A crew of experienced trail runners must have spent days marking the course. There were colored ribbons placed every 30-50 ft along the entire 50-mile course. At intersections huge foam core signs were stuck in the ground and pointed the way. It was clear that the volunteers were anticipating where runners would look and might get confused. I remember coming up over a ridge once and looking down into the valley for the trail heading. Someone had placed a ribbon way up high in a tree so that it was at eye level from where I stood on the ridge.
Bear Mountain state park takes in a vast area – the closest nearby comparator in terms of overall dimensions and types of mountains is Mount Desert Island. Bear Mountain feels a lot more rugged with a higher density of mountain ranges and just a few roads passing through. There’s virtually no development in the interior like you would find at MDI.
“Endurance challenge” is the operative term that best describes the 50-mile event; “endurance run” wouldn’t fit well. There were many times during the day when I felt running would be a luxury. I would totally agree with the rating of the course as 5 out of 5 in terms of technical terrain and overall difficulty. A lot of time was spent walking up and down steep rocky slopes and climbing cliff faces that required both hands. During the first 15 miles I would estimate that 40% of the terrain was runnable. There were at least a dozen stream crossings that could be navigated by jumping from rock to rock; and a few more places with bridges. My first pair of shoes got very muddy and wet and this is when I tripped the most and rolled my ankles. Later when I put on my second pair of shoes and 2 fresh pairs of socks I tried to keep them as dry as possible. I think this strategy worked well because I remember a few times when I did roll my feet on the rocks that the shoe slid around my foot and I could feel one sock slipping against the other. Since the shoe and sock absorbed most of the shock and not my ankle, it built up my confidence and I was able to navigate the technical terrain much faster.
Even though I was out there for 12 hours my mind never wandered. One had to really concentrate the whole time on foot placement or else you could easily trip or roll your ankle. The one really bad spill that I had occurred when I was running on a nice flat stretch of double-track and then turning onto a semi-technical trail that sloped downward. One foot caught on something and I did and end-over-end coming to rest on my back.
It seemed like there were more stretches after the Mile 21 aid station that were not treacherous. Occasionally we would get on some decent single-track or nice wide jeep roads. There was one almost surreal section between the Mile 10 and 15 aid stations where we popped out of the woods and ran on the grassy apron along the Palisades Parkway. Even though there were cars whipping by really fast in the opposite direction this was the one section where it was possible to let your guard down. The dead deer next to the side of the road reminded us that danger wasn’t far away. I also remember a couple of instances where we were actually running on old pavement. One section stemmed from a beautiful mountain lake and the other I figured was an old fire road. We ran across many bald mountain tops with scrubby brush and some places where talk grass grew.
I’m not the kind of person who cares to use a watch when I’m running. I only knew about the time was when other people were talking about it. I recall one instance that worried me though when my friend Chris Pulick from G.A.C. said we had been running for 2:45 and we hadn’t reached the Mile 10 aid station yet. I thought at this rate there’s no way we could reach the Mile 15 aid station within the 4 hour cutoff. I remember another guy saying around Mile 10 that our overall pace was 19min/mile.
Occasionally we would come across signs of civilization – old and new. The old being massive rock 3-sided shelters with huge wooden timbers holding up the roof and overlooking beautiful mountain vistas. The new being bright tent cities and civilians hiking around with trekking poles and talking with strange New York accents.
I think it’s fair to say that none of the title sponsors, the national marketing firm that is organizing the NFEC series, or the adventure racing company that managed and directed the race truly understood the nature of their 50-mile course. Only 19 of the 86 starters (22%) completed the distance within the 13 hour time limit. The official results provide some insight into the level of difficultly, but they don’t paint the full picture. Only 65 people made it to the Mile 26.5 aid station. I can’t say for sure how many of the remaining 21 people dropped out or didn’t make the cut-off time at the Mile 15.6 aid station. The 4-hour cutoff at mile 15.6 was supposedly expended to 4:45. One volunteer at the end of the race suggested that everyone was allowed through but that would mean all 21 dropped and I find that hard to believe. The use of timing chips and chip-mats at mile 26.5 seemed like over-kill, but it was consistent with many other aspects of the event that were over the top. It’s also ironic how the split times are reported in fractions of a second given that it took most people over 6 hours to reach Mile 26.5. The other thing the results don’t show is the guy who actually crossed the finish-line first but was disqualified because he failed to check-in at the Mile 10 aid station (a rule that was clearly explained just before the start).
