It’s now just two days from the end of the 2021 Florida Sea 2 Sea expedition length (72 hour) adventure race, and it’s still difficult to describe what happened. I’m writing this now while it’s still a little emotionally raw, to hopefully help me process everything.
This race was my 1st expedition length AR in about 15 years, and my first AR in maybe 10. I have done lots of ultra running in that time, and some other adventures like the MR 340 mile paddling race, the World Rogaine championships, etc. But this was AR — back to “my roots” in endurance sports — paddling, trekking, biking, and lots and lots of navigation.
I’ll bullet point some memories from the AR aspect of the race below, or more likely a separate post, but the reason for the emotions is as follows. My team was coming in from our last trekking section, about to transition to the final 40 mile bike ride to the finish, around 4 a.m. Sunday morning. This was after 66 hours of racing in which we had done ~200+ mies of mountain biking, +40 paddling, and 20+ on foot . As we came in to the TA to check in, we were told the “course was closed.” We immediately guessed what had happened, and it’s a blur but I think Ryan asked if there was an accident and if someone had died. The race crew said yes, and then he broke down crying. I think we were the first people he had to tell.
It wasn’t clear to us what would happen, other than we would wait to find out. We made it back to our gear in a state of shock. At 66 hours with limited sleep, I think we all dozed, but it was not restful. In my mind I didn’t know if the course was re-opened if I would want to continue. I didn’t think so. After an hour, the race crew called all of the racers that were in the TA together and told us the race was over. They would shuttle us back to the finish, and even go out and pull everyone still on the course off using the big rental trucks.
I think this was the right call given the situation. Over the last two days as details have emerged, we found the accident occurred just a little north of the last TA, about 90 minutes before we had come in and were about to head that way. All teams had ridden the same road (US 1) to get to the TA, and then would have taken that same road north to head towards the finish. The accident occurred about 2:30 a.m., as a car veered into the bike lane and hit all three riders of a three man team. One died on the scene, and the other two were air lifted to local hospitals. I understand that those two are now in stable condition. Also from the news reports, we found that the man who died was engaged to one of his female teammates.
My own team had our own close calls with cars… One pick up veered close to us — seemingly on purpose, though who knows? We also had an 18 wheeler get close enough that we all were muttering under our breath (or out loud!) and had an extreme adrenaline rush… While the race keeps us off major roads as much as possible, it’s impossible to get across the state without utilizing some roads. Typically the roads are used to connect various wilderness areas, where the bulk of the racing occurs. But you can’t get from wilderness area to wilderness area without using some roads. We tried as much as possible to chose routes that avoided major roads, and all of the big roads are off-limits according to the race directors’ rules and clearly marked as such on the maps. But there’s only so much you can do to make it across the state. All riders have flashing red rear lights, as well as bright handle bar and/or head lights on.
So what was an amazing “return to my roots” of AR was marred by this tragedy. That is what is hard to process. I had an amazing time, even though we struggled with some aspects of the race (navigation). Other than that, we raced well together, felt strong, and were doing well. And it was beautiful to be in areas of FL that many people never see. I love the remote areas of FL rivers and swamps – so beautiful and pristine – there’s nothing quite like them that I have seen.
As we were racing I kept thinking about coming back and entering as a soloist next year, rather than a team. I am impressed by those that have taken on this event on by themselves! We’ll see how I feel in a week, or a month, or when sign up comes around for next year’s event. I’m sure even more precautions will be taken than ever before. But at the end of the day, we all take risks each time we step out the door, whether it’s to drive to town to the grocery store, or whether it is to run, bike, and paddle across a state. We have to understand and mitigate those risks as best we can. There is a “living” part of life that has to be fed, and each one of us feeds that differently. For me, one important part of that is to get outside, to move under my own power, and cover epic distances, and to see and experience the beauty of God’s creation up close.
My heart is broken for the lost life and broken lives for those close to the racer who was killed and those who were injured. I’ve left out details of names and locations, though they are easy to find online. I may modify this write-up to include those details, but wanted to write something while my emotions are still quite raw.
Year 9 of the 40 miler!! I’m thinking one more to get 10, and then maybe take a break. I love this race and course so much, though, we’ll see if I can hold to that. 🙂
Anyway, this year would be different due to Covid. Half the field in all the races, modified courses on the 8 and 20 (now 16), though the 40 would remain the same. No shuttles, so parking near race start (which is a tight turny country road, so a major concern, but I heard from the RD that it went well.)
