I sat slumped over in a camp chair by the fire. It was dark and cold in those mountains in the wee hours of the night. I was tired, delirious, and defeated. I was at mile 68 of the Bear 100. As we neared the aid station I told Sweeney, my pacer, that I was done, that I was dropping out at this aid station. When I told him tears welled up in my eyes at the verbal admission of defeat. I was glad that the darkness hid my face. I held it in and tried not to cry. I wasn’t ashamed to cry but I didn’t want to completely fall apart out there and I was on the verge of falling apart. I sat there trying to make excuses in my head, trying to justify my decision. I laid my head down in my lap and dozed off for a few minutes…
The Bear 100 is a 100 mile point to point trail race in the Wasatch mountains of Utah and a little bit of Idaho. It has 22,000 feet of elevation gain and is 70% single track, 30% dirt road. I chose the Bear as my first 100 because I love the Wasatch Mountains, I grew up there, and that its point to point, mostly single track, has a lot of climbing, and would be really tough. And because of all that it was an appealing and exciting event for me. Plenty of other 100’s would have been easier for my first 100 but none excited me as much as this one. When I told Shawn I was thinking about signing up for the Bear it seemed like a joke. It seemed a little too crazy. But the more I looked at it the more I rationalized it and I signed up. I’m so glad Shawn was crazy enough to sign up too. He always is.
A week before the race I flew out to Utah and spent a few days acclimatizing in the canyons and mountains of southern Utah. We gathered pine nuts, made primitive pottery, and went on some hikes. (More on that in a later report.) Once back in Salt Lake I picked up Patrick Sweeney from the airport and the usual crew started assembling. We stayed with our good friends Shawn and Stephanie. The day before the race we drove to Logan, Utah, checked into our hotel and drove out to the mountains to check out some of the course.
Sweeney, Me, and Shawn.
The fall colors were in full effect. It was so beautiful. The aspens and oaks were bright red, orange, and yellow. It was pretty unimaginable to think that I would be trying to run 100 miles the next day but the gorgeous mountains got me excited. I had been nervous all week. Not too nervous consciously but subconsciously I think I was. I hadn’t been sleeping well the whole time in Utah.
I had done most of my physical training for the Bear in the Cascades of Washington.(training video) Mentally I had been visualizing the course and my run for weeks or months. Visualizing is an essential part of getting mentally prepared for me. I imagine different sections of the course, what the weather could feel like, how fast I might be moving, how I could be feeling, and I try to visualize myself moving light, smooth, and effortlessly through the mountains. I try to visualize my realistic goal pace. For the Bear I really just wanted to finish but I would have also really liked to finish in under 30 hours too. And so I visualized myself on pace for a 29:00 hour finish, floating up the mountains in the dark, or coasting down the hills in the aspens. But as hard as I tried to visualize the night and second day were pretty hard to imagine.
That night the entire crew assembled for dinner. Me and Shawn would be running the next day and our absolutely amazing crew was Sweeney, Steph, Eric, Izzy, Rebecca, Conner, Jesse, Melodie and Jackie. We ate Thai food that night though it probably wasn’t the best choice for the night before the race, but what is? I couldn’t think of anything better. We scrambled to get our things together and our crew instructed that night and got to bed by about 10:00-10:30. I didn’t sleep great but I didn’t expect to so it was fine. We woke up at 4:30 and were off to the start. It wasn’t as cold as I was expecting in the dark morning. I was so glad the weather was forecasted to be sunny and clear. Here we are just before the race:
I would be testing a new unreleased trail Luna model called The Oso. Which means ‘the Bear’ in spanish. I had been training in them for the last couple months and thought it would be the ultimate final test to test ‘The Bear’ at The Bear.
In the dark morning 250 or so runners embarked on a 100 mile journey. After a quarter mile through a sleepy neighborhood we were on single track climbing up the first big mountain. Shawn and I ran together in the dark chatting about who knows what. Excitement was in the air and time and distance flew by. Before we knew it we were at the top of the first climb, about 4000 feet of elevation gain, just in time for the sunrise. It was so invigorating and beautiful. This picture doesn’t even come close to doing it justice but gives you an idea. That’s Logan, where we started, down in the valley.
With the first big climb done and now in the beautiful morning light Shawn and I were anxious to pick up the pace. We sailed down the mountains in the red oaks and golden aspens. We were still chatting and time was flying. Before we knew it we were at the mile 20 aid station and the first station were we would see our crew. I felt super fresh and we were 30 min ahead of the 29:00 finish pace I had figured out. We grabbed some snacks and water and excitedly gushed to our friends about how awesome it was so far.
We left the aid station and had just a short 3 mile stretch to the next aid station at mile 23. We didn’t really stop there and pushed onward into the next big climb. It was heating up and of course we were slowing down. The mountains were still beautiful though. Somewhere around mile 28 I started to not feel very good. I was getting a little nauseous and having a hard time eating. At the 30 mile aid station I ate a little and used the bathroom. But still felt sick. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 36 I was feeling really sick and out of it. The crew said I was acting drunk. Part of me was still having a great time and another was miserable.
