My latest adventure was the Bear, which they used to advertise as a cool autumn loop through the pines. Well, presumably because it wasn’t a loop anymore, and because it was in the mid 70’s for many of the races, at least at the start, they changed the slogan to 36 hours of indian summer. I think that’s a great moniker. The race would take me 100 miles from Logan, UT, home to the Utah State Aggies, to Fish Haven, ID, home to, presumably, fish. In the process, I would go over some 11 or 12 passes with a cumulative elevation gain of 22,000 feet as I bounced up and down between 5,000 and 9,000 feet above sea level. Sounds fun! Or not.
Erica and I flew in on Tuesday night and scouted the course on Wednesday looking at aid stations and driving those parts of the course that were on fire road to get some idea of what was in store. I could tell I had bitten off a big bite. The climbs looked steep, but the course was beautiful, littered with flaming red maples and sunshine yellow aspens. Oh, and cows. Lots and lots of cows.
Thursday was spent relaxing and organizing drop bags, which is always a chore, especially for a race like this one. From what I could tell from the weather, it was going to be in the 50’s at the start, get to the mid-70’s during the day, drop to the low 40’s at night, then back up to the mid-70’s by the time I expected to finish at around 2:30. That meant stashing food, drink, various different clothing including hat and gloves, etc. into various bags to be taken to various aid stations to account for several different scenarios. Definitely had to plan.
Coming into the race, the best case scenario goal for me was around 32:30, sort of picked randomly by UltraSignup as my “projected time”, but I didn’t feel that to be likely. I hadn’t felt great in the weeks of training leading up to the race, and I did not perform well at White River 50 about 2 months before, so I was skeptical. Additionally, I was coming off my HURT washout, so confidence was not at an all time high. I was going to be very happy with any kind of finish.
After packing the bags, we dropped them off at the race director’s trout farm. Yes, the race director owns a trout farm. How player is that? The race meeting was low key but helpful. I had already gotten a ton of great intel from Brian “Gonzo” Gonzales, a Bear veteran, who had prepped me as to where to look out for tricky turns, brutal climbs, and, most importantly for me given my past experiences (hello owl, moose and cougar), rampant wildlife. While at the race meeting, I talked to various veterans of the course who helped with additional descriptions and stories while pointing at a map that was as long as a picnic table. As a result, I never got lost. Well, almost never. But more on that later. After a quick talk with Scotty Mills’ buddy Rocket Jones, it was time to go get some rest.
After the meeting, it was dinner at Noodles and Company and then in bed by 9. I slept fairly well and was up when my alarm went off at 4:30 for the 6 AM start. Did the usual pre race ritual of shower and then lubing up everything that can be lubed. And I mean everything. Threw down a couple of bananas and a couple of pieces of cinnamon bread and drove to the start. I had a few plans for the race that I was going to enact no matter what. First, drink more Nuun and less water to try to prevent cramping which is always my bugaboo at these things. Second, take my time in the aid stations because the last few races I had missed out on filling bottles or grabbing food to try to save time. How did these changes work? Lets find out . . .
so was my usual pattern of getting passed on the long climbs and getting people back on the downs.
I guess someone said start . . .
Running a traverse before the first aid station. You can see the trail going back along the traverse to the left.
After bottoming out after a relatively short descent, I climbed back up to the first aid station. I was full of fire and feeling good until I heard “Hey, is that a Gator hat?” I turned and was faced with my nightmare, a Georgia Bulldog in charge of an aid station. Forced to accept his hospitality, I closely inspected everything that I took from there, rest assured and held back on my urge to throw a cup of Gatorade in his face. I did think to myself “Gators run, Bulldogs serve.” Bad karma, I know. After some good natured banter, it was off to finish the climb and then the first long downhill. Below me was a field of yellows and reds, but I would go even further down than I could see, down, down, down for miles, almost back to the starting elevation. I made great time through here. At one of the turns, two guys went straight and I called to them so they came back. Near miss for those guys or they could have been in Ogden.
At the top of the fist climb. Finally.
We would descend all the way to the red trees in the valley, and that would be only about 1/3 of the trip down.
And down we kept going, down into the bottom of that valley.
The course markings for the day were, frankly, adequate, no more, but no less. It would have been nice to see a few more ribbons on long stretches, but the turns were well marked as long as you were paying moderate attention. Finally, after a long downhill, I saw a sign saying ½ mile to the aid station. I looked at my chart. I was about an hour ahead of my best projected time. Uh oh. I turned to the guy next to me and asked what his best goal was. 28 hours. I turned to the guy on the other side of me and asked his goal. Under 30. Double uh oh. I meant to go out fast but not this fast. Hmmmm.
