I had run quite a bit of Wasatch with 3 weeks ago-and I settled into a mellow pace heading down to Leatham Hollow and soon caught up to the talented Diana Finkel, who we we would play leap-frog with for the next 40 miles until just after Franklin Basin.  Leaving Leathan Hollow I ran a little with Drew Harrington who had made the trip down from Fairbanks, AK.

It was on this section that I realized it was really going to be a long 80 miles, and my day began to unravel a little bit mentally.  My hip flexors hurt, my left ankle was starting to get quite sore and irritated,and I felt some weird sort of neuroma/nerve pain on the bottom of my left big
toe that sent a little shock every time I pushed off of my toes.  Basically, my body wasn't too excited about being out for this long with another 75 miles to go.  I tried to take my mind somewhere else, enjoyed the absolutely spectacular scenery unfolding everywhere around me, and focused on getting to Tony Grove where Greg would be waiting to accompany me the 2nd half of the run.

Joe Campanelli leading the way to Cowley Canyon.

I ran with Justin Faul from Flagstaff, AZ for a bit after leaving Cowley Canyon and looking at our pace charts, realized that we were on a 20 hour pace, which before the race seemed to be a realistic goal, but given how I was feeling, now seemed akin to chasing rainbows and pink unicorns.

Cowley Canyon.  
The photo doesn't do the colors justice.

Leaving Temple Fork.
The long climb to Tony Grove ahead.

Catching up to Robert and Joe Campanelli (another Wasatch 100 finisher) we rolled into Temple Fork, and started up the long, muddy hike to Tony Grove.  Another beautiful section, with the beauty of the Crimson Maples detracting somewhat from the steep, slippery trails.  As soon as we topped out the climb and started the descent to Tony Grove, the temperature dropped, it started to snow and it got cold!!  I met Greg here, tried to get some warm soup and pumpkin chocolate chip bread in me and started the shivering hike towards the Franklin trailhead.  Man it was cold!!  It took a good 30 minutes for my fingers to warm up and for the shivering to stop.  Oddly enough, this would be the coldest I would get for the rest of the race, even though temperatures dropped significantly during the middle of the night.  Greg and I settled into a steady pace, and he did a great job of assessing how I was doing and keeping me moving.  Moving through the next few aid stations, along with Diana, Robert and a few others, we began to leapfrog with Georg Kunzfeld from Germany.  He was running his 3rd Bear and on a quest to get his first Wolverine (sub-24 hour) belt buckle. Georg would come into each aid station announcing that he was done, there was nothing left, and he couldn't eat or keep anything down.  Then after two minutes or so, would charge out like it was the start of the race.  At each aid station for the rest of the run, I would get there first, spend too much time drinking my hot chocolate and broth, Georg would arrive, make the same announcement and blast out of there before I left.  I got a kick out of it and it was a fun game to try and catch back up each time.

Gold and White after Tony Grove

Just enough snow to keep it interesting.

Somewhere between Franklin and Logan River and after the sun went down, we teamed up with Ford Smith, an amazing 17 year old from Texas who I met at the Squaw Peak 50 earlier this year.  Ford was on a quest to finish his first 100 miler and was doing an amazing job of it.  While most kids are staying up all night long on the weekend playing video games and engaging in other "wholesome" activities, Ford was displaying the tenacity and mental toughness of someone well beyond his years.  His stomach was starting to complain a little bit however, and I was hopeful he would be able to hold it together.  Just before Logan, I rolled my ankle (see above) and Greg and I found ourselves alone again.  I deep-sixed my negative thoughts and after the Logan River aid station, focused on maintaining a steady hike on the ups and a careful hobble on the descents.  I was surprised to find Robert, Georg, Ford and Chuck, plus a few others, all at the Beaver Mtn Aid station.  Apparently a steady hike can cover ground quickly.
Beaver Lodge

