It's 5:50 a.m., the sky is still dark with the night and the air is warm. I've had my breakfast of waffle tacos and checked in at the start. Then, it finally hits me, I'm about to start The Bear 100. Months of training come down to the next 100 miles.
Even though there are roughly 300 people starting, once the RD yells go we are all off on our own personal journeys, something different driving every one of us towards that finish line. I have a plan to keep my heart rate relatively low for the first 50 miles so I settle into a power walk from the start with good friend Kari. After a short section of road through a neighborhood we are on single track heading up the mountain with only headlamps and flashlights lighting the way. The sun has not even risen and I am already sweating much more than I would like, especially with the easy effort.
The trail quickly becomes congested and Kari and I take a few opportunities to move up the field whenever there is an opening. Before I know it we have crested the first climb and we are beginning the descent into the first aid station. The early miles go by quickly with chatter of burro racing next season and taking in the sunrise and beautiful fall colors. I'm in and out of the first aid station right on time for the goal that I have set for myself, Kari comments we are going to fast, but despite the warmth of the day my heart rate is low and I feel well.
The next 20 or so miles go by uneventfully. I see my friends at mile 19 and they go into super crew mode getting me what I need and getting me on my way. I'm still only minutes off of my desired pace and Kari and I are still together but the heat soon begins taking its toll. I'm forced to back off of my pace and try to save something for when the sun goes down and the temperatures drop. Kari gets a second wind and pulls away and I settle into what feels alright, listening to some music and taking in my surroundings. Cows and all.
Before I know it I cruise into mile 36 where my first pacer awaits me. I clean up my feet change socks and restock my pack. I came into this aid station starving and while I am getting everything in line to go back out Cally is feeding me melon as fast as I can eat it. It tastes absolutely delicious and is insanely refreshing. After I am done gorging myself on melon Gibbs and I are off. Chris has told me this will be a hot section and to be sure I stay hydrated and keep it easy. As we are walking out of the aid station I give Gibbs and update on how I am feeling, how much I have been drinking and my urinating situation, and I made sure to let her know it was the color of a nice IPA, as long as its not the color of Stout all is well, right?
Within a couple of miles I could tell that my melon feast, no matter how delicious, was not the best decision of the day! My stomach was not emptying and it felt like all the melon was sitting in my throat, I couldn't run due to how heavy my stomach felt. I needed to get rid of some of the melon. I found a log and stuck my fingers down my throat about the time a couple of guys came hiking by. We exchanged a few pleasantries and commented how barf fests were the best part of 100's and they continued on. Now normally, I hate throwing up. It hurts, the stomach acid burns my throat and it leaves a terrible taste in my mouth for far to long. Not to mention all those delicious calories that get wasted! But this time was different! Yes, calories were lost, a moment of silence for their sacrifice would not be out of line, but this was the tastiest puke of my life! Gibbs told me to make sure to drink water but I didn't want to get rid of the taste quite yet.
We continued down the trail chatting about whatever was on our minds at the time and Gibbs with an irrational fear of being pooped on by a cow made sure to keep her distance from them. As we were coming down the road to the next aid station we were welcomed by a short rain shower which caused myself a bit of stress because I would not be able to get to my rain gear for another 6.5 miles. Luckily the rain stopped. I again changed socks, restocked, talked to friends and we set back out.
The sun set on us on our way to Tony Grove, and for some reason my headlamp would not be my friend on this night. I was looking forward to the night section because I enjoy running in the dark, where your world is reduce to the 3 foot circle of light your lamp emits, climbs don't seem as bad and everything else ceases to exist. For some reason this night my lamp would make me dizzy. I didn't get tunnel vision which so many ultra runners get from running at night, instead I was simply a bit disoriented. My light was casting strange shadows and everything seemed fuzzy. I had finally had enough of this and I asked Gibbs if she would trade me lamps. Hers was awesome and I know she really didn't want to since this was the first time she had tried it out but being a good friend a pacer we swapped. The difference this made was phenomenal. I instantly had energy that I hadn't had since the beginning miles, I was floating across beautiful single track and before I knew it I couldn't see the light being emitted from Gibbs behind me. I briefly looked over my shoulder and noticed she was no longer right behind me. I kept going, not because I was trying to drop her but because I knew this rush wouldn't last long and she would catch up before long. I was right, after about another half mile I slowed and Gibbs was again on my tail. I quickly apologized for leaving her and made sure to let her know I wasn't trying to drop her. My head lamp was making her dizzy as well. Sorry for making you trade Gibbs, but your headlamp is awesome!!!
