Finding My Stride – Bear Mountain 50 Mile Race Report (April 30th, 2016)

Bear Mountain turned out to be a pretty humbling race. Not because I am disappointed in my performance or running, but rather because of the mental battles that I dealt with throughout the day. Over and over, I struggled with self-doubt and disappointment as I watched pre-race goals slip away. If anything, this grueling race helped me learn to dig even deeper, and find the satisfaction in my performance. I would like to think that some of missing my goal was due to running flat bike paths in LA or just being tired from travel, but most of it falls on getting carried away.

While I do not regret setting such an ambitious goal of breaking 9-hours, I do regret not re-calibrating earlier in the race, when I realized I had not done enough training on technical trails to sustain the pace I was originally running. Without a doubt, if I had a smarter pacing strategy I could have run sub-9:30. I think with some more maturity and experience, I will understand what levels of exertion I can tolerate, but this was only my 3rd 50 miler (and 2nd finish since Wapack crushed me by mile 43), so there are plenty of lessons to learn. Hopefully through this report, I have a bit of time to reflect on my mistakes and better approach my other races this year.

It makes sense to start with this recap on Thursday night, because every distance runner I have ever met told me two nights before is the most important night in terms of sleep. Well, I did not sleep well. Jet-lagged and anxious about trying to rest, I slept horribly and felt exhausted all day Friday. On Friday night, I actually slept incredibly well but since the alarm was set to go off at 2:45, it didn’t matter much. After a light breakfast and the drive to Bear Mountain, I got my bib and got settled in for the gun to go off. I complained a fair amount about the 5 AM start and having to deal with a headlamp for the first few miles, but it is what it is. The gun went off and we shuffled our way to the trail and up into the hills.

Bear Mountain 50 Mile Start
Ready to go!

The first section of the race went well, as they usually do. I was surging with adrenaline and excited that it was finally race day. We climbed a few hundred feet over three miles which I mostly ran before a quick descent into the first aid station. I was having an absolute blast. Things felt great, I had a nutrition plan, I was hitting my splits, and camaraderie on the trail was high. Blazing through the Anthony Wayne aid station, I dropped off my headlamp and took off up the road. Some runnable single track, road, and then technical single track later and I was already at the 8.7 mile aid station. Every part of me felt clicked in at this point. I took maybe 15 seconds in the aid station before I was off onto the fire road where I clicked off 2 sub-10 minute miles.

From there, the course got hard for me. Technical ups and downs were breaking my running up really frequently, and I was moving with hesitation knowing that I had some intimidating climbs left. My energy levels were still high and I still felt strong, but in my head I felt my goal start to creep away. I battled with the idea of not meeting my goal. It was less than a half-marathon into a 50 mile race and I already felt defeated. I did my best to stay strong and resilient, but negativity is pretty persistent. I reached the Arden Valley aid station after a quick road section and quickly refilled and got going. After the race, someone said I was in the top 1o at this point, but I think I was closer to top 30-40 (Sidenote – I claimed top 20 immediately after the race, but I don’t think my pace was ever that impressive or that I got passed by 50 people before I finished, but hey, its possible). I ran down the hill, taking the opportunity to get some fast running in before turning back onto the trail. Once I did though, I banged my ankle against a rock hard and was moving precariously over a rock field. Right then, it felt like the end of my day.

The next 5 or so miles I moved sluggishly. All my pre-race excitement had faded and I felt like I was at mile 45, not 15. I was already in pain. My hips and feet hurt, I felt slow and ready to be done. I looked at my watch frequently, seeing myself eat into time I had built up in the first few miles fade away and getting passed by people who paced themselves smarter than I had.  About 2 miles from the next aid station, I got passed by Amy, a Massachusetts trail runner who happens to be the race director of Seven Sisters and Vermont 100 (both of which I am running). Amy and I exchanged some brief words about Seven Sisters, November Project, and how we were feeling before she zipped past. While we didn’t run together long, I have to thank her attitude for giving me a little burst of strength to grind into the next aid station. I wanted so badly to run with her and the pack following her for as long as possible, but they were leaving the station as I got in, and I didn’t have the strength to run through the aid station. I once again moved quickly and got back on the trail.