I’ll cut right to the chase… I ended up on the 1st row, socially distant with 20 other runners in wave 1, so was 2nd onto the 1st big climb. I knew that was a problem, so let 2 others get by, and within a minute, those first 3 were gone. Then I had a couple more on my back, and I was going too hard to soon, so I let them go, and they soon were gone. And I was by myself — for about 33-34 miles! Well, at mile 13 or so, one runner passed me, and a guy he was with stayed with me for maybe 5, 10 minutes top. Other than that, I was 100% alone!
I felt good and strong, and hit the turn in 3:52 — much slower than my best year, but I guess those dats are behind me. 🙂 At 3:52, though, I figured my “super stretch” goal of sub 8:00 was gone, and was thinking 8:15-8:30 was more likely. I was in and out of the turn in a minute, 90 seconds top, and just kept running. It was more lonely on the return this year, with just half the field of 40, and none of the normal 20 milers coming by.
As I watched the time, I kept thinking I somehow still have a shot at sub 8:00, so I just kept running. I knew it was getting really tight. I got to the aid station at mile 35 with just under and hour to go, and figured it was over. But then I remembered this aid was at mile 4.5 on the way out, not mile 5, so I had a little less distance to the finish than I had been calculating, and it was back on!
I ran much more of the last 4 miles than ever, and somehow pulled it off! Going down the steep rocky section in the last mile with speed was a bit scary, but I had enough energy to push here, and got to the finish in 7:56, good for 7th place! Again, a smaller field, but I’m still happy. And besides, my goal is time based here, not placing. (Unless I can ever get top 3 which is where the big pottery is awarded! 🙂
I’m going to update the table I’ve used in past years, and put in the splits for the years they are available, as it shows that this was my strongest 2nd half, even though I’ve had faster overall runs.
7:57 (short course)
(no splits included in this years official results, but those are roughly correct from my watch)
So I did break 4 hours on the return in 2016, but was still 24 minutes slower than the way out. This year, in my 50 year old body, I was only 12 minutes slower. Most years, most runners, even in the top 10, are 15-30 minutes slower, so I’m pretty happy with that!
Fuel: pre-race oatmeal and peanut butter; tailwind; 4 vFuels and 3 coconut date rolls that I carried; 1 cup of potato soup at the turn, 1-2oz Mountain Dew at aid stations 29, 32, 35, 38.
Gear: XOSkin shorts, 200 weight ice breaker long sleeve half zip top (should have worn short sleeves!), 2 buffs, one started to keep my ears warm and one to be a face covering at the aid stations, injinji toe socks, Topo Mountain Racers (so far, love these shoes!); calf sleeves (was ready to pull them off a few times but didn’t want to stop).
Oh, and a Coros Vertex – received the night before so I had literally no experience with it. My Garmin had serious GPS failures on 2 of the last 13-14 runs, so I replaced it last minute. (Actually ran with them both, and the Garmin was several miles off, while the Coros with just shy of 40 miles.)
Here is what Kelly posted to Instagram since I didn’t take a picture of my pottery:
Well, I realized I skipped the Q3 update, but here is the year end summary, and thoughts on next year.
The big goal was total elevation, which I set at 250k, significantly higher than prior years. That includes all sports, not just running — so add hiking, walking, biking, etc. With COVID hitting, Kelly and I both signed up for the Great Virtual Race Across TN, which had us both walking a lot more. Also, there was the Ascent Challenge Memorial Day weekend got me climbing a ton — 31k in a week! (That was all running…) And finally, the addition of virtual riding via Zwift also contributed. With all that said, I crushed my goal with well over 300k of climb, and have set a goal of 365k in 2021! Not sure how likely that is — depends on if I do any more virtual events, etc.
Next up is my time goal, which I set somewhat arbitrarily at 500. After looking through “The Uphill Athlete” last year, I realized my yearly hours trained were pretty tiny compared to some athletes! Now, this number does include a lot of hiking and walking — but only walks when it was somewhat of a workout, not just walks that were super casual. And again, I hit this target with just (barely) over 500 hours. I went ahead and bumped this to 550 for 2021, mostly because I want to (need to!) get serious about strength training now that I am 50, and I have made it a goal to lift 50 hours in 2021. Now, I may include mobility and balance in one umbrella – I’ve not quite decided. But I do some of that kind of stuff outside of a training session — just when I walk by a balance disc or am sitting in front of the TV.
