The Race I Almost Had – A Bear 100 2016 Race Report

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After completing the Grand Slam of Pacing (probably my life’s crowning achievement – still waiting for that belt buckle or oversized trophy ahem) with Tommy’s races this summer, I felt a little apathetic to my own upcoming race.  I had dumped so much emotionally into this summer that I didn’t feel the fire I had expected and wanted to toeing the start line of the Bear.  Previous to the chaos that ensued leading up to the weather and forest fire cluster that had left the poor race directors scrambling to make last minute course changes, I felt fairly confident that I could and should be aiming for a sub-26 hour finish.  I finished last year in 26:24 and felt like I should be able to cut out both some time at aid stations as well as time in the first half to get that sub 26 hour.  When we found out the day before the race that it had been changed to an out and back course, turning around at Tony Grove to finish back at the start line at Hyrum Gibbons Park in Logan, I honestly didn’t even know if I would finish, let alone dare shoot for any sort of time goal.  I gave my crew some generous splits and figured that since I had nothing to compare to, I would either go out with a bang and race the crap out of it if feeling well or just coast in before the cutoffs due to weather and poor trail conditions.  The morning of the race, I felt surprisingly calm and knew that my chance with the best trail conditions possible would be to stay ahead of the main traffic so I decided to swallow my apathy and light a fire under my feet.

I will post some quick details at the end of the recap in terms of what I ate, wore and how I trained for the Bear this year so if that’s all you are looking for – scroll on down to the bottom.

THE AMAZING RACE

I have always maintained the idea in an ultra that minutes saved on the front half can cost you hours on the back half and with that in mind, I was extremely conscientious of my effort levels at the beginning.  I usually have no problem letting people run past me as I walk the uphills knowing that I will pass them later in the race.  That being said, I was surprised at how well I was able to move for the first 22 miles into the Leatham Hollow aid station.  There was a steady rain falling which caused a lot more thought into foot placement and staying dry and less into where I was at in the race.  The first clue I even had as to how I was doing was when a lady yelled out to me that I was 3rd place female as I left Leatham Hollow at mile 22.  To be honest I was shocked.  I have never been in third place.  I was also not getting too excited because I know how much changes in the later miles and how early it really was into the race.  Either way it was a nice mental boost.

As you leave Leatham Hollow, you have a nice rolling runnable section of dirt road before you turn and head up the long uphill grind of Richards Hollow.  I walked plenty of this section but was able to pass a few men along the road before the turn up Richards.  At one point, I turned around to see my dear friend Chelsea just a few hundred feet behind me and hoped she would be able to run up to me so we could chat and take our minds off the climb I knew was coming.  The morning stayed nice and cool and the rain bounced back and forth from a drizzle to a downpour.  I just left my hood on over my head, kept my head down and maintained a solid 70% effort on the climbs.  I thought back to last year and how bad I had bonked along this section, leaving me at a slow death march with people passing me right and left.  It felt soooo good to be able to plug along at a strong pace this year.  I looked up to see what appeared to be another girl a ways ahead and figured she had to be 2nd place.  I knew better than to try and speed up to pass her but instead maintained my own pace and before hitting Cowley aid station, I had passed her and left Cowley in good spirits and a cup of warm broth in hand.

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Many thanks to all the aid station volunteers.  You are so amazing!

There are so few things you have direct control over in an ultra and one thing I feel like I did well with this race was keeping a consistent flow of good calories going in.  I aimed for a minimum of 150 calories/hour but surpassed that easily for the first half of the race.  I ate a lot out of my pack (quick burn calories like flasks of raw honey, GU stroop waffles, gels etc) and always grabbed a handful of food as I left an aid station.  I tried to get as much salt intake as I could from the aid station foods, so I always grabbed a few small potatoes dipped in salt, potato chips, chicken broth etc.  I knew I was making good time so I came into mile 37 Right Hand Fork with a giant smile on my face knowing that my solo miles were over and I would have the company of a pacer for the rest of the journey.

