Well, this was an interesting one! I'm casually hoping to one day run Western States, which involves qualifying races and a lottery. For every consecutive year you qualify and try your luck in the lottery, you get exponentially more tickets. So there's incentive to stay with it. I like the list of qualifiers and figure it's a good way to experience difference races and places. This year I picked The Bear 100, an event I've heard good things about. Good timing and a good location - and more exploring in Utah, always fun.
I knew that my challenges would be the higher elevation (6000-8000 feet) and the amount of climbing (around 20K feet of uphill). During the week before the race, I spent a couple afternoons hanging out at Tony Grove to acclimate a bit, checking out the trails, and admiring the views and the foliage. I took lots of photos, so it seems polite to share:
Rocks and colors:
The lovely lake at Tony Grove:
Oh the aspens!
Love the aspen colors:
I was pretty sure I'd be here at night, so I was thankful to get to see all this beforehand:
And more "wow"
Thank you, aspens!
The shape of this tree caught my eye:
A happy camper (or hiker in this case):
OK, enough foliage porn. On to the "big stuff" - as in, big changes with the race course, big weather forecasts, big adjustments all around. There were reroutes after reroutes, due to an earlier fire and then a huge storm predicted to smack us right in the middle of the event. The course was rerouted around Logan Peak and turned into an out-and-back to Tony Grove. We ended up staying a good bit lower in elevation, and with slightly less climb than the original course, which I was pleasantly surprised about (see my "2 challenges" list). It was certainly worth recalculating all my water/SPIZ plans and redoing my drop bags for.
It also meant John could access more of the aid stations in the second half of the race, which was great for me but required a bit more from him. He's such a trooper and didn't seem to mind. Thank you John!
The pre-race meeting was moved inside due to rain. It was pretty short - "follow the pink ribbons for 50 miles, turn around and come back." Someone asked who would have priority on the out-and-backs, and the answer was that the faster runners should have right of way. Ah yes, the addition of a huge out-and-back, one minor downside of the changes.
The forecast was pretty gnarly - rain for many hours, snow at higher elevations, and temperatures around the freezing mark. Not super cold, unless you got wet and stayed that way. I was extremely wary. Overheating and getting wet with sweat (that later freezes) can be an issue with overdressing too. I decided that I'd start out on the lighter side with the clothing (light tights, one poly pro top) and add a waterproof layer on top.
And since I was a bit concerned about the waterproofness of my jacket, I carried a poncho and put a spare in every drop bag. I remember ponchos working really well in Colorado summer afternoon rainstorms, and it seemed like this might be similar.
My hands were the biggest question. I wanted to use bike gloves to help with gripping the trekking poles. I carried a pair of overmitts plus full-finger bike gloves (saving them for later), and still wasn't sure if that would be enough. Finally I grabbed a pair of thick wool gloves, the only downside being that they had cut-off fingers. Or maybe that would be an upside, we'll see. Plus lots of spare gloves of all types in my drop bags.
I guess I'm ready?!
At least it wasn't raining right at the start, so we could get a couple pre-race photos. It was great meeting up with Ryan and Kelly!
Time to head into the night... or actually the early morning. Instead of climbing up to Logan Peak, we were rerouted along the Bonneville Shoreline trail for a few miles. It started raining early on, so I decided to try out the poncho I was carrying. It seemed to work for the pace I was going (i.e. not very fast) so I figured it would keep me and my pack dry for a while anyway. A couple pee breaks, a stop to drink SPIZ here and there, and I was pretty much at the very back of the pack at the turn-around spot. No worries, I'm quite comfortable running from the back in a long race.
Initially the trail was in great shape. Through the cow fields, not so much. Some of the mud was avoidable, some had to be faced head-on, or feet-on. A taste of more mud to come, I suspected. I was glad to have my trekking poles. Lots of greetings to fast runners, mid-pack runners, a few people I knew, great to see everyone!
The highlight was hearing some howling that might have been coyotes, and a guy running toward me looking at me earnestly and saying "I don't know what that is!!"
Another highlight was meeting Errol "the Rocket" Jones at the turn-around (he was taking down bib numbers) and having him comment on my Lake Sonoma 50-miler hat. Very cool. He asked how I was doing and I replied that I was doing great. Well you should be, he said, you're just getting started! Indeed!