Next up is running, for which I fell just short of my 1000 mile goal with 978 miles. I’m not disappointed in that at all, as I feel like a more well rounded athlete doing all the other sports again, especially mountain biking! I’ll keep this at 1000 for 2021, though a lot of that will depend on which races happen next year!
And finally biking…. I set an aggressive goal of 2000 miles, but I rode the mountain bike more than expected (as apposed to Zwift or road riding), which is always going to be fewer miles per hour. But I had a blast doing it and wouldn’t change that. I’ll probably change the 2021 goal to 1500 or 1750, but I am Zwift’ing more now than last year, so maybe 2000 is within shot and I should just keep it the same?
I doubt I’ll keep up with quarterly updates going forward — not sure anyone is really interested. 🙂 But I do enjoy tracking this kind of stuff, so will continue to do so. A shout out to the Elevate App, which is chrome extension which enables me to track this level of detail from my Strava data..
Training for the BFC can be interesting — you often don’t know if you are in or not until just a few weeks out. The race fills quickly, and there is always a long wait list (which is where I seem to find myself each year). Last year I got the notification from Laz 24 days from race day. This year, with Covid, there was a slight indication the race may happen in late July — for prior finishers only, so I thought that might give me a good chance.
As race date got closer, we found that Laz was able to get permission to host 125 runners, to start in waves of 25, 15 minutes apart. The pool of prior finishers from the US, that wanted in, was in the 110 range, and Laz filled out the remaining spots with other well qualified runners — people who have finished a loop at Big Barkley, or who had finished other long/tough races.
Covid also changed pre-race activities – no packet pick up the day before, no lunch at the Warden’s table studying maps, etc. Instead, we would get maps race morning — roughly 30-45 minutes before our wave was to start! I ended up in the third wave based on my prior finish times.
Kelly and I made our way from NC over to Frozen Head, driving the van, stopping in Black Mountain for pizza, and then heading to the park. We had a spot in Flat Fork, but got word from another racer that her spot in Big Cove would be open as she couldn’t make it, and we opted for that. Parking the van in a relatively flat spot closer to the bathroom was much better than the primitive camp site with port-o-pot at Flat Fork. When we arrived a Frozen Head, we ran into THE Keith Dunn at the ranger station, and we made few purchases from the shop, before going to our site. We relaxed there a bit before heading to the Mexican place for dinner.
(A side note on Covid — we were quite amazed at the differences between NC and TN on mask wearing. At the grocery store in TN, maybe 10-15% of people had on masks. At the foyer of the restaurant, no one did, other than Kelly and I!!)
Anyway, race morning came, and we drove out of the park a couple miles to pick up race packets and the maps. We pulled over so I could review them before heading to the race start. I looked at it all and thought “oh, that looks easy, not anything new that we haven’t seen.” But then, after another minute or two, I noticed the “blue loop.” Hmm, loop, what could that be? It then hit me that the shirt I had just gotten that said “double your pleasure, double your fun, two, two, two rats in one,” and the double mint gum that came in the pack, meant something! Two climbs of rat jaw!
Rat Jaw is literally the hardest mile I have ever done. 2000′ in just over a mile, much of it a bushwhack through saw briers, some of it more like a bear crawl than a hike/walk (there is no running on the Rat). In the past it has taken me around an hour and fifteen minutes to make it to the top. And this year, we’d get to do it twice! Double your fun!
So we drove to the start area, and literally I had 10 or 15 minutes before my wave was set to go. I made my final gear adjustments… Another covid note — this year there would only be water on the course. No food — so you had to carry all your own calories and other gear you thought you might need. I had asked about poles, and the answer was “no, but there are plenty of sticks on the course!” So, my pack had all my food, a fair bit of water which I could top off on the way, a light, and not much else.
I won’t describe the course any further, I’ll just share pictures. I finished in about 10.5 hours, 37th out of the ~110 starters, but 3rd in my new age category of 50+ (which is not an official category, but I did have to check!)
Photos of Kelly and I at the famous yellow gate the day before the race:
Testicle Spectacle – the smirk on my face on the 3rd shot is because I had way too much speed on my “butt slide” technique and was about to slide off into the woods!
