“To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine
Race: The Bear Chase
Distance: 50 miles
Story: Following the Tushar 93K I took a much needed recovery period and then started my next training block without knowing my exact target. I had originally planned on attempting the Uinta Highline Trail in early September but after Tushars I knew that my legs and mind would not be ready to give it my best effort and I decided to delay that attempt until 2017. I decided to look for races near the end of September and found that the North Face Park City, Silverton Double Dirty 30 and the Bear Chase Ultra were all happening the same weekend. After a long season of running through sand, slickrock and on technical mountain courses I was most attracted to the Bear Chase to see how my fitness would translate to a fast, flat and friendly course. I flip-flopped between the 50 mile and 100K distance, finally settling on the 50M to let myself push the envelope without worrying about blowing up if I went out too fast.
Preparing for the Bear Chase I did two 30 mile long runs in the weeks leading up to it and dialed in my gear, hydration and nutrition for a race with bountiful aid stations and minimal elevation gain. On one of my long runs I encountered a number of equestrian riders and brushed up on my trail etiquette of announcing myself, stopping and following rider instructions to avoid mishaps (this would prove to be very course specific training…).
By plugging in numbers to the McMillan Running Calculator, looking at previous year results and chatting with my coach Paul Giblin (Team Pyllon) I set a goal of 7:15 which would likely put me on the podium depending on who showed up. For the first time this season I had no prior knowledge of who would be racing since the registration did not take place through UltraSignup where runners are ranked and displayed for each upcoming race.
As race weekend approached the weather forecast was set up to be ideal racing conditions with dry, cool and calm conditions. I reached out to a frequent Grand Circle competitor Adrian Stanciu (holder of the Bear Chase 100K course record) to get some advice. He agreed to help as long as I wasn’t going after his record and just told me to keep it simple: aim for even splits all day and have shoes/socks that work well being wet all day.
Race day arrived and after crashing with my parents in Denver my dad (crew chief-extraordinaire) and I drove out to Bear Creek Lake to get set up. It was a surprisingly chilly morning so after setting up basecamp at the start/finish we headed back to the car and I tried to keep my mind occupied by watching running videos that get my psyched on YouTube.
Lining up at the start at 6:30 I recognized Jeremy Bradford from the Grand Mesa 100 in 2014 and congratulated him on his across-the-country run that he completed this year. After the final countdown the field spread out quickly and I found myself up front with Jeremy Bradford and another runner that I learned was Patrick Stewart (the previous year’s winner and course record holder with a stout 6:36). We chatted enroute to Mount Carbon and the lead crew stayed together until mile 7. Patrick and I moved into the lead together until mile 10 when he picked up the pace. My goal was to run the first lap nice and easy so I stopped myself from staying with him though it was hard to let him out of my sight.
Lap 2 was pure solitude. About one mile after the start/finish area I came to an unmarked junction (that had been flagged earlier in the day) and couldn’t remember which way I had gone. I ran a few hundred yards down one section, had a gut check that I wasn’t headed the right way and flipped on the GPS map on my Garmin to see what my track looked like from the morning. I got back on course, immediately came to another unmarked junction, again took the wrong route and finally realizing my mistake when the resolution on my map was made clear. I stayed the trail the remainder of the day and mode my second pass over Mount Carbon, across the three river crossings and into the first aid station. I let the volunteers know that the flagging had been removed where I got disoriented and they immediately got on it and it was perfect the rest of the day. I was efficient with my aid station stops, kept an even and reserved effort throughout and finished my second lap just a couple minutes behind my first lap split. The race had live tracking so I checked with my dad about the rest of the field and he told me Patrick only had about 2 minutes on me in the lead and that third was far enough behind he didn’t think I needed to worry about it.
Rolling into the first aid station on lap three, around mile 29, I caught sight of Patrick leaving just under a minute ahead of me and after slamming a couple cups of Coke I was in chase mode. The plan for Lap 3 was to start pushing the pace and Lap 4 was all about hanging on so I focused on reeling in Patrick. Right about the time I caught up to him and chatted the rush of my first caffeine in 3 weeks hit me and I rode the high as I bolted off along the irrigation canal trail. I continued to fuel with Honey Stinger Chews and 2-3 cups of Coke at each aid station for the remainder of the race and felt amazing. At one of the aid stations the volunteers remarked, “You’re slamming those shots like a Russian sailor!”. By this point in the day the 50K runners were sharing the course and I was happy to have people to chase and exchange “good-jobs” with for motivation.
