Last weekend, I ran my fourth marathon, my highest altitude marathon, my most hilly marathon, my fastest marathon, and probably the prettiest race I have run. It was the 2014 Running with the Bears Marathon.
The Running with the Bears Marathon is in pretty much the middle of nowhere (at least for a road race), near Lake Almanor and the town of Greenville, California. It was a small race, there were only about 300 runners signed up for the race and only 240 showed up. But it was very well organized.
I had heard about the Running with the Bears Race on Facebook a while back, but I ended up meeting the race director and some others at their booth at the California International Marathon expo. I was working the booth next to them. We had some good talks, and they told me that they worked for Mountain Circle, which was an organization that supported foster kids. Foster kids have a special place in my heart as the Dashing Sister is adopted, and my other sister (who isn’t legally my sister, but try to stop us from being a family) has adopted five foster kids. All these kids now have a chance in life because she brought them into her (our) family. It doesn’t matter that one looks like she came from Norway, and the other from the Kalahari desert, all they see is family. So, not only did I decide to run the race, I decided to do it as a charity runner.
The whole raising money for charity didn’t go over so well, but I met my goal, and then some. As a charity runner, I got some extra perks. I got free entry to the post race party, I got some special swag, some extra publicity for the blog, and my race shirt said “Charity Runner” across the back.
Originally, I had hoped that the Dashing Son’s school would start after the race, and we could take a vacation up to Lake Almanor for the week. Alas, his school started the Wednesday before the race. So, on Friday, the Dashing Wife and I left work early, got packed up, grabbed the kids and the dog for our three hour tour up the mountain.
After about an hour and a half, we got to the mountains and started the drive along California Highway 70 through the Feather River Canyon. It was one of the things that I missed about living in California when we lived in Florida. Topography. We had some amazing views along our drive. (More photos of the drive up can be found here)
We made it into Greenville, just after they announced the charity runners (I missed my time on stage) but in time to get some pasta dinner, which was quite tasty. I got my goody bag, which was loaded with stuff, and watched the kids burn off steam on the playground. I finally got them off the play structure, so we could drive the 45 minutes back to our hotel (the problem with waiting until the last minute to make reservations).
We checked in and realized we only had one queen bed for four people and a dog (I thought I had reserved at least a room with two fulls). Luckily, we brought the pack in play for the Dashing Daughter, and still had the Dashing Son’s blow up bed in the car from when we stayed at my brother-in-law’s house for the San Francisco Marathon. (It was still in the car because the Dashing Wife insisted that it stay in the car, just in case we didn’t have an extra bed.) Of course, the Dashing Daughter didn’t want to sleep, so was quite fussy, plus I had pre-race jitters, so I didn’t get much sleep. Luckily, as with all race mornings, I was worried about missing my alarm, which I had forgotten to turn on. So, after noticing it was 4:42, instead of 4:30, I got up, and got ready for my race.
At 5am, I got the Dashing Wife up, and I went to the hotel lobby for breakfast (luckily they started serving at 5am, so I could get some toast and peanut butter, plus some stuff for the kids).
We drove the curvy mountain road to the race start, about 8.5 miles of which was on the course. We got to the start/finish line right around 6 am. I did my normal startup routine (I pooped again, started stretching, took a gel, got my Garmin to find satellites, etc.). The nice thing about this race is that there were no rules, other than cutting the course. You could wear headphones (I still left one ear off), push a stroller (there was a dad who did the full pushing his 2 year old), and you could run with your dog.
So, we carted the Dashing Dog up to Greenville. Unfortunately, I have been doing my long runs during other races, so she hasn’t gotten in more than 10 miles in quite some time. I decided that I would drop her off with the Dashing Wife at mile 8.5, a good switching point. I was going to pick her up at that point on the way back, but Dashing Wife couldn’t get out of the parking lot after 7:30am.
At 6:30 am, the race started. There weren’t that many runners, especially compared to San Francisco. Official race results say that of the 90 registered runners, only 56 showed up. I started off a bit fast, as I usually do. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t out for my usual 4 mile morning run. This was actually a marathon, not a sprint.
After the first couple of turns, I realized the course was very scenic, and I got some half-way decent pictures.
At the second water stop (around mile 3), they had water for the dog, and a porta potty. I stopped to pee, and had a near death experience as I bent over to pick up the leash (yes the Dashing Dog was in the porta potty with me), I hit my Garmin on the edge of the urinal and it popped off my wrist band. Note: I have a triathlete band that allows me to switch my Garmin from my wrist to my bike. Luckily, it just landed on the floor of the potty, and not in the honey pot. I grabbed the Garmin and took off running again.
I was averaging about 8 min/miles before my potty stop, and I had lost about a minute in the john, so I took off a bit fast to make up some time. I saw an older gentleman wearing a hat with a trout on it about a quarter mile ahead of me, and decided to catch up with him. I never did, but I made up some time.
I kept a decent pace until the next water stop, where they were giving out Milk Bones. I wish they were smaller because it took the Dashing Dog a bit too long to chew it up. The course was still shaded, and even though it was about 7:30 when I made the next turn onto the long out and back, I still hadn’t put on my sunglasses. About mile 8.5, I saw the Dashing Family. The Dashing Son ran up to me and ran with me for a few hundred yards. I passed off the Dashing Dog, grabbed some fluids, walked for a bit, and kept running.
