Friday, October 15, 2010

Ten Bears! Adventure report #3

I've been absent from the blogosphere, and plenty of other spheres, because I have been busy preparing for something else. On 9 October 2010 I completed my tenth Le Grizz 50 Mile Ultramarathon. (Full report here.)

It's not very easy to explain what this means to me. This has been my #1 athletic goal since at least 1994, and one of the things that I've made a centerpiece of my life. Aristotle wrote that the ultimate goal of a human life should be to flourish, and for me, flourishing includes mastering the ultramarathon. Of course, everyone knows that running beyond a marathon is a crazy thing to do, and it would be a complete waste of time to try denying this -- the first sign of insanity is denial, after all. So I accept that running 50 miles is crazy, and running it ten times is an order of magnitude crazier. And it is more fun and more satisfying than words can say.

OK, enough blather, on with the adventure report.

The Le Grizz 50 Miler is tied for the oldest ultra of this distance in the world. I first ran it in 1983, my first ultra (and yes, that means I've been working on 10 Bears for 27 years). It has always been run on the road that skirts the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir, going from Spotted Bear MT to the vicinity of Hungry Horse MT. But this year the course was moved to the east road, owing to road construction on our scheduled course (thanks, ARRA). The East Road proved to be tougher.

I'd trained fairly seriously for this race, and was definitely in better shape than last year (my slowest performance by far). Even so, I decided to take the offer of an early start for those who expected to be slower. (Pat Caffrey, the RD, does everything he reasonably can to get entrants across the finish line successfully.) Hence I assembled at 7:06 AM in the pitch dark with what is rather an elite group of runners that included Mary Anne Clute, who was attempting her 20th Le Grizz, Bob Hayes who was attempting to become the oldest Le Grizz finisher (he's 84 years old), and hard core 100 mile runners Frank Coles and Tim Marchant, friends with whom I've shared many miles. And away we went.

This could be one of those "and then we ran, and we ran, and we ran" things, but it was more than that. The first hour is always a warmup, and was both comfortable and uneventful. I was behind Mary Ann and Frank, and maybe others although I'm unsure. My support crew consisted of the lovely Johanna Schoen, and I had her stopping every three miles (she was driving a rental car) to see if I needed anything. I was carrying a hydration pack with a rain jacket and maybe 12 oz. of Perpetuem. All I needed was an occasional swig of plain water.

At the end of the second hour I heard footsteps behind me and a lot of talking...the frontrunners from the regular start, 55 minutes after we'd headed out. That's something interesting about ultras... all three were competing seriously, trying to beat the heck out of each other, but at the same time they were supporting each other. As they caught me, they shouted out that they thought I was doing great. I have no doubt they meant it. Certainly I felt good.

OK, and then we ran, and we ran, and we ran. I ran with a number of different people, and also by myself. Johanna did a fabulous job of supporting me. I'd somehow lost my jar of Perpetuem powder, but she managed to scrounge a bottle or two from somewhere, more than enough to keep me alive and functioning. The course itself has a fair amount of climb, compared to the usual course (although nothing compared to, say, Elkhorn). I ran the first 35 miles without any serious walking breaks, but the climbs seemed increasingly tough. The weather was ideal: cool, say 55 F, cloud cover, no wind to speak of (unlike the previous year's temps of 0F). I just kept cracking off miles, feeling better as I went. I fell in with one of our Chiefs (someone who has finished at least 20 times) Larry Carroll. He was on track for his slowest le Grizz ever, and was still an hour ahead of me, since he'd done the regular start. Good lord... he's 70 years old. Eventually he pulled away from me. I went into the mile 38 checkpoint starting to feel as though things were getting difficult. At the checkpoint I happened to see a brindle dog, whose owners were waiting for a friend who was running. I remarked to the owners that I feel naked running without a dog -- certainly true -- so they tossed me his leash and said "go ahead, his name is Hank." And away we went. Johanna joined me for this part of the run, but it was a bit ill fated. Hank figured that there were three acceptable options: (i) sprint madly down the road at the highest speed possible, (ii) veer 90 degrees into the rainforest after squirrels, or (iii) turn back and return to his pack, er, owners. Much as I would have liked to do (i) or (ii), after 38 miles I wasn't up to it, and eventually Johanna took the leash and she and Hank did (iii). It was a nice few canine minutes, though.