While I barely managed to make the extended cut-off time at Mile 15 in just over 4 hours, my effort was cut short after 12 hours when I reached Mile 40, 1.5 hours after the official cut-off. Although my quads were shot and energy levels were getting low, my spirits were high and there was no doubt that I had the strength to finish. Given the opportunity, and considering my rate of progress at the time, I probably could have finished in 14.5 - 15 hours. To give you a little perspective, I completed my first 50-miler 5 months ago at Stone Cat in 11:09. Despite my failure to finish this was the greatest adventure in my life to date. With the Vermont 100-miler only 3 months away, I can begin to imagine what it’s going to take.
The forecast for race day and the day before guaranteed rain and thunderstorms with a high of 63. I prepared for the worst and readied 3 water-tight drop bags with fresh socks, underwear, shorts, gloves, and a longsleeve and short sleeve technical running shirt. In my Mile 26 bag I also stuffed in a small towel, hat, and a pair of shoes. At 4am on race day morning it was about 50 degrees and it had stopped raining. A thick layer of fog had settled in and I could see lightning flashes but didn’t hear any thunder. All was well until about ½ hour after the 5am start when the skies opened up and it poured. It was a good thing that people were still bunched up at that point because our headlamps improved the visibility and people would alert others to the presence of hazards like streams or downed logs that could clothesline the unsuspecting person. My glasses fogged up so bad I could barely see what I was stepping on which was basically a stream bed with loose rocks, mud and leaves. The poor visibility was also a blessing in disguise because we couldn’t see what was ahead. The first 2-miles are relatively easy but things go vertical very quickly and runners face the longest and most difficult climb in the whole race. The first ascent is about 1100 ft vertical and involves climbing cliff faces using both hands. People really got bunched up here while waiting for those up ahead to make their way up the rocks. From above it must have looked like a bunch of jack straws laid out up the side of the mountain.
Eventually the sun came out and visibility improved. The fog however persisted for many hours and reached above the highest elevations. The rain had made everything very slippery and treacherous. It’s no wonder that people struggled to reach the Mile 15 aid station within the 4 hour time limit. The fog was also a blessing in disguise because it kept everything cool and protected us from the sun. However, that protective layer disappeared with the wind and sun by Mile 20 and things started to get hot and humid. Clouds rolled by throughout the day covering up the sun and attenuated the effects of solar radiation. The choice to consume 1 S-cap per hour (roughly) worked well for me and I felt well hydrated. There were actually a couple of times that I stopped to pee. Although I didn’t think about it during the race I would estimate the temperature got into the mid-60s. However, to my surprise, when I was getting a ride back from the Mile 40 aid station, the car’s thermometer said it was 74 degrees. I hadn’t run in weather like that for 6 months.
I started eating for this event on Wednesday. In an attempt at “carbo-loading” I ate good healthy foods that were high in protein and no carbs on Wednesday and Thursday. One day at noon I defrosted a huge chunk of venison (hind quarter cut) that my father shot the previous fall in Canada. I marinated it in my favorite teriyaki sauce for about 4 hours and grilled it that night. I reasoned that if I ate a deer’s leg that I would run like one during the race. I had invited Ian and Emma over for dinner but Emma had to work and Emma said Ian had to do their taxes before he could go play. I was glad because I got to eat the whole thing myself. On Friday I ate nothing but delicious bread and pasta.