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Running into Right Hand Fork.  PC: Matt Williams

I reminded Heidi (my first pacer) that after feeling so good thus far, my only goal was to finish sub-26 hours and my placement was only a bonus.  I knew that even though I had created a nice time buffer for myself, the trail conditions would worsen as time went on and the temps would get colder.  Nonetheless, the next few hours went by rather fast with Heidi’s company even though we spent most of it running through mud that caked to our shoes and left us feeling like we had an additional 10 lbs on each foot.

I picked up my poles at Temple Fork just before the climb up to Tony’s Grove and I was grateful to have them as the single track turned into a swamp under our feet.  I purposefully slowed down on the climb because I knew I was already coming into Tony’s way ahead of my projections and was worried about blowing up.  I slowed down to a conversation pace and let a few people pass me on the climb.  Two women passed me before we reached the top of the climb where the rain turned to snow as we descended into Tony’s Grove.

I came in to Tony Grove at 5:46pm, 11:46 on the race clock and feeling solid.  The previous year I had arrived at 7:06pm and just coming off of hours of nausea.  I was in such a happy place mentally and physically!  My amazing crew (Thank you Annie, Heidi and Benj!!!)  had a chair next to a heater ready for me as I sat down and did a complete wardrobe change.  I put on fleece lined tights, a new dry long sleeve, thicker waterproof coat, dry beanie and dry socks & shoes.  Chelsea came in and sat down just as I was leaving.  She looked happy and strong.  I was in and out under 13 minutes, fully dry and fueled and now in the company of Benj Becker who would pace me the next 33 miles until Leatham Hollow #2.  He assured me that I had more than plenty of time to get to the finish in a sub-26 but I had the lingering cold and worsening trail conditions weighing on my mind.

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Road out of Tony’s Grove before the single track bobsled.  The white against the yellow Aspens was breathtaking.  PC: Benj Becker

The descent back down from Tony’s Grove was the first indicator that my back half wasn’t going to be as fast as I had hoped.  In just the hour between my climb up and coming back down, the snowfall and foot traffic had turned it into quite the slip n slide.  At one point I ended up in the chinese splits straddling the trail and couldn’t help but laugh.  Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence and only Benj got to enjoy this amazing physical feat.  We were in good spirits still, laughing and happy to see a lot of familiar faces going up the trail as we were going down.

I turned on my headlamp just after leaving the Spawn Creek aid station and started up the single track trail alongside the river.  The way down that had left Heidi and I with inches of mud on our shoes had now turned to soupy sludge with the out and back traffic.  Benj and I would try to run along the sides of the trail through the brush as much as possible to miss the most slippery parts but this left my legs wet from the tall brush.  We continued to move slow and steady, running when we could but mostly unable to due to the slippery trails.  Very few people passed us though so I felt confident that I was still making decent time.  As we neared Right Hand Fork for the second time, I talked with Benj about what I needed to make sure and do before leaving the aid station.  I knew from there, it would be 18 miles before I saw my crew again and also knew that the climb out of Right Hand would leave us very cold at the higher elevation coming into Cowley Canyon #2.  I felt reasonably warm and up the this point had very little issues with my fingers or toes getting too cold.  I had decided to change my shoes and socks at the aid station and that would be enough.  I did just that and off we went on the longest climb I have ever experienced.  I am sure looking back, that Hell is actually at a high point and that you have to climb to Hell instead of fall.  About two miles from the top of the climb, the rain had turned to snow so I knew the temps were dropping.  Unfortunately I couldn’t move faster than I was and could feel my core temperature start to drop.  I just kept telling myself that as soon as I got to the top, there was a nice downhill into Cowley where I could run a little and try to raise my core temperature.  By the time we reached the top of Hell, the snow was so thick and the dirt road so saturated with water that I couldn’t jog very fast.  I was doing my best to miss the large puddles of water but would come up on them without realizing it and splash ice water up to my thighs.