Summiting Rat the 1st time — I had actually caught the front of the pack — there were about 25-30 of us, with the lead group of 3-4 bushwhacking, so we caught them. I thought about bushwhacking up to help, but figured it was better to save a little energy and wait.
The bottom of Rat just before starting the 2nd climb:
And the 2nd summit of Rat:
I’d note that both Rat Jaw climbs took about an hour this year, roughly 15 minutes faster than in prior years. Most of that had to be the much cooler temps — probably a good 15F cooler!
And finally, the finish:
Another great day at Frozen Head. A lot of suffering, but a lot of smiles too. I love this race, and if I could do just this and Uhwarrie 40 every year, I’d be a pretty happy runner. 🙂
I would say that lack of run volume again caught up with me in the end — runing 10 hours/30 miles/12k’ on 15-20 mpw is not ideal. I was strong on the climbs, due to all the ascending done this year, but my feet and legs were pretty shot coming down Chimney the last few miles.
Gear: Soloman Ultra Sense (or some such), Ruhn compression shorts, icebreaker sleeveless, Stio collared, injinji toe socks, big leather garden gloves, UD pack.
Food: lots of tailwind, some vFuels, part of a bar, and some granola chews. Oh, and sushi! I had the idea to grab a California roll at the grocery store the day before, and carry that in my pack. Ate them 1st before anything else so they would no sit out too long. I would not do this on a hot year, but the cooler temps meant they would keep well.
Yeah, I’m almost a month late, so this is a 7 month update instead of a half year (Q2) update, but it is what it is…
First up, total elevation, which was really my main goal this year, and you can see I’m pretty far ahead of my goal. The Limitless Vertical Challenge, and more time in the mountains due to less travel (in turn due to COVID), means a lot more climbing:
Next, total time for all activities and I’m just slightly above goal pace. Still have my work cut out to reach 500 hours of training before the end of the year! The additional walking I’m doing is helping.
Here is running distance, again just slightly ahead – and how I ran a lot un 2018 (orange line) until November when I started having groin/sacrum issues!
Next, cycling distance…. Mountain biking just doesn’t give the miles! I’ll have to really pick up on the trainer to have a shot here, as I’m just over 400 miles behind target. Not sure I’ll be able to pull this one out.
Finally, total distance for all activities, also far behind. This is mostly behind due to lack of cycling mileage described above.
As of now, most races are still cancelled. There’s a glimmer of hope for the BFC in September, as it may be opened to prior 50k finishers, of which I have two. If so, I will 100% be there! That will give in the ball park of 35 miles and 10-12k’ of climb. No GPS, so it’s a bit of an estimate based on the course, which changes every year. And usually gets more difficult! Time to get my elevation back on like it was for the Ascent Challenge!
With COVID-19 cancelling most races, there are a lot of virtual races / challenges popping up. I opted to do the Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee (1000+km from May 1 to Aug 31), mostly to just keep me getting out the door. But when I saw the Limitless Vertical Challenge, I knew right away I wanted to give 29,029’ (in a week) a shot. I also opted to do it all outdoors, which would be more even more difficult. (Of course I’m not taking anything away from those that did their challenges on a treadmill! That’s certainly no easy feat either!)
Memorial Day came and I got some good hills in both near the 7D home as well as in Linville Gorge with Kelly and Reece. The next few days I stayed a little closer to home and focused on hill repeats. Once I thought 29,029 was in the bag, I opted to go longer — 20 mile days on the AT — so I could go back to parts of the AT I’d not seen in a while.
Here’s the daily elevation gains per Strava.
I ended up with 31,280’ covered in a little under 30 hours, but over 97 miles! Of course, a lot of that was power hiking due to the grade, but there was a fair bit of running too. To go from 20 mpw to 97 was a bit of a stretch, and I definitely felt a bit worn out for a few days.
Quarterly update — well, looking back I’ve not even done yearly updates the last couple years! Oh well. I did set some personal goals in January, and though I never published them, here is an update anyhow.
Elevation: I set out to climb 250,000 feet this year, far more than I ever have before. That is across all Strava activities — walking, hiking, runnig, biking. Here’s where I stand — not too bad!
