September 25-26, 2004
Running in the Bear 100, near Bear Lake in Idaho was my main running goal for the 2004 season. This was my 4th ultra-marathon in three months. Ultra marathons are races further than the traditional marathon length. I like to run the races that are on trails and have significant elevation gains. I came into this race very nervous because of a sore knee that still wasn’t healed. During my last race in Oregon, at the 30 mile mark, it developed a sharp pain. Despite my efforts to rest it, the pain still would come back early into any attempt to run. I was determined to run this 100-mile race anyway, my first attempt at this distance.
For this race I had great help from some friends. Dave Wade and Brett Sterrett would crew for me and take turns pacing me from mile 27 to mile 74. Pablo Riboldi would pace me to the finish. (A crew is a team that drives between check-points in the race to greet you as you arrive. They act kind of like a pit crew, to “gas” you up with food, and “change your tires” treat your feet.)
Dave and I attended the race briefing at Leland Barker’s trout farm in Smithfield, Utah. The atmosphere was kind of strange, very casual, down-home, but had good organization. During the meeting, my knee started hurting again and I felt quite discouraged. The briefing was “brief” and not really needed since I already was familiar with most of the course and had scouted out the aid station (check-point) locations. There would be 51 racers. They weighed us in, but they would never re-weigh us during the race. In most 100-mile races they will also weigh you at several points during the race to make sure you are not significantly losing or gaining weight during the race, indicating potential serious problems.
Dave and I spent the night camped in his camper at an RV park, 100 feet from the start/finish line. We had all the comforts of home and I had a good rest and several hours of sleep. We arose at 4:30 a.m. I taped my heels and dressed. Dave made me a great breakfast of pancakes. Brett arrived during the night but couldn’t find us until a couple minutes before the start. We laughed later to discover that he slept in his car only about 50 feet from our camper.
The starting line was in front of the Deer Cliff Inn up Cub River Canyon, south-east of Preston, Idaho. The temperature was brisk, in the low 40s and I noticed that everyone was dressed warm except me. (I made the right choice, because many would start stripping all their outer layers within the first 30 minutes.)
At 6 a.m. the race began. Dave and Brett gave a cheer as I began the long trek. We ran up a dirt road and I settled in with those in the back half of the pack. We passed by a herd of cows in the road that seemed to be spectators, cheering us on. My fears were realized as my knee started to hurt immediately and I did my best to use a strap to find ways to minimize the pain. We soon turned onto a single-track trail, creating a line of lights heading up the mountain and a moderate hiking pace. As we headed up the mountain, I became stuck behind about eight runners who weren’t pushing it very hard. Finally I couldn’t stand the slow pace that and passed them all. But it was then up to me to navigate. The course was marked using ribbons hung from trees to help you know when to turn and give you comfort that you are still on the right trail. The course markings were generally OK, but there were many confusing spots and many people would get lost. (Two spent the night lost). Several times during this stretch I had to stop, backtrack, and find the trail again. At one point I was catching up to a guy and he totally missed a turn through a closed gate. I yelled for him to come back and he was very grateful. The sun came up shining on fall colors. The views from the ridges were stunning. I was having a great time, feeling very good.
I arrived at the first check-point (6.7 mile-mark) 20 minutes ahead of my goal time and about 15 minutes ahead of the group I had passed. As I was heading up Maple Creek Canyon, I was shocked to see a large group of strong runners running toward me, instead of with me on a section of trail that was not an out-and-back section. They blasted by me, heading back toward the first check-point. I talked it over with another guy and we concluded that they must have gone off trail, figured their mistake and had to make it to the check-point. (Sure enough, about two hours later I ran with one of them and he explained that their entire group had missed a turn, probably that gated turn.) My GPS was a lifesaver. After that experience I was constantly paranoid about going off course, but the GPS would always show me where I was.
In Maple Creek Canyon (8 mile mark), my knee began to hurt terribly. I thought I would have to stop all running and only walk. Several runners passed me. The next stretch was a grueling 3000-foot climb over just a few miles. I felt better during this uphill, and decided to give it a good push. During the steepest portion of this stretch, I showed off my ability on hills and cruised past about five people. They made complimentary comments as I passed them. I soon arrived at the snow level but the snow never really caused any footing problems.
