Bear Mountain is always a special place for me. Not only is the place where I could get sanctuary from real life every weekend, but it was also where I found what they call trail running for the first time. Well I don’t think I am really a runner, probably just a slightly fast hiker.
Runners can expect terrain changes from packed dirt to loose rocks, from tree roots to leaf-covered trails. The Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge course cuts to the chase, with some trails heading steeply uphill rather than zig-zagging at a gentler grade. Descents end in wooded hollows before the next rapid climb ending with breathtaking views. Make no mistake: this will be a tough test of off-road endurance.
To Do Or Not To Do
I arrived in Bear Mountain parking lot for the race in pouring rain. It had been a long self debate the whole night till morning what would I take for the race. Should I use my Orange Mud single bottle pack or handheld bottle, and should I use my rain jacket or not. I knew I got a green light from my coach from Mountain Peak Fitness, Elizabeth, to race it. But I was not sure how would I race it. Would I be able run it the whole race or would I be crashed and burnt halfway.
I ended up walking up to the starting line with handheld and my rain jacket. I put 300 calories of Tailwind in my bottle, and if I needed more, I could take it from the aid station, which served Tailwind too. My original wave was 4, but I sneaked into wave 3. I could sneak into wave 1, but I did not want to start fast and kept up with the fazt kidz. I wanted to start it easy and assessed my pace a little by a little.
It was a classic Bear Mountain race starting line. Everyone was running fast in the beginning, since the first few hundreds yards was on the flat ground. And by the time they hit the uphill rocky section, after the tunnel, half of them would be walking and creating a bottle neck. After a minute or two, I felt good, my legs and ankles held up like I was running on the normal stairs, so kept my pace and tried to break out from the horde of trail runners. After I blasted the ankle breaking downhill, we turned right on the dam and the trail became flat and runnable. Soon I passed the aid station 1. Someone called my name, but I was on a cruise control that I didn’t get a chance to see who was it.
The trail changed into a rolling hill, I was starting to have some fun. Jumping around here and there. One by one I started to pickup runners ahead of me. Especially on the technical downhill, where most of them slowing down.
Suddenly I could hear automobile noises, Anthony Wayne, I said to myself. I had never ran the half marathon course, and I didn’t look the course before, so I was in a blind.
Jacket Dilema Fires Back
While I was running down, I was multitasking between running, not trip and fall, and taking out my jacket at the same time. I felt overheated. I was hoping someone would call my name this time so I could toss away my jacket. But I couldn’t recognize anyone, well it was a blurry clapping hands and cheerful crowd anyway. I was not slowing down, and had a hard time to wrap my jacket on my waist. Within four hundred meters or so, I had to stop and did my jacket wrap correctly. All the runners that I passed earlier were smoked me. Oh well.
After Anthony Wayne, the course was slightly different from 50k or 50 miles. We didn’t turn left into the trail that had picnic benches on the side. But we ran to the right, to the white/red-cross trail marked.
The rolling hills were started again, and a little by a little I was closing the gap between the runners in front of me. After the hill when I picked up a couple of runners, my jacket decided to untie itself. I ended up wrapped it around my right hand. It was awful, I had to swinging my hand couple of times to keep it wrapped up. I felt that I was slowing down from the distraction. When a runner with US Marines singlet passed me and cheered me up, I decided to stop, wrapped my jacket over my waist again nice and tight, this time I made sure it was securely knotted.
The Monkey Is Back
When I continued on the course, we went up into a rocky uphill, I was stuck behind a runner who was power hike it. After a small rocky peaks, we started to run over a technical downhill. Again, I stucked behind a row of single file runners who were carefully descent the rugged rocks.
I might had been rude since I started to become impatient. And when there was an opening, I started to jumping around those runners. I was woo-ing and yelling once or twice. Not sure because of excitement or was closed to fall more than plenty on these losing rocks, swinging and hand-breaking over the trees, and jumping over falling trees or sleek rocks. I caught up with the a guy who was slid down on slick rock, he was using road shoes. On the other hand, my shoes and legs worked pretty good. I guess the whole strength training was paid off. Not a single time I felt pressure on my joints or lost my footing. I kept running down the trail hard and fast. I guessed all those runners could be a faster runner than me, but I got the advantage from my experience running/hiking in the Bear Mountain almost every weekend.
Suddenly I passed the Queensborough aid station where I saw Alison, I waved and kept pushing forward. I tried to push as much as I could since I knew what come next. Timp Pass. I wanted to make up my time for the up coming hike there. I did power hike there, and slow jog on the downhill. Man those rocks could add an extra mile in the race.
ON YOUR LEFT
After I ran through the Tim Pass, the course ran on the 1777 trail, and I knew this could be less than 4 miles more. I picked up my pace again. From far away I could see the 1777 aid station where I usually volunteered there every year. I saw Juerg, and waved to him, who was cheering on me. Again I skipped the aid station. It would be less than 3 miles from there, could be 2, I said it to myself.
On the junction, we merged with the 10 k folks. At this point, we retraced our run through the trail that we did this morning. Now I started to run with the 5k folks too. So the trail were clogged with runners who carefully jog and walked. Again I might had been rude, since I just couldn’t wait to get done, and not sure how long I could push this pace anymore. I started to yell at them “ON YOUR LEFT” every minute before I tried to pass. Also the monkey’s ego started to creep onto me, I didn’t want to get passed by any runners, whatever distance they were.
There was a guy on the side that told me there would be one more pitch. And he was right, that last hill really took out all my energy. I yelled to myself to brace up and get it done.
I heard the festivities, I saw the tunnel, I passed the tunnel, I saw the finish line shoot. I was huffing puffing to sprint the last few hundred meters. There was a lady cheering, Go Girl, or something. I really need to cut my hair, I must had confused her with the second female a few minutes behind. For a few seconds, i felt the finish line was not getting any closer. But I did it, I finished it, I didn’t do any finishing jump, finishing smile, not raised my hand, nor any celebration. I gave it all, I crashed and burnt right there. I saw Amy Halton, who gave me the finisher medal. I told her I m dead, she said I was more than alive.
It was one of the best race or run that I ever had in years. I was having fun on the technical section but yet focus on everything at the same time. I didn’t twisted my ankle at all, it was a 100% smooth trail run, despite rain and sleek rocks. I owed this to Elizabeth who had resurrected me from a broken body and prepared me well for the last 3-4 months. Also the Tailwind on my Orange Mud handheld bottle got my back, so i didn’t have to stop in any aid station. I also ran and jumped over the creek, water and mud without worrying about blister or such, since Trail Toes and Swiftwick protected me well from those environment.
It was still raining when I finished, and I was shivering from cold, even after I changed into my dry clothes. I guess I didn’t bring enough layer. But it was a good day, a really good one actually.