Back at the Millville aid station where the course finally turned uphill, I paused under the tarp to mix another SPIZ and snack a little. It was fun talking with the volunteers, also hearing the stats from the radio folks. If I remember right, 185 people started the race. There were 2 behind me, so I was in 183rd place. It can only go up from there!
Upwards it is. Climbing up toward the pass, I tried to take in the landmarks so I'd have an idea of my progress on the way back. The trail was super rocky, no issue for climbing but probably won't be all that exciting to run down. Toward the top I met a woman named Sparkle who was having a bit of trouble breathing. She stopped and rested several times, and was debating going back down - no! I implored her to continue up and over the top, as I was thinking (hoping) we were almost there. My main logic was that the people at the previous aid station might have left already and then she'd be stuck. She agreed with that reasoning and continued onward.
Happily, I was right about being almost to the top. And it was snowing up there! How pretty! Tiny little flakes flying by, the whole scene turned to gray and white. That plus the low clouds prevented much visibility, but what I could see of the mountains was quite lovely.
The trail on the other side was not quite lovely. It was a narrow, muddy, somewhat sloppy mess. Oh boy, I wonder what I've gotten Sparkle into. Nothing to do now but figure out how to get down while staying upright. After a bit of steepness, the slope became more gradual as the trail cut wide switchbacks across the mountain. I didn't gain any traction, but I did gain a bit of technique in using the mud edges to maintain balance. I even skied just a bit here and there, nothing noteworthy, but enough to work up to a reasonable speed.
Hey, and I passed a couple people! I gained a bit of confidence in my "mud skills" and decided the downhill didn't suck as bad as it could have. Actually, the worst part was the deep muddy road right before the Leatham aid station, but there was room to mostly bypass that.
I tried to be quick under the tent, refilling a bottle and mixing a SPIZ. The aid station folks were a great help (they were quite curious about what I was drinking - "it's called SPIZ" I heard one guy tell another), and I liked that I was at the back of the pack so there weren't too many runners crowding under the tent to escape the rain. My main challenge was working with the pack from under the poncho - good thing I know all the pack pockets really well and don't need to see everything all the time.
Yep, the poncho was awesome. I was really enjoying that it kept the rain off almost all of me, kept the pack dry, and still let in a lot of air so I wasn't hot. My hands were doing OK for the moment but I knew I'd be testing out the wool gloves eventually. My feet, well, everything from the calves down was already coated in mud, but the gaiters were doing a nice job and my feet weren't complaining.
I joined Ryan and Kelly for the walk/run up the road, 3 miles to Richards aid station and a bit of a break from the wet trail. It was great to chat with them a bit. Kelly was having an issue with cold hands and they had broken out the ski gloves to hopefully help with that.
I bypassed the aid station and started up the next valley. Ryan and Kelly paused there briefly, then they caught back up to me on the uphill. I was taking deliberate slow steps up the steeper parts to keep from overexerting my non-acclimated self. The trail flattened out and started a long journey along a winding creek, with lots of little ups-and-overs, a couple rock-hopping creek crossings, and of course, more mud. It was slow, but I was patient. I passed a couple more runners, and I was easily keeping up with the minimum required pace.
The canyon was really pretty, and I had plenty of time to appreciate it. Foliage, rock formations, the little stream running through meadows. It felt like I was on a big adventure.
Hi cows! You'd think they'd never seen humans, the way they stared at us. Oh right, that's just how cows look.
Ryan pointed out a pipeline cut, or some such opening going straight up through the woods and commented how if this were Hardrock, we'd be going that way. Or Speedgoat, I agreed. Yes, this is certainly better than that!
One last short haul up to the top of the trail and we came out on a dirt road. It was a nice smooth run down to Cowley aid station. I tried to keep a gentle pace and not bomb down the hill, lots of miles and downhills to go. The aid station was kind of a mudfest, really not a great location for an aid station when it was still raining (and would continue raining for many hours). The volunteers were handling it well, ever cheerful and helpful.
One woman saw my thin bike gloves and suggested adding some plastic food prep gloves. Sure, let's try it. It was a nice idea, but the addition wasn't big enough to really fit so I eventually stashed them. Maybe under the bike gloves would have worked better. So far my fingers were in good shape, still able to work with the SPIZ baggies just fine.
