I have officially ran my first ultra – the Bear Chase 50K – so I guess that means I get to start calling myself an ultra marathoner, right? It feels weird to say that. In the grand scheme of things 31 miles really isn’t that far, especially when you consider 50 miles or 100 miles or more. And this 50K was hands down easier than any of my marathons, both mentally and physically. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk nonstop about this race to anyone who will listen…
We’re all actually really lucky this race even happened this weekend. The race is held in Bear Creek Lake Park which is apparently designed to dam up any flood waters before it can take out thousands of homes to the east. With all the rain in Colorado lately the park and its dam are currently holding seven times more water than usual. The original race start/finish has spent the last two weeks under 40 feet of water. At least 50% of the race course is at the bottom of the expanding “lake”. The Race Directors worked their tails off and re-routed the entire course – it had more pavement, but it was happening!
At least it was until 7:25pm on Friday night when they had to cancel the ultras slated to start on Saturday morning. It had rained all day Friday and the trails were muddy and un-runnable. Since we were racing in a state park with strict trail use policies the RD’s had no choice – they had to postpone the ultras until Sunday to run along with the half/10K races. People were upset, for obvious reasons but most everyone understood. I was not one of upset people. Originally I was missing out on an awesome mountain hike because of my race but with a postponed race I’d be able to make it up into the mountains!
Yup. I was that smart. I choose to summit two 13’ers the day before my first 50K. If my race goals were anymore than “survive” it would have been an incredibly stupid decision but in the end I think it worked out to my advantage. Knowing I was running with a tired body meant I had the sense to stay conservative for 20+ miles then finish strong and happy!
On Sunday morning we arrived at the park just before 6am which gave me just enough time to stand out in the breezy cold reconsidering my decision to go with the shorts and tank top. The 100K took off at 6:30am with the 50Miler shortly after and finally the 50K.
I was excited. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t nervous. I was legitimately excited to go out, run and see what my legs could do. I knew I could cover the distance, the challenge would be staying happy, relatively pain-free and sort of smart. Spoiler: I pulled it off!
Loop 1: 0-10.3 Miles
I spent a lot of time just following the person in front of me for the first loop. I had no desire to push the pace and if I could comfortably run at their pace then I was happy. There was a bit of a bottleneck in the first mile when we switched from a wide path to single track. No one freaked out or complained – we simply waited until we started moving again. I knew right then it was going to be a whole new race experience for me, one I was going to love!
Shortly after the water crossing near mile 2 everyone spread out on the wider paved trail and I settled into a pace that felt slow and easy. The pavement led us up Mt Carbon where I forced myself to take walk breaks. This was probably the biggest challenge for me. I have run Mt Carbon multiple times and it’s not a hard hill…but with three climbs over 30 miles I figured it would be smart to take it easy from the get go. I picked out landmarks and forced myself to walk, which turned out to be a good plan.
One of my favorite parts of the course was running down the single track on Mt Carbon. It felt so good to get onto the trail and stretch out the legs! Plus, I knew the Homestead aid station was coming up and I desperately needed to pee! After a quick stop in the cleanest porta potty I’ve ever seen I grabbed some Peanut M&Ms and Oreos before getting back on the trail.
There was another stretch of brutal pavement through the golf course that eventually lead us to more single track. Fun single track that rolled along then gradually dropped down to an aid station where Chris was waiting then the start/finish. Knowing this made it a bit more bearable. It was on this pavement that the first half marathoner came flying by. I spent the next 5 miles moving aside as they cruised by. It sounds kind of annoying but I really liked it – I got to see amazing runners, they all said “thank you” when I got off the trail and it was really motivating. I actually had a hard time keeping my pace in check!
Around mile 7 I saw Chris up ahead on the trail. At this point I was all smiles and super pumped to see someone I knew. I veered off the trail and nearly toppled him with a bear hug. I was having fun, this was the best decision ever, yay life! A spectator a few feet up the trail picked up on my crazy and offered up a hug – you better believe I took it! Even better – she remembered me when she saw me on my third lap and I got another hug. I love hugs!
I hit the Cattail Creek aid station just before mile 8 and was psyched to see Steve, a fellow Stunner from the Wild West Relay. Ah! I love familiar faces on race courses! I shoved some pretzels in my mouth and grabbed a handful of the saltiest potato chips ever before I took off. Those potato chips hit the spot, eating a heart attack never tasted so freaking good!
From here it was mostly downhill to the start/finish. With all the half marathoners coming by it was hard to keep it slow so my pace definitely jumped a bit. It was still comfortable running so I didn’t stress it. I was having fun! I looped through the start/finish, handed off my sleeves to Nick and got my handheld refilled with a gel and cold water. It was a quick stop and before long I was off running again.
Loop 2: 10.3-20.6 Miles
I headed out of the start/finish area with a pace about 0:30/mile faster than my “optimistic goal”. I felt good at the moment but I had 20 miles to go. I spent the next few miles reminding myself that I wasn’t allowed to get stupid until mile 20.
As I headed up Mt Carbon I stuck with my walk/run strategy from the first loop then had a little fun on the single track on the way down. Once again I was excited for the Homestead aid station only this time it was because I was hungry. So hungry. I had ditched my personal stash of food at the start/finish and almost immediately regretted it. I shoved a PB&J sandwich in my mouth and filled my hand with some more delicious potato chips. Ah, those potato chips!
