This is long overdue, but for a few days after the race, I couldn't sit down to write. Literally, because if I sat down, I wasn't able to stand back up.
As we prepared to toe the starting line, I began fumbling with my iPhone. I don't own a Garmin, so I planned on tracking my splits with a GPS app, while also using it to keep in touch with my boyfriend and family on the trail. Oh, and listening to music.
Earlier that morning, I had created my special "Bear Chase Playlist," an eclectic mix ranging from indie rock to German industrial to growly death metal. I always listen to music or podcasts during my training runs. I wear the same clothes, carry the same gear, eat the same breakfast.. this was not the morning to experiment. So when my iPhone started acting up... I panicked. And yelled "Fuck!" A lot. (Sorry, everyone.) The power/lock button has been broken on my phone for a long time, so resetting was not an option. Somehow I activated voice control, and my phone started calling an employee of mine from two years ago. Then it called my assistant principal from back in my teaching days.
This was at 6:30 in the morning.
Finally, after thoroughly embarrassing myself and those around me, I resigned myself to carrying a $200 paperweight on my arm. Oh well, maybe I'd make some friends. It was still dark, maybe I wouldn't be recognized.
The beginning of a run is always the hardest part. My legs feel like lead, my breathing is erratic, my steps are clumsy as I try to find a rhythm. But for this first lap, I felt pretty good, considering my rough start. This being my first race, I knew it would be a challenge trying to pace myself with 200 people around me, and this became apparent as we bottle-necked into the single-track trail. I was passed. I passed other runners. For about two miles, I didn't have to think, and that was nice. The first aid station came up quickly (about 3 miles in), but it was liquids-only, and my water bottle was still pretty full.
The small loop follows the large loop for much of the way, but breaks away a few times. One of the break-away points is right before the trail leading up to Mount Carbon, the longest climb on the course. Laps 2 and 3 follow the big loop up this hill, and I used this time to stop and rest for a second, and let my friend catch up. I pointed up to the mountain. Earlier that day I'd said I thought the trail might be just short of a quarter mile to get to the top. I was indicating that I was probably very, very wrong. I finished the rest of the lap with him while chatting with another girl. She was a seasoned ultra runner, totally Zen about it. I saw her several other times on the course, and she always looked fresh and strong. Not fast, but very comfortable and confident. (Although I passed her two or three times on the course, she wound up finishing a minute or so before me.)
Aaron met me right after the start/finish line as I began lap 2. I passed him my phone, and declined his offer of his iPhone. The poor guy was really going to wait for me for 7 hours without a phone. I went over to my drop bag and swallowed a gel. I might have kissed Aaron good-bye, I don't remember, but I walked to the aid station and surveyed my options. Filled up my water bottle, took a shot of sport drink, and then we were off again.
Within about 20 feet of leaving the aid station, I realized I'd forgotten Body Glide this morning... d'oh. The inside of my thighs were being chafed pretty badly as the short liner started riding up. I cut my ankle pretty badly a few days before the race, and the bandage was starting to grate on my nerves at about the same time. I was having trouble keeping up with my friend (he said we were averaging about a 10:30 pace at this point), so I slowed down to take care of my ankle. When I was sure he was far enough ahead, I used the SPF chapstick stowed in my handheld to lubricate my thigh. Yum. But it didn't bother me again for the rest of the race.
From this point on, I stopped and walked through every aid station, which averaged about 3.1 miles. Soda became my best friend, settling my stomach and giving me a little caffeine boost. I tried eating cookies and chips, and though chewing was a hassle, these sat a lot better than the gel did.
The trail crosses a river . Though I've run in this park many times, I could never find this part of the trail. By the time I reached it, I'd run about 13 miles, and over about a quarter mile you cross the river three times. The water reached my knees. It was ice cold, and felt amazing. I was impressed with how well my shoes drained... but then the trail turns paved right before the next aid station, and that was a pain. I jogged past a girl I recognized from Daily Mile, and we headed up to the station together. I swallowed some soda and watermelon, peed in the port-o-potty (the only time I used the bathroom during the whole race), and took off up the hill back onto the trail.
Coming up to the start/finish line, Aaron was waiting for me around the turn. It was a great motivational boost, and the whole time I was reminded of how lucky I am to have him.. that the poor guy would be waiting another 2+ hour for me to make it back around, after already waiting for 4.
I ran most of this lap alone, in contemplative silence. When I hit the 20-mile mark, I was buzzing. Why didn't I sign up for the 50-mile race? This was easy!
At mile 22, I was crashing and cursing. Why did I sign up for a 50k? Who runs 30 miles? Who were these crazy people running FIFTY MILES that were passing me?
It was at this point I just stopped paying attention to the miles. My goal was to get from one aid station to the next, and that's what I used to get me through. The final aid station came up sooner than I expected. I was running and walking at this point, but when I saw the "1 mile to Start/Finish," I picked up the pace.
As I ran through the parking lot right before the finish line, I heard the announcer call my name. Um, but I wasn't close by yet? And why was he saying that I was doing a cartwheel over the finish line? Apparently he'd mistaken the girl in front of me for me. Poor girl ran 31 miles, cartwheeled over the finish line, and had her name messed up!
I ran across the finish (as the announcer apologized), got my medal, and collapsed against Aaron who was waiting for me. I remember wondering where the photographers were for my finish photo, and was a little upset that there were none around. It would seem running for 6.5 hours had me a bit distracted, because there are a few amazing pictures of me and Aaron hugging at the finish line!
Overall, The Bear Chase was a great race. The aid stations were fully stocked and staffed by amazing volunteers, the course was almost entirely runnable with some difficult steep sections, and the loops are long enough that you don't get bored doing the same one twice. Next year, my coworker and I plan to do the 50-miler. Four 12.5-mile laps, woo!