Time for more climbing. I joined a larger group of runners walking up the road, making my way gradually into the actual "back of the pack." The trekking poles were awesome, no leg strain yet. It might have been snowing somewhere in here. Toward the top I ran briefly with our friend Noe and I mentioned that it was Barkley weather. But being that we were walking on a ROAD, it wasn't really like Barkley at all :)
It was about time to get back on a trail anyway. Another muddy, windy, slippery downhill. I'm guessing this is a really great place to run when it's dry! Actually, I did OK, and started to "run like you mean it," for some reason taking to the challenge and making it work. The poles helped greatly. It wasn't pretty, and it was by no means fast, but it was kinda fun!
I slopped and slid on down to the Righthand Fork aid station. First person I saw was Sparkle - hi there! She had made it down to Leatham just fine, met up with her crew, and was now touring the course to cheer on other runners. Great to hear it!
Then there was John, yay John! There was also a huge tent with a bunch of chairs available, so we grabbed a spot at the far end and got to work. It was earlier than I had planned, but I decided now was a good time to change into the serious winter clothes. It wasn't getting any drier, and it certainly was only going to get colder, plus my thin tights had been falling down on me (?). Shoes and socks off, swapping to the Amfib tights, new pair of Smartwool socks, bit of a shoe clean-out (I owe you, John!). Everything up top was still warm, dry, and toasty, so I didn't make any changes there.
Somewhere along the way to the aid station I had swapped gloves for the full-fingered bike gloves, and now I changed those for the thick wool ones (with overmitts over them). These ended up working well, and the cut-off fingers gave me dexterity while still being warm enough. They would stay on for many hours.
Thanks for the great help, John! Unintended, but that turned out to be the absolute best place for a major clothing swap, with all the dry space in the big tent. Thank you, Righthand aid station people!
Back on the trail and in the rain, I met Ryan coming in. He relayed that Kelly was really cold and they had decided to stop. Smart move, as the weather wasn't getting any better. I was thankful that I was warm, that made a huge difference.
At some point during the day, I calculated that I was easily moving faster than when we ran the Long Trail in Vermont (especially when it was raining on the Long Trail in Vermont). I've certainly seen worse mud, stuff that sticks and won't let go, for example. So all-in-all, things were OK.
Moving on, the race leaders were on their way back to Righthand Fork, way to go! Time to start watching for runners coming back at me, always the challenge of an out-and-back race on tight singletrack (again - not complaining about the reroute!). Kaci, the women's leader, was not far behind, and looking great! Very cool to see.
The next climb went more quickly than I had expected, and I guess it's not that big a climb anyway. The rain stopped briefly! It had never been more than a moderate light rain, but the opportunity to take my hood down for a while was greatly appreciated. Across a big open field, up a road and down the other side. The road was a nice break for runners going both ways, not having to get out of each other's way.
As daylight faded, I sat on a rock at the start of the next trail section and drank a serving of SPIZ. Time for the headlamp.
And time for a bit of a reality check! The mud in this next field, oh my gosh, that was a pain in the butt. Slippery and slide-y and deep in places. A couple little gulch crossings that required some care not to fall in. Thank you trekking poles! It had all been fun and games up to this point. Race just got real.
OK, so it wasn't that bad still. I was trying to avoid going through the middle of the puddles, until I happened upon Noe again, or actually he must have happened upon me. He was moving great, one of the first people to come up from behind me all day. I noticed that he was walking right through the puddles and really, how much muddier and wetter can you get at that point? So it was faster without any downside. I tucked in behind him and we chatted for a few minutes.
More runners coming the other way now, most of them trying to be as accommodating as we were. Nice job, everyone!
I was very happy to reach the next dirt road, glad that was over. And I only have to do it one more time...
I could see a large lit-up tent over to the side, but we weren't going over there - ? A volunteer directed us to go left down the road. I finally figured out that this was the new Spawn aid station, but until I came to that conclusion I sure was confused about headlamps going this way and that, seemingly in circles in this area.
OK, well, I'll go down the road then. A couple crew cars passed slowly, everyone looking out for the runners. Then there was a big tow truck in the middle of the road, facing me. Except he was going backward, slowly. I walked toward him and he stopped so I could run past. Thank you! There was a car on the bed of the tow truck, wonder what that was about. Sure is a lot going on around here.
