Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wrestling a Bear

This is what I had been focused on since the first time I looked into the Bear 100 in Logan UT.

Course profile for The Bear 100

Of all the 100 mile races I've done, I've never tackled an elevation profile like this one.  I was terrified that I wouldn't be in good enough shape to handle it.  Since this was the last race in my "Potentially Painful Summer" I really wanted to do well.  My A Goal was to break 24 hours, a task that I knew would not be easy.

I felt very rested from Leadville, which was five weeks ago.  I had many very good runs, and felt like I had lots of "pep in my step" on my trail runs.  I was refreshed because the bugs were finally gone from the woods and almost every run had been on trails.  It is amazing how much less the trails beat you up than the roads.  My last long run was at Pats Peak where I did a bunch of loops and felt awesome.  I left Wednesday afternoon full of confidence.

I wouldn't have Amy and Barry, my supercrew, for this race and that worried me a bunch.  They know almost by telepathy what I need at these races and take awesome care of me.  My original plan was to just make drop bags and do my best with no crew or pacer.  But thanks to Facebook an old friend of mine, Scott Johnson, whom I hadn't seen since grade school reached out to me and offered to help. 

I warned him multiple times how much being a crew member sucked, but he insisted that he was into it.  His boss does triathalons and he helps there.  He figured it would be kind of the same thing, just for WAY longer.

Scott, whom I hadn't seen for almost 30 years!!

I flew into Salt Lake City UT on Wednesday and stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport.  In the morning I saw Scott for the first time in 29 years.  After grabbing breakfast we headed to the local running store where I picked up a new pair of Hoka's just in case my foot got worse.  Oh yeah, I forgot to put in that little tidbit.  In the week before the race I noticed that my left foot felt like it was bruised under the forefoot.  I figured that I must have stepped on a rock and bruised it, but it wasn't getting any better.  On one of my visits to my PT, Brett Copeland, I casually mentioned it to him.  After he examined my foot he got a very worried look on his face and immediately sent me to get x-rays.  He suspected that I had either a stress reaction or a stress fracture and wanted to see if he could see anything.

He looked at the x-rays and couldn't see anything but told me that it didn't mean I didn't have a stress fracture.  He told me to be carefull and mindfull of the pain and asked me to keep him posted.  This sat fairly heavily on my mind because the next day I ran 4 miles and it started hurting only 2 miles into the run.

I tried not to worry about it. Sometimes our minds have a way of making a big deal out of nothing and I didn't want to focus more energy on it.  I got the Hokas because of the awesome cushioning and hoped that if I had a problem they would help me get through the race.

After that we drove two hours to Logan where we found our hotel.  After prepping my drop bags we headed over to the RD's house which was actually a fish hatchery.  We dropped off our bags and then attended the pre-race meeting.  The only person I knew at this race was Steve Pero, a long time Ultra runner whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years.



The meeting was so cool.  Totally old school.  No weigh in.  No media. No hype.  To get your race number you found the bag on the grass that had your number on it.  I loved it.  Scott and I grabbed dinner afterwards and I headed to an early sleep.  Scott and I were getting along great.  It was like we never lost touch.  Say what you want about Facebook, but the fact that I could reconnect with an old friend whom I might never had seen again is a result of the incredible global community that they have created.



The morning of the race was beautiful.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was comfortably cool.  The race starts out by heading up a paved road for about a mile then hits the trail and goes up from there.  Look at the race profile.  As we headed up the trail in the dark I started to realize that it was not as steep as I expected.   It was kind of cool.  Everybody was marching up the moutain and almost nothing was being said.  All you could hear was breathing.  I'm not that social at these events, I tend to just focus on what I'm trying to do.  It was nice and peaceful and I found that my spirits were extremely high.  When the sun finally started to rise I could see that we were climbing up a beautiful singletrack surrounded by fall foliage.  Now this is what I came for.  My legs felt strong, my mind felt calm.  Perfect.


On all my previous 100's I carried my voice recorder.  Today I decided that I would film videos with my camera so everybody could see what I was going through rather than just hear it.  At 2 hours and 36 minutes, right after my first stop at mile 10 or so, I recorded that my foot felt good and it was warming up.  During the stop I quickly grabbed an extra gel, at a handfull of nuts, refilled my handheld bottle and was off.  I spent less than 2 minutes there. "So far so good" I said as I continued on my trek. 



The views were incredible.


