I’m never allowed to choose races again.
Yesterday Dan and I ran The North Face Bear Mountain 50 Mile, in the Caskills of New York State. We set off at 5am with 275 other
idiotsrunners. The weather was ok, cloudy, humid, but no rain around 18 degrees Celsius.
We set out feeling ready for this race, confident in our training. It was dark and we had to where head lamps for the first hour. We agreed that we needed to practice our night running, the terrain was really rocky and the ground wet from the night before’s rain, but we both managed to stay upright.
We came into the first aid station in about 53 minutes, ditched the head lamps at our drop bags, and carried on our way, feeling good. It is a really hilly course with a total elevation change of 14074 feet, the elevation didn’t really bother us, what we hadn’t realised was that it would be the terrain that would be the tough part. A good chunk of the race seemed to take place on old river beds, very rocky, or sometimes we just ran across giant rocks.
We had been running bang on a 12 hour pace as we headed out of the 3rd aid station, but the terrain would just keep slowing us down. I don’t know how to convey how tough it was, jutted rocks everywhere, lots of mud to sink into, water crossings (none of which is mentioned on the website or course description), half the course was run on loose rocks of all shapes and sizes, we had to scramble up and down rock faces. I’m not complaining, much it was a lot of fun, but we just couldn’t move fast, I don’t know how the elites do it.
We made the first hard cut off with about 20 mins to spare.
But there were lots of us and people still coming behind us, we weren’t worried. We had 7 miles to make it to the next aid station where we would be over half way done and where our drop bags would be (hooray for fresh socks!) But this 7 miles seemed to last forever and I would say I hit my first real low of the race. My legs were starting to hurt from the jarring terrain, I was hungry and I just wanted to get to the next aid station. Dan was having some indigestion issues, so I was trying to get him through that. He was starting to feel better and I can’t remember what exactly he asked but my response was bursting into tears. I managed to sob out “Just keep going already, I can’t stop anymore” and with that Dan turned and paced us into the Camp Lanowa aid station.
I have to say the volunteers at all the aid stations were great but the girls at Camp Lanowa were amazing. They had a spotter who called out our numbers on our approach so our drop bags were waiting beside chairs. We both got individual attention, my water was filled for me, gatorade topped up, garbage taken out of my bag, the young lady even removed my timing chip from my one pair of shoes and put it onto to my other shoes, while I tried clean my feet up. We were told we had 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to the next aid station which was another hard cut-off, 10 kms away, that should be enough time normally but with this terrain we just didn’t know. We agreed that we wouldn’t give up and just continue as best we could, which is what we’d done the whole race.
This was another tough section, we were teased with an amazing down hill on a road (5:45min/km), but then paid dearly with a very steep rocky climb/scramble (when I say scramble it means I needed to use my hands). We started passing runners who were going to drop out, which was depressing, but they wished us luck. There was a lot of watch checking. Dan asked if he thought I’d be able to go on even if we made the cut off, I told him we’d make that decision when we got to the aid station. Finally we could see it. It was still slow plodding to get there, but we made it! With 3 minutes to spare. Dan sat down as I refilled my water and after a minute of rest he agreed that we should carry on, and then we watched as the last person to make the cut off came into the aid station and we were told we had to leave.
So we set off with a new game plan of “power” hiking to the next aid station and assessing how we felt. This system worked fabulously and eventually we had a little train of what would become the “last place crew” also feeling the benefits (there were 6 of us fighting it out for last!). Something very frightening also happened along this section, our path was blocked. By a RATTLESNAKE!!!! Now we never found our the real names of our companions but I created nicknames for all of them, so thankfully it was Green Sleeves (because he was wearing green compression sleeves) and Blue t-shirt man (pretty self explanitory) that found snake. Green Sleeves apparently screamed like a girl and Blue t-shirt man is a local who deals with this all the time. They had to find big sticks and it took both of them to lift the snake off the trail. It was big. The deed was done by the time we approached and Blue t-shirt man happily pointed out where said snake was and boy was his rattle going. I turned to look at Dan to see his reaction but he had just kept on going, Dan really does not like snakes. I don’t know what we would’ve have done had we come across it, Dan probably would’ve legged it back to the last aid station demanding to be taken home leaving me there screaming like a girl!
So we continued to hike/run to the next aid station, this aid station had also been our first aid station so we had a bag there and we dumped everything we felt we didn’t need and marched on with only 16km to the finish. Now we had been told that one of the worst sections was after the Queensboro aid station which we were heading to, but our “crew” agreed that this section was tough too with another rock scramble up and a straight down descent, but we finally rolled into Queensboro which was once again filled with amazing volunteers, I knew we looked like crap because for the first time the doctors actually talked to Dan and I and made sure we’d been drinking and peeing (which I can happily report our nutrition and hydration was executed perfectly). We reluctantly set off knowing we were heading into, well I just call it Hell. First bit took us along the side of a mountain that we felt like we could slide/fall off at any time, then it was another horrible rocky climb to another horrible rocky descent that went on as far as I could see and I just lost it. I was sobbing/crying the whole way down, there was nothing I could do, I had to go down to get off the mountain but this course was destroying my belief in myself. Somehow we made it down to the aid station, it took us an hour and a half to travel less than 5km. I was still crying when I reached the aid station, which being Canadian I apologised for. Thankfully this sweet girl who had run the 50km was there helping out and she assured me that worst was over, I was also told I wasn’t the first to have come in crying! So with 15 minutes before the 14 hour cut off for the finish we headed off with 4.5km to go. It really was a decent trail which made me feel better, we even stopped for one last picture.
And finally we saw a volunteer who cheered and told us to follow the cones home and we did. And we were so happy to see the finish gate and completely surprised to see people cheering and the announcer still sitting there cheering us through the gate, where we were handed medals!
So total time 14 hours 24 minutes. Big shout out to the Race Director for letting us finish and even giving us a finishers medal even though we missed the cut off by 24 minutes. As for our “last place crew”. Green sSleeves rallied and made the cut off with two mintues to spare, Blue t-shirt man missed it by 7 minutes, then it was us and we got cheer in Sleeveless Shirt man, another guy we picked up at the Queeensboro aid station and lastly Skirt Girl (actual name Michele) Way to finish it out girl!!
Some final thoughts, we learned as we chatted with other runners, that we chose and extremely difficult course as our first 50 mile race. More than a 3rd of the racers would drop out. Also the course measured long on everybody’s GPS watches, which typically on a course with so much elevation it should measure short, so there was a lot of discussion/rumors that the course was longer than 50 miles, whatever.
We are stubborn and refuse to give up, even through my tears I was still moving forward. This race was frustrating for us because we did everything we could, we just weren’t fast enough.
With both finished with blisters and yes, we are sore but all things considered we doing ok. Dan already wants to find another 50 miler to try this year!