Total Time: I set a goal of 500 hours, again far more than I have ever done. This was after reading some the book “The Uphill Athlete” that made it sound like I was a beginner with a measly 300-400 hours of training per year. Again, this is all things I track in Strava — walking, hiking, running, biking, stairs, paddle board, strength, etc. And not all of those would be “training” per se, but it’s time on my feet moving, so why not? Well, 500 is a lofty goal, and I am far behind! Though I guess it takes just one 24 hour run to get me right back in the game! 🙂
Miles run: So I was on target to hit 2000 miles back in 2018 — but then got injured late in the year. In 2017 I hit 1833, m most ever. I’m biking more now, and don’t really want to be running 2000 miles this year, so I set a goal of 1000. This shows I’m only 10 behind target pace, so not too bad.
Miles biked: I’m biking more and picked 2000 miles as a target — but I’m doing mostly mountain biking so that’s going to be a big stretch! I’m not much of a roadie, though I do have a Keiser spin bike where I can pick up some miles. Spin bike/road bike miles are often 17-20 mph, whereas mountain biking can be 8-12 mph, or as low as 3-4 mph on super technical enduro style riding (long slow grinds up to the top of a hill, ten very technical down hill). I’ve got my work cut out here — this one probably isn’t going to happen! I can’t believe those flat lines on the bike in years past! I guess there have been long stretches where I’ve not gotten on two wheels at all. 😦 (Or maybe I didn’t track in Strava?)
Total miles: This is running + biking plus all other distance based activities — walking, hiking, paddling, etc. I set a goal of 3500, so 500 miles beyond running and biking. Again this one is pretty far off at this point!
What will the rest of the year hold? Will I make my goals? Seems like elevation and miles run are likely, while the others are not. But it’s just one quarter down, and three to go. Covid-19 “stay at home” order makes this a little harder, what with all the national and state parks closing. But I’ve got a home gym with treadmill, spin bike, stair machine, rowing machine, and I am still going to go outside and get some miles here and there, whether on roads or forest roads and whatnot.
The only race the rest of the year that I’m officially in is the World Rogaine Championship in Tahoe in August, so I hope that happens. Training for that will definitely boost running, hiking, and elevation. Beyond that, I am only on the waitlist for BFC in September. I’ve still lost interest in most traditional ultra’s, but do have some “projects” on my mind (SCAR, R2R or R2R2R, The Quad, etc.). Maybe I’ll work towards those…. Assuming we can travel again this year!
Reece and I entered the 3 hour enduro race at Briar Chapel, I in the Beginner category and he in the Junior. Beginner stays off of Bennet Mountain, which is one reason I chose beginner, but I also wanted to be on the same course as Reece. If we enter next year, I think we’ll both do Open, to get the full experience.
Reece won the junior category (24 miles in 2:56) and I got 2nd in the beginner (30 miles in 3:23)…
Here are some photos and screen scrapes of Strava data.
Last year, I had a difficult time at BFC, with dizziness and cramping for much of the race, though I was still able to rough out a 50k finish. I knew I wanted to go back for a bit of redemption immediately. When sign up for 2019 happened, my name was unfortunately not drawn, and I was put on the wait list. But there is always a tremendous amount of churn for this race, so I hoped I’d get drawn at some point. Months and months passed, and nothing. Many names were drawn, but not mine.
And then, on August 26th just 24 days before the race, I got an Ultra Sign-up alert on my watch! The email had come. I ran to facebook to see what Laz had written:
And just like Laz said, I pretty much had to accept – even though I was not well trained.
Here are a few follow-up comments on that FB post:
I made two blog posts here and here, outlining how under prepared I was, so I won’t go into those details again now, other than a quick note that on the drive to TN, I looked at my Strava run profile and saw 222 miles run year to date.
(I don’t want to downplay training too much — I had done a decent bit of mountain biking, a little swimming, and a little hiking this year. While run training was ~15% of the year prior (222 miles vs. 16-1700!), overall training volume in terms of time was down 90+ hours. And I did get about 50 of those 222 miles run in the last 3 weeks before the race, including one 11 miler with 3500’ of climb. Plenty, right? 🙂 )
Last year I stayed in hotel about 45 minutes from the park, but this year opted to hitch a ride with Mark and Carey from Holly Springs, and camp in “Camp Brian.” Brian lives 2 miles from the park and opens up his front yard to campers every year, and we had a great time there. He and his wife are extremely welcoming and it was fun to hang out with other runners in his yard and on his front porch for a couple of days. We arrived Thursday evening and set up camp:
Thursday night we went to the local junior high football game, and at half time, the announcers had all the runners walk out onto the field. There were maybe 30-35 of us. After the game we ate at one of the few restaurants open after 8 pm in the area, the local Mexican joint El Patron.
