Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Bear Lake Report (alternate title: I'm not dead)

It's been three weeks since the Bear Lake triple marathon. Three long weeks in which maybe some of my dear readers thought I had died in my attempt. Since I am writing this, it is apparent that I did not perish.

Let me take you on a journey that covers three days, three states, and 78.6 miles. It is a tale fraught with peril, triumph, and the agony of the feet.

The Bear Lake adventure started out innocently enough. Scott and I drove up to meet with the rest of our party, Jamie, Teresa, and Desaray, in Logan to gather supplies for the weekend. There's nothing like 5 stressed out runners trying to make sure they're buying enough food for the upcoming weekend. The cashier was pretty impressed/horrified by the amount of food that was purchased for such short period of time.

We got everything loaded into the two cars and made our way to packet pick up in Montpelier, Idaho. When we arrived, we were showered with copious amounts of race swag.
We foolishly told the race director that we would be running the secret fourth day race on Sunday. Because I wasn't ready to run three marathons in three days, so I should totally act like I could run one more on the fourth day. But we'll get to that.

We made our way over to our home for the weekend, found that it was on the second floor and had no elevator, and lugged our ludicrous amount of gear and food up two flights of stairs. Scott cooked a tasty pasta dinner for us while we foam rolled and tried to come to terms with what was about to happen. Jamie and I were in for the three full marathons, while Teresa and Desaray were in for the three half marathons. Scott was set to run the half marathon on Saturday.

The alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. on Thursday morning and the adventure began in earnest.

Day one: Location: Cokeville, Wyoming.
Fun fact about Cokeville, Wyoming: they had a miracle.
They also have a really long, hilly road that we got to run on.

For the first one, I decided not to take the early start and start with all the fastholes. The course would be open until 1 p.m., surely I would be able to finish before that. I'm always so funny.
Trying to look excited for what's about to happen. Photo courtesy of Jamie Eckles.
When we started, I watched nearly the entire pack pull away from me like I was standing still. I immediately regretted my choice of skipping the early start. One or two runners were back where I was and one in particular wanted to be quite chatty, until she realized that my pace was "just a little slow" for her. I've been running slowly in races for long enough that this didn't bother me much. It's my pace for my race, and that's how I get it done.

I mostly enjoyed myself for the first 10 or so miles. I wasn't making amazing time, but I thought I would finish somewhere around six and a half hours. The course was an out and back, and it seemed like we were going mostly uphill so I was looking forward to the turn-around. My physical state started to slip somewhere around mile 11, though, and once I hit the turn around the course still felt like it was still uphill.

The strange thing for me was how well I was doing mentally. Everyone was so far ahead of me, but I could just see one girl way up ahead, and there happened to be one woman who was walking the whole thing quite a bit behind me. I wasn't totally alone, but it felt like it. I figured I would make the most out of the solitude and  sing loudly and badly as I went along. I also talked to the cows that were pastured along the course, because why not.
This road goes on forever. And ever. And ever. 
Scott was running up the course to meet me to get his miles in for the day and see me through to the finish. I was supposed to be a lot farther along than I was, so he ended up with plenty of bonus miles. I basically had to walk the last 8 miles. I would try to run here and there but every time that I did, my feet would just hurt. That was the biggest problem of day one, extreme foot pain. I really didn't think that would pop up until the second day. Oh well.

Scott just walked with me and kept me company, which was nice after being alone for most of the day. I didn't even sprint to the finish. I waited until it was pretty darn close and then kind of shuffled in under the arch. It was a rough finish. I came in at 7 hours and 21 minutes. 21 minutes after the course "closed". The great thing about these races, though, is that they allow everyone to finish, the course support just ends. Thank goodness.

We went and got ourselves some celebratory raspberry shakes. Which turned out to be a bad idea after a long race with no real food in our stomachs. Lesson learned. We finally got some real food, had a little time to wind down, and then it was off to bed so that we could get up crazy early and do it all over again.

