The Bear 100: Come hell and high water


 

Data:
My 5th ultramarathon, 1st 100 mile race
31:17:24, 93rd place overall, 19th female
279 Starters, 167 finishers, 55% men finished, 77% women finished
 

The Taper:
Seven days before the Bear, as I was flossing my teeth, I bent toward the mirror in the bathroom and BAM!!. My lower back went out and was shooting pain all through my pelvis and I was frozen. This was not good. I woke up Friday morning in worse shape because all surrounding muscles were compensating and protecting. I called my chiropractor and she could see me in 3 hours. Ugh. I could hardly focus on my work just watching the clock waiting for some relief. I couldn’t lift my legs, couldn’t sit straight, couldn’t put on shoes. But for some reason was not worried about this race. I knew this would resolve itself.
 

Saturday I hiked and did a little too much activity and then on Sunday, could barely walk again. Chiro, massage, chiro…waiting and waiting. Then I tried running when I got to Salt Lake on Wednesday. It didn’t feel great, but I knew that I’d have kinks to work out from not running for a week and having an altered gait. A good friend heard of my injury and questioned me about my mental Plan B for when this perfect excuse to quit enters my thoughts – what would I do?
 

Fast forward to 6am Friday at the start line in Logan, UT and my back felt completely normal. As I lined up with the field of nearly 300 runners we knew the day would be hot and there is a 100% chance of storms with a cold front that was blowing in.
 

The Bear:
This is it – the big one – my longest race by 38 miles. The 3rd anniversary of starting running. My first time training with a running coach, Ryan. I had to put so much trust in the training that I’ve accumulated this year – 1400 miles this year and tons of climbing since moving to Colorado 3 months ago. The Bear and I would have a different battle than I had imagined due to my nowconservative approach to the day and keeping my back operational.
 

I was trying to smile
 


 

Loved having the Elevation Tat
 


 

The Bear was no longer my enemy to conquer, she was my ally in this journey and I had to be open to everything that would be thrown at me. The song “Shut up and Dance” by Walk the Moon was in my head for the whole race and it seemed to match the conversation that I would have with the Bear at many points throughout:
 

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me.
I said you’re holding back,
She said shut up and dance with me!
 

The Hot Friday:
 

The plan was to take the first 3500′ climb easy, don’t redline, and start fueling early. I was not hungry, but tried to force it before I got too warm. 
 

Near the Top of the First Climb
 


 

10 mile AS I didn’t grab much more than grapes. I heard Coleen behind me and we chatted for a while. Her downhills were leaving me in the dust, so we yo-yo’d a bit. Once we dropped into an awesome singletrack descent I met Dale from Texas who I would see MANY more times throughout the day and evening.
 

A Trail
 


 

Met my crew at the 20mile AS and was ahead of my goal pace by 30 minutes. I think I mentioned a “hot spot” on my right pinky toe that I was debating weather I take my shoe off to address. I didn’t touch it. I threw ice in my hat and tried to find something that I could eat. I grabbed 2 more liters of water and left. There was a 3-mile uphill dirt road to the next aid station. The heat started to get me worried about the quantity of calories that I was getting in. I drank what calories I could with UCAN and ate fruit and choked dry food down with tons of water and S-Caps. The handful of Pringles took all of my energy to eat as I hiked most of this section.
 

She took my arm,
I don’t know how it happened.
We took the floor and she said

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me.
I said you’re holding back,
She said shut up and dance with me!
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me
 

Heading out of 22.5mile AS, with homemade banana bread in hand (I was WAY too excited about this – this is my favorite food!!!), more ice in my hat, I finally grabbed my trekking poles out of my pack for the next climb. Before I was done climbing, my ice melted and it got very warm. I was loving the rhythm that the poles gave me and I was passing many people on the climbs. Some would pass me back on the downhill because I was cautiously descending to protect my back.
 

So Warm
 


 

30mile AS – don’t remember any of it. Slammed some applesauce and sweet tea. I was 10 minutes ahead of my goal pace. Grabbed PB&J to suffer through and 2 more liters. I got my special cooling bandana (thanks Erin!) soaked in ice water. I met up with Hillary Johnson, a friend of Coleen’s, and we talked for quite a while along with this weird dude. It really made the time pass in this hot, exposed valley. There were cows sitting 15′ from the trail telling us to moove it. I left them on the next climb and was a new person – in a great mood and moving well.
 

