Friday, October 16, 2015

Bear 100 Redemption!

At mile 76 of Bear 100, I’d made it to Beaver Lodge, where I knew Misha my crew was waiting for me, and where Ken, my pacer through the 22 miles of darkness, would leave me for the final push through the night. I’d come too far to quit, but I’d gone so far to keep going. At first when I saw Ken it had been a joyous reunion -  was so proud that I’d made it through the tricky tough climb from Temple Fork to TonyGrove. We caught up about his family, his runs, his finish at Wasatch 100 two weeks before despite trying multiple times to quit. He’d tried the hardest at around Wasatch mile 85, calling his wife to pick him up. Unluckily (or luckily), his wife had tried, but Cottonwood Marathon had started, blocking the mountain roads. Ken had no choice but to continue, and he was proud he had. Now was my moment of truth - I had to finish. 

Start to Logan Peak (mile 10)
Started off on easy pace. Pulled off trail for pit stop at mile 2, everyone passed me. Literally, everyone. I was DFL but didn’t care. Still had signal, so tweeted a few pictures of sunrise. At mile 8, came upon Chihping sleeping sitting up on a log the trail. uh-oh. He said “let me be” so I let him be. I was surprised by how familiar the trail was - I hadn’t been here in a year, but every bend, climb, dip was as I remembered. Into Logan Peak, I passed Scott Kummar. At the aid, I told him how much I admired his determination to “I will failing until I find a way to succeed at Bear”. 

Logan Peak to Leatham (mile 20) took it easy. Chihping caught back up with me, and we goofed off taking running selfie videos. Again, no hurry. I was just astounded “where is everyone?” Saw Misha at mile 20. 

Leatham to Richards (23) Again, took it easy. Chihping ran this part, I watched him disappear into the distance. At the aid I dumped water on my head & filled my buff with ice. 

Richard to Cowley (30) Took it easy. Chihping had told me I went out way to hard on this section last year. “Survive the night”. Last year, I’d tried to show off and pass people. This year I knew it was a 100 mile race, not a 100K. There were many cows on the trail. I used to be scared of free range cows. Now, after seeing so many bobcats and mountain lions while running solo in Marin, cows don’t have the same edge. All of a sudden all the cows were in motion towards me. A cowboy on a horse was herding them toward me, down the narrow draw! “Sorry ma’am, we didn’t know there was a race today”.

About another mile, & another cowboy - but this time there was only the trail, with nowhere for me to go to avoid cows. “Raise your arms and clap, and they’ll go around you.” I raised my hands. The cows went around me. 

Cowley to Right Hand Fork Last year, I’d ran UP these hills as I felt good. What had I been thinking? It’s a 100 miles! I felt good, but walked the up hills. 

Right Hand Fork to Temple Fork Last year I’d left Right Hand Fork with around a liter of water for the 8 miles and my heavy night gear. I’d showed up at Temple Fork dehydrated and tired, my race already disintegrating before mile 45. This year, I’d gotten smarter. I filled up with 3 liters. Slow and steady, even taking a picture of where my sister’s running club friend had gotten lost in 2013. At Temple Fork, I realized how much Misha really helped me. She couldn’t meet me here as she had to meet my pacer, Ken, & shuttle him to Tony Grove. She’d left me a bag with my headlamp and warm clothes. However, without her there, I couldn’t get my beverage of choice - red bull. Also, I was completely fried. I dumped my drop bag out and stared at it, trying to figure out what combination of clothes and food to take me from the hot day into the cooling dark night, also knowing that whatever I didn’t take, I wouldn’t have access to until the end of the race. A volunteer ran over “What can I get you?” “Nothing, I need to sort myself out”. 3 minutes later “What can I get you?” “Just need to sort myself out”. I changed into fleece leggings. As I was leaving, Chihping came in. I didn’t want to be by myself in the dark, and asked Chihping when he was leaving “I just got here”, he said. I’d already spent 25 minutes at the aid station - too long to wait. 

Temple Fork to Tony Grove 
I was proud of this section. I was by myself, finding the trail. I took out my headphones & listened to the sound of the mountains, crickets, frogs, and odd shuffling noises. When I looked into the woods, red eyes looked back. I realized the shuffling were cattle, strewn across the climb. I would look for headlamps ahead. The scariest moment was when the shuffling stopped being placid and was an angry cow in the middle of the trail. I waited for two other runners to yell & startle the cow off. 

I was surprised how much of the run I remembered so well, down to the tricky turns in the campground coming into Tony Grove. I’d made the bad mistake last year of leaving Tony Grove with ~1 liter of water, expecting the next aid to be 3-4 miles, instead of it’s actual 10 miles away. This time, I’d bought a 3L bladder for my pack. The prior night, Misha & I had practiced in theBest Western motel how she could fill my pack all the way to the brim, not being fooled by the weight of my headlamp, warm clothes, food, extra battery to think I had enough water. 