I snapped a couple pictures at the top of a pass and then headed down the other side, a beautiful valley covered with snow. It was such a pleasant setting for a run, fall colors, snow, pleasant temperatures, and beautiful sunlight. The downhill was very painful on the knee. I experimented with the pace and different running techniques and finally discovered a nice technique that would minimize the pain and allow me to run well on the moderate downhills. My spirits rose as the pain decreased and I soon cruised into the Franklin Basin aid station (15.8 mile-mark) at 10:22 a.m. (20 minutes ahead of my goal). I received a great greeting from Dave and Brett, who had everything ready for me for a very quick stop. I told Brett that my knee and I had come to an agreement. It liked climbing hills. I agreed to take it up hills if it would agree to let me run some of the downhills.
As I pulled out the station, a guy asked how I was doing. I mentioned the knee and he offered me a prescription anti-inflammatory. I took it gratefully. With it, I wouldn’t have to take any more Advil for the whole race, and never experienced any swelling. The next stretch was a little boring, a 4-mile road that climbed up to Danish Pass (19.5). I got lazy and didn’t push it very hard. It took a half hour longer than I intended. Dave and Brett cheered my arrival, helped me eat and drink and off I went. The next stretch had amazing views on top of a ridge. My knee again became a major problem. I slowed and was passed by a group of three during this very lonely two-hour stretch. I had not seen anyone for so long until this group passed me. I looked forward to having company with Dave as a pacer after the next aid station. About a couple miles before the check-point, I was amazed that most of the knee pain left. I enjoyed a nice run down a moderate down-hill and made up a bunch of time. I was greeted by Dave running up the trail to meet me and he brought me into the Beaver Creek station (27.5 miles) for a very quick visit at 1:50 p.m. He informed me that I was about in 30th place, with 20 runners behind me.
The next two stretches were a blast for me. I had good company, great trails, and Dave pushed me to make up time. During this 11-mile stretch he helped me to actually get back on schedule, ahead of my goal time. During the last three miles, I felt great when Dave convinced me to stop being lazy and push it. We ran pretty hard down a steep hill, passing a guy named Bill from St. Louis (who I would see often until 1:30 a.m.) I again arrived at Danish Pass (38.4 miles) at 4:20 p.m., completing a 21-mile loop. At this station I saw ultra runner legend Hans Dieter, who I would also see many times until the wee hours of the morning. (Hans is 62 years old and runs about 20 100-mile ultras per year.)
Brett “ran” with me for the next 11 miles. He was fresh and I could feel that I was starting to fade and get lazy. It took Brett awhile to figure out the best way to keep my pace up and I was getting too tired and a little grumpy to instruct him. He finally resorted to running from behind and when I dropped my pace he would either tell me or give me a push. That seemed to work well until the sun started to set, when it worked better to have him lead. We did make the mistake of being very social with Bill for quite awhile and our pace dropped off significantly, but it was very enjoyable to talk with another runner, lifted my spirits, and got my mind off the pain. The sun soon set, the temperatures dropped, and it was somewhat depressing to think that I was only nearing the halfway point. We arrived at Paris Canyon (49.5 mile-mark) at 8:50 p.m. I was off my goal time by 45 minutes, but still two hours over the cut-off time. (If you arrive after the cut-off time, you have to stop).
I changed into my night clothes, dressing warmer than I usually would for a night run (good decision), ate pretty well, and soon was off running with Dave again for then next 14 miles. I had previously run the next 25 miles in June during the Midnight Mountain 50K. Having pre-knowledge of this section really helped.
Dave had the pacing duties down pat, recognized my lazy periods and we had an amazing night-run up and over mountains into Dry Basin. I felt energized again. I was able to run downhills without much pain and it was fun to cruise past other runners. We would see lights in the distance and set our sights to pass them. We passed Hans and Bill who had teamed up. It looked like Hans was in a slow stretch, but he would later pull out of it.
As we approached Dry Basin aid station, we saw the race leader and eventual winner running toward us. He was on his way back and about 26 miles ahead of us. Amazing!
We arrived at Dry Basin (57.2 miles) at 11:40 p.m., still an hour off of my goal, but we didn’t lose any time during the stretch. The volunteers had a nice heater going and I downed some soup and cookies. My primary diet of Ensure and Hammer Gel seemed to continue to work well. I never had an upset stomach, something most runners battle using other eating strategies. I commented to Dave that we had now surpassed my longest one-day mileage of 54 miles.
Dry Basin was far from dry. Dave commented that whoever named the place must have had a sense of humor. At midnight, we dodged many large puddles and had to avoid slipping in the mud during tricky places. At one point Dave warned me about a slippery section and then proceeded to fall on his rear. I laughed and said, “You didn’t have to demonstrate it for me!” I slowed on the stretch up to Green Pass, and on a long downhill section about five guys including Hans and Bill passed us. I tried to keep up, but the painful knees wouldn’t let me.