I came in at the end of the third lap with an 11 minute lead, nearly identical splits to lap 2, switched over to my “drop the hammer” playlist and rushed out of the aid station so quickly I forgot to drink any Coke. About a quarter of a mile down the trail I came to a screeching halt…ponies in the trail! Luckily I had trained for this exact scenario on my long run encounters and let the riders know I was there, waited for their instruction and passed nice and wide around them when they came to a stop. All in all it only took a couple minutes but it felt like an eternity knowing that Patrick wasn’t that far behind me. Chatting with the race director after the race I told him about the encounter and he let me know that horses were not supposed to be on the course, or that trail, but was glad I knew what to do. On my final lap I caught up with Kate Avery, another Grand Valley runner and wished her well as she competed in the 100K (she crushed it and took 2nd place). After the last river crossings of the day I took the luxury of removing my shoes for the first time to get the gravel out and upon standing up felt my right hamstring tighten and cramp up. I shuffled off and it loosened up as I ran, but with every aid station stop it would get tighter and tighter. I quickly replaced my negative visualization of me laying on the side of the trail with a cramping hamstring as Patrick and everyone else passed me with a positive narrative and just kept moving as smoothly and efficiently as I could.
At mile 40 it was full on “everything hurts and I’m dying” mode, and out of nowhere a butchered paraphrasing of this post’s opening Steve Prefontaine quote entered my cloudy mind and adopted it as my mantra. “Anything less than your best is a waste of the gift”, over and over. The “gift” was everything that made this day possible. The support of Jess, my friends, family, my running community, co-workers, my coach and fellow Pyllon Racing team mates. All of the training, sleeping, planning, dreaming. My ancestors, my genetic inheritance, my time investments, my health, my general privilege. Everything and every new day is a great gift, and for this race I found a well of motivation in this gratitude. It kept my cramping, dusty and worn out legs turning over as fast as I could because I am so fortunate to be able to suffer in this way, to choose this, to control this, to experience this.
The final mile of the course is a lovely section of slightly descending riparian terrain. Shady, soft ground welcomes you towards the finish line. I knew I would meet my goal, I thought I might even come in under 7 hours, but when I crossed in 6:55 and realized that I had just maintained 8:19 min/mi pace for 50 miles I felt like the mayor of stoke-town.
The Bear Chase after-party consisted of lots of Ultragen, grilled cheese, burritos, ales and lots of sitting. A true rager! The race directors were great, wanted to hear about what I liked and what I thought could be improved at the event and they put on a top-notch event. Adrian and I are already starting the 2017 100K smack-talk.
Thanks to my dad for spending the day crewing for me, Swiftwick for keeping me blister free despite 12 creek crossings, Honey Stinger for the great chews, Nuun for keeping me hydrated, and to the Pyllon Racing crew for the encouragement and support from across the pond. Thanks also to First Endurance and Runners Roost for hooking it up in the prize department! I was like a kid in the candy shop trying on shoes the next day at the Runners Roost Lakewood store – great selection and great advice.
To wrap things up, if you set a goal based in reality, and do the work to get there, almost anything is possible. That might not the best inspirational poster motto, but I definitely blew my own mind with this race. Two and a half years ago I finished my first 50 miler in 10 hours. If someone had told me that I would be able to run the same distance in under 7 hours just a couple years later I would have laughed at them. At the beginning of this season I set a “long-term” goal of trying to run a 6:44 “National Class” 50 Miler and I can almost taste those ten minutes now…but first some rest.
A bit of kit: Pearl Izumi Fly Endurance Shorts, Tracksmith Van Cortlandt Singlet, Swiftwick Aspire One Socks, BOCO/nuun Run Endurance Hat, Smith Pivlock Arena Max sunglasses, Salomon S-Lab Sonic Shoes, Nathan SpeedDraw Handheld, iPod shuffle and Yurbuds, and a steady diet of Honey Stinger Chews, Nuun, and a Russian Sailor’s ration of Coke.