My surge took a bit more energy than I would have liked it too and soon I was in one of many low spots to come. When we hit the 50 mile point shorty before Tony Grove I glanced at my watched and was still pleased to be going through the half way point 13 hours and 30 minutes in, not far off my goal pace of 26 hours. I was moving slower than I really wanted to when we were passed by a lady being paced by her dog. The glowing eyes and flashing green strobe on his color freaked me out a bit until I realized it was just a dog. Hot on her heals were two guys we had leap frogged with over the last section and the runner was feeling good, pushing the pace on the descent. I quickly stepped in line and asked if they minded me tagging along for the ride. We pushed it down the trail and we were on the road into the aid station before I knew it. It felt good to let loose a bit. Again I refueled and changed clothes as it was now getting cold. There is just something about putting on a new undershirt that makes you feel like a new person. Unfortunately this feeling only lasts until you start running again. I had been told that Tony Grove aid station was usually filled with carnage and as I was refueling I witnessed one disheveled runner uncontrollably sobbing and a few others on cots trying to get warm.
We headed back out into the night on our way to Franklin where my next pacer Cally would pick me up and do the last 38 miles to the finish with me. It was now getting late and I was off pace for my A & B goals but I was still optimistic that I could finish in under 30 hours. Within the next few hours that goal would go out the window as well. Not much happened during these next ten miles except Gibbs getting a little concerned about me. I still had not peed since earlier in the day but I finally needed to find a spot off trail to take care of other business. I found a nice spot about 50 feet off the trail after telling Gibbs I needed to go to the bathroom and I would meet her around the corner, she graciously gave me some wipes and went down the trail to wait. Apparently, you are not supposed to take a relaxing poo when you are almost 60 miles in. It didn't feel like it had been that long but after being gone for what she said was at least 10 minutes she yelled into the darkness for me. Of course I was fine and I responded immediately saying I would be down in a minute. When I rejoined her on the trail she jokingly gave me a hard time for taking so long and we were again headed to Franklin.
Once we arrived at Franklin it was a bit cold and I ate some grilled cheese, changed socks again and prepared to head back into the night. Cally had driven my Jeep up and Gibbs would take it back as she planned to come out to some aid stations to crew through the night but I volunteered her for other things. I over heard a cute girl next to me saying she needed to find a ride back to the finish since she was done for the night. I graciously volunteered Gibbs for this duty after which I looked at Gibbs and said "You don't mind do you?" Cally and I sat off leaving the aid station and Gibbs with her new friend. You're welcome Gibbs!
Soon after leaving the aid station the skies would open up and be completely unrelenting for the rest of my time on the course. I knew there was a chance of rain and storms but never imagined what would ensue for the next 14 hours. There were several awesome flashes of lightening and loud claps of thunder which sounded like they were right on top of us as they echoed through the mountains.
From this point on the race becomes a little foggy. Time and the fact that anything other than my 3 foot bubble of light, still being emitted from Gibbs' headlamp, ceased to exist. The rain was cold and the trails became rivers of water. If there wasn't water rushing down the trails the mud was so slick and thick that I can not even begin to describe it and do it justice. I still moved forward but at a snails pace. My sub 30 hour "C" goal was now out the window and all that simply mattered was finishing.
I became extremely tired throughout the night despite all the Coke and Mountain Dew I was drinking at the aid stations. Every step I took would mean sliding through the mud and engaging stabilizer muscles that I did not know existed. We arrived at Logan river soaked and a bit grumpy. I sat down only wanting to clean my feet, change socks and undershirts so I could feel like a new person for a short time but by now this wasn't doing the trick. Rob and Ellen arrived shortly after I did and Ellen's headlamp was dying, I offered her my AAA batteries since Gibbs' headlamp took AA and I no longer needed them. They left before I did and I would not see them again. Ellen ran a strong race regardless of the conditions, congrats again Ellen!