THE BAD RACE

By this point I had started to panic.  I was so soaked and getting so cold that I literally could not think about anything other than getting to the aid station.  It’s kind of interesting thinking back to that moment because my decision here completely changed my race.  I keep wondering what would have happened if I had never entered that warming tent.  All the woulda coulda shoulda’s that eat you alive.  But the fact of the matter is that I was in shock.  I have always thought that what I may lack in physical athleticism I make up for with mental grit.  The grit didn’t do me a lot of good going into Cowley.  Had I not stopped at this aid station, I am fairly positive that I would have been pulled from the race at Richards Hollow, or quit.  I sat down inside a warming tent next to a heater and began to shiver.  I pulled out my drop bag and fortunately had a dry long sleeve shirt and socks.  I changed those out and continued to shiver.  Benj was extremely attentive and made sure I was drinking hot broth and hot chocolate in an effort to raise my core temperature.  By the time I came to my senses, I decided I needed to get out of there so we headed out the door.  As soon as I felt the cold air I turned around and came back in, soul crushed at my quick fall from a great race.  I began all the scenarios of what happens if I quit here.  I pushed that thought aside and told Benj that we needed to try and leave again but that if I came back into the tent, I thought my race was over.  I just could not stop shaking and the panic going through my head seems so foreign now and hard to describe.  We left the tent and I made it about 200 feet before I panicked, turned around and came back into the tent.  As I sat there, I talked with Benj about how I was going to reconciled a DNF in my head.  How was I going to make this okay tomorrow or the next day, when my body was warm and I was wishing so bad I could go back and do things differently.  Anyone that has gotten to this point in a race can understand the mental agony I was going through.  I knew that if I quit here that I would go through some pretty severe post race depression in the following months but I knew that if I chose to continue that I had hours of slow misery in front of me.  Someone came into the tent and announced that he was the only drive back to Logan for the rest of the night so if I wanted to go back, I needed to leave right then.  I told him that I was done.  My heart broke.  He said he would go get the paperwork.  I couldn’t believe myself.  It had already been almost 90 minutes and I was still shivering and so miserable from my own mental weakness.  I looked at Benj, ashamed of myself.  I knew he understood how torn I was.  Immediately I thought of telling my kids the next morning about how I had chosen to quit because I was too cold and too miserable.  “Did someone tell you that you had to quit?”  I pictured my son saying.  “No”.  “Then why didn’t you just wait a little longer and try again?”  The reality of that moment was that if I didn’t just leave that tent right away on my own two feet with hours of cold ahead of me then I would be leaving in a truck with months of misery ahead of me.  I couldn’t reconcile the DNF in my head.  I stood up and told Benj that we were leaving right then.  He later told me that he knew I would never sign those papers.  I myself have not fully convinced myself of that.

I was actually surprised at how fast we tackled the next 1.5 mile climb, alongside friend Cody Reeder who had spent an hour with me in the warming tent.  I started to warm up and was consumed with regret knowing how much time I had lost after having such a solid race.  I figured at this point that Chelsea, who was just minutes behind me at every aid station, was now likely a hour or more ahead.  Gah!!!  Anyone who ran this race understands how hard it is to describe the next 5 mile downhill section into Richards Hollow.  There was a solid 3 inches of snow on the trails but the ground was warm enough underneath that everything just puddled to the middle of the rutted out singletrack.  There is little side wall to try and run on to avoid the ruts so by the end we just ran down the middle of the ice water, simply counting the minutes to the aid station.  I fully realize that there are 200 other people that ran this same section of trail with the same or worse conditions than I did.  I will never complain about the situation I put myself in but hope to keep the description real so that someday I can come back to this recap to remind myself of the mental and physical state I was in on the section between Cowley #2 and Richards Hollow #2 to remind myself after this, nothing should feel unbearable.

