Monday, September 29, 2014

The Bear Chase 50 Mile Race

The alarm sounded at 4AM, I had been awake most of the night though. Really weird dreams when I did sleep too, they didn't even seem necessarily correlated with the race. Just the typical anxious night of sleep before a big day. Everything went just about as planned: breakfast, timing, etc. Well, all except that I left my Injinji toes socks at home. Oh well. After sitting in the dirt trying to stay warm (I would be very warm a few hours later), the runners were eventually called to the starting line. The course is a 12.5 mile loop with only one truly substantial climb, which is to be completed 4 times (or 5 for the brave 100 kilometer folks, or 2.5 for the 50k). However, about half of the course is horribly exposed to the sun. Most people, myself included, figured it would be cool being essentially October. We were wrong.
The course. It is run counter-clockwise. The start/finish isn't labeled but it is the point near the water that isn't Pelican Point.
Bear Creek Lake at sunrise. Mt Carbon, the main climb on the course is center.
Waiting for the start
I've never been at a race longer than 10k's start, so I was used to jockeying for position. At an ultra, people could care less and if anything are timid of lining up at the line so as to say "I'm going to take the lead". No warm ups, a few people were still eating while we were lined up. After a few more shivers the gun sounded and we were off. I joined up with the back end of the lead pack (there was another small breakaway in front of maybe five or six runners) and fell in behind a guy who had a very steady pace that matched what I wanted. I stayed with him for the next 9 miles over the first climb of "Mt" Carbon (the quotes are indicative of it having maybe 500'of prominence), and 3 river crossings. Eventually, at the Fox Hollow aid station he elected to go to the bathroom and I pressed on ahead. I was feeling really good. My legs felt a bit sore for some reason but my energy was high, the air was cool and I was comfortably moving at an 8:45 pace. I finished the first lap in 9th place.
Pacing off this guy for the first 9ish miles
First creek crossing was cold and annoying.
9th place after lap one, feeling good
I started lap two feeling pretty good. My pace was pretty consistent from 8:30's to 9:20's. The sun began to rise and the heat began to take its toll. I passed a few people and cruised in the second lap in 6th place at 3:50. My goal for the day was to break 8 hours, despite not having any idea about ultras.
Topping out on Mt. Carbon. This would be my fastest mile of the day at 8:09

6th place, feeling fast. Sun is getting hot
Starting lap 3 was the first time I began to notice something brewing in my legs. After power hiking the climb up Mt Carbon (which was actually fairly steep) I began to run downhill when my quad cramped. I went to stretch it, and my hamstring cramped. I hobbled over to a fence post and eventually stretched out the cramp itself, but it felt at the verge of cramping, and it would remain that way for the next 20 miles. Mile 31 was a 16 minute, from here out any energy or speed I had would be at the mercy of my quads (and subsequently my calves, hamstrings, glutes and hips. The creek crossings helped, the cold water would calm the inflamed and overheated muscles. The next 6 miles after the crossings are shadeless and sweltering. Starting at mile 31 where I cramped, the average temperature for the rest of the race was 91F. I tried curing them with some electrolyte beverage, but nothing changed. Finally I (stupidly) realized that it was salt I needed. At mile 35 I finally ate two salt packets on a slice of watermelon. It wasn't tasty.
Things are getting grim
About 20 minutes after the initial cramping began, well it had still just began in the grand scheme of things...
Trying to maintain a run and my form while the legs have a temper tantrum over the blazing temperatures.
This walking pace feels pretty good.
I felt disgusting, I was covered in salt build up, river water, sticky gel and sticky electrolyte drink. My goal time was completely shot, I was finishing for a finish now. At the Start/Finish aid station I ate two more salt packets. It was helping, but not much. I established a reward system of running for some number of steps then rewarding myself by walking the same number of steps divided by 10 (run 300 steps, walk 30). This worked well for a time, At the next aid station I took a longer break, and ate two more salt packets. After the lady who had given birth 3 weeks ago and was pumping breast milk between each lap passed me (I know right), I walked most of the next 4 miles. The cramping was still ever present. I could barely even stretch without making another muscle cramp in the process. Uphills were horrible, downhills were worse. Where I should have been making up time on the downhills I was grimacing with every step. At 44 miles, I took a 10 minute break at the aid station (my longest stop). I peed a dark yellow color so I knew I was really dehydrated. I took a seat, drank water and coke, ate two more salt packets with a bag of ice water resting on the back of my neck. Another runner and I decided to team up for the final push. After standing back up my legs felt almost worse than before! He was dragging me at first, but somewhere around mile 47, either the salt finally worked, I didn't care anymore or I just really wanted to be done, I found some hidden reserve of energy. The thermometer on my Suunto Ambit watch registered the temperature as 101 here, it must have been. I was at about 9:30 at this point, a sub-10 was possible. I started to speed up, passing a few others who had passed me earlier. It was a game of how hard I could push without my legs cramping. At about 9:45 I passed a guy and said sub-10 was possible if we pushed. He had set his mind on breaking 10 and had nearly given up hope, he was simply walking into the finish. The thought sprung him into action, and we were off! Our pace steadily progressed until we were flying down the final decline to the finish. The last mile was at 8:30 pace - an all out spring at that point - after averaging 15 minute miles for the last 4. I probably could have let up (a lot) and still finished under 10, but I was now also racing to a chair and Pepsi at that point. I came across the line at 9:55:27. I had never been so happy to be done.
At mile 49.99, finishing hard. Who has a kick in a 50? I do.
Feeling emotional. That hurt a lot.
All in all I am happy with how things turned out, but a bit disappointed too. Its frustrating when I have the energy to do something but the wheels won't move. It felt sort of like driving with the parking brake on. I really believe I have a shot at around 8-ish hours. Maybe I did go too fast out of the gate, but at the same time despite it being a personal challenge, it is also a race. As competitive of a person as I am, its very hard to sit back and be conservative. Part of the cool part about a race or supported effort, is that you can push beyond the limits and it not be the end of the world. It would be nice to use the heat as an excuse, but everyone else was in that same heat too. It does like it had a pretty big impact on times though. Very slow compare to years passed.
Finishers medal
For gear I kept it pretty simple/minimal. For shoes I ended up wearing the Merrell Trail Glove 2 all day. They are thin and someone laughed at me when I started putting on shoes with holes and glue at the start, but they're also incredibly nimble, lightweight and water-draining-y. I was a minority minimalist in a sea of Hoka's and compression socks. Isn't it hot enough without knee high socks!?For carrying water I used a 10oz UltraSpire handheld. It may have been not enough, but I didn't anticipate the boiling temps which made me need a lot more water. I had three gels in my back pocket at the start of every lap, and usually ate 2 of them each lap. Easy and simple.