Hi John! He was waiting patiently at the Temple aid station, and listened even more patiently to my description of the Field of Mud. I think I tried not to waste too much time or energy on it, save the chatty chat chat for later. I didn't need much, just the standard SPIZ/water refills and I think this is where I added the neck fleece and swapped the Buff for a warm winter hat. It's time to climb high (and then get back down).
I was happy to find a real toilet for once, and John was happy to have a minute to whip out the camera. Still rocking the purple poncho!
Well, let's see what this one last new (to me) section of the course is all about. Oh, it's about to go straight uphill, I actually knew that was going to happen from driving by earlier in the week and seeing the flags go straight up the bank on the other side of the road (I sure hope that's the steepest part of the race!). But first, some car dodging and crossing the street while the tow truck attempts to back all the way out (bad timing on my part) and the street crossing volunteer tries not to kill the woman who wouldn't stop her car where he asked her to so the tow truck could maneuver.
Enough of that craziness, back into the silent woods. Silent except for the hum of cars down below and the ever-present slosh, slosh, slosh of my feet through the mud.
Yep, more mud! And it's worse! It was getting sticky, starting to dry since the rain had let up for a while. But still slippery enough that gaining the ridge was challenging. It was problematic churning through the deep mud in the grass. Sometimes I could go around it, other times I was stuck (not too literally, mostly) going through it. Yuck.
So that part about "I've certainly seen worse" was getting less and less apt. Oddly, once it started raining again, the mud went back to "only slippery" instead of the inclusion of the sticky part, so it was kind of better later in the night.
For now, the challenge was getting up the side of this mountain, up a steep trail with less-than-ideal footing, breathing rather hard by this point, relying on the poles and trying not to wear out my climbing legs halfway through the race. With runner after runner (and pacer) coming down the hill at me, and me trying to get out of the way for each of them. Actually, I didn't mind getting out of the way after a while, it was nice to have a short breather. Lots of encouragement back and forth with the other runners!
The climb went on forever. This race report doesn't have to, so let's jump ahead to where I finally reached the turn onto a doubletrack trail, somewhat of a known point (it would have been more of one if I had memorized the map better - I certainly wasn't digging the map out now!). How much further? No idea, just keep moving. And now it's snowing! I must be making SOME kind of progress if we are above the snow line.
My feet were freezing, something is finally cold on me. So much unavoidable cold water in the trail. There was only one clothing change I was missing - it would have been great to swap into my snowshoe gear of thick wool socks and a larger pair of shoes to accommodate them. Yes, this is definitely a winter race this year (The Polar Bear 100). I've run into some bad weather here and there in 100 milers, but never for this many hours.
A runner coming toward me yelled something like "400 meters to the turn" and I didn't hear it for sure but didn't want to stop and ask - but all be darn, I pace counted and it was a spot-on estimation. And a happy one! I was in a spot I had seen before during my acclimation time at Tony Grove. Almost to the top of the mountain!
Trail up and over the high point, little switchbacks down to the campground, following glow sticks around to a relocated aid station (yet another issue the race directors had had to deal with, I think I would have thrown up my arms and quit if I had been organizing this thing). Darkness, snow blowing in my eyes, trying to see through the blizzard to whatever my headlamp could light up. I would have loved my handheld light (and it was in my pack) but would not give up either trekking pole for anything. Thank you poles!
Oh my gosh, I didn't expect a huge gathering at the Tony Grove aid station! Look at all these runners! People were trying to warm up, get feeling better, get recovered, or as I heard later, some had quit and were simply waiting for a ride. Whatever the case, the tents were packed to the gills. I was feeling a bit light-headed from the altitude and really, really wanted to get started back down the mountain as soon as possible. It's warmer at the bottom, with more oxygen, there is nothing good about staying here.
A wonderful, kind, helpful and patient volunteer (who I will appreciate forever and ever) helped me find my drop bag and fill my bottles and SPIZ, while I tucked slightly into the tent at one end of a bench. Just enough room to make this work. Then there was Sparkle again! Hey lady! She offered to help and was happy to get a cup of broth for me, how awesome! My own little pit crew. I had told John he didn't need to drive up and back down the long, snowy road just for this, and their help solidified that decision.
