It was about as smooth as they get for me. That’s my take as I reflect on last weekend’s Bear 100 run.
Considering how many different ways one can come up short in these things, and that I ran the race without any crew or pacers, smooth is good. And to finish near the front with a sense of things being somewhat routine made it even better. In fact, after it was over, it wasn’t so much the race itself that stuck in my head, but the notion that after several years of trial-and-error, I felt like I had reached some greater understanding as to how 100 milers work.
Not to say that earlier races didn’t go well, they did. But in my opinion, and I’m my harshest critic, there were usually some parts of the earlier races where I felt I could have done better. So after years of learning lessons from each race and implementing changes in subsequent ones, I’ve dialed in my own game. From gear to food to the all-important mental game– I’ve refined every aspect to what suits me best. As a result, I seem to have put behind me the days of mid-race crises or bonks, dramatic drop-offs in pace, and semi-delirious stumbles across the finish line. We’ll see if it sticks. Now if only I was just a little faster.
Well actually, despite keeping myself in my own comfort zone and never pushing too hard so as to challenge it, I was still pretty fast. On the mountainous course that climbs 22,000 vertical feet through the Wasatch/ Bear River Range of Northern Utah and Idaho, I finished in 22 hours and 22 minutes. That was good enough for 8th place. I was an hour and twenty minutes faster than last year. The results, here, show 230 starters and 170 finishers (74%).
A few things stand out as being contributing factors to my good day.
I started up front, but behind the leaders. As always, I made sure to “run my own race” and was careful to not to get swept up into a pace I couldn’t maintain all day. I followed behind the lead pack from the start to where the course heads uphill and narrows to a single track. I made my way up the first climb somewhere around 25th place, and ultimately reeled in nearly 20 people who went out in front but couldn’t hang on. This has been my M.O. for the past several races, and it was here too.
I had to rely on aid station support and drop bags since I was without crew, but still made it a point to keep the stops as short as possible. There were 13 aid stations on the course and my cumulative time at them was just 31 minutes. Ironically, in an effort to streamline things I opted against a particular drop bag at Logan River, mile 68. It seemed unnecessary, so I planned to just pass through quickly and continue on to Beaver Lodge. But when I got there, in a fog of mental fatigue after 15 hours on the course, I frantically searched for (with the help of several volunteers) my non-existent bag. Eventually I realized I didn’t have one there, but not before eating up 5 minutes, which ended up being my longest aid stop of the race. Oops.
Taking on the night without any pacers to keep me motivated was a real concern. When you’re out there alone in the dark with no one around, you can find yourself slowing to a walk when you should be running. I needed some other tactics to keep my pace up. So at the start of the night, I teamed up with the only other pacer-less runner around and we kept each other moving. Later, when a certain runner/pacer duo I was leap frogging with would come by I would fight to “get on their wheel” and essentially have them pace me. If I couldn’t keep up, I would work to just keep their lights in sight which pulled me along faster than if I was just by myself.
If you’re up for it, the back third of a 100 can take on more of a real “race” feel with runners fighting to move up in the field or just hold their place. Last weekend, under the near-full moon, I often found myself turning off my headlamp so as not to alert someone ahead of me that I was gaining or give motivation to chase to someone behind. I would enter and leave aid stations quietly and under darkness as well so that other runners wouldn’t notice that I just came and went, leaving them to continue to waste time at the food table, around the fire, etc.
Through it all, I had:
- 25 gels, mostly Honey Stinger
- 2 Stinger chews
- 8 Nuun tablets
- 16 S-Caps
- 6 – 40 oz. bladders with Skratch Labs drink mix
- 10 cups of Coke
- 6 cups of chicken broth
- 1 PB&J
- 7 advil
It was a good day by every measure and a great end to my summer race season. Now it’s time for winter.