So, it is now over a week ago that I ran the Bear Chase 50 miler. Yes, you heard that right – I did it. I finished my very 50 mile race in 10 hours and about 36 minutes. I am so happy about it and still cannot believe it actually. The time is slower than expected, but after injuring myself 3.5 weeks before I really don’t care. I showed up and ran the best I could and that is all that matters to me.
The weather forecast for the race was great. It actually cooled down from mid-80s to mid-60s for the day of the race. However, the early morning temperatures were in the upper 30s and I was not ready for such cold temperatures really and so I wore gloves and a hat for the first hour of the race and I was glad I did. After that I slowly got rid of layers of clothing until ending up running in shorts and T-Shirt for the rest of the day.
The race started on time at 6.30 AM in the morning. 100K and 50 mile runners had lined up in the darkness of a beautiful September morning. As mentioned, it was chilly but overall ideal temperatures for running. There were 35 runners registered for the 50 Miler and 20 runners for the 100K race. The gun went off and we started running. I was still under my injury from 3.5 weeks ago and so my game plan was to run at a slower pace and to let things happen the way they would. The first 2 miles the field was close together, but then it already started spreading out. Things got even more spread out once we reached Mount Carbon for the first time. Mount Carbon was the main elevation in this race with a very steep incline and a softer decline on the other side. The race had an advertised elevation of over 6,000 ft., but my GPS watch or Strava did not match up with those numbers.
The race was a loop that needed to be run 4 times to make it to 50 miles. They had 3 aide stations on the course + the main aide station at the start/finish area. My legs felt sluggish early on, but overall it was Ok. I stuck to my pace and did not let others draw me into running too fast. Each loop had 3 water crossings and this was a first one for me during a race. I had read about it and was prepared, but it was still something new and different for me. Entering the cold water for the first time was scary. I went slow into the water and actually offered my help to another runner who seemed a bit shaky in the water. Holding hands we made through safely and we crossed the water together at the second water crossing as well. At the 3rd crossing we were good without help. Reaching the first aide station I made the mistake to eat food I had not eaten before (PB&J sandwiches) during running. I do not know what got into me, but it was probably the fact that I felt sluggish and knew that I needed to eat in between. In hindsight I should have not done this and rather stick to my own plan, but I did not. I made the same mistake at the following aide stations and by the time I finished the second loop my stomach did not feel good at all. I was almost ready to throw up. The 3rd loop started slow for me and I was doing a mix of running and walking, but it was mainly walking for the first 2/3 of the 3rd loop. My mind was negative and the walking gave me some time to reflect and think. I realized my mistake and started working my way out of the hole. I stuck to my fueling plan and slowly I started feeling better. The water crossings were a blessing in disguise, too. The cold water helped me to recover and it was total fun to run into the water and splash it all over the place.
The last 4 miles of the 3rd loop I was close to 2 other runners. We all walked/ran in different intervals and we finished the 3rd loop within 1 minute or so. I used the restroom, ignored the aide station, and rather filled up on e-fuel at my drop bag where I still had some cold, ready prepared bottles that I just needed to fill into an empty bottle of my running vest. One full bottle went into my backpack on the back and I was ready to go. I had some bacon to eat and then it was time for the 4th loop. I actually started running right away and within 2 minutes I passed one of the guys from before (the other one was still at the aide station). I did not stop running until I reached Mount Carbon and only walked the climb. I was passed by a pacer looking for his runner who must have been faster than planned. I made it up fine on Mount Carbon started running fairly early again. I slowly caught up to another runner and his pacer and by the 3rd water crossing we were running next to each other and chatting about running and racing. This was actually super-helpful. It made me forget the tired and hurting legs. We reached the first aide station and as much as I wanted to stop for food and drink I decided to carry on quickly – leaving the 2 guys behind. I expected them to pass me soon again, but it never happened. Working my way up a long, but manageable incline I kept running as long as I could – passing another few runners. I was super-surprised how good my legs actually felt and so I kept on running and running. At the second aide station I reached the pacer (and his runner) that I had met earlier before Mount Carbon where he was trying to catch up with his runner/racer. At the same time I suddenly had a shadow – a runner I had passed 10 minutes ago was suddenly 5 steps behind me. I chucked down 2 small cups of Coca Cola and I was back on the trail again within 30 seconds. I needed to keep running and use the momentum. I power-hiked up the next long incline and then started running again. I developed a comfortable lead from the other runners and seeing them getting smaller and smaller behind me kept me motivated.