By this point, I really hadn’t seen another runner for several miles. There was a runner wearing yellow about 400 yards behind me when I finished my water stop walk break, but that was it. Around mile 13, I saw the lead runner, who was at mile 16. I saw the second place runner about 6 minutes later. I did some rough calculations (because I am a math dork), and realized the lead guy was at least 1.5 miles ahead of second place. I also started counting how many people were in front of me because I knew I was pretty close to the front. At this point, I was setting a pretty good pace, and could PR if I kept it up.
The other nice thing about an out and back was that I got to see all the runners on the course. I made a point to say hi to everybody and give high fives to whoever I could. At the turn around at mile 14.5, I realized I was in 8th place. I was still several minutes behind 7th place, the guy in the trout hat. The guy pushing the stroller was well ahead of me. I also found out that the person in yellow was a lady who said she was using me as a pacer. I told her that I was using her as a chaser.
My pace had dropped a little bit, but I was holding steady below 8:30 miles. There were a couple hills on the way back that I had to stop and walk up them a little bit, despite having no issues running up similar hills just a few miles ago. Around Mile 21 I spotted a friend from home about 200 yards ahead of me. I had seen her right after I started the race, but hadn’t been able to say hi. I ran up to her, gave her a sweaty runner hug, and kept going because I was on pace for a 15 minute PR. I kept that pace until about mile 23.
At mile 23, I hit Bear Bait Hill. It is a 10% slope hill, on a sharp curve. I think the curve made it worse. I had to walk most of the .2 miles up the hill. There was a downhill afterwards, but that last three miles S.U.C.K.E.D. According to my Garmin, miles 23 to 26 were my three slowest miles, by nearly a minute each, and 80 seconds slower than my pace had been the previous 23 miles.
But, those miles sucked for everybody. I managed to catch up to the guy pushing the stroller, and even though I wanted to see a guy pushing a stroller finish on the podium, I really wanted to see me finish on the podium. I knew that the seven people in front of me, at least two were not in my age group. There was one girl and the older guy. That put me in at least 5th for my age group. I was hoping that two of the guys were not in their 30s.
I kept going as best I could, but just had no legs left. I was counting down every step, well, every 100 meters anyway. I hit mile 26 on my Garmin, which was still ½ mile from the finish and decided that I can push myself for ½ mile no matter how bad I am feeling, and was going to finish strong. I swore to myself and took off running. My last half mile is always my fastest, and I could see the finish line. I managed a sub 7 minute pace that last 0.53 miles to the finish. Of course the last 30 yards to the finish line were up a steep gravel driveway. But I finished with a 7:45 PR. At 3650 feet altitude.
After I finished my race, I waited for the lady in yellow to finish. I saw her about 3 minutes after my finish and ran down to pace her to the finish line. She needed to stay under 3:50 to qualify or Boston, and she made it with a minute to spare. (Yes, this is a Boston Qualifying course.) Afterwards, she told me that she just kept my yellow shorts and blue calf sleeves in sight and that kept her going. She really pushed herself and was in tears at the finish. Can’t say that I blame her. I would be in tears if I qualified for Boston.
The Dashing Family and I hung around the finish line, mainly so I could get my post-race beer and get my 3rd place age group award. Turns out the guy who got first didn’t qualify for an AG award (as it should be) and the second place guy was in his 20s, so I got 3rd place.
The Dashing Family went back to the hotel, and the kids fell asleep on the way. So the Dashing Wife kicked my stinky butt out of the car to shower and she drove around the lovely town of Quincy looking for a restaurant and keeping the kids asleep for a bit longer. Then we had lunch, and a bit of relaxing at the hotel until we returned to the start/finish line for the hoedown.
The hoedown had some really good food, and some good music. We didn’t get to enjoy all of it because the Dashing Son started throwing up. Right after getting his face painted, he had to barf. We waited around for a bit because…. Well, because I am cheap and paid for a meal, and dog gonnit, I was going to get my food. The Dashing Daughter decided to seek revenge for all the times he took her stackable cups.
We took off a bit early, and went back to the hotel. We actually managed to get 9 hours sleep the next day, we were all that exhausted. The Dashing Son was still sick, barfing up his toast after one bite. The Dashing Wife wasn’t feeling all that well either. So, for an early lunch, the Dashing Daughter and I went out. We found this place called Patti’s Thunder Café that had the best biscuits and gravy I have had in I don’t know how long.
After the drive back down the hill, everybody was mostly back to normal.
The Running with the Bears Race was one of the best organized races I have ever done. Also the prettiest and most scenic race I have ever done. The course itself was just challenging enough to be fun, but not too bad, except for the #^T#$%@# Bear Bait Hill. That sucked. I pretty much ran by myself the entire race, which is how I usually run. Next year, they are going to double the entrants (500 normal, 200 charity runners with a $500 goal).
A couple of things I found out during the race. The Salted Watermelon Gu tastes like a watermelon Jolly Rancher. I also really like watermelon during long runs. I can’t stand it otherwise, but during long runs it is such an amazing thing. I also realized that if I could get a PR on this course, I am going to probably get another PR when I run the California International Marathon in December.
The whole Dashing Family is coming back to run next year. The Dashing Wife, Son, and Sister are signed up for the 10k. I am signed up to be a charity runner again, though I haven’t decided on the distance yet. It is going to be great! I am so happy to be supporting a great cause.
That, and I want an excuse to have those biscuits and gravy again.
PS – I have a bunch more photos, but didn’t want to bog down this page, go check them out by clicking here