I will not be so arrogant as to say that the morning after Leadville I was ready to jump into the Bear, as it was arrogance partly that lead to that defeat. However, the seed was planted by my friend and chose "Trail Daughter/ Mudbabe, " Hayley.
"Sophia-- 250 signed up for the Bear and it has a 300 cap-- you should do it." I already had my plane ticket as I had agreed to pace Hayley in her first 100.
Two weeks later I made a very private decision to run the Bear. This time sans FB status updates or multiple conversations with friends, family or other well wishers. My mental prep was simple and targeted. A few pointed questions to trusted runners who had conquered the Bear and a little research on associated blogs.
I did make a couple attempts to find a pacer, but when the pacers of choice weren't available, instead of just trying to find anyone, I decided it best to trust my own wits and go without a pacer.
With a weather forecast of sub freezing temperatures and a wintery mix (according to Erin-- I call it HAIL. Hail and damnation to be excat) I packed my drop bags for survival. This physical packing mirrored the mental place I had to be in to succeed.
I spent the 4 weeks leading up to the race figuring out where I was. It wasn't where I thought, but I decided I would be happy with it.
- 12:30's for my steady marathon running pace (really?!! I thought it was 11:30)
- Climbing weak and all I had was a .3 of a mile hill to train on. I made a decision to run it 6 to 8 times a day instead of hike- and that was a good decision as it made my mind strong and legs a bit better.
- Purchased super light trekking poles and got some advice from a ski coach on how to use them.
- Stayed private- sometimes the more people know about your training or your goals, it seems the less they believe in you- or so it feels. For whatever reason, sharing less helped me more.
- I am not a quitter.
Numbers were assigned for this race in alphabetical order and when I checked in I saw ultra legend Hans Dieter-Weissar was listed before me. The last time I'd seen 74 year old Hans was 6 weeks prior with tears streaming down my face headed into Winfield:
"You'll get it next year my dear," he passed me going up the pass and on to his 10th Leadville finish.
This day would mark his attempt at 140 , 100 mile finishes since starting the sport at age 59.
After the gun went off, I looked for Hans- Erin and I were running together at the back to ensure a smart start. I knew there were many tough as nails runners on the course who were going to finish, and most of them were right there in the back with us.
I just needed reassurance on one thing.
"Guten Morgen Hans! Sophia from Leadville. It's my first time running without a pacer- will I be ok?"
"Sophia, always run without a pacer. You want to be alone, in the dark overnight. It is so beautiful and it is why we run. 100's of course-- the only distance."
Erin and I were marching along- at one point I tried an uphill without the poles and could immediately tell they were helping- except they kept falling apart (Z poles, so they were still attached just floppy.) DANG. Whatever.
Then there was the temperature regulation. I chose to wear capri tights with Mizuno Breath Thermo tights over. It was overkill for about one minute at mile 3, after that it was perfect. At mile 10 my fingers were so cold I had a volunteer get out my hand warmers (pair number 1).
I had on Breath Thermo arm warmers under my jacket (jacket number 1) but really wanted to get a whole BT stretch on instead of the Dry Science shirt I was wearing.With the work it took to get up 5 to 10 mile climbs Breath Thermo was by far the best option. (For those of you who don't know, Breath Thermo is a fabric that self generates heat with your body's sweat- so instead of getting hypothermic from mountain climbing and exerting, you stay warm.)
" Look at team Orange!" A group of brothers were commenting on Erin's and my orange skirts. I'd suffered through their attempts at discussing football and welcomed the switch to fashion. They wished they'd worn matchy match outfits. They were an interesting group and we'd come across them
several times throughout the race. Headed into mile 30 aid we ran down hill for quite a while. We discussed empathy and how helpful it is in pacing or simply running with friends. At the aid station we see Erica and Taylor and had a glorious bra change and got the needed BT base layer on and changed into jacket number 2. I pooped a little in a bucket.
