1) Listening to music from Celine Dion.
2) Eating only a few Hershey Kisses.
3) Running 100 miles going up and down steep trails that have turned to Crisco because it has been raining for twelve hours straight. There have been exactly zero times in my life when I have thought "You know what I want to do? I want to mud wrestle a mountain for twelve hours!"
This past weekend I ran the Bear 100, the hardest race course I have ever stepped foot on. I knew the 22,500+ feet of climbing would certainly get my attention. This is what the course looks like on paper:
The only thing that first climb was missing was some Caribbean music playing in the background because the first couple of hours were simply one long conga line up the mountain.
Once the sun started to rise I realized that my eyes would be in for a treat. With the autumn colors the mountains looked like they were glowing. The moment I took this picture I knew it would be one of my favorites:
Friday got up to 88 degrees and everyone was toasty hot. I felt like a baked potato wrapped in tin foil. By mid day the heat was taking its toll and I started hearing about people getting sick and dropping. From the very beginning I worked very hard to keep my pace conservative and not go out fast. Numerous photography stops kept my pace under control.
There were long stretches where I ran alone without anyone in sight ahead or behind me. During one of these times alone I came across some four-legged beasts who seemed to be trying to stop me from moving forward.
Since it was so hot outside I stuck with mainly liquid calories (Tailwind and Coke) because my stomach always tolerates those well. I am so thankful that I didn't have any stomach issues during the entire race.
I continued to keep my pace steady but very in control. 99.9% of the time that is the way to go. Although looking back on this race, I probably should have gone against that logic and pushed harder early on. The weather got so hideous later that it would have been better to have more miles behind me. The scenery was nothing short of spectacular.
I met this new friend Bob around mile 35ish. Bob is 66 years old. And I had a hard time keeping up with him. This is one of the many things I love about ultra running: age is irrelevant. Senior citizens can put the smack down on whipper snappers like me who are 30 years younger. So awesome.
The majority of trails on Bear are very steep ups or downs, and often very technical. But every once in a while there was some amazing, silky smooth single track that could pull you right down the trail.
I ended up wearing my Altra Lone Peak 2.0 shoes for the entire 100 miles. I never changed my socks and only sat down long enough to dump out a few rocks a few times. This was my first time racing with them and they were AWESOME. They were very comfortable and the traction was critical when the weather got ugly.
The thing I focused on most during this race was staying in the moment. I didn't keep track of pace. I didn't focus on how many more miles. I didn't look at the elevation chart in my pack to see what was coming up. I just wanted to run the mile I was in. It's hard to keep your brain from doing math like "Oh my gosh. I still have 60 miles to go. And if I keep this pace it will take me roughly a bajillion more hours to finish." Staying focused on each mile the race an even more amazing experience.
As the sun began to set and the temperature started to cool off, I caught my second wind. The weather reports leading up to the race said an enormous storm would hit during the race. Not "if" but "when". In the evening aid station workers had concerned looks. "The storm is coming. We are going to get pounded. It's not 'if' but 'when'."
At mile 45 I met a trail angel named Jenn Swanson. My friend said Jenn was looking for a runner to pace so I met Jenn and her awesome family there at mile 45 and she would join me for the next 30 miles. She lives in the area and is very familiar with the trails. She truly was a life saver.
I was around mile 50 when the "not if but when" storm hit, and it hit with a fury. The rain fell in currents. Wind. Thunder and lightning cracking close by. Weather of Biblical proportions. And the mountains turned into slick trails of Crisco. Hour. After hour. After hour of rain. I'm not sure how many times I ended up slipping and laying in the mud. It was so positively horrific that it was insanely comical.
Jenn is so positive and optimistic. We talked the whole time and she got me through very difficult miles. Words can not describe the conditions we went through. Just when we'd think "Wow, it can't get worse than this", the rain would start pouring even harder. It was just funny.
At mile 75 we met up with my brother Kenny who planned to pace me the last 25 miles. I tried to talk him out of it. I told him how miserable it was out there. I told him it was less like running and more like skiing. Skiing on Crisco. (And have you ever tried to ski UP Crisco before? No bueno.) But he was undeterred.
Those 25 miles with Kenny were incredibly challenging also. I was soaked to the core and freezing. I never thought about quitting but I was scared that with the trails in such poor condition I might not be able to go fast enough to make it to the finish before the 36 hour cutoff. Looking at the following picture you'd think "Oh, that's a beautiful pond." But nope. THAT'S THE TRAIL!
On the steep parts this looked more like a flooding river. Needless to say my feet were soaked in water like this for at least 15 hours. It literally poured rain almost constantly for 15-16 hours.
My friend Quintin Barney filmed this short clip of what it was like trying to run (and ultimately fall) on the trails. This is good:
Kenny and I pushed forward mile after mile. This was his first taste of ultramarathons but you wouldn't know it. He paced like a pro. In those 25 miles he saw runners at the absolute lowest of lows....but they persevered. They kept going. It was such an inspirational and triumphant and beautiful experience seeing what people were going through. I felt truly honored to be among the runners who kept putting one foot in front of the other even when it was really, really hard.
There were many times when I wasn't sure how I was going to make it to the finish line. I went through my share of highs and lows. But finally after 34 hours and 32 minutes my eyes saw something just as wonderful as the 100 miles of autumn leaves on those mountains:
The Bear 100 is an experience I will never forget. I am thankful that it was ridiculously hard because it made me stronger. I get chills thinking about what transpired in those 34 hours. I will never be the same. (Not to mention the fact that I might have PTSD every time it rains for the rest of my life.)
"Adversity introduces a man to himself." ~ Unknown