Monday, September 29, 2014

100 miles is really too far

Bear 100

Some people genuinely enjoy running 100 miles. They must, or they wouldn't go back right? Folks like Davy Crockett, Scott Mills, Speedgoat, and that super old guy whose run over 100 of them. Am I missing something or do those guys just not feel pain? Or do they ignore it? Or do they embrace it? I think ultrarunners must suffer from long term memory loss. We can't remember how miserable we were. I can't believe I'm the only one out there who isn't having a ton of fun the entire way.

Regardless of how others handle the 100 mile distance I have come to the conclusion that I am not cut out for this garbage. After about 50-60 miles, I'm done. Then its just a fight to endure the next 12 or so hours of full on misery. After last year's Wasatch 100, I told Annie I wouldn't ever run another 100 miler. Realizing that I make a lot of bogus claims like this and that I'm more or less an idiot, she calmly said, "ok Vern, whatever you say", knowing full well I likely would do another.
Leatham Hollow

And so I, being an idiot, entered the Bear 100. There were a number of reasons I signed up, wanting to go sub 24 hours, revisit an area with beautiful trails where I went to college, possibly qualifying for Hardrock. Plus in my opinion completing the 100 mile distance is what really makes you a certified ultrarunner, so I wanted to run more than just one. My running hadn't been quite as serious this year as last years due to Timbre being born, but I still got a few long outings in. I felt recovered from the WURL two weeks ago and despite how awful I felt after that event I was hoping the Bear would be different since it was on trails and not off trail scrambling.

 It wasn't.

Blind Hollow

After two years of data analysis, my pattern recognition software finally kicked out a result: I don't suffer well. When the going gets tough, I like to quit. Two major 26-27 hour efforts in the last two weeks have both resulted in me whining like a little schoolgirl and pleading with those nearby to take me out to the barn and finish me off with a blunt instrument like old Bessie the beef cow. For some reason I don't like pain. Go figure.

My Bear 100 experience started off well. From Dry Canyon to Tony Grove(mile 52)I felt good, was hitting my sub 24 hour splits, the weather was warm but not super hot, and the scenery was fantastic. Then I ate two cups of delicious chili and pumpkin bread at Tony's and my stomach violently rebelled like Luke Skywalker against the Empire. I failed to run very much at all the next 10 miles, then darkness came. I lost a solid hour off my splits from Franklin to the Gibson aid station due to who knows what, likely just from being alone at night in a foreign land after running 60 miles. I scrounged up some energy and flailed to mile 75 to meet Annie and Steve who would pace me the last 25(thank goodness).
Always beautiful Tony Grove

Delicious but evil

Headed back out 

Steve did an excellent job, as he did on the WURL, keeping me going one step at a time to the end. We walked and walked and walked(like the Pioneer song) and did little running. Every aid station I sat down, swore at myself, the race director, the other runners for looking so less miserable than me, waited for Steve to count down the time left, cursed Steve for loving 100 milers so much, and then hefting my butt back out into the cold and wished for death, Steve was a great pacer, lying to me the whole way, which is what pacers are supposed to do:

"You are really moving well"(1 mile/hour)
"I remember this section, the aid station is only 5 minutes away"(45 min away)
"I think the rain is letting up" (only 2 inches/hour)
"Isn't this fun?"(no)
"This section is all downhill"(then why are we going up?)
"At least this isn't the FE(fundamentals of engineering exam, 8 hour long test all undergrad engineers take)(at least at the FE you get to sit down)

Miles 83 to the end were a mix between mud wrestling and the pitch black water park ride at Seven Peaks. The course required less running and more skiing. The constant downpour of cold rain didn't help moral. Once I reached Ranger Dip at mile 92 it was just a matter of chugging up the last Everest of a horrendous climb and sliding down the other side.
Looks like I did a number in my pants, but it came from outside I promise

I will never leave 

I rolled into the finish at 25:55, 2 hours shy of my goal, but happy to be done. I endured sore legs, blisters, toenail death, butt chafing, groin chaffing, nausea, headache, back pain, and an annoyingly positive pacer. Sounds like a spa weekend doesn't it? I felt for Pete who still had 9 more hours out there in the cold, but he's a better man than I. Annie drove me to Rancheritos for a breakfast burrito then a shower and a nap. (the shower and nap did not occur at Rancheritos)

Despite the idea that I would love to experience some of the other iconic 100 mile distance races like Hardrock or States or even UTMB, I ultimately think those races would be more of ticking things off a list than if I'd actually enjoy the race or not. For me running is largely about enjoying the scenery and places it takes me. Usually after 50 miles or so darkness arrives, scenery disappears, and fatigue and sleep deprivation take its place. Why did I sign up to pay $250 to enjoy only half a race? 50 miles is plenty of time to get tired, believe me, I don't need any more miles to get a workout in. Personally I find the 50k distance to be ideal, just long enough to push your buttons, but just when you feel like you need to be done the finish line appears, unlike a 100 miler when you are only a third done.

Most 100 milers also seem pretty contrived.  A few do a big loop(Hardrock) or point-to-point(Wasatch, Bear) which is ideal, but out and back races(bighorn,bryce) or loop races(HURT, Javalina) hold zero appeal to me. Why am I running the same thing over again?

Some folks also have a joy of running their favorite 100 miler every year(AJW and Western States) and acquire 10-15 finishes of one race. That's not me. If I ever run another 100 miler, it won't be Wasatch or the Bear. I like new stuff.

Also the 100's I am interested in seem to be getting more and more popular, requiring years of praying or bribing to get entry through a lottery or doing qualifier races. Again, not super interested.

 I've done the distance twice. I know I can do it. I don't really have a desire to push to see "how much further I can go". There will always be a harder race. This goes for adventure runs too. As happy as I am I finished the WURL, I'm not sure I will search out other "longer than half a day" adventure runs.

The great thing about ultrarunning is that racing isn't required to experience the grandeur of these cool places. In fact, the most memorable runs aren't the races, they're the "fun runs" I do with the guys and Annie, things like the Teton Crest, R2R2R, Zion Traverse, 4 pass loop, and others. As for Hardrock, Matt Hart suggests in his list of top 8 must do ultraruns to enjoy Hardrock by doing it in 2-3 days, a "softrock" if you will. This sounds ideal as one can experience the entire course in daylight and really take it the spectacle that is the San Juans, not just suffer through the course. And when Steve finally gets into Hardrock in 15 years after putting in every year(and he will) I'll be there to pace him and lie to him the entire way.

To those who will continue their 100 mile quests, I bid you my utmost respect and condolences.


  1. Holy cow you do have a soul with emotions and everything. Congrats on gutting it out. I don't love them as much add you say. I jUst love pushing myself to the breaking point and then tearing up at the finish knowing how hard a thing I did. Ècxelent post. Best one yet. See ya at Hard rock next year we are both getting in!

  2. Such a great post. It's good to hear about the real struggles and joys of ultra running. And super funny too! Thanks for posting.

  3. What happened to Spencer the climber? How about Tricks of the Trade after New Years? Oh yeah, Dark Start on Temple Crag has your name on it!