Erin and I were still together-- we were given glorious hot soup with a salty potato inside. We were practicing our empathy. Her climbing was better, but I had the experience she needed to get the smart start and consistent pacing. I am so grateful we had this running time together, as over the past year when we've done races our paces just haven't synched. It happens- especially if both are RACING- but this was a unique time as it was her first 100 and I was starting over. We had some really glorious miles of running through the beautiful trees. She'd point out the vistas (I tend to notice the trail in front of me and miss the scenery) I'd set the pace. I'd run out of water. She'd let me drink out of her hose-right by her left boob. This part was hilarious.
We got separated by about 10 minutes at mile 36 and I began to run alone, knowing she would catch me later in the race once she got her pacer-or perhaps before.
Mile 41 I see Taylor (who's boyfriend was running near me) and want another shirt change. I just don't want to head into the evening with anything wet- even Breath Thermo when the temperatures were dangerous. But my bag is with the other car. Fortunately BT works and I make it comfortably to the next aid station-- but not after enduring some crazy muddy slip-slop, uphill- oh crap the guy in front of me is falling backwards, and my POLES are separating.. but here come the Brothers, hiking past me. "Help! This can't be right?!! no one else's Black Diamond ultra distance poles are separating?" "Are they locked Sophia?" "I DON'T KNOW." Brother Todd, mid-step, balances on one foot, fixes the poles and continues like a nanny goat up the hill. I figure I'll never see him and the brother from another mother again.
Not so- There is something I learned from a 50 mile pacing experience with John Fegyveresi (Barkley marathon finisher 2012). Zip through aid stations. Get what you need- but don't waste time.
AT mile 52 aid station Taylor again is just a rockstar crew- she remembers everything I liked at mile 20 and is just so excited about how well I'm running (hiking, surviving- making jokes). She believes in me- and I can just feel it. I change into a fresh BT top, Jacket #3, more handwarmers and yes, a down puffer vest.
It is now 18 degrees and on the exposed ridges the wind is blowing. 15 hours in, but I feel set for survival. Petzyl NAO headlamp is working great.
... and what do you know?! It's the brothers.
"Sophia- do you have warm enough clothes on?" Funny comment coming from two dudes wearing shorts.
I explain I am wearing a puffer vest and that DNF in this race stand for Did. Not. Freeze.
"What about your neck? I have an extra buff."
This was the one piece I'd forgotten-- they got the buff all tucked in my neck and assured me it was clean , although I said I didn't care. (Insert story of Alaska adventure where buff from crotch is used by friend.)
They went ahead and told me the next part was a runnable downhill. I was feeling great. I was warm, my legs felt good and ... what is that black shiny stuff? ICE. Then snowy ice pack with strips of brown where people had slipped . Looked like the tracks on your brothers underwear from when you were little. Ok- or your own. Sorry, I'm stuck on brothers.
I would just stare at it, trying to figure out the best route down-- the crunchy stuff on the edges were less slippery but the drop to the right was pretty darn steep. Even with the poles , I slipped 3 times. Sometimes I just scooted down on my butt. When it was done, I hoped we were done with ice, but that nightmare recurred several times.
"Well if we wanted consistent conditions we'd run road races!" I was still in excellent spirits. I got to 61 and saw Taylor.
"I am going to finish this."
"Yes you are."
"The Mud Brothers gave me a buff."
I am going to insert some advice here for first timers at this race who are going to finish in 32-36 hours (and fyi- you may think your goal is 28) . If you have a pace who can only do part of the distance and you have to choose- CHOOSE MILE 61 to 75. This is the darkest part of the night- the time Hans craves and loves, but for those of us with less experience and salt, it can be nothing short of terrifying.
I made the mistake of turning on my Garmin- I thought it would be fun later to look at the data (which it may, although I haven't done it yet.,) but it just confused me and made me think the course was long (which it isn't). Again-- nothing new on race day-- even a gadget. I like time of day. I know this. I'll always stick with that in the future. Before this, I was pacing very steady and even, because I didn't have the GPS distracting me. Still- this was a small, small mistake in a race where there was ample opportunity to make big mistakes.
