Bear Chase Trail Race (50 Mile) – 2014 Race Report

Setting race goals can be tricky. One of the biggest challenges for me is trying to balance outcome goals (i.e., finish time) versus process goals (i.e., pacing). In this past weekend’s Bear Chase Race 50 miler, I had set an 11 hour goal for myself. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to crank out a steady pace over the entire distance, so also set a pacing goal by breaking up that 11 hours into the following target lap times: 2:25, 2:35; 2:50; 3:10. After all, having a course comprised of 4 x 12.5 mile laps made it easy and natural to try to build a pacing strategy.

I was able to run a 10:53 and meet the finish time goal, but the process for getting there was a bit ugly, and I was pretty far off from my pacing goals. I ran both of the first two laps about 12 minutes faster than my goal times. My third lap was turned out to be eight minutes slower than my goal pace. And my fourth lap, for which I originally had a modest goal of 3:10 (which works out to be over a 15:00/mile pace), was run a full nine minutes slower than target pace.

The night after the race I was feeling a little frustrated with my inability to stick to my goal paces, but then I realized that I just pulled those goal times out of the air. Sure, there’s a certain attractiveness to the mathematical progression of the lap targets I chose: slow down 10 minutes from the first lap to the second, 15 minutes from the second to the third, and 20 minutes from the third to the fourth. But those goals weren’t based on my body, my heat tolerance, my level of fitness going into the race, or the countless other real world factors that would impact my ability to run on race day. That realization made me less bummed out.

Having a goal is important, but unless that goal is actually based on something solid it’s probably not fair to beat yourself up too much for not meeting it.

The Course.

The Start

(All pics from RunningGuru.com)

There’s something inherently unappealing about a multi-loop course, particularly when multiple events are being contested simultaneously. But surprisingly, I never really felt bored or mentally challenged by running the same trails four times. And the course never felt crowded or clogged.

The loop course did make it possible to get a good handle on what to expect throughout the race once I’d done the first lap. After the first lap I knew where the faster and shadier parts of the course were, and where the slow and deceptive parts were. This made the task at hand seem much more reasonable.

Besides that, running 12.5 mile laps was good practice for the Umstead 100 I’m signed up to run next March.

The Aid Stations.

Racers from past events have universally praised the aid stations for this event, and I have to agree that the adoration is entirely deserved.

I only carried a single water bottle, so I stopped at every single aid station (15 total stops) even if it was just to top off my bottle and grab a gel. Each time there was a volunteer who came out onto the trail to meet me, offering to fill my bottle and get me food. As a result, I don’t think there was any instance where I spent more than 15 or 30 seconds in any station.

The enthusiasm of the volunteer stayed constant throughout the event. Even on my last lap, there was an energy and enthusiasm at each aid station that helped keep my own energy and levels of enthusiasm high. I think it also must have had the same effect on other racers, too. Over the course of the day I saw precisely zero instances of rude or inconsiderate racer behavior.

What I Learned.

  • I’m getting older. And I’m getting a little thinner… up top. My hair is apparently no longer enough to protect the top of my head from sunburn, as this race left me with some red scalp. Visors are no longer going to cut it for me. I need to wear a full on hat from here on out.
  • The heat of the day led to some nausea on the third lap, and that led to me reducing my calorie intake. It probably slowed me a bit more on my last lap, but it could have turned into a significant problem if the race was longer.
  • I wore two different pairs of shoes during the race (two laps each). The first pair fits pretty true to size, and I experimented with tying them a little looser than normal, just to give my feet a little extra room to breathe. This was pretty successful, as I didn’t have any blister or hotspot issues, although the looser laces meant that more sediment came in through the tops of the shoes on the creek crossings. This is worth further experimentation.

Interesting Internal Chatter.

During the first few miles of that last lap I’d begin walking on flat sections of trail, and my logical brain kept reminding me that walking at 18-20 minute mile pace wasn’t really any more comfortable than shuffling along at 13-14 minute mile pace. And it wasn’t helping me recover to be able to move more quickly later in the lap. The only thing walking was doing was keeping me on the course longer. I had to keep reminding myself of this in order to get the legs back to running pace again.

On the last 6 miles of the race, the negotiations began. I’m not sure if this is something that anyone else ever has to face, but there’s a part of my internal dialogue that went like this:

You didn’t have any good or logical reason for choosing an 11 hours finish goal… why are you going to suffer more just to try to get it?

and

What’s the difference between an 10:59 finish time and an 11:06 or 11:15 finish time? No big deal…

and

Hmm…. that left pinky toe feels like it’s blistered. Maybe you should stop at the 47.8 mile aid station and take a look. Maybe get some Vaseline on it…

On the whole I was able to overcome most of this negative/unhelpful thinking, but not entirely. In any case, it was good to experience this “Logical Brain” vs. “Ahh… Screw It Brain” chatter, so that I can perhaps be a little better prepared for it when I attempt my first 100.