About two miles before the next check-point, Danish Flat, was a tough, long uphill stretch. I knew it would be coming, so about 15 minutes prior, I drank an Ensure for a boost of energy. Sure enough, when we started up the hill, I felt better than I did the entire race! I pushed hard and could tell that I was even making Dave work very hard to keep up with my stride. (Brett later mentioned that Dave told him that he was amazed how I “kicked his butt” on that section.) We cruised past a runner who seemed shocked at how fast we were going. I commented that when you have those rare times when you feel great, you have to use them well. I felt so good that I told Dave that I planned to run through the next station without stopping I told him to run ahead, get Brett ready to go and bring some food. I arrived at Danish Flat (65.6 mile-mark) at 1:10 a.m. feeling great, but a blister on my toe was starting to form.
I cruised on without Brett, who was still gathering some things and was joined by the pack of runners who had passed me an hour previous. It was good have the time back (by avoiding a long stop), but in hindsight I probably should have taken some time eating solid food at this point. As I was running next to Hans, Brett caught up with me. Hans (a real character) chastised Brett for running so fast, that Brett needed to tell him that he was a pacer. He mistakenly thought Brett was a racer with incredible energy. Shortly I knew I had to stop to tape my toe. Hans, Bill and the rest all went forward, the last time I would see them. I mentally knew the next stretch would be a “bear” because of the ups and downs. We went way too slow during this section. Near the last part of the leg, I became grumpy about the absence of course markings. Both Brett and I were worried that we might have made a wrong turn, but we didn’t. I enjoyed the long uphill at the end of this section and finished it strong.
We arrived at Copenhagen Road (74.3) at 6:12 a.m. I was discouraged that we again lost so much time and I insisted on having a very short visit at the station. Pablo would pace me for the last stretch. It was good to see him. I bid goodbye to Dave and Brett, true friends who sacrificed so much for me. Pablo was fresh, I was OK but beginning to feel poorly. The temperature was cold and we faced a long uphill stretch. This was the first uphill stretch that I didn’t enjoy. It was hard and long. I was grumpy and it took Pablo a little while to figure out how to deal with me and effectively help me. But he was very persistent and stuck with it, finding great ways to prod me on, improve my strides, and be there when I needed him.
We arrived rather slowly into Copenhagen Basin (78.7 mile-mark) at 8:12 a.m. For the first time, I started to feel sick. I had some chills, felt weak and sleepy. I think the station was manned by a boy scout troop. It looked gloomy. There wasn’t great food choices. I was discouraged. My pace was poor and I couldn’t figure out why I felt poorly. We sat by a fire for a few minutes and that perked me up a little bit. I probably should have stayed longer, but I was so determined to finish this race, that we pushed on. The sun started to peak through the trees and would warm us as we hiked across frosted fields. The puddles were iced over. It was cold.
Something strange started to happen. To be blunt, I had to urinate every 10-15 minutes even though I wasn’t drinking much at all. I was puzzled. Where in the world was all that water coming from? The moist air? It continued on and on. Our pace slowed and we were passed by three runners who we had never seen before, that had been far behind me for the entire race. I was fading poorly. We arrived at Dry Basin again (82.5 mile-mark) at 9:48 a.m. I knew Dave would be checking my time at the finish line area, detecting that something was wrong. To add to the discouragement, it looked like the aid station was packing up. There were only three runners behind me (many others had previously dropped out).
The temperature was now very warm. I stripped out of my night clothes. I was devastated to realize that I didn’t have any hat for the long sunny stretch home. I knew that Devil’s Den would kill me without a hat. I ate the best I could manage, asked Pablo to clean up my mess. I took off, knowing that Pablo would catch up. For a mile I didn’t see him. I slowed down and worried that he might have taken a wrong turn out of the station. Would he be lost for hours? To my relief, he finally caught up. He explained that he took a bad spill in the mud coming out of the last aid station.
The day warmed up and I continued to feel worse and worse. Nothing seemed to work to sustain a good pace. Finally, around the 85-mile mark, I saw a long, hot stretch ahead and I couldn’t pull myself out of the shade. I lay down, feeling drained, dizzy, sleepy, with rapid respiration. Pablo wanted me to take a nap, but I feared that I would pass out, leaving him in the middle of nowhere for hours with an invalid. We talked things through and concluded that I “bonked.” My loss of water had probably depleted my electrolytes. My system was all out of whack. I quickly took several succeed (electrolyte) caps. I hadn’t been taking any during the night because I hadn’t been sweating much. Slowly, I started to feel a little better, but I felt so weak that again several times I had to stop and sit. We pressed on, but always fell back to a crawling pace. I tried and tried, but finally a DNF (Did Not Finish) was obvious. I knew what Devil’s Den was like. I had gone through that section on fresh legs in July. There was no way I could do that hot stretch in the shape I was in. Mentally I finally checked out of the race. My concern now was only to return safely. I knew this race wouldn’t have sweepers on the trail (Guys who ran the trail to make sure everyone got out OK).