I was getting really nervous. To say “64 more miles seemed like a long ways” is an understatement. My crew took great care of me. They were so good to me. I changed socks, got a foot massage, and ate some food. It felt very weird to have a bunch of people feeding me and massaging me and pampering me. Thanks guys! After a long rest I finally got up and back on the trail. I still felt sick but I was moving forward. We climbed more. We climbed a lot. Shawn moved on ahead of me with Conner pacing him. At this point my focus became just to make it to the next aid station. Finishing was a pipe dream. I tried hard to eat, take salt, and drink water. I reached the mile 45 aid station pretty sick and tired. But my crew was now getting their groove with this whole crewing thing. I just sat there and probably mumbled incoherently as they prepped me and fed me. And somehow I was ready to get back on the trail after another long break. Through all this I was having all kinds of highs and lows emotionally and physically.
The sun was setting as we embarked on another big climb. 3000 feet of gain. I was still climbing well. On this stretch I picked up my first pacer; the wonderful Isabelle. We chatted and the climb was very pleasant. Beautiful color in the golden hour light. But the light left and we entered the darkness again. We dawned headlamps and moved forward. Still all I could imagine doing was just getting to the next aid station. With the temps having gone down my stomach started feeling a little better but the toll of not eating well and being sick and running 50 miles was still a giant load. We rolled into the 51 mile aid station at Tony Grove. I was getting even more nervous. I didn’t feel like I could even make it to the next aid station let alone finish. My spirits were pretty low but my crew beat some life into me with massages and warm food and magic.
My brain was definitely not functioning properly. I felt drunk. I sat for a long time not wanting to think about going forward. I had caught up to Shawn at this point and he was struggling here as well. I put on some warm layers and Sweeney got me up and we headed into the night. Onward. Sweeney would be my pacer for the next 25 miles. I was seeing a pattern here. I leave an aid station feeling pretty good for 2-3 miles then suffer for 3-4 miles then get to another aid station and need a long pit stop to recharge. Somewhere on this stretch my bowels started to give me trouble. I had to venture out into the woods to take care of business every half hour. That was not fun. Especially after running out of wet wipes and having to use pine cones and rocks which did not feel good on my cheeks that were already pretty raw and rashy from running 55-60 miles. I know, that is probably TMI but that is all apart of ultras. I had been lubing my cheeks with vasoline since mile 36. Sweeney kept me going well. I trudged along. On top of being tired, sleep deprived, and sore, my bowel troubles seemed to be the straw that was breaking the camels back.
…In the wee hours of the night I decided I couldn’t go anymore. I finally reached the mile 68 aid station and was set on dropping out. I rested my head and dozed off for a few minutes by the fire. This aid station was not crew accessible. Otherwise things might have been very different. I sat by the fire and listened to a woman who had hit her head, may have had a concussion, seemed way more out of it than me and she was debating whether or not to drop out. Another guy was sitting by the fire who was dropping out. As I sat there I realized I was in better shape than they were. Also, a big factor was that I didn’t want to have to ask a stranger for a ride at 4am to go find my crew who were at the next aid station waiting for me. (no cell service up there.) That seemed so embarrassing. I just wanted to lay down. But to lay down without freezing to death meant I needed to get to my crew. So I thought, what the hell, I guess I’ll just go the 7 miles to the next aid station and my crew and drop out there. That whole time Sweeney was very encouraging. It was so hard to leave that fire and get back out there.
So I got up from that warm fire and we entered the darkness again. I didn’t have much pep in my step at this point because I was in the mindset of dropping out at the next aid station. Sweeney would coax me into running runnable sections and I would think ‘why run if I’m just dropping out’. And if you didn’t know, mountain hundred milers are a lot of hiking. As time went on Sweeney and I were joking and having some good conversation that was surely of the bizarre sleep deprived drunk kind. Sweeney found me a hiking stick and we named it Poley Moses. And then it started to get light. A little bit at a time. It was so gorgeous in those mountains. It hit me that this was the second sunrise I was seeing since I had started the journey over 24 hours previous. That seemed so powerful to me. I had gone over 70 miles through the mountains. And with the dim pre-dawn light came a hint of hope. As it got lighter I realized I was feeling better. It was crazy. The new morning was a new day and my body was ready to start over. By the time we got to the Beaver Lodge aid station at mile 75 I was beaming inside. I had gained hope of actually finishing and I was feeling better than I had since mile 20. This was a true miracle. A miracle of the body and mind that I am so grateful for. I had no idea that bodies in general, let alone my broken body, were capable of that kind of recovery on the go. Thinking about that sunrise and breaking through that wall and the experience of that morning makes the emotions well up inside my chest. Thanks for getting me through the night Sweeney.