37mile AS I was apparently a hot mess – my conversations with my crew were less than intelligible. Slammed more applesauce and sweet tea. Re-soaked the bandana, more fruit, 2 more liters, S-Caps and fresh UCAN. Matt was a little worried about my lack of complete thoughts so we decided that maybe Bryan be ready to jump in to start pacing at mile 45 instead of 51. I met Tandi from AZ during this stretch and we talked and also enjoyed each other’s silent company as the clouds rolled in and cooled things down.
 

The Clouds are Coming
 


 

45mile AS I was in much better shape. I was getting more food in me since it was cooler. I picked up Bryan and new food and water. Bryan and I chatted on this long climb and passed Dale in his usual form – cursing the uphills. We finished the climb with Tandi and heard a hoot and holler from Dale as he reached the false summit. And then we heard him cursing the damn false summit. We kept our headlamps off as long as possible because it was going to be a long, dark night with no moon.
 

The Stormy night:
 

We were victims of the night,
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and faded light
Oh we were born to get together,
Born to get together.
She took my arm,
I don’t know how it happened.
We took the floor and she said

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me.
I said you’re holding back,
She said shut up and dance with me!
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me
 

51mile AS Matt informed us that the rain was forecasted to start between 1 and 3am. Bryan and I both grabbed our ponchos just in case because we wouldn’t see Matt again for 10 miles. In that last second decision, somehow I missed grabbing my PB&J refill. This made sad and I tried to fill the void with other food. Cows mooed near the trail in the dark and the evening light show lit up the mountains around us.
 

62mile AS I didn’t forget my PB&J this time! I sang the peanut butter jelly time song to the runners that passed us while I ate. On the descent down to the next AS, it started sprinkling a little heavier. Was it worth poncho-ing up? Before we could answer, the skies opened up for the first downpour of the race around 1am. The road down into the next un-crewed aid station took forever and ever and ever as we got more and more wet.
 

68.8mile AS Logan Creek was full of zombies around a fire pit. Probably 20 runners that weren’t prepared for the start of the rain. So many people dropped here. Bryan was grabbing me soups and coffee while I was putting on layers and grabbing the hand warmers from my drop bag. But wait – there was no coffee. Just Coke, so I had no caffeine (this is the start of a theme for the night). I felt so bad because Bryan was shaking cold. I put on the longsleeve Breath Thermo shirt that I had around my waist and some arm warmers. My arms would end up soaked from sticking out of the poncho, but I thought clothing would be better than exposed skin. I opened the pack of handwarmers that I had in the drop bag and put them in my pocket with my warm grilled cheese sandwiches.
 

This next segment of trail took FOREVER, but Sophia had warned me of that ahead of time. The last hour or so of this segment, I was feeling bad because I needed to go to the bathroom and I stopped eating on my normal schedule. I got a tad bit hangry (sorry Bryan!). Matt must have warned him about this tendency of mine because he quickly asked if I had eaten recently. I snapped back “NO” and then ate my stinkin sandwich. 
 

We were running through an area that was muddy where the trail was exposed and then dry under the trees. I fell flat on my side after tripping over a root on a dusty part of the trail. No damage, just filthy.
 

76mile AS I HAD to go to the bathroom. This aid station is a little Ski lodge with running water and 1 bathroom. The line for the bathroom had 4 people – some of which were not even runners (this was BS) and this building was so warm that I was feeling strange. I was told to avoid being in this building because it lures DNF’s in with its warmth. There were dead people sprawled out on stretchers and cots and chairs. 
 

Dead People in the Lodge
 


 

I check in and out in one breath and got a cup a coffee (finally!!) and went to the crew car. I pooped in the wooded island next to the parking lot. If any one of the 7 cars facing me had turned on its headlights…well it would have been a full moon.
 

