Bear 100 retro

After the race I needed some time to deal with my disappointment about rolling my ankle and dropping out at mile 61. Then I got busy looking for a new job. Writing up a retrospective that I could use in the future was delayed. Here it is, at last. I hope it's interesting and useful to others. This kind of retrospective is something I've learned to use at work. It's roughly organized around what went well, what could be better, lessons learned, in the areas of preparation and training, planning, and execution.

First of all, the race itself was great! Other runners I know said it was, and they were right. It was very well run. The aid stations were well stocked and operated smoothly. The course was beautiful and well marked. I felt constantly challenged, safe, and encouraged. I won't forget the super runnable single track down into Leatham Hollow, the springy soil made of pine needles, the ferns, and the view of the cliffs on the sunny slope. I lived just a few miles away for 10 years, but I'd never been on that trail before. The shady side of the canyon was super lush and green, almost Pacific Northwestern compared to Colorado's Front Range foothills. My memory of arriving at the Upper Richards Hollow aid station is another favorite. After a tough climb out of a wooded canyon, we were greeted on the flat bench above by an aid station volunteer holding a tray of cool, moist towels! They invited us to freshen up and enjoy a fancy brunch at clothed tables served by volunteers in tuxedo t-shirts. More than one of us expressed the feeling that it was way too early to be having hallucinations.

Much went according to plan, or better. My summer training volume was adequate and I did plenty of hiking and running on similar terrain at a similar, or higher, elevation. 4.5 weeks of fine tuning and tapering suited me well. I started the race feeling fresh. Flying to Salt Lake City and driving to Logan worked well for me. I was able to close my eyes and snooze while others transported me from Fort Collins to SLC. After landing, I had a sentimental and tasty lunch at Red Iguana, one of my favorite restaurants. In Logan, I enjoyed an entire day of hanging out with my aunt and her dog before race day.

My simple race plan was fine. I started out aiming to leave aid stations at the times that previous 36 hour finishers have, and did that. I aimed to slow down less than the typical 36 hour finisher after 40 miles, and achieved that, too. It was a good pacing plan for finishing in less than 36 hours. At each aid station I knew how many 100 calorie portions of food I should be picking up, and how many drink bottles to fill, and this was a fine fueling and hydration plan. I didn't bonk, cramp, or run out of drinks at any point, thanks to the water drop above Temple Fork.

We had exceptionally good weather on race day and night, so flaws in my equipment choices didn't surface like they might have. Tony Grove was, in fact, a good place to have a change of clothes, pants, and a sweater. Temple Fork would have been too early for warm layers. Franklin Basin would have been too late.

My feet suffered less in 60 miles of the Bear than in any of my previous 100K runs. I lubed them well before the start and changed socks at 28 and 50 miles. I had no blisters and no hot spots. I started the race in a pair of newish HOKA Mafate Speed 4 and they were fine. In the weeks before the race I had some persistent soreness on the top of my right foot and was concerned about a stress injury, but this didn't get any worse during the Bear.

I had no crew at the race, but found good company on the trail multiple times. Sometimes with other people making their own first 100 mile attempt. Sometimes with people going for their third or fourth Bear finish. I heard hilarious stories about the extreme hallucinations you can experience after 48 hours without sleep. I met a guy who graduated from Cache Valley's other high school a year after I graduated from Logan High. I ran with a woman who lost her colon to cancer a year ago. I spent four hours on the trail before Tony Grove with a guy from Boulder who runs a molecular biology center at CU. We run many of the same routes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Now for the things that didn't go as well. Some flaws in my training and overall fitness were exposed by the Bear's long and rough downhills. I should lose at least 10 pounds. 15 might be better. I can feel the extra weight in my knees and the sensation compounded over 20+ hours. Also, I feel like I've lost foot speed and spatial sense over the last year or so. Three years ago my favorite fitness trainer went out of business and exercises like skaters and box jumps fell out of my repertoire. I believe that I can improve my proprioception by bringing these kinds of exercises back. If I can, I should be better able to dodge impacts instead of absorbing them.