As I pulled in to the aid, I saw Erica just pulling up. “Deeser!” I yelled. She looked up and shot me a glance and a gesture, clearly good naturedly annoyed (is that an oxymoron?) that I was so far ahead of schedule. I just shrugged. What are you going to do? She got me fueled with my new secret weapon – cold applesauce. I’m telling you, when in doubt, it goes down easy, and now that they sell it in pouches, it is easy to carry and eat. After that and some cold spaghettios, I was off. Wait a minute, what was that on the aid station table? I accosted some terrified looking 8 year old kid. “Is that up for grabs?” I guess so, he stammered, and I was off with my prize, an Egg McMuffin. The next section was a wide dirt road that I used to try to get my nutrition and hydration dialed in eating half the McMuffin and running some then walking some as it gradually climbed. I got dusted pretty good by some hick hunters driving as fast as they could on the dirt roads clearly annoyed and bemused by the runners on their trails. Thanks guys.
In the aid station at mile 19, Leatham Hollow, apparently not enjoying what I'm eating.
Buffet line. The kid with the hat is about to get poached . . .
Me and my McMuffin heading up the road to Richard's Hollow.
Then it was through the next aid 3 miles later and then up a beautiful singletrack climb. It was really steep at first, and I quickly got dropped by the people around me, but I found my rhythm soon enough and kept slugging away. It flattened out at the top and I did some running in here through beautiful meadows bisected by rock formations and streams. The day was warm but not bad as we gained elevation, and it felt good to be in real mountains. By now the pack had spread out, and I only occasionally saw another runner either passing me or as I passed them. From this point on, I would say I stayed in my place in the race pretty much to the very end, as I got passed by a few folks but also did some passing myself.
The views didn't suck.
After the crest of the climb, I got to a downhill road and again took off and was “flying” (that’s relative in 100 miler terms). I was having a problem, though, as I could feel giant blood blisters under both big toenails and it was making me tentative. Crap. As I rounded the corner, I could see the aid station about a mile below. Distracted, I looked up and kicked a rock. OW! OW! OW! I pinwheeled my arms to keep from falling. That was the worst. My entire upperbody – back, lats, triceps – seized into cramps. Fortunately, kicking the rock broke the worst of the blood blisters under my nail, and I looked down to see a giant red spot on the top of my shoe. Gross, but it meant that I could put more pressure on that foot again. OK, good trade off. After walking off the cramps and the initial pain for a few minutes, I got back in the groove and made it down to the aid, even further ahead of my projected schedule.
Coming down the road to Cowley Canyon aid, about mile 29 or so, after the great bloodletting. What a relief. You can see the trail we go out on to the right as we climb over the ridge here.
We had to dodge ATV's most of the race, but the vast majority were nice and shared the road. Here come two now . . .
This pattern continued over the next few climbs and descents as I was able to keep things together. The climb out of Cowley Canyon aid seemed to take longer than I thought it would, but I absolutely crushed the descent, passing a big group of folks. Coming into the next aid at Right Hand Fork, I sat for a moment, and saw a guy drinking a PBR. By now, at mile 37 or so, it was pretty hot, maybe upper 70’s. I asked the guy if he had half a beer for a poor forlorn runner. He got this giant grin on this face and ran to his car to get me a cold one. (If you haven’t guessed by now, nutrition is not my long suit). Man, did that beer taste good. He was high fiving me and laughing telling all his friends about the 100 miler that drank his beer. Between that and the kid with the Egg McMuffin, I think I left my mark. Dipping my hat in the cold creek, I was off again up another climb and down to Temple Fork. The descent into Temple Fork was maybe my favorite 2 or 3 miles of the race. There was a section on single track where you ran next to this rushing brook as you wound through narrow canyon walls dotted with grasses and trees of every color. Remarkable.
Shots from the descent. You may get tired of the colors, but I didn't.
And down by the creek and almost to the aid station.
Now THIS is an aid station. PBR and apple sauce. The next big thing.
Coming into Temple Fork, it was 5 PM and again, I had made up time. I had heard horror stories about this climb though, so I took some time to get my night gear ready and headed out. My goal was to get to the top before I had to turn on my light. This section was a grind, but Gonzo had forewarned me, so even though it took over 2 hours, I was ready for it and it never seemed ridiculous. Well, maybe one section. It helped that the BYU game kicked off so I had football on the radio. That would get me through the next 3 to 4 hours.
