Trails of Glory

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Bear 100 Mile

02OCT09 It has been one week since the start of the Bear 100. I really couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. I chose this race to continue my quest to run a 100 miler a year which is 4 years in a row now. After a very difficult Wasatch 100 in 2007 two years ago I swore off of another one of these events. As the fall of 2008 approached I realized the importance of staying in touch with the event if I ever changed my mind any time in the future. I felt if I let a year lapse into two years then it would be too hard to retrain the body and mind to come back. So I decided last September to run Javelina 100 in Fountain Hills, AZ in November. I didn’t have much time to train but the Javelina course isn’t very technical with minimal elevation ascent and descent. I was already familiar with the course from running the Pemberton 50K in previous years. I was able to run most of the race and finished the last 9 miles in a zombie-like state trying to stay awake. I finished in less than 23 hours. After the completion of that race I knew that I would make the annual 100 mile quest a commitment.

I have been a road marathoner for many years back to 1991. Due to a multitude of issues that every runner can identify with, I have had some setbacks. I have flat fleet which I believe happened when I was marching in combat boots in the Marine Corps in the late 1980s. Through some natural ability and a lot of training I still managed to establish myself as a long distance runner. I developed the normal problems most runners encounter but probably seen more than a fair share of problems because of my biomechanical issues. I turned 42 this year and it looked like I would post a sub 24 hour 100 mile race and a sub 2:50 marathon as a master runner in one year. Earlier this spring I posted a 1:20 half-marathon and won a low-key 10K in Tucson in around 36 minutes. I had the Lincoln Marathon lined up in early May for the National Guard trials so I was right on track. Over the last couple of post 40 year old years, I was experiencing hamstring attachment soreness in both legs. It would take me several miles just to warm-up before a track workout. One month prior to Lincoln this soreness began to worsen. I decided to start an early taper and increased the frequency of massage therapy. Halfway through the marathon in Lincoln my left hamstring was very tight so I eased off of the pace and lightly jogged in for a personal worst of 3:08.

I spent the next two weeks cross training on the bike. On a Saturday in mid-May I went out for an enjoyable mountain bike ride on the Arizona Trail by my house in Vail. I ended up crashing my bike on a downhill switchback. In an effort to not get hurt worse I jumped away from the bike and planted my right foot straight into the ground. This blunt trauma tore my hamstring attachment from the ischial tuberosity otherwise known as the sit-bone. After an MRI showed the medial attachment completely torn away from the bone and another attachment partially torn the orthopedic surgeon told me that my injury was “A gray area inside of a gray area.” I am usually quite in tune with my body and only visit the doctor in emergencies like this when x-ray vision is needed. He didn’t know what to do. I opted for physical therapy and tried to be optimistic. From a standing position when I brought my right heel up to the buttock there was a bulging deformity above the back of the knee.

After a month of healing I started therapy involving band stretching and dynamic stretching. I rode the stationary bike and worked out on the stairmaster. I walked 30-45 minutes also. Eventually I was allowed to lift weights lightly and began to see some strength increase. Even in the so-called good leg I had a major strength discrepancy between my hamstrings and quadriceps. Self diagnosis told me that I had developed hamstring tendinosis in both hamstring attachments. This is a degeneration of the tendons caused by deterioration of the collagen fibers in the tendon because of decreased blood flow. This is usually caused through overuse. Let me think, I have been averaging 3 marathons a year since 1992 plus dozens of 50Ks, 50 miles, and 100 milers since 1997. Modern medicine has a procedure called proliferation therapy which involves injections of fluid, sometimes your own blood, into the attachment, causing inflammation resulting in increased blood flow to relieve the inflammation leading to healing. This is what the tendon can no longer do for itself. By tearing the tendon off of the bone I unintentionally created a method of healing in the right leg but the left leg still had problems. Hopefully physical therapy would help them both.

I eventually quit physical therapy as I began to determine for the therapists what my next workouts should be. I purchased a single speed road bike and rode 2-3 times a week. On weekends Trish and I went out to the trails around town and up on the mountains. I would fast hike uphills and shuffle the runnable sections usually averaging around 16 minute miles. We helped Bob Bachani by pacing him during the Hardrock 100 in Silverton, Colorado. As the weeks passed I was able to cover 13 miles in around 3 hours on mountainous trails at elevation. This is when I decided to enter the Bear 100 as a challenge to draw me through this relentless rehabilitation and training. I think in the back of my mind I never took it too seriously that I could actually finish the race. I figured it would be fun to pretend I was back in the game and at least go up to Utah and go until my leg couldn’t take it anymore and then stop. Eventually my endurance and strength increased to 5 hours and 20+ miles with 6 weeks left before the race. I performed the 8 hours of trail work required and sent in my verification form and started to take this a little more seriously. During the week I did jog / walk workouts up to 4 and 5 miles. On Fridays I would run 2 miles nonstop then 3, 4, and 5 miles as the weeks progressed. I finally ran 6 miles consecutively at a 7 minute pace. A week later in early September I had an opportunity to travel to Kauai with the National Guard Marathon team and ran a hilly half-marathon in a conservative 1:39 with no issues other than busting my lungs.