Tony Grove to Franklin Trailhead 
Ken & I comparing notes on last year - “Here’s where you tried to make me run, & I had none of it”. “Here’s where I thought the next aid station was those lights, and another runner said “Negative, ma’am, it’s another 5 miles, and I felt so defeated”. This year, I was running the sections I’d walked, and fast walking the sections I’d stumbled through. Ken remarked how strong I looked. “You said that last year”. “This year I mean it. Last year I told you what I thought you wanted to hear.” Ken was a good pacer - the best. 

We got to Franklin Trailhead (mile 61) with plenty of water still in my pack. Last year, after walking multiple hours, I’d started licking my jacket for condensation. I’d rather haul an extra liter (2.2 pounds) then be so dehydrated again. Misha was there. Last year, the rain had started as we’d gotten into Franklin, and I’d sat on a cooler for a half hour, listening to the rain on the tarp, willing myself to continue, to go out into the cold misery. This year, I quickly hugged Misha & then was off. Misha remarked how hyper I was to see her - every time, I was so happy & grateful to see her. She’d given up her weekend to come chase my dream with me, meeting me at every single crew aid station she could. Of course I was happy to see her. 

Franklin to Logan The climb from Franklin to Logan was where my race had disintegrated last year - the sticky slick mud had made me fall & slowed my pace to a mile an hour. This year, the climbs were steep but attainable. My main disappointment was that the descents that had seemed so steep last year with th click mud seemed less steep last year. There were stream crossings that neither of us had remembered, as last year the entire trail had been an open river of mud. I tried to be clever, but instead slipped and crossed in the cow patties. My feet were soaked. 

Wanting to kick a ghost, I asked Ken if we could skip Logan aid station, where I’d gone into the warming hut (mile 69) and dropped last year from altitude sickness, dehydration, exhaustion and hypothermia. He was all for it. However, I’d gotten too low in water. We stopped for me to refill. Ken wanted to fix his recyclable batteries, and told me to go ahead. I made it down to the river crossing. A stream of other runners had just crossed, their headlamps bounding ahead. The last lamp in front of me hesitated, debating which log to step on. I waited, a moment, than another, then said “dude -c’mon”. He went. 

Logan to Beaver Lodge I felt bad about leaving Ken at the aid station. I’d called to him that I had a backup penlight, but he wanted to tinker with his lights in the bright aid. What if he couldn’t get it going? He’d be stranded. I regretted it until suddenly he caught back up with me. His lights were duds so he continued with me. 
It wasn’t all of a sudden but a slow slide when I realized that I could keep moving, stay away, or maintain a conversation - and do only 3/4 out of all. The bushes were full of imagined boiler parts, as at the pre race meeting they’d said there sa mining equipment still rusting. But when I got closer, the boiler parts were only tree branches. I’d been awake now for over 24 hours at high altitude, and had started hallucinating. I felt very rude, but I turned on music to calm myself. I didn’t have the energy to talk with Ken. 

Another few runners had fallen into step with Ken, and Ken talked with them. I walked point, shining my light to see the route. I was a good route finder, better than the rest, as we silently trudged. For a year I’d regretted dropping at mile 68 last year, thinking I could have made it at least 7 more miles. Now, doing the 7 miles, I thought I’d done the smart thing to drop. Even with a year and 2 other 100s under my belt buckle, this was hard.

As the first brightening of the sky began, Ken kept reassuring me that everything would be better by day. I didn’t have the energy to agree or disagree - I just kept moving. I was grateful that Ken had found better company than me - our tail had talked with him for many miles while I was a walking zombie. We wound around Beaver Lodge high on the ridge before doubling back. I saw a headlamp break away and take a shortcut down the drainage - to this day I’m not sure if it was a shortcutting runner or a figment of my mind. But finally we had popped up on the road to Beaver Lodge. I mumbled that I wanted Ken to keep going with me, but he couldn’t - he’d run Wasatch 100 two weeks before, and he had St Georges Marathon. “That’s fine - I’ll buddy up with other runners. Who was the guy you’ve been talking to for the past 5 miles?” Ken said “Oh! I never even got his name!” 

At Beaver Lodge at 8 AM, I changed out of my night clothes into my day clothes. This sounds far simpler than it actually was. Beaver Lodge had one (1) bathroom for all runners/volunteers/crew/etc. When I went in, there was a long line. I asked if there was somewhere I could change, and they pointed down a long flight of stairs like a Jules Verne journey to the center of the Earth. Misha came to the rescue & held up a sleeping bag for me to change under outside the lodge. I can’t say enough about what a saint Misha was. I hugged Misha goodbye, and then the grim reality hit.

