10 May 2009

North Face Challenge Bear Mountain 50 Miler

I was very hesitant about signing up for this race not only because the terrain is SO technical (and technical running is NOT one of my strong suits), but also because last year the cutoffs were SO tight that the majority of people who started did not finish. I did not want to have a DNF after my name, but decided the pursuit of running happiness ranked higher than the potential DNF. I signed up. I really do love running; this is what sustains me, more than most people. You know how when you go to your parents' house you go straight to the fridge, pour yourself a glass of milk and can eat cookies and talk with your parents and feel so at home? That's how I feel when I'm running. More than anything else, it's ultimately, 100% me. It's my authentic self.

Starting at 5am in rain, I quickly remembered that running with my headlamp is annoying. (I was glad when it started to get light, and removed my headlamp.) The start was difficult, with some rocks, water, splashing, downhills, more rocks, rain, and still, the feeling of excitement ran through my body.

The rain stopped after about an hour or so; I drank water in between aid stations, would fill up on oranges at the aid stations, but mainly ate my own foods, which I carried and/or left in the drop bags: strawberry banana gu, pretzels, fun-sized snickers bars, and animal crackers.

I'm not the strongest technical runner, so whenever we reached a semi-flat part or less rocky part, I pounded out those miles. People were impressed (but probably not impressed with how wussy I was on the downhills). The earlier miles I ran with a bunch of people, but was very careful on the slippery boulders I ran across. I lost them then, but passed them on some flats. It's how it goes.

One of the things I love about ultrarunning is how so much can happen in one race: I met so many people (including someone who had NEVER run on a trail before in his life!) yet also spent a good part of the race by myself, admiring nature, doing some thinking. On the parts where I was able to go fast, I got to reach that state of euphoria that only running can give me. Ah, endorphins...

Around mile 18, I ran into a guy who said he was hurting. He drank some of my water, and I ended up almost not getting my water bottle back. At the mile 20 aid station, I regrouped with Nelson, saw Matt (amazing cheerleader of the day! Go Matt!), and headed out. Shortly after this, I lost Nelson and everyone else and was running alone.

I was ecstatic to make all of the cut-off points, at the mile 34.5 cutoff, I made it with 31 minutes to spare, making up time. The volunteers were so amazing, treating me like a muddy princess.

The trails...they were up, and down, and very, very rocky. We have been having heaps of rain all week, so the paths were incredibly muddy...some of the trails were SO wet, it would appear I was running in streams, or even lakes. "We need flippers for this," one trail newbie grumbled to me. It was quite mucky and I tried not to think of snakes. Luckily, I only saw one snake, and it was a garter snake. The terrain being so wet and crazy, and me being a less confident and especially less experienced trail runner, I lost time on some of these parts.

Around mile 30, my right shin really started hurting me. I had problems with shin splints two months ago or so, and while I thought they healed totally, the pain was excruciating. It was so painful the thought of dropping out crossed my mind for one second -- "In the long run, for the health of my leg, it would probably be better" -- but then I squashed that thought. "I am not causing permanent damage, I will finish. I will not DNF." Whenever the pain got bad (which was, unfortunately, quite often, especially when I was walking or starting to run again), I thought of my grandmother -- "She has cancer, had surgery, is starting radiation -- her pain is worse than this. This is for grandma." So I continued.

The volunteers were great at all of the aid stations, grabbing my water bottles, constantly asking if I needed anything. The food selection wasn't the greatest, but I enjoyed the oranges and the occasional salty potato.

I had a lot of quiet time, wit nature, to just observe and feel free. It was a struggle, but mostly, it was pure bliss. The time between aid stations seemed enormous ("This must be way more than what they said!") but the day flew by and felt much quicker than the 12:30 it took me.

There was a horrible hill around mile 46 ("There's a bit of a hill," the volunteer at the aid station prior told me unhelpfully; it was THE WORSE hill on the whole course, and seemed to go on forever), but between the last aid station and the finish, it was mostly runnable. I flew (except for where I hit the lake that took over the trail, there I ran sloppily, hoping there were no snakes).

I came in to the finish, arms raised in the air, ecstatically happy to have completed. The course was tough, the day tested me, but ultimately, I persevered.


Anonymous said...

Congrats! I live near Bear Mountain and Harriman and have put in many training miles there, and can definitely relate to the technical quality of the terrain. I'm glad that you had a good experience, because I too was turned off after reading the universally negative reviews from last year. Sounds like they improved things.


cherie said...

Yes, they made the course a lot easier this year and added more runnable portions. I don't imagine I would have been able to finish last year with how crazy technical it was!

SEXO said...

I think that, even though I did not finish, I did better last year...
You are awesome!!!

V said...

you ARE awesome!