On race day I carried 2 types of food with me. I decided to wear my North Face hydration pack instead of carrying bottles because I figured it would free up my hands and that was more important than carrying the extra weight. I had been training all winter with my pack and I knew I would be comfortable. In my bladder I mixed a pretty strong dose of Hammer’s Perpetuem powder; and I had placed extra powder in each of my 3 drop bags. This choice turned out to be a mistake. I never trained with this stuff and didn’t know how it would make me feel. During the race it didn’t seem to satisfy what my body craved so I dumped the whole concoction at the Mile 15 aid station. At the early aid stations I tried the red and blue Accelerade and found that I really liked the taste of the blue. Starting at Mile 15 I had a volunteer fill my pack with a solution of half blue Accelerade and half water. This solution really satisfied me throughout the day and helped to keep me feeling well. During the race I was also popping 1 Succeed S-cap electrolyte pill every hour or so. When I made the mistake of not balancing my electrolytes during my Stone Cat 50-miler I paid dearly for it. Although I never trained with S-caps before they really worked well and I will always use them on long runs and on hot days. Other than the Accelerade and S-caps I got the bulk of my energy from food at the aid stations. I ate the foods that I knew worked for me: plenty of chicken noodle soup, potatoes and bananas rolled in salt, gummy bears, and the occasional apple and orange slice.
I went through a bad-to-good turning-point shortly after the 5th aid station at Mile 26.5. This is where I planted my largest drop bag – my 20-liter sea-kayaking dry bag. Even though I knew I had a razor thin margin of making the Mile-40 aid-station on time, I dwelled here the longest. I stripped down to my shorts, toweled-off, put on a dry shirt, 2 pairs of Smart Wool socks, and a new pair of Montrail Hardrock shoes ½ size larger than normal to accommodate the socks and swollen feet. I popped 4 ibuprofen pills and grabbed my stash of S-cap electrolyte pills. During this time one volunteer filled my hydration pack, another handed me 2 cups of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, 2 cups of water, 1 cup of blue Accelerade, a fist full of gummy bears, and a couple potatoes rolled in salt. Another volunteer reattached the bib to my shirt and the timing chip to my shoe. While I scrambled back up the steep trail that I had just descended I realized that a Phil Collins tune had invaded my mind. Thinking back I vaguely remembered hearing some music playing at the aid station and figured that’s where the devil-seed was planted. Nevertheless, on the following stretch to the Mile 33 aid station my spirits were never higher, this time I skipped along the tops of rocks with confidence and passed 4 or 5 troubled souls. I attribute much of this surge to the smell of a freshly laundered shirt and the cushy shoes and socks that absorbed the shock when I rolled my ankles.
Not long after I departed from Portland on Friday morning I got pulled over for doing 79mph on I-95. When asked how fast I was going I said 80. The officer also asked if I was in a hurry for something. I guess there were other people on their way to pick up a bib number for a 50 mile race because I still got a ticket for $137.
Just as I was picking up my race packet the day before I ran into a bunch of people form Gil’s Athletic Club (G.A.C). These are the nicest people to hangout and run with. Instead of being alone the night before I went to a BBQ restaurant with 15 friends. Who else would be eating pulled-pork sandwiches and drinking beers the night before a 50-miler? I played it safe and stuck to my plan by eating the one dish on the menu that contained pasta. I had a great time running with Chris and Susan Pulick before Mile 15.5. It seemed like I ran into Cheryl Mulvie and Paula a bunch of times. I caught up to Roger Martel around 28 but then we rejoined and ran together for a mile into the last aid station at 40.
The only wildlife that I saw on the course of was a small turtle shell, or maybe it was a tortoise. It was strange because I don’t recall it being anywhere near water and it had beautiful red dots along the perimeter of the shell. I didn’t see any bears during the race but I did almost stepped in a huge pile of bear shit.
AnthonyP’s Race Report
Photographs by Tom Sperduto