I had no idea how many people or who was ahead of me. I know I had passed several people now that were ahead of me since the second loop, but I had no clue where I was in regards to placement at this point and it did not matter. What mattered to me was thinking how long it would take me to finish if I would stop running and simply walk and the numbers were not making me happy. So, I kept running. I passed a few more runners, but I could not tell if they were 100K, 50 mile, or 50K runners. The 3rd aide station came around and again I chucked down 2 small cups of Coca Cola and off I went. 4 more miles to go. Suddenly stronger winds started coming in and of course I had headwinds to face. I kept running as long as I could, but at some points the winds really slowed me down to a walk. I saw another runner a ¼ mile ahead of me and I slowly got closer, but he started running again (from walking) and the winds were not helping either. I ran 2 minutes and power-hiked one minute. I finally reached the other runner. He still had another loop to go, but seemed in good spirits. I started running and left him behind. I reached the last checkpoint before the finish area and from there the wind would come from behind. I was running again and was in good spirits. 2 miles to go and I felt happiness and a feeling of accomplishment. I was so close now. Suddenly I saw another runner coming from behind. The guy was “flying” compared to me and I felt jealous. Turns out later on he was doing the 100K and was on his last few yards of the race. Super impressive!!! I had not much to give at this point and let him pass of course while applauding him. Then I saw another runner ahead of me and that kept me motivated to keep going. A ½ mile before the finish line I reached her and was able to pass. Now I saw the finish area in the close distance and it really made my day running across the finish line. I had made it. I finished my very first 50 miler.
I was tired. Everything hurt. But I was super happy. I had done it. 50 miles.
The Bear Chase was very well organized. The aide stations were well stocked and the volunteers were awesome. The course was great for running and I think I made the right choice to use this as my very first 50 Mile Ultra Marathon. I would not mind running this race again – hopefully uninjured though. The weather was perfect this day and it was a lot of fun being out there all day long.
I am glad the main part of my training went as well as it did. As mentioned I injured myself 3.5 weeks before the race and missed 2 long runs and many shorter training runs. I was still lightly injured going into the race, but it was do-able. It felt uncomfortable at times and I ran slower than I wanted to so that I would not re-injure myself. It also affected my running style/form and things started hurting earlier than they usually would during a long run. In addition I developed a blister on the left foot, but do not know if it came from the water crossings and running in wet shoes or from the slightly adjusted running form. It did bother me, but I was able to ignore the blister for all of the last loop. I noticed it the first time during loop #3.
Stick to your plan. I made the mistake of not following my fueling plan as planned. Not being able to reach the start line with all the training I wanted, I felt sluggish early on and thought that I could make up for the missed training runs by eating earlier. I know that was a big mistake and I paid for it by almost throwing up. If I would have stuck to my fueling plan, the 3rd loop probably would have been better and more enjoyable.
I had run one 50K as my longest run (back in April) before this race and I was not sure what to expect after mile 31. Running several 11 minute (+ change) miles after mile 40 made me feel super-accomplished – especially considering the circumstances mentioned above. Running 50 miles is challenging and that’s why I wanted to do it. It is amazing how much your mind plays a role later on during the race. Even though I was hurting and nobody would have said a thing if I would have switched to walking, but I kept on running. I dug myself out of the hole (loop #3) and finished strong. It probably sounds cheesy, but I think that is a major part of ultra running and what makes it so challenging and rewarding at the same time. I want to do this again for sure.