Day two: Location: Montpelier, Idaho.
Fun fact: Montpelier, Idaho: there are carved bear statues everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
It was also my favorite course of the three.

I opted for the early start this time, but had a hard time getting going in the morning and we got there just a few minutes late. I had to scramble to get going and chase down the rest of the runners. The course was point to point this time and extremely lovely. I was surprised at how well I was moving on stiff legs.
Some shots from the course. 
This was also a fairly flat course, until we hit the dirt road section, and even that wasn't too bad The weather was much cooler on the second day, and that coupled with my early start left me feeling surprisingly good. I always do better when it's cool. All of the fast runners started to catch up with me around mile 9, as we were running through an open range with cows running towards us. That made for some fun moments.
Stock photo of cows. I wasn't about to stop and take a picture as they ran down the road at me. 
I survived the open range and made it back to the paved road where more and more of the regular start people whizzed on by. By around mile 11, I was starting to struggle. I felt like I did during Behind the Rocks, where I was so tired that I couldn't really keep my eyes open. Nothing like going into a torpor when you still have 16 miles to go. I stumbled along, just trying to keep moving. For some reason, I didn't even think to eat something and take my electrolyte pills. I struggled on for another mile before I realized that a boost of calories and some salt may make a difference. Runner brain is a real thing, guys. And it's not pretty.

After I finally got a gel in my system with some electrolytes and a caffeine pain pill, I was nearly a brand new person. I was able to pick the pace back up again and make better progress. At this point, most of the fastys had passed by and I was alone again. So I decided to go back to what worked the day before to keep my spirits up: singing loudly and badly, with a few sweet dance moves thrown in. I also had packed some real food with me for this one and I actually thought to eat some of it later on during the race.
I love me some creepy old buildings. 
Scott decided to drive up and down the course this time, since our "run" the day before was much less than stellar. This proved to be quite a bonus to me. It meant he could bring me a cold Coke to drink. There's nothing like a cold soda during a long race. I don't care if it's good for me or not because for just that little while, it makes you feel like everything is going to be fine.
Not only could he bring me liquid joy, he could also take pictures as I went along. 
I had been moving along at a slow but steady pace and was able to keep it going, which continually surprised me. But that doesn't mean that I wasn't thrilled to see this welcomed sign.
That last mile actually went by rather quickly. I think this was due to the fact that I couldn't see the finish line until it was right upon me. I turned a corner and there it was! And wouldn't you know it, I finished only four minutes slower than the day before. I have no idea how it happened, but it may have just been my previous ultra training kicking in to save my sorry butt.

Then it was back to the hotel to start recovering yet again and going to bed early. I did make myself go and spend some time in the pool, allowing my warm leg muscles a chance to cool off. Everyone was a little more subdued after day two was over. Scott whipped us up another tasty dinner of steaks and mashed potatoes and we were back in bed before the sun went down.

Day three: Location: Laketown, Utah.
Fun fact: bald eagles nest there during the summer. I know because I saw them.
This race was also horrible for 22 miles.

Jamie offered to take me to the early start for day three, even though she would be waiting around for an hour to start her race, so that Scott, Teresa, and Desaray wouldn't have to get up so early, since their race started at 7:00. We were moving noticeably slower on day three. We all had the appearance of ragged zombies, a dead, cold look in our eyes. I made my way up the hilly first portion of the course. Jamie managed to catch up to me quite early on in this one. And when we saw each other, we both vowed that we would not be running the secret day four race. The only thing that was getting me through this last race was knowing that I wouldn't have to get up and do it again.

I was running 16-17 minute miles. Around mile 10, there were some kids out in a field and they were trying to get the runners to talk to them. Since I was moving so slowly, I had time to answer their questions.