I spent some time in Richards Hollow trying to warm up, but to be honest, by this point I was just emotionally broken which I am not proud of.  As Benj and I actually ran most of the section of road between Richards and Leatham, I saw a headlamp coming toward us and realized it was Tommy.  I completely lost my shiz when I saw him.  I am getting emotional just writing this and thinking back to that moment.  He hugged me and grabbed my hand and assured me that I was going to be okay and I would change my clothes and get warm in Leatham Hollow with the help of my crew.  He had heard somehow from someone that I was quitting but running down to Leatham Hollow to meet him for a ride home (which was not the case).  I changed my layers, socks and shoes again and headed out with Tommy for the last 13 miles.  I cannot thank Benj enough for gutting out the most miserable hours of my existence and not once complaining about his own discomfort.

With Tommy in front and setting the pace up the Leatham Hollow climb, I moved consistently but slow, never having anyone pass me until the downhill into Millville.  I knew at this point that any hopes of a sub 26 or any sort of placement were out the door.  I was proud of myself for not calling it quits but the obvious heartbreak of being so close to a race performance to be proud of (and may never happen again) was as heavy as the mud on my shoes.

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Last mother freaking climb.  Almost to the top of Leatham Hollow.  It was probably 46 miles long. PC: Tommy

 

I was able to slowly jog the technical descent of Millville Canyon (as Tommy walked by me while I was “running”) and noticed a cramp in my left calf.  It wasn’t horrible but knew it would be something I would need extra recovery time from.  The last 5 miles along the Bonneville Shoreline trail were slow and long, filled with several full on temper tantrums on my part.  One of the benefits (or downsides depending on how you look at it) of having your spouse pace you is that you have absolutely zero care about how you look or act at this point.  There was one point where I was sobbing like a 2 year old in the grocery store because I could see the finish line down below me but could.not.get.there.fast.enough.  Right about this time I saw my mom approaching us on the trail.  She has rode her bike to the trailhead then walked along until she found us.  All she really had to do was follow the giant boobing until she came across my sorry sight. 🙂

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Losing my mind. Leave it to Tommy to snap a picture of this stellar moment 🙂  PC: Tommy

 

I crossed the finish line in 28:40.  8th female to cross.  It’s a far cry from the race I thought I would have by Tony’s Grove.  My emotions were so caught between gratitude for my resiliency and ability to push through hard things and disappointment that I had not made just a few different choices that could have changed the course of my race.   I should have changed my base layer at Right Hand Fork.  I should have grabbed a puffy jacket.  I should have never stepped foot in that warming tent at Cowley.  I do believe I made the choice my brain had the ability to make with the mental state I was in going into that aid station.  It’s very hard to let ourselves off the hook sometimes.  I spent nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes in aid stations after Right Hand Fork #2.  I wonder how long I will chew on that.  I laid at the finish line next to Chelsea, who had finished 2 hours before me as 3rd place female!  For her first 100, she ran an incredibly strong and smart race.  It was so comforting to hug her at the end, feeling the empathy for what we had just finished.

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PC: Matt Williams

It’s been a few days and lots of time thinking back.  I am proud of my race.  I have never ran such a strong and smart race for so long.  I feel confident after how I felt that I have a solid finish and at least near podium finish in my future.  I would have never said that before this race.  I never over ran, I never physically imploded due to pacing or fueling choices.  My stomach and legs were solid gold the whole race.  I made poor choices at Right Hand Fork that allowed me to get too cold.  That’s part of the race and kudos to those who did it right and did it smart.  I believe part of my mental hold up is that because I surprised myself with such a solid front half, it seems as though I finished a far cry from my “goal”.  When I was standing on the road the morning before, I had no idea whether I would have a blow it up or blow up kind of day.  Had I just slogged along to start with, I would be ecstatic with a 28:40 finish time in these conditions.  Once I let go of “the race I almost had” and embrace “the incredible race I did have” I will find myself happy and satisfied with where I am.  Perhaps that longing to have more of that fire I had on the front half will fuel me into a great finish if I keep trying.  I know I have that potential.  I woke up the next morning wishing I was back out on the course, sliding along the downhill section of Tony’s Grove and smiling at all my friends as we passed each other.  I know I’m hooked.  I know this is where I love to be.  I’ll see you guys again in 2017.  Until then, health and happiness and never take our amazing machines for granted.