We finally left and went back out into the elements. Little did I know the aid station workers would mark me as drop here and in a few hours I would be MIA to my friends. We continued on to Beaver Mountain Lodge where before following a road into the aid station you must go down a steep embankment. I was at the top looking down thinking there was no way to get down upright. I looked for an easier way and settled on what looked like a grassy section. I took one step off and was immediately on my side sliding down. Upon stopping, covered in mud all I could say was "Well that's one way to do it!" Upon arriving at Beaver Mtn Lodge I took a much needed 10 minute nap, since I could barely keep my eyes open. After changing and being down for 3 minutes, Cally brought me food and asked one of the guys how long I had been down for. He told her roughly 10 minutes to which I simply exclaimed "Three!" Cally asked if I wanted some water melon and I told her "In seven minutes" those next seven minutes would be glorious! Cally woke me up I put my pack on ate a little food and we left. I was able to run, slowly, for a short flat section before I was reduced to a hike again. My plans had fallen apart and I was a bit demoralized! I should know you can never plan how things will go in a 100 miler!
I don't remember much until the last aid station at mile 92. What I do remember is a few hours later I could again no longer keep my eyes open. I found a pine tree, sat down ate two gels and told Cally to wake me up in 5 minutes! I zipped my rain jacket up, pulled my hood over my face and laid down on the ground. I was asleep before my head touched the ground. This helped for a short time, and I again began my painstaking slow march down the trail
Upon leaving Ranger Dip aid station tensions between Cally and I were a bit high and I snapped at her. Sorry again! We had one climb left that was a steep 600 feet then a steep 3000 foot descent to the road before the finish line. I power hiked the slick climb as fast as I could pausing a few times to regain my breath. Once we reached the top the descent was slick but mellow and I was optimistic this is how it would be to the finish. Unfortunately, I was wrong! Soon the terrain would be steep and extremely slick. My quads and stabilizer muscles where hurting me badly and the only way I could make it down was to take a few steps and ski through the mud. When I would start going to fast or begin to lose my balance I would grab the branches of the brush on the side of the trail to slow down. The brush would stay in place and yank my body to a stop where I would regain my balance, let go and start the process again. I made it through this section in just under two hours to my surprise and after one last angry episode we were on the gravel road to the finish. A spectator said we were roughly 20 minutes from the finish and I looked at Cally and said "Lets do it in 13!" By my watch this would put me just under 33 hours 30 minutes.
Once on runnable ground my legs still had the pep to be able to pick it up. At one point I looked at my watch and it said I was running just over a seven minute mile. As we approached the last turn I could see a group of people standing on the corner, they stepped into the road then back onto the side walk. I secretly hoped these were my friends. They again stepped out and back trying to decide if it was Cally and I running down the road. Once close enough to tell it was me Rob and Gibbs took off running with me, Rob carrying his milk shake. We ran past Eric's car where he was sleeping since they didn't expect me to be there that soon. Gibbs knocked on his window woke him up and I pointed at him like some cool kid from a 90's movie. We turned another corner and there was the finish! I sprinted through like I was beating the clock, told them my number and immediately dropped to the ground. After just over 33 hours and 29 minutes by my watch it was over! I had finished my second 100, and gained qualification for Hardrock 100!!!
Some friends came over and congratulated me and new friends of theirs came over to tell me that was a hell of a finish. We made our way out of the rain to a picnic table where I exclaimed all I want is a beer when someone asked if I wanted some fish. One of the new friends quickly sat one down in front of me and I enjoyed my celebratory beer while everyone told me about being marked as a drop. After turning my phone on I had several messages asking what happened and if I was alright. Everyone was surprised to hear I had just finished and I was confused as to why everyone thought I dropped.
Shortly thereafter we headed back to the condo where I showered, ate two pieces of pizza got nauseous and went to bed for the next 12 hours. Every time I rolled over I would hit my sore feet on the end of the bunk bed, wake myself up and moan some obscenity! It was a painful night but by the next morning I was feeling a bit better. We all sat around eating breakfast talking about the previous two days and what we all went through before packing up and heading home. It was a successful trip for our condo where all four runners staying there finished! Congrats everyone!
This journey would not have been successful without the help and faith of so many close friends. Cally and Gibbs thank you from the bottom of my heart for being out there with me and helping me through the good times and the bad. It really is appreciated and your selfless acts of helping me get to that finish line me more to me than you know! Thank you to Rob and Chris and Eric for helping crew me before setting out to complete their own pacing duties! Also thanks to my coach Cindy for designing my workouts for the summer and helping me to prepare! My name is already in the lottery for Hardrock and dependent upon that I will be back to The Bear to try and get the time that I desire!
Since the race many people have asked me why I do these. That's not an easy question to answer and I think it is different for every person, but the best answer I can come up with is because I want to be challenged. I want to be put into a spot where I must tap into a part of my soul that until that moment I though was non existent. To push myself to that point, to me, is to live anything else is just being. I want to live!