We passed by what looked like a youth group on ATVs near a warming hut about a quarter mile away. As we came to some shade, I looked up and saw the next ridge we would have to climb. I told Pablo that I was done and asked him to run back to the ATVs for some help. While he was gone, two guys on motorcycles arrived and could tell that I was having a rough time. They asked how they could help. Pablo ran back and we asked them to help me up over the next ridge. I hopped on the back of a cycle and enjoyed a nice ride up the hill until it became too steep. This kind guy then left his bike, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me up to the top of the hill. He then offered to drive on ahead to the Paris aid station to let them know I was on the way. Well, it turned out there were two other high ridges to go over. Pablo and I plodded on. I could tell that I was coming out of it because I was getting hungry, but we didn’t have much food to eat. My race was done, so I would do my best to just enjoy a hike and get back safely. The motorcycles returned and they kindly gave us both rides over most of the remaining two miles to Paris Canyon (90-mile mark).
As I arrived, I joked with the volunteers, calling out my number: “492 in, and 492 is out.” It was 2:00 p.m. The cutoff time for this station was 1:45 p.m. I learned that the finish line knew what was going on and Dave Wade was on his way to pick me up. I felt better. My system was generally balanced and I only felt the usually aches and pains after a race. Dave arrived and for the next two hours I had the agonizing experience of driving on bumpy dirt roads. (Dave just HAD to take a “short cut.”) The jarring pain tore me apart and I felt terrible again, worse than I had all day, and I got very grouchy. It finally came to an end when we arrived at the finish area where my family was waiting for me. They had watched Hans and all the others I ran with cross the finish line. They came in on their feet. I came in on a bumpy truck.
Strangely, I didn’t feel bad at all about the DNF. The other runners who had finished, who were resting nearby treated me like a finisher. They respected that I had accomplished 88 miles. I knew that I had left everything out on the course. I felt that I kind of let down my pacers. I deeply appreciated their service to me and I felt regret that I had grumpy periods when I could have been kinder and more appreciative about all they had done for me. But the three of them seemed to really enjoy their first experience with an ultra marathon. I announced that I had attempted my last 100-miler. The shorter ultras were better. The sleep deprivation part seemed stupid. (As a typical ultra runner, it only took me a day to start thinking about trying it again. Within two days I was bound and determined to run again next year.)
My recovery was fast. I slept like I was unconscious Saturday night. I arose feeling relatively great and even went to a 7 a.m. church meeting, shocking my friends who saw how well I looked. My knee problem has me puzzled. It was stiff for the whole 88, but not a huge problem after the 25 mile-mark. It cost me at least 4 extra hours during the race. (An MRI came up negative, several weeks of rest seem to be helping). I came out of it without any true injuries. I had a minor blister on my toe and a bad one on my heel that I never noticed. I have some minor “tennis elbow” from using the poles. My right quad was sore from taking most of the hammering away from my left knee. The balls of my feet feel a little bruised and swollen. But on the upside, all of my muscles felt great a day later. I was in fine shape, only a bum knee and an electrolyte imbalance DNFed me. I weighed myself when I returned home after only eating a very little. Six hours after I finished, I weighed two pounds more than before I started!
Things I learned from this race.
1. I have got to figure out why I retain water during these races. Looking back, I also retained water during the previous three races, but because I sweated more and the races were shorter, I didn’t see the effects.
2. I should have planned for at least two 15-minute rest/sleep periods. I would have made up the time easily with that investment. I did a great job minimizing my stops at aid stations, but a couple longer visits during the night would have helped. That might have helped solve #1.
3. I should have kept my MP3 player with me. I ditched it when my pacers joined me. Wrong choice. The tunes really help me keep my pace and rhythm. That probably cost me an hour.
4. Make my own sports drink and put it in drop bags. Most of these stations had Gatorade which I have learned to avoid during these races because of the sweetness and what it does to my stomach. This caused me to drink straight water during the night, a bad choice.
5. While I drank plenty, I probably should have eaten a little more. I should learn to carry some food I like with me and eat something in addition to the gel.
6. Have a back-up hat or two in drop bags. Pablo made me a turbine out a shirt that ended up working great. The loss of the hat mentally made me start thinking about a DNF.
7. Use Vaseline on my toes instead of tape