The next few miles were relatively uneventful. I had a head full of gibberish to tell Chris when I saw him and was confused when I came into the Cattail Creek aid station without seeing him. I was quickly distracted by cold water and potato chips so when I did see him about a half mile past the aid station I was completely unprepared and could barely form the words asking him to take my snot covered gloves. It’s weird how my runner’s brain does that. I had spent 2 miles thinking about what I’d tell him when I saw him but when I did see him I barely recognized him!
On the last short climb before the finish line I caught up with a couple who was kind enough to ask if I wanted to pass. I stuck behind them and this lead to a short conversation about the abuse our knees were getting from the pavement. I had started to feel it in my knees around mile 17 and the guy ahead of me said his knees hurt more now (at mile 20) than they did at mile 70 of the Leadville 100. That sucks…but I’m glad it wasn’t just my knees! Turns out pavement kind of hurts if you spend all your training time on the softer dirt trails!
When I came into the start/finish all I wanted was cold, gel-free water. I had been mixing caffeinated gels into my handheld so I had a constant source of water and energy but I was so sick of this concoction! I wanted plain water! Who knew something so simple could be so great! With a refilled handheld and another handful of chips I was off for my third and final loop!
Loop 3: 20.6-31 Miles
My average pace had dropped a bit during the last loop, primarily because I kept telling myself to take it easy. Even so I was definitely going to cover the first 26.2 miles faster than my first marathon finish time! I told myself if I kept it smart until I hit a marathon I would let my legs do whatever stupid thing they wanted.
On the paved route headed toward Mt Carbon I came upon Laura – a Runner’s Roost runner I’d met at Run, Rabbit, Run – and we settled into a chatty pace. We stuck together until we started down Mt Carbon. At this point I decided I’d kept it smart for long enough. My legs still had a little stupid left in them so I let them enjoy the downhill.
As I came into the Homestead aid station they offered up Mt Dew and I nearly hugged the volunteer. I think I actually did a gleeful bounce as she refilled my cup. It was glorious and went perfect with the potato chips I’d become obsessed with!
I knew I only had 5 miles to go and while my knees were hating the pavement I knew they would hold up. The pain was never consistently in one place for more than a few minutes. Instead it moved around, switched knees and sometimes disappeared all together. It was weird. The balls of my feet were also very upset with me – turns out they don’t appreciate miles of rocky mountain hiking followed by hours of pounding pavement. Whodathunk?!
When I made the final turn off the pavement I got excited. It was a long, easy trail from here…a trail I have already enjoyed twice, a trail that lead to the finish of my first 50K. I focused on the tree on the hill where I knew I’d willingly let myself walk. For the first time on this stretch I didn’t have anyone ahead of me to pace off of. Instead I just let me legs go on the gradual downhill, use whatever momentum I had for the short climbs and walked what wasn’t an easy run.
I was having fun. And I was doing math – I would definitely finish in less than 6 hours, even if I slowed down. You’d think this would give me reason to stick with a comfortable pace. Nope. Instead I wanted to see how far below 6 hours I’d be able to manage. For what seemed like forever my average pace was stuck at 11:17 but my Garmin kept telling me my current pace was bouncing between 8:45-9:45. I hit mile 28 and knew I’d be able to pull off a sub-30 minute 5K. Now I had my eyes on a 5:50 finish.
The Cattail Creek aid station was offering up Mt Dew this time so I had to stop, plus those darn chips were staring at me again. As I was leaving the aid station I heard Jeremy – another #1 Stunner from the Wild West Relay – asking for a water refill. He was aiming for a 7ish hour 50Mile finish with one lap to go. I knew he’d lap me before I could finish but I decided to pick it up a bit see how much ground I could cover before he had a chance to catch up.
I made it about 1/2 mile before I heard fast feet behind me…and felt the shot of freezing cold water square in the back. He had caught up. Our paces evened out for a few minutes as we chatted but before long he took off ahead of me. I refused to let him get more than a hundred or so feet ahead of me as I essentially chased him to the finish.
All of a sudden the finish was there. I’d run through this area twice already and it still surprised me. I was done. I had successfully ran a 50K. I had met, or exceeded, every goal I had set for myself…the day after I hiked up two mountains! All I wanted was cold water. My mouth was sticky from all the gel, my fingers were salty and I was thirsty. I suddenly realized how hot I was. My shoes got kicked off and I was so relieved to see blood-free socks! Yea, my brain was bouncing around that much!
I have to thank Chris and Nick a million times over for being out on the course! Chris stayed out and about on the course while Nick hung out close to home base. He was there helping out other Roost runners but it was great to have a familiar face there to greet me! And I am so impressed with the Bear Chase Race Directors for pulling this race off. It went smoothly for me, I have zero complaints. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a beginner ultra…although hopefully there will never be another year with this much last minute course drama!
The day was about SO much more than just numbers and I’m sure I’ll have a race someday when I really hate the numbers. But not this time. It might be because I have nothing to compare these numbers to but I am really proud of them…
For just one second can we take a look at mile 30/31!? Yea – that is just how good I felt at the end! I definitely could have ran faster through out the race – I never dropped below a 10:30 pace until mile 29 with most miles clocking in at 11:xx – but I’m glad I didn’t. I am really happy with my finish. I really wanted to have a positive finish and I pulled that off so I am more than happy with my pace and every decision I made on race day.
So there you have it…the full recap of my first ultra marathon! It’s a long winded doozy, but it is all right there! I have no idea what I’m doing next but I do have a lot of random thoughts and observations I’m sure I’ll be back with. Plus, the official race photos aren’t up yet and those are always fun to share!