They had these cool leg compression things called Elevated Legs. It felt really good.
For what I actually ate. Laps 1 and 2, I had only gels and water/electrolyte drink. During lap 3 I had maybe 4 banana chunks (first attempt to quell the cramps), 2 gels, water/drink and eventually salted watermelon slices. Lap 4 I think I only ate 1 gel, because they were starting to taste horrible, 4 salt packets, and a cup of Coke (and water/drink, obviously). It all seemed to work really well aside from eating the salt too late. I should have used the salt capsules every hour. A learning experience, I'm sure not to forget about.

Soda was one of the only things that I could bare to consume. Look how disgusting and filthy I am... a great day!
As for the race itself, it went very smoothly. The organizers planned out every detail and the course was very well marked (which was pretty important given the ridiculous number of junctions and trails in the park). The volunteers far exceeded my expectations. They were actively engaged with me at every aid station, making sure I got everything I needed. Especially at Fox Hollow on lap four, they were encouraging and helpful while still being realistic, something that is extremely hard to do. They were a real pick me up while I was at a real low point.

Will I do a 50 again? Try a 100? A 100 seems inconceivably hard. So, no, I won't be signing up for a 100 anytime in the foreseeable future. I'm not even sure I'll sign up for a 50 even next year. It was so destructive on my body. Chemically, nearly every bodily function was screwed up. Physically, well I ran 20 miles on cramped legs. I'll need an extra 10 minutes to get to class. I won't be wanting or able to go for a run for a couple weeks. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy it though. I just need a break. Even without the physical decimation, I'm about due for a break. After missing last year's marathon I sort of felt like I was still searching for that feeling of completion. Now I finally have it and I can handle relaxing without worrying about losing fitness. What appeals to me more now are some shorter mountain runs. I hardly ever train on things that involve more than 6 or 7 miles of continuous running, and those are usually downhill miles. I'd really like to try something like a vertical kilometer next summer. But, I have time to ponder and reflect now.


Official Results/Personal Official Results

Lap 1: 1:51:14
Lap 2: 1:56:45
Lap 3: 2:41:51
Lap 4: 2:18:52
Final: 9:55:27, 19th Overall, 6th in my division (male 20-29)

Pictures at the Start/Finish are from my mom, from elsewhere is free pictures that the race provided.

1 comment:

  1. Dude you finished a 50 miler, that is EPIC!! It could have gone better but you will never forget the experience. Plus you rolled in at 6th place at one point, that is huge. Congrats man, 100% stoked for you.