The next miles were tough. They included our most difficult climb, across a cutoff from the east road to the west road, nothing big by Montana standards, but these things are relative. I was tired. This part of the road, mile 40 to 44, is closed to car traffic, so Johanna drove around to the other side and hiked up to meet me. A couple of gals had passed me a bit earlier, and as Johanna and I jogged down the road, I suddenly noticed one of them sitting next to the road. I have run over 1290 miles in ultramarathons, and until this day never seen anyone collapse. (I've seen it many times in 10Ks.) Well, this gal had passed out and was unable to stand without collapsing. She was coherent, but weak. I sent Johanna down to the next aid station for a car and waited with her. We talked a bit, she was an experienced ultrarunner, and had never had such a problem before. She'd run a 100 mile race six weeks earlier, and we speculated that maybe she was suffering residual exhaustion. Eventually she decided she could stand, and so, with me spotting her, she did, somewhat shakily. But she also seemed to be snapping out of it. I picked up her handbottles, and just as we started out walking down the road, Johanna drove up. Now that she had a car escort, I felt free to leave her, and took off, leaving her to hike in on her own.

This left me with the last 6.5 miles,the only paved part of the course. It's a run up across Hungry Horse Dam and back. It's a hard haul up to the dam, but I cranked it out. Just as I hit the dam, I saw a young high school age gal shouting at a runner coming up behind me "way to go Mom!" She joined the runner, and as they pulled up I recognized the woman who had collapsed earlier. As they caught up, she shouted excitedly to her daughter, "this is they guy who stayed with me for so long while I was out of it!" I'm not sure I really did anything for her, but they both immediately turned over to me their shares of the finishing line fried chicken and beer. Oh boy!

On we ran. I crossed the dam and back, and down, caught Larry Carroll right at the end, and crackselled across the finish line in 11hrs17min and change. Not exactly a fast run, but a finish, and certainly not my worst performance. All the people I've mentioned here finished as well.

It's not possible to describe what this means to me. Ten bears has been a goal of mine for a very long time, for reasons I cannot say, and through some things that were, umm, let's just say difficult. For the first eight bears, my race crew was my father. I think this race did more than anything else to make us close. He died in 2007, and so I have run the last two wearing his favorite cap (the Rocky Racoon hat from when he crewed for me at my only 100 mile race). I ran this thinking of him, and all the friends who have supported me... my Johanna, my little lost D, and all my previous support crews who helped make this possible: my mother, Sandy, Katya, Lisa, Fran, Dan. And the dogs I've run with here ...Otto and Homer and Ingrid and Dushka and even Hank. Thanks to you all. Thanks also to Pat Caffrey and the Cheetah Herders Athletic Club for putting on this magnificent race.

I suppose I am a bit maudlin here, but for 16 years I've been working for this, and on more than one occasion I've been told by medical specialists I would never run again. As it turns out, they were wrong. I guess this shows they should have more belief in their own work. But thanks too to all of them. And yeah, it also took a bit of work on my part.

Now, this is something of a milestone, so one might ask "what's next?" That's easy.

Eleven bears!

(Click on any photo for a full view.)

At the start. That's my hero, Bob Hayes, in the royal blue shirt.

Early in the race...I'm still wearing my fleece pants.


Cranking out the miles.

"No, we're going the other way, Hank."

More miles.

Dam beautiful course!

Back across the dam.


Pat Caffrey awards us our Ten Bears slabs. Left to Right: Tim Marchant, Kevin Hebb, John Hallsten, me, Andrew Matulionus. Gregg Martell finished a bit later, also winning the Ten Bear title.

The day is good.

Congrats, Charles. You've been talking about that as long as I've known you.

Probably before that, too.

And yes, before.
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