It was 4:30am and I picked up Matt. This was 1 Aid Station earlier than planned since I picked up Bryan earlier in the day. The 5 miles to the next AS was all uphill on an ATV road. Then it started raining more – back to ponchos. The more we climbed in the rain, the more the trail became a river. I stopped dead in my tracks because there was a large cow just sitting on the road. No, wait, it was a camel. Yep definitely a camel. Or a puddle that looked like a camel. Matt agreed that the puddle at our perspective was perfectly camel-like.
 

81mile AS was in a flat meadow on top of this mountain. This was a sad and lonely place. No crew, no drop bags, just puddles, mud, pouring rain, wind, 40 degrees or less in an exposed meadow. The aid station workers were trying to keep their food and supplies dry, but there wasn’t any hope. To get to the tent for rain protection you walk through a foot-deep puddle lake. We were entertained by the communications volunteer stepping behind his check-in tent to puke(?) dry-heave(?) something. WTF so weird. Their broth tasted like rain, I ate black bean soup, no coffee of course, and we got out of there in record time. Leaving this AS we had a mile of running on mud road in the wind before ducking into the trees. This was the first time I’d been cold all night. Just as the sun came up and we’re moving fast out of necessity to not freeze to death, Matt tells me, “there is no one else in the world that I would be willing to do this for.” This was the most ridiculous point of the day. All we could do is laugh at the adversity.
 

Chocolate Milk Anyone?
 


 

85.2mile AS – We see Bryan and tell him of our adventures running up the river. I finally go GoreTex with a layer of dry icebreaker underneath. Soup, no coffee, and more PB&J. We debate keeping the poncho’s with us in case the rain really picks up again. A great decision we’d soon find out.
 

Coordinated Ponchos
 


 

92mile AS Ranger Dip. One word – breakfast burritos. Amazing. And zucchini bread. I knew I’d need the energy for the steepest climb and descent of the entire race – all covered in 6″ of mud.
 

The trekking poles provided so much on this climb. About a dozen or so steps were made useless by the mud where my foot slid down more than I had gone up. How did people get up this without poles?!?
 

This was the mud captured by some guy on the course (turn up the volume for the whole shoe-sucking effect) 
 

The final section Gates of Paradise:
 

Deep in her eyes,
I think I see the future.
I realize this is my last chance.
She took my arm,
I don’t know how it happened.
We took the floor and she said

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me.
I said you’re holding back,
She said shut up and dance with me!
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance!
 

We reach the top of this demoralizing climb where normally you’d have a breathtaking view of the bright blue Bear Lake to validate the hard work. I’d envisioned this peak dozens of times all day – how it would look, how great it would feel, how overwhelming it would be. This was the end, the last monumental climb, the homestretch. We were in a cloud and couldn’t even see the valley below. It didn’t matter at all. I stopped and held Matt tight and cried. I couldn’t contain all of the emotion of getting to this point and how perfect it was even without a view.
 

Enough of that mushy stuff, it was time to dance. 2 miles of moderate descent, 2 miles of steeper descent, and then 2 miles of gravel road to the finish. Oh, but the trail is a river…
 

I let go of my body and let it run and ski down this mountain. I was outside, just watching and trashing my legs on a downhill for a first time all day. I kept asking Matt what the time of day was, what was my pace, how many miles left. I knew I’d finish in under 32 hours, but I wanted to see how close to 31 I could get. A friend’s advice to me was to run like hell for the last 5 miles and I repeated that to myself over and over. 
 

I’d leap from one river bank to the over to get the best footing, but sometime just right down the middle of the river was the best. I fell on to my shin and knee a couple of times when my foot slipped out from under me. 16 min/mi, 15, 14, 13 I kept pushing. I passed a dozen people on that descent that were gingerly tip-toeing down the slip-n-slide or bushwacking in waist-high brush next to the trail. Suckers. My adrenaline was pumping because this was so sketchy but so fun.
 

Finally reached the gravel road and then then the pavement and then the finish. I was glad to be there, but there were no emotions. Every emotion was on the trail where it was supposed to be and all there was left to do was smile.
 


 


 


 

My Amazing Team
 


 

Remember that “hot spot” on my pinky toe at mile 20?? Well I scalped my toe…
 

You’re welcome
 


 


 

Cankles are Hot
 


 


 

[This blog post first appeared on Emily’s blog: Start at the Finish Line.]
 

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