We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” -2 Corinthians 4:8-9
I expected 2018 to be a challenging year and it has not let me down. One event that I didn’t expect was having to drop from the Bear 100 around mile 70 due to difficulty breathing… a good reason to stop if ever there was one!
When I wasn’t selected for the WS100, Hardrock, or UTMB lotteries at the end of 2017, I felt like it was blessing since I expected my wife Alison would be having her ankle replacement surgery sometime during the summer. I chose the Bear 100 since it would give me the lottery tickets to re-enter all of those races above , it was a race I had never run, and it was late enough that I could get some great training in August/Sept once Alison was up and about.
Getting ahead of myself- First half of 2018
In January I was running down Squaw Peak, the second highest mountain in the Phoenix area, with my friend John when I tripped fell hard enough to tear my rotator-cuff. The pain immediately after the fall and after surgery was nothing compared to the recovery, which was the most challenging. Lack of both sleep and running was not healthy for me either physically or mentally. I wasn’t able to run in February or March. This clearly ruined my plans to try and help my buddy Chris go sub-3 at the Run for the Red Marathon in May, which was the only other race I considered this year. Despite the lack of training and weight I had gained during my rehab, I still squeaked out a Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3:23. It was a well needed boost to my confidence.
In the weeks leading up to the marathon, we found out that the earliest Alison could have her surgery was at the beginning of August. Taking care of her and my family was clearly the priority and I couldn’t have done it without many of our friends from church, my running group, and our neighborhood. Alison was non-weight bearing for 6-weeks and given it was her right foot, that also meant no driving. As a result, it was a hectic and challenging 6-weeks that included moving 2 kids into college and working with others to help get my two other teenage girls to all their activities when I traveled… and I traveled a lot in September!
As a result, training was not what I would have liked and my goal for the Bear 100 was just to complete. I felt good about the race and ability to accomplish this given my experience and the training I was able to squeak in.
Surrounded By God’s Creation
After dealing with the heat and humidity on the east coast, I wasn’t too worried about the forecast that called for warmer than normal temps… it was “dry heat” after all. The temperature was never an issue but the “dry” part sure was.
The race began at 6am on a cool dark morning. Within a couple of miles, we began our initial ascent that involved mostly climbing for the first 10-15 miles. It wasn’t as steep as I had expected and this stopped me from going out fast. I didn’t mind the easy pace since I only had a limited amount of vert (climbing) training. In addition, the race takes place between 7-9,000 feet but altitude has never been a big issue for me when I am not trying to push too hard and I was feeling good.
Although many of us were going slower, the conga line of people made for plenty of dust as we continued up. I hadn’t thought much of it and would have brought a Buff to wear around my face if I thought it would be a concern. Unfortunately I didn’t know that I would be dealing with this dust cloud and breathing in this crap for most of the race!
However, the course itself was absolutely beautiful. The sun rose while we climbed and the colors of the fall leaves in the mountains were a spectacular array of bright reds, yellows, and greens. I thanked the Lord for the chance to experience His beauty all around me and was having an enjoyable day in the mountains doing what I love.
From Day to Night to OH NO!
I felt good throughout the day and looked forward to the night. I spent a significant amount of time packing my 11 drop bags since it seemed like this race had dealt with everything from cold torrential downpours to snow over the past several years. However, there had been no precipitation in the forecast leading up to or for the race. The temps definitely dropped with the sun but other than the coughing up crap from my throat and nose due to the dust, I was moving along nicely.
The aid stations were great and overall my nutrition plan was working well thanks to an awesome selection of everything from breakfast burritos to pickles and potatoes! Despite spending hours and hours planning and packing my drop bags, I made one error and forgot to pack a headlamp in an earlier drop bag.
When I arrive at Temple Fork Aid Station (AS) at mile 45, I realized I would be cutting it close to get to the next AS without a headlamp. I did have my phone but did not exactly want to rely on it for a mountain race. I decided to see if another runner’s crew might be willing to help me out, and I was not disappointed. As I have written before, one aspect of ultrarunning that I love is the people and their desire to see all the runners finish. The gentleman (I feel so bad I forgot names) I asked handed me an awesome Petzl headlamp that was definitely needed before I arrived at the next AS. As I entered Tony Grove AS (mile 52), he was there holding his baby and I couldn’t thank him enough before getting my headlamp from my own drop bag. After taking in some nutrition and encouraging others who were struggling, I headed back out in the dark dusty night feeling as good as I’d expect at that point in a difficult race.