In the month prior to the race I ran 27 miles at Sabino Canyon one morning by doing a Bear Canyon loop and an out and back Phoneline Trail. The following weekend I convinced Bruce Gungle and Chris Fall into an overnight boondoggle up to Mica Mountain and back. We spent over 9 hours and 25 miles on trail and finished at 5am. In the process we renamed Spud Rock - Spewed Rock, but that’s a story for another day. 24 hours later I went back to Sabino Canyon and ran another Bear Canyon loop on tired legs. After this run I bought a new pair of Montrail shoes and only had 11 days before the race. 5 days prior to the race I ran 14 miles on the Sabino Basin Trail in order to break-in my shoes. I walked a few small uphill sections of this run but was able to run the majority of the trail for the first time all summer. Some people wondered why I was running this close to the race. I still felt like I needed to get in shape, cripes, 100 miles is a long way.

I planned to meet my brother in Salt Lake City the day prior to the race. Trish and I flew in from Phoenix and picked him up on our way to Logan, about 90 minutes north of SLC. Trish had pacing duty from mile 45 to 61 and mile 85 to the finish. My brother would pace me through the night from 61 to 85. I drew up a timeline for them so they could plan rest and downtime. The race is run through the Logan Canyon Wilderness of the Northern Wasatch Mountains from Logan, Utah to Fish Haven, Idaho at Bear Lake. The total ascent is in the vicinity of 22,000 feet. The course has a low point of 5200 feet and a high point of 9,100 feet. According to the elevation profile there are at least 10 major climbs and descents and is thus a qualifying race to enter Hardrock 100 in Colorado. The official cutoff time is 36 hours which equates to a seemingly generous 21:30 average pace per mile. You could do that in your sleep I’ll bet. My timeline ended at 32 hours which I thought was optimistic. This was quite an adventure for my brother Marcus. He is a couple years younger than me but has lived a life of fitness and outdoor activity and was excited to come to this kind of event and help. I assured Trish and Marcus both that by 10 hours into this race that I wouldn’t be running very much.

The race started Friday morning September 25th at 6am. We needed headlamps for an hour as we headed up a street from Hyrum Gibbon Park on the eastside of Logan. The first 9 miles are virtually uphill with some runnable sections from 7-9 miles. The temperature was short sleeve shirt mild with clear skies forecast for the whole weekend. It appears there are many free-range cattle in the wilderness as I stepped over and around several piles of droppings. As the sun came up you could begin to see the amazing fall colors of the yellow aspens and red maples. The first crew access was at 19 miles where I chased a small herd of cows into the aid station where Trish and Marcus were waiting. I felt pretty good to this point with one fall on a stretch of muddy downhill. My stomach is good and my energy level is high. Marcus took some pictures while I grabbed a snack and jogged up the canyon on the dirt road to eventually see them again at mile 29.

I chose this race because I like to see different parts of the Western United States rather than run the same race over and over again. This course exceeded my expectations in ruggedness and beauty. There were many small streams running along the trail but not enough to get your feet wet. The rock formations were looming ominously close to the trail at times with patches of bright yellow aspens everywhere and an azure sky backdrop. When I came into mile 45 Trish was rearing to go. She loves the wilderness as much as I do. I am very lucky that I have her willing to experience these adventures with me. I wore my new shoes for the first 45 miles of the race. My feet had begun to ache coming into 45 so I opted to change to my old Montrail Hardrock’s which had over 300 miles on them. So far I have one blister on top of my right pinky toe. The skin was already peeled back so there was nothing to drain. We grabbed headlamps even though the sun was still up near 6pm. There is a 5 mile climb with 3500 feet of ascent from this aid to the next and seems endless. Trish really enjoyed the fall foliage as the sun set. After the sun went down we heard the cows bellowing before bedding down for the evening. I think there was probably some elk bugling mixed into the cacophony of noises also.

Coming into 61 miles I had recently passed the 50 mile milestone and was approaching 100K. There tends to be a feeling of fatigue that sets in between these distances. The combination of physical tiredness and mental exhaustion combines to make you question your sanity and the sense of what the hell you are doing this for. I held this off until I arrived at the 61 mile aid station. If it wasn’t for knowing how much my brother was looking forward to this and his travel efforts to get here, I could have easily hit the showers and felt no regret. I had amassed an almost 2 hour cushion on my timeline. I had told myself prior to the race if I was ahead of plan then I would allow myself to take a nap when I felt I needed one. It was only 10pm and I was getting sleepy already. Trish helped me lay down in the back of the rental and I slept for twenty solid minutes. Upon awakening I mentally threw in the towel but Trish helped me up and I walked around while strapping my Camelbak on and snapped out of it. Speaking of the Camelbak, I had been almost draining the 100 ounces plus the 20 ounce handheld I carried coming to each aid station. I used the handheld for Exceed electrolyte drink. For the first 10-12 hours of the race I ingested one Succeed electrolyte cap an hour. During the first 6 hours of the race I urinated a half a dozen times. After 8 hours I was stopping to urinate more frequently and now after 15 hours I had to pee all the time. I stopped taking the e-caps after 12 hours and never took another one the rest of the 30 hours but continued to have to urinate every half hour. After rubbing the cobwebs from my eyes, Marcus and I took off with gloves, stocking caps and light jackets.