After a mile or so the trail let out to a long road section that felt like absolute torture. I got passed by several people and the pavement felt excruciating. I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted more technical trail so I had an excuse to move a bit more slowly. Oddly enough, this is where the race started to come back together. Coming out of the last aid station, I honestly considered dropping. I was hurting, the race was gone for me, and I just wasn’t having fun. Not having to focus on trail gave me time to compose myself. I let go of my goals and just remembered how amazing it is that my body lets me run these incredible distances. I took some time to enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere of the race and my energy levels lifted. At this point, I decided to start taking some additional time at each aid station. I came into the Camp Lanowa station and ate some food and a caffeinated gel. I left the aid station ready to adjust my goals.

The first mile out of the aid station was really slow up and down a technical hill. But after that, it was smooth fire road. Hitting a runnable section, plus the halfway point of the race, with a bit of a caffeine kick turned my mood around completely. Sure, I wasn’t back to my first 15 mile speed, but I felt so much better. I kept it controlled and steady before I got back into Camp Lanowa. I exchanged some thoughts with a runner about how low I had been feeling and how things felt like they were coming around. Just being able to vocalize my shift in attitude helped me reconcile what the day was about. So, at the halfway mark, I knew I could still PR if I kept moving strong.

Bear Mountain 50 Mile Mid-Race
Starting to regain composure somewhere in the middle of the race.

I felt back to normal along the next 4 miles or so which was mostly fire roads descending to the next aid station with a few modest climbs. Then, for some reason, the course climbs a mile and a half on pavement. It sucked. I did my best to run it, but I hiked about 50% of it before getting back to the fire road that descended to the next aid station. After that was some great single track and fire road running that got my spirits back up. We soon synced back up with the 50K crew and there were a bunch more runners to latch on to which helped immensely. There was one more hydration-only aid station before making it back to Anthony Wayne.

At Anthony Wayne I ran into Brogan, who was a burst of positive energy. We hugged, we laughed, we ate boiled potatoes. I knew that I had one big climb left, Timp Pass, and I wanted it to be done ASAP. I asked a volunteer if there were any big climbs left, and they said, “Yeah, it is coming up really soon, and the downhill is really technical”. Great, just what I remembered reading in the course guide, now if only I could remember where it actually was! The first mile out of the aid station was cinder path which I did my best to run. After that, the course got back to being pretty technical. While no means as a bad as the first 20 miles or so, it was enough that I started to slow down. On this section there was a short uphill with a decently technical descent and I told myself, “That was it,” and hoped there were no more climbs since my legs were starting to go. Turns out, it wasn’t.

I got into the Queensboro aid station and took some time to get fuel and asked again, are there any more climbs. The volunteer eagerly responded, yes Timp Pass, its right up ahead. Damn, I really did not want to climb Timp Pass. I knew it was only a few hundred feet of steep climbing, but it sounded so miserable. I left the aid and the trail gently climbed for a mile or so before shooting steeply uphill. At mile 47 so of a 50 miler, you thankfully stop caring and I just pushed up it. The downhill from the pass was absolutely worse than going up the thing. It was filled with baseball sized rocks that I should have run down in hindsight, but took my time gingerly walking down to the final aid station.

When I got to the last aid station, I did a time check and knew I wouldn’t PR outright. My time at Finger Lakes is still technically a better 50 mile time. But then I remembered that this was a 51 mile race, and that at 50 miles, I would still PR if I pushed hard enough. I started to run out of the aid station but my stomach felt like it would flip so I walked for a few meters. Once I was up to it, I started running. Quickly we linked back to where the relay runners were flying up and down the trail. I felt weak but I kept running because at that point, it’ll hurt longer to walk it in. There were one or two more short climbs on the last section. I desperately wanted to walk the entirety of them, but a glance at my watch and I saw I could break 10 hours. I floored it at this point, but flooring it when you are running on empty isn’t too quick. But it was quick enough to finish in 9:59. Talk about cutting it close! The finish chute was something incredible. The huge November Project presence was screaming and cheering as I ran in as I watched Colleen bouncing up and down taking photos. I felt tears well up in my eyes from joy that I held on to experience that moment.

Bear Mountian 50 Mile Finish
Trying my best to run fast and not look terrible!

If I had known that the first half of the race would be so much more challenging than the second in terms of technical trails, I would have run this race completely different. Sure, I read the course guide and race reports, but that is different than being out there. I don’t know if I could have broken nine hours, but I could have gotten a heck of a lot closer. I still think this is my best race to date, simply because I held on. I went through such extreme lows on this race that I thought I was going to drop, and I never thought I would experience that.

Strava:

Bear Mountain 50 Mile

Gear

  1. Nike Terra Kiger 3
  2. Nathan Speedraw
  3. Garmin Fenix 3
  4. Gu, Tailwind, Potatoes
  5. Ciele Go Cap

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