“Fear” – First Time During An Ultra
Other than my headlamp mishap, things were going well considering I had run over 50 miles at elevation in the mountains. I was moving a little slower than I would have liked but what I should have expected. My new Petzel Neo+ was awesome and I was glad I made the purchase only a few weeks before the race. The headlamp actually seemed too strong at times because it was difficult to see too far ahead given all the dust in the air. It almost reminded me of putting on your high beams when there is thick fog.
At Franklin Trailhead AS (mile 62) and Logan River AS (mile 69), I heard people talk about dropping and tried to encourage them to get back out there. Here I was at Logan River AS telling another runner he can do this and not to drop. Shortly thereafter, I headed out and looked forward to crossing the state line into Idaho for the first time ever.
As I left Logan River AS things seemed to be fine. I continued to cough but nothing out of the ordinary. Then all of the sudden it hit me shortly after leaving the AS. I began having trouble breathing, even when I walked. Part of it was because I could not stop coughing but then I truly became scared. I realize some may say “scared” or talk about fear, but it is a word that I don’t use lightly. I have experienced several EIA (exercise induced anaphylaxis) episodes since 2016 that put me in the emergency room because I couldn’t breathe and I now run with an epi-pen. I pulled it out but this wasn’t the same. There was no itching or swelling of the eyes which are the telltale signs for me, only difficulty breathing. I used an inhaler but it did nothing. Here I was alone in the woods with no cell service (on the whole course) and my epi-pen in hand trying to breathe.
I didn’t use it at that point since my breathing seemed better when I wasn’t moving. It was clear that it was time to drop or I would “drop” literally. I very slowly made way back to the aid station taking a few steps at a time. I was once again reminded why I love the ultra-community. Every runner I passed asked if I was ok and if they could help (after some jokes of course from a few wiseguys). Several even offered to go back with me to make sure I got to the AS safely. I didn’t feel like I needed their support if I took my time and didn’t want to ruin their race.
The folks at the aid station were wondering why I was coming back from that direction as I entered the tent. While they offered to call for medical services, I was breathing better when I wasn’t moving. Another runner, David, was dropping from the race as well with his pacer. Their crew was picking them up and the kindness of ultra-runners was on full display as they made room for me in their truck and brought me back to my car at the start.
As I continued to sneeze and cough up disgusting dark phlegm from my lungs, I was disappointed but knew I made the right decision. I got back to the hotel where the hot shower never felt so good. The steam seemed to help clear my airways as the dirt streamed off my entire body .
One of the amazing parts of the entire race was since I never really pushed hard, I felt pretty good the following day. I had some soreness in my quads and hamstrings but have done more damage on training runs. The rest of me felt great and I quickly began to wonder if I could maybe get another WS100 qualifier in 2018. However I knew I needed a few days to thinks things through.
After having to drop at Grindstone a few years ago due to lack of clothes and freezing temps, I made it a point to over think and over pack my drop bags. Unfortunately I didn’t bring any buffs (face mask) that would have helped. I should have known better as I had a similar challenge at WS100 in 2014. Fortunately the dust was only in the first 6+ miles compared to most of the Bear 100 course I was able to cover.
I also was clearly not as prepared as I would have liked either given the lack of hill training and busy weeks leading up to the race. Despite the disappointing result, I am healthy and had a great time enjoying the mountains and great people in the ultra-community. The support and encouragement of my family, running & non-running friends, colleagues, and others always make these experiences so special. I especially have to than coach Bobby “Goat” and daughter Bailey who wrote me personal notes of encouragement and prayer to be read at several key aid stations.
There are many reasons why I love these races and this distance. Many have been mentioned above. However, it is the ability to completely disconnect from a world that is clearly in trouble and connect with the Lord in His creation to find peace and strength. Even with the challenges I experienced I know he was alway there and I continue to pray that He use me in ways that may inspire others to seek Him.
Thank you everyone for reading this. I look forward to sharing what could be considered part two since 4 weeks later I ran another 100 mile race very few even knew about beforehand… more about that in my next post!
DNF= Did Not Finish