 I spent a few extra minutes in the warmth of the Aid station, made sure I had everything I needed for the last 25 miles, put on a jacket and took off my tights, and we were out of there.  It was here that I told Greg to go in front or behind me, whatever he felt would work best.  He took a lesson from when Jim Huffman paced me on this section in 2008 and took the lead, never really letting me catch up to him.  It was frustration at times, but effective in keeping me moving. I pulled out an old trick to help pass the time and keep my mind occupied.  There were four long climbs over the last 25 miles.  At the start of each climb I would start counting to 100 with each step of my right foot.  1000 steps was approximately 1 mile, so usually by the time I got to 3000 or 4000, I'd be at the top of the climb.  I didn't talk much to Greg during these climbs so I wouldn't lose count, but he was usually far enough ahead of me that it didn't matter, and it got me to the top of the climbs  relatively quickly. The descents were long and arduous.  I was very distrustful of my weak ankle at this point, and my legs were shot.  With that being said, I still managed to stay ahead of Georg and catch up to and pass someone else and their pacer.  I think it was Chuck Konopa.  More than anything during this section, I remember the long beautiful high mountain meadow we crossed after leaving the Beaver Creek Aid Station.  The sky was clearing with brilliant stars and a crescent moon playing hide and seek in the clouds.  The trail stretched out before us through a field of white snow and tufts of golden grass.  It was cold, with a stiff breeze playing in the tree tops, and it was one of those moments that will stand frozen in my mind.  100 mile races are run for many reasons, but in explaining to a friend tonight why run 100 rather than 25 or 50 miles, I understood that it is for moments like these, where the body and mind are so spent, so utterly depleted, that the moon is brighter, the air crisper, and the experience is seared into one's being. To quote Keith Knipling "In the process of completely exhausting myself, I connect with an inner part of me ordinarily veiled by the everyday distractions of life. During that short time spent on a trail in the mountains, my life is reduced to its simplest terms.....Going for a run always clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul."

As Greg and I finally came off the trail and onto the gravel road leading to the finish, Greg looked behind, saying "I'm not shi&;%ing you, but I see lights, and they're close."  I hadn't been concerned about racing for about 50 miles.  I had just been concerned with getting to the finish.  I had a vague concept of the idea of finishing under 24 hours, and that it was going to happen.  But I had no idea that there was a freight train of 6 runners only 10 minutes or less behind me, and that there were 3 runners 10 minutes or less ahead.  But now, with a light closing fast, I tried to switch gears and change my trot to a run. The stride lengthened slowly, the speed increased, I actually started to sweat and breathe hard, and still the light kept closing.  With less than 1/4 mile to go, as we turned off the gravel road and onto the highway, Georg caught up to me.  With a slap on my back, he told me in no uncertain terms that he would not pass me.  We would finish together. So, we trotted the last 1/4 mile, and finished.  Together. 23 hours 10 minutes.  Georg got his Wolverine.  A true competitor who gave it everything he had to the end, and showed true sportsmanship and the spirit of ultrarunning.  A lesson that will stick with me.

-Leland Barker and the Bear 100 organizers.  All the volunteers who braved the cold and bad weather to make sure that we runners, pacers and crew were well taken care of.
-Brooke, Sam, Andrew and Kate for putting up with another weekend of mountain wandering and the week of uselessness that I was, following said weekend.
-Wasatch Running Center and Gregory Packs for awesome gear and goods.
-Mom and Paul, Dad and Denise, Jack and Kathy and all others who have loved, encouraged, cheered on, shook their heads in bewilderment and so forth....
-God- for an incredible world and mountains to run in, and the most miraculous body to experience it with.


JimM said...

Great report Erik and way to fight past the rolled ankle for a strong finish.

Chuck said...

This was a fun read because of all the leapfrogging I did with you through the day and night; and the leapfrogging with the other runners you mention. It answered some of my questions of "I'm in such a rough patch, why hasn't Erik caught me yet?" or "where did that Ford character go?"
Good stuff. I finally got a 4 mile jog in this week.

peter said...

Erik, good stuff. Rest up and earn some points, we have some big runs to do in 2014 to further "distill your soul".

Anonymous said...

Great write up (as usual) I so badly wanted to run Bear , but after Wasatch , I was ok with being lazy. Congratulations on a great finish and awesome 2013.
Danny Widerburg

Barb said...

So many talents, and among them a great writer! I got a little emotional reading this account- thanks for sharing it.