4

Butterflies

About a week ago, Ellie Greenwood wrote an article about a tendency among some ultrarunners to avoid “shorter” races like the marathon. Among the possible explanations, she states that:

…maybe, just maybe, it’s because we as ultrarunners are sometimes afraid to put ourselves up against a standard distance and an unforgiving clock and see if we can knock out mile after mile of evenly paced running. It’s not an easy thing to do and it can be somewhat intimidating.

As I read that line, I nodded to myself. Certainly the other reasons she gave (including that marathons can sometimes feel over-commercialized and/or over-hyped) hold true, but the reluctance to embrace “speed” (whatever that means for a given individual) is certainly something I suffer from. It seems like shorter races demand speed, so I probably wouldn’t do a good job at running a road half-marathon or marathon just to enjoy the experience.

But today I realized that even within the realm of trail ultras, these same mental hurdles can pop up.

Case in point: the race I’m going to run tomorrow, the Bear Chase, is 50 miles — the same distance as the Tahoe Rim Trail run I ran two months ago.

But the course for the Bear Chase has less than half the vertical change as the Tahoe Rim race, and is significantly less technical. And there are more aid stations at the Bear Chase, so I’ll run with one bottle instead of two. And the base elevation of the course is lower. And the weather forecast for the Bear Chase calls for a warm day (and I hate the heat), there isn’t any chance of scary electrical storms like we had in Tahoe. And since tomorrow’s race is a local event, I don’t have to travel far, and even get to sleep in my bed tonight.

So why am I stressed?

I’m stressed BECAUSE of all those differences. They lead to the inescapable conclusion that Bear Chase is a faster course than the Tahoe Rim. And that means there are self-imposed (though of unknown origin) time expectations hanging over my head. For someone who tells himself (and almost entirely believes) that he’s indifferent to speed, those expectations are something of a burden.

After all, I’ve got to run faster than what I ran at Tahoe, right? I mean, my time tomorrow should be at least an hour, maybe two… or more… quicker than Tahoe. There’s no Red House Loop or climb up Incline Village! The trails aren’t nearly as twisty, and they’re not nearly as rocky!

I’m not sure how these thoughts crept into my mind, but today it’s hard to keep them at bay. Somehow, even though I didn’t have a training plan in place for this race, and it wasn’t a focus of my running calendar this year, something has me a little out of sorts.

The day before running a new event stinks.

Maybe heading to an ultra for the first time is like going out on a first date. The date itself is never anywhere near as stressful or exciting as  the anticipation of it. Managing expectations and fear is a constant challenge. And the first date with someone new is ALWAYS going to bring up the butterflies in the stomach, even if you’ve dated plenty of other people before.

The funny thing is, I know myself well enough to realize that all this pre-race tension/excitement will quickly fade away once I get to the start area tomorrow morning. Once the gun goes off and running actually starts, I know I’ll be back to a happier state of mind within just a few strides down the trail.

 

Clickety Click Click Click

One of the most interesting things about getting older is that I’ve had the chance to experience firsthand the way things “used to be.” The nature of many running events has certainly changed a lot, but the act of registering for races seems to have changed at least as much as the races themselves.

In the 1980’s and early 90’s, in order to sign up for a race I’d go to a running store, find the stacks of race flyers and xeroxed pages, fill out the form, write a check, send it all in, then show up on race day (all the while trying to manage the fear that was always in the back of my mind that my entry got lost in the mail and they wouldn’t have me on their registration list). Races in other parts of the country required a person to take the extra step of writing to the Race Director to request an entry form — adding more days (or even weeks) to the signup process.

Fast forward to today, where all of that takes place in seconds. Forget about signing up on a whim for the popular races (which, increasingly, seems to include just about every well-established ultra event). If you haven’t planned your entry ahead of time, and you’re not ready to commit at just the right moment, and you don’t have luck on your side…. then better luck next year (or perhaps the year after).

Today, for example, I spent the 15 minutes leading up to the opening of on-line registration for the Umstead 100 (noon EDT) on my computer, clicking “refresh” what seems like many hundreds of times, trying to catch the precise minute (well, given what I’ve read about the number of people who were trying to register this year, the precise second) that the registration link became available. And I’m constantly trying to fend off the fear that I get so overzealous in my refreshy-clickiness that I accidentally refresh the page when the registration link is first available, only to find that it’s no longer there upon the next refresh, and I’ve lost my one chance to sign up. Perhaps that’s one of the digital analogues to the old-timey fear that my registration check gets lost in the mail.

On one of my refreshes I saw the link (AWESOME!), and began working my way through the registration form within the allotted 12 minutes (Oh God…. don’t let my computer crash right now and please let me not kick out the power cord…..). And the knots in my stomach went away when I saw this:

FireShot Screen Capture #088 - 'You're going to 21st Annual Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run' - www_eventbrite_com_orderconfirmation_12445969229_337958657_AA6ItQPuCMBlIBweB6FKHzzugr2tJ0QDVA

Well, to be honest, the knots in my stomach aren’t gone. They’ve just been replaced with a different set of knots.

Now I’m going to the 21st Annual Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run!