Since I carpooled with my buddy Woody, I picked up both our bibs on Friday and we enjoyed a leisure morning arriving at the race by 6:45 am (7:30 start) and just milled round as we waited for the start. I had my typical breakfast (a few eggs before leaving the house and an Epic Bar at the start line) before taking some Vespa thirty minutes before the start. I lathered in some sun screen and got myself ready to go.
Note that they changed the location of the start/finish area due to the flooding this Spring, so my description of some of the miles may not match previous year's events.
First Lap (Blue Course)Part of what made the Bear Chase appealing as a tune-up for JJ is the loops the course uses. Of course, no one enjoys a loop course, but it does offer some advantages in terms of logistics on race day. Bear Chase sends the 50k runners out later than the 100k and 50m runners and on their shorter (10k) course to start. In doing some pre-race analysis, I thought I could run 4:45 and was considering going out at 9:15 pace and then seeing how it felt after a few miles. Well, as soon as we started, I threw that out the window and was running close to 8:15 pace right out of the gate. Had it not been for Mt Carbon, my first mile likely would have been near 8-flat.
The first lap went by pretty quickly and easily, with only a little bit of vertical gain after the Mt Carbon climb. I knew I was in the top 10 runners but had no idea where inside the top 10. I drank water only as I attempted to allow my gut to settle in and get my aerobic/fat-burning engine going. Toward the end of the first lap, two runners passed me, the only two that would pass me all day. I came into start/finish area in good spirits and topped off water before grabbing some Tailwind out of my drop bag. I felt pretty juiced and ready to see what the day had in store.
Second Lap (Orange Course)Leaving for the second loop, my average pace was around 8:40 and I knew I had put myself out there. The only choice now was to go for it and see how long I could hold on. Though the field was still pretty sparse, I was now coming up on some 50m runners and it became difficult to know who I was encountering along the course. The next trip up Mt Carbon was a real burner and I got my HR deep into Zone 5, pretty much putting me on notice that my third trip up was going to involve some hiking.
During mile 10, we split off to go out around the Fox Hollow Golf Course and some pretty enjoyable miles, including 3 water crossings. I had mixed my Tailwind too thick (200 Kcals in a single bottle) and was using every aid station as a chance to top off my bottle and water it down. But, it was pretty clear today was a water-only kind of day after this first bottle -- the effort level and the heat were not conducive to taking in Kcals. I was in a pretty good groove until we start running on the trail along Morrison Rd, where it became clear I was red lining myself and the second half of the race was going to hurt. There are several short, steep climbs along this section that really take the steam out of you. Most of them were just steep enough to want to hike, but short enough to not want to hike. I chose hiking, mostly.
I came through the start/finish area once again and took only water and another serving of Vespa. This time I was a bit less enthused as I left, really wanting to get the final Mt Carbon climb over with.
Final Lap (Orange Course)I ran pretty well until Mt Carbon and then I hiked the entire .3 mile segment, too much burn in the legs to run it a third time. The descent and miles along Fox Hollow treated me well, including 30 sec stops in each water crossing to drench my shirt and legs. By mile 24, I was hurting bad and wondering how I was going to run for another hour. I started trying to figure out what my finish time would be if I averaged 10 minute miles. My legs were so dead the miles felt like 10 - 10:30 pace, but I managed to fight through and put in a couple more sub-9s, including walking all the steep hills in this section. During the 27th mile, I could see both runners ahead that had passed me. I would gain on them and then they'd put ground on me. There just wasn't enough gas left in the tank to catch them and I began wondering if I might get caught, so I promised myself I wouldn't walk a step -- show no weakness!
After doing a mini-out-and-back segment to the park entrance and we turned back toward the start/finish area for the last time, I became relieved knowing it would be over soon and that I was likely in fine shape to finish well and without being caught. I crossed the line in 4:33, 9th place overall and 2nd in my AG. A pretty stout 2 hour improvement on my 50K PR (though that race had 8400 feet of vert!).
I will say that I was really impressed with the management of this race. The start/finish area, while not their typical one, was great and very easy to work with aid and drop bags. The timing, bibs, busing, everything went smooth. As is typical for me, I found the trail harder than I expected, namely some reasonably technical section that left my ankles a bit stiff the next few days and some sandy sections that were tough to get great traction in. And, a fair amount of the track was narrow biking track. None of that is bad, just things to note if you ever plan to do the race. For a guy that likes to do lots of vertical, this race presented a real challenge because it was so runnable. The consistency of running for that long is not something I do often (without hiking).
I spent the remainder of the day on the couch, totally wrecked and experiencing some issues from the heat and dehydration. I've bounced back pretty good at this stage and feel good to continue training for JJ, if I can muster up the motivation!