At Beaver Lodge I used a real bathroom, got cleaned up, fueled up, and picked up my next pacer Jesse. Who had only been running a few months but had recently ran his first race which was a 3:30 mountain marathon for 8th place. He was definitely Eric’s brother. They are both insanely talented runners. I would have to pick up the pace a lot if I wanted to make the cutoff. Shawn was 30-40 min. ahead of me. Jesse and I left the lodge and logged some fast miles. I was feeling great. My legs and feet were of course sore but overall I was determined and excited. I was cruising the uphills passing people and then they would pass me on the down hill as I gently pitter pattered down. I didn’t have the agility to dance down the rocks anymore so I had to go pretty slow down hill.
Another thing I was experiencing by that point was hallucinations. They weren’t crazy trippy hallucinations but I was definitely seeing things once in a while that weren’t there. Mostly I would look up and think that I saw an aid station tent in the trees and think ‘oh awesome, I’m already to the aid station.’ Then I would look up again and it would be gone. Once I thought I saw Steph on the side of the trail. I thought I was seeing cabins in the woods. At the time it seemed completely normal. It didn’t even register that I was hallucinating until later. At the time I would just think ‘dammit, where did that aid station go.’
Jesse and I cruised through the mountains. The aid station stops were short and sweet. The day warmed up again and I was so excited to be feeling great. When I hit the Beaver Creek Campground aid station at mile 85 my crew was so excited for me because I was coming in faster than they expected and Shawn had just left right before I got there. I still felt the urgency of making the cut-off so we didn’t dawdle and were out of there quick. After climbing some more mountains and moving at a determined optimistic pace we made it to the last aid station; Ranger Dip at mile 92. Just as I was coming up to the aid station my crew was cheering for me from a hundred yards away. Shawn was getting ready to leave. I hadn’t seen him since the previous night at mile 50 or 60 something. It was so good to see him. Everyone was so excited. I felt so happy and proud. After all we had been through we both new at that point that there was no way we weren’t going to finish.
I enjoyed my last quick round of massages and pampering and was back on the trail. Everyone was all smiles.
Immediately out of Ranger Dip is the steepest hill of the course. It was just about going straight up the mountain. At the top we were above 9000’ feet and that was the last climb of the course. All I had left was a 4000 foot descent in six miles. I would have loved to cruise the downhill but my legs just weren’t up for it. There was some rolling portions through the aspens that I was running but a good bit of the downhill was too steep and rocky for me to run. So I slowly made my way down. Bear Lake sprawled across the valley below with the tiny town of Fish Haven hugging the lake at the bottom of the mountain. It was steep rocky and dusty and just when you think you are getting to a smooth road of Fish Haven, Idaho the trail turns and goes up another little hill. But the smooth road came and I started trotting. As I got closer I got more excited and ran faster. I crossed the main highway and turned into the final stretch of driveway to cheers and the finish.
Crossing the finish line felt so good. I hugged Shawn and the rest of my crew, sat down, and ate some food. We did it. I couldn’t have done it without my crew. Thanks everyone! My official time was 34:51. I got the Black Bear belt buckle. I’m proud to have my first 100 mile buckle.
Running 100 miles felt like a vision quest. It altered my mind and destroyed my concepts of my boundaries and limits. It changed me and the experience was stuck in my brain for days afterwards. A week after the race Shawn sent me a message that he couldn’t stop thinking about the Bear. I felt exactly the same way. The experience was just so powerful, it wouldn’t leave me. I have never experienced something like that before. Thinking about that second sunrise with the shining golden aspens and my body and mind magically recovering blows me away. There are all kinds of interesting aspects of running 100. Our friend Andrew Labbe mentioned that you get a lifetime of varied emotions compressed into 30 hours. Others say running 100 is like running three 50’s. But for me it was just so different I can’t even compare it to a 50. Several times during the race I experienced ‘breaking through walls’. Which I had hit walls in previous races but nothing like at the Bear. I’m excited to run another 100. At this point I think I may be addicted to running. : )
‘The Oso’ Lunas held up and performed amazingly. They were enough rock protection, great traction, very secure, and comfortable. I didn’t get any blisters or bruises. I love that about Lunas. Though after the race I did notice that the tip of my left big toe was numb. but no big deal, you can’t expect to walk away completely unscathed after 100 miles. I was sore for a couple days but not as bad as I expected. I was capable of running a few days later.
I’m already scheming and planning for my next runs and races. I will definitely be going back down to the canyons for the Caballo Blanco (Copper Canyon) Ultramarathon in 2013.
And, as always, there is a ton more I could talk about but that is it for now.
Thanks to everyone! Shawn congrats and thank you! Thanks to Sweeney, Steph, Rebecca, Conner, Eric, Jesse, Melody, and Jackie. You all are the best crew and friends. Thanks to the Luna crew at the shop. Thanks Leland and all of the volunteers at the Bear. It was a great event! And again, thanks to the wilderness and its beautiful existence.
Until the next adventure.