I was getting very sleepy. I did another one of the caffeine strips Erica gave me, but I needed more.
I'd get to the flatter bits now and then and fight the temptation to walk.
"Just because you don't have a pacer, doesn't mean you can walk." I chanted this over and over.
I drank coffee at mile 68. Looked at the zombies with drool coming out of their mouths, asleep in chairs by the fire. I wondered if I had time for a nap. I left.
"Mud Brothers don't lend buffs to quitters." over and over.
I started to think I was lost. I turned around until I saw a pink marker. Dang- I wasn't lost. Turn around, go back uphill. Now the sleep became overwhelming. I knew I had to wait until another runner came along and just try to keep up with them. I needed people. So, I latched onto a guy and his pacer for just enough time to re-group and ran down (when not icy) to get to 75. Again - I get lost and backtrack, even though I'm going the correct way.
Mile 75: Why is Erin in the aid station? I guess she strained her gastrocnemeous/calf/soleus. Too serious to continue.
Erica got me more caffeine strips, more gin gins (unwrapped. Thank you-- I have weird issues with wrappers. She always knows what to do when it comes to that for me.) And I begged a kid to pace me the rest of the way.
He thinks about it for a second....
"Listen- you're going to go uphill for 5 miles. It's going to suck- but you've got this."
The sun came up. I kept moving. I sat only to empty my shoes so I could keep moving.
I got warm and took off my jacket and vest. I got cold and put the vest back on and more hand warmers. I shared a second thing of hand warmers with a guy named Jim from Missoula.
I ran down a hill all the while thinking "You just may need this 8 minutes."
More uphill. More buff Mud Brother chanting. I knew I should try and run the next down-- I get to it-- and it's MUD. What? --- schloppp-- schloppp.. my attitude soured. I really believed the course must be 13 miles long.
I started to hallucinate: Over and over I saw blue pop - up tents indicating an aid station-- but it was just the sky peaking through the clouds and trees, two miles before the actual aid.
I kept pushing the bad thoughts from my mind-- I thought about Taylor, Erica and Erin- I could NOT figure out what time I might finish (this is really odd for me.) Each mile seemed so very long.
Mud brothers. Runners run even without pacers. Be a finisher.Get the buckle. Mommy loves you. Philip (my bio brother) loves you, Daddy loves you. Erin loves you... on and on...
I wasn't sure if the crew would be at 92. If they weren't my plan was simple- get rid of my warm clothes in Hayley's drop bag and head to the check in and check myself in and out, all in one breath.
But there they were-- Bad Sophia pops out of the box. Upset about the mud- upset about the course length and who knows what else-- I'm told once the rant stopped and I changed that as I left to hike up the stupidest steepest little stinker of a hill ever, I turned to my Mud Babes.
"Thank you for saying you're proud of me."
I started up the hill and wished I'd taken off my tights. It was slippery and as steep as Hope Pass. I will admit, there was a part of me that just wanted to turn around and go back down and quit. Just at that moment some older fellows scaled past me. After 92 miles of being passed over and over on these climbs, I decided I could do it-- and a new chant arose.
"Be like Hans. Be like Hans." Little steps, but constant and consistent. When I needed to I did the John Fegyveresi lean (trekking poles are great for that, and keep you from having to sit. John, by the way doesn't know I've named this move after him.)
"Great job!" I was getting props from other runners.
-- and that is where I needed to be and wanted to be. The runner who can re-group and instantly make a plan that works in that moment. Not because it was a pre-race spreadsheet-not because data on their wrist indicates something, but because of what is ahead and immediately underfoot and in your heart.
I took this attitude to the finish line where my Mud Babes were waiting as I ran in. And where I was able to return the buff.