Friday morning was chill, and we met at the yellow gate around 11. Last year I think there were only 5 or 6 of us there, but this year there was quite a crowd, with lots of people running and hiking. Since I haven’t been running, I opted to just hike a couple miles instead of running like last year.
After that, we went over to packet pick up, where the maps are given out and the course is finally revealed. BFC is not like most other 50k’s — the course is different every year, and no matter the actual miles, the map always shows 31 exactly. This year was no different, and later analysis showed this year’s course was more like 36 miles with almost 13,000 of climbing. And all of the famous out-of-park climbs like Rat Jaw, Testacle Spectacle, and Meth Lab would were of course included.
We headed to the prison for lunch and map study, where there were many other runners, though perhaps not quite as many as last year.
The prison also sells moonshine, and has tastings. No tastings for me!
Friday night is the pasta dinner, movie, and football game, but since I can’t eat pasta the night before a race, Jess and I opted to go to the local Mexican restaurant (two nights in a row for me!), where I had fish tacos. I would have liked to see John Fegyveresi speak – he’s one of the few Big Barkley finishers ever! But I needed some food that my body wouldn’t rebel against!
We all went to bed rather early since we had a big day in front of us. Normally I sleep pretty well the night before a race, but not this time, With some yapping dogs (or coyotes?), a rooster, etc., it was not the best environment for sound sleep! (Even with my earplugs in.)
We were all up early (around 5:00 a.m.) and I used my jet boil to make coffee and oatmeal, and soon enough we were driving to the start/finish area, which got pretty crowded. But the race organization is fantastic and somehow they got all the cars parked, runners corralled, and we were fast approaching 7:00. Laz lit his camel, and we were off!
Last year I was fit, and went pretty hard at the start to use the ~1+ mile road lead in to the single track to get towards the front (which in reality was probably the top 40 or so). There was still a conga line, but not terrible — everyone in the group I was in had pretty solid power hikes so it was never a problem.
This year, I knew not being fit that I shouldn’t red-line early — and I’d just have to take the climb at the speed that was possible a bit further back in the pack. So the plan was to go out pretty easy, and not worry about any delays on the 1st climb. Right away, as we turned out of the parking lot and onto the pavement, I felt tightness in both quads. This was extremely worrisome in such a long race! I’m guessing they were still pretty tight from playing soccer for the 1st time in a year exactly one week prior. Not much to do about it, other than see how the day plays out, so I kept running at my easy pace. I probably got to the single track right in the middle — around 200 — but it’s really hard to say. It was all power hiking, but other than the long line that formed at the big down tree, it wasn’t too bad.
I reached the top at 7:51 a.m., and all of us started to run down the single track switch backs. (Note I didn’t wear a watch, but did ask other racers or volunteers a few times what time it was, and recall those pretty well.) There was a little passing here and there, but mostly a decent run down to the bottom — where you quickly start a second long climb. (Thats’s pretty much the theme of BFC – long ups, long downs, steep short ups that take a long time, long downs, all day long.)
Anyway, it was here on this second climb where I started passing other runners. I was still a bit hesitant to push too much / too soon, but I felt good, and took what came. I would only pass in areas where it didn’t take too much energy.
Soon enough I reached aid 1, topped off my water supplies, and kept moving. Next we had a fairly long (3.5 – 4.0 mile) run down a Jeep road, and then pavement to the ranger station. I had thought the jeep road wouldn’t be very steep, but it was a bit more than I had anticipated. With the lack of run volume, I was extremely worried about my quads. And I was still feeling the tightness from soccer! So I didn’t bomb down like I often would, but kept it in check. We still had a very long day in front of us, and any hopes of me finishing meant staying conservative as long as possible.
I reached the ranger station, topped off water again, grabbed a handful of potato chips, and left at 3 hrs 1 minute into the race. That was about 15 minutes faster than what I thought would be needed to have a chance at the 50k finish, so I was pleased with that. I knew the climb up Chimney top was going to be very rough. In fact, I had mentally told myself the top was my half way point of the race, and to get through that in tact and I’d be ok. The 1st 20-30 minutes was really odd. It was still relatively early in the race, but it seemed we were really spread out. I passed maybe 3-4 other runners in this area and that was it! Last year the race seemed much more crowded for a longer time. I didn’t know if i was further back in the pack and it was spread out, or if perhaps there’s a front pack and then a gap, or what? I did talk to another runner about it and he agreed it was odd!