Getting my grub on before Tony Grove. It was supposed to get cold so I grabbed my vest and tucked my jacket away. I didn't really need either, at least not for the climb.
Up and away. I'd like to tell you that the trail moderated after the start of this climb. I'd like to, but . . .
As night settled in, I got to Tony Grove about 7:30 or so, not having needed my light (YES!). At this point, 2/3 of the climbing was over, so I felt pretty confident about a finish, having about 22 hours to cover the last 50 miles. As I sat in the chair, I started coughing up green superballs from all the dust I had inhaled. Except they weren’t superballs this time but strange cylindrical shapes. As I was racked with coughs I could feel something else coming. Uh oh. As Deese was coming up to hand me something, I put both hands up as a warning and RALPH! Up came my ginger ale that I had just drank. I sat in my chair with about a minute or two of dry heaves. I’m sure I was quite the sight. With that out of the way, I started on my night staple, chicken soup, taking a cup for the road, and I was up and out, not to see Deeser again until the AM.
Tony Grove Lake. Nice and pretty until someone had to ruin it by barfing all over the place.
The night sections all blended together somewhat as I got more and more tired. Trudge, trudge, lurching descent, chicken soup, repeat. I was still way ahead of schedule, and in fact for a while had dreams of a sub 30 hour finish which gets you a different belt buckle (yes, you get belt buckles as medals), but could not keep up my pace. I remember the climb to Steam Mill being excruciating. At one point, the group I was with saw a bunch of people way up the wrong trail and we had to call them back. Another near miss. The night marking again was adequate, not great but not bad. I did really like the reflectors they used as opposed to glow sticks. You could pick them up from a long way off and didn’t have to worry about them running out of power. There was only one turn that I almost missed, but a little thought about it and I made the right choice, finding the ribbon soon after the split. The night sections seemed to last and last and last. I remember thinking the Steam Mill descent was more of a flat, and that flat had tons of cows who didn’t like having the light shone on them. Too bad cows. I remember the section from Franklin (or was it Logan River) to the ski lodge not being too bad except when I went to my book on tape, it wasn’t there. All I had were old Petros and Money show podcasts. There is very little more surreal than trapsing though the Utah wilderness at 4 AM listening to two guys argue about what cartoon girl they would want to have sex with. Odd. But they were funny and kept me moving. I also remember some guy with a green headlamp laying literally face first in the dirt with his pacer assuring me he was just taking a power nap. I really wanted to take a picture, but felt it was disrespectful so moved on.
At Beaver Lodge, the aid station was indoors, and I used an indoor toilet. What a blessing. It’s the little things. I also sat and sullenly licked pudding out of a cup until someone came and brought me a spoon. I’m sure I was grossing people out, but I was too tired to get up and get one myself. Apparently I looked pitiful enough that some aid station worker, clearly tired of looking at me, brought me one. As I stumbled out of there, I realized that 30 hours was probably gone, but I was still way, way ahead of things, so was just determined to keep pounding. For some reason, the next sections seemed to take forever. I got into Gibson Basin about 6:30 or so, crossing from Utah into Idaho. Hooray! I made a quick stop there, and as I headed out, it started to lightly snow. WTF? I had on a hat and gloves but from 75 to light snow? It stopped after about 5 or 10 minutes, but the gray skies lingered, which was a nice shelter from the sun. As it became lighter I headed down to Beaver Creek, still an hour or so ahead of my projected time. No Deeser as I was too fast, but took off my night stuff, including my lights, jacket, hat, gloves, etc. and put on my finishing shirt. From Stone Brewery, it says “I didn’t run this far to drink yellow fizzy beer.” Amen.
More leaves. Ho hum. We see this every day in San Diego. Or not.
The scene at Beaver Creek . . .
The second to last climb was fairly mild and went quickly. I wish I had some legs for it, but now was just grinding away at a finish. Even my downhilling had become a lurching stumble. Everything was relatively together, but I was just too fatigued and sore from a too fast start to really be able to do anything. Well at least I had my Jay Mohr/Jim Rome podcasts. Turned them on, “Battery Low”, and off they went after just an hour. DAMMIT! Well, just keep grinding . . .