Let's blow this popsicle stand! Back through the blizzard, up the switchbacks, down the road and back to the trail. Now with many fewer people, much quieter. The mud was still crappy and the water was still cold on my feet and it was still snowing, but I was going toward the finish line now. And more importantly, going downhill.
La, la, la, this will take a while, careful on the steep drops, step across the little creeks, sliding down through the darkness.
Oh hey, there's the road - already? It took less time than expected (or I just lost track of time, who knows), bonus!
One last steep (STEEP!) drop to the road, at least I knew that was coming, and my poles were up to the task of supporting me. And the bathroom is open again, perfect! Just when I needed you most.
Another runner tried to follow me toward the bathroom and then got lost in the parking lot. The Temple aid station was gone and there wasn't much around to direct runners except their own memory of where they were a short while ago. That worked better for some people than others. I helped the guy get going the right way. He still wasn't sure it was right, but I was like, "well, I'm sure, so you either follow me or try your own thing and see how that works out for you." Except I was more polite. I hope.
Up the road to the Spawn aid station, hello again John! We ducked into the tent out of the rain and he helped me with the standard water refills. Nothing else to adjust, it's all working fine and my feet are warm again, so yay! We can change the socks in the Super Tent at the next stop. For now, I tried some soup but my stomach was starting down the "only SPIZ from now on" path, which was fine.
John may have asked what I was thinking (I think in terms of "how are things going" and not "what WERE you thinking?") and I said something like, well, I'll just get to Righthand Fork and go from there. I was still ahead of the cutoffs, I had seen the whole course and the worst of it was behind me - I hoped?? Unless something had changed since the day before!
One big Field of Mud to conquer next. It still sucked. It was probably worse, made harder by trying to move uphill through the muck that had been churned up for many hours. But still not as bad as the trail up to Tony Grove and back. So there was that. I followed a couple guys who were moving well, trying to keep up since I liked their pace and appreciated a little motivation to help get this part over with. Added benefit was that they caught the turn to the bridge so no issue there. A couple more deep trench crossings (don't fall in, don't fall in) and finally I was back on solid road.
Phew, that was exciting. Time for a bit of speed-walking up the hill. But not too fast, there's still lots of climbing left.
Over the hill, down through the open space and a traverse around a hill, a fun little trail back down to the valley floor. A few rocks I hadn't remembered. Other sights I did recall. Helping a runner figure out a bridge crossing. Chatting with a few people along the way. Back to John one last time tonight, then he can get some sleep for real.
Hi John! The tent was awesome again, we did a sock change again and threw more RunGoo on my feet but left everything else alone. I was glad I could sit and put my feet up to dry briefly, while John ran around taking care of everything for me. What a sweetheart.
Back into the night, to the singletrack trail that I had remembered being a lot shorter than it now seemed. Up and up, climbing for a long time. No particular issues, just taking a long time. Hey, where did this snow come from? Rather deep snow, all over the place except where runners had kept the trail simply muddy.
My legs were getting tired but still game to climb on. The lightness of dawn. A bit of warmth of day, and I only know this because big bunches of snow were now dropping out of the trees. Sometimes on top of me, what? Ploof. Anytime you want to cut that out, that would be great.
Finally, the road - woohoo! I felt justified in throwing up my arms in happiness because the guy behind me had also been looking for the road, and I figured this was the best way to let him know he was almost there.
And... a long downhill run, around big puddles (were they this big before?), and a tree down?? THAT definitely wasn't here before. I hope no one got whacked in the head when that happened. Climbing through tree branches to try to stay out of the deep muddy puddle. Running, trying to run, get down the hill.
Back to the Cowley aid station, well, it was a bit on the depressing side. Maybe something to do with the music they happened to be playing at the time. And the faces on the kids who were volunteering there. I could not blame them - mud that was now unavoidable, all-night rain, runners huddled near the fire, and not a lot of joy in Mudville.
I got out of there as quick as I could (so quick I forgot to remove my headlamp), can't argue with motivation to keep moving. Climbing up the road, listening to a cow holler from over yonder. And hey, it looks like it has stopped raining! Maybe for good?? Finally!
I was very excited that I could pull out my iPod and stick something in my ears. It wasn't something I wanted to mess with while the rain was coming down, but now with my hoods finally down and a bit more freedom of movement, I was ready for a good distraction. "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" kept me highly entertained, all the way up the road and down the next valley.
