When I made the decision to register for the Bear Chase Trail 50k, I was sitting at a burger joint on a Friday afternoon with a colleague. We had just finished plowing through a pile of fries, and I was looking out the window at the late summer afternoon in Colorado. The final stretch of training had begun for the Indian Creek 50 Miler, and I needed to squeeze in a final long run before taper began.
My laptop sat open in front of me on the restaurant table, and I returned my gaze to my internet browser window, which was open on UltraSignup.com. In my free time, I enjoy hunting for future events to run, and I couldn't help but notice that there was actually a nearby trail 50k the following morning.
Yep, that's right. The following morning. As in... less than 24-hours later.
Now, normal folks might laugh at the idea of running a 31 mile event on a whim, but, as my wife likes to remind me... I'm not normal. And when I emailed the race organization and they told me that I still had time to register, I snapped my laptop shut, shoved it hastily into my backpack and drove down to packet pickup at a local running store to sign up for what would be my second ultra, the Bear Chase Trail 50k.
My training last Summer was full of more long miles and mountainous vert than I'd ever logged in my life, so I was feeling pretty invincible. I planned to treat the Bear Chase as a long training run, and I gave myself permission to run at a relaxed pace. For me, that kind of self-assured confidence is really lovely and quite rare. The began to rise in the chilly morning air, and I shivered my way down from the dirt parking area to the starting line by Bear Creek Lake.
The vibe at the starting line was classic Colorado trail race. Low-key, mellow, with lots of smiling volunteers and an air of camaraderie. Say what you will about the grandeur of a big road marathon, I'll take a small cluster of like-minded weirdos any day. I positioned myself toward the back of the pack and repeated the day's mantra in my mind: slow and steady training run.
The national anthem was sung, and the race began.
The Bear Chase 50k consists of one small loop around the lake followed by two larger loops, covering 31 miles over soft surface and single track trails. There's just over 2,100 ft of vertical gain. It's a super runnable course overall, and I could see the speedsters having a field day ahead of me as the event took off toward lap #1.
Oh...there's one thing I forgot to mention: the water crossings.
Back in 2013 when I first began learning about trail running, the part that blew my mind the most was that runners would NOT try to avoid running through streams and creeks, they'd simply run right THROUGH them! I couldn't believe it! I'd ask trail running friends if they stop to take off their shoes before crossing the water. "Nope," they'd say, "Just run right through without stopping. Your feet will dry off as you run as long as you're wearing the proper socks and shoes." It sounded like pure madness to me at the time.
Well, today was the chance for me to put their claims to the test, because the Bear Chase 50k doesn't just have one water crossing... it has SEVEN. And sure enough, less than a mile into the event, we hit water crossing number one (which, I would later discover, is the smallest of the bunch) and the runners in front of me just stormed right through the bubbling creek and kept on running!
A sense of doubt crept over me as I approached the water. I could stop, take off my shoes and socks, and wade across the creek, but wouldn't that be the ultimate wussy move? I really didn't want the other runners looking at me like I was a weenie just yet. So I opted to go with the flow and do what the other runners were doing. After all, they were probably smarter and more experienced than me. Plus, I had a couple fresh pairs of socks waiting for me in my drop bag in case the soggy feet got to be too much to handle. So I plowed right through the water and kept on running.
And you know what? It worked! The water was cold for sure, but a few miles later I noticed that things were drying out quite nicely! Score.
The rest of the first loop was mostly uneventful. There's one standout climb up the west side of Mt. Carbon (about a mile into the race) that's impossible to miss, but I did what the ultrarunning books told me to do: I stopped running and began hiking up that climb. It kept my legs fresh for the rest of the race, which I was thankful for later.
Six miles into the race, I hit the end of the first loop. I was only carrying a handheld water bottle, so I topped it off, grabbed a few gels, and headed back out for the second, longer loop. By this time my feet were dry enough that I didn't feel like changing socks. I wanted to keep plugging away.
After another hike up Mt. Carbon, we veered right at a trail junction and headed into a more wooded section of trail. I was still feeling good at this point. My heart rate monitor was telling me that I was staying mostly below 80% of my max (though, I admit, not as far below as I would've preferred), and my hydration and calorie intake were staying true to schedule. I was taking a gel every 30 mins, and would have some potato chips or a slice of bean burrito at each aid station. I kept my handheld full of water, and would pound a cup of sports drink or coke at the aid stations. I was taking one salt tablet every hour. How my stomach didn't go south in this race I have no idea, because I was certainly putting it through the wringer.
At the end of the second loop, I lingered long enough to change socks and restock my fuel sources before heading out for the final 12.5 mile stretch. When I passed the 27 mile mark, I realized I had quite a bit of fuel left in the tank (up to that point I had been hovering around 11:00/mi pace), so I decided to kick it into a higher gear for the remaining 4 miles and really have fun with it! Granted, I'm pretty slow, so my "higher gear" was still only about 9:30/mi, but at that point in the day it certainly had my heart racing from the effort!
At some point in those last couple miles I passed Courtney Dauwalter, who was on her way to winning the 50-mile event outright by almost 2 full hours and shattering Kaci Lickteig's previous course record by 18 minutes! Had I known who she was at the time, I probably would've stopped and fanboyed all over the place. Probably for the best...
My proudest moment of all was the final mile, because it was the fastest of the day. I had run a smart race and felt terrific as I crossed the finish line. Tired, but terrific! And as always, Alex was there to cheer me on at the end. We lingered on the grass near the finish line and I did a little bit of stretching and rolled out my leg muscles. It was a lovely feeling to be done with the day, and it gave me a boost of confidence for the Indian Creek 50 Miler three weeks later.
TL;DR - I ran the Bear Chase Trail 50k in 5:34:19 and finished 34th overall. Didn't fall, didn't barf, didn't cry. Great event on lovely trails.