My stomach was fine at the Bear, but I struggled with lower intestinal trouble from miles 20-40. I had to make a lot of stops in the trees, used up my supply of toilet paper, and had to resort to various leaves. Burdock is my friend in this situation. It wasn't the end of the world, but was a distraction. I don't know what the cause was. In the interest of keeping things simple, I had decided to go with the race's drinks instead of bringing, and mixing, my own, but I didn't train with them beforehand. Gnarly Fuel2O treated me well enough at Kettle Moraine, so I felt safe at the Bear. I started the race with 3 bottles of GU Roctane because I spaced packing some Tailwind mix for my initial bottles. I've never tried this stuff before. It has more ingredients than Taillwind or VFuel, my staples, including taurine. Maybe that was the culprit? I can only speculate. As I said, this was not a problem that would have prevented me from finishing.

Long descents in the dark made my brain and eyes tired. I was not fully prepared for this. I had a 350 lumen light on my belt and 500 lumens on my head. This was fine for 9 hours at Kettle Moraine in June, but not great for 12 hours at the Bear. I'll bring more light next time. Why spend energy trying to figure out mysteries on the trail that could be solved by better illumination?

Without a crew, my stop at Tony Grove to change clothes and get set for seven more hours of night running was overly long. I wonder if I'd left 20-30 minutes earlier I might have reached Franklin Basin without incident? At the very least, I'd have reached Franklin Basin that much sooner. A crew wouldn't have helped earlier, but would have helped at 50 miles when I was trying to change clothes, stay warm, and get fed simultaneously. It was mentally tiring at a moment where I was already mentally tired.

I've mentioned before that I left Tony Grove alone at 11 pm and had a sprained ankle at 1 pm. I was out there by myself and am not sure what happened. I could have fallen asleep on my feet; this has been known to happen. Having a pacer could have helped get me to Franklin Basin and beyond in good shape. Being able to follow someone with fresh eyes and a fresh mind would have helped with the issues I mentioned two paragraphs above. It's always easier to follow than to break trail. Even without a pacer, if I'd been in a small group I could have done some leading and some following. This would have been good. And I think getting out of Tony Grove earlier would have made it more likely to join such a group.

In hindsight, I should have had some plan for resting or napping. At 20 hours, I was more groggy than I expected, perhaps because I was alone with nothing but my breath, footsteps, and sleepy thoughts. Recently, a friend of mine shared his tactic of laying down on the trail for short naps, to be woken by the next runner 5-10 minutes behind. This issue is very connected to the previous ones. With less exertion, there is less need to nap. Even if I solve other problems, I bet I'll still run into the need to shut my eyes at 3 or 4 am. I'm going to think about this for next year.

Lastly on the could-have-gone-better front, how about my reaction to my ankle injury? My fuzzy recollection is that I came to full consciousness with a painful and unstable ankle in the dark at 1 am, a mile from the Franklin Basin aid station. I was concerned and went gingerly over that mile, and my plan was to try 15-20 minutes of elevation and compression before deciding whether to continue. I wasn't otherwise physically tired, hungry, or thirsty. My ankle became more swollen and painful while I was off my feet, and after 30 minutes I concluded that I could could not continue.

What if I had not stopped and just grabbed some hot food and kept going? The worst case scenario would have been hiking some small way toward the next aid station and having to return to Franklin Basin, with some damage done to my ankle. What if I had been able to hobble 8 miles to the Logan River aid station and continue slowly from there? I've run through mild sprains several times this year, and have endured worse grade 2 sprains than this one, yes, but not this year. Being alone out there make it harder to push on. If I was pacing myself, I may have been able to convince myself to take a shot at continuing. I think dropping out was 99% the right decision overall. My chance of making it another 8 miles to Logan River was maybe 50%, though? It's hard to say.

I learned two lessons. The TSA says no hiking poles allowed in carry on luggage! I had to leave mine behind at DEN and get new poles at the Farmington REI after leaving SLC. I won't make this mistake again.

While I was mentally prepared for the possibility of dropping out of the race, I did not have any plan for getting back to town after I did so! After two hours of sitting by the campfire at Franklin Basin I did finally meet someone who was heading directly back down the canyon to Logan.

As I said earlier, things mostly went my way. Except for some bad luck and a misstep I believe I would have finished. Registration for the 2024 edition of the Bear opens on December 1. I'm going to try again with more or less the same simple plan, stronger ankles, more light, and fewer distractions.