At 10:15, after 4 hours and 15 minutes,  I pulled into the Leathan Hollow aid station, 19.66 miles into the race.  This was the first crewed aid station and the first time that I saw Scott.  For his first time ever witnessing an event like this, let along crewing, Scott did great at the first stop. He changed the bladder in my pack and replaced all my needed food with incredible efficiency. I drank a Boost, ate some food at the aid station table while tended to my pack.  It was an awesome stop. Total time in the aid station was 2 minutes.  Not bad for a rookie!

I headed out down a dirt road that was fairly level and shortly was at the next aid station at mile 22.5.  I really don't understand why this station was here.  Perhaps because the next one was so far away.  Right out of the aid station I started to climb and climb.  The sun was now out in full force and I quickly went from doing great to feeling like something was very wrong.  At 5 hours and 42 minutes into the race I recorded that it was hot and I was completely exhausted.  I was in a bad place and it was way to early to feel this way.  I couldn't seem to find the motivation and it felt like there was no meaning to being out here starting to suffer already.

The next time I took out my camera things were not any better.  It was less than 30 miles into the race and I said that I felt like I did at mile 70 of Leadville.  I wasn't able to run and I didn't know what was the matter.  I didn't know if it was my head or my body.  I said that "I sure as hell hope it's my body.  I'd hate to think it is just my head".  I was trying to get my head back to just enjoying the day and the scenery, but the idea of possibly walking for 70 miles was incredibly unappealing.   I was already starting to think about dropping and I was fighting to keep the thought out of my head.  I was really worried at how I was going to tell everybody who has been so supportive of me that I just didn't "Man up" and finish.  The thought of a sub 24 hour buckle to add to my collection was long gone.  It was early in the say and I was trying not to admit that I was already in survival mode.

At 6 hours and 56 minutes into the race I had just left the 30 mile aid station.  Lo and behold, I was starting to come around.  Scott got me quickly in and out again and I changed into my Hokas.  The terrain had been much rockier than I had expected and my feet were starting to get sore in the NB MT110's that I was wearing.  I really didn't want to change out of those shoes, I love how they feel and I didn't even have the beginning of any blisters.  I had been though several small streams and they drained the water really well.  I knew that it was a risk putting on my new Hoka Bondi B's, but they offered so much protection I figured why not?



The pattern at the Bear is that you climb forever, reach a peak then descend forever.  I had been feeling destroyed on the climbs and then slowly coming back to life on the downhills.  One thing that was new for me was the descents went on for miles.  It was hard on the quads, but I wasn't having trouble with them.  I was however having trouble with the heat.  I've been to some hot races and the heat has never bothered me before.  For some reason, it was today.



At 8 hours 45 minutes into the race I had just left the mile 36.6 aid station.  Once again, I wasn't doing that well.  I was having a hard time eating.  Everything just was too sweet and combined with the heat I was having a hard time choking down anything.  I was tired, not feeling good and once again my thoughts returned to asking why?  Why was I out here?  I didn't have anything left to prove to anybody, including myself.  I just didn't have any motivation and was tired.  I was hoping that I would just wake up and things would get better, but it just wasn't happening.

To try to change my mood I started taking pictures of myself.  I was hoping that if I found my sense of humor I might pull out of my funk.

Sad Nate
Grumpy Nate

Alas, it was not to be.  At the 9 1/2 hour mark I sat down in the brushes beside the trail and recorded this.


This was my moment of truth.  At this very moment I decided that I was done. I figure that I was somewhere around 41 miles into the race.  I still had to go 5.5 miles to get to the next aid station.  I was traveling somewhere around 2-3 miles and hour and this is the view as far as the eye could see.


Although beautiful, it was totally overwhelming.  There was nobody around me, no end to the trail in sight and almost no shade to be found.  As I continued to walk for another hour I started to realize that I hadn't been eating anything.  Everything I had with me was sweet.  I couldn't tolerate them.  The sports drink in my bottle was hot and disgusting so the only thing I could do was sip the Gatorade in my hydration pack as it was still somewhat less than boiling in temperature.

At some point I realized that I had an EFS flask in the back of my pack.  I have never used it but had read that a lot of people used it.  I bought some to keep with me just in case.  Well, this was that just in case moment.  As I took the first swig of it I couldn't believe how bad the stuff was.  It tasted like Vicks cough syrup.  The bottle is 4 or 5 oz.  I managed to get most of it down.  In a few moments the trail dumped out to a dirt road that was gradual downhill.  I started to run again which felt great.  Perhaps I could actually pull out of this tailspin I was in.  At the bottom of the hill, right as a trail started, I was overwhelmed with nausea.
I actually started to chuckle.  Perfect, just perfect.  I took out my camera and began to film.  Luckily I didn't actually throw up, but there was a few minutes that I was sure I was going to.

