One week earlier, I had already begun to get nervous for the Bear 100 mile endurance run. Every morning and night I felt like I’d had 5 cups of coffee. I legitimately didn't know if I could finish this race, it was such a huge step up from anything I'd ever done before. The hardest 50 miler I'd done had 8,000 feet of elevation gain and this race had 14,000 feet of climbing in the first 50 miles. In July I only ran 41 miles when a foot injury from work kept me off the trails, but in August I ran a personal record of 255 miles. I weaned myself off caffeine for the two weeks prior to The Bear, but I had my nerves to keep me alert. Was I ready?
The start of the race was WARM. It was 6am and shorts and a t-shirt were plenty of clothing. I enjoyed some dark, quiet miles on the road and then trail for awhile.
Coming into Leathan Hollow was so much fun! It was so nice to see my crew for the first time since the start, and they were on TOP of things. Eric ran up to me and grabbed my completely sucked dry hydration pack, Rob put a bandana full of ice around my neck since it was so hot out, Mitch got me food and bottle of ice cold Skratch Labs, and Tori started spraying me with sunblock and rubbing it in. I felt like a celebrity! I remember Grant saying to me “this is all strategy, right?” and I knew that meant I must be going REALLY slowly. I walked out of that aid station with a giant, goofy grin on my face.
A couple miles after Right Hand Fork, about mile 37, was when my stomach turned a little south for no apparent reason- I was going slow and hadn't even come close to no man's land mileage-wise. I was able to keep drinking water, and I ate some Skratch Labs portables thinking food might help the situation. It didn’t. When we were not far from the aid station we got behind a girl who had been puking a lot and even just talking about it made me uneasy. Tori was so great at getting me moving, even though I just wanted to keep walking. When we rolled into the 45 mile aid station, the crew got me some tums and I ate some rice with broth then headed to the car to change my clothes and get ready to run all night with Rob.
No more than an hour after thinking this, my stomach issues escalated and try as I might to keep things down, my body tried to puke off the side of the trail. Even though I could only dry heave, I felt a little better, so we continued hiking until it happened again. And again. Beautiful. Rob would later tell me he thought he said something to offend me when I suddenly wouldn't respond to what he was saying, but he'd turn around and see me leaning on my poles, making friends with the bushes.
Rob was so great, he kept me laughing and tried to play games, but I was so out of it that I couldn't play along. I was too busy trying not to puke. I'm pretty sure I was the most boring person to pace, ever! When we finally rolled into the Tony Grove aid station I got some soup, tums, ginger, and Rob made me drink 2 cups of water while he filled my pack.
It had been raining a little bit, but during the push to Logan River, mile 68, it became a downpour. Lightning lit up every single gorgeous Fall leaf, and the subsequent mud would become the biggest obstacle for the rest of the race. I was getting worried. Rob and I slipped, slid and wiped out the whole way down the hill. It was at least a soft landing- it didn't even hurt when I slammed down on my hip in the mud- I more felt bad that I got Tori's rain jacket muddy! Add to that our lights beginning to fail and Rob being unable to use his poles for balance because he had to hold his flashlight and... yeah. I was panicking. I knew my extra batteries were with the crew who wouldn't be allowed at the next aid station. 100 mile planning fail, big time. Whoops.
When we got to Logan River having lost all the extra time we had made up because of the mud, I felt a little dejected, but not out of the game at all. A really nice aid station volunteer, Rob, and Mark all got me batteries for my headlamp, which was a HUGE relief. I also was able to eat a ton of food here. Never had a grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup been more delicious. We spent too long here trying to get everything sorted out, but it felt necessary.
The next section also went on for a long time. It stopped raining for a little bit, but started up again with VENGEANCE as we approached Beaver Lodge. All we could do was laugh at the ridiculousness of the rain. Rob warned me that though we could see the Lodge (which is a Yurt) it was further away than I might think. He was right. He tried to convince me to change shoes and socks when we got there, but it was raining so hard I decided that would be pointless and he agreed. Even when we hit the road after sliding down a muddy bank it took awhile to find it with the rain pounding in our faces, but Rob led us to the right spot!
When I walked up to the Yurt, I saw all these people huddled around, maybe deciding if they were going to head back out or not? Inside there were people laying on cots, tons of people standing around trying to get warm, and a GIANT board that read "DNF" with race numbers listed all over it. The mood was completely toxic and I thought "oh HELLLLLLL no. Get me the eff OUT of here." I was freaking out and in a HUGE hurry. Eric asked me later what I was thinking, because Rob and I had arrived earlier than my predicted time. I was worried about the mud on the remainder of the course. I knew I felt good and could do the mileage, but whether or not I could slide through 25 more miles of mud in the allotted time was a huge unknown to me. Without changing shoes or grabbing food or water I just grabbed Mitch and we high tailed it out of the DNF cave.
"148, in and out."
The good part about this section was that as we neared the aid station, I really started to believe I could do it. At mile 75 Rob was telling me I had it in the bag, Tori said I had plenty of time and was ahead of schedule, and Mitch said a guy came into the Yurt saying you could crawl to the finish and make it, but I just couldn't bring myself to believe them. Not once did it even OCCUR to me to give up and stop moving- I was on a mission and more determined than I've ever been to finish a race, but I worried about not making cutoffs. Not until I realized I had 7-8 miles left, and 6 hours to do it did I start to believe. It was an overwhelming thought and I'd tear up being so tired and emotional. Eric busted me once, asking if I was happy. I sniffed. "Yes."
I don't remember much about the last aid station, except telling Tori and Mitch I'd see them at the finish (!!!!).
When we hit the road, I knew we were close. Eric and I jogged it in with just a couple walk breaks, and having people along the way cheering for me and clapping felt incredible. Couldn't have been more proud of my crew/pacers or myself for getting it done after 32 hours and 27 minutes. It was the hardest, coolest, most rewarding thing I've ever done, and I can't WAIT for the next one! If you're reading this because you're contemplating signing up for the Bear- DO IT. I am so happy I chose this as my first 100 miler- point to point course, the most incredible scenery, and a small, friendly feel. Couldn't be happier with my decision.
HUGE thanks to the incredible volunteers who selflessly donated their time to stay up all night and take care of us. It's harder to be stuck at an aid station all night in the rain than it is to trudge through it. Thanks to those who did the course markings- they were perfect! And of course ginormous thanks to Tori Royle, Mitch Wood, Eric Swab, and Rob Howard- dream crew/pacing team.