Coming down to the last aid station, about ½ mile out, there was the Deeser to walk me in. THANK YOU! If you don’t run these things, you have no idea who good it feels to see a friendly face in the middle of nowhere as you are struggling to survive. I looked at the time and had a VERY outside shot at sub-31 if I could do a quick station change. (As an aside, I succeeded in my goals of taking my time at stations. WAY too much time. My night station times were all 15 min or more with one exception. Next time, I need to find a happy medium, although a lot of that time was spent checking maps and directions as I was paranoid about getting lost. Hopefully, I will be comfortable at the next race and pare that down.) So I busted through my station. Now I had my ipod with my music. Went to put that on. “Low Battery”. AGAIN?! Well, at least I had my radio. Where was it? Oh yeah, I gave it to Erica to lighten my load. That also had my clock, so now I would have no idea about how I was doing time wise either or how far I had to go. As Nap Dynamite would say (from nearby Preston, Idaho), Idiot. (Another aside: when Uncle Rico says “I could throw a football over them mountains,” he was talking about the very mountains I was running in! I kept making jokes to myself in my head as I was running about looking up to see a football go flying over me. Yes, I was very tired, but it kept me amused. Thanks, Uncle Rico!)
Here I come . . .
And there I go . . .
The climb out of the last aid station, called Ranger Dip, has a nasty reputation, and it is well earned, climbing some 700 feet or so in about 2/3 of a mile. Murder at mile 92.5. But I do well at these short steep pushes, and did a “Gonzo” – slow and steady, no stopping – and passed about 5 people on the climb who had stopped or were taking breaks. At the top, I saw someone motoring to catch me. Wow! Turned out it was a pacer. Striking up a conversation at the top, it was Jeff Huff, one of the RD’s of HURT, and the same guy who tried to nurse me through his aid station at the falls not 9 months ago. Small world. We shared a story and a few laughs at the top which were a huge boost, then he and his charge, who had caught up to me on the downhill, were off like bunnies.
I was cooked. I tried lurching ahead, but I really didn’t have much left either physically or mentally. After what seemed like forever, I finally got a view of the lake. Man, it was still so far away and so far down! How were we ever going to get there? I soon had my answer as the trail went down. Straight down. Loose and straight down. For a LOOOOONG way. OK then. Off I went at my best speed just chugging along as best I could. It had gotten really hot as the grey had burned off, and I was drinking, but the heat had sapped what little desire and energy I had left.
Finally we came out to a parking lot, then up one more climb that looked a lot worse than it was to a water tower and then down to the final road. There was no one ahead of me to catch and no one behind me to catch me. There was no way to get 31 hours, so there was no time goal to chase. This is where the tough get going as true character comes when you perform when it doesn’t really matter and no one is watching. So I promptly began to walk. Pathetic. Embarrassingly, I walked most of it in from there, about a mile or so, running a few steps here or there until the last quarter mile at which point the emotion of the moment took over and I grew a pair and ran it in to the finish. The clock stopped at 31:11, good for 96 out of 260 entrants and some 170 finishers. My best result in terms of where I finished in the pack so far, and over an hour and 15 minutes faster than what I thought my best projected time to be, so a lot to be proud of.
At least they were welcoming at the finish line . . .
Here I come at last. That one little girl is awful excited to see me.
Does that even count as running? I guess so. I look pretty tired. I can't believe I didn't pose with my beer shirt at the finish with a stone beer in my hand. I won't make that same mistake again.
But a lot to improve. Bad form in the last couple of miles not finishing stronger. Faster times through the night aid stations. Better climbing on the long slogs. Better use of my entire leg when I run as my calves were really sore the next day, but the quads and hamstrings not so much. And check your music and charge your batteries! So, overall, a great success with lots of ways to get better. Today, three days later, I’m still hobbling and my feet are too swollen to get into shoes, but that’s relatively par for the course. I will hopefully get in a few miles this weekend and then start thinking about fun adventure runs for the Fall and Winter to keep me focused on training into the Spring when I’ll ramp it up again. HUGE HUGE thanks to Erica who is an absolute rock for me out there. Listening to her tell goofy stories about dogs at the aid stations while I wolf down whatever treat she has prepared gives me strength she’ll never even know about. She spends hours and hours waiting (or in this case not waiting) for me to come in for 5 minutes, and then drives to the next station to do it again. Deeser, you are the best. Big thanks to Gonzo for the intel and to Gonzo and Mary for the psych up video that made me laugh every time I thought of it and to everyone else who wished me luck, spent some time on the trails training with me, or sent a few good wishes and thoughts my way. I needed every one of them and all of you to achieve this. Until next time, cheers and thanks for reading!