Eventually, after 11 hours and 15 minutes I made it to the aid station 46.6 miles in where Scott was waiting for me.  I told him that I was done.  He asked if I was sure, which I was.  I went to the scoring desk and said "522, dropping".  Without so much as a "are you sure?" they said ok.  And with that I had now officially quit my first 100 mile race.
I learned more from this race than all the other successful ones this year.  I realized that you can't get anything in this world unless you really want it.  If you lose your desire for something it just won't happen.  My body certainly could have finished this race.  My head didn't.  At that time I just could not find the reason to keep pushing on.

I've read from many other Ultrarunners that you better have your head ready before you tackle one of these things.  Now I finally know what they are talking about. They are never easy and when you have to dig deep you need to have that driving reason front and center in your mind.  I will use this lesson in so many aspects of my life before I start something now.  When a person is focused and motivated they can do anything.  When the focus isn't there it becomes almost impossible.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself gazing at the mountains as I drove from Logan to Salt Lake City the next day.  After struggling so much in the race, all I wanted to do was pull over and go for a run on those mountain trails.  At that moment I realized that I had forgotten how much I love to run.  Perhaps if I had just remembered that during the race things would have turned out differently. 





6 comments:

jun said...

Amazing report Nate. Sorry you had to drop. The Bear is a seriously tough race.
Not that I think this had anything to do with you dropping, but you should read this article about consuming energy gels + electrolyte drinks. Basically it says that doing both at the same time is bad and causes stomach problems, which I've experienced first hand.
http://www.cranksports.com/ePower/hydration.asp
"Most leading sports drinks (including e-Fuel) are designed to provide hydration, energy and electrolyte replacement. While these products can work great alone, they can cause problems when used in conjunction with energy gels. When a gel is mixed with a typical sports drink, the combined solution is more concentrated than your body fluids (hypertonic) which can result in delayed gel absorption and potential dehydration and stomach irritation. If you want to use a sports drink and energy gels during the same workout, we strongly recommend that you also consume plain water to adequately dilute your gel. One alternative is to use gels and water during one stage of the workout and then a sports drink later in the workout."
Anyway, something to think about.

"Sherpa" John Lacroix said...

"I realized that you can't get anything in this world unless you really want it. If you lose your desire for something it just won't happen."

True-er words have never been spoken my friend. I'm so incredibly proud of the things you accomplished this summer.. I'm even more proud that you actually knew when to live to fight another day. Sometimes, I think, it takes more guts to say, "I'm Done" then to play the part of a stubborn prick.

I think there is much to be learned from the teachings you provided all of us this summer. You've inspired many of us to dig deeper.. you've inspired many of us to train harder and be better. I'm very anxious to see... what you'll teach us next.. and.. what you'll continue to teach yourself.

As always Nate.. you really are the man. You crack me up.. I love those pictures.. "Grumpy Nate." I think in the end though.. you forgot to mention one major point.. It DIDN'T RAIN.. and we both know why. ;)

Sherpa

Karyn Bechtel said...

Congratulations, Nate. You deserve to be congratulated on so many levels.

Adam and I were so curious to hear what happened when we saw the Bear results. Your blog tells it all.

Joe Cacioppo said...

Nate. I just pulled out of my first race ever due to severe calf spasms and cramps. It was the 50 mile Tahoe Rim Trail endurance run, which I'd run the past four years (alternating between the 50K and 50 mile). At 46 years old, I never once dropped out of a race. My calf spasmed and cramped so hard off and on for 10 minutes that when it finally relaxed, it was tender to the touch and I could not put much pressure on it. I hobbled back to the 30 mile aid station and after an hour of fluids and prayer, I dropped. It was a bitter reality. I'm guessing it was due to dehydration, but I've had less severe issues in past years and was able to manage them.

Joe Cacioppo said...

Nate. I read your blog and can relate to how you must have felt when you decided to drop. After 33 years of running (the past 8 doing ultras) I had my first DNF this weekend at the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler. Just past mile 30, I went down (literally) with severe calf spasms and cramps. I tried to persevere, and even hobbled back to the aid station to get fluids, but it was too tender to put pressure on that leg. It was a hard decision to make, but the correct one, as two days later, it is still sore.

Nathan Sanel said...

Joe,
I feel your pain. Last week I ended up dropping out of the VT100 at mile 70. I guess if you do these things long enough you will have some DNFs! Time to just train harder and be more prepared for the next one. I hope your healing well and best of luck at the next race.