I opted ahead of time for a drop bag placement at mile 68. Marcus and I put warmer clothes in here for the middle of the night. The temperature dropped to the lower 30s in places and I was unsure how much colder it could get. We came into 68 and I drank some cappuccino. We checked the drop bag and decided we didn’t need anything. In retrospect I should have stashed the extra gloves and jacket into my Camelbak but I wasn’t thinking clearly at 1am and my brother probably just followed my lead. One mile out of the aid station I slipped off of some logs on a wide river crossing and was soaked from the waist down including my only gloves. I squeezed out the gloves and put them in my pack and trudged on up another long climb. I began to get the sleepies again and would stagger back and forth in an effort not to fall down. I had used little caffeine to this point and intentionally quit using caffeine over the last two weeks just to make it more effective now. I pulled out a caffeine tablet and also a GU gel with caffeine and ate them both. I felt more awake within 5 minutes and after 15 minutes pulled out of it. We reached Beaver Lodge Yurt at mile 75 and found an indoor aid station. Indoor aid is dangerous to the cold tired runner. I refused to sit in a chair here. I think we spent 12 minutes here mostly using the indoor toilet. Out of this aid station it began to get chilly as we climbed another hill to 8600 feet and 83 miles. My teeth were chattering but I continued to fast hike at a decent clip to the seemingly endless distances between aid stations. I was in the zone of a 100 miler where there is little doubt as to whether you will finish; the thing is how much longer can you suffer? Unfortunately for those around you, you can become an ogre complaining at every stumble or confusedly marked trail intersection.

As we climbed to 83 I got sleepy again and employed the same method as earlier with the caffeine. Again, good luck, and I woke back up. In this part of the race you will witness sporadic runners alone or with a pacer stumbling along trying to stay awake and sometimes you are the stumbler while someone goes by you with their 15 minute spurt of energy. I stopped and gave another runner a caffeine tablet which by later reports was a great help to her. We got in and out of 83 pretty quickly and had a 2.5 mile jaunt down to 85 to meet Trish for the final grind. Civil twilight was occurring and I knew that in an hour or so I will have beaten the sleep monster. The mile 85 aid station is at 7800 feet and by the looks of things it had gotten downright freezing as everything was covered in frost and the volunteers were dressed for winter. Trish had just woken up to get ready to go and the aid station folks were cooking breakfast. I would have liked to enjoy a burrito or pancakes but with the sun coming up and 15 miles to go my vision was focused on ending the madness as soon as possible. I would be done in less than 5 hours.

I basically walked from 85 to 93. According to the clock I was definitely coming in under 32 hours but wouldn’t break 30 for the Brown Bear buckle. Counting the Franklin aid station at mile 62 that I took a nap at, I had spent a total of 1 hour and 51 minutes at aid stations. That sounds like a lot and it is when you have 12 aid stations it adds up. We reached mile 93 at full sunup. From here you will hear from spectators and volunteers, only 7 miles to go… it’s all downhill…except for this first little 700 foot climb in less than a mile that goes to the highest point on the course of 9100 feet. Now, I am able to laugh at a good joke and enjoy pulling pranks on the best of my friends but this climb out of 93 was just cruel, unusual, masochistic and downright nasty and mean. I wasted most of my verbal energy trying to reach the top but when we descended straight down the other side of the mountain 2500 feet in 3 miles I had much more to give. I believe I had saved my big toenails until this descent. After finally coming off of the mountain we moved onto a shaded section of trail and crossed a foot drenching river. All that remained was a 2 mile stretch of dirt and then paved road into the finish on a patch of green grass at Fish Haven Lodge on the immense blue Bear Lake in Idaho.

I finished in 30 hours and 38 minutes, good for the Black Bear buckle for finishers in the 30-35 hour range. I was surprisingly alert and awake. The day was warming up with full sun just after noon. I sat on the grass and pulled off my shoes to survey the damage. Sure enough, I had blood blisters under both big toenails. Except for the pinky toe blister mentioned earlier everything else looked ok. I never experienced nausea or leg cramps and hadn’t used an e-cap for the last 20 hours and probably peed 25-30 times. I admit that I used a 200 mg liqui-gel ibuprofen approximately every four hours to subdue inflammation and soreness during the race and I think it worked nicely. I never thought too deeply on whether I could finish this or not or thought too much about whether I should even be out here to start with. I listened to my body and my hamstring held steady the whole time with a conservative pace. My hill climbing ability seemed to be my biggest strength. I usually passed other runners here but would get passed back on the downhills. Well, I guess I have another year to figure it out at Leadville in August 2010.