"How are you doing?" Ellen Parker, eventual 3rd place woman in 23:53 asks as I collapsed into a chair next to her with a cup of broth and blood running down my back.
"I've been better." was all I could manage to say in response.
We were at mile 70 and I had just fallen about a half mile from the aid station, catching a toe on a descent, slamming to the ground where a frozen tree root and half buried rock halted my slide abruptly. I thought I heard a crack and felt sure that my shoulder and/or shoulder blade was ripped from my body. I slowly rolled over, got up, collected my water bottle and stood there wondering why I was doing this to myself. I had no answer, so stumbled down the rest of the descent and came into the scene above with a spunky Ellen, being crewed and paced by Krissy Moehl and Matt Hart, when she asked me the unanswerable question.
Backing up to the start of the race, the temp at 6am Friday morning was warmer than last year and I knew it would be hot mid day. We got underway and trotted down the road toward the opening climb of 4,000 ft to Logan Peak. I got into a nice groove in about 9th place behind the lead pack and remained in that position for much of the next 10 miles. Shortly after the first aid station, Nikki Kimball came by and was moving quickly on the descents. She'd pull away, then I'd make up space on the climbs. I kept focusing on trying to preserve my quads on the descents because the Bear course is one race where trashed quads can end your day. I was quite a bit ahead of my splits from last year and was focused and confident on a mid 21 hour finish. Last year Bear was my first 100 and I finished in 23:05 with long aid stops, getting lost, and generally taking it easy, so 21:30 is definitely within reason.
I switched shoes at Leatham Hollow (mile 20) due to a painful blister on my heel and got underway with Ben Woodbeck (Diana Finkel's husband) and we chatted happily jogging up the road. Before reaching Cowley aid station at mile 30 I had put in a hard effort to drop a loose group of five guys. I was feeling great and just refilled my water and grabbed a pbj sandwich before starting the huge 2.2 mile climb out of the station. This 7 mile section went well and at the end of it is a short out and back spur to the aid station. I was enthused to see that Nikki was only 5 mins up on me and Mike Ferris was 6 mins up. I was feeling good at mile 37 and it was beginning to get hot. I felt the first twinges of cramps in my shin area and then in my inner quads (groin down to mid-thigh). Last year I had a very rough patch through this section; it's exposed and in the heat of the day, so I was mentally prepared for it. However, I still suffered greatly and just couldn't get caught up on hydration. I could see far in front of me and far behind. Using a distinct large bush Nikki was running by, I found that she was still only 6 mins up on me by the time I reached the same bush. That, and the fact that there was another runner in front of her (representing 8th place) basically right in front of me, gave me hope that I'd pull through this bad patch. If I could just make it through the next 7 miles to Tony Grove aid at mile 52, it'd start cooling off, night would emerge and I would run well, like I normally do at night late in these races.
I caught up with a struggling Mike Ferris shortly before Temple Fork (mile 45). We separated but met back up after a long 5 miles of suffering. My race was unravelling and I got passed by a few guys. I caught back up to Mike, who was struggling too, him with very low energy, me with very bad dehydration. He was planning to drop at the next aid (Tony Grove, mi 52). I finally convinced him to continue, "Just take your time at Tony Grove. Eat and drink and sit. You'll come around quickly and feel so much better for finishing, even if it's slower than you hoped" (he was originally shooting for a top 3, much like myself). Mike sat and ate pizza and broth, finally continuing on in much better shape and finished in 25:11, 30 mins in front of me.
I spent the same amount of time at this aid station, cup after cup of Heed (the most disgusting fluid on the earth) and water. My stomach wasn't happy and I felt nauseous but started the hike out of the aid. I made a mini-recovery after an hour or so. Ted Mahon (9th at Hardrock) took a wrong turn and appeared behind me. I followed him into Franklin Basin aid station at 7:06pm, a solid 1:59 split over the 10 mile section from Tony Grove, mostly because I was concerned about getting to my drop back with lights, since sunset was due at 7:20pm. I spent 18 mins at Franklin (mi 62), changed shoes/socks, tried to eat, changed into long sleeve shirt, tied wind jacket around waist, getting ready for a long, cold night mostly. If I could manage the next 38 miles in a pedestrian 10 hours, I'd have a 23 hour finish. At least that's what I kept trying to tell myself in some hope of pushing away the growing pain in both quads. They were hurting and I feared the descents to come.
This brings us up to the beginning of this report where I fell and was eventually slumped in a chair next to Ellen Parker, watching as Krissy brought her a French press of hot gourmet coffee. I got up and left the aid since I was getting colder by the second. I don't really remember the next section much other than bumping into none other than Wayne Rancourt from Idaho. I could hardly believe it. I met him last year in almost the exact same area at the exact same time and we ran together for much of the race, with me finishing just 20 mins or something in front of him. This year was different. We were both having a rough time and he was particularly upset that he (we) might be off course. I reassured him we were fine. After some hesitation and a little back-tracking here and there to confirm we were always on course, we made it to Beaver Creek Lodge aid at mile 75.
The next several hours were a mixture of intense cold (oddly, it was hotter in the day than last year and colder at night as well), water crossings, trying to remember to choke down a gel every hour or so, and searing pain in my quads. I could get into a shuffle run on flat or slight downhill slopes but anything steeper was a lesson in new levels of pain. We reached Ranger Dip, the last aid station at mile 92. Remaining, there was one crazy wall of a climb and then the 4 mile elevator drop descent that I had been dreading since mile 50. The climb was fine, slow but do-able. The descent was heinous. The pain was so incredible that after about 5 mins the pain would make me nauseous and dizzy. Wayne and I had agreed at mile 77 that we would finish together, regardless. He was in rough shape too. I could climb mostly faster but he could descend faster. We worked together and I couldn't help but bitch about the descent and would catch myself and shut up. People were passing us constantly. I would guess we were passed by at least 15 people over the last 9 miles. We jogged across the finish line together in 25:41, 30th and 31st place.
Before the race Todd Gangelhoff and I talked about how we both would love to run a perfect 100 some day. He had a rough one too. After running strong for much of the race, he developed a sort of charlie horse in his thigh that left him to hobble in a couple hours after I finished. I had a great run going for 46 miles, had a bad patch, recovered a little, then spiraled into a deep, dark well of crazy suffering. I'm not sure I'll be able to do Slickrock 100 in 12 days; I was certain I wouldn't be able to walk for a week and planned to skip it but we'll see.
Thanks to Wayne for helping me focus and providing nice company during the "dark hours". Thanks to Todd for letting me crash in his hotel room the night before the race. Thanks to Rae Jean for babysitting my dog while I ran. And thanks to Leland Barker and the kind, attentive aid station volunteers. Running these things solo with no pacer or crew is the way I like to do them but I appreciate the smiling volunteers who somehow help soften the razor edge pain these races often induce. It was a humbling race. Thanks to McDavid for their continued support, both literally and figuratively.