This past Saturday, I ran the Bear Blaster 50K+, a 33ish mile ultra on the Bartram Trail along the shore of Lake Thurmond (Clarks Hill Lake for the purists out there). This race is directed by two good friends Josh Gagner and David Rychly. Gagner is currently out of the country fighting the enemies for the U.S. Navy one beer, err I mean, one covert op at a time (not really covert, but it sounds better doesn’t it?). For me, this race is always earmarked on my calendar each year. For one, it is on trails that I know like the back of my hand and two, it’s about as laid back of a race atmosphere as one can find.
Leading up to this race, I have been focusing on strength training more than running as strength has been my biggest weakness in previous races. On top of Yoga, Kettlebells, and recently Cardio Boxing at KORE Wellness, I started working out with the guys of F3 Columbia, part of F3 Nation (more information here). During my interaction with the guys of F3 and at a morning workout dedicated to Walker Phillips, son of a fellow F3 PAX (F3 lexicon for a man) who is suffering from life-threatening seizures, I learned of his condition and the Phillips family faith through all of this. Please take a moment to read about Walker here. The Thursday, March 10th workout for all the area F3 groups were dedicated to Walker, we were #WalkerStrong. Having a daughter of my own and one on the way I couldn’t begin to imagine the trials they are going through. During this workout, I decided that my race, every mile was getting dedicated to Walker.
That same Thursday night, I made sure to treat my Crew Chief, my best friend, and my love to a hand-made shirt signifying her role for my race on Saturday. I also recognized the real “boss,” our Little Crew Chief on the shirt.
Race morning, we get up early and drive the hour and a half to the lake in Augusta. Arriving with about 15 minutes to spare with just enough time to take care of business one last time, change shoes, get my bib, and hear the last minute race instructions, which included an email from Josh about trail-side pooping.
We head off on the course, I’m near the front with a group of runners I know fairly well, all chit-chatting as we settle into a comfortable pace, no one really gunning for the race at this point. It was enjoyable talking with James, Kenzie, Devon, bib #2 guy (forgot his name, I’m horrible I know), and Mike Grady. Knowing the course like I do, I provided Jenny with detail instructions on where would be the best place to meet me, one of which being just outside of the first mile, because, you need a running picture where you’re still looking strong, right?
I wouldn’t see her again until mile 5.6 at the first Aid Station at Petersburg Trail Head. This area of the trail is one of my favorite sections out there, between the views and runnable nature of the section. I stayed with the group in the picture above (Except that Ebener guy, who took off…speedy) to the aid station. At the aid station, Jenny was waiting on me with a bottle of Tailwind and some date rolls (great trail snack, btw!).
At this aid station the group breaks up some and everyone starts on the next section. This section of this trail is my least favorite section of Bartram Trail after years of running on it. I’m moseying along at the pace that feels best to me, walking as needed/wanted. Around mile 11, I start to notice my left hamstring bothering me right where it meets my left butt cheek. I start run/walking at this point. Somewhere shortly after this, Katherine Renken catches up to me and we stick together, run/walking and chatting about training plans for the upcoming Blind Pig that we both are registered for. We hit the unmanned aid station around mile 11, top off bottles, grab snacks and keep going. Around mile 14.5, we come up to Jenny waiting on me. I introduce Jenny to Katherine, get a new bottle of Tailwind and a banana, kiss Jenny and head to the turnaround at mile 16.5ish. At this point, we are speed walking, thankfully Katherine is an excellent speed walker and kept us at a great pace. We get to the 16.5 mile turn around, Rychly is there to greet us as well as his two daughters. Rychly hands me my Dales Pale Ale as I requested to have at the turn around aid station. We start off on the back portion of this out and back race. By this time, we’re roughly 3 hours 45 mins into the race and it’s BRUTALLY hot. Thankfully I knew Jenny would be there waiting on me at the same spot I left her at mile 14.5 and she was a sight for sore, tired eyes. I switched out bottles, gave Jenny another kiss, thanked her for being so awesome, and went on our way. Still powerwalking at this point we keep pushing forward discussing anything and everything to pass the miles. We both noticed that neither of us had stopped to use the woods and were not sweating nearly as much as we should have been. Man it seemed like forever to the next aid station. When we hit that unmanned aid station, we stopped for a few minutes drinking water, eating pickles, and I poured ice-cold water over my head which promptly made me have to use the woods. Katherine went on ahead while I watered the lilies. I tried catching up to her but she got a second wind and was off. I was walk/running to the next aid station, quietly ticking off the miles until the Peterburg aid station where a tired Jenny was waiting on me. She had an orange sliced up and soaking in icewater, which was amazing! She switched out my camelbak bladders for me and sent me packing, knowing I had 5.6 miles to go until I finished and we could go get some dinner! Jenny and Emma were ready to eat!
After this aid station, I felt a little better, the hamstring wasn’t barking at me so I started running for as long as my leg would allow me. Mentally calculating the distance I had left to go every time I hit one of the trail mileage markers (the distance on them did not match the race distances). When I finally got back to the road portion of the race, I took my camelbak off and started running in to the finish line. Finished in 8:53:29, A far cry from my 50K PR but I was happy that I finished my first ultra since 2014.
Mentally, I was prepared for this race and physically I felt more prepared for this race than I had in a long time. The pulled (assuming it’s only pulled) hamstring sucks but knowing that I was running this race dedicating it to Walker and finishing #WalkerStrong made it all worth it to me! I lifted Walker and the Phillips family in prayers at the race start, every mile on the mile, and at the finish.
Before we headed to eat, I didn’t want Jenny to have to smell me for the rest of the day. I was planning on swinging back by the Petersburg trail head to take a hose shower but Jenny noticed this faucet at the restrooms near the start/finish line so I proceeded to take a faucet bath to de-stink myself for her.
I made the decision to pull out of the upcming Blind Pig 100. A distance that has eluded me for some time now. Before, events of that distance broke me and forced me to a DNF. This time, making the decision to pull from the race was the right call as opposed to attemting it and injuring myself negating all the progress I’ve made in the last year and a half. I’ll get that 100 finish soon enough, no worries there! On a side note, I notice my Garmin fenix, was all over the place, especially when I downloaded the data. According to the map, I swam about 2 miles of this race, Garmin Connect shows 33.31 miles while Strava shows only 32 miles. The joys of technology…