Anyway, Chimney is a long steep slog, with several false summits, and it gets crazy steep near the top. There are no switchbacks here, you just go straight up the mountain. Near the top, it got more crowded, so that earlier gap must have just been a bit of an anomaly. I was hiking strong and continued to pass people all the way up. A couple times I caught a toe, and in catching myself to prevent a superman, felt the R quad really scream. Still not good! Once you get past the big rocks at the top, there’s one more climb, and then there’s some nice single track running, which eventually turns to double track. I ran all this and was still making good progress through the field.
I reached aid 3, topped up on water, got my bib punched by Laz, and was off pretty quickly. This was again some long down hills on Jeep trails, and I was still worried about the quads. But I was now past my mental “half way” point and was pretty happy with how I was holding together. We reached Testical and down down down we went, including some sliding sections. When I was going down there was some two way traffic but it wasn’t terrible, but when I turned to go back up, it seemed like it got really crowded! I managed the best I could, often climbing on the side of the single wide bushwhacked path to keep on moving rather than wait for the downhillers, most of whom were unable (or unwilling?) to wait for me to climb up.
At one point on the way up, a gentleman climbed past me quite strongly, but within 20 seconds, he was projectile vomiting on the side of the trail. I couldn’t really off much aid I so I went by. I should have yelled “puke and rally” which seems to be the common call in this situation at BFC. But then a few minutes later he passed me again! That’s the best “puke and rally” I have yet to see, but it was short lived. A minute or two later I passed him again and then didn’t see him the rest of the race.
After TS, it’s down Meth, which has some crazy steep sections — one section you have to slide down what must be 50’ long scree slope at 70%. This is where the garden gloves come in handy. I caught up to a group of 8-10 runners and we were making our way down. We hit the stream bed, which if you follow it, leads you into the woods. That’s not under the power lines so I turned around, and followed it back up, trying to find a bushwhack path. I eventually did, and finally made it to the sign that’s points you into the woods where we ran on jeep road until the next sign.
Shortly after that, there’s a split in the road, and lots of people went right. I didn’t remember that from last year, and it didn’t look correct, so went left and up, and eventually spotted another sign so yelled back to the other runners that I was on the right track. Here you hit the pavement for a bit, in the heat of the day, on the way to the prison. Last year was so hot, and the prison aid station had ice! This year was not quite as hot, but I still could have used ice. No luck, though. I have seen in other race reports that some other runners did get ice. Oh well. I topped up water, had a couple sips of coke, and walked up the prison road. No need to run any of this — though it is runnable. It was hot, and Rat Jaw was coming very soon. I needed to conserve every bit of energy as possible for that!
Next it was through the prison yard, up and over the prison wall climbing the ladders. On the other side, THE Keith Dunn took a photo of me which he later sent:
Then it was through the tunnel…. Though this year it was straight down a bit of a precarious rock wall. I didn’t remember that from last year! I made it down after a bit of a scramble and a jump, and then was helping the lady behind me, when another runner came up and said “hey, if you just walk over that way it’s a lot easier!” I looked over and saw a much easier way down. Oh well.
Through the tunnel, a bit of a scramble up the bank, a walk along the grass, and then Rat Jaw. It really is hard to describe, and photos don’t do it justice. That first pitch is extremely steep — maybe 70% – of loose dirt and gravel. I did copy this video someone posted to FB of the front runners on the 1st pitch:
And once you are over that, it’s on to the briars and more steep grade. The rough estimates are something like 1800’ in a mile, much of it choked fulled of saw briars! As we started climbing I asked someone the time – I really wanted to know how long it took. It was 2:05, but we had already climbed the 1st pitch, so it was probably closer to 2:00 when I started at the bottom.
Like last year there was a lot of carnage here — bodies strewn all up and down the mountain. This year it wasn’t quite so bad, perhaps due to less heat, but there were still lots of people resting here and there, especially at the road half way up where the rangers/EMTs are. Several folks were lying there in the shade.