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PC: Matt Williams

Epilogue:

How I trained:

I started the early season this year with something new: a 70.3 distance triathlon.  I completed that at the first of April before I began any sort of trail running.  I found that my speed and endurance were actually better by mid April on the trails and after just a few weeks of playing catch up on my climbing legs, I was hitting PR’s on my Strava segments.  I plan to do this same thing again for 2017.  I averaged roughly 45 miles per week, running 4-5 days per week.  By mid July, I was logging 10k-12k vert per week which is much more than I did last year.  My long runs were mainly pacing Tommy at his four 100 milers this year, pacing him 20-33 miles at each one.  A lot of these miles were power hiking since it was at the end of his 100 miles.  Outside of pacing duties, I ran a handful of 20-25 milers but aside from pacing Tommy 33 miles at Wasatch two weeks before Bear, I never ran more than 25 miles at one time.  I had a few solid weeks at 60 miles and 13k vert.  I aimed to do one tempo run on the trails per week.

What I ate for Bear:  

I had reread my 2015 race report and tried to duplicate my eating both the day before and the morning of.  For lunch on Thursday I had a pasta salad and half a turkey panini.  For dinner we ate at Texas Roadhouse where I had a 6 oz steak, sweet potato, salad and approx 326 dinner rolls.  For breakfast the morning of, I woke up at 4:00am to try and get my food in at least 90 minutes before go time.  I had two scrambled eggs, 2 slices of bacon, a piece of toast with jam, a Core Power protein shake and a banana.

I covered my fueling on the course in my race report but I ate approx 150 calories/hour out of my pack with raw honey, GU stroop waffles, GU’s, and Swedish Fish.  I ate at every aid station and had potatoes dipped in salt, watermelon, potato chips, a cup of hot chicken broth and at night I had a cup of hot chocolate.  I drank to thirst but hardly drank more than 17 oz between aid stations and was peeing more often than I would have liked to.  No one likes pulling down their pants during a blizzard.  I took salt for the first 70 miles of the race but stopped after that and may attribute my horrible left calf cramps at mile 95 to no salt.

What I wore for Bear:

I changed my shoes 4 times.  Looking back this was likely overkill and could have gotten away with one or two shoes changes as I have read other’s race reports.  I change my socks at every aid station from Tony Grove on.  On the bright side, my feet were never cold with the exception of the ice water downhill into Richards Hollow and not one blister or hot spot.  No signs of swamp or trenchfoot which was my biggest concern.  I wore running tights and a long sleeve top with a waterproof coat over the entire time.  I changed to insulated tights and a slightly thicker coat at Tony’s Grove.  I should have changed to a dry long sleeve and added a puffy coat layer under my waterproof coat at Right Hand Fork #2.  I used hand warmers inside my gloves from Tony’s Grove on.  I wore a buff on my head and changed to a beanie at Tony’s Grove and never once had problems with cold fingers or head.  The only time I got cold was allowing my core to get too cold before Cowley.

Lovefest and Thank You’s to my Crew and Pacers:

There is no adequate words that can extend the full appreciation for what a good crew and pacers can do for your race.  To mine, I only hope you know how much I relied on you when my emotional state failed me and had it not been for your attentiveness, would have likely not been able to leave Leatham Hollow #2.  You were up all night, froze your arse’s off and not once did I hear a word about it from you.  I hope that one day I can return the favor.  Except for Tommy – I paid up front for that favor 4 times already this summer. 🙂  But would do it again in a heartbeat.  I love you.

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