The Bear Brook Trail Marathon and Half Marathon is one of my favorite races of the year. It’s a challenging, but ultimately very runnable course, and the race has a really fun atmosphere thanks to Ryan and Kristina’s hard efforts.
My single complaint about the race is the absolutely heinous start time of 6am and 6:30am. To get there in time for bib pickup and a warmup necessitates a very early morning. I got up at 3:15am, and left to drive down at 4:15. I drove with Brandy White (who came in 4th female on her second trail run ever!) which made for a less sleepy drive at least!
When we arrived, there were tons of people! It’s really inspiring to see the following that this race has gathered in just a few years. Unfortunately, Kristina was a bit short on volunteers. As in, three volunteers, and no race photographer. Yikes! Luckily, the trail racing community really stepped up, and she ended up with over 20 volunteers, a race photographer or two, and a smoothly-run race! It makes me happy to be part of a community that steps up like that.
Because of the lack of volunteers, the races started a bit late. That was fine with me, as I got more time to warm up. I got in about 2.5 miles or so with some strides, and returned to the start area.
I walked to the front, and as soon as Kristina blew the vuvuzela, we were off. I took off at a pretty hard effort with the intention of making anyone who wanted the lead really hurt to get it.
The first half mile is rolling on snowmobile trails, followed by a steep and technical half-mile climb up Catamount, for an elevation gain of 370ft in that half mile! I ran the first mile in 8:41, red-lining pretty hard. I could see that the guy behind me was a strong climber, so I hoped to stay ahead by taking control on the downhills. I flew down the other side as fast as was safe, and hammered up the second climb, a quarter-mile doozy with 190ft of gain.
Finally, we were into much more runnable territory. There were still plenty of of hills to be climbed, but they were much more gradual and rolling until nearly mile 10.
At this point I hadn’t seen or heard 2nd place behind me since the top of the climb. I estimated I had a .3 mi lead, as the course switch-backed plenty. As we climbed some more and ran through the biker lot, we passed the first aid station, which was unmanned due to lack of volunteers. I made the mistake of stopping to top off my bottle, despite knowing the manned aid station was less than 3 miles away. I took off pretty quickly, but still wasted a good 30 seconds there.
I kept moving pretty quickly through the hill at mile 5. The course switchbacks quite a bit At this point, I stated to relax a bit. After more or less red-lining for 3.5 miles, it felt good to enjoy the terrain. I cruised around the switchbacks, glancing back occasionally, but never seeing anyone. When I arrived at the mile 7 aid station, I quickly topped off my bottle again, this time from a dispenser, so it was much faster. After clearing out within 15 seconds or so and making it 50 yards down the trail, I heard cheering again. I glanced back, and there was 2nd place bearing down on me without stopping for water. Crap. I tore out of there, laying down two 6:30 miles and red-lining again.
My legs were starting to burn, my arms were flushed and my breathing was getting a bit more ragged. At the aid station near mile 10 I saw him again, this time a bit further back, but still too close for comfort. I didn’t stop, but tried to pick up the pace again, despite the pain. Mile 10 was a 7:20 despite a solid 100ft vertical hill.
It was here I started to have second thoughts. Second place is good too, right? I run for the experience and how it makes me feel, not for prizes, so who cares? This hurts man. Do I really want to wear the crown? Yes. I want that experience at least once, and this is my best shot.
Mile 11 was a significant downhill, but the terrain was technical and my legs were shot. I was getting worried, but continued to push with everything I had. Mile 12 had both of the steep climbs. I may have cursed Ryan for making us do this twice. Funny how I didn’t care as much last year! I may have hiked a bit. I may have hiked it all. Yes, that’s it, I hiked it all. Catamount and its twin was challenging but fun the first time, but just cruel the second.
I bombed down the final descent as fast as I felt was safe, and finally broke out onto the rolling trail to the finish. Man, half a mile seems a lot longer at the end. I tried to keep a steady pace, but my calves were cramping bad. (Oddly, they did this last year as well in the exact same spot. Something about switching terrain and pace from the steep downhill to flattish fast paces?)
Finally, I saw the finish and gave it all I had, which was definitely not much! I finished in 1:42:45 unofficially, with 2nd and 3rd place both within two minutes or so.
It was pretty cool to experience my first win, and I was glad to do so at one of my favorite races! It’s definitely the hardest I’ve ever raced, and probably the closest to my legs shutting down, so luckily it paid off! However I was most happy about my racing attitude. I’ve never been able to run with confidence, and even when I’m in a race that I hope to podium in, I always hang back and try to out-kick someone. Perhaps that works, perhaps it doesn’t, but it was great to force myself into this other race plan, and make it successful!
After a few minutes of recovery, I grabbed my camera, changed my shirt, and transformed into race photographer. I shot 1200 photos over 4+ hours of almost all finishers through the 6-ish hour mark. I want to thank my driving copilot Brandy for putting up with that!
To close, I was incredibly impressed by everyone who raced today in the heat. Some folks were out for as many as nine hours in 92°. It’s also the first year there were no ambulance calls, so congratulations to everyone for that!
Here is my Strava Activity, and as usual, it’s interesting to watch the fly-bys of all the racers!
I will be posting all race photos to my Facebook photography page in the upcoming days. For now, below are a few selections.