Kids: "You look tired, why are you tired?"
Me: "I am tired. This is my third marathon in three days."
Kids: "You're running a marathon every day? Why?!"
Me: "Because it sounded like fun when I signed up. But guess what. It ISN'T fun."
A lovely sight before the busy road. 
And then I kept slogging on. And on. And on. We ended up on the main road through town and I didn't like that one bit. Not having much of a shoulder to run on while large, boat towing vehicles come hurtling down the road towards you is not ideal. Eventually we were directed off the road and onto a isolated dirt road. That was much better. And I was feeling like I could make it, it wouldn't be pretty but I could make it. As I was shuffling along the road, I came to a steep hill just before an aid station, so I started walking.  While I was walking up the hill to the aid station, another runner passed by me and asked if I was walking the whole thing. Now that really pissed me off. That road was straight. He could see me for a long time before he caught up with me to pass me. And I had been running. I HAD BEEN RUNNING, YOU JERK. Why would you ask me that?! Why not just say "hello", or "looking good", or "keep it up"? I didn't mention anything about him puking his guts out after the finish of day one because I'm not a jerk. Rule number one of running; Don't be a jerk.

I had been trying to get my runner brain to calculate what time I would be finishing. Math is difficult when you're sleep deprived and exhausted. But I finally figured that at the rate I was going, I would finish in about eight and a half hours. WHAT. Oh well. There's not much I could do about it but keep moving. I tried to enjoy the scenery, since it was very pretty. The day was not overly hot, we had some nice cloud cover. I got to pet someone's corgi. That was nice.

Scott had finished his race and had decided to drive out to find me. I was not in a good place mentally or physically when he did.  I had been through 22 rough miles at that point. But he had something magical in the car. He had a small carton of chocolate milk. I didn't know that chocolate milk was ambrosia of the gods until that moment. I drank it down and got ready to keep on slogging. Scott said he would go back and get me a Coke as well. He left and I made my way up a massive hill. Once I got to the top, things started feeling a million times better.

That chocolate milk had done the trick. I felt like I could run. So I did. I started a slow jog, and was able to finish that mile in 16 minutes. Then the next mile fell under my feet in 14 minutes. I passed another runner. I flew down the hill and right past the aid station, not daring to stop, lest it should throw off my groove. I was nearly to mile 25 when Scott was back with the Coke. He was amazed that I was so close to the end. I was making up time like crazy. I stopped to drink some Coke, then just kept going.

They cruelly threw in a gigantic hill just past mile 25 that had to be climbed and then run back down before we could head to the finish. I powered up that hill and was down in no time. My time for that mile was 13:34, the fastest I had run the entire day. And that was with the hill, and stopping to drink.
Killing the hill. Photo credit: Scott M. Stringham
I could see the finish, I felt amazing. I was able to sprint my way under that arch with a time of 7 hours and 56 minutes. I had managed to knock 34 minutes off of the finish time that I had projected back at mile 17. I couldn't believe it. I rode that high the whole way back to the hotel and for a while after. Although, when I came down, I came down hard. I then spent the rest of the night eating everything I could find.

We had all successfully finished what we set out to do. Jamie, Teresa, and Desaray were all there at the finish to celebrate that we had all lived through it. Scott had a rough time with his half marathon, but still managed to come in 38th overall, out of nearly 200 runners. I was proud of him for pushing though when all he wanted to do was quit. He's got the makings of an ultra runner.
Hanging out with all our bling after a rough weekend. Photo courtesy of Jamie Eckles. 

I don't know how I got through this challenge, I honestly wasn't ready for it at all. I didn't do a single back to back long run like I had scheduled. My laziness totally won during my training cycle. So basically, the take away from this is, if you're stubborn enough and are willing to deal with massive amounts of pain, you can do anything. I don't think that's a very good moral at all. But it is what it is. I know one thing though, I will not attempt anything like this again on such half-assed training. I learned my lesson.

Lesson learned and buckle earned. 
My next report will go over the madness that is Ragnar, and a few other half marathons. Until then, happy running!


  1. Amazing accomplishment!!!! So awesome!

  2. What makes us sign up voluntarily for these festivals of torture? I don't know, but I'm glad you survived, because I love your race reports and gorgeous photos.

    1. There's something about making it through something that seems impossible that keeps us coming back for more. It doesn't make much sense.