That sure was a long valley, and the trail sure was worse, and it sure took a long time. Thank goodness for NPR podcasts. And trekking poles. I saw no runners for quite a while. Just a few cows that seemed startled that people were STILL walking through their field.
I couldn't believe I was still all bundled up and not a bit of hot. That lasted all the way until the final drop to Richard aid station. All at once I was too warm, time to shed some clothes. I rolled up the poncho and stuffed it into the pack. Thank you poncho!
The Richard aid station had moved across the road and slightly confused me, but I managed to get to the food table and drink a bit of ginger ale. Another runner was doing an amazing tape job on his feet with duct tape, wow, sure hope that works. That looked like the commitment of someone who would do whatever it took to finish.
A nice morning jog down the road toward Leatham, then there's John again! Hi John! It was so pleasant to be able to sit out in the open at a picnic table for once. I used most of the surface of the table to unload things I didn't feel like carrying over the final climb. Finally ditching the lights I should have left at Cowley. Leaving lots of clothes, but keeping a base layer on in case it was cold on top of the mountain. Maps I hadn't bothered to look at - and by now I should know where I'm going.
With a lighter pack I got up and steeled myself for one more big ascent. Let's do this thing.
Heading up the hill, there were other runners around me, all of us looking to just get to the end. One guy came speeding by, asking if I thought we would make it to Millville before the cutoff? Um, yes? He was under the impression that the cutoff was 4 pm, while I was pretty sure it was 4:30 (one of the things I had ditched was my pace chart, oops). Either way, he was certainly going to make it the way he was moving.
That slight uncertainty about the cutoff time, plus my thought that this was the last big climb, lit a bit of a fire under me. Legs, what have you got? Enough to start powering uphill for a little way anyway! I turned on some music and Adele accompanied me upwards. Passing people, everyone saying "we got this," or maybe that was just me.
I had memorized the bottom half of this trail really well, up the creek, one switchback, then another. Speeding along! And - still going! And - how far is this climb again? My legs were like, you didn't say it would be quite this much uphill, we're tired now, enough power hiking already.
Phew, that deserves a short break. The pine trees were so pretty, the temperature was perfect, the views were amazing, and hey, the trail is in really good shape. This was the only trail that was better on the way back compared to the way out. It's the little things in life.
Finally (I seem to be using the word "finally" a lot in this report), I made it to the saddle and started down the rocky descent. Time for some Glee music, rocking my way down the hill. Passing more people. Kind of, sort of running, but mostly trying to keep my feet light on the ridiculous rockiness of the road. Well, at least it's not mud.
That descent went on for quite a while. Finally (see?) I made it to the Millville aid station. Last one! Only 6 miles to go!
The folks there were super nice, even agreeing to take an unscheduled drop bag (or 2) to the finish for me so I could strip off my tights and poly pro and jacket and not have to carry them back. I happened to have a couple gallon ziploks with me (glad I hadn't left those at Leatham), they provided a Sharpie for labeling them, and I was again lighter than when I came in. Thank you!
Wow, I think the sun is out. How did that happen? I guess when you stay out on the course long enough, sometimes the weather improves. It felt like I had decided not to finish until the sun came out, dang it. Well, now it's time.
More music, bopping along. There's John! He ran out 3 miles to pace me on the last bit of trail. I am so grateful for all his help and company. And he brought the camera. So you can see just how nice the afternoon turned out to be:
Lots of little ups and downs on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, just keep on truckin'
A lovely place for a little break. OK, enough with that.
Finally (finally!) to the end! Carrying my race number that I had removed from my tights and not bothered to re-pin to anything:
John tracking my progress over the last few meters, with previously-finished runners looking on (and drying out in the sun):
This seems like a good time to thank the race directors for everything they did, all the crap THEY went through, all of the reroutes and adjustments and dealing with obstacle after obstacle to put on a top-notch race. Thank you so much! That was quite an adventure for us, we couldn't have done it without y'all.
Yay for stubbornness! Time for lunch. Or supper. What time is it? Why am I still holding my race number?
Noe finished, just barely beating the cutoff time! Congratulations Noe, way to hang in there:
My race bib got a bit abused, and the pins got a bit purpled from the poncho:
Some things you appreciate more after they are finished, and that race was one of them.