I did sit there for a minute, but not too long. Just enough for a quick recovery and then I kept going. There are parts of rat where it is literally 15-20 steps, rest for 5 breaths, and continue. Then there are other parts where you might go a minute or two, and then take some breaths. And yes, there were a few times I had to sit. Especially on the cut off telephone pole, which I call the seat of contemplation after reading about so many others who sit there and question their life decisions.
At the big rock cliff where you have to scout to the right, and then climb through a slot to get back to the briars, there was a crowd of 8-10 runners regrouping. I kept on moving as this was a lot less steep. But from here and to the top, the briars seemed to double up. They were definitely much thicker this year! And last year, the front runners bushwhacked an actual path. Most of us later runners could hike upright. But this year, it was a briar tunnel, not a path, so we often had to bear crawl – another great use of the garden gloves.
I got the bib punch on Rat, maybe 200 or 300 meters from the top, and kept bear crawling to the top. I asked for the time and it was 3:24, so it took about an hour and twenty minutes this year. I had really thought the 2nd time up rat would be better, but it wasn’t. It was just as difficult. This year wasn’t as hot as last year, though being on the rat from 2-3:30 p.m. when you are totally exposed — it was still very hot. At least I didn’t have the dizziness and cramping I had last year!
I climbed the “far tar” (fire tower), got my bib punched, climbed down, and ran to the next aid station — the decision point. This was also the drop bag location, so after a minute trying to find my bag, I got it, sat in the shade, and quickly changed socks, put a bit of Squirrels Nut Butter on my feet, put on a dry shirt, got my poles, and headed out. Laz said something about most everyone choosing to go on this year, which was good to hear after I was so shocked last year when a few runners near me opted to take the marathon instead of try for the 50k. He punched my bib and I was off, down a ~3 mile road section to the final aid station.
I got there and didn’t even bother to top off water. I was still pretty full, so I grabbed a nearly empty jug from one of the volunteers, downed it, grabbed a handful of chips, and was off. This was the same section we had started the race in many hours earlier, but in reverse, so I knew what to expect on the two big climbs and two big descents. At this point, the lack of run volume was really catching up to me. And really just lack of time on feet. My feet were sore, I could feel the beginnings of those under the footpad blisters starting that knocked me out of Hinson a couple years ago, and I was getting tired.
In this section, I probably got passed 10-15 times. I wish I could have run the downs, more than the sorry shuffle that was all I was able to muster! At the bottom of the last climb I was feeling pretty spent, so I stayed there a good minute or two trying to regroup. I finally started a very slow hike, with some breaks, barely moving. At some point, I did get a bit of a second wind, and my hike speed increased and I did pass a couple of people who had passed me at the bottom.
At the top of bird, it was 14 switchbacks down, the mile+ paved road out of the park, and the finish! I really had no idea what time it was, so didn’t know how I was doing. Due to my feet hurting so bad, I shuffled down switchbacks, and hit the road.
I was finally able to manage a slow jog on the pavement, and ran all the way to the finish, crossing the line in 11:59!
Last year was around 11:45, so not too bad — most runners that finished the 50k last year and this year were about an hour slower this year.
Results: 84th out of 186 50k finishers… Roughly 40% of the ~450 runners finished the 50k, 20% the marathon, and another 40% DNF’d.
The Croix de Barque, with a star since it’s my 2nd 50k finish:
My feet were pretty shot the rest of the evening. Shuffling around the finish area to get food, and get my gear to the car, to walk from the car to the shower in Big Cove, etc., was all quite painful. And the chaffing! Last year I pretty much went shirtless for much of the race, and wore the same pack I had on this year – almost no chaffing. This year, I wore a sleeveless shirt, the same pack, and have terrible chaffing on the inside of the biceps, the shoulders, chest, and upper ribs. Ouch!
Gear: Rhun long compression short, icebreaker sleeveless top both before and after drop bag (changed into a dry one), injinji toe socks until the drop bog, speed goat socks after, Speedgoat 3 shoes. The middle size UD pack, my carbon-z poles. Squirrels Nut butter – but I still chaffed terribly on the inside of my biceps.
Nutrition: 4 packs of tail wind, the equivalent of 5 or 6 vfuels, the equivalent of two bars (one paleo/caveman bar, and bites of a cliff bar, and the sweet and salty bars at the aid stations), and two handfuls of potato chips! Not much — that’s maybe 1600 calories over 12 hours!
I’m already thinking about next year and hope the lottery odds are in my favor! I really want a third shot at BFC — one where I’m well trained AND have a good day!