 Beaver Lodge to Finish I had 10 hours to go 24 miles. All I needed to do was keep walking. But 10 more hours after already going for 26 hours. It wasn’t that I was sore - I wasn’t. But I was sleep deprived, hallucinating, & at high altitude. The next stretch was flattish on a fire road that then become a steeper and steeper fire trail & then crossed into the Idaho border. I couldn’t talk. Other runners would trudge forward with me, and try to make conversation that I was incapable of responding too. I wondered if the other runners were hallucinations. I wondered if I was a hallucination. I had my favorite song on, and I moved.  It was utterly beautiful & I couldn’t muster the energy to get my phone out of my pocket to lift if for a picture. Somehow shocking to me, as miserable as I felt, I kept passing people even more miserable. 

Mile 81, we popped up into an open plateau with an aid station. It was beautiful. I was miserable. Eat soup. Drink coke. Keep moving. I hadn’t had a cell phone signal since 8 AM the prior day, and I missed it. I wanted to see Facebook messages. I wanted to hear from my sister. I wanted to hear from Australian Peter. I wanted to hear from the outside world, period. I grabbed onto a band of about five other runners who looked like they knew where they were going. Runners was a misnomer, as we were all walking. Higher. Higher. So miserable. I’m so crap at altitude. Then we started descending, and I started running. I ran down from 9000 feet to 7500 as quickly as I could, feeling marginally better. I saw Misha & ran to her. It was mile 85 & I still had 5 hours of walking at 3 mph to go. There was no way in hell I was quitting here. But I drank a Red Bull and griped to her about the altitude. I griped out of earshot of the volunteers - I did NOT want to get pulled.

Another long trudge from mile 85, still more climbs. An eager guy in a clean shirt passed me, tried to talk to me. He was a pacer “fresh as a daisy”, I said. His green shorted friend had less energy but still passed me on the ups, though I passed back on the downs. My world had shrunk to listening to music, looking for pink ribbons, and relentless forward progress. I would listen to the same music over and over. I couldn’t bear to listen to some music as the memories it would bring up were more than I could contemplate. 

The trail was relentless. Ultra runner joke “What’s the hardest ultra you’ve ever done?” A: The one you’re doing right now. But where Western States mercifully descends over it’s 100 miles and becomes easier, more runnable, Bear 100 had saved the nastiest elevation and climbs for now. There was no doubt that I would finish. None. But I was miserable. I had done the smart thing to drop last year.

At a leveling, and a vista, the green shorted runner & his pacer embraced. I knew then that they were celebrating,  their finish. They were embracing as we were at the high point. “How touching” I said. “Want a hug too?” “yes”. So first one, then the other hugged me. The race had already reminded me of Burning Man - the heat, the physical exhaustion, the erosion of physical hygiene - but this was a pleasant reminder of Burning Man. To quote Ken “I never knew their names” but I will remember that moment. “Go hammer the downhills, girl”, they said, patting my back. 

I told Misha about the hug at mile 92. Typing my race report, I’m amazed anew at her. She crewed me at 9 separate stops (11 if you count start finish). She & Ken were so determined that I should not DNF like last year. I couldn’t ask for a more patient or helpful crew and pacer than them. Or perhaps they’re like me - they hate quitting. The trail descends ~3000 feet to Bear Lake to finish. I finally got a cell phone signal and texted my sister & Peter about how miserable I was. As I descended I felt better and better, and passed about 10 more people. Ugh, the final winding around Bear Lake was agony - not because my legs were sore ( they weren’t) but because I was just ready to be done. Ready to be done. I’d retired from 100s multiple times. So much time and effort for what? for what? 

I saw Misha waiting two blocks from the end. We walked into together. I ran the final ramp & then lay in the cool shade by the finish. I found Erol “Rocket” Jones to ask for my buckle - he looked at Misha & me, then said “The one with the dirty legs must be the finisher”. 

Things I did well:
Tried to say thank you to volunteers, even when barely cohesive, 
Conservative, strong race. I was literally DFL for the first 6 miles, and in the back 10 runners for the first 20 miles, but didn’t care. I finished at 154 out of 305 starters, 205 finishers. I never cared about my time more than finishing. 
Tried to give Misha a hug every aid station. Near the end, the dirtier I got, the less she wanted this hug! It was an immense help to have her as I didn’t have to plan my drop bags - I knew she would have what I needed. 
Ate steady supply of snickers even after stomach went south.
Had backup peppermints after stomach went south. 
3L water pack - I didn’t always drink it all, but better than running out of 2L
No blisters. Literally, zero. I’d lost four toenails after Western States, so my big toe nails are still growing in.
Relentless forward motion.

To improve on:
Misha wanted a dirty clothes bag, and after sorting out my drop bags, I agree.